Tag Archives: David Cristofano

Can you trust a book review?

Nope.  Or at least not according to an article in today’s New York Times.  If  you review books for love, not money, you will find this article very disheartening.  Basically, many of those big, wet smooches out there were bought and paid for.  And the cost?  As low as $5.

Titled  The Best Reviews Money Can Buy, the article by David Streitfeld tells the story of Todd Rutherford.  Entrepreneurial Rutherford, struggling as a cog in the PR marketing machine for a self-publishing company, found it extremely difficult to entice reviewers to review the books… and even harder to get the kind of stellar reviews the authors wanted.  The solution?  Create a company to pay readers to review positively.  Actually reading the book?  Not required.

Disturbingly, Rutherford’s company made tons of money, as much as $28,000 in one month, according to the Times article.   But an unhappy author posted “loud, angry accusation” on several consumer websites about Rutherford, and the next thing you know, Amazon took down his reviews and Google  suspended his advertising.  Another service he launched – to get authors to review each other’s works – was not successful.  He’s trying the review business again, but with no payment to the reviewers.  Good luck with that.

This is the 226th post on Literary Lunchbox.  The vast majority are book reviews.  Not a single one has been paid for.  Not a one has been done as a favor.  Many are middling reviews, a few are scathing, and I think you can tell when I really, really love a book.  It should be pretty clear that I’ve read every book I reviewed, cover to cover.  I don’t hand out stars or give numerical ratings on my blog because books are a little more complicated than that.

Recently, however, I did a review of David Cristofano‘s new book, The Exceptions.  I had previously read and liked his debut novel, and I got a notice by email from his publisher that the new one was out.   I replied by email to say thank you for letting me know, I’ll be sure to read it!  I put it on hold at the library and went on my merry way.

The next day, a follow-up email.  Send me your snail mail address and I will send you a complimentary copy.  I thought about this carefully before I replied.  Thoughts included:

  1. Really?  You noticed my blog?
  2. But will getting the book for free influence my review?
  3. Still, how is this different than getting an Advanced Reading Copy at a conference?
  4. And how is this different from the books that are sent to reviewers who work for traditional media outlets, such as the Chicago Tribune and the New York Times?

I provided my mailing address.  The book came.  I read it and enjoyed it, and my review reflected that, but there was no gushing.  If I had been disappointed by The Exceptions, I would have said so.   There’s a line between right and wrong, and I don’t think I crossed it.

There is no doubt that the publishing industry is in flux.  Everything’s changing.  But for authors to buy positive reviews is just out-and-out unethical, and the practice of buying and selling reviews is diminishing the value of everybody’s reviews.  And that makes me pretty discouraged.

So, listen to your friends.  Find reviewers that you trust.  And consider doing some reviews yourself… on Amazon, on Goodreads, or even start your own blog. Because the more people who really love books share the love, the less opportunity there is for hacks and scammers!

David Cristofano’s mind game pays off

There’s something awfully familiar about David Cristofano‘s new novel.  That’s because Cristofano has taken the story from his Edgar-nominated debut novel, The Girl She Used to Be, turned it sideways, upside down and smooshed it up a little, to recount the love story of girl in the witness protection program and her would-be mob assassin, from another POV.  Where The Girl She Used to Be – an excellent read, you can see my review of it here– was from the Melody Grace McCartney’s perspective, The Exceptions is told by Jonathan Bovaro.

The story arcs overlap in time without being perfectly aligned.  Melody’s story begins as she is being moved, once again, into a new life by the US Marshalls.  Twenty years ago, she and her parents had witnessed a murder, stumbling upon paterfamilias Tony Bovaro as he guts aptly-named Jimmy the Rat in a restaurant kitchen.  The Bovaros had found the McCartney family once, killing Melody’s parents in a grocery store parking lot.   The Girl She Used to Be takes a sharp turn when Melody wakes in her dumpy hotel room with a “knife” to her throat… held by Jonathan Bovaro.  He’s been watching her for years, and has a plan to keep her safe.  A bad plan, but a plan.

As those who read Melody’s story know, ****SPOILER ALERT*** the end of The Girl She Used to Be had the star-crossed lovers separated, with Melody given a brand-new start, with nobody chasing her, because Jonathan has confessed to killing her.  She loves him, but they can never be together.

In The Exceptions, the story has a longer arc, beginning with the murder and the reason why Jonathan’s spent most of his adult life trying to shield Melody, and ending after he has flipped on his family, been WITSECed himself, and then more-or-less abducted by an FBI agent.  For what purpose, I refuse to say.

Thus does Cristofano masterfully maintain suspense despite telling the same story twice!   Gimmicky?  Sure.  A gimmick I wish I’d thought of.

Both books stand on their own, no problem. And I had a super-fun, although time-consuming, couple of days wherein I compared the Exceptions to the Girl.  Conversations between Melody and Jonathon are dizzying when you see the same words spoken, but the internal perspective presented varies.   My strong recommendation is to read them in order.  The twist at the end of The Exceptions will be a lot more twist-y if you’ve already read Girl.

Best First Novel by American Author…

Just finished the final nominee for the Mystery Writers of America Edgar award for Best First Novel by an American Author, David Cristofano’s The Girl She Used to Be.  Someone once said that any book can be described using a “what if?” sentence.  In the case of this suspenseful story, the sentence would be “What if a girl in the Witness Protection Program fell in love with the son of the man who killed her parents?”

Melody Grace McCartney was only six when her desire for a special breakfast changed their lives forever, when the family witnessed a mob murder. Persuaded to give evidence by the promise of protection, the McCartneys entered into a nomadic existence that ended for the parents in a hail of bullets.  Since then, Melody’s been on her own, moving on when restlessness and vague anxiety spur her to do so.

Imagine her surprise when she finds out, from the man deputized to find and kill her, that he’s been following her movements for years… knows her intimately… and has a plan to save her.  Add in his abs of steel, intelligence, and numerous scars to show he’s been hurt, too, and who wouldn’t fall in love?

More romantic suspense than mystery, The Girl She Used to Be packs plenty of action and nail-biting tension into its pages, with a resolution that has a strong Gift of the Magi-like quality.  Overall, I liked it.  Melody has a certain sass and determination.  Jonathan – or Little Johnny as the family call him – has an air of quiet desperation and determination.  As I was reading it, it occurred to me that it would make a great date movie.  It’s just the right scope, the characters are just the right age, it has lots of tension, romance and action, and you’re filled with hope even as you are certain the lovers are doomed.  And sure enough, on David Cristofano’s web site is the news that the movie rights have been sold to the same folks who made The Notebook (book by Nicholas Sparks) and My Sister’s Keeper (author Jodi Picoult).

Still, the book doesn’t quite come up to the standard I set for a mystery.  As a result, The Girl She Used to Be lands smack in the midlist of the Literary Lunchbox Edgar Awards.  Congrats to winner Stefanie Pintoff for In the Shadow of Gotham… if the Edgar judges follow my lead, she’ll be picking up her award on April 29th!  Here’s the final line-up:

  1. In the Shadow of Gotham – Stefanie Pintoff
  2. Starvation Lake – Bryan Gruley
  3. The Girl She Used to Be – David Cristofano
  4. A Bad Day for Sorry – Sophie Littlefield
  5. Blackwater Rising – Attica Locke
  6. The Weight of Silence – Heather Gudenkauf