Bad Reviews

First bad words, now bad reviews. I’m not going to use any bad words about my bad reviews. A writer can learn from a well-thought-out bad review. The two bad reviews I got for the books I published on Amazon weren’t thought-out at all.

Whether a writer is traditionally published or self-published they’re bound to get bad reviews. A writer knows that any review is better than no review. Anything that will bring attention to your books.

“Bad” is in the mind of the reader.

Even better is for the book to be banned. Banning a book can be good for sales. There was a recent article in The Washington Post by an author who was highly indignant that his children’s book had not been banned. More than thirty years after it was first published Art Spiegelman’s graphic novel, Maus, hit the bestseller lists after it was banned in Tennessee. Chicago newspaper columnist Mike Royko humorously demanded that his book, Boss, about controversial mayor Richard J. Daley, be vilified and banned. These two writers understood the lure of forbidden fruit.

Books can be dangerous. They can open minds.

Dictators and wanna-be dictators understand the power of books. Russian novelist Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was arrested and expelled from the Soviet Union in 1974 because his writing displeased the Politburo. He was allowed to return home only after the fall of the Soviet Union. Solzhenitsyn’s experience is almost the ultimate bad review. The ultimate bad review is getting executed for your writing as happened to Russian writer Isaac Babel.

This post wasn’t going to be about these writers, it was supposed to be about my experience with my own reviews. I’m nowhere near their class and the one-star reviews of two of the books I published on Amazon have done nothing to improve my sales. People have to know about a book before they buy it or demand that it be banned. I’ve done very little to publicize my books so poor sales are mostly my own fault.

The person who gave my books bad ratings is someone named Jennifer. She used the exact same words for both books: “I find it hard to understand why the author sympathizes with fascist leaders who spread baseless propaganda.” I copied her exact words from her one-star rating.

One of the books Jennifer rated is “The Dissident’s Wife” which is set in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) during the mid-1980s. My story is about a dissident Russian poet who has been accused of sedition and anti-Soviet slander. Valery Mironov goes from being a respected and beloved people’s artist to a pariah who’s been diagnosed with “creeping schizophrenia” ( a mental illness recognized nowhere in the free world) and incarcerated in a psychiatric hospital. I don’t mention any leaders in my book, let alone defend them.

The Dissident’s Wife is no longer available on Amazon. I unpublished it because it is now under consideration by a traditional publisher.

It’s obvious that Jennifer never read the book. She saw the hammer and sickle and had a knee-jerk reaction. It’s also obvious that she is ignorant of the difference between communism and fascism.

For Pete’s sake! They’re Christmas stories for children.

Beats me who Jennifer thinks is the “fascist leader” in this book. Santa? The grandmother whom her family brings from Latvia to the United States? Or perhaps the mother who thinks a piano would be a fine Christmas gift for her family, a gift they could all use. I suspect that the word “Latvia” is what triggered Jennifer’s one-star rating. Darn it, she didn’t even demand that the book be banned. Rats!

Fortunately, not all my reviews are one-star.

“A Pocketful of Kitten”

While I was editing my historical romance, A Home for an Exile’s Heart, I’m pleased to say that my children’s story went live on Amazon’s Kindle Vella.

Vella offers the first three chapters of books as free samples. Since A Pocketful of Kitten is less than seven hundred words long there is only one episode, making my story a freebie. I hope you’ll check it out and if you like it, give it a “thumbs up” or even write a review.

Emjoy!

Does Writing Ruin Reading?

This is how reading fiction is supposed to make you feel as if Pegasus is carrying you aways on his back to some magical realm. And not just fantasy books. Any book.

Lately, I’ve been disappointed in the books I’ve been reading, even with books by favorite authors, people I’d always thought were very good writers. Is it because I’ve gotten more impatient as I’ve gotten older? Or is it because I’ve been writing more and editing my own material? Being a nit-picky writer has turned me into a nit-picky reader.

Now, I pay more attention to such cliches as “She kept her eyes on the floor.” (Be careful not to step on them) Worse yet, “She raked him with her eyes.” (I didn’t know eyes have claws) Eyes do all sorts of unlikely things in books. Substitute “gaze” for eyes to make the prosed less absurd.

“I hate it when people breathe dialogue,” she breathed. Period, after dialogue instead of a comma. But don’t people breathe all the time?

Even the best writers use the annoying, nonsensical description, “He felt, rather than saw.” “He felt, rather than heard.” Why not just, “he felt” without “saw” or “heard”?

I love books that have include a rich tapestry of details. It’s the sort of thing I write myself. I have to rein myself in so as not to overdo it. It’s hard to know when there is too much detail when charming becomes annoying. I recently read Ken Follett’s Pillars of the Earth for the second time. The first time I loved the book. It contained the sort of information that I loved in my class on Medieval and Renaissance art, which I thoroughly loved. Years later, not so much. A cast of thousands in Pillars, along with their detailed storylines, didn’t help

Thinking to find a book by someone who’s a graceful writer, whose other books I’ve enjoyed, I ordered Geraldine Brooks’s Year of Wonders, based on a true story about an English village that quarantined itself during the Black Plague. As expected, the book has some gruesome details. Considering the subject gruesome could be expected. But then she throws in a gratuitous murder, turns a saintly character into a sociopath, and writes a totally off-the-wall ending. This time the fault is in the writer, not an overly-critical reader.

My current aggravation is with a book by Philippa Gregory, another writer whose books I’ve enjoyed. Were her historical novels always this tedious or is it me? She has chosen an odd way to write The Constant Princess about Henry VIII’s first wife. Some scenes are written in first person, present tense from Katherine’s point of view. These scenes are printed in Italics. A couple of pages or even a paragraph later, Gregory switches to third-person, past tense, printed in regular font. Back and forth all through the book. ARGH! It does not make for immersive reading. If this book had been her first, instead of her ninth, I doubt that it would even have gotten published.

Editing is stressful, so is being edited, especially if you’re doing it yourself.

Maybe I should switch to reading books that were written when editors actually edited. Books by authors such as Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald whose I manuscripts were edited by editor par excellence, Maxwell Perkins. I could use an editor like Perkins myself. The publishing world could use more editors like him.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maxwell_Perkins

Throw in a Little Murder.

Comments about The Giver of Stars, part 2

After months out in the weather, in the forest where wild animals roam, the body is still recognizable.

When I wrote my previous post about Jojo Moyes’s book, I hadn’t finished reading it. Now I have. I enjoyed her book very much until I got to the murder, then my eyes started rolling so much that it was hard to finish reading.

People who are not mystery writers should not write mystery novels. If they want to change genres, fine, just learn something about the genre first. It seems to me that Moyes wrote herself into a corner and did not know how to finish The Giver of Stars, so she threw in a murder. A totally preposterous murder.

Spoiler alert.

A book as a murder weapon supposedly used to bash in the back of a man’s head. Little Women, wielded by a woman. I supposed it could happen with a 759-page hardback book. And then this smart woman goes off and leaves the book behind to incriminate herself. Uh-huh.

We’re supposed to believe that a backwoods hillbilly wanted to read Little Women and when he finished it, conscientiously set off on foot, on a snowy, icy day, set off to return the book to the library. Never mind that the story is about packhorse librarians who not only deliver books to people living in the hills of Kentucky but also pick them up a week or two later and return them to the library. Then this dedicated reader slipped on ice, fell over backward, and cracked his skull on a rock, the book flew into the air and landed on his face leaving bruises.

A murder weapon. Really?

Months later, when the body is found, the now pregnant horseback librarian is arrested and held in jail for months where she eventually gives birth and months after that is put on trial. The motive for the murder is supposedly a blood feud that has lasted for generations and was started by the victim’s “descendants” (you read that right) that’s lasted for generations.

Wouldn’t the crunch of hoofs on an icy trail have alerted the victim? A question never asked.

I hate it when writers, for the sake of not spoiling their story, make smart characters behave stupidly. I’m a layman but I could have presented a better case for the defense than the lawyer in the book. Anyone could have been out in the woods. Anyone could have wielded the blunt instrument. The woods are full of rocks. But does the lawyer make that argument? Of course not. The book would have ended a hundred pages sooner if he had. No dramatic childbirth in the county jail. No heroic librarians striving to save their friend. No self-sacrificing suspect sending away her baby and child so they won’t be tainted by association with her.

 I won’t reveal the outcome of the trial, but you can probably guess.

There’s a very broad hint that the murder victim committed incest and impregnated his own daughter. Talk about a motive for murder, but that’s glossed over. Both his daughters are too mousy to commit homicide.

Will I be reading any of Moyes’s other books? I’m not sure but probably not. There are real mystery writers out there whose books I enjoy.

Moyes isn’t the only author who’s fallen into the trap of thinking that including a mysterious death in her story is a breeze. Elin Hilderbrand fell into the same trap in two of her books, The Castaways and The Perfect Couple.

The Castaways is the most annoying of the two. A married couple drowns under mysterious circumstances. They are part of a group of friends who are so irritating that I figured that they must have drowned themselves just to get away from these people. In between long, overly-detailed narratives about the history of these relationships, the local Nantucket cops investigate the deaths. The case comes to nothing.

The same cops investigate the drowning in The Perfect Couple. Once again, the case comes to nothing but the reader has wasted hours trying to figure out which of the annoying cast of characters “done it.”

Not that talented mystery writers don’t mess up. They do, especially if they’ve been writing best-selling books for years, have run out of ideas, and are now too big to edit.

It pays to read the blurb. Read reviews, not just newspaper reviews. As far as I know, there are no more Dorothy Parkers, who wrote things like, “This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force.” Read reviews by fellow readers. Don’t read just the five-star reviews. Read the one and two-star reviews. They can save you time and money.

Poem: Amy Lowell

American poet. 1874 – 1925

The Giver of Stars

Hold your soul open for my welcoming.
Let the quiet of your spirit bathe me
With its clear and rippled coolness,
That, loose-limbed and weary, I find rest,
Outstretched upon your peace, as on a bed of ivory.

Let the flickering flame of your soul play all about me,
That into my limbs may come the keenness of fire,
The life and joy of tongues of flame,
And, going out from you, tightly strung and in tune,
I may rouse the blear-eyed world,
And pour into it the beauty which you have begotten.

“The Giver of Stars” is also the title of a book by British author, Jojo Moyes. It’s in those pages that I found the first verse of this lovely poem.

Wiki describes Ms. Moyes as a romance writer. Since I’ve read only half of The Giver of Stars, and a summery of her first book, Me Before You, I can’t say for sure that I would agree with that description. Based on what I’ve read of “Stars” I can say that her books are most likely not what Americans would call romance novels even though she has twice won the Romance Novel of the Year award from the Romantic Novelists’ Association. The Giver of Stars seems more like women’s fiction, the story of friendship between five women.

The novel is based on the true stories of women who were traveling horseback librarians who, during the Depression, carried books to people who had no other access to reading materials.

The novel is set in rural Kentucky’s coal country. The main character is Alice Wright, a young English woman who marries a handsome American not just because she’s fallen in love with him, but in order to escape an unhappy home life. Her marriage proves to be a disappointment–a seemingly indifferent husband and an overbearing father-in-law with whom the young couple lives. Seeking escape from her suffocating new home, Alice volunteers to be one of four horseback librarians.

The Giver of Stars is an interesting book for its descriptions of life during the Thirties in rural Kentucky, the lives of the librarians, and the land they live in. Some of the details don’t seem all that believable to me. I’ve caught more than one anachronism. But, after all, this is fiction, not a textbook. The story is good enough for me to overlook minor mistakes. To me this seems like a gentle book. Yes, brutal things happen, but so far they are described innocuously.

Besides the inherent interest of the story, I’m also reading The Giver of Stars to learn why Ms. Moyes’ books have been translated into forty-six different languages and have sold eight million copies. I’m hoping to learn something from her that I can apply to my own writing.

Wishy-Washy About Vella

Vella is Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing’s (KDP) serialization platform. It’s strictly online and does not result in an e-book.

This is a screenshot of what Amazon’s homepage looks like on my computer. Previously where it says”Kindle Store,” it used ti sat, “Kindle Vella.” Before KDP put up this banner I searched like crazy for Vella and couldn’t find it. My book is under “historical romance.”

Even though I’ve published six chapters of my novel, A Home for an Exile’s Heart on Vella, I’m still not convinced that it was my best publishing choice. Vella seems pretty slap-dash, like the staff is still trying to figure out how to set it up and what’s required. 

I found out about Vella because I’ve already self-published several stories on KDP and they sent me an email about Vella coming soon. “Soon” being no more specific than in “several months.” That was back in May. Even though the date was unknown, KDP writers were urged to publish on Vella anyway. I published two chapters, got sick of waiting for further news, and looking in vain for my chapters, which were supposedly “live” I unpublished them. In the meantime, I queried a few agents and publishers about my novel, with no success.

I was still toying with the idea of setting up a premium block on WordPress and serializing my book here. Setting up a “donations/tips” block yielded me exactly nothing. As a friend pointed out, people who use Amazon go to the site expecting to buy things, not get them for free. Of course, there’s also Amazon’s huge number of users, which convinced me to go ahead. Even if only a fraction of them buy my book, I’d have a good size audience.

Another thing that gave me pause is the fact that “for now” Vella is only available in the USA and many of my potential readers are Latvians who live in the UK, Canada, Australia, Latvia, and other places all over the world. But, as the same friend reminded me, I want a much wider audience than just fellow Latvians. When Amazon first started out, it, too, was available only in the USA and now it’s worldwide.

Just because it’s beautiful and I hope to eventually get a few readers outside the USA>

Early in July, I received another message from KDP that the Vella store would be available, “next week.” How silly of me to expect that they’d specify what day. But I published six chapters anyway.

What’s to like about Vella.

It’s easy to use. Enter your name, pick a cover illustration, write interesting tags and a short, descriptive hook, and upload your chapters one at a time.

You can edit your cover illustration and edit chapters at any time.

A large potential audience.

Creative control.

The longshot possibility that an agent or an editor from a traditional publisher will find it. Probably no greater a long shot than trying to find an agent or editor yourself.

What’s not so likable.

Finding the Vella store seems to be a problem for some people. I’ve had Amazon bookmarked for ages and the Vella banner didn’t show up. I unbookmarked it and bookmarked it again and the banner was there.

Creative control is limited. No choice of fonts. The cover photo shows up in a small circle, so the design has to be clean and simple. My first choice for a cover photo looked great when I downloaded it from a stock site but was a confusing mess in the Vella cover photo. Too much detail.

This was my original choice for a cover photo. In the first scene the protagonist is walking home on a snowy day.

Having to wait an unknown time before Vella is available globally.

It’s a popularity contest, but then so are the bestseller lists. I’m not sure a story like mine will ever make the list. No vampires, no werewolves, no Highlanders.

Although their “faves” list includes 250 titles, they’re not categorized.

Every time you edit a chapter or the cover illustration it goes to “review” and is not available to readers. The process is pretty quick, though.

No one has made clear how payments to the author work. Since I set up a payment method when I published my KDP stories, I’m guessing that Vella payments work the same way. I do like that I don’t have to figure out how to set up a payment block.

As with all publishing, it’s a matter of wait and see.

The new cover photo.

A link to “A Home for an Exile’s Heart.”

Writing: The Details

Question for readers: How much is too much? How important is accuracy in small details whether you’re reading or writing fiction?

I’ve never used roses as a bookmark, but this picture conveys how I feel about books.

I love fat novels that have a rich tapestry of detail. Except when I hate it when the book bugs me. I’ve commented about this before when I wrote my review of Ken Follett as a writer. So much detail in a childbirth scene that it could be a manual for midwives is too much. One of my Works in Progress (WIP) has a childbirth scene, but I plan to include only enough to make it feel authentic, not every contraction and scream. Margaret Mitchell did it well in Gone With the Wind when Melanie has her baby.

The book that’s currently bugging me with excess detail and inaccurate detail is The Alice Network. Kate Quinn does not give enough detail to make the characters come to life. The reviewer who said the characters were so vivid she half expected them to walk into her room must have been reading a different book.

Fictional people shouldn’t be like paper dolls with the writer coloring in the surface but the characters remain flat.

Maybe my novel, A Home for an Exile’s Heart has too much detail–hair color, eye color, what they wear, what they read, what they eat and drink, etc. Readers of historical novels generally prefer more details. Maybe I don’t have to worry.

Even though I’m writing fiction, I sweat the small stuff. Some of it I don’t worry about. I don’t particularly care if Seattle was snowed in on the day after Thanksgiving in 1952 as in the opening scene of my novel. The scene needs snow, so there is snow. 

I hate most 1950s slang so there’s almost none in my book. A few secondary characters don’t speak perfect English, but I try to keep broken English to a minimum. It’s annoying when there’s too much of it. Kate Quinn’s two main characters in The Alice Network have stutters–w-w-w-we have to put up with it throughout the five hundred-page book.

There’s one scene where a character is being tortured. Too much detail of blood, screams, and crunching bones that goes on for pages. It’s surprising how tedious a torture scene can be. If the character was vivid enough to seem like a real person, I might have cried, instead, the scene left me indifferent.

What really bugged me was the small, inaccurate details in Quinn’s book, details I might have overlooked if the book engrossed me.

One character plays with his water glass in a scene set in a cafe in France in 1947. Maybe it’s different now because many Americans have inundated Europe, but when I was in London, they did not have water glasses already on the table when we arrived at a restaurant. We had to ask for water. They brought a pitcher and glasses and diners had to pour it themselves, but nothing like that was mentioned in the novel. In my opinion, it should have been.

Open-faced sandwiches of the kind Latvians would eat–salt herring and diced onions on dark rye bread. Many people would go, “Yuck!” The photo makes my mouth water. I want some!

There are two scenes where characters eat sandwiches outdoors. Despite the Earl of Sandwich’s innovation in Europe people don’t eat sandwiches with two slices of bread. They eat open-faced sandwiches that don’t travel well even when wrapped. If picnicking in France the characters would most likely take a loaf of bread, but probably not a two-foot-long baguette (the French have many different kinds of bread, which come in different sizes), a hunk of, cheese, grapes, or apples, and a bottle of wine.

French bread in its various shapes and sizes.

(If you’re a French picnicker and I’m wrong, please correct me. But only if you picnicked in 1947)

Eventually, the Alice characters travel to Grenoble, which is in the southeast of France. It’s June and twilight falls quickly. Except not. In southern California, where Quinn lives, twilight probably does fall quickly as that part of the USA is on latitude 34. Grenoble is on latitude 45. Where I live, at latitude 47, daylight in June ebbs slowly, twilight arrives gradually, you look at the time and are surprised to see that it’s nine in the evening already. I expect that it’s not much different two degrees of latitude south.

I know. I’m persnickety. I hope my way of writing creates a realistic world in my books and that my characters seem like friends, people you know well and want to spend time with.

Northern twilights in summer are sweet, long, and mellow. My favorite time of day.

“Outlander:” Not an Endearment

Outlander. Foreigner. Sassenach

Definition of sassenach (Merriam-Webster)

: a typical Englishman or something considered typical of England —often used disparagingly by Scots and Irish

My second reading of The Outlander, the first book in Diana Gabaldon’s the Outlander series, is far more critical than the first. The first time around I was too caught up in the story to pay attention to errors that I now find irritating. I’m not going to dwell on minor glitches, instead, I’ll focus on the one that bugs me most because it’s the one that shows up most often and strikes too close to home.

It’s clear that Gabaldon has never been a foreigner, not in the real sense. Not as someone who has lived in another country. No doubt she’s been a tourist and she probably traveled to Scotland to do research. On her website, she says that her husband is a foreigner, but gives no details. Is he a “foreigner” from another state than Arizona, their home, or is he a foreigner to the USA? I wonder if she calls him Sassenach? Or perhaps Outlander? But in the Outlander books, Scotsman Jamie Fraser refers to his beloved, English wife, Claire, as Sassenach. Affectionately, of course, almost as if the word meant darling and were not considered a disparaging term.

Having been an actual foreigner and being too often reminded that I am “other” (You have an accent, where is your accent from? Are you English?) I can assure you that “outlander,” “foreigner,” “Sassenach” don’t come across as endearments. Not even in Latvian, my native language, which has many diminutive suffixes, the word Ārzemniecīte would not come across as loving, no matter how gently said or softly whispered in the most intimate of circumstances.

Who needs to be constantly reminded that they’re an outsider, that they do not belong? Imagine yourself in that situation, in this country, or any other you may have emigrated to.

Gabaldon was obviously reaching for something original. Something Scottish and did not give the matter enough thought.

How does this sound to you?

Husband comes home from work and kisses wife. “How are you, Foreigner?”

Wife to husband, “I adore you. Let’s make love, Foreigner.”

Does that seem endearing? Loving? Or does that sound like grounds for divorce, especially after having heard it for the five thousandth time?

A Few Good Words: Lexicon

A synonym for dictionary. A person’s vocabulary or language. A branch of knowledge.

Looks a lot like my big, fat dictionary,

Words are fun. I’ve always enjoyed playing with them and adding them to my vocabulary, often without even giving them a second thought. I collect them through reading. In the old days of paper and ink dictionaries, I’d be looking up a word and get distracted by another word and another, on and on, until I’d forget the one I was originally looking for. Or the definition of the word I was looking for included one I didn’t know, so I’d have to look that one up, too. That was part of the delight of dictionaries.

There are times I’d read dictionaries just because it’s interesting.

We used to have more than half a dozen dictionaries at home. A couple of English dictionaries, hardback and paperback. Latvian dictionaries come in two volumes, English/Latvian and Latvian/English. For school, I had an English/Spanish dictionary. Because my parents knew German and Russian, we had English/German and English/Russian dictionaries in our collection of lexicons.

Online dictionaries are great. I use them all the time, even though I have a fat, heavy real dictionary and intend to keep it forever. If for some reason the internet disappears, I want to be able to look up words.

My favorite dictionary is Merriam-Webster. Their online version has handy tips on how to use a particular word, examples of it in sentences, information on when a word was first known to have been used, its origins, and how it may have changed over the years. Among the other features, M-W also has vocabulary quizzes, trending words, and podcasts. It’s also helpful that you don’t have to know the exact spelling of a word in order to look it up. Get an approximation and Merriam-Webster will give you a list of possible correct spellings and links to the definition.

 Useful as an online dictionary is, you have to know the word in order to look it up. You’ll be shown words with similar meanings, synonyms, and antonyms, but there’s little opportunity to stumble across new ones. Merriam-Webster also has a thesaurus. If you cant’ think of the word hubbub, you can look up “din” and there’s hubbub in the list of synonyms.

Some words just stick in my mind. I’m not sure why some do and many others don’t. Maybe it’s their sound or the context in which I learned them. Ages later, I still remember the word hylozoism (a doctrine held especially by early Greek philosophers that all matter has life) from my Asian Philosophy class.

From a mystery novel, I learned the word crepuscular–an ugly sounding word for a pretty time of day–twilight. It seems more like one of the plagues visited on the Biblical character, Job.

Susurrus is a lovely, onomatopoeic word (a word that sounds like what it defines) Susurrus means, a “whispering or rustling sound.”

One word that sticks in my mind is flivver. Probably because of its fun sound. It means a cheap car, that’s most likely in bad condition. Its first recorded use was in 1910 and might have been used to describe Henry Ford’s, Model T.

There are many more words I’d love to share and will do so in future posts. 

The very definition of “flivver.” The word came to me because of a dream.

Abandoning an Author

When, if ever, do you abandon a favorite author? If you do, why do you abandon them?

I’ve done it many times. I’ve stopped reading the works of authors whose work I never expected to stop loving.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved books, writers, and reading. Over the years, I’ve had many favorite writers

My Favorite Reading Glasses

 

When I was a horse-crazy girl, I adored Walter Farley’s Black Stallion and Island Stallion books. I wanted to be a female Walter Farley when I grew up. I thought I would always love his work. Eventually, I outgrew his books and went on to other writers. A few years ago, I discovered that Farley hadn’t stopped writing when I’d stopped reading. I thought I’d enjoy catching up and reading the stories I’d missed. How disappointing to discover that Farley’s writing no longer held my interest.

As a teenager, I loved Emilie Loring’s books and read one after another. It soon became apparent that she’d been writing the same story over and over. Only the characters’ names and the settings were different. There was no reason to keep on reading.

More recently, I’ve enjoyed Patricia Cornwell’s books. I probably read at least fifteen of them. Even before I stopped reading her works, my pleasure in them was starting to pall. Her books became increasingly gory. Cornwell’s protagonist, Kay Scarpetta, is a medical examiner, who investigates crime scenes and performs autopsies, so of course, gore is to be expected. It seemed to me that in later stories the descriptions of crime scenes, the crimes themselves, and the autopsies became gratuitously gruesome as if the grisly details, and not the solving of the crime, were the point. What finally put an end to my reading of Cornwell’s mysteries was when she made a secondary character, Al Marino, behave in an ugly, criminal, totally out of character way. From the very first book, I never liked the way Cornwell treated Marino. He’s a seasoned police detective who regularly worked with Kay. He was supposed to be a good cop and a good guy, but the author treated him with contempt. She made him a fat, crude, semi-literate slob. His saving graces were his skill as a detective and his devotion to Scarpetta, who always outshone him. I’d already been thinking about giving up on these novels, but when there were no new books by my favorite authors available, I went back to Cornwell’s mysteries. The last straw for me was when she turned Marino into a rapist. No more Scarpetta. No more Cornwell.

There are still plenty of authors whose work I enjoy more. However, several of these writers now hang in the balance. Will I, or won’t I, read their most recent book? Writers get old and so does their writing.

There’s Nothing Like a Book and Coffee.

J.A. Jance is one writer whose books I will most likely no longer automatically read just because she wrote them. I’ve faithfully read her J.P. “Beau” Beaumont, Ali Reynolds, Joanna Brady, and Walker Family series. Seattle police detective Beaumont was always my favorite. Was. After the last Beaumont mystery I read, I have major doubts. Jance rehashes the plot of an earlier book and does not improve on it. She also turns Beau into a doggie-daddy. There are too many dog-walks interrupting the flow of the plot. Too much dog poop. Not enough material to interest me. I even have doubts about her other series.

John Grisham is another long-time favorite. My cousin and I both loved his books and have fun discussing them. Grisham has had interesting well-developed characters, pertinent details, and complex, intriguing plots, with surprising twists. Until recently, he kept his details under control. In his most recent books, the details have become bloated, the plots have grown flimsy and the endings have become lame. My cousin read one of Grisham’s latest tomes and said it was, “nothing.” I trust that my cousin is right.

I’m sad that these reliable writers are no longer so reliable. If I read their novels again, it will be their older ones. Thank goodness new writers are always coming along. Thank goodness for libraries which allow me to sample these new discoveries without buying before I’m sure their works are worth the money. Thank goodness for older writers whose books remain to be discovered.

John Work Garrett Library. Baltimore, Maryland. Wouldn’t This be a Fabulous Library to Explore?