UPDATE: I just learned that the author Sherrill Lewis died January 27, 2016 after a long battle with ALS.
I never knew her, but here is what Kimberly Pennell said about her: "Her husband said her two goals in life toward the end were to see all her far-flung kids and finish the 4th book in the series. She got both and died the day after finishing the book. (shiver)"
Shiver indeed! She definitely stayed around to finish what she had set out to do. I loved this book and will read the rest in the series. Now, on to the review.
Welcome back to another Write On Purpose book review. I review well-written books, highlighting what makes each good from the reader’s perspective and what writing skills and techniques make it an irresistible read. Thus, each review serves both writers and readers.
I love cozy mysteries, and today's review is a cozy with a touch of romance. It is a hint of romance and not graphic, thus safe for younger or more sensitive readers. I am not a fan of graphic intimacy myself.
The way I encountered this book is because I read unsolicited submissions for a publisher, and Ms. Lewis submitted her book. I suppose I outed her by telling the publisher her books are all self published and available on Amazon.
I started reading the portion of Uncultured Pearl she submitted to the publisher and was unhappy to run out of pages. So I used my handy-dandy Kindle Unlimited subscription to read the whole book.
I typically don't review self-published books. There are a lot of bad ones, since it's free and easy to publish. I enjoyed this book a lot,, though, and there are some good teaching points for authors in what I shall share as well.
Yes, I know a commercially published book can be bad too, but at least it has seen editors. It's more likely to be not for my taste VS awful and full of errors.
OK so, here's the info about the book:
Uncultured Pearl (Maggie Storm Blue Mystery Book 1) by Sherrill Lewis
Description from Amazon.com:
Maggie Storm Blue is taking a medical leave from her job as a PR copywriter/magician in Oklahoma City. Over the last ten years, 50-pushing-60 Maggie has experienced several psyche-battering events. De-stressing at her uncle’s idyllic lakeside home in Maine, she finds herself sidestepping her aunt’s matchmaking mischief, embroiled in solving multiple murders, and being the target of mystifying mayhem. She hopes the mayhem does not follow her back to Oklahoma. Meanwhile, she wonders, This is a vacation?
What made this cozy an irresistible read?
The first SENTENCE of a novel needs to invite the reader to keep reading. Here's the start of Uncultured Pearl:
"If I were married to a man who did that to me, I'd be a widow," Maggie Storm Blue stated. She was watching a mother and her squirming toddler standing at the cafe's bakery takeout counter.
Lewis diminished the strength of the opening by adding, "Maggie storm Blue stated," followed by "She was watching..." Even so, the reader knows the protagonist is a woman of strong opinions who is not afraid to voice them.
This opening only requires a minor edit to strengthen the prose and cut out the passive voice. One possible rewrite would be:
"If I were married to a man who did that to me, I'd be a widow." Maggie Storm Blue watched a bruised and bandaged mother with her squirming toddler await their order at the cafe's bakery takeout counter.
The reader will soon learn that perhaps Maggie needs to zip her lip. I love the character insight and foreshadowing this provides.
An Interesting Protagonist
I enjoyed perceiving the world through Maggie's viewpoint. This is important for any cozy, as the intent is for each to be a series.
Maggie gets herself in a world of trouble, as any cozy mystery protagonist does. While visiting her matchmaking aunt and uncle in her hometown, she finds herself in the midst of trouble that earns her both admiration and consternation from local law enforcement, a nasty candy box that squirms, threatening phone calls, and budding romance.
Maggie is a woman of faith. She looks to God for guidance, but the book is not preachy in any way.
Fabulous Sense of Place
"Sense of place" is what we writerly folks call that feeling of knowing where you are in the world of a story.
I'm sure you've read some books or stories that seem to take place in a closet with the lights off, meaning you can't see, feel, hear, smell or taste anything. You can see, hear and taste the world in which the characters live. It fees complete. As the reader, you know where you are.
Here is an example of pulling the reader right into a scene.
Each house or cottage...sat on its plot of terra firma with pride. Front yards showcased flower gardens ranging from reserved to riotous. Wildflowers tickled by the warm June breeze created a giggle of color.
I laughed at the part in which Maggie and her aunt and uncle discussed the "case" using the kind of made-up names typical of mystery dinner theater, such as "Mr. Oily Limp Wrist" and "The Fruitcake." A handy way to speak of murder suspects at a public place.
Overall, I really enjoyed this book and am keen to read the next.
How the Author Could Improve Results
I'd first like to say I'm not shaming or criticizing Lewis. We all of us are on a journey and have our strengths and imperfections, both personally and as writers. I share this to help her and hopefully many other authors enjoy the best possible results.
Passive voice tricks any of us who write, and Lewis could go through and change a lot of those uses of passivity into active voice. This will strengthen her writing.
I'm not immune to the pesky passive voice trap. I go through my manuscripts looking for words such as "was," "by" and gerunds (ing) so I can activate the language and make the story more interesting.
Amazon Author Profile.
Every book author NEEDS an Amazon Author Profile. It's free, easy to do, and I cannot stress enough how essential this is for all book authors.
All Lewis need do is go to AuthorCentral.com and set up an account using her Amazon.com email and password. THen she can hook up her online properties such as a blog, videos and Twitter feed.
Witness the difference it makes to have a photo of the author show up on the book page.
Because Lewis has no profile, there is no picture. Authors can upload up to 8 photos to your profile.
Be Honest with Publishers
When submitting a book for consideration with a publisher, do let them know if the book is self published or previously published. Sometimes an indie book will be picked up, but not always. Best to be forthcoming.
Have an Online Presence
Most of us hate this fact, but an author must have a robust online presence along with the books. If you don't have a Facebook page, Twitter profile and blog at a minimum, you're invisible and less desirable to publishers.
About Sherrill M. Lewis
Sherrill M. Lewis is a self-taught artist across diverse media. Since her senior year in high school, she has won awards for writing, art dolls, beadwork, crazy quilts, and photography. In 2009, her first technique-oriented book, Splendiferous Bead Motifs!, was published. Raised in Maine, she currently resides on an idyllic, never boring, five acres in Payne County, Oklahoma, with her husband.
I hope this review has helped you.
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