Posted in Reading, Travel, Writing

The Fatal Attraction of Books to Review

(A new post about book reviews and my reading habits)

Red bookcase of to-read books

The decision I made some time ago to read and review books outside my comfort zone has brought many rewards.

None of these has been financial, which is worth mentioning given the subject matter of the book I’ll be talking about further down this post. No, I’m talking about rewards in terms of the discovery of many terrific new books that would otherwise have been off my radar.

Another good decision was to include my email address on my Amazon profile. Since I’ve reached the heady heights of top reviewer status (well, top 1,500, anyway – currently #1,453 in the UK), I’ve received a steady stream of emails from authors asking me to review their books.

With a teetering to-read pile constantly tumbling down by my bed, and the black hole that is my Kindle hiding dozens of downloads, I’ve always got more books than I have time to read, but whenever I receive a courteous, friendly request to review a book that sounds interesting, I do my best to squeeze it in, unless it sounds like a book I’d actively dislike.


How I Choose Which Books to Review

Books on the mat by my bed
My Bed (sorry, Tracy Emin, but I prefer mine to yours)

I often use Amazon’s handy “Look Inside” feature to check out the first few pages before saying yes – if the first few pages don’t appeal, it’s unlikely the rest of the book will. That’s a far more reliable guide to a book’s readibility than checking out the other reviews.

I’ve also learned a new trick here: if there is a suspiciously high number of five star reviews, I’ll click on each reviewer to see how many other reviews they’ve left. If there are none, I can be pretty confident that they doing an author friend a favour, and I take their verdict with a pinch of salt.

So, top tip to authors who ask friends to bung up a 5* review for them: while they’re at it, get them to review loads of other books with various star ratings to add credibility to their review of your book. ( I jest.)

Forging Ahead

Cartoon of a burglar with mask and cash box
Not Susan Grossey but @CriminalGenius

And that kind of activity brings me neatly (ok, with a bit of a shove, then) to the latest book that I’ve discovered via this route: Fatal Forgery by Susan Grossey. Susan sent me a very pleasant email asking whether I’d be interested in reviewing it, after she’d discovered me via my recent article in ALCS News. She included a link to an early review in the Law Gazette. It was glowing, but given the context, I was happy to believe that it was legal, decent, honest and truthful!

Cover of Fatal Forgery by Susan GrosseyFatal Forgery is a historical novel set in the Regency period, following the adventures of a police constable investigating a case of fraud.

Fraud isn’t a subject that usually excites me, although it clearly does engage Susan, in a way that is completely above board (although when I followed her on Twitter, it did suggest as “similar to @SusanGrossey” a certain @CriminalGenius!)

Susan writes about money laundering for a living, in publications that surely must be contenders for the satirical TV programme Have I Got News For You‘s guest magazine of the week, with titles such as Money Laundering Bulletin. (“This week’s top tip: how to get your fivers whiter than white” etc. I’ll leave to you invent equally childish quips of your own.)

Forgery, in Regency times, was potentially punishable by death – a fact that 21st century bankers would do well to remember. That would keep them on the straight and narrow. When the promised book turned up in the post, the beautiful, appropriate cover and atmospheric interior design had me quickly turning the pages, and I was hooked. I’ve reviewed the book on my blog, as well as on Amazon UK/US and Goodreads. (I know how to make an author happy!) There’s a link at the foot of this post.

Artistically Inclined

Cover of The Towers of Tuscany by Carol CramAn Amazon-induced email also introduced me to Carol M Cram, another debut historical novelist, whose story of medieval Italian artists, The Towers of Tuscany, kept me entertained on my journey to and from the Cambridge Literary Festival recently. Would a writer working in Canada really be able to conjure up the colourful Mediterranean of times gone by, I wondered? Yes, and in spades, is the answer. Follow the link at the foot of this post to read my review – as always, the reviews on my blog are slightly different to those I post on Amazon and Goodreads.

Africa Bound

Cover of In A Foreign Country by Hilary ShepherdBut now it’s all change again, as my current read has taken me to 1970s Ghana, thanks to In A Foreign Country by Hilary Shepherd – another author who contacted me after reading my ALCS News article. Who needs to go on holiday when you can travel so far – and in time as well – via the pages of a good book, without even getting out of bed? I’ll review this as soon as I’ve read it.

Ithacan Odyssey

Image of setting for Homeric Writers' RetreatAll the same, I’m looking forward to travelling in real life to Ithaca this August, when I’ll be helping other authors at the Homeric Writers’ Retreat. I’m inspired before I’ve even got on the plane: “A dozen authors come together for a peaceful workshop on a tiny, idyllic Greek island.The authors’ ink and the local wine are flowing steadily until….”

You never know, that could become the blurb for my own debut novel – watch this space!


Links to book reviews mentioned above:

Other related posts:

Posted in Self-publishing, Writing

How I Came To Write for ALCS News

ALCS News logoI have to thank Hereward Corbett, proprietor of the equally wonderfully named Yellow-Lighted Bookshops in Nailsworth and Tetbury, for his personal introduction to Caroline Sanderson, editor of the ALCS News.

I thought I was busy till I met Caroline. Not only is she newsletter editor for the ALCS, she’s also non-fiction editor for The Bookseller (the trade paper of the British book trade), chair of  literary festival events, book award judge, and a respected author – and she still finds time to volunteer in the local community, choreographing a fabulous Book Week for one lucky primary school in the neighbourhood.

A meeting with Caroline in one of my favourite coffee shops, The Olive Tree in Nailsworth. resulted in her commissioning me to write this overview of self-publishing in the March issue of ALCS. (The best author meetings happen in coffee shops, something I blogged about here.)

So what’s ALCS? I hear you cry

ALCS logoThe organisation’s full name is the Authors’  Licensing and Collecting Society. This marvellous membership organisation for authors is much-loved by writers of all kinds because it looks after their rights and ensures they receive fair payment for the various uses of their work.  Membership costs just a one-off fee of £25 when someone first joins (this usually comes out of the royalties they collect), and in return members receive a regular income stream in addition to the earnings received directly from their writing (advances, royalties, etc).

The ALCS News is issued monthly online to keep authors abreast of developments affecting their rights and earnings.

Caroline asked me to write about self-publishing to raise awareness of its potential as a further source of income for members. My brief was to help ALCS members make informed decisions about whether or not to self-publish any of their work.

The reason Caroline asked me to do this is because I am more or less her counterpart within the Alliance of Independent Authors, for whom I edit a blog of self-publishing advice.

And ALLi….?

ALLi logoThe Alliance of Independent Authors is the professional, non-profit organisation for self-publishing authors. Not surprisingly, there is a significant overlap between our membership groups. As time goes by, I’m hoping that overlap will increase. I should point out that ALCS is a UK organisation, and ALLi’s membership is worldwide, but there are equivalent organisations fulfilling ALCS’s functions all over the world.

How wonderful – and appropriate – that such a quest was kicked off in our local indie bookshop! There’s so much more to bookshops than just books. Use them or lose them, folks!

To read my article about self-publishing in the March issue of ALCS News, please click here.

For More Information

To keep up to date with news about my writing life, and for advance notice of new publications, events and special offers, click the “Join My Mailing List” link in the column to the right of this post.