Thursday, December 17, 2015

REVIEW: The Snow White Gift, by DM Denton



The Snow White Gift is a
99-cent Kindle short story. Click the
highlighted title.

5.0 out of 5 stars Short story is nice introduction to author's longer works, December 17, 2015
By 

(Christy K Robinson)
This review is from: The Snow White Gift (Kindle Edition)
The Snow White Gift, historical fiction set in the Great Depression of the 20th century, resonates today, in the fallout of the Great Recession and income inequality. But the short story is not as much about making do with few financial resources, as finding *human* resources to work together to brighten our own and others' lives. We need to open our eyes and hearts to those who we can help and those who can help us. The meaning of gift-giving at Christmas is not the "stuff," not the toys, not the big-ticket items Amazon dangles before our eyes, but the relationships of family and friends that are enriched by working, playing, feasting, and worshiping together. That's the sub-text I saw in The Snow White Gift: family relationships in inglorious reality.

The scenes were beautifully set, and the story can be read in 90-120 minutes. It's suitable for any age, but I suppose most interest would lie with middle-aged and older readers whose parents or grandparents lived through the Depression and communicated those can-do values that we all need to remember.

Disclosure: I was given a free copy of The Snow White Gift in exchange for an honest review. This is the first narrative I've read by DM Denton, but it won't be the last.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

REVIEW--Flight of the Sparrow by Amy Belding Brown


5.0 out of 5 stars 17th-century abduction, slavery, and PTSD, November 23, 2015
By 

(Christy K Robinson)
Verified Purchase
This review is from: Flight of the Sparrow: A Novel of Early America (Paperback)
https://www.amazon.com/review/R28KPKQV4G98JX/ref=pe_1098610_137716200_cm_rv_eml_rv0_rv
Flight of the Sparrow
at Amazon
 I first ran across the Mary Rowlandson story when I was researching my three books on William and Mary Barrett Dyer (two were historical novels that were light on fiction and heavy on fact, and the third was nonfiction). Mary's abduction from Lancaster, Massachusetts Bay Colony took place in February 1675. She was separated from her also-captive pre-teen children, and her six-year-old died of a gunshot wound. Mary was a slave to Weetamoo, a female sachem related to "King Philip" of the 1675-76 King Philip's War. Mary was marched around New England in the depths of a Little Ice Age winter and spring with her own bullet wound and heavy heart at the loss of her children, her sister, and her home and lifestyle, before being redeemed from captivity about three months later.

The original Rowlandson book is moralistic and rather stiff, as you'd expect from the Puritan Congregationalists of the era. But in Flight of the Sparrow, author Amy Belding Brown gives much thought to the background of the story, and brings Mary Rowlandson to life. Belding Brown must needs fictionalize the story somewhat, but I know from my own research and writing experience that when you spend so much time with the subjects of your books, you enter into their thoughts. Belding Brown was able to see Mary Rowlandson's traumatic experiences and the thoughts and actions which saved her life, and then deeply affected Rowlandson's return to "civilization" and normalcy--and perhaps resulted in a loss of her faith in humanity and God.

There was an element of 21st-century feminism and abolitionism which Rowlandson probably would not have dreamed of, let alone spoken, but it makes the book approachable for most readers who are unfamiliar with 17th-century religious beliefs. In her fiction writing, Belding Brown deftly takes the reader through what must surely have been Stockholm Syndrome and PTSD. Rowlandson was dragged through the wilderness both physically and spiritually and I found the deterioration of her religious beliefs to be believable. And readers are brought close, through 21st-century fiction, to what was likely very close to the truth.

The book was beautifully written, and described the environment, customs, and lifestyles of the English settlers as they crashed against the Native American tribes in the 17th century. The contrasts of silence and sound, sophistication and savagery, love and indifference, and many other conditions we take for granted, were striking. The one negative (for me) was that Flight was written in present tense. It's a device that's done more often these days, but it's not my favorite because it bumps me too often into the present. If that's something that bothers you, don't let it stop you buying and enjoying Flight of the Sparrow.

Both Mary Rowlandson's original book (public domain, available free on Google Books and several platforms) and Belding Brown's Flight of the Sparrow are appropriate for ages teens through adult. There is some violence depicted, in the sacking of Lancaster and throughout Rowlandson's slavery experience in the wilderness, but it's probably realistic and certainly not gratuitous or salacious.

If you're a descendant of Mary Rowlandson, you should read this historical novel to better understand the mysteries of 17th-century religious belief and culture. You'll think better of Rowlandson than you would from reading the journal alone. If you're not a descendant, then read Flight of the Sparrow to learn the strength of character our early-American ancestors had to have to survive the ordeal of settling a wilderness--and building a nation.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Editors worth their weight in gold...

... even if they could stand to forgo that fried chicken or cheeseburger.

After months or years of research, plotting, writing, revising, and getting friends and family to critique your manuscript, you're ready to spring it on the world.

Wait. No, you're not. It needs an editor. Whether you're an experienced author or an English teacher or a novice novelist, you need an editor. Even editors need an editor. You are blind to your own errors now, after all that hard work. You know what you intended to say with that phrase or sentence, but your readers do not. They look at it and say, "Huh?"

This article, by author Holly Robinson (no relation to me), gives great examples of the work process of an editor. The original article ran in Huffington Post on October 9, 2014.

Publishing's Unsung Heroes: Copy Editors 

by  

The copy bubbles are everywhere on the manuscript:
"I crossed out 'Tuesday' because later you say it's Wednesday."
"She's fifty-nine here and fifty-eight on page 102. Which one?"
"If he Googles the land line, why is she answering the call on her cell phone?"

I'm going through the copy editor's remarks on my newest novel -- the one that will be published by Penguin Random House as Haven Lake in April 2015. And, once again, I can't believe all the mistakes I made in this book -- even after eight or nine revisions, two of which were done in collaboration with my savvy, brilliant editor.

Writers and readers sometimes wonder why it takes so long to publish a book with a traditional house. Here's why: every step of the process takes time.

First, you send your novel to an agent, who (you hope) likes it enough to shop it around to various suitable editors. An editor buys it (you hope) and goes through the manuscript, suggesting revisions in an editorial letter. You address her queries and suggestions, and then you send the revised manuscript back to the editor. The editor then reads through the new draft and sends it back to you with (you hope) fewer suggestions, catching a few fine points here and there, praising you or telling you to rework certain sections. You do all that and send it back.

Four books ago, I thought the next step would be publication, but oh no. The next step is copy editing, and here's where the party really begins: a copy editor is someone who takes out her bright lamp, microscope and fine-toothed comb. She nit-picks through each one of your pages, catching time transitions that don't make sense, erroneous spellings, accent marks if one of your characters happens to speak a foreign language, word repetitions, name changes or hair color changes you forgot you made, etc. In other words, the copy editor is a fierce, mistake-seeking hound, nosing around in every dark corner of every paragraph to make sure you get things right.

Thank God.

Copy editors are worth their weight in gold, yet hardly ever garner a mention. So here it is, a shout-out to you, copy editors around the world: we writers and readers are so lucky to have you smoothing sentences and paragraphs and chapters. Thank you for all of your hard work.

And for those of you who are self-publishing books, some advice: if you have any extra funds, do yourselves a favor and hire a copy editor. Your books -- and your reputation as a writer -- will be better because of it.

Now back to my manuscript and the copy editor's bubble comments in the margin:
"It can't be Saturday here, because you said it was a school day earlier."
"Same words in previous sentence. Change here?"

As John Cleese of Monty Python would say, "My brain hurts." But it's so worth it. No manuscript will ever be perfect. But, thanks to copy editors, we can get closer.


Friday, October 9, 2015

An author is a small business

© 2015 Christy K Robinson

 I know a handful of authors who make a (middle class) living at writing books. The rest of us do our research and writing after working at some other profession, commuting, taking care of our families and homes, and other everyday-people sorts of activities. The royalties each month can be $25 or $200, depending on the season; if we're lucky enough to have bestsellers, the royalties are higher, of course, but still uneven. We can't budget on them.

Our society is suffering because of the imbalance of trade with countries that supply cheap (even slave) labor, making toxic products like wood flooring that emits formaldehyde fumes, baby formula that kills babies, pet food and treats that kill pets, plastic toys that are dangerous for children, etc. Those products are sold by companies that pay their employees such a low wage that the employees must rely on government benefits to survive from month to month, and who line up at food banks for boxes of staples.

You can do your part to help your country (US, UK, Canada, Australia) by buying domestic goods--items that were manufactured and sold in your country. Patronize the mom-and-pop retailer or farmers' market in your community. If you order online, try to find the source of the goods, not necessarily the lowest price.

My suggestion for gift-giving is to purchase  BOOKS. That's right. Those paper things (Kindle if you must) that last forever, that impress people with your intellect when you leave them on your coffee table or sticking out of your bag, that stimulate discussion in the airport or the breakroom at work, that take you to another world and time and state of mind. If you buy books, please remember to buy new instead of used, because authors make no royalties on used books. Not a penny. If the price is not in your budget at this moment, put the book on your wishlist and watch the price until a discount or sale is applied, or if you have a gift card to spend.


Every author, whether traditionally published or self-published, is a small business. We work alone, late at night, using personal computers and the internet. We write, rewrite, edit, and submit our nearly-finished manuscript to agents, editors, designers, and printers. We decide on graphic design. We study the markets we're writing to, and decide how we'll market our books when the publishers have had their way with us and forgotten our books (generally in about a month). We send advance copies to reviewers and hope for good results, but some reviewers never get around to writing a paragraph. We schedule our own launch parties, talks and book signings, and carry our cartons of books to weekend festivals and flea markets. It's not a hobby or a literary gift to society--it's a business.

Please consider supporting the work of authors whose books are printed in your country. You get a book and all the fabulous benefits that come from between its covers, you support your own economy, and the author gets moral and financial support to continue the research, writing, and tilting at windmills.

You can help the struggling artiste! Year-around, you can purchase my books for yourself, of course, but also for your partner, your co-worker, your child's teachers, your pastor or teacher at church, your relatives, your jogging buddies, your BFF, your reading group... Click here: http://bit.ly/RobinsonAuthor

One more feel-good action: Click the "Donate" button to support Christy Robinson's custom of living under a roof and using the shower, air conditioning, and electrical outlets. 
With PayPal, you can use a credit or debit card, or write an electronic check. Thank you! 

Monday, September 28, 2015

Thursday, September 10, 2015

REVIEW: Caleb's Crossing, by Geraldine Brooks

 Book description:
Geraldine Brooks takes a remarkable shard of history and brings it to vivid life. In 1665, a young man from Martha's Vineyard became the first Native American to graduate from Harvard College. Upon this slender factual scaffold, Brooks has created a luminous tale of love and faith, magic and adventure.

The narrator of Caleb's Crossing is Bethia Mayfield, growing up in the tiny settlement of Great Harbor amid a small band of pioneers and Puritans. Restless and curious, she yearns after an education that is closed to her by her sex. As often as she can, she slips away to explore the island's glistening beaches and observe its native Wampanoag inhabitants. At twelve, she encounters Caleb, the young son of a chieftain, and the two forge a tentative secret friendship that draws each into the alien world of the other. Bethia's minister father tries to convert the Wampanoag, awakening the wrath of the tribe's shaman, against whose magic he must test his own beliefs. One of his projects becomes the education of Caleb, and a year later, Caleb is in Cambridge, studying Latin and Greek among the colonial elite. There, Bethia finds herself reluctantly indentured as a housekeeper and can closely observe Caleb's crossing of cultures.
5.0 out of 5 stars This book is a keeper, September 10, 2015
By 

(Christy K Robinson)
Verified Purchase
This review is from: Caleb's Crossing: A Novel (Hardcover)
This book mesmerized me with its antiquated English (not stilted as was 17th century correspondence and literature), its story of two young people who crossed into the other's culture, and its loving description of the natural beauty of Martha's Vineyard. I was surprised that the author told the story not through the eyes of Caleb, the Wampanoag scholar, but through the eyes of a girl who loved him, who thirsts for knowledge.
I rarely read books more than once. But as I downsize my personal library through donations or sales, this book will be a keeper.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

How to remove a libelous or malicious attack on Amazon

© 2015 Christy K Robinson

I'm not batting a thousand, but so far my average is .666. Wait, isn't that the symbolic number of the Beast? *See update at end of article.

All the online forums, Facebook groups, and informal chats with author colleagues say, "Shake it off," and "Do not engage with the negative reviewer." Or "Anyone can see that the troll is demented, so ignore it." This was posted in a Kindle authors' forum in 2013:

"Everyone's experience seems to be that it's very hard, if not impossible, to get rid of a bad review. You know the drill, grin and bear it. Unless the person's "review" of the book is along the lines of, "When I ordered this toaster I expected..." Amazon is not sympathetic."

When they've responded to reviews or comments, I've seen authors so badly thrashed, not only by potential readers and buyers, but by their fellow authors, that I suppose the only remedy would be to change their byline and book titles and reboot their career. I'm not saying the author's engagement in flame-throwing should be defended. Some have dug their professional graves in the bottom of a nuclear missile silo! There are forums and discussion groups that exist to follow author-versus-reviewer firefights, and an otherwise-obscure rant/review would then be viewed by tens of thousands of people in Amazon, Goodreads, Yahoo, Facebook, and private forums.

On the other hand, by authors ignoring a review that is obviously "crazy" or libelous, there are principles that never get addressed, and therefore never changed:
1. the initial "review" may have violated Amazon's review guidelines multiple times,
2. it may be a personal attack on the author and not the book,
3. the "review" may be libelous, and
4. the one-star rating brings down the ratings average significantly if the book is not a bestseller.

Amazon gives remedies for negative customer reviews.

Was this review helpful to you? (yes) (no)
This button determines relevance of a review. A yes vote moves the most helpful reviews toward the top, but if a review receives a no, you'll see it drop in the rankings. For instance, 11 of 11 people thought the review spoke about the book's strengths and weaknesses, and it floats up; but if 0 of 11 people agreed with the review, it sinks to the bottom.  A personal rant will probably receive zero "helpful" votes.

Report Abuse
Amazon provides a feedback button to reviews called "Report Abuse." Despite all the button-pushing, Amazon doesn't respond, and it doesn't remove the review. A Google search reveals that this has been a policy for years. Some authors say that it's based on an algorithm, or the number of reports it receives, but Amazon gives no information or policy about that button, so authors and readers alike wonder why it's there at all. Maybe to soothe ruffled feathers until we forget about the issues, or to make us think we've made a difference when we haven't. There is a tiny field for you to write why you are reporting the abuse, but the amount of characters it accepts is unknown.

Multiple Amazon customers report abuse and Amazon doesn't respond. Well, that's just great. It shows how Amazon values its authors, the very people who made Amazon the giant it is today. Amazon steps all over the authors and crushes them to dust, considering our products as loss leaders, while they rake in billions on electronics sales.

Comment on the review
Anyone may comment on a review, but if you're the author, you had better resist that button--your professional reputation depends on your resistance. Agents, publishers, and other authors will discuss this in great detail both in public and in passworded forums, and laugh. And you'll never get a book deal, or have any hope of working with them on future projects. Leave the comment button to readers. Do not engage. Touch that comment button, and You. Are. Toast.

But you can ask readers or reviewers, in behind-the-scenes messages, to write their own comments on the bad review. It's best not to get defensive or personal ("You're a stupid poopy-head!") but to calmly state why the rant is incorrect and show that the ranter had obviously not read the book, but is making a personal attack on the author. I'm very grateful that people who had previously written five-star reviews took the time to respond to the ranter.

Customer review guidelines
Amazon tells the reviewers that their posts may be removed if they violate Customer Review Guidelines. But they won't remove reviews at the request of other readers/reviewers, or the book author. Amazon writes, "We can only discuss specific Customer Review removals with the person who originally posted the review." But what if the reviewer won't voluntarily remove their post? They can sit back and cackle at the havoc they've wreaked. Amazon seems to be on their side, not the author's side.

Amazon communities
Your posting in a forum will not help your case. It will attract the attention of other forum participants, especially those in the publishing industry, and have a negative effect on your case. In other chatrooms, they'll call you a cry-baby behind your back. I've seen it done.

Contact Amazon customer service
There is a way to email Amazon about an abusive review, but it's not readily apparent. It's rather well-hidden, actually. This link worked as of July 2015:


The link allows you to email their customer service department and get an automated reply (not within the 12 hours they say), as follows:

Hello,
Thanks for bringing these reviews to our attention. We'll read each of the reviews and remove any that violate our guidelines. Any reviews we find outside our guidelines will be removed within 48 hours.
If you'd like it for reference, here is a link to our participation guidelines:
http://www.amazon.com/review-guidelines [This link has no email option.]
I hope this helps. We look forward to seeing you again soon. 
Another response from Amazon said,

We try to encourage our customers to give their honest opinions on our products while staying within our guidelines. As a retailer we are interested in cultivating a diversity of opinion on our products. Part of that is allowing our customers to air their honest thoughts on items they have received. Here's a link to our guidelines for reference:
http://www.amazon.com/review-guidelines
We appreciate your understanding. We hope to see you again soon. 
Well, we can read guidelines, and have done so numerous times, but Amazon customer service agents plainly do not recognize their own guidelines being quoted back at them. 

Libel
Dictionary.com defines libel in this way:
1. Law.
A. defamation by written or printed words, pictures, or in any form other than by spoken words or gestures.
B. the act or crime of publishing it.
C. a formal written declaration or statement, as one containing the allegations of a plaintiff or the grounds of a charge.
2. anything that is defamatory or that maliciously or damagingly misrepresents.
Simply giving a negative review, even if it's nasty, is not libel. The reviewer may disagree with the points the author has made in the book. They may hate the content or the title, or the writing style. They may comment that the book was not well researched, fact-checked, proofread or copy edited. They may not have detected a plot or character development. They may write that the technical information is flawed or that the book is boring and not to their taste.

However, if the reviewer maligns the author on a personal level unrelated to the book, that would fall within the libel definition. Some authors don't care--but others do. For example, a writer of inspiration or religious history has to maintain credibility in their field, but if a troll calls them an atheist or anti-religionist and hasn't purchased or read the book (or even the product description), that's an unsupported, personal attack with professional ramifications.  
"A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches, and loving favor rather than silver and gold." Proverbs 22:1
If a "review" is libelous, Amazon cannot be a party to the libel, and must remove the review. And authors must hold them to this. It may be tilting at windmills, but do it anyway, even if only for your own integrity.

What to say in your email to Amazon
     1. Give the permalink of the rant/review. 
     2. List Amazon's own criteria for posting and removing customer reviews. Was it a personal attack on the author? Was it spiteful or malicious? Did the rant have anything to do with the product or book they're reviewing? Was the rant copied and pasted on your other books or products? Was it libel? 
     3. Demand (politely, of course) that Amazon provide protection and support to authors, particularly if they're published under an Amazon imprint. Malicious behavior by non-customers, and personal attacks, should not be allowed to remain in the product pages where Amazon has a commercial interest. This is not about "freedom of the press" or "freedom of speech" if it violates Amazon's terms.
     4.  Insist and keep on insisting that Amazon remove the offending review(s). Don't "shake it off" if Amazon falls down on the job. If the bogus review was libelous, then move up the customer service ladder to the legal department.

It should be important enough to defend your own byline, professional reputation, or personal name. But your action can also help other authors. Do it for them, too. We should demand a clear policy for reporting violations and reporting abuse. Amazon does not make transparent what to do or to whom we're reporting. Without feedback, we don't know if it's a server or a human being.

If you're the victim of a troll, remember that you have been warned: DO NOT ENGAGE WITH A TROLL. Instead, if you can cite the violations, deal with Amazon behind the scenes using their guidelines and their email system. Ask readers to write their own reviews and make comments. Do not get into the fray. It's suicide. It shouldn't be, but it is. 

Troll

UPDATE, OCTOBER 2015:
My batting average has improved to 1.000. A rant that Amazon previously refused to remove vanished one day in September. The "reviewer" left her related negative rants on another author's pages, so I'm sure it was not her decision to remove the review (that kind of troll is never wrong and will not self-correct or apologize). It must have been an Amazon customer service action, going through my behind-the-scenes emails with them.

***************************
Related article on Gizmodo Australia, dated 4 July, 2015, "Amazon's Review Policy Is Creepy And Bad For Authors." Amazon has ways of knowing who you know: family members, colleagues, co-workers, friends, social media contacts. That is creepy. 
Article on Verve.com Why Amazon "customer service" reps are not in the mood to "serve" the customer.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Be the one who reads


Yes, be the one who reads. Choose books that are worth your time and brainpower, books that will make you smarter, more compassionate, more enlightened, a better person. Read books that spur you to deeper thought and worthwhile action.
READ.
(I suggest you start with mine at http://bit.ly/RobinsonAuthor )

What if what you read is written by smart people? 

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Seven interesting things about my writing and editing


© 2015 Christy K Robinson


I was tagged by an author colleague to post seven interesting things about my writing life.


1. I learned long ago that the things I find fascinating are not wildly popular with others. But if I’m a clever-enough writer, I hope to introduce them to my mania and garner new converts, I mean readers.

2. One of the traits I have as a Meyers-Briggs INFJ personality is that I often operate on an intuitive basis. From wide reading of history, comparing history with current events, and observation of timeless human behavior, I see connections between seemingly unrelated factoids that most other people don’t. From there, I research the connections for proof, and when I find it, it goes into my writing. I think that’s what gives me my signature “voice.”

3. Another cool thing about INFJs. I quote from a website: “INFJs may be attracted to writing as a profession, and often they use language which contains an unusual degree of imagery. They are masters of the metaphor, and both their verbal and written communications tend to be elegant and complex. Their great talent for language usually is directed toward people, describing people and writing to communicate with people in a personalized way. INFJs who write comment often that they write with a particular person in mind; writing to a faceless, abstract audience leaves them uninspired.” NAILED IT.

4. I enjoy taking technical, historical, or academic information, and making it come alive in easily-understandable prose. Whether it’s a scientific paper written by a dental professor, a thesis written by a grad student, an article by a person who really *can’t write for beans*, or a handwritten letter from 360 years ago, I can “translate” it into a piece anyone can understand. I will red-line the words “utilize,” “impactful,” “snuck,” and most business-speak clichés like “reaching out to” and “deliverables.” The bonus is that I get to research whatever I don’t understand, and file it away in my cranium for another project, another day. I love feeling those mental gears spinning up there. (Is that too low-tech?)

5. I’d much rather edit than write. I discovered this back in university. That above-mentioned talent makes my copy-editing stand out from other editors. I know what’s missing from a piece, and how to repair it. In philanthropic marketing terms, I can make an “ask” that seems reasonable to the reader. And I can visualize the finished product (book, magazine, website) as the market will see it, which is a valuable tool to use before it’s set in print for all eternity.

6. You may know that proofreaders and editors do not have the same job. Proofreaders check for spelling and grammatical errors according to a style manual, check headlines and captions, and for widows and orphans in the proofs. A copy editor does that, but looks at the content of a piece, evaluates it, and changes it to meet the objectives of the book or magazine (print or online). I’ve also been a managing editor, which involves managing the piece from concept to publication, on a timeline. When I manage a periodical, there are multiple deadlines and participants to keep ahead of, and I forget the current date because I’m operating at least four months into the future, and also on an annual basis. All of the above are in the back of my mind when I’m writing articles or books.

7. I’m a pianist and organist, and this comes through in my writing. No, I don’t write musicological commentary. (Ain’t no one got time for that.) But I use many elements of music—phrasing, legato and staccato, dynamics, rhythm, contrast, rubato (variable tempo), and expression—in my writing and editing. 

Do you have a book, thesis, website, or periodical (magazine, newsletter, email blast) that could benefit from proven experience, knowledge, and creativity? Contact Christy Robinson HERE.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Review--A Pledge of Better Times, by Margaret Porter

Find A Pledge of Better Times by clicking
the highlighted book title.
Review by Christy K Robinson

By starting the story in the teen years of Lady Diana de Vere, in 1684, readers are treated to the final scenes of the lives of King Charles II and his mistress, Nell Gwyn. They’re the parents of the illegitimate Charles Beauclerk, Duke of St. Albans, who later married Diana. The suspense started early for me, wondering if King Charles lusted after young Diana for himself, or if he simply admired her beauty and innocence. And Diana was beautiful, as you see from her portrait on the book cover. 

The author takes us behind the scenes of the royal succession of King James II and his daughter Mary Stuart, who married Prince William of Orange. Most of the royal characters are cousins, but only the girls were legitimate heirs to the throne—and they weren’t exactly forthcoming with heirs, perhaps because of the many cousin marriages in European royal houses of the time.

As a lover of both history and historical fiction, I wasn’t sure what to expect when I began reading A Pledge of Better Times. The cover declares it’s a novel, and of course the narrative style means that scenes and conversations were invented by the author. But the wealth of detail, the large list of people who actually existed, the pull-quotes at the beginning of each chapter, the paintings discussed (which you can easily find in image searches), the architectural detail of the palaces—all point to the author’s deep research into and familiarity with the politics and events of the late 17th and early 18th centuries. The map, character list, and end notes were fascinating history. Having researched similar sources to Margaret Porter’s for my own books, I saw the genius in her method: taking an event and working backward, sometimes for a few years or even a generation, unraveling faded and tarnished embroidery to discover what motives, attitudes, and quirks-you-can’t-make-up must have happened to lead the characters to act as they did. Then she found new, colorful silks to embroider the facts lost over the centuries into a cohesive story.

I was often confused as to which character was which: I lost track of which names match which titles: Hon. Henry Sidney=Lord Romney (and was he the father of Diana’s sister, or was he Charles’ friend, or both?); Sarah Churchill=Countess Marlborough=Duchess of Marlborough; and other people with surnames and titles that were used interchangeably. Queen Anne calls her son “Gloucester” instead of his Christian name. Once Diana starts having babies, they’re called by their titles: Lord Burford, Lord this, Lord that, or their baptized names. Am I the only person who finds this confusing? This happens in many books about English aristocracy, so no demerits to the author. And she does give a character list at the front of the book.

The stories of Diana de Vere and Charles Beauclerk, Duke and Duchess of St. Albans, are carried from 1684 to the first third of the 18th century. I appreciated the ease with which the author described a complicated royal succession and how she ably depicted the social climbers and the kind and dignified people who inhabited the same space. I could feel the embarrassment and grief of Queen Anne, and how the queen was trapped by her own past.

A Pledge of Better Times
is an outstanding pageant of passion and love, loyalty and betrayal, secrets and treason, service and sabotage, actual and imagined events, and is suitable reading for adults and older teens. There are discussion questions at the end to aid in book groups and classes.

I suggest that you read this book in hard copy rather than ebook, so you can easily navigate the notes at beginning and end, and study the cover art while you enjoy the story in between.

Disclosure: I received an advance uncorrected proof from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.


Monday, March 2, 2015

Scenes from a copy editor's life




Copy editing and proofreading are not the same thing, but I'll do BOTH for your manuscript. Reach me via the contact form at http://ChristyKRobinson.com .

Friday, January 16, 2015

Unless you're my editing client, that is

Dec. 31: Unless you're my editing client, that is



Jan. 16: We're two weeks into the new year and it's the traditional time
when resolutions are broken or forgotten until next December.