Thoughts on A MURDER FOR THE BOOKS

Hello, hello!  We’ve reached the last Wednesday in December (the last one of 2017).  Can you believe that?  And that means it’s time for my monthly book review.  For December, I chose a cozy mystery (think along the lines of Murder She Wrote, only this heroine is a young librarian).  I was looking for something light and fun this time, and A Murder for the Books by Victoria Gilbert, which was published on Dec. 22nd, popped up in my recommendations list on NetGalley.  Yes, it’s another advanced reader copy (ARC), so I must thank the publisher, Crooked Lane Books, and NetGalley for giving me access to the ARC in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.  Now, let’s get on with the actual review.

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An interesting cover, but the more I look at it, the less it fits the book.

A Murder for the Books is the first in a new cozy series collectively known a the Blue Ridge Library Mysteries.  It follows Amy Webber, who has moved in with her elderly aunt Lydia under the guise of taking care of Lydia (who doesn’t really need much in the way of help), but is actually fleeing her old life after making a public scene when she found out her long-term boyfriend had been cheating on her.  She’s gone from being a librarian at a major university to being one at a small town public library.  Plus, she’s self-conscious about her weight and wary of anyone who shows a romantic interest in her.  Cue the entrance of Richard Muir who is a dance instructor at her old university and is new to her little town.  He asks for some help researching an old murder and that’s when they stumble upon a fresh murder and things just get weirder from there.

After the last three ARCs I got turned out to be less than satisfying, I had very low hopes for this book.  But I went into it with an open mind and, to my surprise, I liked it quite a bit.  The characters were relatable (if somewhat over the top occasionally).  And the plot was fun.  It was a little predictable at points, but the main antagonist turned out to be a bit of a surprise.  I figured they were somehow involved, but I didn’t think they’d actually do their own dirty work.  So, it was fun.

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And they did it.

That being said, I did have one major issue with the plot.  Every time Amy painted herself into a seemingly inescapable corner, instead of finding a logical way out, the author employed a deus ex machina (plot device where something is magically cleared up by the intervention of something random).  A book that’s been lost for years shows up even though they had done a complete inventory of the library earlier that year and no one had found it, another book randomly falls off a shelf at her house… twice, a shadow in the woods spooks the killer into running away, a gust of wind on an otherwise calm day knocks the killer off balance, etc.  These things are explained away as the possible actions of a ghost, which would be fine if this were a paranormal series (I love ghost stories!).  But it’s not.  The whole prospect of ghosts doesn’t even come up until more than halfway through the book, so it feels like a lazy escape method from having to find logical alternatives.

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A little too convenient.

Beyond that, the writing was good.  There was a little too much focus on description.  I didn’t really need to know what every house and garden Amy went in looked like in full detail.  That made it drag a little bit in places.  And there was a lot of hair twirling and similar actions that could’ve been left up to the reader’s imagination.  But none of that detracted from the fun of the story itself, so I’ll let it slide.

Ultimately, I was satisfied with A Murder for the Books.  It was interesting and fun enough that I’ll probably pick up the second book when it’s available.  Hopefully, there won’t be as much deus ex machina in the second one.

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Overall, I’d rate it 4 out of 5 stars.  If you’re looking for something nice to snuggle up by the fire with, this one would be a good choice.

Short Stories, Novellas, Or Novels?

Hello, hello!  Last week, I asked a friend to suggest a topic for my next blog post (I’m running low on ideas, so feel free to suggest some topics or ask me questions) and she brought up short stories vs. novellas vs. novels.  She wanted to know my preferences based on being a reader vs. being a writer.  So, I thought I would use today to talk about the lengths of the things I enjoy reading as well as of the things I enjoy writing.  It seemed like a good topic since I haven’t written many writerly ramblings lately.

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These are the general guidelines.

First, I suppose I’ll approach the topic as a reader.  If I’m looking for something quick to distract me for a short period of time, I love digging into a short story.  But, most of the time, I prefer to read novels.  I like being able to get lost in a new world and getting to know the characters in a way that shorter works don’t allow for.  As far as novellas go, I don’t actively search them out, but I don’t dislike them for any particular reason.  One of my favorite stories is “The Body” by Stephen King, which is a novella in his collection Different Seasons.  Overall, I suppose I’d rank my reading preferences as novels, followed closely by short stories, then the occasional novella.

As a writer, things are a little more complicated.  Let’s look at novels.  I’m still fairly new to this particular form and I’m not entirely comfortable in it.  Though, I will admit, as I work on each new novel, I’m becoming more and more drawn to it.  At first, it felt like I was rambling.  I couldn’t get a grasp on the idea of the slow reveal and how to keep it interesting while my characters were going about their days.  I’m two-thirds of the way through writing my third novel and I’m finally feeling like I might semi know what I’m doing.  So, writing novels is growing on me.

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Me when I look over my novels.

Short stories, on the other hand, are where I feel most at ease.  I enjoy the conciseness of the short form.  It’s easier to keep track of one or two plots and characters than it is to keep track of a novel full of them.  I’m not constantly stressing because I just know I forgot some minor detail that will inevitably turn into something major.  Don’t get me wrong, I forget stuff in my short stories all the time, but it’s much easier to catch those things when it happens in 20 pages vs. 300 pages.  It’s also much easier to keep the writing motivation going for a week or two instead of three or more months.  Plus, I have a lot of fun with short stories.  That’s why they will always be my favorite to write.

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Well, that was a short story.

Then, there are novellas.  I honestly haven’t ventured into this realm yet.  I stopped working on one of my fetish fairy tales because it was leaving the territory of a short story and becoming a novelette/novella.  I thought maybe it had too much backstory and I needed to cut stuff out.  But recently, I decided to just let it go where it’s going and figure out what to do with it later.  I have at least one other story that needs to be expanded into a novella, so I might try my hand at it one day, but today is not that day.

In the end, I suppose my writing preferences would be ranked short stories, novels, and novellas in a distant third.  What about you?  Do you have a preference when reading vs. when writing?  Is there an equivalent option in your craft if you’re not a writer?  Share your thoughts and comments here or on my social media pages!

Looking Forward: 2018 Goals

Howdy, howdy!  A couple of months ago, a friend asked me if I would be interested in creating some writing goals for the new year and sharing them with each other for accountability purposes.  I agreed, because accountability is the best way to motivate me.  So, since we’re (not so) slowly making our way through December, I thought I would go ahead and share them with everyone.  As I’ve probably said before, I don’t care for the idea of making resolutions, because they’re usually vague things (eating healthier, exercising more, going out more, spending less, etc.) that people keep up with for a few days or even weeks then forget.  Goals, on the other hand, tend to be more specific, thus easier to keep track of and definitively complete.  So, here are my writerly goals for 2018.

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Pretty much.

1. Finish the first draft of DS1 (code name for my novel-in-progress).  I probably should’ve finished this by the end of December, but I hit a road block and decided to work on my fetish fairy tales for a little while.  I’ll finish the fairy tale I’m working on this week, then get back into DS1.  I should finish that by the end of January/middle of February.

2. Revise LR1 (code name for the shitty first draft of the last novel I wrote).  I’m actually really interested in getting back to this one.  No idea if it’s still as awesome as it felt while I was writing it (first drafts never are), but I’m looking forward to tearing it apart and making it better.  Hopefully revisions won’t take me more than two months, but we’ll see.  I’m not the best at revising things.

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It’s not wrong.  Though, I’m still using .doc instead of .docx.

3. Revise DS1.  Despite getting a little stuck on this one, I still absolutely love the idea and the characters.  I hope I feel the same way after I finish it.  My biggest problem is that I know the ending, I just don’t know how to elegantly connect it to what I have thus far.  I guess I’ll smash it all together and smooth things out during the revision process!

4. Query 100 agents for LR1 or DS1 depending on which is better.  I’ve decided to put G&G away for a while and focus on the other two novels.  Hopefully one of them will have more appeal for agents.  I can always go back to G&G later, but after 100 rejections, Bailey definitely deserves a nice little break.

5. Write 10 short stories/flash pieces OR 1 new novel.  I really want to use 2018 as the year of revision.  But at the same time, I also want to keep producing new work.  I’m leaning more towards the short stories/flash fiction option because I could take a couple of days off of revision each month to work on something fresh, but like I mentioned above, I don’t really know how long revision will take me.  If it doesn’t take too long, I wouldn’t mind working on another novel.

6. Submit short stories/flash pieces (2+ subs a week).  I admit that I’ve been neglecting my short story submissions this year.  I want to change that in 2018.  Maybe I’ll eventually snag someone’s attention!

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Maybe.  I doubt it.  Reassurance, please!

And those are my writing goals for 2018.  Do you have any goals for next year yet?  Feel free to share them here or on my social media pages!

Five Gifts For Your Writers

Hello, hello!  It’s December.  That means everyone who didn’t put up their decorations right after Thanksgiving (or even before it) will soon be scrambling to catch up with their holiday check-lists (unless you’re like me and don’t really celebrate anything, then you have nothing to worry about!).  Those check-lists will undoubtedly include doing some gift shopping.  So, I thought I would take a minute to give you a few gift ideas for the writers in your life.

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1. Journals.  Yes, your writer probably has a bunch of empty or half-empty journals and spirals scattered around their writing room.  Don’t be fooled.  It’s never enough.  They are always on the lookout for a new place to jot down ideas and notes.  And it’s easy enough to see what kind they prefer by taking a quick peek in their writing room (if you’re allowed in there).  Some writers prefer simple spirals, some prefer eye catching covers, and others prefer leather-bound journals.  If you know your writer well enough, you’ll find one that speaks to them.

2. A good pair of headphones or earbuds.  Preferably noise cancelling.  Because, even though your writer loves you, sometimes it’s just easier to write when they can drown out the rest of the world.  Plus, if they’re the type who listens to the same playlist on repeat while writing, headphones will give you a break from having to listen to the same song for the hundredth time through the wall.  It’s a twofer!

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3. For your writers who drink, there’s always Writers’ Tears from Walsh Whiskey Distillery.  It’s an Irish whiskey and comes in three varieties.  You can also find the cute little book version pictured above.  I’ve never tried it and I’ve heard varying reviews of the stuff, so I can’t vouch for the taste.  But even if your writer isn’t a whiskey drinker, who wouldn’t want a bottle of this stuff to sit on their desk?  We all need the reminder that our writerly tears are not the only ones being shed.  Because writing is hard.  Plus, we’re always told to write drunk and edit sober!

4. Fancy pens.  Like the journals, your writer probably has a few of these sitting around their workspace unused, but don’t let that deter you.  Writers tend to love pens and quills and all the fancy writing equipment from days of old.  Granted, they probably won’t use them because there’s nothing that writes quite like a cheap BiC, but they sure are pretty to look at.  And those pretty pens help keep the impostor syndrome at bay.  That’s always a plus.

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5. Soap or candles from Whiskey River Soap Co.  Aside from the writer’s block soap, there’s also grammar police soap and soap for introverts.  With such a wide variety sold in a number of places, you’re bound to find the perfect match for your writer.  Also, sometimes your writer needs a reminder to take a break and shower.  After the shower, give them food before they wander back into their own little world.

So, there are a few ideas of gifts for your writers.  Feel free to add your own list here or on my social media pages!