Getting Those ARCs

A couple of friends have asked lately if I would write something down about where to request ARCs.  I think I did this once before but it was probably several years ago.  So here goes:

First to Read:  This is where I got started. I think I just stumbled across it.  First to Read is like an online book club.  You earn points for every time you visit their site and also for submitting reviews.  There are two ways to “bid” on a title.  If you like the synopsis and/or you already know the author, you can click on the title and request to be entered.  You name then goes into a pool from which a hundred or so names are pulled to be the readers.  You have the same chance as everybody else.  OR, when you get enough points (usually 500 or 600) you can ask for a guaranteed copy.  There are usually fewer of those available, maybe 50-60.  So it’s important to submit your request early.

If your bid is accepted, you will receive the e-book about two months before it is to be released to the general public for sale.  There is a target date for you to read and then write a short review of the book.  F2R will remind you when that is getting close,  With F2R, you write your review directly on their website.  For my last review, I can’t honestly remember whether they distributed it or whether I myself copied it and posted it at

Oh, one last thing.  I had to download a special reader called Bluefire to download my titles from F2R.  I don’t like it  as well as Kindle but it’s a minor thing.

Goodreads:  On, there is a place under “browse” where you can look at and ente what they call giveaways.  But the deal is the same:  if you enter and receive a book, you are expected to read it and put up a review, minimally on Goodreads, but it’s also app4eciated if you put it up on Amazon, BN or wherever you buy books.

Netgalley:  Netgalley is not proprietary.  They have book galleys from multiple publishers.  You have to join, but it’s free.  You write a profile that includes and autobiographical sketch about who you are and what you like to read.  And then you “request” a title.  The publisher looks at your profile and if s/he deems that you ar the right kind of reader, you will get a link to the galley.  With Netgalley I can download the book direct into the Kindle program on my iPad.  I believe there is an additional step if I want to send it to my Paperwhite.

BookishFirst is a newcomer to the field.  Like Netgalley, they offer books from multiple publishers and authors.  But there’s a little twist in their system.  Every Monday, they put up new books, and you are invited to read a sample, usually around 25 pages.  Then, to enter their drawing, you must submit a mini-review.  If you “win” a copy of the full book, of course, a fuller review is expected.  You can do it from a button on the books page.  You get points for writing reviews and even more points for agreeing to share them.  You can use the points to choose one of the books on offer.  I haven’t tried their system yet but am in the middle of reading a sample so I’ll let you know how it goes.

There are others, like and Blogging for Books, but I haven’t tried those so can’t give first hand advice on how good or how easy they are.  But you’ll find that one thing leads to another, so until  then,

Happy Reading,




A Beautiful Day to Read and Walk

Right now, we are in a period when we can still walk outside after dinner.  By then, the sun has dipped, the temperature dropping just a few degrees.  We had to turn our ac on during the day today.  I’m always sorry to see that day come as I would rather leave the door to our balcony and our front door open, enjoying the breeze that blows through.  Still, the equinox will come in only nine or ten days, and then we will be into full summer.

I’m a little bit sad tonight.  This afternoon we went to visit a friend, a role model for me, who is in the last stages of dying.  She’s ready.  I’m not.  I’ve lost so many people this year—-all my brothers-in-law, numerous friends, all people I love.  And of course every death reminds that I haven’t altogether come to terms yet with my own inevitable death.  I hope it will be years away, but I know I’ve reached the time when I must be prepared.

Enough.  Let’s talk about books.  I am reading four or five right now.  And of course reviews are promised on at least three of them.  How is it that I seem to keep getting in over my head?  But, I was strong today!  The new First to Read picks came out today and even though there was one I would like to read, I resisted guaranteeing myself a copy.  I will have reviews out soon for Cheryl Bradshaw’s Blackthorn Manor Haunting and Paul Broks’ The Darker the Night The Brighter the Stars.  And then I will plunge into J.S.Malcom’s fifth volume in the Fae Witch Chrinicles.  It’s called Realms of Spells and Vampires.  OMG, what’s happening to Cassie now?  I guess I’ll soon find out!

Oh, here’s another fun thing I’m doing.  For whatever reasons (ego no doubt) I saved a bunch of letters from youth and young adulthood.  Pen friends, family members and more.  I’ve dragged them out because I am looking for my dad’s camera.  And so I’ve been inspired to read through them.  Today, I read a half dozen letters from a fellow in the Australian military that I wrote to when I was in college.  Especially interesting because he happened to be stationed in Vietnam.  But what do I do with them now?  Throw them out I suppose.  Anybody have any ideas?

Until next time, happy reading,


Back Again

i thought I’d be back to this blog long ago.  But life intervenes when it wants.  The winter was cruel, taking the lives of all three of my brothers-in-law in a 54 day period.  So we were in Burlington, IA for two weeks following the death of my sister’s husband here at Fox Run.  It is very helpful that we live in this supportive community, where there is always someone else that has been through it before you.

i think I will begin to write about my writing, my reading, my knitting and my travels all together, as those are the four great loves I have (but ranking well below the love of my life—-my Jim).  So——off and writing,

i have finally finished writing my family history.  It took a whole year, but I am relieved that I am not feeling bereft now that it’s finished, printed and bound.  I am actually quite pleased with it.  My sister has read it and likes it.  Now to distribute it to my nieces and nephews.  And I hope to place copies in several libraries.

Reading: has been varied, running the gamut from classics to not yet published.  The not yet published volume is the second in a series by Ashley Gardner (Jennifer Ashley).  The first in series is called Death Below Stairs.  It revolves around a cook for a stately home in London, and a “jack of all trades” about whom we know little (except that he is charming and mysterious) until the second volume.  So the second in series, the one I read and reviewed as an ARC, is called Scandal Above Stairs.  It was every bit as good as the first.  And in fact, there is a short prequel novella that is also charming to read: A Soupçon of Poison,  I recommend all three and suggest that you read the novella first.

Traveling:  We went to Albuquerque to see our sons, for two weeks.  It was Adam and Carolina’s 25th wedding anniversary, though that seems unbelievable.  We celebrated at the foot of the mountains in a restaurant I won’t mention because it left a bit to be desired.  We also went to meet our older son’s new(ish) significant other, Pam.  She is delightful and charming and we are so happy for Andrew.  It seems that at last he might have met the love of his life.

They showed us a wonderful time.  We went to a wine festival, a beer festival, the movie Solo: A Star Wars Story, five or six museums, a baseball game, the spa, the Turquoise Trail, and…….well, we ended with a lovely dinner at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse.

Ah, at last to the knitting:  Before I left, I had started a little cardigan sweater with my knitting buddy Sandy.  I thought it would be for me (it was a lovely shade of fuschia) but as it grew, I grew in my conviction that it should be a birthday gift for Pam (who took me to the spa on my birthday for a massage and facial!).  Fortunately, I was able to finish it before we left and, long story short, she loved it.  I’m so happy.

Now I have to finish two little raglan sleeve sweaters for my great neeices who will be here in less than a month.  Better get busy!  Thankfully, they work up fast and I found the most delightful sherbet colored, chunky yarn.  Then I will try another cardigan for myself, though I’m not sure I have found the correct color yet.  I picked up a skein of an aqua variegated yarn, but it may not work well in basket weave.  So we shall see.

i would loved to hear what you are reading or knitting or where you have been lately.  Until we meet again…..

Happy reading,



How’s Your Reading?

I haven't written in quite a while. I found myself overwhelmed with ARCs and deadlines for reviewing them, and it made me withdraw. But I haven't completely stopped reading. I finished a book and review for Kerry Egan recently. And I'm more than half-way through P.J. Tracy's forthcoming offering, Nothing Stays Buried which, by the way, continues the fascinating story of Monkeewrench–the crime solving computer geeks who have their own quirky histories.
Diane Capri recently wrote a Facebook post asking her fans whether they are "Superreaders." Apparently the definition is anyone who reads at least five books a week, though some would say a book a day. I confess, I do not do either. In fact, I'm a slow reader. If I read five books a month, that's pretty good for me. If I read a book a day, I wouldn't do anything else. And as much as I love reading, there are other aspects to my life. I enjoy spending time with my husband, my family and my friends. I enjoy traveling and knit and volunteer work. I like to read newspapers and magazines and other people's blogs.
Bottom line: I think however much you read is good, as long as you are reading something. Keep your mind active, but keep your body active too. Don't just read. Do many things that fill your life with the riches of variety. Now, back to my book!
Happy reading, Marja

What makes a good story?

Today I’ve been thinking about what makes a good story.  Perhaps it’s because I finished a book last night, and was amazed by the author’s ability to put herself into the place of a 10th grade girl.  The book, by the way, was Give up the Ghost by Megan Crewe.  It is actually written for a Middle School/High School age group, but I’ve confessed my weakness for young adult fiction, especially if it has a fantasy element.

The first element of a good story is some kind of “hook” to grab your attention.  In fantasy, it’s often a ghost, witch, werewolf, vampire or zombie.  At least those seem to be the big ones right now.  But there’s a lot of those I won’t even look at, hook or no hook.

So, the second element has to be personal preference.  I won’t waste time reading a book just because it’s on the best seller list and everybody else is reading it.  Life is too short to slog through a book you’re not enjoying.  And frankly, I’ve got a backlist of several hundred books I want to read in my Kindle.

The third element I’ve already mentioned:  it’s getting the perspective right.  If you don’t know or remember squat about what it feels like to be a teenager, don’t write a young adult novel.  If you don’t have the kind of mind that loves to solve puzzles, don’t write a mystery.  Of course research can be done, and should be done, for a good story.  But in the end, no amount of research will replace your ability to understand your characters or appreciate the setting or move the plot forward.

These are some of my thoughts but I’m not a professional writer.  Your understanding of what makes a good story may entirely different.  And if it is, I’d love to hear from you. Until then, happy reading!



Unusual Books Impress Me

I’ve been corresponding a bit lately with Kate, one of the staff at Lakewater Press.  I’ve been given the opportunity to read two of their YA titles: Butterfly Bones and The Life Group.  (For reasons I can’t explain, I seem to find YA books more compelling than typical adult titles.  Trying to re-live my youth?  No, they just seem to pique my interest.)  In both cases, I have commented in my reviews that each of these books is like no other I’ve ever read.

In case you have forgotten, or not read my reviews, Butterfly Bones is about a high school student with a life-threatening bone disease that causes her to look years younger than her true age.  Her scientist father is seeking a cure, with an ethics-be-damned single focus.

The Life Group also has a high school age protanganist, in this case on a single minded search for her college age sister who has disappeared six weeks earlier.  The police have given up, but Rachel has not.  All of the action takes place on one day.  A handsome college age man who is hiding what he knows enters the picture and the plot gets complicated from here.

Neither book has a traditional happy ending.  But neither are these unmitigated tragedies.  The heroine in each book continues life but each is changed by circumstances she did not create.  Truly, I find this much more satisfying than the typical girl gets boy scenario that, even if set in a fantasy or adventure setting, can be mawkish.

So, from my perspective, hats off to Lakewater Press for taking a risk on non-formulaic YAs.  Kate has offered me the chance to read one or two of their adult titles.  I’m looking forward to it, hoping I will find the same “follow your own spirit” sensibility I have found in these two challenging YAs.  I’ll get back to you when I’ve read them.

On Living

Last weekend, in the New York Times Book Review, I found an ad for a book called On Living, by Kerry Egan.  What I read about the questions Egan raises in this book intrigued me; I suppose because I have some of the same questions.  So I purchased it for my Kindle at full price.  This one is not an ARC.  But I feel that it is money well spent.  In fact, I liked On Living so much that I just bought her earlier book, called Fumbling, about her travels along the Camino de Santiago in Spain.

Why did I like it so much?  I’m a retired pastor who worked with other pastors, and Kerry is seminary trained (Harvard Divinity) though not ordained.  But I don’t think that’s it.  I have suffered from depression for over thirty years, and Egan has walked that road also.  But I don’t think that’s it.  I think it is the deft way she handles odd and difficult encounters.  I truly wish I had had this book forty years ago when I was starting out.  And I would recommend it to every pastor and chaplain, no matter what you do.  But it’s not just for the religiously trained.  This is as much a book for everyone as you will find.

Egan is a person I would love to know in real life.  Too bad she lives in South Carolina and I live in Western New York.  Luckily, I can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.  And perhaps her book tour will bring her to my area.

It’s been a long time since I’ve been so enthusiastic about a book.  I sincerely hope that Egan continues to observe and to write.  She says her call is to share the stories of others.  But it is most often her reflections that are helpful and important.  That’s my experience.

Happy reading,