Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The accidental life of a book reviewer

By Julie

When the six of us started What Women Write, we had no idea what new directions the blog might take us at times.

Little did I know that when I jumped on the chance to interview Quinn Cummings for our first author interview and subsequently, several other authors, whose publicists then kindly sent me copies of books to read before interviews or offer as prizes for drawings that I'd end up on the mystery list.

Now, as a member of that mysterious list, it's not unusual for my doorbell to ring, and when I answer it or send one of the kids, there's nobody there. But it's not a neighborhood trickster playing Devil on the Doorstep, or as my kids call it, Ding Dong Ditch. No, it usually means a package has been dropped by the door by the friendly UPS, FedEx, or U.S. Postal Service delivery person.

"Did you order anything?" my husband asks, a semi-worried look on his face due to my mostly-in-control book-buying habit.

"No, did you?" I respond, more thrilled than worried about the book-buying habit he's recently acquired.

We look at the kids, and of course, they have no money, so they didn't order anything either. I search my brain, trying to remember if anybody's publicist promised me an advance review copy to read before I do an author interview. Nope.

"Must be one of your mystery books," my husband says. And it usually is.

Sometimes I eagerly rip into the package to see what the book fairies sent me. Sometimes I'm busy and set it aside, only to discover it a few days later waiting patiently to be noticed on the kitchen counter. Sometimes I'm pleasantly surprised to find a book that looks interesting and engaging. Sometimes I'm completely baffled at why such a book might have been sent my direction.

But in general, I've enjoyed reading several books that might not otherwise have registered on my radar. Even a few of those baffling ones.

I don't usually have time to read every one, much less review them or interview the author, but I thought I'd give a shout out today about several I've enjoyed recently.

I've seen Laura Moriarty's name many times over the last few years, thinking how compelling her covers are, reminding myself I should grab a copy of one of her novels and give her a try. A few months ago, the newly released paperback of While I'm Falling showed up on my doorstep.

The upside-down girl on the cover caught my eye. I read the book fairly soon. I ended up really liking this story that was a bit reminiscent of Lorrie Moore's A Gate at the Stairs, alternately loving and being downright annoyed with Moriarty's characters, usually because I saw myself in them one way or the other. I'll definitely read more by Moriarty.

Nearly a year ago, I received a copy of The Day the Falls Stood Still by Cathy Marie Buchanan. Coincidentally, a few days later, Kim was drawn in by the cover at the bookstore and raved about it after she read it. I'm not sure why it took a year for me to pick it up and read it, but I took it along on my vacation to Colorado in August. I was fairly mesmerized in the reading moments I was able to steal by this sad, yet hopeful story. If you're interested in historical fiction set in the last century or so, you'll probably enjoy Buchanan's novel about a family whose life centers around the history of man's attempts to harness the power of Niagara Falls.

Now, if you know me well at all you would have laughed, too, when the book fairies dropped off a copy of Make it Fast, Make it Slow. Yes, it's a cook book. I'm not completely opposed to cooking, but I'd be a lot happier about cooking if it came complete with a staff to shop ahead of time and clean up for me after I make a big mess. But it's also true I have to cook for my family on a regular basis.

We've ended up using quite a few of Stephanie O'Dea's slow cooker recipes, and the majority of them have been pretty tasty and usually quite simple. I have to hand it to the author. There are only so many ways to stack ingredients in a crock pot, and she's done a nice job of coming up with some new and interesting recipes that pleased my family's adventurous palates. Check out O'Dea's blog, A Year of Slow Cooking, to get an idea of how things work, and her website for more recent news. Looks like she has her eye on my clutter habit now. Uh oh.

Most recently, I picked up Open Country, the second installment in Kaki Warner's Blood Rose Trilogy. Now here's an interesting tale. I rarely read series books. And on the rare occasion I do, I NEVER, EVER, NO NEVER read them out of order. So I wasn't thrilled to receive book two of a series.

And if that hadn't sealed the complimentary copy's fate of being forever consigned to the very bottom of my TBR (to-be-read, in reader/writer jargon) pile, the fact that it's western romance should have. I have nothing against this genre at all, it's just not my usual thing unless I have a really good reason to read it. Like my BFF just had her first western romance novel published. Or, as actually happened to me a few years back at my very first writer's conference, Linda Lael Miller made a lasting personal impression on me with her generous encouragement of a rookie aspiring writer, and I rushed to get an autographed copy of one of her novels at the conference's book signing event.

Sometimes, though, timing highjacks us and turns us in new directions. In the midst of my recent illness, I needed to read something besides my ordinary fare, which tends to the darker exploration of families caught in circumstances beyond their control. I plucked Warner's book from the bottom of the pile a few nights ago. I've been pleased to discover I was able to jump right into book two though I'd never seen or heard of book one.

Warner does an excellent job of bringing the reader up to date quickly without spoiling the first book. I'll likely keep an eye out for Pieces of Sky. And though Open Country follows the unbreakable rule of good fiction – get your characters into trouble fast and lots of it – it's written with humor and spunk. I'm finding it to be a relaxing and enjoyable read. Just what the doctor ordered.

A few duds have made their way onto my doorstep. We won't talk about those. Dear book fairies, let my silence speak volumes about a: my utter and complete disdain for the product, or b: my lack of time to even crack open the cover. You choose.

And as long as the benefits of being on this mystery list outweigh the negatives (for example, I start getting so many books, I can't see the forest for the trees, as I learned sometimes happens to those us on this mystery list), I'll get a little twitter in my heart when the doorbell rings and I find a little surprise on the front porch and hope for the best.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received copies of these book from the publishers in the hope that I would review them on What Women Write. I was under no obligation to review them, let alone give a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 225: "Guidelines Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."


  1. Hi Julie,

    Thanks for reading and writing about The Day the Falls Stood Still. A year ago I happened to be reading Laura Moriarty’s While I’m Falling when Elle came out with its September reader’s picks, books that were subsequently pitted against one another in a reader vote. I was thrilled to find The Day the Falls Stood Still included in the picks, particularly considering that the other two books on the list were new novels by former Grand Prix Book-of-the-Year winners. My book came in a very close second to While I’m Falling, the very book that I'm happy to say I was savouring.


  2. Hi Cathy!

    Thanks for stopping by What Women Write. I understand you'll be with us soon for an interview with Kim, and I can't wait to see it.

    I do believe you were in good company in the Elle list! How ironic is it that I happened to pick both your books to talk about in this particular blog post?

    Best wishes for continuing success as an author. I'll be looking forward to what comes next.



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...