Anxious for Nothing— brief review and commentary

A friend told me how much she is enjoying her study of Max Lucado’s book, Anxious for Nothing, so I bought an eBook version. Quite frankly, her comments were so positive that I did not want to wait to pick up the physical book. I’ve read several of Lucado’s Christian living texts, and they have all been easy to read and helpful, and this book fits that mold.

The title says quite a lot. Modern people have too much information coming at them, much of it negative, so being anxious is almost a modern plague. This plays out in all sorts of ways: addiction, suicide, failed relationships, etc. Lucado discusses the whys, and then gives some very good solutions to our problem thinking. One of my favorite passages says this: “There is a reason the windshield is bigger than the rearview mirror. Your future matters more than your past.”From my own experience, over thinking the past— the coulda, woulda, shoulda— is very damaging. When I counsel students, who almost always want me to allow them to “make up work” or “try again” I tell them to do better going forward. I even use the windshield analogy. But I like Lucado’s take on it.

Okay, his writing lacks sophistication; but not substance. Anxious for Nothing can be a quick read, but there is sufficient food for thought for study, too.

Mockingbird— a novel for children, but a good read for adults as well

Mockingbird by Kathryn ErskineMy local library doesn’t have an available copy of Harper Lee’s new/old Go Set a Watchman available just yet, so I chose a novel that I first learned about when taking a graduate level course in improving reading in secondary schools, Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine. The premise in this YA novel is that our narrator, Caitlyn, is a fifth-grader with Asperger’s Syndrome. I have a family member with a similar diagnosis, so this novel interests me on more than one level. Caitlyn had been quite dependent on an older brother, Devon, but he is not with her any longer. For anyone who does not know, the vast majority of symptoms of Asperger’s are associated with communications skills. Caitlyn exhibits many of the classic symptoms, but there is both humor and pathos in her approach to life. Her father seems to want to help her and connect with her, but he is suffering from a different malady. As the exposition unfolds, the reader learns that Devon was killed in a school shooting and their mother died of cancer a couple of years prior to the events of the novel. So the father is reeling emotionally, and Caitlyn is struggling with adjusting to these losses and with trying to develop empathy for other people. Other players in this novel include young Caitlyn’s teacher, counselor, and her fellow students. Try as she might, Caitlyn has trouble “getting” what others seem to understand with little trouble. This, too, is typical for Aspies.

Mockingbird derives its title from the many references to the movie/book To Kill a Mockingbird, and I do not believe that the novel would resonate nearly as well if the reader had not either seen TKAM or read it. But, with most readers knowing a bit about the famous story by Harper Lee, it is fairly safe to say that most readers will “get” the references.  Indeed, I really, really enjoyed the novel, but I did need some tissue toward the end— it is that kind of story.

Reading YA lit is more and more common these days, because big publishing is far more open to publishing those stories. Getting a contract is rather difficult for new writers of adult fiction, but YA sells well, so it is becoming a crowded field. I don’t want to spoil it for potential readers, but I do want to encourage fans of TKAM to read Mockingbird. Although it could be read by upper elementary on up, it is a touching story for readers of any age.

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.

Lacuna— a review

Lacuna cover

I got Lacuna, by David Adams, as a Kindle freebie. Not because I write review, but because that’s the price. Really.

And, it is a space opera, which is among my favorite genres.

The description (blurb) from Amazon begins thusly:

“Never again attempt to develop this kind of technology.”

It is with these words that an unknown alien attacker destroys the Earth cities of Tehran, Sydney and Beijing. Fifty million people die… and nothing is ever the same again.

That’s a cool blurb, and the beginning of the book is riveting. Unfortunately, it goes downhill from there. (spoilers ahead) Many of the Amazon reviewers mention that the plot, especially the main character’s actions, are just not aligned with military protocols. Too true. Worse, the alien fighter pilot (a really cool character) is also not quite believable, either.

Honestly, there is much to like about this book, including plenty of action, a heroine who is dynamic and not American, and a reasonably good job of editing.  However, for readers who insist that plots and character development not require vast suspension of disbelief, then this book is not gonna work.

I’m tempted to buy book 2 in the series, which is no doubt why Adams is giving away book 1. But, if it is as out of touch with reality as the first one, I will probably be mad at myself.

Trinity on Tylos, Mulberry River Publishing edition

ToT_cover_final_webLGAfter six years, Trinity on Tylos is going to be available for  I’ve priced it at $2.99, the same price as my debut novel, The Gift Horse. For this new version, I went through a copy of the eBook and made every effort to eliminate some of the errors in the original. However, there are no substantial changes, as I was fairly content with it, apart from the proofreading, which was a problem with the original publisher.

The new cover was designed by Dawn Seewer, who did the cover for The Gift Horse. The background depicts the landscape of Tylos IV, with the ships in the sky. The models in the foreground are Venice and Azareel, and I think the artist did a good job. A few of the readers of the original printed novel told me that the cover didn’t really convey the serious nature of the novel, so I hope that this new cover touches the bases.

For those who haven’t read it, here is the original synopsis that I used when shopping the manuscript:

What sacrifices must an officer make to save her shipmates from certain doom? Venice Dylenski, the young security chief of the colonizing ship, Excalibur, is faced with this dilemma after her captain makes a critical error in judgement in an encounter with an alien with superior fire power and a hidden agenda.

Trinity on Tylos begins as Venice experiences an embarrassing moment on a survey mission, one which rules out yet another planet as a hospitable home for their colony. While continuing its search, the Excalibur encounters the Archeons, an alien race characterized by gray-blue skin and a facility for language. The interchange results in Venice and a crewmate, Alathea Duke, being taken captive by the mysterious Archeon captain, Azareel. In short order, he informs them that they will play a critical role in revitalizing his dying race, that of surrogate mothers to genetically engineered Archeon offspring.

Venice, reluctant “to be the next Archeon soccer mom,” strives to escape, but her companion seems all too willing to cooperate with their captor. Thus the stage is set for multiple conflicts between human and Archeon, human and human, and humanoids verses the hostile environment of their new planetary home in the Tylos star system.

Trinity on Tylos has the elements of a good space opera: complex characters faced with myriad problems to solve, set in a future where man may have escaped the bounds of his solar system, but not the bonds of human emotions.

 

 

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.

Going, going, almost gone

TrinitycoversmThe Whiskey Creek Press version of Trinity on Tylos is about to become a bit of a collector’s item. When it was first published, I was mostly pleased, although the final edits were rushed and far too many mistakes made it into the print copy. The paperback was not of the best quality, either. The ebook, at least the one I got from the now defunct Fictionwise, was far worse. What few royalty reports I received indicated low sales, and even lower royalties. At one point, I was getting seventeen cents per ebook sale, and a typical quarterly check was about five bucks.

When the book came out, in 2006, I sought out speaking engagements, author-guest slots at science fiction conventions, and I did quite a bit of internet promotional activity, hoping to help Trinity find an audience, and to do my part to help sell the book for WCP. By 2007, I realized that the sales were not going be as good as my self-published debut novel, so I spent far less time promoting it. But, WCP continued to be a disappointment, too. Just to get Amazon to list it, WCP required that I purchase two copies at full price; then, initially, the title was misspelled on Amazon’s website. Eventually, the print book was listed correctly, and I did have a couple of very good reviews on Amazon, as well as several from other sources. When Amazon’s Kindle format began to take on increasing importance, WCP indicated that eventually all of their titles would be available for the Kindle. While Trinity on Tylos was available for the Nook, it was never converted to Kindle format. My original contract was for two years, but I did not ask for my rights back, in part because I hoped WCP would eventually pay me more royalties, and that they would support the book. And, to be honest, I was very busy with my adjunct instructor job, as well as being mom to teenagers, so I didn’t push either promotion or accountability from WCP.

After years and years of zero communications regarding sales, I can only conclude that either there were no sales or WCP kept all of the royalties. I will never know which. I’ve maintained a website, with promotional materials, links to vendors, and so forth, at my expense, and I finally came to the conclusion that WCP was never going to pay me anything ever again. Anyway, I did ask to have my rights back at the end of last year, via email, and there was no response. I asked again recently, via snail mail, and while I still have not heard a word from WCP, I noticed today that Trinity on Tylos is no longer listed for sale by Whiskey Creek Press nor by Barnes and Noble. Amazon still has it for sale, but they list the one lonely copy, and I do remember that I paid for it in 2006. I’ll bet it is quite shopworn by now!

Fellow WCP authors are in a bit of an uproar, because WCP has been sold to a New York firm, Start Media. Some of those other authors have suggested that I self-publish it, as they are doing with their own books, and I have talked with Booklocker about doing the formatting and cover. Since I don’t have a clean copy of the manuscript, I’ll be doing some editing before doing anything else.

In the meantime, Whiskey Creek Press is going, going, soon to be gone. Various interent sites have chronicled the demise of this small press, and much of the dirt is recorded here. For whatever reasons, I’m sad, which is illogical, because the publisher hasn’t been paying me or even bothering to respond to email. And there is little solace in knowing that I am not the only author that they deemed not worth a simple email.

Little Girl Blue— the Life of Karen Carpenter

Karen CarpenterI’ll admit it, I am getting old. And, apparently, revisiting topics from one’s youth is an interest that older folks have. In the years right before his death, my dad would come home after a lively session at the senior’s center, watch a rerun of Gunsmoke on television, and take his afternoon snooze. While I remember Gunsmoke (along with Sky King, Fury, Roy Rogers, and even Bonanza) I have no desire to revisit them. However, I have a number of Carpenters CDs, because their music is still musical to me. I don’t like to watch the videos (and there are a boat load on YouTube) because their hairstyles and clothing remind me of just how long it has been since those tracks were recorded.

Because she knows how much I love the Carpenters music, some years ago my sister gave me the official biography of the Carpenters by Ray Coleman, which I enjoyed. I’ve seen the tv movie version of their story, which is also on YouTube, along with a PBS special celebrating their music.

Due to inclement weather here in the south, I’ve had more time to read lately, and I stumbled upon a “new” biography, Little Girl Blue— the Life of Karen Carpenter, which was actually published four years ago. This one is “unauthorized,” thus promising to shed some light upon the parts of their story that the Richard Carpenter would rather not have publicized. In some respects, Little Girl Blue delivers.

Most people will want to read this book to know more about Karen (and Richard’s) lives and their music, but some will want to know more about Karen’s battle with anorexia nervosa, a disease that was almost unheard of when she died. Non-fans will probably find it odd that anyone even cares, some thirty years after Karen’s untimely death, but I didn’t care if they weren’t cool in the 70s, and I don’t care now, so I’m interested in their lives, their music, and only a little in the disease that killed Karen.

I’m torn, because in some ways Randy L. Schmidt’s bio, a rather odd combination of the duo’s lives and their musical successes and failures, does succeed, but sometimes it reads like gossip. That is due to his reliance upon “those who knew her.” There are pages and pages of documentation, so there was quite a lot of research that went into this book. But the sources of “new” information are friends and co-workers, some of whom seem glad to finally be heard.

I’m not famous, so no one is going to write my biography, but if someone did, and used Schmidt’s approach, it might read like this: “Pamela J. Dodd did not even use her husband’s name on her books, which infuriated his sister-in-law, who had this to say—” or “in an email a close family member quoted Dodd’s son as saying ‘Rob once said, “Moms the boss…what she says goes.” ‘ In other words, well documented opinions are still, well, opinions.

On the other hand, there are some really interesting revelations about Karen’s financial situation, such as their mother had a trusted friend handle the money and basically put the duo on an allowance, as if they were still in high school. When they finally hired a money manager, there were bank accounts all over the place, because the mother would deposit the maximum covered by FDIC and then open a new account in yet another bank. Even more interesting was the portrait of Karen’s husband as exactly what Karen feared: someone who married her for her money, not for love. The scene where Karen is on the phone, almost hysterical, because the dealer was repossessing the Rolls Royce that her husband had “given” her, lets readers understand her naivete, as well as painting Burris for the gold-digger that he surely was.

Reviewers of this book often focus on the in-depth examination of Karen’s anorexia, especially her relationship with her mother and brother, and some have said that Karen’s mother was unable to say, “I love you” to Karen. That scene takes place in the office of Karen’s therapist, apparently the only therapist that she consulted during an eight year plus struggle with eating disorders, wherein Karen’s mother, Agnes, wouldn’t cooperate with the therapist’s directive to tell Karen that she was loved. In that situation, I might have been both angry and embarrassed, so I have some sympathy for the mom.

Over and over, Schmidt’s book explains the tragedy that Karen’s life became, even before the seemingly inevitable tragedy of her death. If fame and fortune come too early, there can be a terrible price to pay. The entire Carpenter clan was simply not prepared for the success that Richard’s brilliant arrangements and Karen’s amazing vocals brought the family. While Karen paid the biggest price, the whole family suffered, and that is ironic, as well as tragic.

Escape from Zulaire

Image This new tale from Veronica Scott is a very good read, but it does share a lot (perhaps too much) with the last really good story by this author that I reviewed a few months back. The heroine is saved by a military trained hero, who is quite heroic, but not arrogant. The setting is far from earth, there are kids, natives, and a bit of spiritualism. There is action aplenty, and thus suspense, with sufficient romance to keep the core audience involved. That summary works for Escape from Zulaire, but it also works for the Wreck of the Nebula Dream.

I read the Kindle version, and it was in pretty good shape for a self published novel. There were only a couple of misspellings and the main character’s name was not capitalized once. Still, I have seen far worse, in books that cost more.

Both books work for me, but if I read this same plot again, I might start getting a bit frustrated. Ms. Scott, I love your writing, but change it up a bit. Please!

Alarm of War—Best Space Opera I’ve Read Recently!

Okay, the story line is hardly new: green recruit impresses everyone, gets promoted, and saves the day. But, Alarm of War by Kennedy Hudner does have some freshness, and most of the spelling and all of the grammar is correct. That’s saying quite a great deal in this day of self-published ebooks available for the Kindle.

Our main character is Emily Tuttle. Yep, that does not sound like a heroine’s name, now does it? Especially not a military fiction heroine, who should have a big name, like, oh, say, “Honor Harrington.” But, our heroine is Emily Tuttle, and she doesn’t look particularly heroic, being rather small. Oh, and she has a master’s degree—in history. Her best bud in training is a tall Hispanic chick named Maria, who goes by “Cookie.” And the smartest dude in the training group is a geeky guy named Hiram. And what is really odd is that the leadership of the training facility actually recognizes who is smart and acts accordingly. Maybe the government will do stuff like that in the future.

Anyway, the novel begins with background and political intrigue; actually, too much of that. Oh, it helps to know all that as the story moves along, but it might be better dished out in the middle of the story. To be honest, I did not get interested in this novel until a royal despot kills a lawyer and uses him for decor. Then, I got interested, and I stayed interested. Just when the reader believes that he or she knows exactly what is going to happen, something comes along to shake things up a bit and keep the reader turning the pages.

This one ends with a bit of a cliff-hanger, so I went back to Amazon, intent on purchasing the sequel. Unfortunately, Alarm of War was published in August, and there is (as yet) no sequel. Darn.

I hope that Mr. Hudner is busy working on part ii of this yarn. Maybe it will be out by Christmas. Gosh, I hope so.