Guest Chicks: Cynthia Chow, Kathleen Costa, and Sandra Murphy

Today, we are thrilled to host three fabulous reviewers from Kings River Life Magazine and KRL News & Reviews: Cynthia Chow, Kathleen Costa, and Sandra Murphy. Readers and writers alike are fans of their terrific work–welcome to all!


 

Cynthia Chow

How did you get into professional reviewing? 

To start off, I don’t really consider myself to be a professional reviewer. It’s not my paid job, I do it because I love books, libraries, and bookstores. I love authors even more, so I want to do what I can to help them in this incredibly frustrating, competitive, and changing environment. After I first became a librarian, I emailed my favorite mystery authors and basically fanning out over them. I became email friends with them, and they would send books to the library for me to read and add to our State collection. Then through DorothyL, I got in contact with authors who were interested in setting advice for Hawaii, and sometimes they’d send me their works-in-progress to fact-check. Since it’s all fiction anything goes, but I think they really wanted to know if anything could come off as offensive. That led to my attending Left Coast Crime, Malice, and Boucheron Conferences around 2005. I met a ton of incredible authors, and they would send me review copies. I would post on DorothyL and Amazon, and eventually that led to the Rap Sheet. From their editor I learned so much about critical reviewing. I’ve reviewed for various blogs, and then after getting in contact with Lorie Ham I was able to review hers. That led to Kings River Life Magazine, and the amazing opportunity to review books by so many amazing publishers and authors.

What is your review process?

It’s changed a lot, as my free time has lessened while the number of books has only increased. While I used to read every book twice – once for pleasure and the experience, the second time with a more analytical view – I just don’t have the time anymore. I still use a double-pronged approach, but now I take notes for a summary and also notes for a more critical look. Themes, plot issues, viewpoints I really appreciate or find unique, etc.

What are some of the challenges and/or successes you’ve experienced along the way?

Reviewing a book for a personal friend. I just can’t attack a friend’s baby. I know how much work goes into writing a book, and the struggles and frustrations writers face. So when I dislike a book, I prefer to either not review it at all or just focus on the positive aspects.  

What are some of the best or most surprising experiences you’ve had related to your review work?

Seeing one of my reviews blurbed on the back cover, or even the front cover, of a book. My name may or may not be attached to it, but I know it was mine! So basically it’s all about my ego.

What advice would you give to new or aspiring reviewers? 

Read what you love. If you don’t, it’s going to be so arduous and a struggle. You can appreciate something, but you won’t have the love for it. Also, make time to just read for fun.  

What advice would you give to authors who would like to connect with reviewers?

Seek out reviewers who have reviewed books similar to yours, then politely email and ask if they would be interested in yours. Sample chapters can help, but always ask before sending the review copy.


Kathleen Costa

How did you get into professional reviewing?

I saw an all call notice from Lorie at Kings River Life for a copy editor which led to a request to review a movie that had just been release and then books, mostly cozies, and now also U.K. productions on two streaming options.

What is your review process?

I tend to read and write at the same time. I make notes on plot, characters, and even the writing style of the author.

What are some of the challenges and/or successes you’ve experienced along the way?

Too many great books out there and too little time.

What are some of the best or most surprising experiences you’ve had related to your review work?

I was approached by several authors to participate in beta reading which gave me an extraordinary “behind the scenes” look at writing. This has led me to test the “writing waters” myself. I recently became part of a flash fiction collection with Barbara Venkataraman. My eight vignettes made me an official writer.

What advice would you give to new or aspiring reviewers?

Honesty is always a good watch word. But also go beyond reworking the synopses since everyone can read the official storyline themselves. Discuss your insights on the stories impact on the reading experience, the style of the writing, the characters’ growth, connections, or flaws, and whether the wrap up was realistic, surprising, or satisfying. Not all books have “oops-es,” but if there is something you’d like to mention, word it carefully. Remember this is an author’s career.

What advice would you give to authors who would like to connect with reviewers?

I have had authors reach out to me complimenting my insights, approaching me directly to review their books, and engaging me in beta projects. I try to stay upbeat with any criticisms, so I’ve not had any negative responses. But I do welcome the connection with the author.

What question would you like to answer that no one ever asks? Please add it here.

“What is your background and how does it help or hinder your life as a reviewer?”

My background in teaching for 35+ years has been a positive. I’ve used my education and experience with young writers to read more on a critical level, not to say I’m too clinical and lose out on the entertainment value…no way. I am always having fun reading the stories I review. Yet, I have a hard time holstering my little red pen when I see errors or words and phrases I feel need revisions. 

 


Sandra Murphy

How did you get into professional reviewing? 

It was an accident. Lorie asked for a writer for a Sherlock Holmes article. I said I’d be happy to help but wasn’t an expert. She’d found someone but asked if I’d write other articles. I wrote about Lillian Jackson Braun, Dorothy Gilman, Columbo, the history of Perry Mason dating back to the old radio shows, Peeps, why dogs are invited to Seder dinners, and when she said she could use another reviewer, my hand went up. I review about 130 books a year, cozies and thrillers. 

What is your review process? 

There are several reviewers at Kings River Life. Lorie sends a list of available books and we pick which ones we want. After a few years, we each have authors we regularly review. I write and edit for others but I try to read like it was only for pleasure, as any reader would. 

I tell a bit about the main character and the setting – Sue from the Sweet Shop in Syracuse – which will remind readers they’ve read and like this before or will entice them to try a new author. Themed books are especially popular so if there are recipes or patterns, I add those at the end, thinking it might sway a hesitant buyer to see something they’d like to cook, knit, or crochet. A number of authors have more than one series so I always mention those and tell how many books are in each and if they have to be read in order. If pen names are used, I say that too. 

What are some of the challenges and/or successes you’ve experienced along the way? 

I get to read great books, good books, and some I don’t like. 

It’s easy to write a review for a book you love or even just like. You want to share that news. 

The books I don’t like are the hardest reviews to write. Usually that means the main character wasn’t likable, took senseless risks, her actions put others in jeopardy, the solution came out of nowhere, the motive was weak, the main character did something offensive, it’s mentioned twenty times that the character is overweight, or the story is more fluff than substantial. I like a strong female character so an ending where the main character puts herself in jeopardy, because ‘the police don’t have a clue and I just have to know’ and then is rescued by the male character, most often a police detective, it’s not one I’ll like. I like a variety in characters–not everyone is nearing 30, suffered a breakup or job loss, moved home, made a great success in a business right away. 

There are a few I’ve refused to review–extreme violence against women, children, or animals, that somehow slipped by and sounded more like a mystery when we were making our picks. 

What are some of the best or most surprising experiences you’ve had related to your review work? 

I’ve been able to make friends with some of the authors beyond being a reviewer. 

What advice would you give to new or aspiring reviewers? 

Be nice. Even if it’s a book you didn’t like very much, there’s an audience for it. Don’t insult them or the author by saying anything bad. Tell the good parts, keep it short, move on. 

What advice would you give to authors who would like to connect with reviewers? 

Please connect! I remember the authors who take the time to not only read the review and thank Lorie as publisher but who reach out and thank me. Promote the review, please. I read pretty fast so five hours or so to read and an hour to write the review and promote it is average. Multiply that by 130. That’s a huge amount of time to spend on someone else’s work. When I have news, hit the like button, share it. Treat me like you want to be treated. 

There have been authors who have complained I’ve given away too much of the plot – I never tell more than a reader would see on Amazon or the back cover. Don’t complain if your character is Stephen and I wrote Steven. It’s a quick fix (especially since we are an online magazine we can fix anything right away) and a mistake easily made. Those are authors I don’t review a second time. 

What question would you like to answer that no one ever asks? Please add it here. 

“Why do you do this if you’re not getting paid? You must have a lot of free time.”

Ha! I review books I’d like to read. As a writer, I like to build relationships with other authors so we can help each other. We all want to be successful and have our stories read and liked. Helping each other is the best and easiest way to do that. 


Applause, applause! Thank you so much. Readers, what questions do you have for our guests?


  • Cynthia Chow is the branch manager of Kaneohe Public Library on the island of Oahu. She balances a librarian lifestyle of cardigans and hair buns with a passion for motorcycle riding and regrettable tattoos (sorry, Mom). 
  • Kathleen Costa is a long-time resident of the Central Valley, and although born in Idaho, she considers herself a “California Girl.” Graduating from CSU-Sacramento, she is 35+ year veteran teacher having taught in grades 1-8 in schools from Sacramento to Los Angeles to Stockton to Lodi. Currently Kathleen is enjoying year 2 of retirement revitalizing hobbies along with exploring writing, reading for pleasure, and spending 24/7 with her husband of 26+ years. 
  • Sandra Murphy lives in the shadow of the Arch in St. Louis Missouri. She’s editor for Peace, Love, and Crime: Crime Stories Inspired by the Songs of the ’60s, with twenty-two cozy stories. She also edited A Murder of Crows, twenty-one stories featuring animals and crime (no animals were harmed). She also writes for magazines, newsletters, and the occasional guest blog. Both anthologies are available at the usual outlets, print or ebook. 

For more about Kings River Life, please visit kingsriverlife.com and krlnews.com. And in case you missed it > KRL publisher Lorie Lewis Ham recently chatted with us about Mysteryrat’s Maze Podcast

 

30 thoughts on “Guest Chicks: Cynthia Chow, Kathleen Costa, and Sandra Murphy

  1. Thank you all so much for a look behind the reviewer curtain, ladies! And also thank you for all the work you do helping us authors. Cheers!

    Liked by 4 people

  2. Great post! As a bookseller, I depend on early dips into advance copies so I can recommend titles to customers but my goal is to get more reviews posted.

    Liked by 5 people

  3. I cannot thank you three enough for all the hard work, thought, and love you put into your work for us authors and readers! You are my heroes. And thank you also for taking the time to provide such thoughtful answers to our questions today and visiting the Chicks. We love you!!

    Liked by 4 people

  4. I love KRL and appreciate all that you do for both readers and writers alike! It’s nice to get a behind the scenes look at the people who have made the magazine a success. Thanks for sharing with us!

    Liked by 4 people

  5. It was so interesting to hear all your thoughts and understand the dedication it takes to review books. Thank you for being a part of KRL and lending support to authors–that’s really appreciated!

    Thanks again for visiting the Chicks and spending time with us!

    Liked by 3 people

  6. What a great post! I follow all of the reviews you wonderful ladies write, so it’s great to hear your processes. Cynthia, I’m jealous you get to live in Hawaii, Kathleen, congratulations on your flash fiction, and Sandra, I love your short stories! Thanks so much to all three of you for working SO hard on all of our behalves.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks for the mention of the short stories – and hopefully soon, the longest of short stories, like you all write. Love your characters (plus there are dogs and cats and a bird).

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I enjoy the reviews on KRL, and it’s neat to learn more about the reviewers! kRL reviews are thoughtfully constructed with nice turns of phrases!
    My contact has mostly been with Lorie, but I’ve thanked and given shout outs to Cynthia Chow on Facebook. Let me take this opportunity to thank her personally: Thanks for the great reviews, Cynthia, especially for my most recent, MY FAIR LATTE!

    Liked by 3 people

  8. Thank you to all three of these amazing reviewers, woohoo! I love Kings River Life, and I was thrilled when Cynthia reviewed my Ladies Smythe & Westin titles. I really enjoyed this behind-the-scenes peek at the review process, too. Sometimes it is hard for me to wrap my head around all the many hours reviewers dedicate to us authors and our books. It truly means so much. Thanks again for hanging out with us Chicks today–you inspire writers and readers alike, KRL!

    Liked by 2 people

  9. These interviews are all rich and fascinating! And thank you SO very much for the extraordinary amount of time and care you put into reviewing. It’s amazing.

    Congratulations on all of your successes. We appreciate you answering all of our questions and being our guests today!! ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I always love having the curtain drawn back so we can see what goes on in a different part of the publishing machine. Thanks to KRL, Kathleen, Sandra, and Cynthia who have posted some excellent reviews for my books! Very, very grateful to you all.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Thank you so much for inviting us! I am truly Not Worthy! Honestly, you incredible writers, booksellers, publishers, and librarians are directly responsible for why I’m a librarian today. Mahalo for making my life so rewarding and enjoyable. ❤️🌴🌊

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Loved these insights. Thank you all for your efforts on behalf of authors, taking so much time to read our books and sharing our stories and characters with readers. You are a vital part of the chain between writers and readers.

    Liked by 1 person

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