Loving books —

29 Dec

Somewhere along the line I managed to get involved in reviewing books. I think it started with a writer’s newsletter in the early-mid 90s, when I would insert a review of a book I thought the readers might also enjoy. I’ve not stopped since. As far as I can be certain, my first reviews at Amazon.com date from July, 1998, and as of now there are 403 of them! To be honest, not all of these are books–some of them are music CD’s.

On occasion, I review books for other sites, too, but these are generally books that pertain rather specifically to music, or sports or Cleveland, for that matter. Sometimes I hit the jackpot with a book that combines two of those things. Of course, I don’t review every book I read, mostly because too many of them are not really all that good. Sometimes I don’t even finish reading the book, and generally think that’s not compatible with trying to give my opinion of it. However, there are times . . . (see below for more on that topic.)

Even though I’ve always been quite explicit as to my likes and dis-likes, that doesn’t seem to deter some people from asking me to please read and review their book. These folks generally praise my reviews and are convinced a good word from me will make their book a best-seller. As if!

I don’t read horror or very much science fiction, either. While I love mysteries, I prefer cozies to gruesome. I’m a real panty-waist in that regard, preferring the crime to have been committed before I blundered on the scene. I fail to see the lure of vampires or were-anythings, although I’ve read and greatly enjoyed the vampire mystery series by Dean James. These are outright comedies, featuring a modern-day vampire who plays the oboe! Hard not to like Simon Kirby-Jones.  I’ve also read a few Regency vampire romances (seems like that should be an anachronism, but isn’t) and a few short stories that featured were-bunnies or some such creature.

After classical music/opera, probably my greatest love is history, specifically British history, especially the 1400s and the Regency (1811-1820). Georgette Heyer was the greatest writer of Regency novels ever, although there have been numerous others I’ve also loved. Since the BBC/A&E landmark production of Pride and Prejudice in 1995, there have been a multitude of new concepts regarding Regency, especially in the mystery field. And even though most commercial publishers say the Regency romance is dead, there are countless smaller, independent publishers who keep us happy by continuing to publish such books. Some of these are better than others, but still – we do have Regency novels to read. Hooray! A surprising number of these books are issued in e-book versions. On the other hand, the Regency era is the most popular setting for historical romance novels. Go figure.

I know I’m an old fuddy-duddy, but I do want my history to be accurate! Just saying a book is set in a given time doesn’t necessarily make it so. I want the people, costumes, language, architecture, etc., to be true to the times, as well.

Two of my books Secret Shores and Windsong are set on Mackinac Island, Michigan during the 1800s. Windsong takes place in 1837, and Secret Shores in 1861-63. I did an immense amount of research for both of these books, mentioning some real people where expedient. Therefore, it’s a real kick to me to suddenly be confronted by an on-line teaser such as the one I found the day after Christmas. You can read it here: http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20101225/ap_on_re_us/us_message_in_a_bottle

Lieutenant Pemberton was mentioned in both my books, mostly as a villain of sorts, as he’d been stationed there in the 1830s. Once he left the Federal Army, he went back to his native Pennsylvania, then south on a visit. While there, he married a Southern woman, and joined the Confederate Army! This was before the war broke out, obviously, as by that time, he’d attained the rank of General. It was perhaps ten years after the publication of my books that I discovered he was also the General who surrendered Vicksburg to General Ulysses Grant on July 4, 1863. So, finding this article on-line was like a slightly-belated Christmas present – something of interest, to be sure. Even if only to me!

But reviewing has become a rather large part of my life in the last few months. I stumbled over a review site while looking for information about a particular book. This site was www.sacramentobookreview.com and to my surprise, I learned they have a sister-site: www.sanfranciscobookreview.com and they were looking for reviewers. (Most such sites are always looking for more contributors, as very few of them pay anything, although generally one gets to keep the reviewed books.)  Following their instructions, I submitted several past reviews—and was accepted. One thing I really like about this arrangement is that I get to choose the books I’d like to review. Of course, if I make a bad choice, it’s my fault, and I’m expected to read it anyway and write an impartial review.

To my great surprise—and greater pleasure—I’ve been introduced to a good many books whose existence I’d probably not otherwise have known about. Two of the very best of these (some 30 or so by now) were self-published works of fiction. One is considered a thriller, and that’s not too inaccurate a label, while the other is fiction. Both books were written by older men. Granted, they do have unusual plot elements, but nothing that should scare a sensible publisher!

The first is The Jefferson Project by Thor Duffin. It’s just simply extraordinary! You can read the review here: www.sacramentobookreview.com (search for the title or author name). In an e-mail exchange, the author said he’d submitted it to about 75 publishers, most of whom said it didn’t  ‘fit their requirements’ while the rest said it was too long! I didn’t find it to be one word too long, but thoroughly enjoyed all of it, and will highly recommend it. The most astonishing part of this book to me was the total lack of profanity! That alone should endear it to almost anyone. www.thorduffin.com

The other book is a mix of yesteryear and today in Philadelphia – Crossing the Line – by Lynn Miller. When the main protagonist, Owen Gilroy, is down-sized from his bank job at the age of 53 or so, he and his partner decide to move from their condo to a historical townhouse they’d looked at some years previously. Now it’s on the market again, and they’re intrigued not only by the structure and the possibilities for renovation, but also by the fact that an ancestor of Gilroy’s had lived there some 150 years earlier. While cleaning out the attic, he stumbles over a trunk filled with diaries, letters and other memorabilia of that man, Hiram Milhouse, a noted scientist, who had corresponded with Charles Darwin among other prominent scientists of the era. It was so real I found myself Googling Milhouse, to be sure he actually lived. Or didn’t—as the case may be!

An author note at the end explains the whys and wherefores of Milhouse’s life, which was borrowed from a real person. I’m not sure when my review will appear, but the book is for sale now, so you should be able to get it, if you’re interested. http://www.lynn-miller.net

Sad to say, not all of the books I’ve reviewed so far have been this wonderful. In my unhappy opinion, the worst offenders have been from the big commercial houses. Fortunately, I am allowed to express my honest opinion of the book, even if I didn’t/couldn’t finish it, for whatever reason. If I didn’t finish it, however, I do say so in the review. These two book review magazines are available on-line or in print. Information is available at either web-site. Look me up, if you like!

Whatever your reasons for loving books — I hope it’s a life-long love affair!

If you have questions, please write to me at: bookmechanic@gmail.com



One Response to “Loving books —”

  1. Heidi Komlofske December 29, 2010 at 12:55 am #

    Thanks for the mentions, Kelly! Much appreciated.

    Happy reading.

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