Critical reviews wanted in exchange for free books

Uh?

I published a novel, Border Line, in December 2014. I had a party, a stall at the village Christmas Fair, a book-signing at the local farm shop café, I went to the main book shops in my city, plus a few smaller shops in nearby towns. The local paper and the city paper wrote about me and my third novel. I sold plenty of copies at these events and a respectable number (for me) of print and eBooks on Amazon.

eBook cover

And that was more or less it. To be honest, when I have finished writing a novel, I am ready to put it behind me. No book of the imagination ever reaches the original vision, so the fun is in building a new vision and having another crack at it. So, I didn’t blog, tweet or go on facebook with requests to buy Border Line (and I am not going to do so now). I got on with the next project.

This was the important task of getting my non-fiction book about Far East POWs published. This was a very different task – completed last year and published by Pen & Sword – though the research and the follow-up work goes on.

Yet now, as I return to the writing fiction at last, the old questions about what works and what doesn’t in my writing are hovering over me again. Add into this mix some interesting posts from other bloggers about positive and negative reviews, especially how useful negative reviews (see Tara Sparling’s post) are to readers.

So we come to my idea. I would like to give away (UK or Europe only) six copies of Border Line in return for critical reviews on Amazon or Goodreads – and I mean critical – I DO NOT MIND if this results in two-star reviews (or more or less). I am a perpetual student, knowing what does and doesn’t work, are both equally useful.

I already know, for instance, that the ending of Border Line splits readers. So I am looking for personal views, what you loved or hated, what niggled or irritated you. Why you would or wouldn’t recommend this book to other readers. One line would be good, five to ten would be even better, write an essay if you feel like it.

If you are interested and want more information about the book go to the Border Line page of my website hilarycustancegreen.com

If you would like one of these free copies email me threadgoldpressAtwaitroseDotcom

If you are outside Europe and want to write a critical review, the eBook is not expensive.

Memoir month

In the last month I seem to have majored in non-fiction reading. Several were POW research memoirs and I’ll save them for another post. The others were personal – and every one a winner!

A Good Home by Cynthia Reyes

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I read this a few weeks ago and the warmth, stylish writing and entertainment are with me still. Cynthia’s story travels from the wild and carefree days of her first family home in Jamaica to the sobering struggles with physical trauma in her most recent home in Canada. This is a book that seems to hold a family truth on every page. I kept muttering, yes, yes, as I read. It also contains some of the most moving and recognisable accounts of both happiness and grief that I have ever come across. I will re-read this for its wisdom and charm.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

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I have meant to read this anytime in the last twenty years and recently spotted it in a friend’s house. She said, take it, it’s a quick read. She was right. I found myself reading this like eating chocolate. This is family life from the inside of a culture that I have only ever seen through a distant lens. While there is much uncomfortable subject matter, it was utterly absorbing and a revelation to me. I understand her reputation and will read her later works.

H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald

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Honest to a fault and giving a strong sense that the author has written without any restrictions, this is a strange, unique and mesmerising tale. The story encompasses the hawking experiences of T.H. White (of King Arthur fame), Helen’s own hawking life and above all her crippling experience of grief over her father’s death. A complex and highly fulfilling read.

I Belong to No One by Gwen Wilson

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This is the raw account of a girl who, at birth, fell foul of cultural norms in Australia in the 1960s and 70s. She paid the price for it at every turn of life from infancy to motherhood – a life that includes illegitimacy, an unstable mother, violence and forced adoption. It is a vivid and extremely readable personal account of a period of Australian history which sounds like the past, yet the effects of which still linger today. Gwen Wilson’s writing is full of detail, conversations and descriptions that lift it way above the individual memoir.

Poetry, prose and everything between

I have been, as is my unwise habit, reading four very different books, if not simultaneously, then turn and turn about.

Of these the one that gripped me most was Sarah Hesketh’s The Hard Word Box – a poet’s exploration of dementia and ageing. DSCN7047 - Version 2In a mixture of poetry and verbatim interviews, Sarah tracks the 20 weeks she spent visiting people living in a residential care home. In spite of their struggles with words, individual personalities emerge strongly. You understand that even as the brain fades, life experiences remain, such as the bullying Angela suffered at the hands of the brothers she adored. This slim volume takes you into worlds that most of us imagine to be impenetrable. There is a deftness and grace about the way she has done this that I admire greatly.

DSCN7045_2 More poetry, this time the 27th anthology of the Highgate poets. This collection is varied, entertaining and often moving. Among the many poems that I enjoyed are  Paul Stephenson’s Feel Good (Gone Viral) for instance, or Robert Peake’s The Knowledge, these gave me exactly that kick of recognition good poetry gives with a delicious last line. Mary Hastilow’s poems, By the Lea with Clio, To My Brother and Thin Skin, took me to emotional places I could recognise very well.

My third book is a novel, it is fiction and has an engaging Screen Shot 2015-02-24 at 19.12.57story about family relationships, yet the wonder of this book is not the narrative, but the setting. Cinda MacKinnon’s,  A Place in the World takes us to Columbia in the latter part of the last century (which feels like yesterday to me). The story follows a young American girl with a peripatetic childhood who marries a Columbian coffee farmer. It is the life on this remote coffee farm in the cloud forest that kept me turning the pages, as the weather, the volcanic ash, the market and the politics of the region during those volatile years played havoc with the crop. The intricate, natural beauty – and the dangers – of the cloud forest, the slow pace of modernisation and the cultural differences between the Columbian and the American outlook make for absorbing reading.

DSCN7050Finally Richard Flannagan’s, The Narrow Road to the Deep North, also a novel, also fiction, is a book of two worlds. The life and romantic relationships of a man before and after the WW2 and his incarceration during WW2 as a prisoner of the Japanese on the Burma-Siam railroad. For me there was an imbalance not so much between these worlds, as within each one. The scenes on the railroad were shockingly believable (and this is an area I have researched and read many first-hand accounts), and I could also accept the after-effects of this experience on the man. However, the brave attempt to get into the mind-set of the Japanese guards on the railroad and of their life afterwards, I found unconvincing and overdone in places. Similarly, the pre-WW2 romance left me unimpressed, and although I could readily believe the stresses on the postwar marriage, I could not believe in the thoughts and outlook of either of the women involved. Finally, I found the endless ruminations of several characters just a little… overindulgent? However this is a marathon of a book in terms of content.