Reviews: Good Grief, Einstein and Emily

I finally hit on two novels that really helped me in my research about contemporary fictional widows.  Good Grief by Lolly Winston and Einstein & Emily by Linda Francis Lee.  It is worth mentioning that while I’m reading these books I’m constantly comparing the stories and struggles to that of my own character.  To me, it’s interesting to see that with this subject what choices other author’s make for their fictional worlds.

First off, I will admit that Good Grief took A LOT for me to get into (and I almost put it down once or twice), but when I finally did, the story and characters paid off (mostly).  Now, while I do understand that losing a husband (even fictionally) is an emotional experience, it was quite difficult to warm up to Sophie, as her reaction to death was difficult to relate to.  The book had other issues: the overwhelming and crippling depression of the main character (Where are her friends? Why does it take her family so long to show up and help?  What’s up with the mother-in-law?), how the title sounds a bit too Charlie Brown, the super blah cover, the relatively easy clean up of Sophie’s life at the end of the novel…  However, there was some good stuff going.  There were some beautiful details and little moments of grief and sadness.  I thought the use of first person was used especially well (something I am also trying to achieve).  The supporting cast was very well developed.  In a 10 point system, I would offer a 6.

What is especially interesting is the conversation / reviews on both Amazon and Goodreads.  Many seem to be upset with the way (spoilers, sort of) Sophie’s life moves quickly past the death of her husband.  As someone actively working on a manuscript about a similar topic, I absolutely consider these opinions part of my research.

Would I read another book by Ms. Winston?  I’m solidly in the maybe category.

GoodGrief

There was no larger cover. (And really not sure what exactly this image is trying to convey.)

Continuing on my ‘grief reads,’ I literally just finished Emily and Einstein, A Story of Second Chances.  I liked this story much better than Good Grief.  Ms. Lee did a wonderful job balancing character development, supernatural elements, fictional book excerpts and grief.  More than anything, I was struck with just how well these creative components were balanced.  Also, this is the first book I’ve read in a long time where the setting (New York City, The Dakota) added a spectacular additional layer.  Emily’s husband is far from perfect and her struggle back to normalcy is one that feels very natural.

Interestingly, Good Grief has been optioned (for film adaptation!) and I see Emily and Einstein as the far superior story (especially for screen).

After finishing this book, I would absolutely recommend it to others and look forward to reading future novels by Ms. Lee.

Cover-of-Emily-and-Einstein

Except that dog looks nothing like Einstein.

Finally, I tried and failed miserably to get into The Guestbook by Holly Martin, which is VERY well reviewed on Amazon.  It is super rare that I won’t give a book at least 20%.  In this instance, I immediately hated the format (should have done the sample pages!) and scanned through the rest of the book to see if things improved – it did not.  I’m still scratching my head as to why it is highly recommended.  It is rare for me to have such a fundamental disconnect with an audience…

 

When I see super negative reviews…

tumblr_inline_n3dgz4ydcq1qklrl5This applies to both my work and the work of others.  As I’ve mentioned before, I will leave reviews on this blog, but will not give anything less than 4 stars on either Amazon or Goodreads.  In fact, I really hate assigning anything out of 5 stars and would much prefer a 10 point system.  I digress.  As of this morning, I received my first 1 star review (which I knew would only be a matter of time).  I shall forever wear “Simplistic and dull. DNF” as a badge of honor.

It’s interesting the variety and type of reader that exist on Amazon and Goodreads.  My average on Amazon is 4.2 out of 5, while my Goodreads average is 3.57 (and that 1 star average is certainly not helping).

Meh, there is no universal book or novel that will resonate with everyone and there will always be people that feel the need to leave 1 star reviews.  Onwards and upwards.

 

 

Effect of the environment on writing.

I moved countries over three months ago.  In that time, I’ve started a new job, got my apartment sorted, reconnected with old friends, began writing a new novel (coming up on 50K!) and even managed to jot down a few short stories.  I’m not sure what my mental state was in Doha, but now that I’m looking back, I know it wasn’t anything good.  To further drive this point home, this morning I looked at my sleep app (I use Sleep Cycle) and happened to review statistics from the previous months.  There has been a significant jump in my sleep quality since moving.  It’s not just that – I simply find myself being in a (nearly constant) positive state of mind.  I’m not sure how this directly translates to writing, but even if it’s something as simple as a placebo effect – I’ll take it.  I like it when I’m excited to work on a project.  I like it when the words come easily.  I also like driving on roads that aren’t super aggressive.

tumblr_n35ayzKERF1rc2ub3o2_500

Where do live?  Have you ever lived somewhere that had a negative impact on you?  How did you break free?

 

Book Review: Big Girl Panties

Continuing on my research of widows (both actual and fictional), I picked up Stephanie Evanovich’s Big Girl Panties (not sure of any relationship to Janet Evanovich – although, bonus on the last name to cash in garner interest – even if using the surname has caused some confusion).  Anyway, ugly terrible horrible title aside, I settled in for a novel in which the protagonist has recently lost her husband to pancreatic cancer.  Guys, I’m here to let you know, she’s fat.  It’s the first thing we learn about her.  It’s a constant.  It’s one of the driving plot lines (her weight loss and society’s view of larger individuals).  There is some back story about her dead husband, but he seems a bit of an afterthought – an excuse to get Holly where she is today.  This is the third work of fiction I’ve read and the furthest from the life and struggles of my character.  The dead husband is almost a non-entity.  He only serves the purpose to die and do nothing to help her self-confidence.  We learn the basics about him and of course his death has an impact on Holly, but it’s not one that has any lasting value.  She has no family to support her.  No friends or co-workers.  This is a distinct difference from my own protagonist, who has a variety of people who want to be there for her.

So, (spoiler) even when she hooks up with the love interest (after she loses a ton of weight) there is no guilt.  The only thought of her dead husband is, “Wow, I didn’t know sex could be this way.”  (When I compare this scene with Gray from my recently reviewed Catch and Release, the situation is somehow different.  I don’t know if it’s because of the Garner/Olyphant chemistry, or because it seemed more ‘in character’ for both of them.  It might also be that their characters had great tension whereas Holly/Logan were kind of obvious/forced).

Now, I’ve been struggling with whether or not to include a love interest in my WIP, but, in getting to know my character, have to think, ‘No.  She’s not ready.’  Will she be ready to love again one day?  Sure, maybe – but that’s going to be off screen in another novel and whatever that relationship is, it will have nothing to do with my main character’s weight.

Would I recommend Big Girl Panties?  If you can get past the title and enjoy a halfway decent sex scene or two, then maybe (it’s priced perfectly at $1.99).  However, and I’m not as sensitive/aware of the topic, the reviews seem to have a lot of issue with the subject of weight/fat shaming in this novel.  In fact, the comments section has some fantastic discourse if you’re looking for further information.

Would I read the prequel Ms. Evanovich mentions in her Author Notes?  No, I would not.

18090061

For the price it’s at, maybe.

Positive reviews (KDP follow up).

tumblr_n0wdq8s9Cc1qecwhjo1_r1_500

Definitely time for a happy dance!

So, it’s been about two weeks since my great KDP experiment.

I had a few concerns going in – and the biggest was, ‘Will people like my book?  Will they get it?’

And now I have my answer – yes!

While it’s not for everyone (yes, there are a lot of characters – I get it), many readers are responding positively to my book.  I’m up to 22 reviews (with 12 of them being 5*).  I’m not sure what I was expecting, but the feedback has kept a smile on my face.

I also wondered, ‘will this lead to additional sales?’

And the answer is also – yes!

While I’m not selling buckets of books, things have been steady.  I’m also receiving continual adds on GoodReads, which I take as a great sign (not sure why Room 702 gets a lot less love on Shelfari, but that’s true with my YA books as well).  Not sure what comes next – but thus far I’m optimistic with where things are headed.

Catch and Release.

While the movie was apparently not well received by critics and audiences, I did like Catch and Release the first time I watched it.  In approaching ongoing researching for my current manuscript, I thought it deserved another viewing.  (Don’t worry, I’m reading books to – my research is not limited to just movies).

I enjoyed the film just as much the second time.  There was a great supporting cast (Kevin Smith and Juliette Lewis, I’m looking at you), the setting made me want to move to Colorado (could be because I live in a completely opposite city) and I liked how things focused on the ‘after.’  While my story picks up a little later in the grieving process, Jennifer Garner’s portrayal of Gray gave me a number of things to think about for my own protagonist.

And if this film isn’t for you – just watch it for the Olyphant/Garner kiss – it’s one of the steamiest on screen smooches I’ve every seen.

onesheet

Gave me things to think about!

Additionally, perhaps my favorite line (and awesome moment of humor) comes from Gray (in regards to an apology for something that occurred at the wake), “Yeah, if it wasn’t for you, that would have been one great day.”

 

KDP Select, by the numbers for Room 702.

15,439 – number of downloaded books in a 5 day time (significant numbers started in the 3rd – 5th days)

13 – current book sales (post free listing)

2 – additional reviews (one positive, one who really didn’t get the book)

0 – new follows on Twitter

3 – pins showed up on Pinterest

1 – new follow for the facebook page

a lot – number of adds on Goodreads

1 – request for Authograph

10 – number of adds on Shelfari

Given this is the first weekend that people might be actually taking the time to read the book, I’m optimistic for the week ahead.  Overall, I feel proud.  While the number seems a little surreal and I wish it were actual book sales and not just free downloads, I have to take a step back and think of what I accomplished.  My book didn’t have anyone else supporting it but me.  My book wasn’t traditionally published.  This was my first title as Ann Benjamin.  Would I do the same thing again with additional novels?  Hell yes and much earlier in the process.  Room 702 was always meant to be something I learned on, and for its success, I am very grateful.

Now, I’m ready to get back into working on my manuscript which I completely abandoned while all this was going on.