And yet I could not put it down: Ella: A Stepmum's Tale

It's a rare self-published book that gets read in my world, especially one with punctuation problems. But this story kept me riveted.

This self-published story by Tampa native J.L. Higgs tells a compelling story, although it's not without technical issues. - Cathy Salustri
Cathy Salustri
This self-published story by Tampa native J.L. Higgs tells a compelling story, although it's not without technical issues.

We have a rule at CL: We don't publish reviews of self-published (or "boutique") books unless we feel the book can hold its own against conventionally published books.

I was pretty sure Ella: A Stepmum's Tale (J.L. Higgs, 2016) wasn't going to make the cut. Nevertheless, here we are.

Why? It's a brilliant story. It's not a heavy story and it's not Literature, but it's a well-told tale. Author Higgs has an excellent sense of pacing and the idea is clever — with a plot twist at the end. I couldn't not finish it.

She tells the story of Cinderella from the Wicked Stepmother's point of view... sort of. Her narrator, journalist Sylvia Stark, starts out doing a fluff piece by interviewing the Wicked Stepmother, but finds herself going down a rabbit hole of half-truths and layers of deception. 

However, the book is not without problems. Higgs seems averse to comma usage, and while that may not bother some, it irked the hell out of me. So much so that I put the book down for a few months — but I couldn't bring myself to put it out in my Little Free Library. See, I really wanted to know how the story ended — Higgs gives you hints in the first chapter that this won't be a black-and-white tale of good and evil. That kept niggling at the back of my mind, and so I picked it up again Sunday, steeled myself against the poor punctuation, and devoured the rest of the book.

So here's my dilemma: I want people to read this book, but I also hope that, if Ms. Higgs reads this, she will understand the importance of a professional editor. Her raw talent deserves recognition, but raw talent needs an assist. Simple mistakes like these are what make reviewers, readers and bookstores wary of self-published work. Also, my intent is not to embarrass the author, because she deserves to be read, but we cannot, in good faith, publish a review of this book without mentioning the issues that keep the book from being a seamless read.

That said, readers would do well to give this book a chance. It's an excellent story, and not quite what you'd expect the ending to be.

Cathy Salustri is the Arts & Entertainment for Creative Loafing Tampa. Contact her here.

About The Author

Cathy Salustri

Cathy's portfolio includes pieces for Visit Florida, USA Today and regional and local press. In 2016, UPF published Backroads of Paradise, her travel narrative about retracing the WPA-era Florida driving tours that was featured in The New York Times. Cathy speaks about Florida history for the Osher Lifelong Learning...
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