Monthly Archives: December 2013

Five Reasons Why the Star System is a Lousy Way to Rate Books.

Amazon demands it of us. Goodreads nudges us to do it and then touts our responses across their site and our social media accounts. It leaves writers on tenterhooks and readers scratching their heads. Is there that big of a difference between a four-star “really liked it” and five-star “loved it!” review? The reader giving the four stars would likely say no, while the writer…

I do not use the star system to rate books on this site. If you take a look at the same review posted on Amazon, Goodreads or Barnes & Noble, you will see stars assigned. Amazon doesn’t give reviewers a choice. I’m not so sure about the other sites, but as all sites average the total ratings a book receives and lists that average in the book’s listing, not rating the book harms it. I don’t like harming books or writers.

But that doesn’t mean I have to carry over this arbitrary and often misapplied rating system to my own site. If you visit this blog, I assume it’s because you are interested in knowing what I think about the books I’m reading. My philosophy is a simple one. Good writers read. They read widely. They read critically. This brings me to number five on my list of reasons why the star system is a lousy way to rate books.

5. The star system rewards lazy reading and fuzzy thinking.

Too often a review on one of the major retail sites consists of a star ranking and the minimum number of words required to post the review.  I love Twitter, but it’s difficult to write a good–that means USEFUL–review in 146 characters or Amazon’s twenty-word minimum.  But people do it. All the time.

It was good. I liked the writing. It deserved every star I gave it. Wonder if they’ll be a sequel with Jeremy. 

This book sucked. The writer calls herself an AUTHOR? Good thing it was free or I’d be asking for my money back. 

Readers browsing for their next literary love affair will usually click on the five-star and the one-star ratings. If all they find is the above types of non-reviews, their purchasing decision will fall back on the ratings, which are themselves supported by the non-reviews. How utterly useless. No help to the reader. No help to the writer, who may want to know why someone didn’t like her book, so she can work on improvements.

4. The star system mistakes the shorthand for the message.

Too often the first and last critical word on a book boils down to its average star rating. This underestimates readers and it short-changes authors, who deserve to have the work they’ve slaved over, sometimes for years, framed as more than a four-star mystery or two-star YA paranormal. Is the mystery a fabulous puzzle with engaging characters, but it lost a star due to an unpopular ending? Would the two-star paranormal rate five stars if the author bothered to get it professionally edited?

In the end, the star rating for a book is like the I.Q. of a human being–it very rarely means anything in the real world and yet can do a hell of a lot of damage to the person (or book) saddled with it.

3. The star system helps trolls turn reviews into weapons of career destruction.

On their own, the criticisms I’ve presented above might not have a huge impact one way or another on readers, books or writers. So what if some people give the written equivalent of a caveman’s grunt as a review? Who cares if a three-star book might really be an under-appreciated five-star gem?

Besides being annoying to people like me? Maybe not much.

But in the hands of someone with an ax to grind, star shorthand combined with minimal length/quality requirements for reviews can tank a book before it’s even born. Sounds unreal? Hang out on Goodreads for a while. Pick a couple of books at random and start skimming the reviews/ratings. The vitriol will reveal itself through a stench of sour grapes and the overabundance of grammatical errors. One-star reviews coupled with accusations of plagarism, of the purchasing of good reviews, and all manner of literary skulduggery. One writer I know of suffered this BEFORE her book was even published. She’d only announced the upcoming release and WHAAM! It broke her. She never released the book. I don’t know if she’s even still writing.

And, yes, this nonsense can work in reverse. Five-star reviews planted by friends and family with little if any substance to back them up.  But it’s the system itself that makes these abuses possible.

How?

2. The star system does not provide a truly standardized means of rating books.

There is no agreed upon, universally adopted criteria for assigning a given book a particular number of stars. Of course not, you say, opinions are subjective. My five-star masterpiece of global literature is your two-star pretentious clap trap fit only to be put thorough the shredder and used for hamster bedding. Fair enough. But what that means is that the stars cannot be taken at face value. The information they communicate must be evaluated with the supporting comments–the actual written reviews. By sites like Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Goodreads not coupling these assessments (stars with their reviews) more rigorously, we allow the sort of abuse and gaming of the system discussed above. Just try and get a troll review removed off of your Goodreads or Amazon listing. Difficult if not impossible.

You’ll notice I’m limiting my critique to the big sites and retailers. Individual book bloggers who use the star system have their (usually quite extensive) reviews to back up their ratings. You may not agree with their assessment, but you sure know how they arrived at it.

This leads me to the number one reason why I hate the star system and won’t use it here:

1. The star system can make good book reviewers into liars.

It’s certainly made me into a liar. Many times. I read EVERYTHING. Literary fiction. Romance. Steampunk. Mystery. Dystopian Angel Family Sagas. Work by independent writers.  Work by bestselling masters of their genre. If it’s in print and doesn’t include the graphic abuse of children or animals, I will read it. And, as each book is different, each has to be evaluated individually. Who wrote it? What were her goals? Where did she succeed? Where did she fall down? How has this book changed me?  Those questions come first. Only then will I compare the book to others like it.

This approach of mine can lead to strange star assignments. Make me cry and you’ll get five stars. I don’t care if you’ve got typos on every other page. A new writer taking ambitious risks with form or plot…and failing miserably…can end up with four stars. I like writers with balls. A technically perfect narrative that doesn’t move me one way or another? Three stars.  A piece of erotica consisting of great sex scenes but a thin plot might get four stars, while an erotic mystery where the tightly conceived action is interrupted every other chapter for a multi-orgasmic boink fest gets only three.

Readers choosing a book based on my five-star review and finding that typo-riddled tearjerker might rightly call me a liar. So would someone reading that technically beautiful novel that just failed to move me. It’s all so subjective.

That’s why, on this blog, there are no stars.

Reading is personal. Why even pretend to be objective?

The Only Currency That Truly Matters: A review of THE ULTIMATE TIME MANAGEMENT SYSTEM by Jeff Testerman

Procrastination and time management have always been challenges for me, so I have read my share of books on the topic. I’ve found that most of them are geared to those working 9-to-5 jobs or moms trying to co-ordinate work-family-home activities. As an independent author and editor, I have plenty of time on my hands. I just can’t seem to make the most of it. Things were easier in college and graduate school where I had a built-in structure to my days, even if the particulars changed each semester based on class load or subject area. Even back then, though, my motto was “never do today what you can put off until tomorrow.”

The Ultimate Time Management System Start Getting Things Done In Less Time With Less Stress
The Ultimate Time Management System Start Getting Things Done In Less Time With Less Stress

Back then there also seemed an endless supply of tomorrows. Not the case in reality. The older I get, the faster tomorrow sneaks into today and then slips into yesterday. Call it a mid-TIME crisis, but I was glad to come across a free promotional download of THE ULTIMATE TIME MANAGEMENT SYSTEM by Jeff Testerman.

The author starts from a position that people need to focus on action management rather than time management. Exactly what do you need to get done and why? What’s the purpose of doing that particular thing? What’s the payoff? Is it a one-step task or a larger project that requires multiple individual actions? Is it something that needs to be done once (even if it takes many actions–like writing a book) or is it ongoing? The questions help with goal setting, prioritizing, and breaking down large, scary endeavors into tiny steps that can be done over the course of your normal day.

I particularly like the way the author uses broad “Catchall” lists to control the scope of the usual To-Do list. Basically, the Catchall list is a compilation of everything you feel you need to get done in the next seven to ten days. From there you choose only your top four on the To-Do list. If you get through the four items, pick something else from the Catchall. If you don’t get to something, put it back on the catchall list. Maybe you’ll put it back on tomorrow’s To-Do, maybe you’ll decide it doesn’t need to be done at all. Either way, you don’t start your day with an unrealistic gauntlet to fight through, and you don’t end your day staring at a huge list of unaccomplished tasks.

Testerman’s basic philosophy is that THINKING and ACTION need to be kept separate. By taking the time to truly think through and plan what we want to do–the actions we want to take–ahead of time, there’s no reason to ever torture ourselves in the middle of a task with “should I be doing something else right now” because you’ve already decided its value.

One note, Jeff Testerman writes from a Christian perspective. While his faith is apparent in some of the examples he uses of people needing to juggle activities, he does not spurt bible verses at the reader left, right, and center. The advice he gives is accessible to anyone regardless of their religion or lack thereof. I definitely found this book worth the hour or so it took to read, and I’ve noticed a better flow to my work day as I’ve implemented some of the ideas.

 

More Proof that Good Fiction Matters: a review of MAKING FACES by Amy Harmon

Amy Harmon’s MAKING FACES is a cut above most of the YA/New Adult books I’ve read. Her characters are so vivid they virtually jump off the page. The challenges they face are genuine and heartbreaking. Resolution doesn’t come easy. For some, it doesn’t come at all.

Making Faces

Making Faces

A pastor’s daughter, Fern Taylor aspires to write romance novels. She practices her craft throughout high school. After graduation she takes a late-night job at a grocery store and writes in the morning. Her best friend is her handicapped cousin Bailey, who suffers from Dushenne Muscular Dystrophy, a condition which has slowly stolen his independence and will eventually take his life. Fern and Bailey’s relationship is one of the most beautiful aspects of the novel. Bailey is not portrayed as a victim. He’s an ornery smart ass, who isn’t afraid to call Fern out when he thinks she’s being dopey or selling herself short.

Ambrose Young’s prowess at wrestling is going to take him to the college of his choice and beyond. As Harmon’s book jumps back and forward in time, we see that Ambrose has always held strangely ambivalent feelings about Fern. She’s not beautiful. Not by a long shot. But he’s constantly aware her, and he’s intrigued by her uncomplicated honesty. Still, their different places in the school’s social universe keeps them from really getting to know one another.

Then the 9-11 attacks happen and everything changes. Ambrose enlists in the army with a bunch of his best buddies. He returns emotionally broken and physically transformed. Exiling himself from everyone he knew before, he works the graveyard shift at his father’s bakery. Fern, a fellow night owl, uses the tenuous threads of their former relationship to to build a lifeline for him that he’s not keen to grab hold of at first.

Rather than engineering their romance with sexual fireworks or pixie dust, Harmon builds a mature relationship for her characters that includes rash choices, errors, and misunderstandings. Ambrose and Fern suffer for their Happily Ever After. In the process, we come to love them as much as Harmon clearly does.

I don’t think anyone can read MAKING FACES and not be transformed by it. Ambrose, Fern and Bailey made me want to be a better person. This is fiction at its best.

Good Writing Can’t Cure a Bad Attitude: Review of WALDEN ON WHEELS by Ken Ilgunas

I was really looking forward to reading this book. I have been a proponent of the Voluntary Simplicity movement since the early 1990s when I happened upon a book called YOUR MONEY OR YOUR LIFE by Vicky Robin and Joe Dominguez. Through the years I have learned firsthand how frugality can ransom that most limited of commodities–TIME. I also have personal experience of the burden of student loan debt, how poor or thoughtless choices at eighteen can haunt a person for decades. So when I heard about Ken Ilgunas’s efforts to escape debt and suffer a little now in return for a more peaceful life forever after, I was ready to jump right on board.

Walden on Wheels: On the Open Road from Debt to Freedom
Walden on Wheels: On the Open Road from Debt to Freedom

Too bad Ilgunas’s head is such an unpleasant place to spend time.

Sure, it might have something to do with his age that he considers working for Home Depot more soul crushing than cleaning toilets in an Alaskan motel. The myth of Rugged Individualism and all that. He’s from western New York, which these days is apparently a wasteland of suburban tract housing populated by husks of humanity cut off from nature and doomed by their demand for warm homes and cable television. Even the mighty Niagara Falls fail to move him. Forget for a moment that the state of New York is home to vast amounts of farmland and the Catskill and the Adirondack mountain ranges–perhaps that doesn’t mean much in comparison to the wilds of the northern frontier. Hey, who wouldn’t like to walk on a glacier or watch caribou galloping along the tundra? My quarrel with Ilgunas (besides his questionable moral code in which a co-worker who beats his girlfriend until blood seeps from her ear or pours water over dogs sleeping outside in below-freezing temperatures is treated with more compassion than a horny truck driver who eats too many fried foods) is his tendency to indulge in childish tantrums that blame society for his own choice to fritter away his teens/early twenties playing video games and emailing porn.

Does the author have some amazing stories to tell about his time in the wilderness? Absolutely. Does he show us some hard truths about the day-to-day struggles of this country’s working poor? Yes. Is he correct about the damage excessive student debt can do to the individual and to society? Definitely. But apparently these life-transforming experiences and insights, which comprise 95% of the book, are not important enough to provide its marketing hook. Instead Ilgunas, critic of modern consumer culture, allowed his publisher to focus on the 5% of the book that has to do with his time actually living in his van.

I know people will ask, what’s wrong with capitalizing on the current hot topic of student debt and that perennial best-seller Thoreau’s WALDEN, especially if it helps another young person avoid financial trouble? Normally, nothing. But once you’ve read through Ilgunas’s repeated tirades against capitalism and those of us who have chosen to make some peace with the world we live in–even if that world has had the bad manners to continue progressing past 1850–you’ll find a problem with not getting the book he advertised.

Yeah, it’s well written. And I suppose if one person reads this book and limits the amount of student loan debt he accumulates, it’s worth the cover price. But it really is just another tale of adolescent rebellion screeched at ear-splitting volume. If this was 1990, Ilgunas would have backpacked through Europe on five bucks a day, joined a kibbutz, and then come home to get his MBA.

Love & Redemption YA-Style: A Review of UNTIL YOU and BULLY by Penelope Douglas

Until You (Fall Away, #1.5)

Until You

It took me by surprise how much I enjoyed Penelope Douglas’s debut novel, BULLY. You can read that review, which I wrote before starting this blog, below. UNTIL YOU tells the story of Tatum and Jared through his point of view. I feared that it would be little more than a re-hash of the original. Instead, it is largely a completely new work.

That said, Jared’s head isn’t an easy place to hang out. He’s difficult and conflicted and full of rage. It’s amazing to me that Douglas still manages to keep him sympathetic. Not likable. That would be going too far. Even at his best, Jared has no use for most of humanity and that can’t help but put me off him a bit. But as I’m not the one building a life with him, that’s just fine. The point is he’s a compelling and effective character.

A side benefit to experiencing the story through Jared’s eyes is the insight we get to some of the other characters–we learn much more about Madoc, Jaxson, KC, and even Tatum’s father, who was a bit fuzzy in the original. In this way, Douglas enriches the fictional world she’s created. There’s an extra dimension to it and to the characters populating it.

I can’t believe how impatient I am for the next installment of the Fall Away series, which won’t be out until the summer of 2014. It’s going to be Madoc’s story. He was fun in the first book, but now that I know so much more about him, I’m really eager to see what Douglas has in store for him.

Bully (Fall Away, #1)

Bully

I read BULLY because there was such a buzz about it on my Facebook feed. People either loved it or hated it. It seemed a lot of the reviewers could not separate their real-world feelings about the problem of bullying from author Penelope Douglas’s plot and characters. I would agree that, on the surface, writing a book in which a young woman develops feelings for the young man who bullies her might seem to send an unhealthy message. However, once I read the book it became clear that the author put a lot of thought and heart into her story and the takeaway message is about personal strength and the power of forgiveness.

Jared has made Tate’s life a living hell since her freshman year of high school. While not physically abusive, he has taunted her, staged mean pranks and started embarrassing rumors. What makes the entire situation worse is that she and Jared were once the best of friends. In fact, he was the person she turned to when her mother died of cancer. Then Jared went to spend the summer with his estranged father and he came home a different person. Things got so unbearable that Tate opted to spend her junior year abroad. Now she’s back and determined not to be Jared’s victim. Over the course of the novel, Tate gives as much crap as she gets, to the point where she begins to worry that she’s in danger of turning into a bully.

By standing up for herself, Tate changes the dynamics of her relationship with Jared. He really is forced to take a look at himself and admit that he’s made Tate the scapegoat of his own serious family problems. The road back to friendship…and more…is long and fraught with obstacles and set backs.

What I loved about this book is that the author took the time to build realistic characters. None of them are all good or all bad. They have weakness and they sometimes make stupid choices. Even more impressive is the opportunity Douglas gives her characters to improve themselves, to find their way out of the messes they’ve made. No one gets off easily in BULLY.

Not only did I enjoy the book. It’s one of the few I’d put on my “will read again” shelf.

 

Re-Imagining Austen. Again. A Review Of Jo Baker’s LONGBOURN

I wasn’t so sure about this one at first. Considering all the Austen sequels, prequels, and re-tellings that have appeared in the past couple of years alone, it’s hard to stand out, to somehow make a classic like Pride & Prejudice new. Literary writers have it harder than those turning the book into a contemporary romance or a murder mystery, because the result has to be more than ephemeral entertainment, it has to actually mean something. At the same time, this is Jane Austen–get too heavy and your audience will riot. Just ask writer/director Patricia Rozema, who tried to insert a bit of historical relevance into her 1999 feature film version of Mansfield Park, treating viewers to hints of Sir Betram’s untoward relations with the female slaves on his Antigua plantation and Lady Bertram’s addiction to the opiate laudanum. Austen lovers were not amused.

Longbourn

Longbourn

Author Jo Baker manages to tread the fine line between literary merit and pure reading enjoyment. She does this by essentially turning Pride & Prejudice on its head. The Bennets, Darcys, and Binglys become minor characters in a drama centering on their normally invisible maids, housekeepers and footmen. In reality, we aren’t getting a retelling of a classic at all but a largely original work.

The plot centers around housemaid Sarah and James Smith, the natural (illegitimate) son of housekeeper Mrs. Hill and Mr. Bennet, master of an estate that will be entailed away from his heirs because none of the legitimate ones are male. It’s this beautiful and tragic irony that provides the central thread of the novel. Baker does a great job recreating the daily grind of life in service during the regency period. Her descriptions of maids washing their mistresses’ filthy menstrual rags and carrying sloshing chamber pots down staircases and through endless twisting corridors on the way to the outdoor “necessary” house brings us right into that cold, aching, stinking world. Yet Baker works to present us with rounded human beings rather than stick figure examples of the evils of social inequality. There’s plenty righteous indignation on the part of the servants for their employers’ often frivolous demands on their time and energy, but also genuine care and concern flow both upstairs and down.

Where Baker does go wrong is in the beginning of volume three of the book, when the action at Longbourn stops dead and we are treated to an exhausting flashback of James’s experiences as a gunner in Portugal and Spain. Three chapters of violence, hunger and sexual exploitation that lead us….where? We already know the footman has an unhappy past and is wary of being noticed by soldiers of the militia staying in Meryton. And, through two taut interactions with the noxious and conniving Wickham, we get enough detail to set up the coming plot turns. The flashback is gratuitous and undercuts the novel at the very point when it should be the tightest and most dramatic.

Luckily, Baker does get back to Longbourn and even takes us beyond the end of Pride & Prejudice, so we get to follow James, Sarah, Polly, and Mrs. Hill a little way into their futures. Here’s where the book really succeeds. Baker’s servant class characters are as fascinating to spend time with as Austen’s elegant creations and, by the end, we’re just as sorry to say goodbye to them.

A Fine Balance: The Pleasures and Pitfalls of the Contemporary Novella

I have mixed feelings about the current “novella” trend in fiction. Shorter works featuring secondary characters from a successful full-length novel or covering a discrete span of time before/after the action of the original can make sense from both a creative and a marketing standpoint. Problem is the novella is a deceptively difficult form to master. It requires more character and plot development than a short story, yet the narrative arc has to be a lot tighter than you’d find in a full-length novel. Careful pacing becomes paramount. Stuff too much into a novella and the reader will likely feel rushed and disoriented. Provide too little content and they wonder what the point of the exercise was other than to make a few more bucks for the writer.

A romance novella is especially difficult to pull off because there often isn’t enough space for the main characters to be set up as three-dimensional individuals, develop a mutual attraction, negotiate the complications keeping them apart and, finally, come together in a realistic and satisfying conclusion.

In PRETTY AND PREGNANT, Author Madison Johns makes a good start by having her couple already know one another. Kimberly Steele, pregnant and unmarried, works for lawyer Jeremy Preston. In this way, the plot gets a neat jump start. Jeremy’s client, the representative for a beauty product company, sees Kim and thinks she’d be a great spokes-model for their new perfume. This is where the plot starts to falter. Out of the blue, this interest makes Jeremy begin to see Kim in a new light and the great love chase begins.

The problem is that instead of developing Jeremy fully and giving us a genuine basis for his attraction to Kim (and the necessary ingredients are there: she’s attractive, kind, and a damsel in distress)the author throws in unrealistic complicating factors. First there’s Clare, Jeremy’s sort-of girlfriend. She’s also Jeremy’s employee…and also a model. Clare presents some sort of threat that never actually materializes. Yet Jeremy feels it necessary to propose to her to protect Kim. Then there’s the false complication of Kim’s pregnant-but-unmarried status being a danger to her reputation and that of the cosmetics company. Maybe in 1980. Not today. At the very least, Johns doesn’t make the danger real. Either way, Jeremy uses this fear to “trick” Kim into marrying him. Of course, Kim is secretly in love with him. The basis for her feelings is never established. But–BOOM–a happy ending is enjoyed by all. The reader is left shaking her head and wondering how the heck we got from point A to point B.

I think the problem is the novella form rather than the story itself. Johns had a good romantic situation but not enough room to execute it effectively. The result is a full-length romance novel played on fast forward.

In FINDING CINDERELLA, author Colleen Hoover gives us a glass slipper that fits.

The story focuses on one specific story line–the coming together of Six and Daniel, secondary characters from Hoover’s popular HOPELESS and LOSING HOPE. Setting aside the would-it-really-happen factor, Daniel has an intimate encounter with a classmate in a school maintenance closet. It isn’t a truly anonymous situation, there’s an emotional connection beforehand, but circumstances don’t allow Daniel to explore it. The girl tells him she’s leaving the school.

Fast-forward about a year, Daniel meets Six. She’s the best friend of his best friend’s girl. Six spent the previous school year in Italy. Hoover lets us know that it wasn’t a good year for Six. This early foreshadowing is the main reason the piece works as a novella. Without it the big reveal at the end would be pure melodrama. Instead, we watch Daniel and Six come together knowing full well that she’s Cinderella and never expecting the final twist that will threaten their relationship, a complication that works because it is based in that initial encounter. This is tight plotting.

Does Daniel resonate as a character for me? No. He’s jaded and man-whorish. Bad enough qualities in a grownup. Unconvincing in a young person from a basically decent family–no history of parental abuse or addiction or any other trauma to account for it. Speaking of parents, I also don’t buy the progressive parenting that riddles this particular neighborhood. It struck me as too author-engineered. Yet, I did like FINDING CINDERELLA and plan to check out the full-length novels Hoover drew from.

Taking a lesson from these two examples, the key to a successful novella, seems to be creating a scaffolding that mimics the structure of a good short story–close focus on a few characters working through a single pivotal complication over a sharply defined time period–and filling it in with the level of character complexity (psychological and emotional) normally found in a novel.
pretty and pregnant
pretty and pregnant

Finding Cinderella
Finding Cinderella (Hopeless, #2.5)

Philosophy of Book Reviewing Part I

When I was a kid, my favorite school assignments–after that delightful standard “What Did You Do This Summer?”–were book reports. Whereas many kids yanked a random book off of a home or library shelf and copied down some halfhearted version of the inside flap copy, I took delight in recounting the plot of my current read, complete with dossiers on the main characters, and a detailed account of what I would or would not have done in the protagonist’s place.

And that was the word I used, too.

Protagonist.

It’s a wonderful word. The actor. The hero. The person who DOES…and usually the right thing. In contrast to that other person. The Antagonist. Who nine times out of ten was a perfect Foil for the champion in temperament and intention. If I was truly lucky, the author provided plenty of Foreshadowing of the most exciting plot twists. Ahhh…mastery of the jargon of literature as understood by a ten-year-old Bibliophile. Another great word. Lover of books. Yum.

Sometimes, when a book had particularly roused my passions, Astrid Lindgren’s Pippi Longstocking comes to mind, I might even bring out my super-duper box of 64 crayons and illustrate a scene or recreate the cover.

What it came down to was a violent urge to share something which had moved me.

As I got older, I learned something else. Good readers tend to be good writers. Language good or bad, skillful or sloppy is contagious. The natural corollary: Good writers read. Widely. Critically. With passion.

It’s a myth that reading is a passive endeavor.  Reading is active. Reactive. Done well, it’s a multi-directional conversation. Writer speaks to reader. Reader talks back. Writer speaks to character. Character agrees or not. And when reader and character start gabbing…that’s how love affairs begin.

My first literary hissy fit: Thomas Hardy and myself locked in bloody battle as poor Jude Fawley looks on, his life in wreckage at our feet. Hardy won–he wrote the book, after all–but it was his head I aimed at as I hurled my Penguin Classics Jude the Obscure across my bedroom. It slammed into the wall just above a framed print of Cinderella running out on her glass slipper. Cinders and the paperback both hit the floor, and I didn’t read another Hardy for years.

Books can do that to you.

I haven’t even started on good books versus bad ones. Or books we  love versus those we hate versus…now this is sad…books that don’t move us at all.

For now, though, just this…

Good writers read.

Scrawl it on the message board attached to your refrigerator. Set it to music and make it your ring tone. Write it in the dust on your television screen.

Good writers read.

 

She’s Baaaack! Carrie Reviews THE BRIDE WORE SIZE 12 by Meg Cabot

 

I’ve read all of Cabot’s Healther Wells mysteries. This is the best of the series in my opinion. The books are all light and fun with a nice balance of tension and romance. However, this is the first one where the mystery is weighty enough to hold its own.

Heather Wells, former pop-singing sensation turned residence hall director at a fictional version of NYU, is finally planning her wedding to her private eye boyfriend, Cooper. Of course, a semester can’t go by without at least one person dying in Fischer Hall. This time it’s one of the new undergraduate RAs. The death touches off a potential international incident thanks to the presence of the pampered scion of a Middle Eastern monarch. Half the school is trying to impress the kid, the other half is protesting against him. Also, he brings along with him private AND government security details that obstruct Heather’s investigation. The cherry on this cake? Heather’s mother–the woman who ran off with her millions a decade before–pops up bringing even more trouble.

Will Heather make it down the aisle, or is her wedding going to be upstaged by her funeral?

I loved that Cabot brought together all of our favorite characters from Heather’s world. Glitzy Magda the cafeteria lady, annoying social activist Sarah, Heather-worshiping film student Gavin, Crusty detective Canavan–they’re all here (along with many others) causing Heather grief and picking her up at her lowest moments.

Cabot does a great job plotting the novel. The pacing is right on point, with the story moving quickly but providing enough clues and red herrings to get your teeth into. The identity of the killer took me by surprise. When the truth finally comes out, it works really well.

So if you want to go back to college and have a lot more fun than you did the first time around, you’ll enjoy this book.