Book reviews: the good, the bad, the ugly … and the wonderful

Book reviews: the good, the bad, the ugly … and the wonderful

A good review can leave a writer depressed if it’s obvious the reviewer hadn’t read the book. Even rave reviews can be frustrating if there isn’t one quotable line. And then, of course, there are the “condemn with faint praise” reviews. Worse is the despair of not having any reviews at all.

It’s hard not to get emotional!

But then there are the supremely gratifying reviews by readers who get it. Nothing could be finer.

I felt this way about the review of The Game of Hope by Grace O’Connell in Canada’s publishing magazine, Quill & Quire. There are a number of quotable quotes, but this is my favourite:

Gulland has built a career writing historical fiction for adults, including a bestselling trilogy about Joséphine Bonaparte (Hortense’s mother). Her pitch-perfect balance of lush period details and character-driven narrative shines again in The Game of Hope.

I love this too:

In Gulland’s hands, Hortense’s life and history, as dramatic as it is, never overwhelm her character. Her friendships, her music, and her mother remain steady anchors. Even with Joséphine and Napoleon as supporting characters – ones so historically charged that they could easily take over a narrative – the story remains firmly Hortense’s.

What’s especially nice about this is that the reviewer understood some of the challenges of writing biographical historical fiction, likely because she is an author herself. :-)

Life on the road — my mini tour full of surprises

Life on the road — my mini tour full of surprises

I’ve been on the road, first launching and promoting The Game of Hope in Toronto, then a long drive home to unpack, regroup, and repack before heading to Montreal for the wonderful first (of many, we hope) Montreal YA fest.

It has been fantastic. At the Penguin launch in Toronto, an older woman leaned in to whisper confidentially, “You’re my favorite writer.” Such confessions are sweet. At an interview following (I don’t yet feel I should mention names), the interviewer told me that she loved The Game of Hope and went on to read every one of my other novels. That made me speechless.

That isn’t to say that everyone loves The Game of Hope — there have been some readers who do not — but overall, I’ve been very, very pleased.

The Game of Hope cards

At the Penguin launch, I had each person who lined up to have their free book signed draw a card from a deck of fortune-telling cards of “The Game of Hope” (to keep as a bookmark), and read its meaning in a tiny guide. The expressions of recognition were wonderful to see: one young woman would be getting married, another would get a promotion. Both were quite pleased. Readers love it! Of course I did not include cards that might have a negative connotation in the deck.

It was a special treat to have my step-granddaughter, 11-year-old Ellie and her mother Cara present. Ellie is reading The Game of Hope and offered shyly to a group, “And it’s really good!”

The Montreal YA Fest: such a blast!

My experience at the Montreal YA Fest was amazing, but in an entirely different way. I only sold one book (!), but I met over twenty wonderful YA authors. I’m accustomed to writers of adult fiction; let me tell you, writers of YA fiction are a different breed altogether. They are loud and rambunctious, delightful! I couldn’t buy their books at the festival unfortunately — recent back problems have forced me to be very careful about luggage weight — but as soon as I got home I put in the orders, and they are starting to arrive in waves.

Two wonderful YA novels

Already I’ve read one absolutely wonderful YA novel: 32 Questions that Changed My Mind About You by Vicki Grant. Don’t you just love a novel that compels you to stay up way too late? That makes you teary and full-hearted? This was such a one. Witty and real, I adored it.

Now I’m reading E. K. Johnstons’s novel That Inevitable Victorian Thing, a futuristic novel set in the past. (Figure that one out.) I.e. Victorian corsets with technological sensors that ease up as needed. It’s delightful, and when I’m not reading it, I’m thinking about it and can’t wait to get back to it.

The wild and wonderful YA world

In general, this immersion into the wider world of YA has been like an explosion of creative imagination for me; in a YA novel, anything is possible.

The YA Fest was extremely well-organized, with many panels for participants to choose from, great food to eat, a fun photo booth (which I’m sorry I missed out on), as well as a button-making table. Here are mine:

How cool is that? I especially love the dismayed look on the face of Little Bo Peep. Moi.

The photo at the top is from A Novel Spot bookstore in Entobicoke, Ontario. Don’t you just love it? Indie bookstores are so great. The mystery woman is Katie Middleton, the bookstore’s owner. Her hair matches perfectly!

I’ll have a “Cup of Work” please—writing on the road plus research treasure hunts

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Richard and I just returned home after a week on the road touring Montreal, Quebec City and the Eastern Townships. Quebec is such a beautiful province! We ate so well, I didn’t want to leave. (Not that we don’t eat very well at home: Richard is a wonderful cook.)

A new goal for me is to write every day, even when on holiday, so I’ve developed what I call a “Cup of Work” each morning. With my morning coffee, I put headphones on, tune in to classical, and write. (Or, as is the case right now, revise.) This way we can travel more, and I can still meet my deadlines—but most of all, I love the feel of this routine.

This morning, I finished the revisions to draft 3.0 of The Game of Hope (working title). I could now print it out and begin draft 3.1, but I think I should make a few more changes. Before we left, I put out a request for research help on the H-France chat group (a large group of historians of French history), and already I’ve had some great responses.


I’ve been meaning to post the highlights of my tour—that will come.

A delicious historical diversion: Retronaut.com, a repository of historical images.

I’ve begun reading Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life: brilliant. I usually have five or so books on the go at a time (I’m an ADD reader), but this novel deserves my full attention.

Mad Men and the review swirl

I’m going to be brief here, because I want to watch “Mad Men.”  :-)

Too, I’ve been reading OVERWHELMED; Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time by Brigid Schulte.

The cover says it all:

Over images

Leisure is important! 

But before I escape into the worlds of Don and Betty, I want to say that I’ve returned to writing (gearing down from promotion-land), and it’s such a pleasure. 

Also to mention that today was an excellent day for reviews of THE SHADOW QUEEN. 

Reading an issue of Renaissance, I came upon a glowing review. It’s not on-line, but here’s the concluding sentence:

This book is a treasure for any lover of literary historical fiction.

The second is from the Pittsburg Examiner, which concluded:

The Shadow Queen will prove to be one of the top historical fiction novels in 2014 because of interesting characters, a unique story, and such attention to detail and research. This is a walk back in time you don’t want to miss!

Of course I’m smiling!

Now to the on-going saga of Don and Betty …  

Want a glam writer’s life? Throw glitter on your computer.

My very dear friend and wonderful writer Merilyn Simonds sent me this today: 

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Too true! 

Shadow proofs

I’ve been sticking to the 1000-words-a-day diet on my first YA, but now the “First Pass” galleys for THE SHADOW QUEEN have arrived. It will take time to read each page, checking for errors, so I’m going to cut back to 500. 

I’m also slowly assembling a treadmill. It’s a good thing I passed IKEA 101 (and rather enjoy the process). It’s right outside my office door: I see myself going from one treadmill to another. ;-)