Review of The Mask of Sanity

Writing Desk
Writing, Reviews and Musings

In the January blog, I shared my “Lazarus Rating System” for reviewing books. Here’s my latest book review. Let me know what you think of the rating system. Did you find the review useful? Does this type of review help you to determine your next read?

jacob m appel, the mask of sanityTitle – The Mask of Sanity

Author – Jacob M. Appel

Overall Score – 4.5

Overall, I give this novel a 4.5. The story drew me in quickly and the first 2/3 went very fast. For the last 1/3, I began to wonder where the story was going and how it would get resolved. I actually had an idea of what could happen, but was off.

The characters were interesting, especially Balint. My only real disappointment (and what kept me from giving a 5) was the ending which left me hanging. I’m the type that likes things wrapped up in a bow … or ribbon (pun intended), though I’m sure there are others who will enjoy debating the last tidbit.

Book Cover – 5

I really like the gray with a spark of color in the male’s eye and a green ribbon running vertically down the front, which ties to the plot line.

Plot – 3.5

I looked forward to how the author, a psychiatrist, would tell a story about a psychopath and he did not disappoint, from how meticulously Dr. Balint planned his murders to how his love for his daughters was really an extension of his own ego. Appel did a very good job showing the reader “a wolf in sheep’s clothing” – how he thinks, how he behaves, how he rationalizes his actions. I did question how quickly Balint acquiesced on the very thing that fueled his motive – you’ll understand my point when you read the book. The medical references were interesting – having worked in cardiology myself, I enjoyed being taking into that world again.

Character Development – 4 ***SLIGHT SPOILER ALERT***

Jeremy Balint – I didn’t really root for this character but was definitely intrigued by him and did appreciate his cleverness. The author wrote in 3rd person. 1st person might have been even more powerful to draw me into Balint’s mind.

Amanda Balint – A no nonsense, pragmatic wife. Without giving too much away, I thought that Balint might have been wrong about her which would have been a crazy twist.

Warren Sugarman – A fitting “rival” – I pictured him looking a bit like a young Hemingway which may have been more of my imagination than anything that was described.

Delilah Navare – The feminine contrast to Amanda. For a good portion of the book, I felt she was far too naive, especially with google, social media, etc., but learned more about that closer to the ending.

Pace – 5

I read the book in a few days (and I’m a slow reader). It held my interest and I was eager to find out what was going to happen next.

Basics (Grammar, Punctuation, Format) – 5

I didn’t find a single error. A major bonus for me was learning some new vocabulary. Kudos to Mr. Appel for including words like hirsute, unctuous, invective that had me pulling out a dictionary. It’s been awhile since I’ve had a book educate me to that level.

Price – 5

The hard cover book is $28 on Amazon, but if you write to Jacob Appel <>, he might give you a complimentary copy.

Any other criteria that you think I should add to my “Lazarus Rating System”?

About the image: recently the New York Public Library opened their digital collection. It’s like a candy store of art, graphics, history and style. As a writer I am fascinated by desks, working spaces and styles. I can only the image the correspondence and poetry that danced across this intricate desk.

Image Credit: George Arents Collection, The New York Public Library. “Marquetry writing desk by F. G. Teune.” The New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Spoiler Alert: An Idea for Reviewing Books

Behind Closed Doors by B. A. Paris

The “Lazarus Rating System”

As I look for new books to read, I always refer to the Goodreads reviews, for both the number of stars and the write-ups. I may be the outlier here, but when I read a review, I don’t necessarily want a summary of the plot. That, in of itself, is a bit of a spoiler to me. Anything more than the few sentence synopsis is more than I want to know.

So, when I review books, I don’t summarize the story but rather point out what I liked and didn’t like. Just recently, it occurred to me that I should use a consistent format, no different that the supplier quality audits I did years ago in corporate America. So, from now on, I’ll be using my newly created “Lazarus Rating System” with the elements that I think are worth noting, each with the highest possible score of 5 points.

Here’s an example with the most recent book I completed on New Year’s Day – how’s that for a fresh start to 2017!

Title – Behind Closed Doors

 Author – B.A. Paris

Overall Score – 5

Overall, I give this novel a 4.5 rounded up to a 5, primarily for the pace and character development.

Book Cover – 4

The bold red font is eye-catching and the red has significance in the story, so good tie-in there. The door and doorknob are a bit mundane, but I do prefer objects versus people on book covers so appreciate that the characters’ images were not shown—better to leave to the reader’s imagination what they look like.

Plot – 4.5

I read a Q&A from the author that she had suspicions of a friend’s marriage and her imagination took it from there. I found the story line to be original and, for the most part, believable. Towards the end, I was worried that the author would miss a loose end (like the paintings Grace did that were hanging in the basement) but she wove them into the story, leaving a satisfying ending.

Character Development – 4.5  ***SLIGHT SPOILER ALERT***

Grace – 5; The author did a very good job of showing how an independent woman could become trapped over time. Often when I thought Grace should do something or act in a certain way, she did, which made her character very believable.

Milly – 4; Milly’s truncated language made her stand out as a character. I did question how she could be as clever as she was portrayed given her limitations, but I have to admit, I liked that she was. The George Clooney references were hilarious. (He should make this book into a movie and play Jack for that alone!)

Jack – 3; Although Jack’s childhood was explained briefly, I would have liked to see more motive behind his actions. Also, why was having Grace not enough for him? Why did he need Milly, too?

Pace – 5

Never once did I think “get on with it already.” Paris did an outstanding job of keeping me interested and eager to find the next block of time when I could continue with the book, which to me, is the single most important criteria if I like a book.

Basics (Grammar, Punctuation, Format) – 5

All good.

PS – if you listen to the audio book, narrated by Georgia Maguire, you won’t be disappointed.

Price – 4

Hard Cover – 12.99; which is on par with other novels of this type.

Kindle – 9.99; which seems a bit high compared to the hardcover price.


Any other criteria that you think I should add to my new rating system?

  • T (Title)
  • A (Author)
  • O (Overall)
  • 1C (Character Development)
  • 2B (Book Cover, Basics)
  • 3P (Plot, Pace, Price)

Leave a comment below or on twitter @liz_lazarus to share your thoughts.

Playing Favorites.

Liz Lazarus and Thomas Barnette. - Free of Malice

My favorite character in “Free of Malice”

I was recently asked who was my favorite character in my book, “Free of Malice.” Some folks thought it would be Laura, the protagonist, but it’s actually the criminal defense attorney, Thomas Bennett.

Do we love him or hate him? Do we trust him or suspect him? And why is he doing pro-bono work for a journalist – what’s in it for him? At one point, Laura says, “he sounded sincere, but there was this little nagging voice inside of me—aren’t most psychopaths also charmers?”

My editor, Jan Risher, may have said it best, “This book is not a traditional whodunit. The author pulled off a tough balance of having me both suspect yet somehow root for the lead male character.”

My best friend from college, Thomas Barnette (not a psychopath, by the way), was my inspiration for the lawyer character. He and I met our first day at Georgia Tech – we were both lost trying to find the civil engineering building – and we’ve been friends ever since. We make an odd pair, I’ll admit – he’s a black, gay, Christian guy and I’m a white, straight, Jewish gal, but we have that kind of connection where I’ll be thinking about him and the phone will ring.

We were so focused on our studies at school that I didn’t really learn about Thomas’ creative side until after we graduated. One day he popped a CD into the player in his car and asked what I thought. The singer reminded me of a cross between Lionel Richie and Seal and I really liked it. When Thomas said it was him, I didn’t believe him at first. He actually had to start singing in the car to convince me.

From that point on we talked a lot about him cutting a full CD. He already had quite a few of the songs, many of which he wrote, but there were also some covers. So, one day I pulled out my computer and started tallying up the work ahead of him to finish the CD – the mixing, mastering, photos, production, etc. and came to a number. The next day, I kid you not, I received a check in the mail for some deferred salary for nearly the exact number. I took it as a divine sign and we were off to producing his debut album.

An author’s viewpoint

In my book, the Thomas character takes Laura to hear him sing at Eddie’s Attic in Atlanta. At that point, you can pull out your QR reader or go to my website,, and hear the first song from his album, “Let Me Breathe.” I thought it would be an added treat for the reader to get to hear Thomas’ voice, plus he sang at my launch party and we are doing a few joint events around town to promote the book and the CD.

Who knew when our paths crossed that first day of college that we would have such an enduring friendship and that we’d find a way to blend our creativity and support one another. So, my favorite character – was based on one of my favorite people.

Building Communities with Little Free Library

Liz Lazarus | Free of Malice | Little Free Library

During a walk in my neighborhood, I noticed that one of my neighbors had installed a Little Free Library in their yard. This delightful mini-library-on-a-post is a welcome addition to our block. I stepped forward and opened the clear Plexiglas door to take a closer peek at the books inside. There was a range of titles from children’s books to contemporary fiction and some thrillers! As I stood here admiring the collection a woman approached me and introduced herself as the steward of this Little Free Library.

She shared how thrilled she was to a part of this sharing movement. The Little Free Library is based on the honor system encouraging anyone to take a book, leave a book. Not only does the Little Free Library encourage people to share their favorite stories, it also aims to build a sense of community and spark conversation.

Background on Little Free Libraries

When I returned home I did a little research on the history of Little Free Libraries. Todd Bol of Hudson, Wisconsin created little Free Libraries in 2009. They are built on a model of a one-room schoolhouse. It was a tribute to his mother; she was a teacher who loved to read. He filled the little library with books and put it on a post in his front yard. His neighbors and friends loved it. He built several more and gave them away. Each one had a sign that said FREE BOOKS. Rick Brooks of UW-Madison saw Bol’s do-it-yourself project while they were discussing potential social enterprises. Together, the two saw opportunities to achieve a variety of goals for the common good.

Their mission is: To promote literacy and the love of reading by building free book exchanges worldwide and to build a sense of community as we share skills, creativity, and wisdom across generations.

A Little Free Library is a “take a book, return a book” free book exchange. They come in many shapes and sizes, but the most common version is a small wooden box of As of June of 2016, there are 40,000 Libraries worldwide. With Little Free Library book exchanges in all 50 U.S. states and over 70 countries around the world. Approximately 60 percent of Little Free Library book exchanges have been built by stewards and 40 percent built and sold by Little Free Library (see their website for details).

Take a book. Return a book.

After reading the history, I was so taken by the concept of sharing and promoting literacy and reading that I used the online map feature at to find other libraries near my home in Atlanta and other locations around town. During the next several weeks, I drove around dropping off copies of my novel Free of Malice with a note inviting Little Free Library stewards to read my book and share their impressions on social media using the hashtags #FreeofMalice #LittleFreeLibrary. To honor the sharing concept, I’m donating a portion of my online book sales to the Little Free Library organization and local libraries. My story was recently featured in Creative Loafing Atlanta.

Connecting neighbors. Sharing good reads.

To take the concept of sharing to the next level, I’m inviting my social media network to participate as well. I’m giving away 10 copies of Free of Malice over the July 4th holiday to Little Free Library stewards and readers who connect with me over social media and who want to continue the cycle of sharing and caring. Tweet or email me at liz [at] lizlazarus [dot] com to indicate that you are interested in reading #FreeofMalice, and if inclined will share a review on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or Goodreads and most importantly that you will share the book with your local Little Free Library.

You can connect with me on Facebook at AuthorLizLazarus and Twitter and Instagram using @liz_lazarus. I’m also on Goodreads at Liz Lazarus to let me know that you are interested (or that you love Little Free Libraries). Use Hashtag #LFL and #freeofmalice.

Thank you for sharing, building community and sparking conversations.

Captivating: An Evening with Mary Kubica

Mary Kubica collage
Author Book Event – Atlanta, GA

I had the pleasure of hearing Mary Kubica speak at the Margaret Mitchell House in Atlanta, GA, as part of her Don’t You Cry book tour. I connected with her on Twitter, @MaryKubica, along with my friend and fellow author Chelsea Humphrey, @suspensethrill, so we were super excited to meet her in person.

I’ve heard many authors speak, reading excerpts from their book and sharing their story, but I have to say, Mary was one of the best! During her presentation, “captivating” was the word that kept coming to my mind.

Mary shared that she loved to write as a child, but never really considered a career as an author. Like most kids, she didn’t necessarily think about the person behind the book or the possibility of writing as a vocation. She became a high school history teacher until her first child was born. She then opted to stay home and raise her baby and began writing The Good Girl. As Mary described it, something about that book felt special, the characters spoke to her. As she spoke, I found myself nodding in agreement – I’ve often felt like I was watching a movie and taking dictation as I wrote Free of Malice.

It took her nearly five years and she wrote in secrecy – I can relate here as well. It was quite a leap to let my mother and fiancé read my book. Mary had no contacts in the publishing world (ditto!) so she looked up how to query agents and got a few bites. As she noted, it’s sometimes easier to share your work with strangers than friends.

Although there was some initial interest, she didn’t get any takers, so Mary shelved her book and went on with her life. Two years later, she received a letter from an agent who asked if her book was still available. This woman had read her book when it was first submitted and had since been promoted to a position to make a decision to move forward. This was in 2012 and Mary was offered a two-book deal, with the gentle nudge that it couldn’t take another five years for her next book, which was Pretty Baby.

When she embarked on her third novel, Mary described how the characters “fought her.” She felt like an outsider looking in and didn’t seem to find a natural flow. Given the success of her first two books, this one didn’t feel worthy of following in the same footsteps and was giving her a good deal of angst. Much to her relief, Mary’s editor didn’t want to move forward with the draft so she set it aside. With a blank canvas, she quickly started writing again and that became Don’t You Cry. With a deadline looming and limited time, Mary described how she would get up at 4:30 am to write and instead of editing along the way, she just kept moving forward to advance the story. From the rave reviews, it sounds like it was a smart plan. Hearing her story was such an inspiration—to learn that she had a two-year wait to be discovered and just experienced putting an entire book aside to quickly write a new one. Amazing!

There is a great deal of tenacity and heart in that petite body of hers and I’m so thrilled to have had the chance to learn more about her and her journey as an author! Thanks to the Margaret Mitchell House for making this event happen and to Mary for stopping by Atlanta on her book tour!

Not So Vicarious Adventure: Free of Malice Launch Party

Rebecca Alora Walker enroute to the Free of Malice launch party

This is a special guest post from Rebecca Alora Walker, Book Blogger and Owner of Vicariously! She attended the Free of Malice launch party and is sharing her experience.

Prologue & Road Trip

When I received the request to review Liz’s book, I was invited to Free of Malice’s launch party because Joel and I live about two hours from the location where it was being held. We love road trips, dressing up, and spending time with each other so we were down to attend. After I’d read the book it became a MUST that we attend to support this wonderful book.

We spent the morning getting ready and made it out the door by 3:30 pm. Joel drove (as he usually does on road trips as I have some truly disastrous luck with getting in some crazy accidents) and we listened to Hamilton, singing and talking on our way.

Arrival At The Red Martini Bar & Book Launch

Free of Malice launch partyWe got there a bit late due to Atlanta traffic (and some rather hilarious situations) and quickly entered the Red Martini Bar on the red carpet. Joel and I were in awe. This bar looks like it could have been in True Blood. With opulent red walls, black accents, and dim lighting, it should have been gaudy. However, the owners knew what they were doing and the decor resulted in a classy, laid back atmosphere. It suited the launch party perfectly and everyone seemed quite happy to be there.

In Liz’s book, Free of Malice, she mentions several real life locations in Atlanta. Most of them were at the launch party. Joseph Drouhin wine was flowing free and we had the opportunity to try the bar’s signature drink, a red martini. We had amazing barbecue sandwiches from Fat Matt’s Rib Shack, tuna tartare on homemade cracker’s from Davio’s, and guests were given some truly beautiful cookies made by Allison Trueblood (Joel and I laughed at the irony) of Glorious Events.image2 (15)

Once things got going, Liz got up to give a beautiful speech where she thanked everyone who helped her with Free of Malice. She was careful to name everyone who’d made it happen professionally and personally. Her gratitude was palpable and her speech engaging, telling anecdotes and stories, each one giving a glimpse of the many people in her life.

I suffer from an anxiety disorder and Joel is the extrovert of our duo. I was very nervous to talk to the many people and kind of kept to myself at first. This didn’t last for long, however. Liz’s friends approached us, starting conversations and making us feel comfortable. Every person we talked to told us stories about Liz’s kindness, generosity, and how they knew her. Since Joel and I didn’t know Liz personally, the fact that her friends approached us helped us ease into the swing of things.

image3 (14)In the book itself and on Liz’s website, we were introduced to Thomas Barnett. He sings “Let Me Breathe” — the song mentioned in the book. I had the opportunity to speak to him and he was so kind. After Liz gave her speech, we got to listen to Thomas perform live and he did not disappoint. It was a lovely surprise and meeting the inspiration for the character Thomas Bennett was a bit of a fangirl moment for me because Thomas is one of my favorite parts of Free of Malice.

Meeting the Author

Liz Lazarus with book blogger Rebecca Alora Walker and Joel.Liz herself was absolutely stunning and humble. We had several chances to talk and interact with her. She’s a fantastic lady and her candidness further proved everything they’d said to praise her was undeniably true. A lot of people can be shy at signings or clique off with certain people, making it a bit intimidating to approach them. This was not the case with Liz. She made time for every person there and those that asked it of her. She was constantly engaged in conversation, signing books, and thanking people.

The combination of her friends, the people who helped with her book, the restaurants who catered, and Liz herself, resulted in an intimate and engaging event. I’d be very surprised if anyone left the launch feeling left out or without having a wonderful time.

Joel and I had to go and make the drive back home around 9 pm. Though the event was said to end at 9 on the invitation, when we left, Liz was still making her rounds and signing books. She thanked us for coming and we were on our way.

Three hours later we were both home and exhausted from the night and getting lost in Atlanta for a good bit. It was worth it though. We had an amazing experience.

Joel and I would like to thank Liz and her team for inviting us to the launch, as well as Liz and her friends for ensuring we had a great time and engaging with us. Be sure to check out my review of Free of Malice and get a copy.

I’ll share some of my favorite memories from the Free of Malice launch party later in the week. Until then, I hope you are reading something that captivates your imagination.  Liz