Sharon Honeycutt, Editor

You write. I edit. You shine.

Book Review: The Saints of Swallow Hill by Donna Everhart

The Saints of Swallow Hill by Donna Everhart was described as “Where the Crawdads Sing meets The Four Winds,” so I was in, but with some hesitation. Those are pretty lofty comparisons, and Crawdads is still one of the best books I’ve ever read. (I didn’t like The Four Winds and quit before I finished it, but that’s another story.)

The Saints is told (mostly) from the POVs of Rae Lynn Cobb and Del Reese, two characters who meet at a turpentine camp called Swallow Hill in Georgia in 1932. Rae Lynn presents herself to the camp boss as a man, “Ray” Cobb, because she’s running from disaster – and possibly jail – in North Carolina. She’s hoping to hide among the men who work in the camp and avoid being caught by people she’s certain are looking for her back home.

Del, an unashamed “lady’s man” (a term I hate but one used in the book), finds himself in need of a quick escape from a different work camp after being caught in a compromising position. He shows up at Swallow Hill intent on keeping his head down and doing the work.

As one might expect, Del’s and Rae Lynn’s paths cross, intersect, and come to a T. The crux of the story is whether they’ll turn the same direction at the T or go their separate ways.  

I should say first that I listened to the audiobook version of this book, so my impression of it is, of course, impacted by that. I didn’t love Amy Melissa Bentley’s narration of the story and was not unhappy when I finished. Certain narrators approach the voices of characters from the South in a way that grates on me. They can sound overdone and too syrupy, as if they’re trying just a bit too hard. This one came across that way to me. I bumped the speed up to 1.25, and that helped.

I didn’t love this story, but I didn’t dislike it. I never really cared a whole lot about Rae Lynn and Del, which doesn’t help when they’re the main characters. Del annoyed me from the beginning because of his attitude toward women, and I guess I always felt at arm’s length from Rae Lynn. I think Everhart could have helped me feel closer to Rae Lynn if she had spent more time at the beginning with her and Warren and allowed me to get to know her better in that part of her life so that I could sympathize more with her later.

I think the most interesting character was Cornelia Riddle, who was relegated to the supporting cast. I won’t say much about “Nellie” here, to avoid spoilers, but I’d be curious how many other people wish we’d gotten to know her a whole lot better.

I was given an advance copy of the audiobook in return for my honest review, and I thank #NetGalley and #TantorAudio for that. Let me know what you think of #TheSaintsofSwallowHill when it’s released on January 25, 2022.

Book Review: The Good Sister by Sally Hepworth

I’m not sure how I found Sally Hepworth’s The Good Sister, but I’m glad I did. It’s a psychological thriller with likeable characters, which is right up my alley. Plus, Hepworth has several other books out there and a new one coming soon, so I have more to dig into with this author.

In The Good Sister, Rose and Fern are fraternal twins, so of course, the question is which is the “good” sister. Fern suffers from a condition that makes it hard for her to handle situations that overstimulate her senses. (She can’t do birthday parties, parades, weddings, etc.) She is quite content going to work every day at the library then going home to her little flat where she lives alone. She has her routines, and they work for her.

Fern’s condition helps make her a sympathetic character, but she’s also just a decent person who takes life very literally, which offers the reader frequent opportunities to chuckle at things she says and does. She’s endearing in a quirky way, and yet there’s that night years ago in those dark woods at the river that do make you wonder, What is Fern capable of? What did she do?

Rose is Fern’s (overprotective) sister. Fern loves her and leans on her during stressful times, and there’s little Fern wouldn’t do for Rose – even find a way to get pregnant so that she can give Rose the baby Rose so desperately wants and can’t seem to have on her own.

Is it dangerous to love someone that much? What kind of bonds are healthy, and which ones put our very hearts and souls at risk?

I enjoyed this book and am looking forward to reading more of Hepworth’s work, but I didn’t finish the book to find out “the truth” of the story. I figured that out pretty quickly, knew where the story was going. I finished it and enjoyed it because of Fern. She’s worth your time.

If you’ve read this book — or when you read this book — I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please comment and share!

Book Review: The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey by Walter Mosley

When I was teaching English and language arts in the early 2000s, my students were reading Walter Mosley. I’m ashamed to admit that it took me until now to read one of his books. The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey was so good that I know it’s only going to be the first of many Mosley books I’ll read from now on.

Ptolemy Grey is ninety-one, widowed, and lives alone in a cockroach-infested apartment so full of junk that for more than twenty years he has slept on the floor under a table. He is in the early stages of dementia, and when his nephew—who has been looking after him—is killed, he comes under the care of a seventeen-year-old girl that his niece has taken into her home.

What blooms between Ptolemy and Robyn, the young girl, is one of the sweetest relationships that’s filled the pages of a book in a long time. I laughed with them, smiled with them, feared with them, and rooted for them all the way through the story.

Mosley writes from Ptolemy’s perspective, and he characterizes the aspects of dementia so well that I feel he must have known someone who suffered with it. The disease is heartbreaking and mysterious to everyone it touches, both the victims of it and their families and friends. Ptolemy’s dementia is almost another character in the book.

There are aspects of the story that remind me quite strongly of Flowers for Algernon. I won’t go into that in detail, but if you’ve read that book (and if you haven’t, you need to), you’ll understand why I say it when you read this one.

I love it when characters and settings are so real that I miss them when the story is finished. This book is one of those. I just finished the book a couple hours ago, and I already miss Ptolemy and Robyn.

Also, I listened to the audiobook version of this, and Dominic Hoffman was a great narrator. He really brought Ptolemy to life, and he handled the rest of the characters well.

I highly, highly recommend this book and can’t wait to read another of Mosley’s stories. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this story if you’ve read it or when you do.

Book Review: In the Woods by Tana French

[Editor’s Note: As an editor and a writer, I read — and listen to — a lot of books. I thought it would be fun to share my thoughts on some of the books I read here with you. After all, if you’re a writer (which I’m assuming you are, otherwise why would you be here?) you like to read too. Let’s talk books!]

I’ve wondered for years if I’d enjoy Tana French’s writing and finally decided to give it a try. I thoroughly enjoyed this opening to her Dublin Murder Squad series and am looking forward to reading more of it.

I’m a thriller fan in general, and recently (in the last couple years) I’ve become an ardent, eager reader of Irish crime/noir/thrillers. I love everything Adrian McKinty has written and have already reread some of his Sean Duffy books. After I devoured McKinty’s books, I moved to Dervla McTiernan and although I didn’t love A Good Turn, I still appreciate her writing and am eager to read more. Stuart Neville and his Jack Lennon series came next, so you could say I was primed and ready for Tana French, although she had big shoes to fill.

In the Woods didn’t disappoint.

The book begins with a teaser scene flashing back to the disappearance of two preteens and their friend who was found, bloody and remembering nothing. That boy is our narrator and a current detective on the Dublin Murder Squad, Adam “Rob” Ryan.

The current crime that moves the action of the book is the murder of a young girl whose body was left on an ancient pagan altar at an archeological dig site. Ryan and his partner, Cassie Maddox, take the case, which happens to be situated in the same small village where Ryan grew up — where his two friends went missing. Ryan has to do a delicate balancing act to remain on the current case without revealing he’s Adam Ryan, the survivor. It’s a tricky line to walk, and Cassie has to walk it with him.

There are a lot of characters in this book, which could be a problem for some readers, though I didn’t have much trouble keeping them straight. This is a testament to French’s writing and her ability to imbue each one with enough of a unique personality that I could hold onto the differences and remember who they all were.

The twists and turns worked well, but I wasn’t surprised by the revelation of the ultimate “bad guy.” I had that pegged pretty early. Without giving anything away, I’ll say that I was a little irritated when Ryan, who narrates the story, assumes the reader was slow to catch on. I wasn’t, thank you very much, Detective.

One of the reasons I’ll be eager to read the next book in the series is that French writes relationships really well. The one that exists between Ryan and Maddox is complex and interesting and (at times) a lot of fun. When it isn’t fun, it’s still well done and relatable.

This book didn’t evoke Ireland for me in the way that McKinty’s, McTiernan’s, and Neville’s books do. Maybe that will come in future installments? Regardless, I enjoyed it and am queueing up the next.

Oh, and a word about the narrator, Steven Crossley: for Downton Abbey fans, he sounds very much like Iain Glen, who played Sir Richard Carlisle. He does a commendable job of varying his voice for the different characters — men and women, young and old, Irish and English. I enjoyed his work too.

Capitalization craziness

I’ve been editing a lot of fantasy and sci-fi lately, and I find that my authors love to capitalize words and terms that really shouldn’t be capped. And I get it—I really do.

For instance, when you’re creating a fictional world (whether it’s SF/fantasy or not), it’s natural to want to capitalize the names of all the places in this world. For instance (and from the top of my head, not a client’s work):

  • Aldo traveled the High Road to Mount Crumpet, crossing the River Blue Fin on his way.

We’ve capitalized the name of the road, just like we’d capitalize Main Street or Downing Street or the Champs-Élysées. We capped Mount Crumpet, just as we would cap a geographical location like Mount Hood or the Matterhorn or Mount Everest. And we capped the name of the river just as we would, well … you get the picture.

Everything capped in this sample makes sense according to the world in which we really live (as opposed to the fictional world we’re creating), so ensuring consistency throughout the 80,000 or 90,000 or 100,000+ words making up the book isn’t so hard because we’re following rules we’re used to.

Where it gets tricky is when we start creating our own rules—or fail to create or own rules—and start capitalizing just because it “feels” right or it “looks” right. Consider this (again from my own noggin):

  • Magda stooped to pluck a bloom from the Luminous bush as the Watcher observed her from behind the Wall and recorded her actions in his Notebook.

The first oddly capped word is “Luminous,” which is the name of a flowering bush in this sample. In our real world, we wouldn’t capitalize “rose bush” or “lilac bush,” but in this world we’re capping “Luminous.” This doesn’t fit with accepted grammar rules, so it requires a note to ensure every use of “Luminous” is capped.

Next, we capped “Watcher.” Evidently a “Watcher” is the name of a certain position or job or role that a character plays and is important enough to capitalize. This is also different from the real world because we wouldn’t capitalize “teacher” or “janitor” or “lawyer” or “server” if we were writing about one of them. Because of this incongruity, I’d make another note.

After “Watcher” we have “Wall” capitalized. Now, it could be that this wall is an important wall, that it’s THE “Wall” that surrounds an important place in the world and is therefore capped to signify its importance. However, there could also be several “walls” in this world and the author would likely cap them all. I’ve seen both scenarios—a specific, clear use and a willy-nilly use. At any rate, I’ll make a note of it.

And finally we have “Notebook.” It’s a gadget. It must be an important gadget because it’s capped, right? Well, maybe, maybe not. This occurs just as often in sci-fi as it does fantasy. Just because a gadget doesn’t exist in our real world doesn’t mean it should be capitalized in our fiction. If it’s a fictional brand name, that’s one thing, and I’d cap that. If it’s simply the generic name of a fairly ordinary gadget in my fictional world, I wouldn’t. So in this instance, I’d make a note about “Notebook.”

Capitalization choices like these show up all the time in the fantasies and sci-fi books I edit, and they require me to create a spreadsheet for each book. In each spreadsheet, I list every unique capitalization and spelling instance to ensure consistency throughout the book.

I’m working on a sci-fi book right now; I’m about 65K words into it, and my spreadsheet contains more than 120 entries.

I’m not suggesting that authors stop capitalizing unique words in their books. What I am suggesting is that you make these choices consciously, thoughtfully. Think about what the word in your fictional world represents and ask yourself if you’d capitalize its cohort in English. (You wouldn’t cap “teacher,” so why are you capping “Watcher”?) If you have a solid reason for doing it and it’s a reason that’s significant to and makes sense in the world you’re creating, by all means capitalize that word. That’s why God created spreadsheets.

Your writing should be thoughtful and consciously done, no matter what we’re discussing, so in a way this is extraneous advice. However, I think it’s advice some folks need to hear (and heed). Whether you hire an editor or not, you want your writing to be consistent because readers love to pick books apart. If your editor isn’t keeping a spreadsheet to track your terms and your personal style (or if you’re not hiring an editor), you definitely should be keeping one.

And really, you should hire an editor. Another set of eyes, a professional with years of experience is a valuable asset. Let’s talk about that. Send me an email at sharon@editorsharonhoneycutt.com and  tell me about your work in progress. I’ll help you figure out your next, best step.

Thanks for stopping by! Leave questions or comments below and please share this with other writers.

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