This novel is set in Washington DC in 2015 or 2016, mainly in a new housing development called Azalea Heights. People are moving there intending to make fresh starts. There is an emphasis on newness, of the houses, the yards, and the neighbourhood. The characters include several immigrants from south Asia—some from India and others from Pakistan, as well as two white couples.
Naina is a recently divorced woman, originally from India, with a young son and a mother whose memory is failing. Gerard is recently retired from the US armed forces after being involved in the Iraq war; he has PTSD. The other white couple’s child drowned in their swimming pool; Kate is not dealing well with that. Altaf’s family is originally from Pakistan. His marriage is moribund and his son Zain is being radicalized by a cleric at the local mosque. Rohan is also from India, working hard to establish a restaurant. He is attracted to Naina.
Racial prejudice and religious extremism contribute to the plot. The characters are mostly realistic and fairly sympathetic. They are all dealing with life challenges of one sort or another—divorce, PTSD, grief, business challenges, the demands of parents, the troubles of children.
At times I thought there were too many characters; I found myself forgetting who was related to whom. The main characters—Naina, Rohan, and Altaf—are distinct and memorable. The story is told from multiple points of view, but the shifts from one to another are clear and not confusing.
The author is clearly familiar with south Asian culture and the immigrant experience and shows them vividly, occasionally including words and short phrases in Hindi and Urdu. I particularly enjoyed descriptions of Indian food and cooking.
In the first part of the book, each chapter presents one of the main characters and their situations. The pace is steady and the story at that point is mildly intriguing. Eventually, the characters’ lives begin to impinge on one another, in ways that are both hopeful and concerning. Tension definitely increases when a teenager goes missing. I found myself formulating a quite macabre explanation for this event, but at risk of spoilers, will say no more.
The book is realistic and includes descriptions of sexual situations. I thought one of them was unnecessarily detailed, considering its importance to the plot. Another was something of a surprise.
Once the story reaches a crisis point, tension is maintained and the book becomes a page-turner. The climax and resolution show both negative and positive aspects of American life as people overcome a variety of challenges and work together. The ending is both heartwarming and heart-wrenching.
I recommend this book to readers as a look into the lives of immigrants to the US and a different view of Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism.
This review is based on an advance copy provided by the author.
Ratings and reviews are important for authors, especially indies. But given the inconsistencies and manipulations they’re subject to, maybe they shouldn’t be.
The standard rating scheme found on Amazon, Goodreads, and many other sites, is the five star system, in which five stars means “excellent” and one star means “abysmal.” It’s neat and simple, and because it involves numbers, may be considered quantitative. Never mind that it’s purely subjective and may be gamed.
Ways to rate or label a book’s quality
Five star system.
Ten star system.
Binary system: Yes or No? Good or Bad?
Would you read this book again?
Would you recommend this book to a friend?
Would you recommend it to an enemy?
Emotional effect checklist: the book made me feel: happy, excited, scared, angry, disgusted, bored, etc.
No rating at all; read the reviews and make up your own mind.
The whole point of rating is to establish a value marker for a book. If you look up a title on Goodreads, you see the book’s collective star ranking below the title and author, expressed as both an image and a number, such as 4.39, 3.67, or whatever. Next to that is a “Rating details” link that shows how many readers have assigned each rating, both as a graph and numerically. It may look scientific and unarguable, but that’s deceptive when you think about where the data comes from.
Is rating necessary or realistic for books? Is a book a “product,” like a vacuum cleaner or a t-shirt?
Maybe it depends on how readers use the information. To me, the numbers and rating profile are only a preliminary indication. I often look up reviews and ratings only after I’ve started reading a book and have formed an idea about it. At that point, I want to see what other readers think. I usually read reviews with ratings other than five stars because they go into into more detail than “I love, love, LOVE this book!” So ratings don’t have a direct bearing on whether I buy a book.
This is not true for other readers, I’m sure, and I know that ratings and reviews do have a great deal of influence on outcomes such as BookBub promotions and purchases by libraries.
Something to think about: Amazon’s ranking system is based on sales, not ratings. The star ratings are a separate thing. In theory, if enough people buy a book through Amazon it could be a Number 1 Bestseller, even if no one rates (or even reads) it.
Finally, what about those lazy (or malicious) people who give low ratings but don’t review? I notice this a lot on Goodreads. Okay, it’s way easier just to click on a star than to marshal your thoughts and put them into words, but it’s not terribly helpful for readers or authors. This is especially true of one and two star ratings. I think it’s important to specify why you think a book deserves a low rating. Are some of those reviewless 1-star ratings mean-spirited efforts to drag down the number attached to a particular book?
What about you, fellow writers and readers? What do you think of book ratings? Do you pay attention to them when selecting books to read? Would you prefer something other than the 5 stars?
Featured image from Pexels; other images from Pixabay, except as noted.
Years in the making, months in the editing, months in the formatting, and a whole bunch of dead brain cells … The Dime is now live on Amazon in e-book form or paperback. Go buy yourself a copy. Buy some for your friends. They make great stocking stuffers. Door stops even. Who knows, you might actually like the book. Here’s what the first reviewer has to say:
Although The Dime centers around the lives of three young people (two teenagers and a young adult), it transcends a typical YA novel in that the characters are dealing with real-life issues (parental death, disability, abuse) that go well beyond typical teenage angst. This makes it relatable to all, especially since Paxson’s evocative writing stirs feelings and emotions in the reader that rise above the story itself.
The three main characters are fully dimensional and the storytelling rich. Even The Dime’s old owner, Mr…
I really enjoyed this mystery novel set in the early 1960s Egypt and was sorry to part with it, which is always a good sign – an emotional and mental relationship with a book doesn’t happen out of nowhere.
It has a thrilling plot, believable, multifaceted characters, and a delightful touch of spookiness. It also has somethingelse, and I’ll try to explain it.
I’ve been dazzled by Ancient Egypt since I was a child. You don’t need to believe in pseudo-scientific hypotheses about its origins to become fascinated with Egypt – I certainly don’t — but once you learn a little bit more about this incredible civilization, you can’t ignore the mysteries, the unknown and unexplained that surround it…
Yes, all sorted, tidied (as much as any book a writer wants to display in public can be tidied) the finalisation of the processing through the Amazon Kindle System completed 30th January 2021 at 9.35am GMT UK, and thence to sit back remembering to check later on to see when Amazon has made it public so the promotion via free books can be allowed (please, please Amazon co-operate and don’t do something ‘interesting’). Of course try as you might as a humble self-publisher you cannot guarantee that Kindle will (1) Align the word ‘Chapter’ at the centre of every single heading, no matter how hard you slaved over the business on WORD (also not the most dependable instrument for a writer of fiction) (2) Adhere to the same page breaks as WORD for much the same reason. But for the price I am settling either ‘Free’…
Here are reviews of seven more books to round out my best reads for this strange year.
Death’s Detective (Malykant Mysteries #1-4) by Charlotte E. English
Book Description: Konrad Savast is the Malykant: foremost and most secret servant of the God of Death. His job? To track down the foulest of murderers and bring them to The Malykt’s Justice. No mercy. No quarter.
My Review: The book consists of four novella-length stories, all of which feature Konrad Savast and his friend the apothecary Irinanda Falenia. Each of the four presents a murder for which retribution must be delivered, but supernatural justice is quite different from that found in most detective stories. The city of Ekamet, in which the stories are set, is dark, cold, and gloomy. It’s almost always snowing, raining, or blowing. Nearby is the weird Bone Forest, where Konrad has a hut on stilts. It features in every one of the stories, adding its own brand of shivery attraction. Most of the characters’ names have a Russian flavour, and there’s a nineteenth-century feel to the place, but it’s entirely fictitious. Even though the stories are about death and strangeness, Konrad and Irinanda’s conversations are lightened with humorous banter. Their friendship is an overarching theme of the four episodes, along with the difficulties that come with the job of Malykant and how Konrad copes with them. His spirit-serpent helpers, Eetapi and Ootapi, also furnish the odd subplot as well as unexpected funny moments. I recommend this book to readers who enjoy cozy mysteries with an additional touch of Slavic-style shivers.
The Termite Queen. Volume One: The Speaking of the Dead, and Volume Two: The Wound That Has No Healing by Lorinda J. Taylor
Book Description: In the 30th century, an off-world expedition returns to Earth with a specimen of giant termite whose behavior suggests intelligence. Kaitrin Oliva, a strong-willed and ambitious young linguistic anthropologist, is charged with finding a way to access its unique form of bioelectric communication. However, the insect dies and the team members realize too late that they have unintentionally murdered an intelligent lifeform. A second expedition is mounted with the purpose of making first contact and reparations. Griffen Gwidian, the entomologist heading the expedition, is a complex man with a dark personal secret. He falls in love with Kaitrin and against her better instincts Kaitrin responds. The result is a love story by turns turbulent and funny, passionate, tender, and troubled. Meanwhile, civil discord is brewing on the termite planet. Ultimately, the two plotlines intersect in an explosive climax, after which the team must return to Earth and try to come to terms with what they have experienced.
My Review: I have to admit I was hesitant to read these books (even though I’ve read and enjoyed several others by this author) because they are in part about giant termites. Big bugs. How could a book featuring big bugs, however intelligent, be anything but off-putting? I’m happy to say it’s not so, and I’m glad I decided to read The Termite Queen. This is a multi-dimensional and ambitious work. Set in the 30th century, its characters include several species of non-human intelligent life forms besides the giant termites. Even more, the author has invented languages for these life forms. These conlangs give depth and richness to the reading experience. This may sound intimidating, but The Termite Queen is eminently readable, with clear, coherent prose and careful pacing. The scenes that include only termite characters are written rather like scenes from a play, and indeed the sub-plot involving these creatures resembles a Shakespearean drama. The primary termite characters are distinct and memorable, although their intricate names took a bit of getting used to. Kaitrin Oliva, the linguistic anthropologist, is a sympathetic character. Her part of the story involves both her academic interests and the development of a significant personal relationship. Important background details of the future society in which the story is set are artfully conveyed in a way that enhances the reading experience. Volume One is an absorbing read because of the clever combination of familiar human story elements with boldly original ones. The primary focus of Volume Two is Kaitrin Oliva’s recovery from the traumatic events that conclude Volume One. This process involves revisiting many of the events of the first book from a psychological point of view. At times I felt the story bogged down in these details. but there are intriguing aspects, such as parallels between ancient Welsh mythology and the 30th century tragedy. I re-read both books recently (October 2020) and changed my rating of Volume Two to 5 stars because I better appreciated its poignant interweaving of language, culture, storytelling, and spirituality.
Innerscape Omnibus by A.C. Flory
Book Description: Welcome to Innerscape, a virtual reality in which anything is possible, even murder. Includes Book 1, Miira; Book 2, The Godsend; Book 3, Nabatea.
My Review: Having greatly enjoyed Miira, Book 1 of this work, I was delighted when this omnibus edition, comprising all three books, became available earlier this year. I intended to read it slowly, savouring the strange setting and intricate plot, but that didn’t work out. In Book 2, The Godsend, the tension ratchets up to an unbearable degree. I simply had to know how things turned out for Miira, Kenneth, and Jaimie. These characters have so many strikes against them to start with that the new complications, resulting from greed, deception, and brutal self-interest on the part of those around them, are totally compelling. The setting is Australia in the 22nd century. Climate change has altered the environment to the extent that those who can afford it live in domed communities. But the Residents of Innerscape, a select and privileged group, can travel–virtually–almost anywhere–to Paris, for example, or the ancient city of Petra, or Japan. They can also enter hyper-realistic gaming worlds. In reality, though, these individuals’ surgically altered physical selves are sealed in confinement units, kept alive by advanced technology. That means they’re totally dependent on the technology working as intended, a fact that makes them vulnerable to clever and inventive individuals pursuing hidden agendas. And there are plenty of those. The point of view shifts from one character to another at times, but the shifts are clearly signalled and not confusing in the least. The plot moves along steadily, building on previous incidents and revelations. Along the way, the reader is treated to vivid images of places, technological wonders, and characters’ clothing and physical characteristics — enough to create thrills but not so much as to be tedious. This contrasts chillingly with brief glimpses of a dystopian world, especially the truly frightening penal system. Altogether, these three books combine human drama with a futuristic vision that add up to an engrossing read with a satisfying and thought-provoking conclusion. I recommend them to any reader who enjoys a glimpse beyond the boundaries of present day reality.
One Night in Bridgeport by Mark Paxson
Book Description: Jack McGee is on his way to having it all — a promising legal career, marriage to his high school sweetheart, and a happy normal life — when his boss sends him to do some legal work in Bridgeport, California. There he meets a gorgeous local girl, Lea Rogers, and he throws caution to the wind — for one night. The next morning, Jack panics when he realizes what he’s risked and rushes home, content to leave Bridgeport, Lea, and their steamy night together buried forever. A few days later, Jack loses everything when he is arrested for rape and hauled back to Bridgeport, a small town full of secrets and intrigue and citizens determined to destroy Jack. One Night in Bridgeport is an intriguing tale of lust and vengeance, and of one man’s desperate attempt to salvage his life.
My Review: This realistic legal thriller shows how it feels to be a man accused of rape. Its methodically constructed plot benefits greatly from the author’s firsthand knowledge of legal processes. Jack, the main character, although innocent of the crime with which he’s charged, is immature, often petulant, and at times downright annoying. His lawyer, Tammy Evans, is tough but sympathetic. Watching her deal with Jack and do her job, both in and out of the courtroom, was a pleasure. The book is fast-paced, even as it shows that legal processes take a wearisomely long time. Jack makes his initial bad choice in summer, but winter arrives before his trial begins. The third person omniscient point of view shows the thoughts and actions of different characters, but at times the narrator steps away from the story to explain things to the reader. I found that helpful but a little jarring. I also appreciated the descriptions of Bridgeport (a real place) and environs.
The Inn at the Edge of Light by Michael Graeme
Book Description: Do you think you’ve only the one life to live? Well, how about two, at the same time, or maybe more? And if you think that sounds complicated you’d be right. So, beware of dreams of the Inn at the Edge of Light in case you go to sleep in one life and wake up in another. In the summer of ’87, Chris Marshal travels to the Western Isles of Scotland and spends the night in a remote mountain hut. There, he’s joined by an adventurous backpacker, Jen Munroe, who invites him to go with her on the trip of a lifetime, just the two of them, hiking along the old Hippy trail, all the way to India. But Chris is shy of and afraid of this bold, confident woman, so he says no, then wakes the following morning to find her gone. It’s then he realizes going with her was actually the one thing his life actually needed, that he’s now doomed to spend the rest of it searching, for the essence of what it was he lost that day.
My Review: This book is written in second person present tense. The person experiencing the events that make up the plot isn’t “he” or “I,” but “you.” It took me a while to get used to that, but I’m glad I kept reading. The experience was like undoing a tight knot in a string, maddening but ultimately worth the effort when the tightly twisted strands loosen and open up. The main character is at times a young man, at others middle-aged and living in a harsh world where the social order is collapsing into chaos. The time period ranges from the 1980s to the 21st century, a near future projected from the actual present. Scenes circle from the inn of recurring dreams to episodes in Chris’s real life (referred to as “topside”). At first, it’s all pretty obscure, but eventually patterns and a sense of progress emerge. The narrative is full of symbols and references to mythology, psychology and philosophy. Recurring images include Scotch whiskey, bottles (with and without messages), watches, cameras, keys, and a pebble. There are references to the enneagram, inner journeys, and mystical quests. Almost all the action is interior, a scrutiny of Chris’s memories, thoughts, expectations, and hopes. It’s almost claustrophobic at times, but ultimately, the knot opens to an ending that, although ambiguous, is satisfying. This is a book I will think about for a long time and probably re-read at some point.
Beneath the Lanterns by C. Litka
Book Description: No good deed goes unpunished. The historian Kel Cam enjoyed a pleasant life in Azera, the colorful capital of the Azere Empire. In the dark days, he taught classes at the University. In the bright days, he traveled the wide steppes to visit Blue Order communities, seeking clues about the mysterious, long dead civilization of the Elders in their libraries of ancient texts. However, when his best friend, Lefe Sol, the son of the ruler of Azere, discovers that his father has arranged his marriage to Ren Loh, the fourth daughter of the Empress of Jasmyne, Kel offers to stand by and help Lefe deal with his unexpected, and unwanted, bride-to-be. Kel soon finds himself caught up in the intrigues of empires which not only upset his well ordered life – they lay it to ruin. Beneath the Lanterns is an old fashioned novel of adventure and travel set in an imaginary land – a land of colorful cities, sweeping steppes, and lush valleys littered with the ruins of a lost advanced civilization. It is a world of sixteen days of day light under the Yellow Lantern and sixteen days of night lit by the Blue Lantern. And across this wide and wild world under the Yellow and Blue Lanterns, Kel Cam finds that he must flee for his freedom, if not his life.
My Review: There are really only two important characters in this book: scholar Kel Cam and the eccentric Ren Loh. Brought up by her father as one of his Imperial Lancers, Ren is dead set against the marriage her mother has arranged for her. Kel’s friendship with the prospective bridegroom gets him entangled with Ren early in the book, and the rest of the story is about how the two of them work things out while eluding the clutches of those who want to drag Ren back to the politically expedient marriage. Kel is serious and methodical; Ren is an adventurous risk-taker. To escape discovery, the two disguise themselves as caravan guards and later as pilgrims to a mystical city. More than once, Kel hopes he’s seen the last of her, but chance, and eventually loyalty, keep bringing them together. Engaging secondary characters include a dog with personality and a couple of horses. Well, there is another noteworthy “character,” and that is the world in which the action takes place. The landscapes and urban scenes reminded me of old China, but the long days and nights under the Yellow and Blue Lanterns suggested a different world. Places called Cauldrons, of unstable ground and toxic gases, resemble volcanic features, but not exactly. Remnants of the Elder Civilization are also tantalizing, for example the building material called “poured stone” and the enormously tall Blue Lantern Tower. That’s another thing–the story is full of colour, starting with the two Lanterns. There is a White City, a Green City and communities of something called the Blue Order. I would love to learn more about this world. As the author’s description says, this is indeed an old-fashioned adventure story, with comradeship, conflict, hard choices, and narrow escapes. It reminded me of movies like High Road to China and Romancing the Stone. I hope a sequel is in the works.
Almost all of these books are available in the usual place, but some of them may be acquired at the Smashwords store, which is having an end-of-year sale right now. In fact, two of these titles are permanently free at Smashwords.
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THREE THINGS ABOUT ME
One of my favourite pieces of music is Beethoven’s Piano Concerto no. 5, “The Emperor.”
My favourite sin food is potato chips, salt and black pepper flavour in particular.
I have been lucky enough to visit three of the lighthouses on the British Columbia coast.
QUESTIONS FROM ELIZABETH
What is the first book you really loved and read over and over? The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame.
What fictional character would you like to live with? Right now it would be France Leighton, the main character of my novel She Who Comes Forth, because I’ve just started writing the sequel to it, and I could ask her for plot suggestions.
Which writer would you like to have dinner with? Richard Adams, author of Watership Down, Maia, and The Girl in a Swing.
Which fictional character do you really detest? Steerpike, the villain in Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast and Titus Groan.
Would you rather dance or read? Read, no question. I prefer to dance internally.
MY FAVOURITE BLOG POST I’ve been blogging for more than a decade, so I have a lot of choices, but I decided on a post from August 2018 called Our Golden Age? It’s about the phenomenon of indie publishing many of us are part of.
Now, those of you who have read my posts know me as a rule-quibbler, so I’m sure you’re not surprised that I am breaking Rules 6, 7, and 8. I am not going to nominate any other blogs, but I did sort of enjoy putting this post together.
When I published Tales from the Annexe, I had to go back and correct some infuriating mistakes in both the ebook and print versions. The most obvious was forgetting to justify the text for the print version. There I was, admiring the formatted document and thinking formatting had been relatively easy this time, when I realized something. The text was left-aligned (like this post). Unless I justified it, my book would have ragged right margins.
A book with ragged right margins is perfectly okay — except it looks self-published. Some potential readers will reject it for that reason alone, even if the story looks interesting. Unfortunately, self-published book = crap is still a thing.
So I had to justify. And pay attention to other niceties of formatting, even for ebooks. Ebooks don’t need page numbers, headers, or footers, but hard page breaks after the title page and between chapters, or the stories in a collection, are a nice touch. When I first uploaded the ebook document to KDP, it lacked those page breaks. (Now it has them.)
Formatting a Word document so it may be turned into a print book boils down to this: set the margins for your trim size, justify the text, add Section Breaks (odd or even), add Footers (page numbers), add Headers (title, chapter or story title, and/or author). For headers and footers, the crucial thing is Link to Previous. If you want the header/footer to be the same as in the previous section, you leave this alone. If not, you click to turn it off and then make your changes. Look at a traditionally-published book to see which pages need headers or footers.
Always take a good look at your files before you publish. KDP provides online previewers that show exactly how a book (e-version or print) will look. They are definitely worth using. Even so, I overlooked the details I’m talking about here.
Like the print cover image, for example. Only after I uploaded it did I realize that part of the title was ever so slightly off-centre.
At first, I told myself these details didn’t matter; no one but I would notice the ragged right margin, the lack of page breaks, the off-centre title text. But of course some potential readers would notice and might conclude that the contents were probably crap. And those deficiencies would always be the first things I saw when I looked at the book. My book. And because it’s so easy to upload corrected files, I had no excuse not to do it.
So I went around the mulberry bush a few more times — added the page breaks, fixed the cover image, and justified the text, created new PDFs, downloaded and uploaded, and waited the extra days for the book to go “live” again.
Now it’s perfect. Or as close as it needs to be.
Fellow writers and publishers, how much trouble do you take with formatting? Do details like these matter to you?
Tales from the Annexe is a free download from Friday, November 27th until Saturday, November 28th, (midnight Pacific Standard Time) AMAZON: USUKCAAU