Sunday, August 8, 2010

Review of The Musician's Daughter, by Susanne Dunlap

The Musician’s daughter
By Susanne Dunlap
Young adult/historical

Music and violin enthusiasts who love mystery and adventure fiction will relish Dulap’s latest novel, The Musician’s Daughter.

The story takes place in 18th Century Vienna and begins on Christmas Eve, as 15-year old Theresa Maria’s beloved father is brought to her home, dead. Though Maria is stunned and devastated by the event, her practical nature soon takes charge and she becomes the head of the household. Her mother isn’t able to help, as she is pregnant and dazed by her new widowhood. Theresa’s other family member is her little brother, and they need money soon if he is going to become a luthier’s apprentice, as it had been planned from the beginning. But who would hire a 15-year old viola player, anyway, in a time when musician women were frowned upon? Thus Theresa seeks the help of her father’s dear old friend, composer Franz Joseph Hayden. All along, however, Theresa is keen on investigating her father’s death. Why was her father’s dead body found near a gypsy camp? Why was his violin missing? Her instincts tell her there’s more to it than a vulgar petty crime.

Indeed, as Theresa begins working with Hayden, she begins to suspect a conspiracy, a mystery reaching the high levels of the government. Was his father a simple violinist in the orchestra of Prince Nicholas Esterhazy, as she always thought he was, or was his real job more sinister?

Music, mystery, espionage and a light touch of romance will keep readers turning the pages. Dunlap’s prose flows beautifully and I loved Theresa’s strong yet sympathetic character. She’s smart, resourceful and independent in a time where women were expected to behave just the opposite. The gypsy element adds an exotic, sensual flavor to the story. Musicians will particularly enjoy the musical descriptions. The story has an ambitious plot and I think Dunlap did a good job in tidying up all the loose ends. This is a novel to be enjoyed not only by teens but also by adults.

Interview with Beverly McClure, author of the historical YA novel, Caves, Cannons, and Crinolines

Beverly McClure's stories and articles have been published in leading children’s magazines. One article was reprinted in a Scott Foresman PreK-K Anthology. Her “Breakthrough” article appeared in the June 2007 issue of Writer Magazine. She has five novels for tweens and teens published with four more under contract, along with a picture book. Caves, Cannons, and Crinolines, a young adult historical fiction, is her latest release.

Thanks for being here today, Beverly! Please tells us about your latest young adult novel and what inspired you to write it.

Caves, Cannons, and Crinolines
is historical fiction about the siege of Vicksburg, Mississippi, during the American Civil War. We visited Vicksburg one summer on our way to South Carolina. I fell in love with the city and its sad history. We toured the military park there and went through beautiful Victorian homes that stood during the Civil War. The old courthouse atop the hill where citizens watched the battles on the Mississippi River still stands and today is a museum. What a treasure of the past is there. I talked to the curator of the museum. A little lady told me about her grandparents who survived the siege. And I knew I had to tell their stories, not just about the war, but how it affected the women and children and their daily lives.

How long did it take you to write the book?

Counting the research, I’d say about two years.

Did it require a lot of research?

Yes, it did, and I enjoyed every minute. I bought books, fiction and nonfiction, journals kept by the women of the city, copies of old newspapers and read about their lives, what they ate, how they dressed, all the little details of the times. Many universities have records on The Internet that were valuable in my research, such as letters from soldiers to their families.

Do you belong to a critique group? How has that helped you?

I do now, but when I was writing Caves, I didn’t so it was no help. Today, though, my crit groups (2) are so good to help me see details that I overlook and to point out where I contradict myself.

What is your writing schedule like?

Mornings, Monday through Friday, are my best time to write, usually from 9 to 11 AM. Saturdays and Sundays are more catch up days. In the afternoon, I research, blog, answer emails. Evenings I write reviews, critique for my groups, and other stuff that didn’t get done earlier.

Do you think social networking is important for an author? Is there such a thing as too much social networking?

Yes, I do. Think of the thousands of books published each year. How else will readers learn about us, with so many to choose from? Yes to your second question too. I belong to just about every blog in the Universe and have to really guard my time or I’d get nothing else done except networking. Writing, as my top priority, comes first, while my brain is fresh. I try to write at least 2 hours a day. Then I can do the promoting thing.

What is your main advice for new authors?

Don’t give up. Believe in yourself. Read. Write the best story you can. Be patient. (That sometimes is the hardest one of all.)

Thanks, Bev!

The Ten Commandments of Book Reviewing

1. Thou shall have no other gods before the reader.

The review is not about the author, nor the publisher, and especially, not about you, the reviewer. Reviews are all about the reader. Don’t try to impress with pompous words in an attempt to glorify yourself or appear scholarly. Give readers simplicity and clarity. They’ll appreciate it. If they want verbose and fancy, they can read Shakespeare.

2. Thou shall not lie.

Honesty is what defines your trade. Without it, you’re nothing but sell copy. When you give facile praise or sugar-coat a book, sooner or later readers will take you for what you are: a phony. Furthermore, if you give facile praise to a poorly written book, you are perpetuating a bad writer's career, lowering the chances that a good writer may be published instead.

3. Thou shall not offend the author.

Just as honesty is important, so is tact. There’s no need to be harsh or mean. A tactfully written, well-meant negative review should offer the author insight into what is wrong with the book. Instead of saying, “This is a terrible novel!” say, “This book didn’t work for me for the following reasons…”

4. Thou shall not eat the evaluation.

Some fledgling reviewers write a long blurb of the book and leave out the evaluation. The evaluation is the most important part of a review. A summary of the plot is not an evaluation. Saying, “I really liked this book” is not an evaluation. The evaluation tells the reader what is good and bad about the book, and whether or not it is worth buying.

5. Thou shall not reveal spoilers.

Nobody likes to be told the ending of a movie before having watched it. The same thing is valid for a book. If you give spoilers in your review, not only do you lessen the reader’s reading experience but you also risk being sued by the publisher or author.

6. Thou shall honor grammar, syntax and punctuation.

Don’t be one of those reviewers who are more in love with the idea of seeing their name online than making sure their reviews are well written and thorough. Your reviews may hang around on the internet for years to come and will reflect on your level as a writer. Run a spell check, edit, revise and polish your review as if you were posting a short story. Get a good book on grammar and punctuation, take an online course or listen regularly to podcasts such as The Grammar Girl (

7. Thou shall honor deadlines.

If you join a review site where the turnaround for reviews is 3 weeks, then you should respect that agreement. If you promise the author to have the review ready in two months, you should honor this too. Be honest and straight forward from the beginning. If you’re so busy your turnaround is six months, make sure to let the person know. If for any reasons you cannot meet the deadline, contact the person and let him know. It’s your responsibility to maintain a doable schedule.

8. Thou shall not be prejudiced against thy neighbor.

Don't assume that a self-published or small press book is poorly written. Give it a fair chance and let it speak for itself. Likewise, never assume a book published by a major NY house has to be good. You'd be surprised by the high quality of some small press books by unknown authors as opposed to those written by big name authors whose titles are often in the bestseller lists. In general, most subsidy books are mediocre, but there are always exceptions. If you've had bad experiences with subsidy books, then don't request them nor accept them for review. If you decide to review one, though, don't be biased and give it a fair chance.

9. Thou shall not become an RC addict

RC stands for Review Copy. Requesting RCs can get out of control. In fact, it can become addictive. You should be realistic about how many books you can review. If you don’t, pretty soon you’ll be drowning in more RCs that you can handle. When this happens, reading and reviewing can change from a fun, pleasurable experience into a stressful one. If you’re feeling frazzled because you have a tower of books waiting to be reviewed, learn to say NO when someone approaches you for a review and stop requesting RCs for a while. Unless you’re being paid as a staff reviewer for a newspaper or magazine, reviewing shouldn’t get in the way of your daily life.

10. Thou shall not steal.

Remember that the books you request are being sent to you in exchange for a review. Requesting review copies and not writing the reviews is, in one word: stealing. You'd be surprised at the number of 'reviewers' who, after having requested several books, suddenly 'disappear.' These people are not legitimate; they're crooks, plain and simple. If you have a valid reason for not reviewing a book, let the review site editor, author, publisher or publicist know.

The same goes for piracy. Do not risk being arrested or fined for posting a full ebook you have received on any site whether for free downloads or resale. This is theft and the law is quite specific. When you receive an ebook it is meant to give you the right to read it only, but it does not imply that you have the right to rob the author of future sales by your actions. This labels you as a thief. Using electronic transmission is only another way to send a book, like getting one in the mail which would not give you the right to reprint it for sale or distribution.

Integrity is part of the code of honor of a legitimate reviewer.

The author of 12 books, Mayra Calvani writes fiction and nonfiction for children and adults. Her nonfiction work, The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing, co-authored with Anne K. Edwards, was a ForeWord Best Book of the Year Award winner. She’s had over 300 stories, articles, interviews and reviews published. She reviews for The New York Journal of Books and Visit her website at For her children’s books, visit

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Interview with YA paranormal author Judith Graves

Please welcome my special guest, YA paranormal author Judith Graves. Her first novel, Under My Skin, was published by Leap Books last March. Besides being an author, Judith works as a library technician and is also a singer/song writer. In addition, she keeps a popular blog called, rather appropiately, Wolfy Chicks: The Blog with Bite.

A reader's guide for Under My Skin can be found here. The second book in her series, Second Skin, will be published early next year by Leap Books. If you want to take a peak at the cover, click here.

Thanks for this interview, Judith. What was your inspiration for Under My Skin?

I’ve always been keen on the folklore from different regions. I enjoy discovering the similarities, and the variations, between our cultural / mythological gods and monsters. After reading about the Windigo, a shapeshifter creature from First Nations lore – one that was once human, turned cannibal, and can be destroyed with silver to the heart – I marveled at this alternate version of a werewolf. What would happen, I began to speculate, if these beasties from around the world were to battle over one last bit of unclaimed territory? What then? And from that, UMS (and the Skinned series) developed.

Tell us three words that describe your protagonist.

Feisty. Tempted. Powerful.

I understand the story went through 6 versions during a 4-year period of writing and rewriting. That shows a lot of dedication and commitment. How did you understand that the book was finally ready for submission?

Yeah, lol…UMS was my first novel and I refused to give up on it. The book went through several drafts with my critique group – at which point I sent it out to agents. I received some excellent feedback and revised again. Subbed it out. Got a contract. Then UMS was further revised under the guidance of my editor, Susan Yates. So, while it had been contracted, it still needed tweaks. The moral of the story is…the end really is just the beginning.

What was the most challenging aspect of writing this novel?

For me, voice, dialogue and setting the tone came easily. What I consistently struggled with was plot – choosing the best scenes to show, rather than tell, the story. I learned a lot about increasing impact and drama by deciding what was worth keeping and what was mere filler.

What is your writing schedule like?

I’m religious about my writing, because I have to be. I write at 5:00am until I have to get ready for work (I’m a library technician in an elementary school), I write on my lunch break and if I’m really keen, I’ll tweak that day’s work before I hit the hay.

Please share with my readers a bit about your road to publication. How did you find Leap Books?

I originally contracted with Climbing Rose, the YA line from The Wild Rose Press, but when they announced the line was closing I elected to take a Leap of faith and join Laurie Edwards (another TWRP author) who had started her own small publishing house. She’s an amazing woman and I’m proud to be with a growing company like Leap.

When you first submitted the manuscript, did you mention it was the first book in a series or did the publisher suggest the series?

I had mentioned the book was one of three, but didn’t expand on the notion, just tagged on the info. I don’t know if that was a deciding factor, but both TWRP and Leap were interested in the other stories. I signed a contract for the remaining two novels shortly after my moving to Leap.

What is your greatest challenge as an author?

Learning my craft will always challenge me, but as a person – with a life outside of writing – my greatest challenge is finding a balance between writing and the real world. At times one or the other will take precedence – there are deadlines, there are crisis moments – but the trick is to blend both worlds together so neither collapses.

What is the single most important tip of advice you’d give new writers?

Let your first draft be crappy. But get it DONE.

What is the best writing advice you have ever received?

See previous answer.

What’s next for Judith Graves?

October is going to be a busy month. I’m touring schools around Alberta with the Young Alberta Book Socieity’s Taleblazers Festival, I’m presenting at the Pure Speculation Festival in Edmonton, and I’m organizing a wicked cool blog tour: 15 YA paranormal authors – 15 days. The Crossroads Tour: This Halloween, meet us at the Crossroads. For more info, check out my website:

Thanks so much for having me!!

Thanks, Judith, and good luck with your series!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Paranormal YA author Judith Graves on my blog tomorrow

Tomorrow my special guest will be Judith Graves, author of the YA werewolf novel, Under My Skin, published by Leap Books. I look forward to having her as a guest and hope you'll enjoy her interview.

About the book:

All her parents wanted was for Eryn to live a normal life...

The town of Redgrave had had its share of monsters before Eryn moved to town. Mauled pets and missing children. The Delacroix family is taking the blame, but Eryn knows the truth. Something stalks the night. Wade, the police chief's son and Regrave High's resident hottie, warns her the Delacroix are dangerous. But then so is Eryn--in fact, she's lethal.

But Eryn can't help falling for one of the Delacroix boys, dark, brooding, human Alec. And then it all goes bad.

A normal life? That's the real fairytale.

Writing vs. Storytelling

Great post by literary agent Nathan Bransford on writing vs. storytelling: