Archives for category: Book Reviews


Congratulations to Ellaraine Lockie, author of the Silver Birch Press poetry release COFFEE HOUSE CONFESSIONS on another stellar review — this one from the literary magazine THE MOM EGG. Excerpts from the review are included below.

by Katie Baker

Coffee shops are considered diverse gathering places, establishments where all walks of life, both young and old, come to read, write, congregate and socialize — and most importantly, get their coffee fix. However, one forgets the importance of the ritual cup when they begin to read Ellaraine Lockie’s chapbook, Coffee House Confessions. The chapbook features poems written in and about coffee houses around the world…

…what makes these poems in this chapbook unique is Lockie’s ability to connect — connect the reader to a place, a person (or people) and to materials through her writing. She creatively takes normal human behavior, mundane human interactions and creates beautifully crafted poems out of the occurrences…

Lockie has a unique talent in being able to observe without intruding, to even play along albeit with subtle humor, and become part of the story without becoming overwhelming to the reader. In the seemingly ordinary details of the coffee houses, we find extraordinary prose, clever and witty…

Her chapbook is refreshing, full of vibrant imagery. Each poem offers a humorous, poignant, and creative escape into the life of the coffee house.


Coffee House Confessions by Ellaraine Lockie is available at

Cover image by Nick


The recent Silver Birch Press poetry release COFFEE HOUSE CONFESSIONS by Ellaraine Lockie has garnered a rave from reviewer Ed Bennett at Quill and Parchment (

Here are some excerpts from Bennett’s review:

Christmas has arrived early this year with the publication of Ellaraine Lockie’s latest book Coffee House Confessions. As always, Ms. Lockie has assembled a group of poems that allows one to read and then spend some time pondering the relationship between her words and our own emotional landscape. The theme of this book revolves around Ms. Lockie’s personal discipline of going to a coffee shop, no matter where she may be, and draw inspiration from the rest of the patrons and the staff. The resulting collection is a laser eyed look at humanity and the way we interact in this caffeinated laboratory…

Ellaraine Lockie has written ten collections of poetry and, not surprisingly, she has won awards both in the United States and in the United Kingdom. This latest book carries the characteristic stamp of her work: accessible language with creative imagery and an understanding eye that sees deeper into the realities of the world.  Despite the familiarity of style, each of her books is a unique work and Coffee House Confessions is no exception. While we may see our local coffee shop as a good place for a brew, Ms. Lockie sees a workshop of human interaction. What we may dismiss as a fleeting gesture, she finds a more complex meaning.
Yes, I knew the merits of this book before I cracked the cover but each poem gave me an enjoyment that so few other writers can muster. This is a wonderful book by a talented poet. I recommend it highly, especially for those summer days sitting outside at your favorite coffee shop.

Read the entire review at Quill and Parchment.


Amazon reviews for The Casual Vacancy by J.K. ROWLING, her first novel for adults (the Harry Potter books are, as most of the planet knows, her claim to fame)

5-star reviews:   350 (23%)

4-star reviews:   267 (17%)

3-star reviews:   218 (14%)

2-star reviews:   264 (17%)

1-star reviews:    441 (29%)

Total reviews: 1,540 (100%)

From the above figures, we can infer that 40% of Amazon reviewers liked the book (4- and 5-star reviews), 14% thought it was okay (3-star reviews), and 46% disliked it (1- and 2-star reviews).

Here’s a review from each category…

5-star review: “Brilliant, disturbing, not for everyone.” Simply Keith (New Mexico)

4-star review: “Good character novel.” Jessica (Kansas)

3-star review: “A bit of a chore to get through.” M.J. Bayliss “book queen”

2-star review: “Grim, crass, and exceptionally dull.” Beth (Chicago)

1-star review: “A hot mess worth zero stars.” S. Kinney (Indiana)

Published by Little, Brown and Company, the 512-page book retails for $35, but is currently selling on for $20.48. As of today, The Casual Vacancy ranks as #26 on the Amazon bestseller list.

From the Amazon page, here’s the description of the novel (which some have pegged as P.G. Wodehouse meets Peyton Place): When Barry Fairbrother dies unexpectedly in his early forties, the little town of Pagford is left in shock. Pagford is, seemingly, an English idyll, with a cobbled market square and an ancient abbey, but what lies behind the pretty façade is a town at war. Rich at war with poor, teenagers at war with their parents, wives at war with their husbands, teachers at war with their pupils…Pagford is not what it first seems. And the empty seat left by Barry on the town’s council soon becomes the catalyst for the biggest war the town has yet seen. Who will triumph in an election fraught with passion, duplicity and unexpected revelations? Blackly comic, thought-provoking and constantly surprising, The Casual Vacancy is J.K. Rowling’s first novel for adults.


J.K. Rowling has been quoted, as in this article, that she bristles at the publisher’s designation of the novel as a black comedy, as noted below:

When I read the blurb that said it’s a ‘black comedy,’ I thought – that’s not maybe how I would’ve described it. I would’ve maybe said it’s a comic tragedy…”

I have not read The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling, but when having my teeth cleaned last week listened as my brilliant (I mean it) hygienist Audrey talked about some of the books she’d read during the past year — including The Hunger Games and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (she was not enthusiastic about either book — on that we agreed). She then asked if I’d read Rowling’s new book (Audrey is a Harry Potter fan), and during intervals when I could speak, I said I’d look into the book — and write about the novel on this blog.

Based on everything I’ve read, I have no intention of picking up a copy of The Casual Vacancy. But I’m wondering if any of the Silver Birch blog readers have read the novel. Based on the number of reviews on Amazon and the sales figures, some people somewhere must be buying and reading J.K. Rowling’s latest effort.  But it’s not going to be moi — even to borrow from the library. (Although I did sample a few pages with Amazon’s “Look Inside” feature.)


On Writing by Stephen King is my very favorite book about the craft of writing.

Filled with insider stories and practical advice, this engaging memoir should have a permanent spot on every writer’s desk!

I was going to write “highly” recommended, but figured I’d better avoid an adverb (see quotation below) — instead,  I’ll say “5 Stars!”

“The road to hell is paved with adverbs.” STEPHEN KING, On Writing

Available at — where the book has garnered over 800  five-star reviews!

Here are a few more quotes from the book:

“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” 

“The scariest moment is always just before you start.” 

“Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end, it’s about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well.” 

“In many cases when a reader puts a story aside because it ‘got boring,’ the boredom arose because the writer grew enchanted with his powers of description and lost sight of his priority, which is to keep the ball rolling.” 

“Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open.” 

“Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.” 

“You cannot hope to sweep someone else away by the force of your writing until it has been done to you.” 


Some years back, I wrote a children’s novel that featured a girl named Anna, a dog named Otto, and lots of wordplay — as evidenced by the main characters’ names, spelled the same backward and forward. In the book, Anna, an amnesiac, sets out with Otto to learn her identity — and along the way meets a range of unusual characters and encounters a variety of wacky situations.

For a time, I shopped Anna & Otto to publishers in New York and received positive response (but no offers). One editor compared the novel’s emphasis on language to the wordplay found in The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster — a book (shame on me) that I had never read.

That day, I visited my local Border’s (RIP) and purchased a copy of The Phantom Tollbooth, a novel first published in 1961. I went home and read the book in one giant gulp — a huge smile on my face the whole time.

Excerpt from The Phantom Tollbooth: “In this box are all the words I know…Most of them you will never need, some you will use constantly, but with them you may ask all the questions which have never been answered and answer all the questions which have never been asked. All the great books of the past and all the ones yet to come are made with these words. With them there is no obstacle you cannot overcome. All you must learn to do is to use them well and in the right places.” 

The book’s jacket copy advises, “Readers of all ages will find much wit and wisdom in Norton Juster’s beguiling, offbeat fantasy about a boy named Milo…[who] meets some of the most logically illogical characters ever met on this side or that side of reality, including King Azaz the Unabridged, unhappy ruler of Dictionopolis.”

The New York Times gave The Phantom Tollbooth a rave, noting: “Most books advertised for ‘readers of all ages’ fail to keep their promise. But Norton Juster’s amazing fantasy has something wonderful for anybody old enough to relish the allegorical wisdom of Alice in Wonderland and the pointed whimsy of The Wizard of Oz.” 

Now whenever I see a copy of The Phantom Tollbooth in one of my used-book haunts, I snap it up — and pass it  on to someone I know would love this marvel of a book. (I’ll admit that I don’t often find The Phantom Tollbooth at thrift stores — people hang onto their copies of this brilliant novel.) Highly recommended! A Must Read! 


Illustration: The cover illustration is by Jules Feiffer, whose witty, spot-on drawings fill the 256-page book (Knopf hardcover edition). At left is Feiffer’s drawing of the Terrible Trivium, “…demon of petty tasks and worthless jobs, ogre of wasted effort, and monster of habit.”