Thursday, 21 December 2017

Merry Christmas and a Happy 2018

It's been quite a year on this blog and at Sunpenny, we are happy we've been able to get it up and going again. We've enjoyed posting our author interviews, book signing tips and back stories to our books. It's been a fascinating and interesting series of posts.

However, with Christmas coming, we're going to be taking a break, so this last post for 2017 is just to wish you all a wonderful festive season and a marvellous start to the new year.

From our MD, Jo Holloway and all our authors, so many of whom have made a great contribution to this blog, all the very best until we see you again! Enjoy the break and don't forget – reading is the best form of relaxation you can indulge in over the holiday season!

Jo Holloway

Saturday, 9 December 2017

Reading to relax at the end of the year

Before we reach Christmas, there are usually many things to clear up and finalise. It's the end of the year in more ways than calendar months, which means that administration, bookkeeping, projects and all sorts of other things have to be finished before we can breathe a sigh of relief and enjoy the holidays.

By the time we have all struggled through to the Christmas break, most of us are exhausted. In the northern hemisphere, we have winter to add to our fun and this year it has come early; there has already been snow in many places. In the southern hemisphere, it is full summer and quite a number of businesses shut down for most of the month. All in all, the prospect of the Christmas holidays is a daunting one for a large number of people involved in the rush to close businesses and the year end accounts.

So what is our suggestion then? Well, as a publisher, we naturally suggest reading to relax. For instance, those dreaming of summer sun and hot weather, read a book that takes you there and for those in the sun who would love to experience a northern winter, read a novel with a winter setting.

So putting our money where our mouth is, what can we offer Sunpenny's readers?

For all you northerners, relax this Christmas with these lovely books, all of which are set in the southern hemisphere. You can soak up the sun in Australia with Sandra Peut and Blue Freedom, in Zimbabwe with JS Holloway's Dance of Eagles and KC Lemmer's A Flight Delayed, and in New Zealand and South Africa with Debbie Roome's Embracing Change. Just click on the authors' names for the links to their books!

And for those of you sweltering in the south? Well, we have a few special books for you too! How about experiencing a barge in Belgium in the winter of '62 with The Skipper's Child by Valerie Poore  or winter in an English country cottage with Someday Maybe by Jenny Piper. Then there's Julie McGowan's two novels set in Wales during WWII and before. Each of these provides special winter scenes to cool you down in your hot weather.

So from all of us at Sunpenny, we hope you like our suggestions and have some happy relaxing and reading between now and our last post before Christmas. Enjoy the run up to the festive season and don't work too hard! Reading is one of the best ways of resting, so we hope you enjoy what we have to offer!

Thursday, 30 November 2017

Books for children on the feast of St Nicholas

For those who are not aware of it, the popular Christmas figure of Santa Claus is based on the historical figure of St Nicholas, a Greek bishop of Myra, which is in present day Turkey. The real St Nicholas apparently lived from AD 270-323 and in many European countries, the feast of St Nicholas is celebrated on either 5 or 6 December and is very much a children's festival.  

 But who was St Nicholas? It seems that no one really knows much about him except that he loved children and legend has it he brought three little boys back to life after they had been killed. It is also said that he is the patron saint of unmarried girls after endowing three very poor young ladies with enough money to marry the men of their dreams. However, how he came to be canonised is unknown. What is also unknown is why he is always depicted as having come from Spain and why he rides a white horse. Nevertheless, by the 11th century, he was not only the patron saint of children and single girls, but also of sailors and Amsterdam; hence the very special connection to the Netherlands.   

 These days, the feast of Sinterklaas on 5 December is probably more important in the Netherlands than Christmas, but it is also very popular in Belgium, northern Germany, Luxembourg and northern France. It is the day children by tradition receive gifts from St Nicholas and his helpers if they have been good and various degrees of punishment if they've been naughty. The nature and the amount of the punishment seems to vary depending on where he is. He generally arrives from Spain by boat around 20 November and from then on, proceeds around the participating countries until 5 or 6 December when he dispenses his gifts. The celebration is accompanied by many family activities, such as writing verses for each family member, eating together and playing games.   

 Incidentally, the tradition of Sinterklaas is also continued in the United States in Hudson Valley, an area originally settled by Dutch immigrants. It is through the combining of St Nicholas and the British Father Christmas that the American Santa Claus and his reindeer came into being. Now isn't that fascinating?  

 So now you have learned about how special an occasion St Nicholas/Sinterklaas is for children, why not think about celebrating it too by giving your young things a special Sinterklaas festival book? At Sunpenny, we have a lovely selection of children's fiction, so click on the titles below and reward your children for just being themselves with a beautiful and unusual book!  

The Skipper's Child
Sophie Topfeather

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Happy Thanksgiving to our US readers and authors

Thanksgiving is one of the most important family celebrations in the US calendar and to share in the celebrations, we bring you books from our very own American writers. 

First up is Uncharted Waters by Sara du Bose.

About the author: Author and speaker, Sara DuBose is a first place winner in Putting Your Passion into Print and a first place fiction winner with the Southeastern Writers Association. She is also the author of four previous novels. Where Hearts Live, Where Love Grows and Where Memories Linger form a trilogy, and A Promise for Tomorrow is a stand alone. One reviewer wrote, “Sara DuBose is as good a southern writer as one would expect to find. Her unique and heartwarming book is a gem.”

About the book: When Beth Davidson spies an unfamiliar black Honda lurking outside her apartment, and hours later a stranger leaves a suggestive message on her answering machine, her worries are just beginning. Her fear grows as mysterious gifts appear on her doorstep, and photos are stolen from her apartment. It’s not too long before Beth turns to the police for help – in particular, the rather attractive Donnie Crawford. As the Domestic Violence Unit investigate her case, gradually closing in on the man who is terrorizing her life, Beth soon develops a relationship with the protective and supportive Donnie.  However, before she can find happiness, she has to draw on some deep resources to resolve the terror of the stalker in her life.

Secondly, we have Stephanie Parker McKean's Bridge Beyond Betrayal

About the author: Stephanie, like Sara, is from the US south. She has been writing for as long as she remembers – only in her early school years, her tales were generally considered “lies”! But her father wrote a book that did rather well, and when young Stephanie discovered it too was all made up, she decided writing would be the career for her. Stephanie is now married to another writer, Alan T. McKean, a minister. They live in the west of Scotland.

About the book: When successful mystery writer Michal Rice, better known as 'Miz Mike' in Three Prongs, Texas (where misfits fit), spots a dead body in a red pickup truck, she springs into action. But no-one believes her! So she searches for the elusive truck and murder victim herself. After finding and losing them, and being coshed on the head on finding them again, Mike learns the identity of the murdered man. The rest of the story is a madcap adventure in which the inimitable Miz Mike gets herself into surprising number of 'pickles' as she calls them.

Moving further north, we have Redemption on Red River (featured on our blog a few weeks ago) by Cheryl R Cain.

About the author: Cheryl Riley Cain began writing for others when asked to create humorous biographies for birthday and anniversary celebrations and character sketches for friends’ baby showers. Since then, she has written numerous plays for children’s vacation Bible schools and Christmas presentations for churches. Cheryl’s love for history and for her home state-Oklahoma, combined with her desire to share God’s love to others, culminated in her novel, “Redemption on the Red River.” Cheryl lives in Oklahoma with her family. 

About the book: In 1837, at her graduation, Anna Collins has her whole life ahead - a teaching post, a handsome fiancé and a future which twinkles with promise. A week later, her life lies in tatters. Nearly destroyed by grief and despair, Anna decides to prove to both her fiancé's family and her own, as well as to herself, that she can succeed as a teacher, and survive without a man in her life. When after a good search the only opening for her as a teacher is at Fort Towson in Indian Territory, she accepts it as an answer to her prayers. From here on, the story involves a host of adventures and challenges, not least of which is who will ultimately win her heart.

Then last, but absolutely not least, we have Rooster Street by Janet Purcell

About the author: Janet Purcell is a professional artist and writes a weekly fine arts column and feature articles for many magazines, travel guides, and newspapers. Rooster Street is her third novel. Her first, Singer Lane, was published in 2008; her second, The Long Way Home, was brought out in 2015. Though not a trilogy, many of the same characters are found continuing their lives in each of the three books. The covers of all her books are her own paintings.

About the book: A breathtaking journey marrying a slave girl's escape in the 1800s with a young lawyer's present-day discoveries. A hidden room, a box of photographs, a hunt through Boston's streets and alleyways... Rooster Street is a story on multiple levels of discrimination, abandonment and violence; fortitude, love, and final celebration. It ties the past with the present in a touching and poignant story that ultimately shows us we are all the same.

All the books are linked to the site, but they are available worldwide and as paperbacks on both Amazon and the Book Depository. Kindle versions are priced on a basis of $2.99, so stock up this Thanksgiving, and enjoy the holiday reading!

Monday, 13 November 2017

On the run up to Christmas: Val Poore talks about giving the gift of a book

It's amazing to think it's only about six weeks until Christmas now. Are any of you thinking of buying Christmas gifts for the readers in your family? Of course, you can give e-books as gifts if you're unlikely see your loved ones and that's a great way to treat them from a distance. Since the majority of books sold now are ebooks, it's clear that many people would regard having their e-readers stocked up a real joy.

Val Poore
However, giving real books is that bit more special. The feel, smell and weight of a brand new book are sensations that are hard to beat. I can remember being thrilled as a child when I received three Georgette Heyer paperback books for Christmas. I can still conjure up my delight to this day when I opened the wrapping paper and found them. The smooth untouched covers, the uncreased spines, the tightly packed pages that had never been opened before. I know I picked them up, ran my hands over them and unashamedly breathed in their wonderful newness. Okay, so you might be laughing now and thinking I was really going overboard, but it's true! I was more thrilled with those three books than I have ever been with a Christmas gift before or since.

As a Sunpenny author, then, which books would I recommend for my family this Christmas from the Sunpenny collection?

If I take my eldest brother first, he is a great boater and loves cruising around the UK; he's also very environmentally aware. I'd probably give him a sailing memoir to read, such as Tonia Parronchi's Whisper on the Mediterranean or Corinna Weyreter's Far Out: Sailing into a Disappearing World. They might not be about cruising, but they are about boats and he'd like that; he'd also appreciate Corinna's focus on the environmental damage being done to the oceans. As for his wife, she is a committed Christian, but also someone who enjoys traditional values, so I think she would probably enjoy William Wood's A Little Book of Pleasures or missionary Rowland Evan's My Sea is Wide.

And what about my other brother? Well, he's a lover of the Welsh hills and spends a great deal of time hiking in Wales. I might choose Julie McGowan's The Mountains Between for him. I think it is a good blend of history and fiction and I think he would love the beautiful descriptions of the Welsh scenery. I don't see his wife as a great reader, but I could be wrong, so I would suggest Julie's book of short stories Close to You. Then I have a niece living at home still, and I'd definitely go for something adventurous for her. It would have to be JS Holloway's Dance of Eagles.

 Lastly, what about my sister? She likes fun books with lots of humour and great, strong female characters. I would have to give her Stephanie Parker McKean's Bridge to Nowhere, and because she's very close to me, I'd give her another book too. She loves France and cooking, so I'd also give her Blackbirds Baked in a Pie by Eugene Barker. My brother-in-law is a little more difficult to buy for, but since he loves the history, tradition and customs of mediterranean places, he would probably enjoy Fish Soup by Michelle Heatley. It has the right mix of gritty characters and lyrical magic. Yes. I think that would do for them all!

Many thanks to Val for sharing her choice of books for her family. Of course her own books, Watery Ways and the Skipper's Child would also make precious gifts for those who enjoy boating books in both fictional and memoir form.

So, if like us you love to give books as gifts, take a look at our selection above or keep an eye on our Facebook page on the run up to the festive season. We'll be sharing all our books there in the coming weeks.

Sunday, 5 November 2017

Happy festival season: celebrate by reading!

Isn't is amazing how the time just seems to fly? Here we are, already well into November. In fact, today is the 5th, the day in England when people have bonfires, burn a cloth figure supposed to represent Guy Fawkes who tried to blow up the Houses of Parliament, and set off fireworks. From now until the end of the year, there will be other celebrations in other countries. There is Thanksgiving in the United States on 23rd November. Then in much of Europe, there is Sinterklaas in a month's time at the beginning of December. This is a children's festival and in many places, namely the Netherlands, Belgium and parts of Germany and France, Sinterklaas is more important than Christmas. The date of the festival is either December the 5th or 6th depending on where you are and it is celebrated enthusiastically by whole families. Following this, there is the Jewish Festival of Lights from the 13th to the 20th December, and then of course, we have Christmas itself. It's a very busy time of year, and one marked by joy, goodwill and togetherness for everyone concerned (we hope).

At Sunpenny, we'd like to celebrate right along with you all and offer suggestions for reading that you might find fitting on these occasions. So since Guy Fawkes is mainly a children's festival, we'd like to suggest some books for our younger readers that will give them insights on customs in other countries too.

Our first suggestion is The Lost Crown of Appollo by Suzanne Cordatos

Here is a summary of the story from the book's blurb:

Climb aboard for an adventure to the Greek islands of past and present! You'll meet creatures of land and sea-and if you think pirates are a thing of the past, you might want to keep an eye on your valuables. Meet Elias Tantalos, an almost-eleven year old bad luck magnet who escapes the most dreadful school year of his life by boarding a boat in the Aegean Sea where there are, happily, more rocks than people. When he discovers a two-thousand-year-old good luck charm-the gold leaf crown meant for the sun god Apollo-he is sure the worst is behind him. Antiquity thieves are rummaging around the ancient Greek ruins, however, and when they kidnap his sister, Elias knows he holds the perfect bait to lure the thieves away... but if he gives up Apollo's legendary Crown of Victory will sixth grade be even tougher than fifth? Can he find the inner strength to do the right thing?

Lost Crown is a delightful story that will appeal to youngsters because it has everything that keeps them turning the pages. But even more than that, it introduces children to the history and mythology of Greece as well as to what makes the Greek culture so historically important. It's an ideal gift to mark this time of year.

Our second suggestion is Sophie's Quest by Sonja Anderson

Here is the blurb about this charming story:

Sophie Topfeather loves to collect people-things with which to decorate her life and home. When she finds a golden necklace, she is intrigued by its shape and shows it to her grandfather, the Great Wise Horned Owl of the Park. His reaction only stirs her interest even more; he calls it a holy symbol, and then a ‘t’ for ‘trouble’! All of which sets our young owl off on a Quest to learn its true meaning. Little does she know that a day-dreaming, over-protected, adventure-seeking Pirate – er, mouse – named Timley has leapt into the brim of her hat as Sophie flies off on her Quest! And suddenly, their adventure takes its own turn as they find themselves on board a ship bound for the Holy Land. Thorns and thistles! Has the trouble started already? Can Timley convince Sophie she should not—I repeat, NOT—eat him?  

This book is also for young children and like Lost Crown of Appollo, it introduces children to a variety of cultures through Sophie's adventures in the Middle East. It's an ideal way of encouraging young readers to be curious about the world around them and the different history and cultures that make up the people that populate it.

So why not celebrate this occasion with books as well as bonfires and fireworks? Both of these suggestions are available as paperbacks and Kindle books, so whatever your choice, it's available for you and your families in the medium you prefer. And don't forget, all Sunpenny Kindle books are great value at $2.99

Sunday, 29 October 2017

Another back story: Redemption on Red River by Cheryl Caine

This week's blog is a revised version of a post we did in November 2014 to publicise Cheryl Cain's historical romance Redemption on Red River. It's an exciting book set in 19th century America and it has a rich setting with plenty for both history enthusiasts and those who enjoy a good love story. We talked to Cheryl to find out what prompted her to write her vivid period novel.

In brief, this is what ‘Redemption on Red River’ is about 
In 1837, at her graduation, Anna Collins has her whole life ahead – a teaching post, a handsome fiancé and a future which twinkles with promise. A week later, her life lies in tatters. Nearly destroyed by grief and despair, Anna decides to prove to both her fiancé’s family and her own, as well as to herself, that she can succeed as a teacher, and survive without a man in her life. When after a good search the only opening for her as a teacher is at Fort Towson in Indian Territory, she accepts it as an answer to her prayers.
Anna joins the Jewel Belle paddle steamer for her river journey. She promptly begins a host of adventures, including being rescued from a soldier’s drunken advances by the chivalrous Captain Nathaniel. Their friendship deepens, but when they separate at Shreve’s Town she finds herself doubting she will ever be truly loved. Throwing herself into her work, she battles with hostility from the townsfolk and a terrifying encounter with a native Indian, facing her demons again and again as she grows to understand herself and her new home. But it is not until a twist of fate brings both the men in her life back into the picture that Anna truly understands where her love lies, and that it cares not for time, but for the heart.
Over to Cheryl, who kindly answered the questions we posed to her: 

1) Can you describe ‘Redemption on the Red River’ in a short sentence?
It is the story of a young American woman who travels from Cincinnati, Ohio to Indian Territory in an endeavour to fulfil her dream of becoming a teacher and bettering the lives of children.
2) What inspired you to write the book?
An article in our local newspaper described an archaeological dig along Oklahoma’s southern border. The Red River, which is the boundary between Texas and Oklahoma, served in the 1830’s as a major transportation route for delivery of supplies to American forts in the southern area of Indian Territory. A large steamboat, the Heroine, sank in the river while travelling to deliver food and other needed supplies to Fort Towson. The article piqued my interest in steamboat travel and my imagination took off with a story combining the actual event with a fictional character observing the sinking of the Heroine. 
3) What did you discover while researching for the story?
I found so much information about Oklahoma history that I didn’t know. Even though during my junior high school education, I took required classes on Oklahoma history, I never knew Oklahoma had at one time a viable waterway route. Because of the things I discovered, I’ve become more interested in other historical events in my state’s history-such as Civil War battles fought here.
4How did you begin writing the novel?  
After deciding I wanted to write a book with the events of the Heroine, I jotted down a loose outline and began writing. I wrote most of ‘Redemption of the Red River’ while participating in NaNoWriMo-National November Writing Month. The program is free and voluntary and the goal is to write 50,000 words during November. In order to stay on track during the month, I wrote in a notebook during my lunch break at work and in the evening, I took up where I left off during the day, typing on a computer. For an online writing class, I wrote a paragraph as an assignment describing an annoying mosquito and when I began writing the book, I wanted to include the paragraph. 
Many thanks to Cheryl for this interesting back story. Who knows what chance incident will inspire a writer to start a novel? For Cheryl, it was the article first and then the motivation provided by NaNoWriMo. Since November is upon us, how many others will be taking part in this motivating competition?
And here is one of the reviews of Cheryl's exciting book:

MJ Heatley writes: When I started reading Redemption on Red River I wasn’t sure if I liked Anna, I wanted to shout at her that she was better than Martin. But she surprised me and I was taken on a journey with her and was proud of the way she fought and survived everything thrown at her. Cheryl R Cain’s writing is accomplished and the historical research really brings this novel to life. An excellent debut novel. 

For those interested in reading the book, the link to the Amazon Kindle edition is here

Monday, 23 October 2017

Autumn delights

After enjoying some wonderful warm weather here in the northern hemisphere this autumn, we are now finally having proper seasonal weather, complete with gales, rain and leaves heaping up everywhere. The great outdoors starts to look less attractive, so what better time than to choose some good books to read?

As we've mentioned before, we are rather proud of the fact that Sunpenny's authors stem from far and wide over the world, so whatever your tastes, we have books that will appeal to a range of readers. If you're fed up with the rain, Stephanie Parker McKean, Sandra Peut and KC Lemmer will transport you to the sun. If the heat is getting to you, Valerie Poore and Julie McGowan will embrace you in the beauty of winter scenery. What about romance? Then Debbie Roome and Janet Purcell will bring you charming stories set in New Zealand and New England.

We have sailing adventures from Tonia Parronchi and Corinna Weyreter, and historical dramas by JS Holloway and Cheryl Cain. And for children who love reading and adventure, we have a whole series of delightful books by Sonja Anderson, Suzanne Cordatos and Elizabeth Sellers.

The best news of all is that all the e-versions of our books are set at the exceptionally reasonable price of $2.99 on Kindle until the end of the year, so take advantage of these high quality books at this very affordable price!

Click on the authors' names to view their books and reviews, and enjoy some richly rewarding autumn reads! 

Monday, 16 October 2017

Book Blogs reviews? What use are they to readers and authors

In this series of blog posts about reviews, we've seen how our authors learn from reviews on sites like Amazon and Goodreads, from personal emails and from feedback at real time book talks, not to mention internet Q&A sessions. This week, though, as the last of these posts, we are going to look at book blogs and what they do for both the reader and the author.

Many book blogs are set up by enthusiastic readers who simply enjoy reviewing the books they have read. There are a few more professional blogs, but it is probably true that most book blogs are written by book lovers who may, or may not, have a preference for a particular type of book.

One of our author's books reviewed on the popular
Terry Tyler Book Reviews Blog

So how do book blogs help readers?

If you find a particular blogger who leans towards the type of books you like, it's very useful to follow their blog, knowing they will write regular reviews on the genres of books you as a reader enjoy. Our author, Val Poore, claims to be a voracious reader and she likes to follow certain bloggers whose book tastes match her own.

"As a reader, I love crime fiction and murder mysteries," Val says. "It's not always easy to decide which new authors to try and if you don't know a name, you might not risk it. For this reason, I follow about four different book bloggers to see what they are reviewing and I quite often base my choices on the reviews they post. The great thing about blog posts is that the reviews tend to be longer than the average review on Amazon or Goodreads, so you get more of an in-depth account. I like that very much and it really helps me to decide who to take a chance on."

For writers, book blogs are a great way to promote their books for exactly the same reasons Val has mentioned above. She says:

"As an author too, I am thrilled when a book blogger reviews one of my books. I know for sure that it helps spread the word and the advantage of a blog post is that I can share it on many different platforms. I have also noticed sales spike when a popular book blogger has reviewed my books, which is always great news, but the most important aspect of a book blog review is that it garners interest and  - if the review is good - respect. There is something about recognition from a book blogger that makes readers sit up and take notice."

From Books With Wine and Chocolate, a review of
Val Poore's Watery Ways

Most of the time, book bloggers also post their reviews on the major online bookstore sites, but the blog post itself is a more personal platform, so readers and writers alike, take note: follow a good book blog and find some great reads! And writers? Submit your books to book bloggers for a review. If they accept them, it can only do you good!

Saturday, 7 October 2017

Reviews that come from word of mouth: Janet Purcell and Valerie Pooreshare their experiences

In recent weeks, we've blogged about what our authors have learnt from their readers' reviews. There are, however, other forms of feedback than reviews received on Amazon and through website response. Readers' impressions can also come via word of mouth – literally. This week, Janet Purcell and Valerie Poore tell us what they have experienced from talking to their readers.

Janet Purcell

"The biggest surprise for me came when I was meeting with a book club. They were discussing my novel Rooster Street and one person said she found a ribbon running through the entire book of mother-daughter relationships. Other readers then agreed. I had not intended that and had not even realized it was so.  But I then realized this was the case in my two novels The Long Way Home and Singer Lane also.  

Now as I'm drafting novel  number 4, I'm very much aware that it's happening again. As in the first three books, this is not the main thrust of the story, but now I see it forms a web that supports everything else that is going on. As a writer, it's very helpful to me to have had this pointed out because, knowing it, I can be sure to keep it as a subtle support and not have it become so prominent it will distract from the major story line."

This type of discussion can be very useful to the author. Valerie Poore has also learned what readers have enjoyed through online real time discussions she has had during guest days in the spotlight on the Facebook group We Love Memoirs.

Valerie Poore

"I've learned that memoir readers love a series, and what they have enjoyed about my books is the ongoing story of my watery life. It also seems my readers have felt they were with me on my travels and during the early days of my barging experiences, and that they now associate me with this lifestyle. When I asked what it was that made them feel this, part of it was explained by my use of the present tense in my books even when writing about events that took place 15 years ago, so that was a useful tip for me. Many of them said it helped them feel as if they were standing next to me on my barge.

On the negative side, others said they didn't like too much detail about the mechanics of the boat and the locks through which we travelled as they were more interested in reading about the environs of the canals and impressions I gained of the people and places I encountered. This is all great feedback for me when I write my next boating travel memoir. 

I find that this type of interactive discussion with readers is very honest and I can ask questions myself too. In many ways, it is even more useful than a written review, which can only ever be one-sided."

Many thanks to both Janet and Val for these contributions. It's always good to know how readers help writers and vice versa. Next week, we will look at book blog reviews as the last in this series of posts on reviews and what they can do for authors and readers.

For those interested in Janet and Valerie's books, the links to their Amazon author pages are below.

Saturday, 30 September 2017

Sharing their views on reviews: Sonja Anderson and Tonia Parronchi

Last week, Stephanie Parker McKean told us all what she had learnt from the reviews she has received on her books. Continuing with the same theme, Sonja Anderson and Tonia Parronchi have also shared with us some of the great and useful feedback they've received. Here are their comments!

Sonja Anderson
Sonja Anderson
"One of the things I appreciate the most about book reviewers is that sometimes they make a comparison to other books or authors that I would never dare to make myself! When the reviewer below compared my book, Sophie’s Quest, to classics like Wind in the Willows and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, it completely made my day!
The reviewer said,
It contains elements of ‘The Wind in the Willows’ and ‘The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe’. Talking animals with anthropomorphic ways are central as in Wind in Willows and the Christian faith is central (though more obviously so) as in Lion Witch and Wardrobe. It’s hard to compete with CS Lewis and Kenneth Graham. Nonetheless I give it a good four stars for the writer does well.
A blogger also once compared my writing to that of the wonderful children's author, Kate DiCamillo! It makes me feel proud of my work, even if it will probably never be considered a classic in the same way as those illustrious authors’ books for children.
The sequel to Sophie's Quest

Importantly, these types of comparisons by reviewers can also really help readers figure out if the book is written in a style and about characters that they will likely care about. I’m so grateful when a reader takes the time to write such a thoughtful review." 
Sonja against the backdrop of Seattle harbour, her home

Such comparisons can also be very inspiring when writing sequels or new stories, so yes, very helpful and constructive for the author and the reader.

However, although it often seems as if Amazon and Goodreads reviews are the only ones worth having, there are other types of review that are just as valuable to the author, as Tonia Parronchi points out.
Tonia Parronchi:

"Reviews come to me in different ways, not only on Amazon but also as e-mails from my web site. These tend to be more personal, with a reader reaching out to the writer because something really resonated with them. 

One man e-mailed me after reading my memoir about sailing adventures, "A Whisper on the Mediterranean", to say he had bought my book because he was learning to sail and reading everything he could on the subject. He had thought my book would be more technical but in the end reading about our real life adventures inspired him even more to continue with his dream. Another man liked the recipes best and was getting his wife to try them out at home!

At times a reader's comments make me realise how I could have improved my work. For example, this review made me realise that a map would have been a great idea. I wish I'd thought of that!
"A very well written book about sailing the Med with the couple's one year old child aboard....The author does an excellent job of painting a picture of each island and town they visit. My only criticism would be that the book doesn't include a map showing the paths they took" 

Tonia and Guido on Whisper
It is of course always a relief when the reader is kind about a book. I am very lucky because most of my reviews have been positive but of course you cannot always please everyone. One reader gave me a 3 star rating for my novel "The Song of the Cypress". 
"The descriptions of Tuscany in this book are well-done, and part of the story-line is okay, but that's the only reason I gave this book three stars. The whole deal with the cypress tree and the old woman is just too new-age for me. In fact, it's just odd... I could hardly wait to finish it and just get the whole weird thing over with. Sorry, Ms. Parronchi. I really did want to like this book."

Fortunately it is the only 3 star review I have had, but it makes me smile a bit. The reader made herself read and finish the book and felt quite fed up about it. Maybe she could have just left it unfinished! However the majority of readers have had a different reaction and have felt a sense of place, feeling Tuscany come alive for them. 

Tonia's Tuscany

One review that I treasure was from an Italian reader. (I'll translate it for you)
" Compliments on your lovely, poetic book. I liked the descriptions of Tuscan life, the people and nature that I recognise because I live here too. I was pleased to read a book about Tuscany where the people and place are described with love and respect."
I loved the fact that my treatment of Italy was seen as being true, respectful and caring. It seems this is not always so. But if my words can inspire a reader to visit Italy, to explore my beautiful Tuscan valley or take a sailing holiday to the exquisite Italian islands, then I have done my job well.

That said, I am extremely grateful for every reader who takes the time to comment on what they have read. Thank you all!"

Many thanks to Sonja and Tonia for sharing their review experiences with us. Reviews of more than a few sentences, both critical and positive, can leave the author with some points to consider for their future writing and they can assist other readers in deciding whether a book will appeal to them! Next week, Janet Purcell and Val Poore will give their response to both verbal and written reviews of a different sort.

Saturday, 23 September 2017

Oh, For the Love of Reviews!

A few weeks ago, we published a blog post about the value of reviews to both readers and authors. The post received a large number of views, so given the apparent interest, we decided to ask our own authors what they gain from reading reviews of their books. The response was so interesting, we are now presenting the first in a series of blog posts from our authors giving us their reactions to their readers' opinions

Our first post is from Stephanie Parker McKean:

Every author loves reviews, especially 5-star reviews, but if they are honest – all reviews are valuable. Of course, all authors wish that all their reviews would read like one posted for the first Texas Miz Mike mystery-romance Bridge to Nowhere. “This only allows you to give five stars, but I would give it 100 if I could!” You can imagine how good that made me feel!

Stephanie Parker McKean at
a real life 'Spanish tile', the Three Prongs
restaurant featured in her books

Sadly for the author (me, in this case), not all reviews are complimentary. While reviews for Bridge to Nowhere, and the second Miz Mike, Bridge Beyond Betrayal, have received four or five-stars – I got saddled with a one-star review on another book. Some of the criticism seemed senseless, but after reading it, I accepted part of it as constructive criticism and changed the Amazon blurb.


Another (positive) review that I found helpful was one for Bridge Beyond Betrayal, which stated that the reviewer was in love with imaginary Three Prongs, Texas, and its just as imaginary zany characters and wanted to read more about them. Since the Miz Mike series had moved from Texas to Scotland, that review inspired me to bring Miz Mike back home in Bridge to Texas.

Scenes from Bandera, Texas, the inspiration for Three Prongs
Here are a few extracts from some of the reviews I've received. I've picked them because they've helped me appreciate that for some people at least, I've achieved some of my writing goals.

One goal was to write humorous books with memorable characters as imperfect and complex as real people. “What a fun and funny mystery adventure. The cast of characters is unique, each rich and strong, and the story flows at a fast pace. I love a book that makes me smile.” Bridge to Nowhere

“How to describe Miz Mike? She is not young, not the perfect weight. She is capable of great bravery, but also often makes misjudgments. Her imperfections and warm heart make her seem believable. By the end of the book I really cared for her.” Bridge to Nowhere

It was also important to me to share my Christian faith without preaching. “Jesus is quite a personal friend to Miz Mike, and while I’m not a practicing Christian, this was not a problem. It fits Miz Mike’s character perfectly.” Bridge to Nowhere.

For those out there who have read and enjoyed a book but never written a review, please do. Reviews need not be long. Consider these two, both for Bridge to Nowhere. “I loved the character Miz Mike and can’t wait to see what she’s up to in Book Two.”
“Stephanie Parker McKean tells a good story while bringing along an inspirational message.”

When an author writes a series, he or she wants each book to be as compelling as the first. Boring, dragging, or disappointing is simply not an option. Therefore, I was delighted and humbled to find good reviews for the second Texas Miz Mike mystery, Bridge Beyond Betrayal.
“A protagonist who is flawed, emotional, funny, and human.”
“This author’s Miz Mike stories have a unique voice and are full of laugh-out-loud dialogue and wit.”
“The author does a wonderful job of lacing her mystery with healthy doses of humor and interesting, quirky characters. I found myself laughing out loud.”
“I liked it there were no swear words and no sexual scenes, things that ruin a book for me.”
“Grabbing a Miz Mike adventure is more than fun. It’s like sitting down with your best friend, who although off her rocker, you still love.”

Okay, all of these were complimentary and to be sure, I like that more than anything negative, but I do find the reviews help me to gauge whether I am going in the right direction with my books. So to readers, I would urge – please leave a review when you finish a book (especially if you have something constructive to say).

To authors, if you ever feel as if writing a book is not worth the physical and emotional slogging – go back and read your book’s good reviews and be encouraged and empowered.

And for authors who have received a bad review,  remember that sometimes this can be a positive indicator for a different reader. So as Miz Mike would say, “Keep on keeping on. Make that rodeo an eight-second ride.”

Thank you very much Stephanie.  An inspiring post for both readers and authors!

Click on the titles here for the links Stephanie Parker Mckean's Bridge to Nowhere and Bridge Beyond Betrayal