Book Review: Still Life with Strings

Review policy: I only post reviews on my blog for books I feel strongly about, good or bad.

Author: L.H. Cosway

The last Cosway book I read (which was the last book I read at all) was (I think) the author’s first and it showed. But though Painted Faces was rough, I enjoyed the author’s voice, so I dove into the next one.

This book was beautiful. There were so many things I loved about it, including these quotes:

“ … when everything else in life fails, there is still music.” Goodness, how I love music, how it makes me dream and hope. Also, how its angst is cathartic.

In re dogs (which I hate): “They never have any shame about letting you know just how much they’ve missed you.” Also, toddlers (which I also hate except for my own) and clingy 11-year-old boys, which are the most wonderfullest things in the world. All that was to say it made me look at my children in a different light.

Anyway, the thing that took away from the book: too much time spent on the sex. At some point, it doesn’t add to the plot or characterization, which it stopped doing about 5/8ths through the book (yesisaidthatshutup).

So, the wonderful things:

  • The descriptions of the music playing as flights of fancy (this isn’t an accurate-enough term and it’s far too whimsical for what’s in the text, but it’s the best I can come up with). It’s absolutely brilliant, how it’s done. I can’t hear the music, but I can see it.
  • The first sexual encounter was also approached brilliantly. It had depth with no trace of sleaze.
  • The portrayal of Jade’s life as a lower-working-class girl was spot-on. I admired her for her easy stoicism, which was more than I could muster with dependents.
  • Both characters’ motivations were reasonable and logical given their backgrounds and circumstances.
  • In both books, the characters’ codependence is obvious, but I don’t have a problem with it as long as it’s healthy and I do think their relationship is healthy. I think it will remain so because they are both strong people.
  • In spite of Jade’s poverty, I could feel her innate optimism and, dare I say, happiness. This spoke to me like the quotes above.

Aside: I wish there were a playlist for this book. I’ll have to look.

Aside 2: I LOVE that these are set in Dublin and have local vernacular instead of Anytown, USA, with dumbed-down vernacular for stupid Americans.

Well done, Ms Cosway, well done.

Being honest with your fellow man

Jennie Hansen is a respected reviewer/writer in Mormon fiction. She reviews at Meridian Magazine and (I believe) is a judge for the Whitney Awards.

She is also a LIAR.


I have been very unhappily mostly silent about this for two years now, but one of her latest blog posts, “A Reviewer’s Confession,” has me seeing red and I’ll be damned if I sit silent any longer.

In this confession, she said:

Only once did I give a book a one star rating and that was because the language was filthy and the author hadn’t researched LDS policy. (The author came unglued over my rating!)

Oh, Jennie. Honey. You haven’t seen unglued yet.

Why? Because you gave me that rating not actually having read the book. How do I know this? Because this:

the author hadn’t researched LDS policy

is patently untrue.

If you had read past the one-page prologue you would know that.

My journalism training had qualified me as a critic . . .

Apparently you didn’t learn how to check your facts (or other reviews) before opening your mouth.

You also probably don’t grok that part of the temple recommend interview where the bishop asks you if you’ve been honest with your fellow man. Or else you were honest and you don’t have a temple recommend.

I don’t know if you were part of the judging panel for the Whitney Award committee or not, but if you were, that adds another layer of fraud to your pattern of behavior for this book—and is the catalyst for my having come unglued at your “review.”

You lied about reading my book.

In church vernacular, then, I challenge you to:

1) actually read the book and rescind your lie


2) declare publicly that you read the entirety of Magdalene. Anywhere will do: your blog, Goodreads, my blog, Meridian magazine.

But before you attempt #2, I want to direct your attention to Scott Hales’s review (he who is also a respected scholar of Mormon literature), the Exponent II review, and the Publisher’s Weekly review, all of which refute your claim that I did not research church policy.

You lied about reading that book, Jennie. That by itself is dishonorable and worthy of contempt. If you were assigned to read it for the Whitneys, you also tarnished the integrity of the awards.

Own it and confess.

“Heroine decapitates someone in the first scene”

I am proud to announce my first 1-star review for Dunham, which you can find here. But I will quote it in its entirety for your convenience.

This book contains some shocking and gory scenes of violence that, for me, were difficult to get past. It seems more like historical fiction masquerading as romance, which isn’t my preference as a reader. I found little to recommend the heroine (she decapitates someone in the first scene), and the hero’s introspection was clouded by odd lines that were stream of consciousness? Bad poetry? I’m not sure what it was, other than that I didn’t like it. I’m surprised that kind of thing got past an editor, as it should have been punctuated or scrapped entirely. In all, I just didn’t like the book–it seemed a little too in love with itself and was weighed down by too much needless dialogue that I couldn’t be bothered to wade through. This one was a DNF for me, unfortunately.

(bold is mine)

I am absolutely and utterly delighted and thrilled with this review. Why? I will tell you.

I wrote the first scene, where Celia mutinies her captain by beheading him on the first page, almost 20 years ago. It was not then, nor was it for many years afterward, warmly received by any critique group and/or would-be beta readers (except one total stranger who loved it). It was, apparently, “not heroine-like. Your hero could do it, though.” (That’s a quote.) (By a male.) In fact, it was insulted, reviled, and generally all-around “WTF do you think you’re doing? WOMEN DON’T DO THAT!”

And that’s why I kept it. Through all the naysayers and insults, I knew what I wanted to do and I never wavered. I meant to write a female pirate and I’d be damned if my female pirate didn’t act like an actual pirate.

Even when that wasn’t fashionable.

Regardless, that scene (as does every opening scene in every one of my books) serves as a litmus test for me and the reader. It tells the reader, “If you can’t make it through the first few pages, you really aren’t going to like this book, so don’t waste your time.” It’s a public service, really.

But if you can carry on in spite of its opening, you’re in for a real treat.

As for this: “It seems more like historical fiction masquerading as romance,” well, that’s probably true, too, although I never really looked at it that way because I consider myself a romance writer.

But you know what? What this tells me is that it will appeal to many people, not just romance readers who like strong females and want something different. Because I’ve been vindicated. There are plenty of people who like Celia because she decapitates someone in the first scene.

I like a good beheading in the morning.

PS Please please please go upvote her review because that’ll help me sell more books. CONTROVERSY!

Magdalene and Publisher’s Weekly

For an author, a Publisher’s Weekly starred review is one of the holy grails of reviews. It’s one of those things that, for a writer, is right up there with The Call (“Hi, Mojo. I want to offer you a contract for your book.”). I’ve had pretty close brushes with getting The Call, which (three times, to be precise) ended up to be “I love this book and I want to buy it, but I can’t because of Freak Things 1, 2, and/or 3.” What I have never dared aspire to (especially once I started down the self-pub path) is a review in Publisher’s Weekly at all, much less a starred one. But then Tuesday, this happened:

And you know what? I’m kinda proud because I had some goals with this book and, at least for this reviewer, I hit some of them. Later I received an email from the senior editor of reviews at PW passing along some more remarks the reviewer made, which made me believe that I accomplished almost all of my goals with the book.

But there is one I want to talk about because it’s not one that’s obvious. And it’s not obvious because I set this challenge for my own benefit, not for the reader’s.

In 2008, my editor for Monsters & Mormons, Wm Morris, wrote this piece at A Motley Vision (a Mormon lit blog): Stephenie Meyer’s Mormonism and the “erotics of abstinence.” The erotics of abstinence. Well, that’s an intriguing little idea. He was springboarding from this Time piece: Stephenie Meyer: A New J.K. Rowling?, wherein the author says this:

But it is the rare vampire novel that isn’t about sex on some level, and the Twilight books are no exception. What makes Meyer’s books so distinctive is that they’re about the erotics of abstinence. Their tension comes from prolonged, superhuman acts of self-restraint. There’s a scene midway through Twilight in which, for the first time, Edward leans in close and sniffs the aroma of Bella’s exposed neck. “Just because I’m resisting the wine doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate the bouquet,” he says. “You have a very floral smell, like lavender … or freesia.” He barely touches her, but there’s more sex in that one paragraph than in all the snogging in Harry Potter.

I, like Wm (and pretty much everybody else who read the book), was intrigued by that idea.

In 2008, Mitch and Cassie were a bare glimmer in my mind. I had mentioned Mitch’s name a couple of times in The Proviso with absolutely no intention of following up on that. Cassie didn’t even exist when I wrote the sketch with a nameless unreliable and unlikeable narrator in the style of “Snuff.” I like to do those sometimes, usually because something catches my attention and I’m restless and haven’t written for a while and though I only have a few words in me, they must come out. That 250-word monologue was in my head when I started thinking about Mitch’s role in Sebastian’s life. The two disparate ideas simply wound in and around each other like different streams of smoke drifting on the same breeze, tickling my mind with vague possibilities.

I was still in the planning stages of Magdalene, trying to figure out if I would or would not have my bishop succumb to temptation. I will tell you: I didn’t want him to, because that wasn’t who he was and besides that, I’d already gone down that road with Giselle. But how was I going to do this? I didn’t think I could write sexual tension, didn’t think I could carry abstinence too far and still make it seem legitimate. (We Mormons have all sorts of ways to justify our celibacy, but nobody outside our culture buys a word of it.)

Then I stumbled upon the “erotics of abstinence.” Stephenie Meyer had to go to paranormal lengths to justify abstinence until marriage. I don’t write paranormal, so I didn’t want to do that. She also had teenagers, which is its own justification. I don’t write teenagers, so that was out of the question.

I wanted to do that. With adults. Who weren’t vegetarian vampires. Plausibly.

I wanted to do it better.

So I did.

Book Review: The Ugly Princess

The Ugly Princess
by Elizabeth K. Burton
Published by Zumaya Publications

The only thing wrong with this book is the cover. Blech. (Although the irony is cute.)

But I didn’t beg the author to point me to an e-copy (which she so obligingly sent me in a format I could use, yay customer service!) because or in spite of it. (It’s only currently available in dead-tree version; I expect it’ll show up on Fictionwise soon.)

Here’s the official blurb:

The king is dead, long live the queen!

Well, not if the King of Nadwich and the dead monarch’s three royal ministers have anything to say about it.

It’s up to Sir Christopher Evergild, the Royal Champion, to see that the new queen survives to take her throne—even if she is so ugly she’s been locked away for twenty years with only trolls for company. Chris is prepared to do his duty, even if The Ugly Princess does turn out to be the lunatic she’s always been rumored to be.

What he isn’t ready for is having his entire world turned upside down and inside out—and having to decide between love and the fear that has haunted him most of his life.

This is going to be a short review because, well, I loved everything about it. After speaking with the author, however, I have a feeling she and I share sensibilities in our stories, so take everything I say with that in mind. Or not.

This is a fantasy with sweet romantic elements and I love the sweet stories as much as I love the hawt ones. There is no swearing or sex (oh, maybe a “damn” or “hell” here and there, but I can’t remember). It’s set in the imaginary world of Karlathia, which I envision as a fairy-tale village whose battle technology is a weird mix of firearms and medieval hand-to-hand combat.

It has two narrators (Bertram, the kingdom’s seneschal, and Christopher, its army’s chief general), and is split into first and third person, which I love. In the almost-omniscient first person, the prose is loose and funny, yet cozy because it breaks the fourth wall, yet is more formal and intense (and removed, natch) in third person. Both suit the respective narrators’ personalities very well.

Descriptions as seen through the seneschal’s first-person point of view were sharp:

He [evil monarch] cut his food into tiny bites, chewing each one thoroughly before swallowing. He did not mix the fare on his plate, finishing one item entirely before proceeding to the next.

Those two brief sentences tell me a whole lot about that character.

Bertram’s overstated understatements and asides make me smile and laugh (in fact, I’d go so far as to say he upstages Christopher, but that is not to the story’s detriment):

Going to the aforementioned clothes press, I discovered my host had an exceedingly eclectic wardrobe–everything from complete Court regalia to a set of rags that seemed held together mostly by optimism.


Demtri [idiot nephew of evil monarch], seemingly oblivious to what was happening, sat on the throne with a large bowl of grapes on his lap, tossing them in the air and attempting to catch them in his mouth. His aim was not particularly commendable.


At this point I struggled not to draw my pistol and punctuate Niklaes’s arrogance with a lead period.

It was a very fun and funny read. Bonus! I learned a new word: eldritch.

Liz, give me your Paypal address because I want to pay you for this.