This is something that I find quite difficult to do because:
(1) that old chestnut of ‘not having time’
(2) I don’t find it easy to write a summary of a plot without giving the game away.
(3) When I’ve finished a book that I’ve enjoyed, I need to let it ‘settle’ in my head for a while, as I work out what feelings I’ve experienced while reading and how the author has achieved these effects.
I love reading detailed reviews on other people’s blogs, and that brings me to number (4) There are often so many excellent summaries and insightful critiques of a book that I’ve read, it seems a better use of my time to direct people to the relevant sites, as in this previous post so I’m delighted that there are so many enthusiastic book readers and reviewers out there. And yes, of course I’m doubly appreciative of reviews for my own novels!
Yesterday I was thrilled to get this wonderful review from a highly accomplished writer, Robin Lewis of Left Lion, a printed and online culture and listings magazine which covers Nottingham, with a specific focus on the local music and arts scene. (I love the first statement: “Unhappy families are always more interesting than happy ones”, though for me, it’s only ‘true’ in fiction!)
(The Lion logo makes more sense when you know that it was named after a stone lion outside the Council House. )It’s the place where I did my MA in Writing (and also where my son was born, over thirty years ago) so I have great affinity with the city. You’ll also see Robin’s detailed on-line interview with me, if you scroll down after the review.
Getting published is hard enough, but marketing your book is even harder, especially when you are your own publishing house. So I’ve been very heartened recently to find yet more insightful critiques. It’s fascinating to find how different people react to the characters in Paper Lanterns – I can see that it makes for a lively discussion for book groups, as you can tell from this extract below from the friendly group in Tennessee (holding their own paper lanterns on the evening of their discussion).
I’ve mentioned them in a previous post but I’ve just realised I haven’t explained how they discovered this novel. It’s not (yet!) available in bookshops in the U.S. so I’d thought that Tammy must have found out about it from the review on Rhapsody in Books, but no. Tammy explained how she’d Googled for Book Club Reads and then had arrived at a new on-line book group based in Birmingham (UK)
They’d wanted to choose a book by a local author, and Paper Lanterns was one of them. Tammy had followed the link to my Amazon page and had liked what she saw, so she contacted me via this site, and the rest is history.(I’ve hidden a few phrases that might have given awat too much for those who haven’t yet read the book)
“Everyone could relate to the family drama– we had a deep discussion about how things were probably hidden in every family from different generations, and which generation we could most closely relate to at this point in our lives.
Most thought that at first it was hard to keep up with the characters (who was who) until we kept reading and then it all fell in place. We also talked about how it took a talented writer to be able to pull that off like you were able to do. (smiles)
Ann was a huge discussion– we wondered if there was a reason she was made to sound so homely looking.
Also, the way you portrayed Vivienne as such an uncaring mother, xxxxxxxxxxx was a big discussion. No one could relate to how a mother could be so cruel to her child (the negative remarks she would make). It takes a great writer to be able to evoke these kind of emotions in the reader.
We all loved your writing style and thought you did an excellent job with the descriptions of Hong Kong and the surroundings. And, the way you left xxxxxxxxx (the ending) left the reader thinking long after the novel was finished…..We have all passed our copy of the book on for others to enjoy. (so many people in our area will enjoy your talent)
It’s so nice to know that my novel is being read so widely - though anyone reading this on my blog will see that my books can be ordered here from anywhere in the world with free P&P. I’ll soon be sending off a package of 13 copies of paper Lanterns to a book group in Italy.
And of course, there are the wonderful Bookcrossers to spread the word!
– I’ve been given links to the ‘Journeys’ that several copies of my book are making and it’s been fascinating to read their responses.
I was awake extra early this morning, and instead of my usual half-hour jog down a leafy track under the arch of trees (an old coach-road, apparently), then across the golf course, and along the edge of the stream, and back up the road, I sat down at my computer and visited some of my favourite blog sites.
When I’ve gone a few days without dipping in to these sources of mental stimulation my brain gets as itchy and restless as the rest of my body does when I’ve missed out on physical exercise.
I was well rewarded this morning before I went to work, and again when I returned this afternoon. But before that, came a big disappointment – One of the first book-blogs that I’d come across, Ex-libris ‘taking an indefinite hiatus from blogging’.
It was a lively site with thoughtful reviews and I always enjoyed my visits (not merely to the link to her kind review of my novel, The Dangerous Sports Euthanasia Society)
My next stop, Rhapsody in Books yielded two delights with one hit: There was the smiling face of my friend, Linda Gillard, an excellent novelist holding a fascinating discussion with an author I’d never heard of, Gillian Philip, who writes Young Adult fiction. Of course I then had to scroll down to the review that Linda had posted there about Gillian’s latest novel. I won’t say anything more about that, as you can read it yourself here!
I’m sometimes amazed at the amount I’ve forgotten in my life of what used to be an important source of pleasure and insight – in this particular case, the Young Adult books I used to read when I taught English in a girls’ Secondary Modern School (that shows how long ago it was- there’ll be plenty of people who’ve never heard of anything but comprehensives and grammar schools) –anyway, reading those posts, I was reminded of how I used to love those books – The main name that comes to mind is KM Peyton with her Flambard Trilogy and the rebellious schoolboy, Pennington, but there were lots of others.
Reading about Gillian Philip’s Crossing the Line has reminded me of how YA books often tackle the really important subjects in a very readable and thought-provoking way.
Another of my favourite sites is Dovegrey Reader and there again I was awash with nostalgia, thinking of books I’ve enjoyed over the years. Today’s post was about Susan Hill’s book ‘Howards End is on the Landing’ It sounds very enticing and I love the idea of listing my forty favourite books, and reflecting on each of them as I do this.
Another one that I first came across fairly recently is Juxtabooks This time my eye was caught by Juxtabook’s Top 10 Books of the Last Ten Years. I’d read five of her ten, and of those, I’d rate at least two as some of my own top favourites – Cloud Atlas I ’read’ as an unabridged audio version – it was fascinating to hear the six different voices telling their different tales. For the first couple of minutes of each new ‘story’ I’d feel a bit lost, not wanting to leave the other voice behind me, but overall I found it a compelling read. The other was Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Craik, in which I found echoes from some of the ‘future’ parts of Cloud Atlas. I won’t attempt to say anything else about the books, as you can read those reviews for yourself.
Last, but by no means least, is a new treasure – Baroque in Hackney, a site crammed with a huge variety of posts and links. I’m afraid it’s going to be a particularly effective displacement activity for me in the future.