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Twenty Eight and a Half Wishes, Denise Grover Swank

By Kari Lynn Dell

Yeah, I know, you’re used to seeing things like mountains and cowboys and gate hickeys from me, but I’m making an exception. Book reviews are not normally my thing, and I’ll probably go about this all ass-backwards, but bear with me here, it’ll be worth it.  So I guess I start out by introducing the book, right? And maybe you’d like a blurb?

“It all started when I saw myself dead.”

For Rose Gardner, working at the DMV on a Friday afternoon is bad even before she sees a vision of herself dead. She’s had plenty of visions, usually boring ones like someone’s toilet’s overflowed, but she’s never seen one of herself before. When her overbearing momma winds up murdered on her sofa instead, two things are certain: There isn’t enough hydrogen peroxide in the state of Arkansas to get that stain out, and Rose is the prime suspect.

 Rose realizes she’s wasted twenty-four years of living and makes a list on the back of a Wal-Mart receipt: twenty-eight things she wants to accomplish before her vision comes true. She’s well on her way with the help of her next door neighbor Joe, who has no trouble teaching Rose the rules of drinking, but won’t help with number fifteen– do more with a man. Joe’s new to town, but it doesn’t take a vision for Rose to realize he’s got plenty secrets of his own. 

 Somebody thinks Rose has something they want and they’ll do anything to get it. Her house is broken into, someone else she knows is murdered, and suddenly, dying a virgin in the Fenton County jail isn’t her biggest worry after all.

Review: (Yep, you gotta listen to me now).

First off, as a writer who has researched these things and done a lot of comparison shopping, this book is an awesome example of self-publishing done right, and for the right reasons. From the story to the cover art to the editing, Twenty Eight and a Half Wishes stands up beside any commercially published book I’ve read this summer.

Please do not misread the above paragraph as “it was great for a self-published book”. That’s not what I mean. It’s a great book. Period. Considering she is a twenty four year old psychic virgin, Rose is a very believable character, and any reader with a family of any kind will find something to relate to in her struggle to find her own identity. Though much of the book is light-hearted and occasionally outright hilarious, the author sneaks in a few home truths along the way that will hit you where it counts, like how even someone’s best intentions can box you in. And she nails the whole southern small town atmosphere.

I did have a few quibbles with the way Rose’s family backstory played out, but not enough to spoil the book for me. As for Joe…his part was written in a way that was more believable to me than many of the heroes I’ve read in similar situations. His conflict is real, and the way he handles it–both the good and the bad–rings true. That’s about all I can say without spoilers.

On the hotness front–Rose and Joe definitely have something cooking, but this book falls closer to the cozy end of the scale when it comes to explicitness. (Um, is explicitness a word? If not, I call dibs on it.)  It is intended to be the first of a series of mysteries starring Rose, and I will be keeping an eye for the next one.

And now, y’all get the pleasure of meeting the author. (I know, but after reading this book, I’ve had an overwhelming urge to say y’a’ll. I’m good now.) Without further babbling, say hello to Denise Grover Swank.

1.  What was your inspiration for Rose?

Rose had several inspirations. My first glimpse of her was an employee at a DMV.  I thought I could get some great stories from quirky customers who showed up at her counter. Next, the heroine from my previous book, a paranormal thriller titled Chosen, was jaded, so I wanted Rose to be sweet and somewhat innocent. Little did I know how innocent she would be.

The inspiration for the visions was also from my previous book. In Chosen, the heroine’s five-year-old son has visions that drastically changed their lives for the worse. What if I took the same vision concept and turned it around so that Rose’s visions were less dire and actually humorous at times?

 2. As a person whose grandmother would rather wear her nightgown to church than serve canned filling, I loved the pie baking scene. Are you a pie purist, or a crust in a box person?

TOTAL pie purist. I make my crust by scratch. And I don’t use filling. When Rose slopped that pie filling into her pie crusts I cringed right along with Momma.

3. You nailed small town living in this book. Are you a small town girl?

I was born and raised in the suburbs of Kansas City, but when I lived in Little Rock, Arkansas for three years, my job took me to several small southern Arkansas towns. I based Henryetta on a specific town, but changed the name to protect the innocent. 😉  While the romantic in me loves the idea of small town living, the Starbucks lover in me dies at the thought.

4. Since this is the beginning of a series, the story doesn’t end here. What’s next for Rose?

Rose will try to figure out who she is in her new life while continuing her relationship with Joe. She and her cranky neighbor Mildred, the leader of the Neighborhood Watch, will spend more time together when one of the old women on their street is found dead. Mildred is the only one agrees with Rose that it wasn’t from natural causes. And, of course, there will be more Muffy as well as her sister Violet.

 5. And for the writers in our midst, this book is self-published. Why did you choose that route, and what words of advice can you offer to others considering it?

I decided to self-publish Twenty-Eight and a Half Wishes after I hopped on the query-go-round and got thrown off.  I queried about fifty agents, only got a few requests (after multiple query revisions) and the ones who requested said “great voice, great writing, not for me.” To be fair, Twenty-Eight isn’t pure mystery nor pure romantic suspense. I considered trying to make it one or the other, but it just didn’t ring true. Honestly, it wouldn’t be the same story.

Plus, it’s so different from my other darker manuscripts, I knew that any agent who signed me with one of those probably wouldn’t be interested in Twenty-Eight. I considered keeping it on my hard drive, opening it from time to time to let it know I hadn’t forgotten it, but I just couldn’t let it die. I loved it too much and my beta readers did too so I figured, why not? What did I have to lose?

To those considering self-publishing, don’t think it’s easy. It’s very hard work. YOU are in control and in charge of everything, although I highly recommend hiring a copy editor and a cover designer. And someone to do your digital formatting if you find it too complicated. You want to present as professional a presence as possible and people will be judging you.

But most importantly, try to publish a great book. You’re counting on word of mouth to help your sales and people will only recommend your book if they love it.

6. Since this is Everybody Needs A Little Romance, what’s your idea of romance?

My idea of romance is a lot like Rose’s.  Simple things like sitting on a front porch, taking a walk, talking. For me romance is connection, the merging of two hearts, and I find the simpler the location, the more likely that is to occur.


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And the best part…Twenty Eight and Half Wishes is currently available for download on Kindle for $0.99!!  Denise will be stopping by to answer questions and comments, so be sure to say hello. And pop over to her website, she’s hosting  a giveaway that lasts the month of August: three $25 gift certificates to either Barnes & Noble or Amazon– winners choice. To enter, write a review of Twenty Eight and a Half Wishes and post it somewhere (Amazon, B&N, Goodreads, blog post, etc) You get one entry for every site where you post your review. Post links to your reviews in the comment field. The only requirement for reviews is that they are  honest. The contest ends at midnight CDT August 31.
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22 Responses

  1. Welcome to ENALR and congrats on self-publishing your book. I think it sounds wonderful, and since I’m a small town Southern gal, I’ll probably pop onto the kindle and purchase it.

    I really like people are able to self-publish books that don’t seem to fit anywhere with trad publishers. Makes me happy that a book doesn’t have to languish in files, pushed aside for more sellable work. Good for you on taking on such a challenge. It seems everyone is doing it.

    One question, are you still pursuing traditional publishing or are you finding enough success with self-publishing that you will stick to building yourself there.

    • Hi Liz, and thanks! At the moment, I’m continuing down the self-publishing road, but I’m not throwing out traditional publishing as a option. I suspect authors who hope to be successful will have a foot in both doors in the near future.

      My second self-published book is coming out in September, my paranormal thriller CHOSEN. It’s another book that two agents read and told me they loved but didn’t think they could sell. It lasted a lot longer on the query circuit. CHOSEN is the first book of a trilogy and I plan to publish the second book, HUNTED, in November. And I plan to write more Rose Gardner Mysteries. She’s too fun to leave behind.

      I have a young adult science fiction that I’ve queried and still have two fulls out on. So we’ll see what happens with that one.

  2. I’ve been wanting to read this book. Now that I’ve found out it takes place in Arkansas, it’s a done deal. Hold on…be right back………

    Okay. I’m back. It’s now on my Kindle and I’m looking forward to digging in.

    One of the things that drives me crazy is when a good book can’t go a traditional route because it fit into a neat category. ARGH.

    I’m wondering the same as Liz…will you continue down the self-publish route or are you continuing to pursue print and digital publishers?

    Best of luck with the book.

    When did you live in Little Rock? What was your job?

    Keri Ford lives in South Arkansas. Bet she can figure out the “unnamed” town! LOL

    • Thanks Cynthia! I answered the self-publishing question above but will add this: Once I decided to jump into the self-pub world, I realized if I hoped to make any money that I’d have to have several books available. My original intent had been to just publish TWENTY-EIGHT just to “put it out there.” But I received another rejection on a full on CHOSEN and thought “why not really give this career path a try?”

      Still, I would love to have an agent as some point and a traditional book deal. Successful self-publishing (crossing fingers and toes) will hopefully help me achieve that by building a reader base that I can bring with me to entice a traditional publisher.

  3. Welcome to the blog Denise!!! Love the sound of this book!

    hum, you know Cyndi, I think she might have told me once…or maybe I’m confused LOL I was thinking Pine Bluff, but now that I typed that out, that doesn’t feel right!

  4. Welcome to the Blog I’m from Little Rock too. The books sounds fun and I’m going to have to pick it up. It will be interesting to see if I can figure out the town or not.

    How long ago did you live in Little Rock?

    I enjoyed Keri’s review and the Q&A, again thanks for visiting with us. It’s always fun to meet new authors.

  5. Kari, you’re way too modest. I think you should do more reviews. This was great, and you always make me laugh.

    I’m starting to feel like the only one who isn’t from Arkansas, but I lived in OKC for three years and I visited Little Rock once. 😉

    Denise: The book sounds great. Such an interesting premise. I love your idea of romance as “connection, the merging of two hearts”. That really rings true for me. Good luck with all of your self-pub and other publishing ventures!

    • Gwen, my family calls me a gypsy since I’ve moved around so much. I lived in Tulsa for four years! You really should visit Arkansas. It’s a beautiful state!

      And hanks so much for the encouragement!

      • Gypsy would be a good name for me too, Denise. I’m a military brat turned Air Force spouse, so “move” is our middle name. I get bored after a few years in one place.

        Tulsa’s a nice city. We drove up there every few months for a day trip when we lived in OK. While in the land of red dirt, we visited Little Rock to see a friend and got a look around downtown, and of course the Air Force base. 😉

        And I have a connection to Franklin, TN too since my dad moved down there last summer to be closer to his wife’s family. Another pretty place.

        • I lived in Franklin for three years. I LOVED it there. Beautiful, beautiful place and the people are so friendly. But i’d been recently widowed and realized I needed to move closer to my parents and brothers. So I’m back in the Kansas City area. But I LOVE to travel. It helps.

  6. Oops, Cynthia asked when I lived in Little Rock too and I forgot to answer! I lived in the area twice. The first time was in 1997-1998 and we lived in the Jacksonville area, but my husband and I both worked in Little Rock. He was University of Arkansas Medical Center and I was at the VA hospital. I was a histologist– I worked in a lab and processed tissue samples looking for cancer and disease.

    When I moved back to Little Rock in 2002, I had gone back to school to work on a degree in interior design. I was lucky enough to literally fall into a job as a kitchen and bath designer. We had quite a few clients in southern Arkansas so we made a lot of day trips. My family moved to Franklin, Tennessee in 2005.

    Thanks, Heather!

    • I work at UAMS – I am the HR person for the College of Pharmacy. You wouldn’t recognize the place now – It’s grown so much. We have some outstanding researchers here now working in the fields of Cancer research, eyes, genes, you name it.

  7. Gotta say, having a vision of someone’s toilet overflowing makes me never want to have a second sight of any kind! hahaha. The book sounds great!

  8. Great review Kari! The excerpt made me want to read the book but the review and interview clinched it!

    Hi Denise! Congratulations! I lived in several small towns growing up and loved it. Sometimes I think I’d like to go back, until I realize how far away Starbucks, etc would be.

    • Thanks, Shawna! Yeah, my addiction to Starbucks is known far and wide. Back when I wrote more on my family blog, my readers would sometimes email or comment and say “I went to Starbucks and thought of you.”

      The first sign you might have a problem…. 😉

  9. Hi, Denise! Sorry to be commenting so late. Day job. 😦

    I’ve never even been NEAR Arkansas, so I feel really left out. LOL

    Your reasons for self-publishing are what I consider some of the best, and it sounds like you really did it right. Good luck with your sales!

  10. Late as usual, but hello to Denise and thanks to everyone for making her feel welcome. I’ve done small town most of my life, but not in the south. Seems like people are about the same everywhere though.

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