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The Length of Your Book: The Word Count Rules

As a professional ghostwriter and editor, a significant part of my work involves helping professionals write and publish books that will establish them as thought leaders in their fields. Lawyers, doctors, realtors, CPAs, and business consultants have found that publishing a book can help them reach new markets and attract new clients.

Since self-publishing has become both ubiquitous and affordable, the market for professional books has exploded. Nowadays, if you’re a consultant, having a physical book to give to clients and prospects has become almost mandatory.

“Airplane Books”

Many of my clients ask me to recommend a good length for a professional book. Of course the answer depends quite a bit on what you, the author, have to say, and the complexity of your message. The important thing to remember is that your target reader is probably very busy and does not have a lot of time to read a long and complex self-help book. Businesspeople, especially, want concise information that packs a punch in a short amount of time.

We’re talking about a total reading time of two hours, maximum. That’s no more than 50,000 words. Anything longer requires too much of a commitment.

That’s why I call many of the self-help and business books that I ghostwrite “airplane books.” Why? Because you can put the book in your briefcase or purse, get on the plane in New York, read the book in flight, and by the time you land in Chicago or Atlanta, you’ve read it.

Airplane books do not pretend to tell the reader every possible detail of how they can improve themselves or their business. The goal is to encourage the reader to seek out your services and establish you as an expert in your industry.

Word Counts

Ebooks can be as few as 10,000 words.

Physical nonfiction books such as self-help books can be nearly any length above 25,000 words.

For fiction, a novella is generally between 50,000 and 80,000 words. A full-length novel is 80,000 words or more.

Memoirs generally need to be at least 60,000 words. It’s hard to convey the full impact of a human life in a short book.

For purposes of comparison, here are the word counts of a few well known novels that might be on your bookshelf:

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe – C.S. Lewis – 36,363

The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald – 47,094

Slaughterhouse-Five – Kurt Vonnegut – 49,459

The Color Purple – Alice Walker – 66,556

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone – JK Rowling – 77,325

Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl – Anne Frank – 82,762

Song of Solomon – Toni Morrison – 92,400

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – Mark Twain – 109,571

The Return of the King – J. R. R. Tolkien – 134,462

Great Expectations – Charles Dickens – 183,349

Gone with the Wind – Margaret Mitchell – 418,053

War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy – 587,287

The purpose of this list is to show that great books come in all lengths. The most important thing is that you say exactly what you want to say, with no filler.

Another thing to consider is that if you hired a ghostwriter to write a novel the same length as The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and the rate was fifteen cents per word, it would cost you $5,454.45. If instead you told your ghostwriter that you wanted your novel to be as long as War and Peace, the bill would come to $88,093.05. That’s a big difference!

When hiring a ghostwriter, it’s imperative to agree on a target word count. It’s measurable and there is no ambiguity.

Manuscript Formats

After the manuscript has been written as a Word document, your book can be prepared and released in various formats: as a traditional paperback or hardback, as a digital ebook, or even as a pdf that your reader downloads. It may be self-published or submitted as a Word document to a literary agent or publisher.

Generally, the fee that you pay to an editor or ghostwriter does not include final formatting for publication. When the job is complete, most ghostwriters will deliver to you a standard letter-sized Word document with one-inch margins. All the internal features, such as chapter headlines and subheads, will be in place. The formatting – that is, the invisible “coding” that tells the computer how to display the text – should be as clean and simple as possible, and conform to the requirements of typical self-publishing platforms such as Amazon Kindle and CreateSpace. Tables on the pages are okay, but illustrations and graphic elements should be added only when the book is being formatted for publication.

If and when you need your document formatted for publication in the format you’ve chosen, this is a separate job with a separate fee. If your ghostwriter provides those services, you can negotiate this.

Remember that your book may be read by many thousands of people. It’s your reputation and your name on the cover. It’s worth it to make sure that every word is perfect.

Thomas Hauck  - ghostwriter, book editor, author
Thomas Hauck, author, ghostwriter, and editor
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Book Formats and Word Counts – An Overview

Before you look for a ghostwriter, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the basic nuts and bolts of books and how they’re put together. The more you know about the product you’re going to be making, the more effective your selection of your ghostwriter and your collaboration with them will be.

First, let’s talk about how the length of a book is measured.

I cannot tell you how often I see ghostwriting job requests that say, “I need a 200-page book about how to lose weight. Please give me a price.” Or, “My book is 150 pages and I need it to be edited. How much will it cost?”

When you’re writing a book, the page count, especially on a Word document, is completely meaningless. All that matters is the word count.

Why?

Because the page count can be easily manipulated up or down. Let’s say you have a section of text that’s 500 words. Here are two options for formatting that text on the page of a book:

1. A big font with lots of space between the lines and in the margins. This might give you 20 lines of text per page with an average of 10 words per line. This means that you’ll get 200 words per page. Therefore 500 words will fit on 2.5 pages.

2. A tiny font with narrow margins and narrow spaces between the lines. This might yield 35 lines per page and 15 words per line. You’ll get 525 words per page. With this format, your 500 words of text will fit on just one page with room to spare.

The lesson for the client is to never use page count as a delivery guide. Always use the word count. If you say, “Write me a 200-page book,” you have no way to measure how much has been written and delivered to you. But if you set a target of 30,000 words or 60,000 words for your book, you’ll know for sure if your ghostwriter is delivering.

Typically, you need 30,000 words to create a paperback book that feels substantial in your hand. For a 5” x 8” paperback, this would give you a spine width of roughly 3/8”. To boost the page count and make a thicker book, you can:

1. Increase the size of the font. The big bestseller Who Moved My Cheese? is a very short book – maybe 20,000 words – and the font size is 14 point Times New Roman. Plus, the designer left plenty of empty space on the pages, and by doing so managed to pump up the page count to ninety-six.

2. Increase the size of the margins on the pages. The more white space around the text, the more pages you’ll have, and a fatter book.

3. Make the size of the book smaller (i.e., 7” x 4” rather than 9” x 6”). Smaller pages = more pages.

4. Use cream paper, not white. It looks much better and it’s slightly thicker.

Of course, in an ebook many of these considerations are moot because the reader never sees the entire book at once, only a single electronic “page” at a time.

If you’re shopping for a book editor, you may encounter editors who quote their rates on a per-page basis. Their website might say, “Line editing – $5 per page.” For the reasons outlined above, this is completely ridiculous. The only way to give an accurate quote is by the word count. If you encounter an editor or proofreader who quotes a rate per page, keep looking.

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Transforming an Academic Text into a Mass-Market Book: Not an Easy Task!

Academics who have written a peer-reviewed manuscript sometimes want to jump genres and have their thesis re-written into a popular book.

A client once contacted me and told me that he had written a thesis on the history of the cultural and diplomatic relationship between Sweden and the countries of the Near East, specifically Israel and the Palestinian territories. The history dates back to the time of the Vikings, who first contacted traders in the Holy Land in the tenth century CE. The client hoped that this could become a mass-market book in the American market.

“I would like to keep an ‘academic tone’ in the language,” he said, “but give it more of narrative. I have added quotations and anecdotes to the text in an effort to give it more of a narrative. Some segments of the text have many anecdotes while other sections are more academic. Is there any possibility of giving the text even more of an interesting and captivating narrative, as some sections are still too technical? In the best of worlds, I would like to end up with a factual text based on facts combined with a captivating story.”

This is much more difficult and expensive than you’d think. Peer-reviewed academic papers are structured very differently from mass-market books. Imagine if you took your BMW to a mechanic and said, “Can you transform this BMW into a Mercedes?” The mechanic would say, “Okay – but because I have to replace every single part of the car, it will cost you eighty thousand dollars.”

The most common problem is that the author thinks his or her subject matter is inherently boring, and that by somehow “spicing it up” it will become interesting. It is at such times that the kindly editor, in an effort to save the client from spending many thousands of dollars on a wild goose chase, will say, “Are you sure you want to do this? It will require writing a completely new book. What sort of narrative do you have in mind? The story of a family over many generations?” Such a project could quickly become an epic James Michener novel.

My advice? Be happy with what you have, or be prepared to pay many thousands of dollars to have a ghostwriter write a new book for you.

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4 Reasons to Publish a Nonfiction Book

When you contact a potential ghostwriter, the very first question he or she should ask you is, “Why do you want to publish a book? What are you hoping to achieve?”

People have many reasons for wanting to put their name on a book.

In the case of a novel, the question is often answered thusly: “I have an idea for a novel that I think is really good, and I want to get it written.” Because most novels are considered works of art and therefore not utilitarian in the same way as nonfiction books, the goal is not always measurable. If you want to write a novel, while you may have an underlying goal, such as drawing attention to a social issue, the objective is often to make the book an exciting, stimulating, and engaging piece of literature. As you formulate your plot, setting, and characters, your ghostwriter can help you articulate your goals for your novel, thus ensuring you’re both on the same page.

In contrast, when you’re proposing a nonfiction book, the goal of the book is central to the project. By definition, nonfiction books exist to inform the reader and often to produce an effect, and you have to know what you want that response to be. Goals of a nonfiction book may include:

Inform. You may want your reader to have information about a certain subject. Examples might include a family genealogical history, the history of a business venture, or a memoir. The information need not be actionable, and it may not have immediate utilitarian value, but you want people to have it.

1. Help the reader solve a problem. The vast majority of self-help books, either written for individuals or organizations, are designed to help the reader solve a specific problem and, as a result, live a better life. Examples of personal problems include losing weight, getting a better job, planning for retirement, overcoming stress, and solving a medical issue. Examples of organizational problems include marketing a new product, hiring and firing, succession planning, improving management practices, outsourcing, and keeping up with competition. Because humans face endless problems, the possibilities for self-help books are equally endless.

2. Establish yourself as a thought leader. Many business books are designed to elevate the author within his or her industry. Being able to say “I’ve written a book on the subject” establishes you as an authority. When you speak at a seminar or convention, you can bring copies of your book to give away to potential clients. The effect is subtle but powerful. Having a book can also open doors to media exposure, as many news and opinion outlets seek authors to appear on their shows to discuss a subject, and having a book signifies that you’re an expert in your field. Nothing elevates you faster than discussing your new book in front of an audience that may measure in the millions.

3. Attract clients. Some self-help and business books go beyond the “soft sell” and become more blatantly promotional. These books may have calls to action, where the reader is encouraged to contact the author to learn more about how the reader can obtain the author’s services. You need to be careful about getting too close to a “hard sell,” which can be a big turnoff. No one will buy – or even read – a book that sounds like an extended sales pitch.

Readers are also sensitive to pitches that promise the true insider information if you sign up and pay for the next level, such as a seminar or training course. If you’re going to write a book, you owe it to yourself and your readers to make sure it has real value.

This doesn’t mean that your book should be encyclopedic. Unless you’re writing a college textbook or a groundbreaking authoritative text, stick to an upper limit of 50,000 words. Self-help books need to be easy to read and not exhausting.

4. Make money from book sales. To be honest, this is rarely a reason why businesspeople seek to write and publish books. They do it for the other reasons outlined above, and because the book will indirectly stimulate income from other sources such as speaking fees and new clients. If you write a self-help book in a lucrative niche, and you can get it high in Amazon’s sales ranks, you might make a nice trickle of income. And if your core business is to sell books – for example, if you’re a motivational speaker by profession – then you might make significant money from your books. You’ll also make money if you’re a public figure with a built-in market ready to buy your memoir or business book. Having said that, authors don’t normally expect to make money from book sales.

When you start talking with a ghostwriter, the number one issue you need to resolve is what you hope to achieve with your book. It’s the ghostwriter’s job to help you to convey your message to your readers and reach your goals, and before your ghostwriter writes a single word you need to be clear about what you hope to achieve.

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Memoirs and Biographies: An Overview

People’s lives are endlessly fascinating, especially if the life revealed is of a celebrity or someone who has experienced something extraordinary.

If you’re thinking about having your memoir ghostwritten and published, the first thing to think about is this: Who will want to read your book? Are you a celebrity, and therefore the general public is interested in your life? If so, then you might consider getting a deal with a publisher. If you’re not famous, perhaps you’ll want to publish your life story in a limited edition designed for your family and business associates. I’ve ghostwritten or edited plenty of memoirs and family histories that have never shown up on Amazon.com because they were never released to the public.

By the way, there’s a difference between an autobiography and a memoir. The former is the chronicle of an entire life. The latter has a more narrow focus and may be more story-like. It has been said that a biography or autobiography tells “the story of a life,” while a memoir often tells “a story from a life,” such as touchstone events and turning points from the author’s life. For convenience, in this book I’ll just use the umbrella term “memoir” for both.

You might offer inspiration and hope to your readers that they, too, could survive misfortune, as you have. In this case your memoir is a form of self-help book that happens to be based on your life story.

One of my clients wanted to write his memoir. He sent me an email, of which this is an excerpt:

“I want to tell my life story because the illness from which I suffered for over twenty years is dangerously misunderstood not just by the medical profession but other organizations we hold in esteem. My program of recovery is not only unique and unprecedented; it is needed. I am passionate about healing other sufferers. My program works, and I am proof.”

I wrote back to him that the biggest question that needed to be decided was the genre of the book. Based on what he had told me, his book could either be a memoir or a self-help book. It was not my distinction; this is how publishers view the market.

A memoir is a biography. It is not instructional. It does not offer a prescriptive solution to the problems faced by the reader. It is simply a glimpse into the life of someone either extraordinary or newsworthy. In order to sell your book as a memoir, it needs to be one of two things:

1) The story of a famous person, like Steve Jobs or Oprah Winfrey.

2) A story of a life so extraordinary that it commands attention. A story like that of Anne Frank, or a coal miner trapped for thirty days underground, or someone who spent years in the Soviet gulag.

My client believed that his life story was worthy of category #2. His life certainly has had its challenges, and even amazing trials and tribulations. But I told him that as a ghostwriter I hear about endless streams of book projects written by well-meaning people who have had horrific lives full of drug addiction, rape, abuse, and family horrors. To a literary agent, such books are unfortunately quite commonplace, and therefore have little market value. No one reads them simply as biographies because they all sound the same. If you’re a drug addict who happens to be famous, like Keith Richard, you can sell your story. But unfortunately my client wasn’t famous. If his memoir had broad political implications – for example, if he had been kidnapped by terrorists and survived – then his story would have market value. But fortunately he suffered no such fate.

I want to be clear: You have the right to hire a ghostwriter to write your life story and publish it. It’s your choice. But your ghostwriter must not flatter you by telling you that your memoir will be a best seller. In fact, any ghostwriter who attempts to assure you that any book will be a best seller is a charlatan and should be avoided. The publishing industry is intensely competitive and very few books make a profit. When I consult with a client, I tell them that my goal is to make their book competitive and as good as any comparable title. I want my client to be proud of the book that bears their name. That’s all anyone can hope for.

For the person who has survived misfortune and can articulate a program that others can follow to avoid the same challenge, the logical solution is a self-help book. In a self-help book, you write with a purpose. Your purpose is to convey information to your readers that can directly impact their lives and help them solve their problems. A self-help book shows the reader the way to kick a drug habit, lose weight, make more money, understand their teenaged kids, cook better meals, make Christmas decorations—the categories are endless. Some are trivial and fun, while others address very serious issues.

Do you want to help your readers in some way? Do you want to open their eyes to injustice, or help them manage an abusive relationship, or find a cure for a crippling disease? Then you’re writing a self-help book. You want your words and your message to have meaning and to help people change their lives. You want to touch your readers deeply and give them a way to live a happy life.

A self-help book need not be boring or pedantic. You can tell your story; in fact, you should. And if you approach the job with the attitude that you’re going to give the reader a gift that can help them to be happy and healthy, your writing will reflect this.

The theme of the book should be, “How I overcame terrible events and a horrible situation – and how you can too.” Your experience will have value to the reader only if they can apply the lessons to their own lives.

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Self-Help Books: Prescriptive and Aspirational

The biggest market sector in publishing consists of nonfiction self-help books.

They exist to serve one function: to help the reader to live a better, happier life. Self-help books are exactly as the name suggests. You read the book and then, using the principles outlined in the book, you can elevate yourself. You can get a better job, make more money, lose weight, keep your pet happy, learn yoga – whatever the problem, the solution can help you lead a better life.

There are two basic types of self-help books. Prescriptive books provide a set of instructions. For example, if you want to raise your credit score, the book will show you the steps you need to take to improve your credit rating, such as paying off expensive credit cards, going on a household budget, or saving your money by not buying expensive coffee drinks.

A prescriptive self-help book can show you how to lose weight, make money in the stock market, get a better job, or hire and work with a ghostwriter. In fact, the words “How to…” are often in the title, like “How to manage your business more profitably” or “How to buy real estate.”

The other type of self-help book is aspirational. These books present testimonials or case studies of people who have improved their lives. Typically, these are people who have overcome the same challenges that you might face. For example, if you’re a small business owner, you might be inspired to read about entrepreneurs who have risen from humble beginnings to achieve wealth. The classic example is Thomas Edison, who supposedly tried one thousand filaments before he found the one that worked in his light bulb. The lesson, which can be applied in any area of life, is that failure is just another form of opportunity.

Aspirational books also provide more generalized or spiritual guidance. While they may not describe specific steps to take to solve a problem, they give encouragement and emotional inspiration.

Many self-help books offer a combination of instruction and inspiration. Often, the aspirational component is provided by the story of the author’s own rise to wealth or better health.

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Genres of Books

Books can be divided into two broad categories, fiction and nonfiction.

Works of fiction are short stories or novels. They tell a story that may be pure fantasy like Harry Potter or incorporate plenty of actual facts like Moby-Dick by Herman Melville, the great American novel that includes a wealth of interesting information about the whaling industry in the nineteenth century.

A work of fiction can be as instructive as a nonfiction book. For example, one of the best selling business management books of all time is Who Moved My Cheese? byDr. Spencer Johnson. This slim little fable recounts the tale of four characters who live in a maze and are confronted with a problem they must solve. It’s a brilliant book that leapfrogged over hundreds of ponderous and jargon-laden management books to the top of the best seller lists.

In contrast to novels, nonfiction books are generally thought to be “true” or correspond directly to the real world.

The umbrella of nonfiction covers many genres including memoirs and biographies, self-help and health-related books, business books, technical books, and books on spirituality.

You can go to Amazon.com and see its detailed breakdown of dozens of fiction and nonfiction genres and hundreds of subgenres. A book in any genre can be ghostwritten. While there are categories and definitions, there really aren’t any boundaries. If you have an idea, it can be turned into a book. Who knows – it might even get its own genre on Amazon.com!

Thomas Hauck ghostwriter, book editor, author
Thomas Hauck, professional author, ghostwriter, and book editor
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Beyond Grammarly – How a Pro Editor Will Elevate Your Book Above the Ordinary

In the past few years, various software applications have emerged that automatically correct basic issues of spelling, punctuation, and grammar. The most popular is Grammarly, an online grammar checking, spell checking, and plagiarism detection platform developed by Grammarly, Inc. First released in July 2009 and now a ubiquitous feature on nearly every website that requires writing, Grammarly’s proofreading resources check the text against a suite of grammar rules and point out perceived errors as well as the solutions.

It’s an effective and useful tool for detecting the obvious mechanical errors in a document. You might even say that Grammarly has supplanted the services of human proofreaders. As recently as a few short years ago, proofreading was a service commonly offered by professional editors and ghostwriters, but no longer. Thanks to Grammarly, the market has evaporated.

But clients who want their books to rise above the ordinary and stand out in a crowded marketplace know that Grammarly is not the answer. While Grammarly is useful if you want your book or report to read like everyone else’s, and it’s effective for dry, boring text, it does nothing to improve the ideas you’re presenting in your book, whether it’s a non-fiction self-help book or an exciting novel.

Great Writing Goes Beyond Grammarly

In any book, how you express your ideas, and the clarity and vividness with which they impact the reader, are far beyond the limited mechanical capabilities of Grammarly. Great writing makes an emotional impact on the reader. It thrills, delights, warns, or soothes them. To accomplish your mission, you often need to violate the rules of grammar to effectively reach your reader. In fiction, particularly, authors often use “incomplete” sentences convey their ideas with impact. Consider this hypothetical excerpt from a thriller:

“Hands up,” barked the gangster.

Judy saw the gun. Big. Loaded. Pointed at her head. It meant death – quick, brutal, bloody. Her hands flew up. Words stuck in her throat. Stomach churned. The black muzzle grinned. No saving you, it sneered.

And so on – you get the idea. Only a skilled editor can help you improve all the critical elements of your story, including plot, character, pacing, suspense, your unique voice, and the other ingredients that make a book a compelling must-read!

In non-fiction, Grammarly can’t elevate boring, repetitive writing that lacks spark and sounds like everyone else. It can’t contribute new ideas and make the unexpected connections that make your book stand out. For maximum impact, and to put your book on a level above the ordinary, you need a skilled, professional editor or ghostwriter who will give your writing the magic touch readers crave.

Thomas Hauck ghostwriter, book editor, author

 

 

 

 

 

  • Thomas Hauck is a professional book editor and ghostwriter serving a wide range of clients from major New York publishing houses to first-time self-published authors.
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Citations in Non-Fiction Self-Help Books – Advice from Ghostwriter Thomas Hauck

As a ghostwriter who has authored dozens of self-help books for both self-published authors and major New York publishing houses, one of the biggest questions that I and my clients must consider is how to credit quotes and research by third parties.

For example, let’s say you’re writing a book on heart health. In your book you want to back up your claims with evidence garnered by research studies. In the course of your research, you find a report in a health journal that concludes people who consume blueberries have fewer heart attacks. This is good news! To bring this information to your reader, you have three choices:

  1. You can write, “Researchers have found that eating blueberries lowers your risk of heart attack.” Legally, this is all you need to say. The problem is that it’s vague and unsubstantiated. What researchers? In India, China, or the United States? How many people were in the test sample? How long ago did this happen? A reference like this one is no better than what you find in internet articles, and not good enough for a credible book.
  2. You can write, “Researchers at Harvard University found that among a sample of fifty adults, eating blueberries lowered their risk of heart attack by ten percent.” It’s better, but you’re still not giving the reader enough information that will allow them to find the article or report for themselves.
  3. You can provide a footnote. For academic journals and articles, footnotes or endnotes are required. A footnote provides precise information about the article so that anyone can find it. The drawback to footnotes is that they can make your book look like an academic publication. If you’re writing in a folksy down-to-earth voice for a mass audience, you may not want footnotes.
  4. You can give more complete information in the text, so that the reader can find the article. You might say, “As researchers Ben Wong and others revealed in their 2015 article ‘The heart health benefits of blueberries,’ this delicious fruit can reduce your chances of having a heart attack by ten percent.” This is enough information so that the researchers are properly credited and anyone could verify the source. You can also add the publication, like this: (Jour Nat Hlth, vol 4, no 6, 345-349).

How about internet links? You can add them to footnotes, but remember that despite the popular conception that everything on the internet is there forever, this isn’t true. Pages disappear and links get broken. If you include the link, always give the date it was accessed (“Accessed 4 June 2019”). This will cover you in case the page vanishes.

Thomas Hauck ghostwriter, book editor, author

 

 

 

 

 

  • Thomas Hauck is a professional ghostwriter and book editor serving a wide range of clients from major publishers to emerging authors.
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“A Town Called Malice” by Adam Abramowitz

In his new novel A Town Called Malice, Adam Abramowitz continues the exploits of Zesty Meyers, the 1980s Boston bike courier. When a rock and roll legend suspected of murdering his girlfriend reappears after thirty years on the run, Zesty is once again haunted by his family’s criminal past. What makes the novel especially fun is Abramowitz’s skill at weaving the neighborhoods, personalities, and even the real rock and roll nightclub scene into the narrative. Lots of local rock bands are mentioned in the story, including my own alma mater, The Atlantics. For anyone who knows Boston or who enjoys a fast-paced darkly comic thriller, this will be the sizzling beach read of the summer!

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