Lincoln— the film


I’m not sure why we didn’t watch it when it was new, but hubby and I were perusing a list of the best films available for streaming on Netflix, and we chose to view Steven Spielberg’s ode to the controversial president. Gosh, there’s been so much written about this man. Historians can easily demonstrate how controversial and even unpopular Abraham Lincoln was during his lifetime, but since then his stature has ridden the waves of popularity, sometimes to heroic heights and then again to be mostly forgotten.

I’ve read some of the books and articles on Lincoln, but there’s many, many more that I haven’t. Still, the film version has much to offer viewers, regardless of their prior knowledge of the civil war era leader. For the two hours plus of runtime, the film focuses on the struggle to pass the 13th amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the one which prohibits slavery, except as punishment for criminal behavior. Daniel Day-Lewis does a remarkable job of portraying the title character. Sally Field is also very good as the mercurial Mary Lincoln, and the supporting cast is peppered with famous and talented actors. When we paused the streaming version for a pantry raid, hubby and I commented that it was as if the script had been tailored to showcase some aging but remarkable players, including Tommy Lee Jones and David Spader.

Mostly, this is a really good film, but the beginning, although dramatically effective, leads a well-read viewer to question its authenticity. The soldiers who quote from Lincoln’s now famous address at Gettysburg seem so sincere, but it is quite unlikely that war weary soldiers would know by memory that speech, as it was not considered to be much good when it was delivered. History has given those words their significance.

Although I don’t remember the source of the recommendation to watch this film, I, too, endorse it. While the outcomes are not really suspenseful, the film holds the viewer’s interest. No biopic is entirely historically accurate, of course, but the spirit of truth is certainly present. Watch (or re-watch) and enjoy!

Here’s a thought

dollar signSometimes, we forget what we could have had for free. I just talked to a business associate who lost her semester-long research writing due to a computer hard drive issue. Even the Geek Squad couldn’t retrieve her data. And, like many of us, she had access to cloud storage at school, included in her fees. Had she merely saved it a few times along the way, she wouldn’t have to start from scratch. Sad….

Recently, I read a short article in Market Watch about freebies that we might forget we have. Take a look while it is still available. Which one(s) have you forgotten?

Infinity Lost— a quick review

I’m in the midst of a semester of teaching writing, and I generally read and write less when faced with lots of student papers. However, I did spend a couple of evenings with Infinity Lost by S Harrison. The main character is Finn, the only child of a reclusive industrial tycoon. Finn is an innocent, but as the story unfolds, she is not just a teenage girl. Certainly, science fiction is a favorite genre, and this entry by a new-to-me author is quite interesting.

There are some neat concepts in this story. At times, it was a bit confusing, but mostly, the author does a very good job of describing interesting technology. there is quite a bit of suspense, too. Actually, I began thinking that this novel reads well, but it might be a better screen play than a novel. It is the first entry in a trilogy, and I suppose there might be a film in the making.

The Martian— a quick review and some commentary

The MARTIAN coverOften, I choose to read indie published books rather than those from the “big six” publishers, because I find the content of indie books to be a bit more raw, unpolished, and (sometimes) unique. Yes, I am disappointed from time to time (as in my previous post) but I keep trolling for new authors and books. However, recently, Goodreads sent out a newsletter and the science fiction book of the year was Andy Weir’s The Martian. The blurb caught my eye so I bought it, but didn’t begin immediately, as I was slogging through a book on SEO (search engine optimization) at the time. Over the weekend, I began The Martian, and I was hooked. Like from the first page, I was seriously into the story.

The plot is not a new one. An astronaut is marooned on Mars. His fellow crew members are on the way home, believing that he is dead. But, this astronaut is determined and a heck of an engineer, so he keeps finding ways to use what is at hand to survive. After a while, the NASA folks figure out he is still alive, so they are trying to figure out how to get him home. Yes, it is really suspenseful. But sometimes it is laugh out loud funny, because the main character is quite a character.

Actually, this book was so engaging that I began to question my quest for good indie books. If the big guys are publishing this kind of science fiction, then I should be looking at the best seller lists again. So, after finishing the book, I did a wee bit of research and learned that Weir’s book was originally self-published via Amazon’s Kindle Direct (yeah!) and only after it sold thousands (at 99 cents, because that’s Amazon’s minimum price) in the first three months did big publishing come calling. Now, it is the basis for a movie starring Matt Damon.

The book is cool. Weir’s evolution as a writer is seriously cool. Many of the self-published and small press published writers, including yours truly, would love to have this sort of rags to riches experience. The impediment to that is having a really great book. The Martian is such a book. So, my suggestion is read it now and try to wait for the film version. Gravity won an Oscar, so the way is paved for another near future space adventure to do well at the box office.

How to write a bad book review

DIYYep, that title was carefully phrased to have dual meanings. I’ve been a book reviewer and an author. Sometimes, as a book reviewer, I just didn’t like a book. That’s tough. Sometimes, as an author, readers don’t like what I have written, and that is tougher, because a one star review can cause book sales to plummet. Well, unless the reviewer is an obvious nut-case, and in that instance…it still hurts.

First, let’s deal with how to review a book that isn’t just want the reviewer/reader wanted. If writing for a site or magazine, the best thing is for the reviewer to just pass on it. Let’s face it, not everyone likes every book. Really. I’ve read classics and wondered, how the heck did this book even get published, much less remain after its fellows all ended up in the landfill? So, it really is best to pass it to another reviewer who might be more amenable to the book. But, if it is absolutely necessary to review it, begin with what isn’t wrong with it. Surely there is something— good prose, interesting setting, an absence of poor spelling and/or grammar. Find something good. Then, state the objection(s) clearly, and then explain the obvious— that others might not agree. If five stars are available, then rate accordingly, and there really should be more than one star clicked. Because whatever the reviewer found that was good probably warrants a second or even a third star.

A really, really bad book is going to be rife with problems— spelling, grammar, formatting; or lackluster characters, a plot that moves more slowly than molasses on a cold winter’s day; or even inconsistencies (such as a character with blue eyes in chapter 1 and brown ones in chapter 8). In such cases there is no need for the reviewer to get emotional and resort to “I”, “me”, or “my” because the author burdens the work with too much evidence that the book is indeed bad. There, and only there, might those one and two star reviews be warranted.

If the book is an eBook, and the reader purchased it from Amazon, there is a return feature. Did you know that? I didn’t, until recently. Anyway, the other day I returned a highly rated sci-fi novel. I did not write a bad review, because I wasn’t about to waste enough time to read it and then review it. Those who slog all the way through a Kindle title only to write a one star review must have intense masochistic tendencies.

Finally, I’ll deal with the second interpretation of my title. Sometimes readers do write really bad reviews. Readers (hopefully not reviewers) who write bad reviews seem to have a tantrum while sitting at the keyboard. The most prominent word in the review is probably a first person pronoun, such as “I” or “my” or “me” because such reviews are not written for other readers, but to express the emotions of the reviewer. In short, bad reviews begin with a lack of objectivity. Then the bad reviewer indulges in emotion, from boredom to revulsion, but the writer of the bad review seldom mentions any positive(s) in the book. Finally, writers of bad reviews usually need a reason for the hissy fit, so the review ends with a warning, guised as altruism to save potential buyers from a book that took months (or even years) to write and costs less than a Quarter Pounder with cheese.

Do it yourself book reviews are just as much a part of modern life as kids who commit suicide because they can’t handle what their mean peers write about them online. Authors just have to be tough.

War to the Knife— a review

War to Knife cover

Since I have a break at work, and it is really hot in Georgia, I’ve been reading. My latest Kindle eBook is War to the Knife, by Peter Grant. I gather that this is a first installment in a series, and in a way it reminds me of early David Weber or John Ringo, but on a smaller battlefield. Once I got past the “old west” opening, I really began to identify with the stubborn band of rebels. They fight, but they pay dearly, too. I once heard David Weber talking about his Honor Harrington series, and how her heroism is “bought with bitter coin” and that also describes this story. The combatants die, and in a gory fashion, so there is plenty of that gritty realism. However, the author switches between the point of view of the rebels and that of an officer on the other side, which does remind me, once again, of Weber. By seeing both sides of a war, even when one is clearly the enemy, there is a better understanding of the price paid by winners and losers.

The author gets a little too into explaining some things, such as the ordinance, but that’s just personal taste. I tend to be more into how the characters feel than how many missiles it takes to blowup whatever, but other readers might want to more about the size of the warhead. But, the ingredients of a good military/space war story are present: a great cause, likable heroes, dastardly but not insane enemies, and plenty of weapons. However, the name of the enemy, Bactria, doesn’t work for me. It sounds like a topical antibiotic or something.

Still, I liked this story quite a lot and the story is, for the most part, well-written and edited. Nowadays, so many people are self-publishing via Amazon that there are quite a few poorly written and edited books, so I begin with reading the negative reviews. If there are several that point out grammar, spelling, and consistency issues, then I keep looking. The reviews for this book are positive, and I agree with most of them. War to the Knife is a very good read, and I ended the story wanting to read the rest of the series.

All Books— $4

News stories about publisher prices come and go; the latest has the U.S. attorney general going after Apple’s iBooks prices. Let me key that in again… Apple’s iBooks prices. Not the New York big six; not Amazon. While I do believe that book prices are as artificial as aspartame, I don’t really believe that Apple is the culprit in price fixing. The attorney general is just doing some election year grandstanding.

As I have stated in previous blog posts, the 800 pound gorilla in book sales in the U.S. is Amazon. Even when Amazon begins charging sales taxes, and that will happen because our government’s spending is out of control; Amazon will still have the lion’s share of new book sales, due to its ubiquitous internet presence and its killer Kindle app. But, increasingly, Amazon is the best way to sell used books, and that is the reason all books will eventually be around four bucks.

I’ve been selling off my home library for a few months now, but I still have the bulk of it, because I have not found a way to compete with the “power sellers” who offer thousands of used books for a penny, plus Amazon’s $3.99 shipping. Thus, virtually any used book is available for a mere $4.

Having moved recently, I packed many, many boxes of books, and I usually check the price for anything that I don’t want to own forever. Most of them are only a penny on Amazon. I can’t make any money on that sale. Here is how the math works for me:

Book price .01

Shipping fees to me 3.99

Commission(s) to Amazon -$1.00 (transaction fee) and -.80 (minimum commission)

Postage to customer -$3.15 (for a book weighing between 1 and 2 pounds).

Thus, I lose $.95 per book, or more if I use packaging that I purchased, if the book sells at the going rate of $4.00. Heavier books will result in a greater loss, because Amazon’s shipping fees do not adjust for heavier items.

So, most of my books either end up parked on a shelf or in the “yard sale” pile. And, I do know that most of those won’t sell at a yard sale, either, so they’ll end up being donated to charity. Therefore, the owner of a used book must either want to keep it, or be ready to toss it.

Tis sad, but all physical books will become used books. So, if you don’t like the publisher’s price, just wait. Eventually, most any book will be available for four bucks.