Review of The Mask of Sanity

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 imagine 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

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.