Monday, June 24, 2019

On Book Reviews

Ask a group of twenty authors their thoughts on book reviews and you’ll hear twenty different answers. Some authors read them, some don’t. Some read them occasionally. A few will only read reviews posted to certain venues. Others will ask their agents and/or editors to scan them and send along those they think the author would want to see. It’s a question of author, know thyself: if a scathing review is likely to send an author into an emotional tailspin, or cause them to self-edit work that a thousand readers will love into something intended to please a single reviewer, the author in question will likely adhere to an avoidance policy. Others are able to step back, take the reviews they receive as a whole—taking both the good and bad reviews in stride—and file them in their mental bank of useful information before moving on.

Every so often, I post my book discoveries on my Goodreads or Bookbub pages. I don’t leave reviews detailing what I liked or didn't like, but I do recommend books I’d give four or five stars. I read anywhere from fifty to a hundred books a year, so I don’t even cover all those. Today I posted about a read I adored, Jordan Harper’s She Rides Shotgun. It was a book I picked up on a whim and ended up blazing through, then recommending to a number of my friends. While I was on the site, I was alerted to recent reviews posted for my own books. It reminded me that, just a couple days ago, I received a question from a reader asking me what I thought about reviews.

My answer: I’m grateful.

I’ve had good reviews and bad. I’ve had reviews that are wildly inaccurate about facts in a story (no, nowhere in the book did it state that Venezuela was located in Spain) and some that were truly insightful (yes, that character probably would have made a comment to her mother on that topic, and I missed the opportunity.) However, whether or not a reader fell in love with one of my stories, I’m always glad they took the time to read and post their take.

The world is full of entertainment choices. Given that we all have a limited number of hours in the day, and a limited entertainment budget, it means the world to me when readers choose one of my books. The time they take to post a review helps potential readers know whether or not one of my stories will fit their tastes. I’ve discovered dozens of authors—and ended up binge reading their entire backlist—after reading a review that resonates with me. Sometimes, it’s even a bad review. There are cases where what one reader hates is just my cuppa.

I don’t comment on reviews—that way there be dragons—but if you’re reading this and left a review on one of my books, please take this as a thank you. I appreciate it.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

The Day I Met Tim Conway

Tim Conway, Harvey Korman, Vicki Lawrence, and Lyle Waggoner
Clicked on the news during lunch today to see the announcement that actor and comedian Tim Conway passed away. If you’ve ever seen McHale’s Navy, the Dorf movies, or the Carol Burnett show, you’ll know Tim. He played everything from the world’s oldest man to a human-sized dog to a bungling dentist (a favorite in my family of dentists.)

Perhaps it was that famous dentist sketch that once made me believe he was a real dentist.

I swear, it’s not as idiotic as it sounds.

Years ago, I was in Georgia for a writers’ conference and had arrived at the hotel a day early. The place was quiet, as a large group had just checked out and no one else had arrived for my event. I wanted to see where a particular meeting room was located so I wouldn’t have to hunt the next day, when I knew the place would be crowded, so I took an elevator to the lower level and followed the signs along a wide, green carpeted hall.

Around me, nothing stirred. The entire floor boasted late twentieth century hotel conference center décor: large round overhead lights, the occasional tropical plant or gilt mirror, pairs of straight-backed chairs on either side of tables set at intervals along the wall so attendees would have places to chat. Most of the lights had been dimmed, given that no activities were scheduled that evening.

I was about two-thirds of the way to the meeting room when I spotted a man sitting alone in one of the chairs, reading a paperback. He wore khaki pants, a collared shirt, and a dark brown sport coat. He straightened as I approached, then smiled as if he’d been waiting for me. I slowed. The guy looked very familiar, but I was certain he wasn’t a writer or part of the conference I’d come to Georgia to attend. It felt as if I’d known him many years earlier, maybe while I was growing up. I couldn’t place him, though, and he didn’t speak to me, so I smiled in return, then rounded a corner and continued toward the rabbit warren of conference rooms.

As I walked, I scoured my mental database. I guessed that the man was older than my parents, but not by a lot. Thanks to my father’s career as an Army dentist, we moved around a ton when I was a kid, and I’d met nearly all of his coworkers over the years. I’d babysat for probably half a dozen of them and had been to picnics or dinners at many of their homes. Had my dad been stationed with the guy in the hall? He’d looked at me as if he knew me…or thought he might.

After a few minutes of being unable to place him, and having finally located the meeting room, I headed back toward my hotel room. When I turned the corner into the hallway where I’d seen the man, I was surprised to find him still in his seat. Once again, he sat up and smiled at me. This time, though, there was a slight furrow to his brow, as if he wanted to ask a question. I said hello, and he shifted forward in the chair.

He tilted his head, then said, “I think you might be looking for me.”

It was one of those moments where you feel awkward, but you know the other person does, too. There wasn’t another soul within shouting distance, and we were in a very long, very empty hallway in the bowels of a hotel. I said, “I was trying to find a conference room. Found it.”

He looked disappointed. I’m not sure what possessed me, but I said something to the effect of, “You look very familiar to me…you wouldn’t happen to be in the Army, would you? A dentist?”

A beat or two passed, then he gave me a wide, genuine smile, as if he’d just heard the greatest joke. “No,” he said, “I’m not in the Army.”

I was about to explain that he looked like one of my parents’ friends—but stopped myself when I realized he might take it as a statement akin to, “wow, you look old”—when we both heard footsteps coming from the direction of the elevators. A woman in a skirt and jacket approached, a leather tote bag hanging from her shoulder. Her hair and makeup were immaculate—television immaculate—and she moved with the speed of a person who knows they’re late, but doesn’t want to run and start sweating.

“She might be looking for you,” I said.

His gaze went to her leather bag, then back to me. “That’d be my guess.”

I left as the woman zeroed in on the man in the chair, who rose to greet her. It was apparent that she was there to conduct an interview of some type.

As the elevator doors closed, I figured it out. He wasn’t one of my parents’ friends, though we’d watched him together many, many times. The man in the chair was Tim Conway, and one of his most famous sketches on the Carol Burnett show was as the bumbling dentist who manages to inject himself with Novocaine.
Tim, may you rest in peace. You gave millions of people joy and laughter. I hope, for that one day, I gave you the laugh.

Monday, March 25, 2019

On Heroes

There are certain authors whose books are automatic buys for me. Whether they deliver a twisted thriller, an emotional romance, or a wild ride into space, these authors have hooked me over the years with their engaging plots and characters. When I see an announcement for a new release, I preorder so I don’t miss it, then get a zing of excitement when the book arrives because I know I’m in for a treat.

Recently, a book arrived that was written by one of my longtime favorite romantic suspense authors, and no, I won’t say which one. The cover copy promised all the plot twists I’ve come to expect from that author, and I dove in immediately. The opening chapter introduced the hero, with his domineering personality made crystal clear. You know the type: broody, belligerent, and brash. Huge ego. Someone who acts as if he is more important than anyone else in the room.

Alpha heroes are a romance trope. They’re often described as being asses, but I don’t believe “ass” and “alpha” are interchangeable. There are plenty of fictional alpha heroes who aren’t capital-A Assholes, at least not by the end of the book. They have swagger, they have presence, but they don’t bring down those around them with their behavior or the force of their personality.

The guy in this book was a capital-A Asshole.

Now, I don’t have an issue with a hero who’s an ass on page one. In fact, it’s often a-okay with me. Humans are imperfect, therefore good characters are imperfect. It’s the tears in the fabric of their humanity—and the methods they choose in order to ignore, to hide, or to repair those faults—that make those characters interesting. Perfect characters are boring. They aren’t believable. Even sweet Glinda the Good Witch in the Wizard of Oz put Dorothy through some hellish trials. If a character is perfect, that perfection had better be a plot point.

However, when I encounter a hero who’s an asshole on page one, I want to know the reasons behind the behavior. I also want that character to grow. It may take some digging over the course of the story, and it may take some serious self-reflection or confrontation, but a hero needs to understand that he’s an ass—even if he has a damned good reason for it—and to question it. As a reader, if I’m supposed to cheer for this guy to beat the evil empire, save the world, and/or walk into the sunset with his true love, he needs to prove that he’s worthy. Over the course of the story, he needs to show improvement. At the very least, he needs to show that he desires to become a better person.

Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, aka GOT's Jaime Lannister
If you’ve watched HBO’s Game of Thrones, Jaime Lannister starts out about as repulsive as a human being can be. He’s involved in an illicit relationship with his sister. He throws a young boy from a tower. We're told that he killed the previous king. Yet over the course of the series, we see him struggle not only with the ramifications of his actions, but with the actions themselves. He begins to make choices that go against his own self-interest. He makes sacrifices to save the lives of others and becomes increasingly uncomfortable with killing in order to gain or maintain power. By the midpoint of the series, I wouldn’t say that Jaime is a hero, but viewers see that he has the potential. It’s not out of the realm of possibility for Jaime to prove through his actions that he deserves happiness. He’s also interesting. Viewers want to follow his journey, to see if he can overcome the odds and continue to redeem himself.

On the other hand, if a character who’s an ass on page one remains that way on the final page, and he makes no headway toward change, he isn’t a hero. If it’s a romance and he walks away with the love of his life despite treating everyone—likely including that love interest—like dirt, I’m going to regret every minute I spent reading that story. I’m also going to be annoyed with that love interest for displaying an utter lack of self-respect. If it’s a thriller, I’ll be happy the guy saved the world (duh), but I’ll be pissed to see him gloat about it. An ass doesn’t save the world for the greater good. An ass saves the world for his own enrichment.

And so it was with the book I’d been dying to read. The hero was an ass on page one. Reasons were given over the course of the story to explain the hero’s sullen self. He even says he’s a jerk. But he doesn’t care that he’s a jerk. He continues to treat people like dirt, and as the story progresses, there’s little to no change in his behavior. I became more and more annoyed with him as I flipped the pages, waiting for him to have a moment of revelation, to make different choices, to become a better human being. That moment never came.

The heroine of the story was an intelligent and likeable professional. She had friends and was respected by her colleagues. She treated others well, but refused to be a doormat…except when it came to the hero. He was repeatedly rude to her. In response, she huffed, she yelled, and she told him he was wrong. He inevitably responded with a variation of, “I am who I am,” and she sighed. At one point, she thought to herself that the guy was an ass, but the sex was fantastic, so she may as well stay put. That would all be well and good if she only wanted sex, but the heroine wanted a relationship, and she knew that. I wanted her to walk away. When she didn’t, I started to dislike her, too. When the two of them nailed the bad guys at the end of the book, my “goody for them” was sarcastic. I didn’t care. I wanted them to go into a cave together and never come out.

Heroes need to be worthy of that role. They need to live up to the promise of the premise. Readers want reasons to cheer for them to solve the mystery, get the bad guys, and/or fall head over heels in love with an equally worthy partner.

All that being said, I’ve preordered the author’s next book, because this is a writer who has delivered the goods time and time again. But if the hero is an ass on page one, I’m flipping to the midpoint to see what he’s doing before I commit to reading the full book. Life’s too short to deal with assholes when the bookstore shelves are filled with more interesting choices.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Academy Award Predictions, 2019 Edition

Once again, the Academy Awards are upon us (why does it seem to arrive sooner every year?), which means the time has come to make picks for your office pool or Sunday night Oscar party based, at least in part, on films you haven’t seen. And, once again, I’ll post my predictions in the hope you’ll have a better shot at taking home that Starbucks gift card or Solo cup of dollar bills set aside for the winner.

Need a printable PDF of the 2019 Academy Award categories and nominees? People Magazine has one here, or you can use this one from Vanity Fair.

My predictions:

Best Picture:
Black Panther
Bohemian Rhapsody
The Favourite
Green Book
A Star Is Born

There’s talk for Black Panther, Bohemian Rhapsody, The Favourite, Green Book, and Roma in this category. They’ve each won awards this season, yet several have their detractors. Some don’t think a streaming movie (Roma) or a Marvel superhero picture (Black Panther) should be named the year’s best. Then there are controversies around both Bohemian Rhapsody (accusations against its original director, Bryan Singer) and Green Book (the question of who best tells the story of racism in America.) That would leave The Favourite, but the quirky, darkly comic story about Queen Anne’s reign isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. Current oddsmakers would urge you to pick Roma, particularly given that the Academy is becoming a more international body. I’m going out on a thin, shaky limb for Black Panther.

Actor In A Leading Role
Christian Bale, Vice
Bradley Cooper, A Star Is Born
Willem Dafoe, At Eternity’s Gate
Rami Malek, Bohemian Rhapsody
Viggo Mortensen, Green Book

I walked out of the theater after seeing Bohemian Rhapsody saying, “He’d better be nominated for an Oscar.” Now I hope he wins one. Malek’s Freddie Mercury was a riveting and memorable performance.

Actor In A Supporting Role
Mahershala Ali, Green Book
Adam Driver, BlacKkKlansman
Sam Elliott, A Star Is Born
Richard E. Grant, Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Sam Rockwell, Vice

Actress In A Leading Role
Yalitza Aparicio, Roma
Glenn Close, The Wife
Olivia Colman, The Favourite
Lady Gaga, A Star Is Born
Melissa McCarthy, Can You Ever Forgive Me?

The bookies in Vegas have Glenn Close as the heavy favorite. Keep that in mind if you go with my pick here. A win for Colman would be an upset.

Actress In A Supporting Role
Amy Adams, Vice
Marina de Tavira, Roma
Regina King, If Beale Street Could Talk
Emma Stone, The Favourite
Rachel Weisz, The Favourite

Alfonso Cuarón, Roma
Yorgos Lanthimos, The Favourite
Spike Lee, BlacKkKlansman
Adam McKay, Vice
Pawel Pawlikowski, Cold War

Cuarón won a BAFTA, Directors Guild, and Golden Globe for directing Roma. Though there’s a lot of sentiment for Spike Lee, I suspect Cuarón will walk off stage with the statue. If you want to take a risk with your ballot, this is a category where it could pay off if you pick Spike Lee.

Animated Feature Film
Incredibles 2
Isle of Dogs
Ralph Breaks the Internet
Spider-Man: Inter the Spider-Verse

One of the few categories I’d call a lock.

Documentary Feature
Free Solo
Hale County This Morning, This Evening
Minding the Gap
Of Fathers and Sons

Free Solo won the BAFTA, but I’m going with RBG for the Oscar win.

Cold War
The Favourite
Never Look Away
A Star Is Born

Costume Design
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
Black Panther
The Favourite
Mary Poppins Returns
Mary Queen of Scots

I think this category will be a race between Black Panther and The Favourite. I’m going with Black Panther, as the costumes were integral to the overall vibe of the film and the story behind the fictional Wakanda. However, Academy voters almost always go with sumptuous period pieces in this category, so be aware that traditionalists will cast their votes for The Favourite.

Film Editing
Bohemian Rhapsody
The Favourite
Green Book

I admit, this was a tough pick. Vice and The Favourite are also strong contenders here.

Foreign Language Film
Cold War
Never Look Away

Though Cold War has a lot of buzz and would win in many other years, 2019 belongs to Roma.

Music, Original Score
Black Panther
If Beale Street Could Talk
Isle of Dogs
Mary Poppins Returns

Music, Original Song
“All The Stars,” Black Panther
“I’ll Fight,” RBG
“The Place Where Lost Things Go,” Mary Poppins Returns
“Shallow,” A Star Is Born
“When a Cowboy Trades His Spurs for Wings,” The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

Another lock. Go with “Shallow.”

Production Design
Black Panther
The Favourite
First Man
Mary Poppins Returns

As with Costume Design, I suspect votes will split between Black Panther and The Favourite, though Roma also has a shot here. I waffled, but went with Black Panther for the same reason I chose it for Best Costume Design. If one of the other films has your heart, go with it. This is one of those up-in-the-air categories that will make the 2019 ceremony interesting.

Visual Effects
Avengers: Infinity War
Christopher Robin
First Man
Ready Player One
Solo: A Star Wars Story

This is a coin flip between Avengers: Infinity War and First Man. I’m betting on First Man.

Makeup and Hairstyling
Mary Queen of Scots

I’d never have imagined Sam Rockwell and Christian Bale portraying George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. When I saw the trailer for Vice, I was stunned by their physical transformations. The hair and makeup professionals on this film are true artists, and Bale gave them heartfelt thanks in his Golden Globe speech. Go with Vice.

Sound Editing
Black Panther
Bohemian Rhapsody
First Man
A Quiet Place

I wouldn’t be surprised to see First Man take this, but I’m circling Bohemian Rhapsody on my ballot.

Sound Mixing
Black Panther
Bohemian Rhapsody
First Man
A Star Is Born

Bohemian Rhapsody nabbed the BAFTA in this category, but again, First Man would be a solid pick for your pool.

Writing, Adapted Screenplay
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
Can You Ever Forgive Me?
If Beale Street Could Talk
A Star Is Born

This is one of the night’s unpredictable categories. BlacKkKlansman won the BAFTA, while Can You Ever Forgive Me? won the Writers Guild and If Beale Street Could Talk picked up the Critics Choice. I’m going with BlacKkKlansman. Academy members want to see an Oscar in Spike Lee’s hands, and this film is deserving.

Writing, Original Screenplay
The Favourite
First Reformed
Green Book

Another tough category to predict, as The Favourite won the BAFTA and Green Book picked up the Golden Globe in this category. Given the international voting pool and the unique script, I’m going with The Favourite.

Short Film, Animated
Animal Behaviour
Late Afternoon
One Small Step

Short Subject, Documentary
Black Sheep
End Game
A Night at the Garden
Period. End of Sentence

If you read predictions from five or more experts, you’ll see each of these films mentioned as the likely winner. Throw a dart at this category. I’m going for optimism.

Short Film, Live Action

Aside from the winners, I predict that: 1) Regina King will be one of the best dressed women; 2) Mahershala Ali will deliver a solemn but uplifting speech sure to be quoted on Monday morning news programs; 3) Lady Gaga will wear a necklace valued at over a million dollars, requiring her to have a separate security detail specifically for the jewelry; and 4) Barbra Streisand’s nails will be the star of her envelope opening.

What about you? Which movies and performances caught your attention? Any predictions for the show itself? Feel free to post to the comments!

Friday, January 11, 2019

ICYMI: Giveaway of A Royal Scandals Wedding

Over the holidays, the bibliophiles at BookBub offered a giveaway of Scandal With a Prince. I'm thrilled so many of you were introduced to the Royal Scandals series through Megan and Stefano's story, and that you've found your way to my website and/or blog for more information.

After Scandal With a Prince was published, several of my newsletter subscribers emailed to ask for more about Megan and Stefano. Though the couple makes appearances in several other books in the Royal Scandals series, I thought it'd be fun to write a story that focused on Stefano, Megan, and their daughter, Anna, specifically.

To that end, I wrote A Royal Scandals Wedding to give readers a peek behind the scenes of Megan and Stefano's big day, and to offer it completely free to newsletter subscribers to express my thanks for being so supportive of the Royal Scandals series.

As of today, there are six full-length novels and three novellas in the series. You can find the complete list on my website at There will eventually be stories for all the Barrali and Cornaro siblings, so stay tuned.

If you aren't on the newsletter list but would like to be, you can join right here. You'll receive an email asking you to confirm your subscription. Once you do, you'll receive another email with all you need to download A Royal Scandals Wedding to the reading device of your choice. Newsletter subscribers receive updates, insider info, and more. The list is spam-free and isn't shared with anyone outside

It's a great joy to know that many of you spent your holidays with the Barrali family. I hope you enjoy this bonus look into the lives of Prince Stefano, Megan, and their daughter, Anna.