Defending Jacob

Name:                        Defending Jacob

Author:                      William Landay

Rating:                       5

General Rating:        This novel is great from the beginning, meaty in the middle, and unable-to-put-down in the end. One of my all-time favorites, Defending Jacob is one of only two books I’ve read cover to cover twice. The surprise for me? I didn’t skip a word during the second read and if you’ve read my reviews, you know I’m a skipper. Love, love, love, love, loved this one.

Skip factor:               

0%  (A double zero, actually.)

Who should read:            

Adults, men and women, and especially parents.

Summary:  This is the story of a father, Andy Barber, and his unending defense of his son, Jacob. The title is perfect. Told from Andy’s perspective, the novel unfolds through a parent’s eyes and thoughts. Andy is a District Attorney who finds his son is a suspect in a murder case.

Characters:  After reading this twice, I had to ask myself if I had a connection with the characters. While I normally evaluate characters along the way, the compelling storyline of this novel kept me thinking of nothing more than what would happen next. After sitting back and evaluating, I realize part of the reason I loved the book so much was due to the characters.

Andy – I loved the voice of this novel and the voice is Andy’s. Brilliantly, he poses questions to the reader because what would a parent do if their son was accused of murder? How loyal would they be? When damning evidence arises, the reader doesn’t realize that Andy uses trial-attorney charm to coax them to his side. He drags empathy from the readers like a defense attorney from a jury.

Laurie –  Jacob’s mother is portrayed perfectly. She’s honest. She poses questions that sometimes floor her husband. She asks what the readers can’t. Always secondary to Andy, Laurie often depicted the undulating emotion that a parent of a child accused of murder might truly feel.

Jacob – Perfect. You aren’t exactly sure what he feels, so none of the story is revealed through Jacob. Readers are left guessing about his true nature. Is he narcissistic? Or just a teenager boy being careless in his teenage world? I volleyed these two opinions throughout the novel.

Minor characters – I did not like the prosecuting attorney, as I’m sure was the author’s intention. The author introduces all characters through Andy’s eyes. The kids interviewed were interesting and added to the story at exactly the time needed. Andy’s legal friends seemed authentic—torn, loyal, empathetic, and a bit judging all in one. They help make the story believable.

Storyline: This is a great storyline. What makes it superior to other novels is its tone and the author’s writing style.

Writing style:    POV is on cue, flawless. The entire tale unfolds through Andy’s eyes only. This is single POV at its best.

Landay’s writing is flawless. He doesn’t overwrite scenes. There are no too-wordy descriptions. He shows and tells magnificently. He “tells” interestingly by using Andy’s inner thoughts.

The story is believable. Landay’s readers feel as if they’re sitting in the courtroom during the day and go home with Andy at night.

When people ask me to recommend a book, I tell them Defending Jacob, hands down.

Read this author again: Yes. Because I loved his writing, I’ll read any novel by this author. I need to sort through my to-read list and open up space for one.

Read on!

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CJ Zahner is the author of The Suicide Gene, a psychological thriller, and Dream Wide Awake and Project Dream, two thrillers that carry a paranormal element. These last two novels were inspired by Zahner’s own experiences. See the video of her own paranormal experience, a premonition of 9/11, or listen to its podcast. Download her Beyond Reality Radio interview or listen to its apple podcast. Follow her on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, BookBub, or LinkedIn. Purchase her books on Amazon.

 

 

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Where the Crawdads Sing

Name:                        Where the Crawdads Sing

Author:                      Delia Owens

Rating:                       4

General Rating:

What’s all the fuss about? I liked this book. I did. But, meh, wait until the dust settles to read. I was over 2000 on the waiting list at the Philadelphia Free Library to borrow this book. It’s not that wait worthy. I give this a 4 only because I loved the writing. In comparison, I looked forward to reading it as much as I did Baldacci’s Absolute Power and Moriarity’s The Hypnotist’s Love Story. I liked the plot and story in the other two more, but Crawdads had the best writing, by far.

Skip factor:               

3% I could not take all the marsh information. I tried but TMI.

Who should read:            

Most women and especially any back-to-nature people. (Back-to-nature folks will skip 0%.)

Summary:  This is the story of a ten-year-old girl, Kya, who is deserted in a North Carolina marshland and must learn to survive on her own. Her mother and siblings leave by the time Kya is six. Her father stays, but comes and goes until finally, he leaves for good when she is ten. To prevent a spoiler, I’ll summarize by saying she befriends a kind boy who teaches her to read, a not-so-kind boy who says he loves her but doesn’t, and a few other people in a nearby town who help her survive until she creates a way to sustain herself.

CharactersI did not feel a connection with any of them:

Kya Clark –  Kya is a strong female character with aloof qualities that living in solitude might relay. She does not have a big personality. Yet, you root for this ten-year-old. She must learn survival skills on her own. And while she is somewhat unbelievable to me, the author was so knowledgeable about wildlife and the marshlands she had me wonder if a child could survive out there alone.

Chase Andrews – Chase, who loves the marshland, befriends Kya, teaches her to read, and falls in love with her before going away to college. He promises to say goodbye and then—going against every grain of his character—doesn’t. He leaves but much later redeems himself. I won’t say how. No spoilers.

Other characters – I didn’t like Tate, which I’m sure the author intended. I liked the man at the store (although obviously not that much as I can’t remember his name) and his wife Mabel but didn’t feel the connection with them I thought the author was trying to evoke. I liked the police investigators, and although there were times they were funny, I didn’t love them.

Storyline: Is it believable? No, but here’s where I go against my grain. Typically, I pay no mind to where an author went to school or grew up. I’ve read lots of books written by Ivy School grads that I DNF. But because I loved Owens’ writing, I googled her to find out how she learned to mix words so well. Astonishingly, I found she’s a zoologist. So I sat back and reevaluated the storyline. Is it believable?

Still no. To be believable, Kya 1) would have been more aloof and recluse (a duller story) and 2)  would have had much more trouble alone in that marshland (a more depressing story). Additionally, Chase walking away without even a goodbye but continuing to love her for years? Fairy tale fiction.

Writing style:    The writing is flawless and that is why this is worth the read. I loved her dialogue, and while, again, I am not a fan of setting description, the author’s wonderful word mixing led me much deeper into scene description than I would go for any other author. Sometimes, in those marsh descriptions that I typically would have loathed, I found myself saying, “Wow, what a clever way to describe that,” which is the only reason I skipped so little.

There is also clever symbolism between the marsh and life that is worth a ponder.

Read this author again: Because I loved her writing, I’ll try reading another of this author’s books. If there is too much nature-loving description in that one, I’ll give it a miss and return it to the library early. However, I’ll just quietly walk away. Won’t add it to my Books I Almost Read category. Her writing is too good to tarnish with a DNF.

Read on!

_________________________________________________________

CJ Zahner is the author of The Suicide Gene, a psychological thriller, and Dream Wide Awake and Project Dream, two thrillers that carry a paranormal element. These last two novels were inspired by Zahner’s own experiences. See the video of her own paranormal experience, a premonition of 9/11 here. Download her Beyond Reality Radio podcast here. Follow her on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, BookBub, or LinkedIn. Purchase her books on Amazon.

 

Books I Almost Read

Read the Pulitzer Prize winning Middlesex? Me neither.

Wandering through my seventh decade, I treasure time. I used to read the classics no matter how grueling and gut-wrenching, but now? Meh. Distinctions can be deceiving. Some of the smartest people I met over the years never earned a high-school diploma. Lots more swore off college. I’ve learned not to judge a book by its accolades.

So Pulitzer Prize and all, I’m pulling out the ladder, stepping up, and slipping Middlesex onto that top shelf I can’t reach, setting it alongside Hillbilly Elegy and Moby Dick. (Yes, it’s above me. Who cares?) I couldn’t take the Greek history or the multitudinously-lined paragraphs as I’m a fan of dialogue and white space.

My apologies to my book club. I really did try. This is only the third time they selected a book I couldn’t muddle through. The other two were Hillbilly Elegy, and (um, my sixty-two-year-old memory fails me) another one about a pig. Oh wait, there was a fourth. Some Steve Martin blunder. (Sorry, Steve. I love you otherwise.)

So now I add Middlesex to a perfectly wonderful list. These are all great books that have appealed to hundreds, thousands, of people. They just aren’t reading-in-the-backyard-with-a-cup-of-coffee worthy to me. Their skip factor was too high.

You’ll find my skip factor is what sets my reviews apart from others. I’m coming out of the bookstore closet and admitting I skip. (Gasp.) And, really, who cares if we skip a line or paragraph or book or two?

In alphabetical order, here are the books I almost read. (To see books I recommend, browse my review page.) My apologies to the authors:

Hillbilly Elegy – Skip rate 40%. I read more than half of this book. I believe the fall of the middle class is unavoidable, and I was anxious to read this story about the working-class Vance family. However, I could not get through it. Sorry to the author for what I am about to say. I felt this was a story of many Americans and the only reason this succeeded was because of the author’s ivy-league resume. He rambled on, and I kept asking myself why his thoughts were so important. (Confession: I earned straight A’s in my poor, menial, private-school college economic classes years ago but HATED the subject.) DNF (did not finish).

Middlesex – Skip rate 90%. As stated above, I just couldn’t wade through the long paragraphs and Greek history. I did want to read the story. Where it began, I do not know. For those of you who have more patience than me, carry on the read. I do think the author is a gifted writer and some will like. DNF.

Moby Dick – Skip rate ??. Honestly, I do not remember how much I read. This was years ago and I tried to read this monstrosity of a book several times. Never could. Not sure why. I went back and read the first few lines. Maybe because of the full-of-myself male voice? (The skies rumble as the Mel-admiring gods groan.) No desire to try again. DNF.

__________________________________________

CJ Zahner is the author of The Suicide Gene, a psychological thriller, and Dream Wide Awake and Project Dream, two thrillers that carry a paranormal element. These last two novels were inspired by Zahner’s own experiences. See the video of her own paranormal experience, a premonition of 9/11 here. Follow her on InstagramTwitterFacebookGoodreadsBookBub, or LinkedIn. Purchase her books on Amazon.

Make an Author Happy! Write a Review!

What do authors want? Reviews, reviews and more reviews.  So, a note like this? Much appreciated and a great confidence builder but please, consider posting those kind words.

Readers have no idea how much posting a review online matters. We authors are a mere molecule in a bucket of a million. There are lots of readers out there but many won’t consider reading a book until fifty reviews pop up under the title. Worse, Amazon, Goodreads, and the like won’t give your book a second look.

So, have a favorite author? Write a review for him or her on Amazon, Goodreads, BookBub or other popular review sites and help them connect with other readers. If that doesn’t encourage you to post a review, here’s another reason: Authors appreciate every word, and most take your views into consideration as they write more stories.

Oh, and another thing,  I’m an author and NONE of us expect all five-star reviews.stars (Well, there may be a narcissist or two out there but most of us realize we aren’t the next Stephen King.) I’m almost afraid to say this, but truth be told, I’ve learned as much about my writing from three-star reviews as five-stars. Authors are thick skinned. Tell us the truth. Couple a compliment with your critique, and we will love your review.

Compliments are important because a novel is a big part of an author’s life (months, years sometimes). Characters are their children. Authors like to hear what you enjoyed about their lives and kids.

Equally, we want to know what you didn’t like. I learned so much from my first readers. Bill Callahan, a friend of mine, suggested in both my novels, The Suicide Gene and Dream Wide Awake, that I create character/family charts. So, I did, for both. Because I like to challenge my readers to think, my novels can be confusing in the early pages. Readers are loving the character keys. Thanks, Bill!

So, please, if you find an author you particularly like, write a review and make them happy. I promise we will read every review, multiple times. We listen. We appreciate. We learn.

How to review on Major Sites

Amazon: if you have purchased the book make sure you post a VERIFIED review. This is important because Amazon sometimes removes reviews but almost never removes reviews posted by verified users.

  • go to your Amazon account
  • select “orders” in the black ribbon toward the top (next to account), if you purchased through Amazon, otherwise enter the book title in the search box,
  • scroll down to the book and on the right side click the “write a product review” box,
  • click a star (1-5 stars)
  • add a headline (page-turner, couldn’t put down, must read, etc.)
  • write a review!

(Give a description. See suggestions below. Amazon is less likely to remove more detailed reviews. If you received the novel free for a review, write: Thank you to the author/publisher for providing a free copy for an honest review. This review is posted voluntarily.)

Goodreads:  create an account and review as follows:

  • Enter book title in search box (or web address, mine is http://bit.ly/CZDWAg)
  • Click dropdown box (arrow) under cover picture on left side
  • Select read
  • Click number of stars for My Rating:
  • Copy and paste your Amazon review into the ‘What did you think?” box or write a review from scratch.

(If you do not see a review box, hover over “read” and “write a review” will appear.)

BookBub: is the simplest. Create an account, then:

  • Enter book title in search box,
  • Click on book when it appears below box
  • Click review
  • Select stars
  • Check I recommend if you’d like to recommend this book to others
  • Write a review
  • Click share

(For Barnes & Noble, Rifflebooks, or Kobo see my book club article here.)

Samples of What to Write in Your Review

What was the story about? Ex.: Dream Wide Awake is a thriller based in Erie PA….This thriller, based in a small city,…the storyline is about seers…Mikala Daly was born into a family of seers…Detective Jack Daly attempts to keep his daughter’s dreams secret in this psychic thriller.

Who was your favorite/least favorite character and why?: I liked Mikala Daly…I wasn ‘t fond of Billy’s sarcasm…minor character Andy Mesmer was one of my favorites…I hope to learn more about the chief in a sequel…I wasn’t fond of Lenny…

Did you like/dislike the plot? I enjoy a book with a lot of twists and turns…the plot kept me thinking…I hope a sequel resolves a question I had…

You get the idea, here are some other questions:

  • Were characters credible?
  • Could you relate to a character?
  • Was the story believable? Possible?
  • Have you experienced anything similar?
  • Did you like the book?
  • What was your favorite and/or least favorite part?
  • If you could change something, what would it be?
  • Would you recommend this book?
  • What type of person would like this book?
  • Would you like to read a prequel, sequel, or other books by this author?

How to Review CJ Zahner’s Novels

If you’ve read mine, I’d love to see your review on any of the following sites. Click on the name of the site under the book you’ve read and you’l be redirected to my page on that site!

Dream Wide Awakewrite a review
Amazon
Goodreads
BookBub
Barnes and Noble
Rifflebooks
KOBO

The Suicide Gene
Amazon
Goodreads
BookBub
The Wild Rose Press
Barnes and Noble
KOBO
Riffle

Read and review on!

_________________________________________                 Cyndie Zahner is the author of The Suicide Gene and Dream Wide Awake., Listen to her BookCircle Online interview how her 9/11 premonition influenced her writing here, follow her on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, BookBub, LinkedIn, purchase her books on Amazon, or sign up for here semi-annual newsletter here.

House Rules by Jodi Picoult

Name:                 House Rules

Author:               Jodi Picoult

Rating:                3.5

General Rating:

This is my least favorite Jodi Picoult novel. Usually, I love her entire book, but House Rules is a slow start. I did not like the beginning, yet once I was into the middle there were times I could not put it down. I found myself laughing at Jacob’s take on life or words at times. (I would have enjoyed more of that.) I estimate a little over 50% of this book is page turning. I did not like the end at all. Hence my lower score.

Skip factor:

Despite this being my least favorite Picoult novel, skipping was minimal. I only skipped long speeches by attorneys toward the end and a few of Jacob’s involved descriptions.

Who should read?

Voracious readers will find this an easy read once they reach page fifty or there about. Readers who like action may not make it that far. Picky readers may not like. I believe people interested in Aspergers or Autism will enjoy. People with children who have those challenges? I’m not sure they will like. I have a friend, Rochelle, with two son’s. One has autism. Although she is a voracious reader, I advised her to skip this Picoult novel.

Summary:          This is the story of Jacob Hunt, a child with Asperger’s syndrome and the accompanying challenges for Jacob, his mother, Emma, and brother, Theo. The story is told from several character’s perspectives. Voices change with chapters. (Fonts change, too, which helps remind you a new character is speaking.) The people include:

Emma, the mother of an autistic son, also writes a parental column for a newspaper from home. Her entire life revolves around her autistic son. Jacob. She is divorced.

Jacob, relays his thoughts in an interesting way. At times he is comical, very smart, and other times you get lost in his logic. The author has done a great job helping readers see life from behind this challenging disability.

Theo is Jacob’s younger brother and is often caught between loving his brother and hating his brother’s Aspergers, and how his own life has been affected.

Oliver is the attorney thrust into the family situation.

Police Officers but to be completely honest, I wasn’t  sure these were needed. I never really understood why they were included.

Characters:         Picoult did okay with character development. Each character carries his or her own distinct voice. However, I did have a hard time connecting or loving any one individual person, and I never quite understood the purpose of the supporting characters (police officers/detectives.) Yet, dialogue between characters was good and they definitely had emotional depth.

Storyline:           The start fell short. The story had a good hook and was believable. The main conflict kept me turning pages, but at the risk of revealing too much, I’ll refrain from talking about resolving conflicts. Each of the main characters had purpose and goals, however here again, the minor characters fell short.

Writing style:    Simply, I love Picoult’s writing style. Narrative and dialogue was well balanced. Style exquisite. Voice great. Her writing flows well.

Read on!

_________________________________________                 Cyndie Zahner is the author of Dream Wide Awake, a paranormal novel that is totally fiction, but has been inspired by her own experiences. This is the first in a series of blogs about her inspiration behind the novel. Follow her on InstagramTwitterFacebookGoodreadsBookBubLinkedIn and purchase her books on Amazon.