Why Are You Making Me Think?

     Normally, my posts tend to be focus on an aspect of what I’m writing about. Whether it is technology that my characters use, how I organize my work, or even just asking people their opinions on these topics. However, for this post I thought I would try something a little different. I have been thinking about a topic that has been discussed on many social media sites. I have avoided giving my opinion for a few reasons that really are not that important. But after a conversation with someone I know I started thinking.
     Earlier this week I was speaking to someone who I know casually; one of those friends of friends situations. I know her a little, but not really to the point where we spend much time talking one on one. She had heard that I had published a book, and started asking me questions.
     Her questions were neither rude nor prying, but some of her questions did make me think. One of the questions that she asked was about why I did not tell more people I write. I am an introvert by nature. One of the things that I more than just about anything is having to talk about myself. So, often I can meet and get to know someone over several months, and I won’t bring that topic up. As you can imagine that makes me particularly bad at marketing myself.
     She told me she checked out my page on Amazon out of curiosity. The other question that she asked that really made me think was about customer reviews. She asked me if it bothered me that I did not have many reviews, and then how I felt about bad reviews.
     Reviews in the indie writing scene is a touchy subject. Between is a touchy subject. Between Amazon removing reviews if it appears you might possibly know the author and a few cases I’ve seen online where authors get confrontational with those who have left 1 star reviews, I have been a bit leery of sharing my opinion.
     First, I’ll just get this out of the way: I am horrible at remembering to leave reviews. I am making an effort to go back and leave reviews I have read in the past. I always mean well – I always intend to leave a review once I have finished reading a book. But something happens and I usually forget. I do feel that reviews are important, but not necessarily in the way that most people might assume.
     As a reader, 3 views mean very little. Too often I have read 1 & 2 star reviews panning a book I am thinking about reading. Once I get the book home and read it, I end up loving it; on the other side, I have purchased books with 5 star reviews and have not enjoyed a single page. Only rarely do I trust the reviews of another, and those reviews are usually done by people with whom I have a similar taste in genres.
     Reviews are best when used as a tool for writers to hone their craft. A writer can learn more from a bad review than they can from a review that showers them with praise. When a review tells you that’s your three page description of your main character’s dress is excessive, or that your writing style appears to be flip to random pages in your thesaurus and choose whatever words you land on, it might be beneficial to pay attention.
     My reviewing style, when I can remember to leave a review, it’s actually quite simple. My explanation is based on Amazon’s 5 star rating system:

 

*****   A 5-star rating is pretty simple. I enjoyed the book immensely, I was able to lose myself in the story, and I found no noticeable plot holes or grammatical errors.

****  A 4-star rating means that I enjoyed the story. There may have been one or two places where the plot did not grip me, but it did not hamper my enjoyment of the story. Again, with few or no plot holes or grammatical errors.

***   A 3-star rating means that I did enjoy the story; however, there may have been a few places where the story lost me. This would either be due to plot holes, magical rescues where there should not be one, or characters acting out of character. To earn a 3-star review there should still be few grammatical errors.

**    A 2-star rating means that for several reasons my enjoyment of the story was hampered. I would have been taken out of the story by poorly written characters, a plot that is poorly written, and excessive plot holes and grammatical errors.

*     I am Not sure if I would ever actually leave a 1-star review in today’s rather volatile marketplace. After having seen a couple of writers confront those that have left bad reviews, I just don’t feel comfortable anymore. But in theory, to receive a one star review, it would have to be a first draft that had been published. No editing, no proofreading. It would have to appear that the author had simply hit publish as soon as they finished writing the last word.
     I do feel that how I rate the books that I read is fair. As a writer I want to encourage others to continue to follow their passion. You don’t have to be the next Hemingway or Shakespeare to impress me. It does not even have to be a genre that I normally enjoy. If it is a romance novel that is well written and can catch my attention and keep it throughout – then you will get a 4 or 5-star review.
    For all readers:  When you leave a review, do you have a system for how you rate it?
 

 

Book Review: Murder Out of the Blue

Once I was an avid reader. There was a time when I could sit on a rainy day and read for hours. Life gets in the way, however, and the last couple of years has seen me unable to spend more than a few minutes reading or writing. Between a massive move, to having up my education, and looking for work, I was busy. But now things seem to have evened out, and I am starting to find stretches of time where I can read and write. This is helping to relieve much of the tension that accumulates throughout the day. With the increased reading, I made a promise to myself: write a review.

As a writer, I know that reviews, no matter how much we may disagree with some them, ultimately do help is to become better writers. Seeing the world you’ve created through your reader’s eyes can help you to see what works for your readers,as well as what needs to be fixed or better explained.
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Last night I finished reading Murder Out of the Blue, by Steve Turnbull. The rave reviews I’d been reading made me curious, so I decided to give it a read.

Last night I finished reading Murder Out of the Blue, by Steve Turnbull. The rave reviews I’d been reading made me curious, so I decided to give it a read.

Last night I finished reading Murder Out of the Blue, by Steve Turnbull. The rave reviews I’d been reading made me curious, so I decided to give it a read. I was happy to learn that the story was deserving of every bit of praise it has received.

Let’s start with the setting. A Steampunk setting, which I love. But instead of Victorian England, we are given a peek into a Victorian era British-occupied India.the change of pace, although only glimpsed through the windows of an airship, is an exciting change of pace. Through this locale, we are given a glimpse into the mindset of those that lived under the rule of the monarchy in the colonies

The main technology referenced is the Faraday device.while the concept was unfamiliar, the author did a wonderful job explaining its purpose without  making it sound like a user’s manual.

The main Character, Maliha Anderson is an interesting character, that Mr. Turnbull walks a very fine line in developing. Miss Anderson is a private character, with a mysterious and troubling past. Being biracial, in a time when anyone not born of two white parents was, at best, treated as a second-class citizen, allows Maliha a surprising amount of freedom to move between both groups – as to both groups, she is an outsider,never truly belonging on either side.

Her reserved character could have made Maliha come across as unsympathetic, but Mr. Turnbull did an excellent job of showing us her vulnerability. All this poor young woman wants is to be left at peace and return home. Of course, as this is a mystery, it won’t be quite that simple.

Without giving away the details if the plot, there were several twists and turns to the story. Some of them were truly surprising. In a short work, Mr. Turnbull had me guessing up until the reveal (I admit I did guess the identity of the culprit at one point, but quickly decided that it couldn’t possibly be them!)

All in all, I must say that I thoroughly enjoyed this story. If I had one complaint, it would be that the story was too short. I will be reading the rest of the books in the series, so that I can revisit this interesting place and time.

A Review and Some Purchases

     I am a reader.  I have been ever since I read The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Jester.  It was the first time I found myself transported into the story being told. Because of Milo and his adventures, I became someone who tears through books. Even now that I am working full-time and trying to fit in writing time each day,  I always have My kindle, at the very least,  within reach. Unfortunately,  I am very lax in a key area: I am horrible at remembering to leave a review.  So,  I am  going to try and right that wrong. 

     This post has a dual purpose: to ensure that my book reviews are preserved,  and also to talk about reading a little. With all of the brouhaha  concerning  Amazon’s bizarre policing who we may or may not know,  and whether we are allowed to put a review up on a book we purchased and read,  I have decided that going forward,  I will post any reviews that fall under the sci-fi, fantasy, or steampunk heading on here,  and all book reviews on Goodreads. I want to let authors know what I thought of their work,  and would hope they would do the same for me. Shortly before this all hit the news I did place a review on Amazon for a book I purchased for the Kindle –  The Dockland Kingslayer,  by VC Remus

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I purchased this book not knowing what to expect. I found to my great surprise and pleasure, that this novel is quite the page turner. V.C. Remus has created a world that feels alive. The conflicts between the lower class “Docklanders” and the ruling class plays a vital role throughout the story of Alistair. It is through him that we are introduced to a world of injustice. Heretics and sinners executed in public, the poverty stricken forced into servitude in the King’s army. Remus introduces a lot of ideas and history as the story progresses, and if you don’t pay attention you could very well miss some important pieces of information.

While I read this book almost compulsively, and managed to finish it within a couple of days’ time, this is by no means a book to breeze through. In order to truly appreciate the tale being woven, you must pay attention, in order to grasp the entire story. Ultimately, this is a hero’s journey, and though meets others along the way, there is always a sense of loneliness, isolation in Alistair. The author has a unique voice, combining steampunk elements of the Victorian age with touches of medieval Europe throughout, creating something that is both bleak and and beautiful. I look forward to reading more from V.C. Remus in the future.

     Overall,  it is a solid story, not overly long. Set up as the start of a series. I didn’t see any real negatives.  The only thing I did notice was there were a few times where a rather elaborate word was used,  where a more common one would suffice.  But it was not so noticeable as to be jarring or to detract from the enjoyment of the story.

     Finally,  I made a couple of purchases this weekend that I am excited to start reading (once I can get through some of my already massive reading list).  The first purchase was a copy of K.W. Jeter’s Infernal Devices. I had borrowed it ages ago,  but didn’t get to read it before I had to return it.  So I am looking forward to reading that.   The other purchase was the first five books in the Song of Ice and Fire series.  I am ashamed to admit it,  but as much as I love Game of Thrones,  I’d never read any of the books.  I intend to rectify that now that I own them.  But of course,  they will have to wait for a bit,  as I already have two lined up to be read once I finished my in process reading.

     With all of the reading and writing I will be doing in the future,  I have a feeling that I will be a busy man. And I can honestly say that I am looking forward to it.

Review: Maplecroft the Borden dispatches

Today I thought I’d try my hand at a review. As a near constant reader, I tear through books pretty quickly. The downside is that I don’t always give myself the opportunity to leave a review for the author. As a writer myself, I know how frustrating it can be to not receive a review on your work.  I’m hoping that this blog can help me to improve on that.  So my first review on this site is going to be for Maplecroft: The Borden Dispatches by Cherie Priest.

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Ok, so I’m going to preface this review with an apology. I love to read, however, my reading addiction has resulted in a to be read list that is miles long. Due to the sheer size of my reading list, a number of books have yet to be touched. Up until recently, this book was on that list. This book ended up on my to be read list for two very important reasons: first, Cherie Priest is an awesome writer; second I find the history of the Borden case to be fascinating. So to combine the two elements, I was going to end up either elated, or highly disappointed.

Luckily I was elated. Cherie Priest has been able to capture the location and time of the crimes, mix in some Lovecraftian elements, and create a dark and foreboding atmosphere.  I may face some backlash for saying this, but i was pleasantly surprised to learn that Ms. Priest is better at the lovecraftian elements than the master himself.

The people of Fall River are under attack by a mysterious force. Some are drawn to the sea, watching and listening. Those affected begin to change. We witness this change through the eyes of several characters. First and foremost, we see through the eyes of Lizzie Borden herself. We see that she did use the axe to end the lives of her father and stepmother. But we also learn why.

The story is made up of first person accounts from Lizzie, her sister Emma, and the town doctor. Added into this are a number of ties to the works of Lovecraft – including Miskatonic University.

The sense of dread permeates the pages of this story. The residents of Fall River are becoming aware that something is not quite right in their town, but there is a sense of futility to solving the strange mystery at the heart of the terrifying transformations.

If you like a horror story with strong female leads, Maplecroft is an excellent choice.