Month: April 2016

The Negative Book Review and Appropriate Author Reactions

Excellent post about reviews – agree with every word.


Rodan at Stanford - Bruce Witzel photo

I read something recently that made me chuckle. It was a how-to article about ways to preview an Amazon e-book before purchasing. The Look Inside feature was outlined as well as the option to download a preview before buying. The writer went on to explain that if a book was offered free, she simply downloaded it because what was there to lose. It’s free. She took umbrage at people who think they have a right to complain about not liking a free book. It’s free, people. Come on.

Free or otherwise, readers reserve the right to always have and sometimes, to even express that opinion in the form of a review.

From my close observation of writers … they fall into two groups. 1) Those who bleed copiously and visibly at any bad review and 2) Those who bleed copiously and secretly at any bad review. (Isaac Asimov)

What is…

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#WritingTips – Using Adjectives and Adverbs #wwwblogs #writinganovel

This has  proved to be one of my most popular posts with many people kindly commenting on how useful it is – so I thought it was worth sharing again.


The use of adverbs and adjectives is an issue for many writers. Many overuse them in the hope of making their writing seem more interesting, more descriptive. And while I’m not at all advocating that you cut all adverbs and adjectives out of your writing, what I have seen over and over again in the work that I edit, is that both are often added for no discernible reason. This is often, it seems to me, because a writer is trying really hard to set a scene, to draw a reader in. They can see the scene, the characters in their head and they want to convey everything that’s there. And they want to show that they can write, that they have a wide vocabulary. But unfortunately, these adverbs and adjectives often add nothing to the scenes in which they appear.

So how do you know what adjectives and adverbs to cut?

Let’s look at adverbs first.

Adverbs modify verbs. If you’re using an adverb to modify a verb, ask yourself why you need to. Is the verb not doing its job? If the verb alone can’t tell your reader how someone or something is doing something, then is it the right one to use?

For example:

John walked quickly down the street.

man walking quickly

You want your reader to know how John walked, so if he’s walking quickly, then say so – right? Well, no.

John hurried down the street.

One word instead of two – tells us exactly how John is moving.

How about:

She totally, completely accepted that her work needed editing.

Neither of those two adverbs is needed. Just say:

She accepted that her work needed editing.

(Actually get rid of ‘that’ too!)

There are also adverbs that are totally redundant – like ‘totally’ in this sentence!

The fire alarm rang loudly.

How else would it ring? It wouldn’t be much use as a fire alarm if it rang quietly.


fire alarm

A well-placed, strong and evocative adjective can add great detail to a word, phrase or scene. However, too often they come across as contrived and unnecessary.

The beautiful, bubbling river sparkled in the golden sunlight, its silvery ripples reflecting the brilliant, blazing rays that played on the shivering surface.

Too much, far too much. What’s wrong with:

The river sparkled in the sunlight, silvery rays playing on the shivering surface.

(Though, to be honest, that’s still too much).

And be very careful of ‘broad’ adjectives like ‘beautiful’ in the first sentence. ‘Beautiful’, ‘nice’, ‘wonderful’, etc.are broad terms – these words are subjective and mean different things to different people. They add nothing and are best avoided, except in dialogue.

Also be wary of the thesaurus. It is useful and can help you describe things in a fresh, new way. But be careful. Very careful.


The use of adjectives and adverbs is a contentious issue – I’d love to know your thoughts.

‘Smoke and Gold’ by Pauline Suett Barbieri #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview @SuettPauline

Rosie's Book Review team 1

I reviewed ‘Smoke and Gold’ for Rosie’s Book Review Team.

Rowena Culloden, a young English girl, and her mother from Liverpool are visiting Amsterdam on holiday in 1972. Whilst having tea in a small French café on the edge of the Red Light District, they are joined by a mysterious but friendly stranger. They have a long chat together. 

Some years later, her mother dies and while Rowena is studying for her Art Degree, she keeps coming across references which remind her of the stranger. Where was the factory where he worked and supposedly repaired a diamond? Round the corner from the café? Which corner? Why was he dressed as if he lived in the 18th century? How could he know so much about how Rembrandt mixed his oils? Did he say he spoke nine languages? Who was this man? She asked herself almost every day.

Could he really be the French alchemist Count St Germain, who Madam Blavatsky, Founder of the Theosophical Society, named as one of the eleven masters in the world at any one time, alongside such figures as Christ, Buddha, Apollonius of Tyana, Christian Rosenkreutz and Francis Bacon? He was said to have been born in the12th century and some people believe he is still alive. According to the ‘Paris Soir’, he was last seen in France in 1967.

Rowena was determined to find out. But what else would she encounter on her journey through the Art, Culture and Magical life of the ageless and dynamic city of Amsterdam? 

smoke and gold

This is a very unusual read – the author’s background as a poet is obvious and she creates some stunning imagery and uses some fabulous language. This isn’t structured traditionally; you move back and forth on a sometimes confusing, but always interesting, journey with Rowena, through a well-researched and skilfully depicted Amsterdam. The author has truly brought the city to life – it was previously a place I’d never had much interest in visiting, but now it’s definitely on my list.

There are many references to art, artists and literature. In other hands this could be distracting, annoying and even pretentious, but here their inclusion works really well, adding another layer to an already richly complex tale that twists and turns through vivid descriptions and interesting encounters.

Rowena is a lovely main character, interesting, completely un-stereotypical and warm. I really enjoyed the sections about her past, and her affection for her mother and their lovely relationship was a real strength of the book.

I did feel that we didn’t get to know enough about Meneer Surmount – I would have loved this strand of the story to have been developed more, although he perhaps deserves a whole book of his own!

Aside from this, my only real gripe is that there were quite a few typos in the version I read, for example misplaced speech marks, unnecessary capitalisation, and misspellings. This became a little distracting, a real shame because this book is a little gem.

4 stars

Nominations for Bloggers Bash Awards Are Now OPEN!

So looking forward to the Bloggers Bash -make your nominations for the blog awards here:

Sacha Black

Who Nominate?

We are finally on the count down to the bash, peeps.

I am so excited I really ought to be wearing a sports bra what with all the bouncing up and down.

So far we have announced the totally-off-the-chart-gorgeous venue here. Then we announced our blogger extraordinaire and guest speaker Luca here.

But now, now after months of waiting I can officially say, that nominations for the bloggers bash awards are


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‘The Woman Who Thought Too Much’ by Joanne Limburg #BookReview

woman who thought too much

Joanne Limburg thinks things she doesn’t want to think, and does things she doesn’t want to do. As a young woman, obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviours had come to completely dominate her life. She knew that something was wrong, but it would take many painful years of searching to find someone who could explain her symptoms. 

The Woman Who Thought Too Much is a vividly honest, beautifully told and darkly witty memoir about the quest to understand and manage a life with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.

As someone with personal experience of OCD, I get extremely cross about the way it is misrepresented. OCD isn’t about being tidy and organised (take note Michelle Mone and anyone who thought her interview on ‘This Morning’ had anything at all to do with OCD – if you want to know what it’s really like then this article is a good starting point). OCD sufferers have intrusive thoughts and obsessions and often feel compelled to carry out an action, such as reciting something or touching something, in order to make those thoughts go away. For Limburg, OCD manifests itself in obsessive thoughts about the danger inherent in everything. She sees danger in normal everyday things and obsesses over it, unable to shake the thoughts, and this has a debilitating effect on her life – for example, she can only cross a road when it is completely clear in both directions, a fear that intensifies when she has to cross a road with her small son.

This book is honest, sometimes funny, sometimes depressing, reassuring, and incredibly well-written. The author is a poet, and her talents show in the writing. This makes the book strangely enjoyable to read as well as disturbing. The author comes across as a genuinely lovely person, and it is hard to read sometimes how her disorder has prevented her from enjoying many things in life.

This is such an important book because there are so many misconceptions about OCD. People still view it as something minor, but it can, and does, prevent people from living a fulfilling life. If you suffer from OCD, or think you may suffer from it, this book will offer reassurance that you’re not alone; if you know someone who suffers from OCD, then this book will help you understand what’s going on in their heads, and if you’re one of those people who arranges their bookshelves in alphabetical order and then proudly proclaims, ‘Oh, I’m just a bit OCD’, then you should definitely read this and maybe you’ll realise that it’s no laughing matter.

5 stars

Writing a Synopsis #wwwblogs #writinganovel

writing_humour_synopsis-scaled500 (1)

I’ve worked with lots of writers who can compose the most beautiful prose, bring scenes to vivid life, make me care about their characters, keep me turning the page, but these same writers find one thing almost impossible to do – they can’t write a synopsis.

What is it about a synopsis that has so many writers struggling? It doesn’t seem to matter how great a writer you are, there’s just something about condensing your masterpiece down into one or two sides of A4 that strikes fear into a writer’s heart.

And I think that’s the issue. As authors, we spend so long on our books, every last detail is important to us. A synopsis asks us to get to the heart of the story, to strip away to the bare bones – and that can be really hard when you are so close to the world you’ve created and the characters that live there.

So what should, and what shouldn’t, you include?

  • First of all, check what the agent/publisher is looking for. They may well specify a length and may want you to write a chapter by chapter synopsis. If there are no specifications, then I would advise sticking to one page, single-spaced, six hundred words maximum.
  • Remember to write in third person (even if your novel is written in first person).
  • Use active voice and present tense.

Now to the actual writing of the synopsis itself.

When I was studying literature, we learnt a lot about narrative structure, and although it might not initially seem like it, most novels do fit into this basic structure:

  • Set up – main characters introduced. Introduction of the problem.
  • Conflict – the main body of the story. There is a catalyst that sets the conflict in motion. Characters go through changes because of this conflict and develop – the character arc.
  • Resolution – the problem is confronted and solved – or not – and loose ends are tied up.

To write your synopsis, it is really helpful to look at your novel in these terms and break it down into this structure.

  • Start with the set up – who is the protagonist? The other main characters? What is the problem?
  • Then move on to the conflict – there may be more than one. Decide what conflicts, plot twists and turns are really important; what do you need to include for the ending, the resolution, to make sense? How does this conflict change the main characters?
  • Finish with the resolution. Remember – this isn’t a blurb. The agent/publisher needs to know how your novel ends.


  • Don’t get caught up in too much detail. Think about what’s really important.
  • Don’t include lots of backstory – you don’t have the space.
  • Be short, concise, clear. This isn’t the time for showing off your beautiful prose. That’s what the sample chapters are for.

Agents/publishers are looking for something new, something exciting – if your novel has that (and it should) then make sure your synopsis makes that clear.

And please, please, please remember that this is not a blurb. You MUST include the ending.

Good luck!



The Kindness of Neighbors by Matthew Iden #BookReview #TuesdayBookBlog @CrimeRighter

Kindness of neighbors

No one likes Jack. His wife is gone and his neighbors avoid him. He’s a recluse and a creep, and that’s just the way he wants it; he can ignore what they say behind his back if they leave him to his work and his daily walks. But when ten-year-old Emma goes missing in the nearby woods, the eyes of his neighbors turn toward him, their fear and accusations escalating as the days go by. Jack proclaims his innocence, but what the neighbors–and the reader–find out is the last thing anyone would suspect.

I’ve had this novella on my kindle for ages after having read a really good review. I’m so glad I finally got round to it because it’s a very good read.

The writer is adept at leading the reader on – and that’s a compliment! At the beginning, I felt so sorry for Jack, could sympathise with his wish for solitude, understood his annoyance with his neighbors. But as the story unfolded, I liked him less and less, found myself sympathising more and more with his neighbors and wondered what that says about how communities work.  The ending worked really well, and was a great way to finish this story.

The writing itself is skilful, the pace just right for the genre and for the length of the story. I never felt bored or uninterested. The writer held my attention, and I wanted to know the outcome. And that’s all a reader can really ask for. I’ll certainly be reading more of Matthew Iden’s books.

4 stars

‘There Must be an Angel’ by Sharon Booth #BookReview @Sharon_Booth1


When Eliza Jarvis discovers her property show presenter husband, Harry, has been expanding his portfolio with tabloid darling Melody Bird, her perfect life crumbles around her ears. 

Before you can say Pensioner Barbie she’s in a stolen car, heading to the North Yorkshire coastal village of Kearton Bay in search of the father she never knew, with only her three-year-old daughter and a family-sized bag of Maltesers for company.

Ignoring the pleas of her uncle, chat show presenter Joe Hollingsworth, Eliza determines to find the man who abandoned her mother and discover the reason he left them to their fate. All she has to go on is his name – Raphael – but in such a small place there can’t be more than one angel, can there?

Gabriel Bailey may have the name of an angel but he’s not feeling very blessed. In fact, the way his life’s been going he doesn’t see how things can get much worse. Then Eliza arrives with her flash car and designer clothes, reminding him of things he’d rather forget, and he realises that if he’s to have any kind of peace she’s one person he must avoid at all costs.

But with the help of beautiful Wiccan landlady, Rhiannon, and quirky pink-haired café owner, Rose, Eliza is soon on the trail of her missing angel, and her investigations lead her straight into Gabriel’s path. As her search takes her deeper into the heart of his family, Eliza begins to realise that she’s in danger of hurting those she cares about deeply. Is her quest worth it?

And is the angel she’s seeking really the one she’s meant to find?

I really enjoyed this lovely book. Sharon Booth has written a charming, engaging novel with realistic and likeable characters and a female lead that you will really care about.

Eliza, despite her money, has all the same insecurities as other women, and she now finds herself at a crossroads in her life, but her kindness and warm personality, her genuineness, ensure that she soon settles in to Kearton Bay, and finds not only new friends, but also a possible new romance.

The author obviously cares deeply about her characters, and you will too. It’s a warm, feel good read, that avoids the mawkishness and sentimentality of a lot of novels in the same genre. The settings are beautifully described and easy to picture and you will find yourself rooting for Eliza, and willing her to make the right decisions.

Perfect for some chill out time.

4 stars