Book review: The Bookbinders Daughter by Jessica Thorne

I read an ARC of this book via Netgalley (Thank you, Bookouture for letting me read it).
First of all – it’s a book about a magic library. How could you resist that!

Sophie is in a very controlling relationship with a scumbag, when she’s offered a job at the mysterious Ayredale library … where her parents both worked … until her mum disappeared. She leaves the scumbag and goes to the library, which feels like something more than just a place where old books are kept and repaired. Plus, everyone is acting so weird that she can’t trust ANYBODY. Possibly not even her childhood friend and very attractive bloke, Will.
There is a thread of mystery that winds its way through the story. I found reading this book completely immersive, which is something that hasn’t happened in a long time (Yay! Magic Library!). This is a story about magic and primordial inspiration. The love of books, especially old books, is threaded through the entire story. I loved that. There’s quite a lot about looking after books and working in libraries, which I enjoyed.

This is a lovely, magical read. I recommend it. Especially if you like old books and brooding, slight Gothic, libraries.

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Book review: A Midwinter Match by Jane Lovering

Ruby and Zac both work as counsellors in job centres. When two branches are combined, one of them is going to lose their job. They end up sharing an office and competing for the the same job. Ruby is doing her best to keep her Generalised Anxiety Disorder a secret and to keep up a smiling face. Zac seems to completely at ease with the world. At least that’s how it looks until Ruby starts to realise that he has secrets of his own.

I liked Ruby and her struggle with anxiety. I can relate. [The is an on-page panic attack, which was handled very well]. I really liked the mental health representation. Zac is a really nice guy – Caring in every sense of the word. The secondary characters are fun too. Especially Priya – the gay best friend, who has a confectionery drawer in her desk.

Despite the serious topics that it deals with, this book is very funny in places and made me laugh out loud a few times. It’s Christmassy, but with the usual realism that you’d expect from Jane Lovering’s books.

I got a review copy from the publishers via Netgalley. Thank you!
As always, a disclaimer – I know the author in real life, but I’ve been a fan of her books since before I met her.

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Book review: Rosaline Palmer Takes the Cake by Alexis Hall

Book cover for Rosaline Palmer Takes the Cake

I requested this book from Netgalley because I’d read Boyfriend Material last year and really enjoyed it. I was not disappointed.

Rosaline Palmer is a single mum who feels like she’s failed at life – even though she’s being a great mum to an awesome kid. On a whim, she enters Bake Expectations (which is GBBO by another name, really). The story charts her journey from being a shy and timorous newbie to a confident amateur baker, which her love life charting a course alongside the competition.

I enjoyed this book immensely and it made me chuckle out loud several times. It deals with some darker subjects (like sexual assault) as well – I particularly liked the way Rosaline dealt with the perpetrator of the assault when they called in the middle of the night to beg forgiveness. (It’s very hard to talk about this without giving spoilers – so you’re just going to have to read it yourself to find out what I’m on about).

All in all, it’s a good fun book. There’s a lot of cake in it (yay). There’s even a few recipies, written in character, at the end.

Thank you Netgalley and the publisher for the review copy.

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Book review: Isn’t it Bromantic by Lyssa Kay Adams

Cover of Isn’t It Bromantic by Lyssa Kay Adams

I’ve been waiting to get my hands on this book for ages. Every time I logged into Netgalley, I’d check to see if it was on. If you’re not familiar, The Bromance Book Club is a bunch of guys who meet to read and discuss romance novels in an attempt to become better husbands and lovers. I love these books (and I really wish I’d come up with this concept!)

Vlad is my favourite of the bros. He started off as the comic relief – ‘The Russian’, with his terrible gut problems, readily dished out hugs, and strong dedication to running for the grand gesture – so it’s lovely to see him turn into a fully developed character with his own story.

I love a beta hero and Vlad is just adorable – okay, he’s alpha on the outside (he is a pro hockey player after all!) but he’s a big softie on the inside. Vlad has been married to Elena for six years, but they both think it’s a sham marriage. Mostly this is because they don’t seem to be able to talk to each other. They both clearly care for each other, but they’re both stubborn in their own way.

I liked that Elena was prickly and defensive, but with good reason. Her responses to Claud of the ‘Loners’ were a delight.

This is probably my favourite of the Book club books. I really enjoyed it.
Thank you Netgalley an the publisher for the review copy.

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Book review: Whereabouts by Jhumpa Lahiri

Whereabouts by Jhumpa Lahiri

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I requested an ARC of this book from Netgalley because I loved The Interpreter of Maladies.
This book follows a year in the life of a nameless narrator. She talks about the places she goes, the people she knows. No one has names, we only see what these people are to her.
The book is a series of vignettes, where we see the world through one woman. We get a sense of who she is – bookish, melancholy, lonely, not entirely likeable (but interesting enough to make you want to keep reading). There is a story of sorts, but mostly it’s about us getting to know and understand the narrator. The language is sparse and deployed with precision so that you get a great sense of place and personality with minimal description.
It’s a thought provoking book. I enjoyed it.

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Book Review: The Lost Girls of Foxfield hall by Jessica Thorne

The Lost Girls of Foxfield Hall is a dual timeline story with part of it set in the present day, where Megan is trying to restore the overgrown maze behind the hall, and the other part set in WW2 where Eleanor is trying to take picture of the Green Lady (the ghost at the heart of the maze). The maze is dark and magical and one day Megan and Eleanor meet. When Megan later discovers that Eleanor went missing, just days after the time when she’d seen her, Megan has to unravel the mystery of what happened so that she can have a hope of stopping it from harming Eleanor. But she’s messing with forces that are far, far older and far, far more dangerous than she realises.

The mystery was gripping. Megan is a great character and her preoccupation with her own brothers disappearance (he’s MIA from a more modern war) feed into her need to save Eleanor from disappearing. There is a gentle romance between Megan and Nora, but the main thrust of the book is about saving Eleanor.
I found the book tense and a little bit frightening in places (in a good fantasy scary kind of way). But then, I find corn dollies very creepy at the best of times. It reminded me a little of books like The Children of Green Knowe and The Dark is Rising, which I loved reading as a child. I’d almost forgotten how much I loved that kind of real world/ magic blend.

I really enjoyed reading this book. I’d love to read more of this sort of thing.
I got beta read an early version of this book and then re-read a review copy from Netgalley.

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Book review: Home on Folly Farm by Jane Lovering

I’m a fan of Jane Lovering’s books, so when I spotted this on Netgalley, I immediately requested it.
Dora is a sheep farmer working the family farm in the North York Moors. She works hard and is scraping by. Everything changes when her spoiled sister and her equally spoiled son come to stay, bringing the son’s tutor with them. If all that weren’t enough, the tutor reminds Dora of someone she knew from her teens, where things happened that she’d really rather not remember.

There’s a lot about sheep in this story – because they occupy Dora’s thoughts a lot. The romance is slow burn and understated. The story is more like a family drama where Dora redefines her relationships with various members of her family and in doing so, finally works out her place in the family.
Nat is a nice hero, kind and dependable. The change in the relationship between the two sisters and the way the teenaged nephew changes from self obsessed YouTuber with ‘almost a thousand followers’ to a young man (and carer for two lambs) is lovely.

There’s a great car chase through the Vale of Pickering, which made me laugh a lot.

I found this book heartwarming and funny. Thanks to the publishers and Netgalley for the review copy.

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What’s the difference between a manuscript critique and a beta read?

text reads: beta read or manuscript critique? which one do you need?

A few months ago, I wrote a thread on Twitter about how beta reading a book differed from a manuscript critique. It just so happened that I’d read three manuscripts that week. Two were books by established writers, which I was beta reading and one was a manuscript by a new writer, for which I was doing a critique/assessment report.

The two experiences were very different. The two beta reads I read quickly – reading them as a story and making the odd note to myself as if I came across something that needed attention. They were both authors I enjoyed reading (and in one case I’d read the whole of the series up to that point, so I could point out any series inconsistencies because I’d enjoyed the other books and remembered things from them).
The other was a newer writer, so needed a lot more notes. My notes ranged from small things like incorrect usage of words or minor instances of head hopping to bigger structural issues.
I wrote up all three sets of notes over a weekend. The beta reads took me about 30 mins each to check notes and write up. The critique took me several hours. The other main difference is that I would charge for the critique, but the beta read was for free (those authors would do the same for mine another time).

All this got me thinking about the time a newish author asked for a sample edit of one chapter (which I did). They then asked for a full manuscript critique. But a few days later, they cancelled because they didn’t want to pay for ‘a very expensive beta read’. I didn’t argue at the time – I hadn’t started work on it – but there is a big difference between a beta read and a critique.

Notes on a beta Read

When I beta read for a writer who knows what they’re doing, my notes tend to be short – ‘needs more tension here’ or ‘this subplot doesn’t tie in’, ‘the ending doesn’t work’. I’m telling them what’s wrong, but I can trust that they will know how to fix it.
Similarly, that’s the sort of note I get from my beta readers. I have rewritten an entire 20K ending based on ‘this ending doesn’t work’. They only had to tell me what was not working. I would then do the work to figure out how to change it. This is the sort of editorial note you’d get from a structural editor in a publishing house.

Notes on a manuscript critique

My notes on manuscript critiques for newer writers run to several pages because ‘this doesn’t work’ is a useless note to give someone who doesn’t know what to do to fix it. I have to unpick WHY things don’t work (sometimes it’s easy to work out, because it’s a beginner mistake I’ve seen before, sometimes it’s not). I have to explain my observations. I have to suggest ways they could fix it. I have to be careful to tell them exactly what is wrong, but not tell them exactly, word for word, how to fix it – because that interferes with their voice and if there’s one thing we’ve heard from editors it is that they don’t want critique services to interfere with the voice of a writer

You need notes that are specific to that book and where the author is in their journey. If their 100K book only has 70K of story in it, you need to work out what that core story is and tell them which bits to cut (and maybe explain story structure). If their book is too short, you have to give them guidance as to where to expand it. You can’t say ‘add a subplot’. You have to suggest places in the book where a potential subplot might be hiding. Sometimes this means reading the manuscript several times.

And THEN, you need to go through and work out if you’re hitting the right balance in your feedback. Too negative and you risk putting the writer off writing. I remember all too well the pain/horror of my first manuscript critique. But once I’d stopped crying and eating all the chocolate I could find, I realised that they had a point. I made the changes they suggested and it improved the book. But that was only because I was in the right frame of mind to accept the criticism that I’d asked for. If I’d been earlier in my writing journey, I might have given up. I’d hate for that to happen.

On the other hand, if you’re too positive, you risk giving the writer a false sense of safety. They will think you’re a lovely person, but the report won’t help them improve their book or get closer to finding a publisher. Plus, I feel that telling people what they want to hear rather than doing what they paid you to do is ethically dubious … even if it is nicer.

So you have to read an re-read the wording of the feedback, all the while thinking ‘is this too harsh? Is this sugar coating it?’.

Reading a manuscript that needs a lot of work is not fun. It’s time consuming and it’s hard work. (And I should be spending that time writing!)
So yeah. A manuscript critique is different to a beta read. One is work. The other is fun.

Which is why we charge for the one that is hard work [and take great care about whom we extend the beta reading offers to!].

In case you hadn’t already guessed, I do manuscript critiques and mentoring. Details are under the Resources for Writers tab, or just click here to go to the manuscript critiques page.

Book Review: Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman

Practical Magic (Practical Magic #1)

The Owens sisters come from a long line of witches. The both try to escape their prescribed fate by rejecting it. Gillian runs away with a man. Sally takes her two daughters and leaves to forge a ‘normal’ life. But normal doesn’t last.
I felt desperately sad for Sally. In all honesty, Sally and her younger daughter were the only two characters I really liked. That isn’t to say the others weren’t compelling -they were. This is a book about families and sisters and magic.
I didn’t know what to expect when I picked up this book. I’m very glad I did.

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