The joy of completing a book. The thrill of finding an agent, and then a publisher. The ecstasy of holding the ARC for your first novel.
The bad review.
This is how it happened for me, only the review wasn't bad, it was lukewarm (which is the only thing worse than bad), and it was for May Day, the first in my Murder-by-Month series. The review was from Kirkus, one of the big dogs, and here it is:
A small-town librarian and reporter adds sleuthing to her resume after finding a corpse amid the stacks.
Thirty-ish and unlucky in love, Mira James has moved from the Twin Cities to the small Minnesota town of Battle Lake. She snags two decent part-time jobs at the public library and the weekly newspaper, and a new lover to boot. The sex with archaeologist Jeff Wilson is terrific, and the relationship is blossoming when his murder brings it to a screeching halt. Worse, it's Mira who finds the body on the floor of the library. She can't resist probing, especially since her editor at the Recall wants a story about the crime. At first, Mira thinks Jeff's death was related to his archaeological work. The designation of a historical site could derail a local land-development plan. That theory hits a dead end, but Mira finds a clutch of likely suspects in Jeff's past. A pivotal figure in a murky romantic pentagon, he was the high school's star quarterback, involved with homecoming queen Kennie (now Battle Lake's mayor), teammate Gary (chief of police), classmate Karl (prominent banker) and coach Lartel (Mira's boss at the library). Mira digs up a closetful of dirty secrets, including sex parties, cross-dressing and blackmail, on her way to exposing the killer.
Lourey's debut has a likable heroine and a surfeit of sass...
I had to look up surfeit, and it basically means "a lot." So that's good. See the ellipses above, though? You'll see those in a lot of book reviews. That's where the author or his/her publicist took out words such as, "...but I'd sooner chew my own foot off than read another one of his books." So that's fun. The last line in mine actually said, "Lourey's debut has a likable heroine and a surfeit of sass, but the projected series needs to find its mystery footing."
When you take that last part out, though, it is no longer a bad review. It is a vague review, and the longer you are in the business, the more you're able to tell a vague, frankensteined review from a legitimately good review. In the meanwhile, let's consider the possible meaning of ellipses in other's reviews. Fun game! Below I replace the ellipses of reviews taken from the back of books by some of my favorite mystery authors with italicized thoughts on what might have been there. Notice how a few words can change an entire review.
Sue Grafton, F Is for Fugitive
San Francisco Chronicle Review:
"Exceptionally entertaining except for the part where Jim is unmasked as the killer, which was just dumb. An offbeat sense of humor and a feisty sense of justice."
Carl Hiaasen, Skin Tight
The New York Times Book Review
"This novel is Carl Hiaasen's latest dangerous weapon--Uzi satire in 9-millimeter bursts aimed at those classic baddies, vanity and greed. I wish I liked funny and terrifying bad guys because if I did, I'd like this book. No one has ever designed funnier, more terrifying bad guys."
Janet Evanovich, Hot Six
Dallas Morning News Review
"An appealing detective, a love interest, a little danger, and a lot of laughs would have been great, but instead she wrote this. I would have even settled for a classic screwball detective story."
William Kent Kruger, Purgatory Ridge
Publishers Weekly Review
"Krueger's page-turner opens with a bang yet left me constantly smelling hard boiled eggs as I read. The plot comes full circle as credibly flawed central characters find resolution and that smell of eggs becomes overwhelming. Krueger prolongs suspense to the very end."
Ok, done with my augmented reviewing. On a side note, I heart most anything written by the above four authors, and my recommendation of their writing is ellipses-free. So, fellow authors, let's show our underwear, metaphorically speaking, and no longer be ashamed of our bad (or lukewarm) reviews. They happen to even the best.