5 reasons I don’t review books here

starI’m nice. I read. I know how desperate most authors are for book reviews. I know how hard it is to get readers—anyone—to write them.

So I should review books here, right? Wrong. And here’s why.

I know the authors, or feel as if I do.
And some of them know me. We’re friends. Friends are supportive, not judgmental.

I don’t want to make authors cry.
While authors say they want reviews, they don’t just want reviews. They expect five-star reviews, and many are crushed when they get anything less. It makes me uncomfortable because I don’t always give five-star reviews.

Not every book is good, and I have to be honest.
Sure, I could find something positive to say about any book, and I could ignore flaws. I won’t, though. I write reviews on Amazon and Goodreads under my own name, and my credibility is important to me. If I give fewer than five stars, I try to provide an explanation or constructive criticism (the things I don’t like might make the book more attractive to someone else). If I don’t like anything about the book, I stop reading it and refrain from reviewing it.

I can’t read every Northern Nevada book.
I don’t review books without reading them, and there’s no way I would have time to read every book published by Northern Nevada authors, set in Northern Nevada or about Northern Nevada.

Actually, I’m being polite. The truth is I don’t find every genre or topic interesting. I’m sorry.

I’ve been burned.
Two people (that I know of) plagiarized a review I posted here. I’m sure they were desperate for reviews, but I had put a lot of time into my review and resented the theft.

What I try to do here is gather and share information about Northern Nevada books. Although I rarely review them, I post news releases about them. When I get a free copy of a Northern Nevada book (or buy it for myself), I write a “Quick Look”—a summary without a rating. If nothing else, that gives the name and title another place to turn up in a Google search.

But I’m not resolving to write more reviews in 2016.

Blast from the past

Denevibook001This was one of my finds at the Friends of Washoe County Library used book sale yesterday: A Year in My Garden by late Reno resident Angela Denevi. You’ve probably never heard of Angela, so let me tell you what I know about her.

Angela was an established member of Nevada Press Women when I joined as a new journalism grad the 1970s. I didn’t get to know her very well, but I remember her as being nice.

What I really remember is her garden column. It was like a bible to me. When do you prune roses? How do you divide irises? What plants will survive our winters? She knew everything. Sure, the Sunset garden guide provides information on climate zones. But Angela lived right here, and she knew about Washoe Zephyrs, late freezes and awful soil.

My mother-in-law happened to have a beautiful border garden here in Reno herself, and I found myself having to be careful not to quote Angela to her. She didn’t want to know that her roses showed signs of cane borer disease, she didn’t like irises and she was going to keep pruning when and the way she always had. Her garden was at least as beautiful as Angela’s, but she hated the competition.

I was too cheap to buy Angela’s book when she published it in 1989. I already had all the clippings, right? But when I found it at the sale yesterday for $1, I was delighted. And when I got home and opened it, I was thrilled to find she had autographed it. She dedicated the book to “all those gardeners who, through their hard work and perseverance, have proved that our lovely desert valley can be made more beautiful because of their efforts.”

Angela died in 1992, but I still think of her and her advice when I’m working in my yard. I really should divide the irises this year.

‘Parallel to Paradise’: Reno author gets it right

By Laurel Busch

p2p-coverMany of the 14 short stories  in Laura Newman’s first book, Parallel to Paradise: Addiction and Other Love Stories (LeRue Press), are set in Nevada and Lake Tahoe, but the good writing is what makes them interesting.

Newman says her stories “are about everyday people who are impacted by events.” “Parallel to Paradise,” “The Little Beast,” “A Small, Too-Familiar Gesture,” and “Alabaster Circle” are about marriages and relationships at various times from the 1800s through the present. “Red Eye” is about a gay boy growing up in Virginia City, “Twentieth Century” is about an unplanned pregnancy, and “Silver” is about boyhood friends fighting together in World War II. “Angel Dust,” “Shine on You Crazy Diamond,” and “Needle and Thread” are about men with addictions.

Many of the stories could be memoirs or essays if they weren’t fiction (“Burning Man,” “Water,” “The Quality of Light,” “The Graveyard”). Some authors would not be able to hold their readers’ interest without strong plots. Newman’s style works, however, because she makes her characters and settings interesting.

The writing

Newman is a master at showing, not telling. For example, you suspect an immigrant girl learned to curse because she “walked off the gangplank speaking English like a sailor.” You know a car in the Nevada desert is full of bullet holes and has been there a while because it “looks like it was shot to death in 1947.” You understand that a valley is dark because “the sun has somewhere else to be after 4 o’clock.”

Some of Newman’s lines make me think of country music lyrics. “Ruby went on to short stories and John went on with his drinking,” one character cooks “oven roasted potatoes that turn out to be over roasted potatoes,” and “ten years in, Lara started looking for a way out.” Another character muses, “Perhaps they did before they said I do, because I was born seven months after the vows.”

There’s dry humor–a boy having second thoughts about shooting a bird “considers becoming a vegetarian until his mother serves the Christmas turkey”—and near poetry—a miscarried baby “faded to nothing but a christening gown in a sealed silk pillowcase.”

The only writing I don’t like is in the last story, “Alabaster Circle,” which is told by a woman born in Wisconsin in 1890. Her dialect seems to come and go, which is distracting.

Real Nevada

Rather than limiting the appeal of the stories, the local references just add another layer of enjoyment for the readers who recognize them.

Although I’ve never met Newman, we clearly live in the same place. Like some of her characters, I’ve spent time in the rose garden near the UNR quad and lived in an apartment on Arlington near Saint Mary’s. All the details seem completely natural. I especially appreciated Newman’s attempts to describe the beauty of the light in September in Northern Nevada; I find that to be one of the most beautiful times of the year here myself.

Newman also places her characters in Las Vegas, in the Bay Area, on the Oregon Coast, and more. I’ve spent time in those places as well, and her descriptions of them feel right to me. I’ve been up and down Paradise Road in Southern Nevada countless times. “The Graveyard,” her story about California teenagers visiting relatives in Iowa, sounds a lot like my visit to relatives in Kansas in the 1970s.

I’m a copy editor, and a couple of things made me stumble as I read the book. First, most of the stories switch back and forth between present and past tense without any logic that I can see. Second, there are misspellings. Another editing pass would have been beneficial.

Nonetheless, the writing rises above the editing issues. I loved the surprise ending of “A Little Beast,” I laughed out loud at the nativity scene in “Angel Dust,” and I cared about all the characters in all the stories. I’m looking forward to future work by Laura Newman.

Parallel to Paradise can be purchased at Sundance Books and Music or Grassroots Books, from the publisher, from Newman, or at Amazon.com. This review is cross posted at ThisIsReno.com.

Travel around Reno through time with new photo book

By Laurel Busch

Cover-FB-300x251_0Reno has been growing and changing ever since I moved here to go to college, and I often look at places around town and try to remember or imagine how they used to look. It’s not very easy.

That’s why I love “then and now” photo books. One of the first I bought was The Central Pacific Railroad across Nevada 1868 & 1997: Photographic Comparatives. Lawrence K. Hersh had seen photographs taken by Alfred A. Hart during construction of the Central Pacific Railroad line across Nevada in the 1860s, and he took black and white photos of the same places in the 1990s.

“I treasured the feeling of fending off insects, snakes and the like, climbing up hillsides, scaling cliffs, searching for the exact location and angle from which Hart shot his original photographs,” Hersh wrote in his preface. The results, numbered and arranged in order from west to east, are impressive.

I was hoping to find something similar in the newly released Reno Now and Then II by Neal Cobb and Jerry Fenwick.

After a foreword by Karl Breckenridge and a two-page essay about Reno by Debbie Hinman, the book begins with a vintage color photo of the UNR campus and a modern one of the Truckee River. For the rest of it, the format is a modern, color photo of a building, street or intersection on the left page with an old photo taken at the same location on the right. There are a few aerial photos displayed the same way.

The book is 11 inches wide and 10 inches high and generally has only one photo per page, so the photos are large enough to see clearly. Most of the “then” photos seem to be black and white photos from the early 1900s, but some are as early as the 1870s and some are as recent as the 1970s. Apparently they are from the authors’ and others’ private collections.

I found it weird to see all those people in hats and old-fashioned clothing on the streets I use now, but they were Renoites, too! Being able to match those scenes to current locations helps me think of them as fellow residents rather than people in another world.

As I went through the book, I found myself wanting more. I wanted a logical beginning and end with some kind of order in between. But instead of using the photos to give the reader a tour or grouping them by location or time period, the authors seemed to drop them in at random.

For example, they put photo pairs of the four corners of the intersection of Center and Second Streets in four different places in the book. Perhaps they were expecting readers to pick it up from a coffee table and flip through it casually rather than reading it from beginning to end the way I did.

I was impressed by the index prepared by Eric Moody; it partly makes up for the lack of order. The paragraph-length descriptions below the pictures are  informative and well written, and they do a good job of orienting the reader within the photos.

A couple of things that would have been a lot more work for the authors but appreciated would have been providing a map with the location of each photo marked and taking more time to match their vantage points to those in the old photos the way Hersh did.

The book, which obviously had professional input, has a few telltale signs of self-publishing such as glitches in the headers and footers.

In spite of my quibbles, I’m very happy with it for the old photos alone. This book is the only way most of us will ever have access to them. And just think: Fifty to a hundred years from now the current photos will be “then” photos!

Reno Now and Then II is available at local bookstores and online ($34.95). The authors will be signing books from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. this Sunday at Sundance Books and Music and at 3 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 14, at Barnes and Noble. I purchased my copy and was not asked to review it. Cross posted at ThisIsReno.com.

Answers to all your self-publishing questions

Jacqueline Simonds is a “book shepherd” who lives in Reno and has clients all over the country. If you’re not following her on Twitter (@jcsimonds), you should be. This is the review I wrote on Amazon.com of her new book, The Self-Publisher’s FAQ:

I confess I haven’t read this book from cover to cover yet, but that doesn’t say anything about its readability. Have you ever wished you knew a self-publishing expert you could call with a question and get a knowledgeable answer from without a lot of small talk? Now you have this book. Simonds provides the information you need in true FAQ format that’s conversational yet to the point.

If you can’t find your question in the detailed table of contents, you’ll probably see it in the index. Every conceivable topic from what decisions need to be made early in the process to how to market what you publish seems to be included.

As a fledgling self-publisher, I will keep this book handy and refer to it often as I go through the process of publishing my first book. However, its usefulness is not limited to first-timers. It covers so much material that even experienced self-publishers are sure to find to solutions to problems they have encountered in previous efforts. Rather than reading it and putting it away, I will keep it with my most-used reference books.


I don’t know whether this is necessary, but here it is in case you’re wondering: The author did not ask me to review her book, and I paid for my copy.