I came across Lise Lotte when looking for bloggers to read and review my latest book, Cocktails and Lies. I became so fascinated by Lise's story, that we struck up a kind of correspondence which resulted in me inviting her to write a guest post on her reading experiences for my blog. As a former English teacher, I'm always fascinated to hear about readers' perspectives, and because Lise's autistic spectrum disorder, I thought her story might be of interest to authors and readers everywhere. Over to Lise.
My name is Lise Almenningen and I am the
owner of the blog humanitysdarkerside.com. Along with that I run a few other
blogs on various topics. I also happen to be ASD/Asperger's/Autistic.
I did not know I had Asperger's until about
the same time I started my first blog, 2012. Until then, I just figured I had
some unusual quirks that I tried very hard to suppress. When I realized all of
that strangeness was normal for me, I stopped fighting it so hard. Surprise.
Surprise. Life got simpler.
I believe the greatest commonality in
Aspies, is how different we perceive what we see/observe/feel to non-ASDs (or
neurotypicals/normals as you like to call yourselves). That is both our best
friend and our worst enemy depending on what we are doing and who we are with.
As a reviewer (once I let myself out of my preconceived idea of a reviewer), I
believe being Asperger has shed new light on texts.
I am addicted to reading and will try to
read anything. That does not mean I will finish, because not all writing is
worth finishing. Whether a text is worth finishing has nothing to do with the
author's level of education, expertise or category. I have read academic texts
whose authors cannot have been beta-ed and "trashy" authors whose writing is so
poignant, I am incapable of putting the text down. Sometimes a text is so
technical, I am incapable of ever understanding it. I would not know if the
author is good or not in such cases. But I will give them a try.
When I review a text, I will first read it
through. I need that to set some kind of anchor in my mind. Then I will do
research. If the author has a website, I check out what they say about
themselves. Things like where they are from, have lived, interests etc.
influence my interpretation of the text. If the author is from the US, I review
with a different eye than if the author is from South-Korea.
When stories are about topics I know
little about, I will check out terms. Lynette's Cocktails and
titles I needed to know the definition of so I could know if they fit into
their roles. The same thing with her main character. I know little about
insurance, so I looked up that title as well. If the information might be of
interest to people reading my review, I will link to it.
Then I check out the net to see if any
other person has reviewed the story. If their review appeals to me, I will link
to it. When I can find them, I try to include up to five other reviewers and
prefer it if there are both good and bad reviews. Sometimes that isn't
possible, because I am doing an ARC. I try to include any art I can find on a
story. If there are translations, I dig up as much as I can about them and link
to that information as well. One Norwegian author, Jo Nesbø, has a huge
following abroad. If you check out my review on him, you will see what I mean
Once the preliminary work has been done, I
pick up the story again and try to figure out how I want to approach it. From
then on, it is all character-driven and my main question to myself is: Can I
believe in this person? Has the author answered their own questions? This is
also vital to character-driven stories. If you claim to write a mystery, there
should be a mystery to solve. Another thing I look for in my characters is some
complexity. This goes for children's stories as well as adult stories. I
reviewed an illustrated children's short-story called One Less Meg that
exemplifies what I mean.
Romances can be troublesome for me, and
this probably directly
related to my ASD. I think that has to do with the type
of interaction that authors give their characters in addition to the formulaic
form I find the category struggles with. One of these is "the three-some". This
has become a particular problem in YA stories that must think they target young
girls (preferably US girls). It certainly is not a new concept. Zane Grey wrote
about them in his Romance-Westerns. But instead of being a tool the
three-some often feels like a fail-safe. Aspergers is a wonderful reviewers
tool in that it categorizes details and shares those categories with me when
cued. Maybe it is more difficult to get away with easy solutions when your
reviewer is an aspie. Maybe. But if you write excellent romance, without or
without excellent sex-scenes, I'm all yours.
Violence is another area that authors seem
to use as a fail-safe. Well-written violence that fits with the story is
preferred. I just reviewed a story called The Broken God with a little boy in
it called Zoshi who broke my heart. The violence towards him wasn't of the
gratuitous type, nor was it explicit/gory. Instead, we followed his feelings
while traversing a dark place. Then, the moment came, and it was quick. But the
intensity of being in this eight-year old mind blew me away. Again, One Less
Meg was also a violent story, but appropriately so.
Authors seem to struggle most with tightening
their stories up and using their resources (betas, editors, etc.) for what they
are worth. I understand the desire to keep things. It is something I struggle
with as a reviewer. But both reviews and stories need to be slashed and slashed
again, or re-written, or ... (you know the theory). Unless you are a "one of a
kind" author, writing hurts. This article certainly did.
As a reviewer, I love authors. You are
brave people who take a chance on a fickle public. I want you to succeed and
want you to do your very best to deliver a product you can be proud of. That is
the frame of mind I try to be in when I review your stories. And don't be too
hard on yourself when something falls through. Failures do teach you where to
go next. At least they have done that for me.
When Hannah’s house is burgled, she gains as much as she
loses: she meets Jan, her reserved Dutch neighbour and successful antiques
dealer, and Callum, the detective in charge of the case; then finds some hidden
letters to her dead grandmother that take her on a roller-coaster ride of
As Hannah juggles the attentions of the two men now firmly
in her life, she works to uncover the secrets of the past, only to find this
encroaches on the present in unexpected ways.
And then there are the two men in her life, both vying for
her attention, both hiding things from her and each other. What does Callum really know about Jan? What is Jan hiding from everyone? And what did her grandmother—whose house it
once was—hide from the world?
As if Hannah doesn’t have enough mysteries to solve, her
best friend Rachel enlists her help in solving her marital crisis, while her
pleasure-seeking mother seems intent on finding her a husband.
With so many skeletons rattling the door of Hannah’s house,
can she unravel these mysterious threads and reveal the truth, changing her
seen any more of your Good Samaritan neighbour?”
the hint of sarcasm in his tone.
then, as you no doubt established, he probably has a better view of my house from
his balcony than I do of his flat.”
an eyebrow and I’m sure I detected a fleeting spark of amusement in his light
brown eyes. “The reason I ask is that I
understand his auction house has a substantial art deco collection catalogued
in the next public auction. If I’m
right, that’s scheduled for next Wednesday.
I thought he might have told you, in case you wanted to replace some of
your stolen items.”
hit like a double whammy. In the first
place, hearing this from him, rather than Jan hurt, and the second pain—a more
prolonged ache—was the guilt at not protecting my grandmother’s treasures
better. I felt I’d lost a part of her
that I wish I could have preserved.
Replacing her material legacy was not high on my agenda, but no one seemed
to understand that. The house felt that
bit emptier without them, but replacing them with similar items would not make
that any better. I needed the original
items back, not copies. And that’s when
it struck me.
stolen pieces were not the sort of items that were going to be melted down and
made into a different form. They weren’t
great works of art, but they were genuine collectors’ items that had value to
someone in the art world. My grandmother
had left them to us, to my mother, my sister and me with love. They belonged here, in Grandma’s house and
that’s exactly where they should be returned.
Now I had a mission, to hunt down my grandmother’s legacy item by item,
and return everything to its rightful place.
Check out my website for details of my other titles
Anyone who has followed my blog will know what enormous respect I have for author Jenny Twist, whose first novel Domingo's Angelstill sits at the top of my favourite stories ever. She's produced many short stories since then, but only one other novel, All in the Mind. Now at last, the long-awaited third novel has arrived. Here is my review of it:
I confess here and now to being a fully signed-up member of
author Jenny Twist’s fan club.
Everything she writes is a delight to read, so when I received an ARC of
her latest story, I knew I was in for a pleasurable read. The Owl
Goddess is quite a departure from her usual genres, and I admit to having mixed
feelings at first, but these quickly disappeared when I started reading.
I was immersed from the start in this innovative mixture of gods
and heroes from Greek myths hurtled into the unknown by a mishap in space to
deal with a whole set of new problems posed by a new environment that included
minor deities and heroes. It made for a
very entertaining mix and plenty of excitement from the very first page. When Twist throws the most famous gods and
heroes such as Zeus, Athena, Prometheus, Pandora, Atlas, Apollo, Artemis and
all the rest into a big modern melting pot, you have to expect the
unexpected! But the result is
The sympathetic—and often amusing—way the deities are
characterised and humanised is inspired.
Each one keeps his/her recognisable traits from the ancient stories, but
takes on more human aspects to account for some of their quirks and
idiosyncrasies. I especially enjoyed the
strong female deities taking ownership of their traditional roles and adding
their own personal, feminine touches.
The use of modern colloquialisms made them accessible,
endearing and highly entertaining. I
loved the portrayal of the three feisty ‘A’ females: Artemis, Aphrodite and
Athena. They kept the action moving
forward in a very human way as well as milking every opportunity to add humour
and interest to the story through their unique personalities. Permeating their stories is a rather poignant,
coming of age love story to which just about anyone of any age can relate.
All in all, I think this is an inspired story, engrossing,
entertaining and beautifully written. Jenny
Twist is a great story-teller and I can see this having an appeal to all ages
as a new way to visit classical mythology in a novel, informative and engaging
No prizes for guessing how many cute cats I award this!
About the Author:
Twist was born in York and brought up in the West Yorkshire mill town of
Heckmondwike, the eldest grandchild of a huge extended family.
left school at fifteen and went to work in an asbestos factory. After working
in various jobs, including bacon-packer and escapologist’s assistant (she was
The Lovely Tanya), she returned to full-time education and did a BA in history,
at Manchester and post-graduate studies at Oxford.
She stayed in Oxford working as a
recruitment consultant for many years and it was there that she met and married
her husband, Vic.
In 2001 they retired and moved to
Southern Spain where they live with their rather eccentric dog and cat. Besides
writing, she enjoys reading, knitting and attempting to do fiendishly difficult
She has written two novels - Domingo’s Angel – a love story set in
Franco’s Spain and harking back to the Spanish Civil War and beyond - and Allin the Mind – a contemporary novel
about an old woman who mysteriously begins to get younger
She has contributed short stories to
many other anthologies, of which two – Doppelganger
and Uncle Vernonhave been released
as short ebooks.
Janet Doolaege is fast becoming one of my favourite British authors and I had the great pleasure recently to read and review her latest publication Woman in Blue & White. Here is my review:
Having read and loved Janet Doolaege’s other novels, I was
delighted to receive an ARC of Woman in Blue & White, a story that
engrossed me from the very start. I soon
found myself so absorbed in the story that there were times I was unable to put
it down and sat up very late into the night on more than one occasion, never
knowing quite where the next twists and turns would take me. I can tell you now, it took me on a great
The story is set between France and Greece. I always love the way this author writes
about France with a curious combination of reverence and honesty that places the
reader so firmly in the scene, you feel you are physically there. She achieves the same with her descriptions
of Greece. I’ve been to Greece, though
sadly not to Santorini, but now I feel as if I actually have been there. The beautiful, evocative descriptions are
what make Doolaege such a masterful author.
The plot of Woman in Blue & White is also very
clever. The rather naïve Zoe finally
wakes up to the sort of person her long-term boyfriend is and finds the courage
to leave him. A last minute opportunity
to travel to Greece on holiday with a colleague hurtles her into an adventure
that changes her life.
When Zoe finds a watch on the beach, she also experiences
strange kinaesthetic powers that seem to suggest a tragic, possibly violent
history and the feeling is so strong that Zoe believes the watch to have huge
sentimental significance for its owner, whom she determines to track down to return the precious object. This is
Ivar, a rather enigmatic and talented artist - and a fascinating character with
whom I confess I fell just a little bit in love. If you only read the book for this gripping
part of the adventure, read it you must.
The author’s handling of Zoe trying to find Ivar is superb in its
control of tension and drama.
I worry about giving too much away in reviews, and this is a
story I would not wish to spoil for anyone.
It’s a must read and one I definitely plan to re-read (hopefully sitting
on a beach on a Greek island this summer).
Ingenious plot, sensitive characterisation and haunting descriptions –
what more can I say about this truly five star read?
About the author:
Janet grew up in Wimborne, Dorset, within the sound of the Minster bells
and the Dean’s Court peacocks. English was her best subject at the grammar
school, thanks to a dear eccentric English teacher popularly known as Fishy.
After university she moved to France and worked at UNESCO in Paris as a
translator, eventually becoming Chief of English Translation. Her husband is
French and she has put down roots here, but still feels a strong attachment to
England and its literature, particularly its wealth of children’s literature.
She has written three novels, all of them featuring just a hint of the
supernatural and the unexplained, subjects which fascinate her, and all three
are set at least partly in Paris. Woman in Blue & White is the latest. Her
three novels for children are embroidered versions of old legends, told in a
form that she has tried to make more interesting for the children of today. For
example, The Story of an Ordinary Lion
is told by St. Jerome’s lion himself, and the adventures in Tobias and the Demon are related by
Birds and animals have always been very important to her, and Ebony and Spica is a true memoir of two
rescued wild birds, a blackbird and a starling. Each lived with her for many
years and was an unforgettable character.
She tells me her house contains more books than she will ever have time
to read! Reading and writing have been her life.
Woman in Blue & White is available from Amazon (US) and Amazon (UK)
It's always a great pleasure for me when the hugely talented Tara Fox Hall pops over to my blog and today she's in a reflective mood and also a very generous one, since she's giving away multiple audio-book copies of her delightful collection of essays, to which I gave 5 stars. You can read my review here. Enough from me, over to Tara.
Frost’s popular quote, “Two paths diverged in a wood and I, I took
the one less travelled by…and that has made all the difference,” is familiar to
many people, either from a social reference, a mention in a book or movie, or
just from reading the poem. A choice between two futures is something we all
face in our lives multiple times. In youth the decisions we make are often
easier for us, not because they are any less weighty in consequence, but
because we see before us many years of opportunity, no matter what we decide.
The older we get, the more purposeful we become in our choices, aware that the
clock that was quietly ticking since our birth is now slowly winding down. The
reality that we all must die someday isn’t something to give much thought about in the
first few decades of life, unless its experienced firsthand, such as with the
loss of a parent or sibling. That’s something that’s going to happen someday, but not anytime soon.
midlife approaches, suddenly we are all too aware of what we didn’t accomplish,
and how little time is left. But the reality is that no one can know exactly
how much time they have. There is no fairness in death, just as there is no
fairness in life. There’s just life, with all of its good times and hardships,
golden moments of perfect bliss and stark moments of horrible realization.
something is important for you to do in your life, don’t wait until you are fifty
years old, or your child graduates from college, or you lose ten pounds to
start making plans to make your dreams a reality. Futures aren’t set; we are
actively changing our potential prospects every day we live by what we say and
do. The fork that confronts you today won’t ever be revisited, even Frost knew
Confront your challenges and embrace every opportunity that comes your
way, as it may never come again. You only get one life. What is right for one
person may not be right for another, so don’t base your notions of happiness
and fulfillment on what the world, your friends and family, or society tells
you should to give you serenity and contentment. Do be kind, respectful, and above
all, true to yourself in your actions. No one is perfect, and not every action
we take will always be the best one. Yet we can find our way back to who we
want to be, in time, if we choose to. With each new dawn comes another chance
to get it right, to make amends, to fulfill dreams, and to discover new
possibilities. There are two paths waiting before you today; pick the right
one. Which one is right? Only you can make that choice.
The author is giving away 18 free copies of this audiobook from Audible, first come, first serve! Email the author with “Audiobook of Deep
Breaths” in the subject line, and you will be sent instructions and a code for
a free Audible download of Deep Breaths: Tales of Hope and Inspiration.
Tara Fox Hall's writing career began in the pages of a small print
magazine, Catnip Blossoms!, that a friend, Harald Moore, put out to
promote his catnip farm in Johnsonville, New York. One short nonfiction article
followed another, detailing her adventures saving wildlife, her experiences
living on an acreage, and more than a few humorous recountings detailing the
antics of her wacky pets.
Written to delight, fascinate, and move readers, her simple but
enchanting stories of country life quickly found a following. Tara kept
publishing stories for the next five years, even as the name of the magazine
changed to Meanwhile and then to On the River when
the catnip farm went out of business and Harald moved with his family to a new
home near a river.
These previously published stories are collected here for the
first time with new added content in the hopes of bringing a little more hope
and inspiration into everyday life.
In May 2015, I had the pleasure of hosting author Jan Ruth (who is firmly up there in my top ten favourite British authors) to talk about her publishing journey. I therefore thought it would be interesting (as well as my great pleasure) to re-post an article Jan wrote for her own blog recently entitled Publishing: A Lot of Smoke and Mirrors, giving us the fascinating sequel to that journey. Here it is:
In which I’m made to eat my words as I come full circle through the maze of publishing to discover that the grass isn’t necessarily greener over there; it’s still mostly desert scrub from every direction…
It came about through sheer frustration at the lack of visibility and the cost of producing books. A turning point came when a small press offered a contract for Silver Rain. This is it, I thought. This is the change of direction I need… but be careful what you wish for! Don’t get me wrong in that I had huge delusional ideas at this stage. I was simply seeking greater visibility and some respite from the nuts and bolts of self-publishing.
And all the outward signs were good: they took five back-catalogue titles and one new title, to make six contracts.
This material represented several years of my life, several thousand pounds’ worth of investment in terms of editorial advisory, editing, proofreading, designing, formatting for ebooks and paperbacks, advertising… I could go on. Producing a quality product and promoting it to its best advantage doesn’t happen by accident. If you don’t have these skills yourself, then one needs to employ freelance professionals, as I’ve reiterated many times. Of course, we know there are a lot of ‘home-made’ books out there which don’t quite cut it, but this is certainly not the case for all self-produced work. What is slightly disconcerting is that I discovered this isn’t necessarily the case for traditionally produced work, either!
If this is you and you are maybe considering that contract from a small press, think carefully. This is of course my specific experience over 12 months but my advice would be to submit one, stand-alone title before you make a decision to move completely to traditional publishing. I’d been used to working on a one-to-one basis with professional freelancers who knew my material well. But the change of pace and method of working may come as a shock. Your book becomes a commercial product held in a queue, maybe dropped down the enormous cliffside of titles waiting for attention if a more promising book or a more glamorous author comes along in the meantime. This is a hopeless situation when the previously hard-working self-published author has a substantial back-list waiting to be dealt with.
The process of trade publishing has less to do with the quality of material than you might presume, but it has a lot to do with what is or isn’t marketable at any one time. This isn’t bad business, it’s about making money to stay afloat. Small publishers are in exactly the same boat as the independents, but with far more overheads and problems with staff. Some of these staff may be inexperienced or learning ‘on the job.’ These small companies are up against the same fast-moving on-line industry as any independent but perhaps without the resources to manage it effectively, let alone build a lively following on Twitter; a following which has the power to engage.
Traditional publishing, by its very nature, is painfully slow and this produces a massive clash with the shifting sands of on-line business. We perhaps don’t realise how fine-tuned independents have become in this respect. We all know marketing is a full-time job. Looking after the detail which includes fine tuning those book descriptions and keywords, sustaining an active presence on social media sites, writing articles and taking advantage of the best days to run a promo deal for that new political saga set in Scotland… it’s not going to happen. Imagine trying to handle the marketing at this level for 500 authors with several titles each… Impossible. And publishers have no magic formulas or special concessions when it comes to on-line sales. A high degree of luck is still perceived as par for the course. So, no specific sales strategy, then…
And while we’re wading through these muddy waters of what defines a self-published book from a traditionally produced book, let me mention yet again two common misconceptions that seem to linger on despite the glaring facts: that traditionally published books are somehow superior, and that those high-ranking, best-selling books on the virtual shelves must be better somehow than those books bumping along the bottom of the Amazon rankings, or boxed up for a rainy day in the back of someone’s office. Wrong!
Over the course of a year, my sales dropped lower than they’d ever been. My branding was confused and I was losing the tiny amount of traction I’d managed to gain in the market. Overall, I was left feeling enormously let-down and misinformed. Despite this, the experience was invaluable as a means to recognise exactly who I was and where I needed to be. Needless to say, I parted company with my publisher and I’m relieved to be back as an independent. My sales have increased, where previously they’d been depressed. This includes both ebooks and paperbacks (in a local shop). The overriding conclusion has to be that whatever I was doing before, was in fact more successful than I’d presumed!
Authors who’ve started their journey with a small publisher may know very little about the huge network of independent authors out there, let alone the complexities of social networking. ‘Oh, I’d rather leave all that to my publisher,’ is a common cry but maybe a mistake to ignore the bigger picture.
The independent network of freelance writers remains a growing industry. Many traditionally produced authors are making the move to publish themselves and cross to the dark side – although there are still problems with visibility, the overriding comfort is that there is never a compromise with the work you’ve produced and personal satisfaction cannot be left out of the argument. I’ve heard nightmare stories where authors with agents or publishers have been asked to re-write their books to a different genre or incorporate a different setting, because ‘Cornwall is trending right now.’ Bland covers, hit and miss advertising and the general lack of cohesion is not uncommon. The industry is flawed, floundering, and fluctuating. This is because there are real choices open to writers to maintain their individuality and creativity, and boats have been rocked.
I also think independent authors tend to be tremendously supportive and understand the value of teamwork. I’m not sure this carries over into the trade arena where a lot of authors there are happy to let their publishers assume the responsibility, in whatever capacity. Lots of first-time authors who’ve landed that coveted contract for a first book are struggling with the on-line media.
Trade publishing, no matter its size is still something of a closed-shop and this is where the vast majority of authors are unaware of the basics because they’ve come in at a level where the opportunities to learn, are restricted. The days of hiding in a garret and leaving it all to the agent or publisher ceased to exist when the Internet happened. Now, readers, customers, clients or whoever, seek out that social interaction which goes beyond selling the product. There’s only one person who can sell your personality and that is you. There might only be one person who can sell your material on-line, and guess who it is… the good news is that you get to keep all the royalties!