Archive for the ‘Book Review’ Category
Book Review: The Selkie Spell by Sophie Moss
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I don’t seem like the type of guy who normally reads paranormal romance novels about Irish folklore, but if they’re as good as “The Selkie Spell”, I should probably start reading more. I picked up “The Selkie Spell” for Kindle on a sale weekend because I follow the author on Twitter and Facebook and knew she was insanely talented, but I would have gladly paid a lot more for it.
The basic setup for “The Selkie Spell” is the Irish legend of the selkie (part seal-part woman) coming full-circle through modern actors. The selkie of the island in the legend was controlled and abused by a cruel and heartless man before committing suicide. In order to free the selkie’s spirit, her descendant must return to the island, find the hidden selkie pelt and complete the circle by facing her own cruel and heartless abuser. The novel is a healthy mix of genres and has romance, action, irish folklore, ghost tales, intrigue, and just enough sex to spice up the stew.
The Good: For me this was a fresh and fascinating tale, since I had no knowledge of selkies or really any traditional Irish folklore. The author did a fantastic job at developing presence and atmosphere. I found myself checking on prices for airfare to Ireland halfway through the book. <sigh…stupid airlines> The descriptions are beautiful and the characters are diverse and interesting. The pacing is perfect for this genre and the plot is believable and consistent all the way through. Though, to be honest, you have to realize that fate/destiny plays a major part driving plot points along in places that seem a little too convenient. The legend requires everything transpire in a certain way so all is forgiven. At least in my view. If you’re not as forgiving, this might bother you.
The Bad: There’s not much to criticize here except a few personal preferences. My only real complaint was that the abusive husband is more of a caricature than a character at times and I had a hard time shaking images of the movie Sleeping With The Enemy.
Recommendations: I’d recommend this to anyone and everyone, with the small exception of younger audiences. The sex and inclusion of spousal abuse isn’t appropriate for younger teens. I would HIGHLY recommend this to anyone going to Ireland for vacation who needs a fun, light read for those cozy nights at the pub.
Book Review: Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
Robinson Crusoe seems like an odd reading choice for someone who writes zombie adventures, but I promise I had a reason for diving into these murky waters. Everyone knows the general gist of the novel, English sailor gets shipwrecked on tropical island and has to survive alone for long stretches of time. It struck me that this premise is essentially one of the first examples of post-apocalyptic survival fiction, and I set out to find out how Robinson dealt with being a LMAO (last man on Earth) survivor. I thought maybe they would be some handy tidbits you could apply to a zombie apocalypse survival scenario.
Boy, was I wrong.
Robinson Crusoe was not the book I expected it to be based on youthful impressions. I could have sworn I read this book when I was a kid and loved it, but it turns out that book I read was a condensed YA-stylized version where exciting things actually happened more than once every fifty pages. The basic plot of the book is young English would-be gentleman runs away from home and takes to sea, surviving one mishap after another, until he lands a 27 year stretch on a deserted island as the sole survivor of a shipwreck. He learns to make do on the island and despite having a huge list of supplies from the ship and abundant natural resources, acts like a ninny most of the time.
If you do decide on reading it, or more likely, are forced to, keep in mind that the novel shows its age. It’s written as a series of journal entries that rambles, wanders, backtracks, sidetracks, and generally talks to itself like an insane person for half of the novel. You’ve been warned.
If you stripped down the novel and took out the huge glaring flaws of the main character, you’d actually have a great story. Shipwrecks, rescues, cannibals, friendship, survival, gunfights, mutineers… all these elements are well described in the story, it’s just that by the time you get to them you’re so fatigued by the droning, it’s hard to muster much excitement. For me, the novel was also a fascinating look at the perspective of the English Colonials in the 1600s. The absolute certainty that Robinson has as he makes his claims over the new lands (and inhabitants) as master and lord—simply by right of being born English—is mind-blowing to a modern educated man. If the opinion was respective of it’s time, it’s a great window into the thinking that launched the British Empire.
Defoe is preachy and long winded and absolutely NOTHING happens for long stretches of the book. Modern genre fiction this is not. He doesn’t begin at the action and tells instead of shows, plenty. I also find his attempt at religious epistemology ridiculously ham-handed. First God is punishing Robinson, then he’s rewarding him, then he was really punishing him all along, oops…wait, no he was really rewarding him. For fuck sake, make up your mind, you sorry castaway! Also, and this has to be said, Robinson Crusoe the character, is a major dick. He’s a sniveling, cowardly, short-sighted, selfish prick. By the time the novel was two-thirds of the way through, I was rooting for the cannibals.
If you’re interested in historical fiction and travel tales, then this book would actually be fairly interesting to you. It’s historical purely by being old though, so be prepared to slog through what folks in the 1700’s thought was exciting stuff. If you like survival fiction (My Side of the Mountain, Hatchet, etc.) give this a pass. There’s really not much here worth reading about. Maybe all the different uses for goat skin? For every one else, it’s slow, it’s boring, and it’s preachy. Save yourself some time and rent one of the movie adaptations, maybe something starring Tom Hanks. You won’t be missing much.
Go check out my article on getting started in book reviewing now on Sweet Banana Ink (and follow it’s owner @bullishink on twitter).
Beware Cover Artists Bearing Gifts
Some of you may have noticed that the cover art on Dead Sea Games: Adrift changed abruptly 48 hours after it was announced and hit the Kindle store on Amazon. Some of you may not. But changed, it has, as a result of one very spiteful and possibly unhinged cover artist.
Consider this a cautionary tale for all of you other aspiring authors in the process of putting together your first release. If you’re traditionally published, you’ve got your own horror stories to tell. I didn’t know until I took a class on publishing a couple years ago that some contracts don’t allow authors to pick or approve cover art. Fun, right!
Meanwhile, back at the zombie lab, I’ve decided to self-publish my little 20k word zombie tale, because well… why the fuck not? I don’t have anything longer than 3K words traditionally published and I’d like to see if people can stand me in doses larger than 500 words. I’m one of those curious types that likes to see if the electricity really IS on in that wall socket. So I think, “How hard could it be really?” <ZAAAAPPP> Self-publishing is hard. You will make mistakes. You will bang your head against a hard surface and wonder why you didn’t pay someone else to do all of this. But you won’t KNOW for sure what you can do on your own until you try.
Enter the cover artist:
My first rookie mistake was waiting until the last two weeks before I wanted to release the ebook to find an artist. Don’t do that. Bad author! I’d looked around DeviantArt and twitter for months and never could put together the three things I needed from an artist, compatible style, availability, and affordability. There are a lot of fantastic DeviantArt artists who only take commissions sporadically, so if you find one you like ask WAY ahead of time. Out of time and desperate, I took a short cut and went to [BIG FREELANCE WEBSITE] and put in a VERY detailed project description with a specific warning that I would require revisions, and asked for public bids.
One week later I had 18 bids by “artists” from all over the world with various and sundry prices, promised dates, reputations, and portfolios. I choose one from India–let’s call him R–who had a decent portfolio and good reviews. R’s price wasn’t the lowest, or the highest, and neither was his “promised by” date. Those were both in the middle of the pack.
This part of the story is important to reiterate. HE choose his own price AND deadline. The bid category allowed him to set his price as high as $250 and have additional time.
Fast forward a week. We’ve gone back and forth and he’s produced a cover that’s good but not great. I’m buried in edits, the clock it ticking very loudly in my ear, and he’s on his last day for deadline so I let him off the hook and call it done. He pesters me for a week to leave feedback for him on [BIG FREELANCE WEBSITE] and although I wasn’t going to because I had reservations about what I could say with a clear conscience, I finally relent and leave what I felt was an honest appraisal of his work.
This is what I found waiting for me in my inbox the next morning:
“You are not welcome. What problem did you have in my work? And where did people like you come from?
I gave you my best work. It took 3 days of continuous hard work to get to that form. I had skipped few meals and sleep to complete that and at the end is this what I receive in return? 3.6? You ruined me. You could have taken courage to reply your concerns or continued to be without posting such a meaningless rating.
You cant be generous in your payment, but atleast you could have been generous in your reviews. It was worth more than your 60$. Do you ever realize it?
I am a celebrated Engineer, reputed Programmer and an aspiring researcher. I feel ashamed that I worked for such psychopaths with cheap attitudes like yours. You will never succeed in whatever you do. And you don’t deserve my design. Become a zombie oneday and go to hell! -R”
Charming, right? It gets worse. Keep in mind that he never once came out during the negotiations or work and said in plain language that he was trading dollars for stars, or how many hours we had invested in the project. He waited until everything was done to claim that his magnanimous price discount was dependent on my giving him a perfect review. My short but exact words on his public review and his public review of me in return:
Me: [R] is an excellent artist and I was happy overall with the final product.
[R]: I regret working for J. Whitworth Hazzard who was neither generous in budget nor in leaving a feedback. The design was about zombies but I never realized that the author was a zombie too. Everything went fine in the project till the end. I gave him a priceless work for 60$ and accepted countless revisions to ensure that he was satisfied. But he exploited me and he proved his colors when it came to rating. Check the cover design for the book “Dead Sea Games: Adrift” by “J. Whitworth Hazzard” at kindle store and know for yourself. The rating for this task is 3.6 because the person who left this is an unstable one and I can consider him only as an art thief who have stolen my work. Cheap people with cheap attitude please stay away from me. When something is given for less price people don’t realize its value. Good lesson that I have learnt from a Zombie.
Notice I didn’t say he was an excellent communicator or that I’d use his services again, which are the two ranking categories that brought his overall star total down. So beware authors! Now we have a new definition of art thief in the works. I guess someone who bids for artists, asks them to deliver a specific product, pays them on time and in full…BUT doesn’t tell the world they think they’ve found the next DaVinci are ART THIEVES who deserve to ROT IN HELL!
You have to wonder about the narcissism and sanity of someone who thinks they’ve produced a priceless work of art in three days for under $60…with 4 (yes, that’s four) total revisions that included such difficult tasks as “Hey, could you please move that up a few pixels?” Again, $60 wasn’t my price…he priced that himself and broke one of the cardinal rules that I’ve been told repeatedly as a writer: never trade salary for reputation. I was fooled by R’s reviews because he’s in the business of trading labor for reviews, regardless of their honesty. I could write a whole huge rant about why this reinforces my distrust of products and services with all 5-star reviews but I’ll save that for another day.
He wrote me four more emails after that, all along the same lines, but the damage had been done. I couldn’t trust that he wouldn’t do something foolish or vindictive, so I had to pull his art from the book, the web site, and Amazon and scrap it all. The good news is with $20, a stock photo account, GIMP, and a healthy knowledge of layer manipulation, I had new cover art inside an hour.
Lesson learned: Source your artists/editors/formatters from people you trust and verify reviews by hand.
Do NOT use public bids on these freelance sites like [BIG FREELANCE WEBSITE]. After this happened, I went back and checked a few dozen profiles of artists and editors hawking their wares to self-pub authors, and was shocked. These sites are filled to the brim with frauds, hucksters, and pyschopathic wannabes. I feel genuinely sorry for the small handful of talented, decent people competing amongst the cruft on these sites. In this business, “cheap and fast” is too good to be true.
Got your own horror story about contractors? Leave me a comment below and we can laugh/cry about it together.
PS. You may be wondering why I’m sharing this nasty review with you guys. I thought it would be a good idea to get this exchange on record in case there’s evidence of “review-retaliation” and you all wonder why thousands of Indian readers on Amazon despise my new ebook.
PPS. Go buy the book and leave a review. http://amzn.to/WmChuI Please? Pretty please?
Book Review: How Not To Write A Novel by Mittlemark and Newman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
“How NOT To Write A Novel” is a great read for aspiring authors. It’s the reverse approach to many of the popular writing books that claim to be able to tell you how to write that next best seller. As Stephen King so aptly writes in his treatise “On Writing”, most of those writing advice books are complete crap. Writers for the most part can never be sure of the exact elements that make a particular book successful. Sometimes everything just comes together, but more often they do NOT.
So after you’ve read Strunk and White, and King, and maybe a few others, pull out that novel you wrote. You know the one. It’s been sitting on your shelf for half a decade under a pile of rejection letters from agents and editors, and then sit down with this book and a big red pen. Go through your book and check off all the cardinal sins you’ve committed and you’ll understand why you’re not living in a NYC penthouse and going on world book tours.
It’s important to note here that this book is intended for writers of genre fiction. It’s not for journalists, non-fiction writers, biographers, or those awful, pretentious, self-aggrandizing, literary fiction douchebags. If you’re writing literary fiction, then by all means throw out all the rules and head back to your co-op coffee house and sip on your organic, fair-trade, soy latte machiato and moan about the literary wasteland that is the NYT bestseller list.
In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve written two complete novels (queries and all) and several partials and I found myself guilty of some of the 200 sins in both books. What’s interesting to me is that the first novel committed 6-7 sins, and the second only 2-3. So I must be learning from my mistakes and growing somewhere in the experience.
There are common mistakes that genre fiction writers make that can be avoided if you know what those mistakes look like. The book lays out the 200 mistakes, arranged by category (Plot, character, style, etc.) and gives you a quick, humorous example of the mistake and then explains why you should scratch out the bad passages with indelible ink…and NEVER do that again. The book covers all of the common subjects that writers deal wrestle with: point of view, tense, characterization, structure, language, heroes, villains, sidekicks, pacing, climaxes, and even the process of querying and selling your completed work.
Tons of great examples of why you’re screwing up and shooting yourself in the foot. The examples are usually humorous and make the book a nice read. The authors take great care in the handling of writer’s delicate sensibilities and offer great alternatives. The book is a comprehensive look at genre fiction and even someone who’s written 2-3 novels can learn some of the nifty tricks that more successful authors use to great effect. The end section on writing queries is a fantastic resource for someone who hasn’t studied the art and voodoo that is a successful query.
The book should really be subtitled “168 common mistakes and a couple of dozen examples we stretched, duplicated, or warped to make the book have a nice round number”. Some of their examples are very thin duplications of already presented ideas, and some are just plain opinion based on individual choice. A good example of that is “A Novel Called It – wherein an abusive parent exists.” Clearly you can’t abuse the notion of having characters with bad parents, but you have to admit that bad parenting leads to interesting people. Not always “good” interesting, but interesting nonetheless. And all you have to do is watch the news to know that bad parents DO exist and are fairly common. I don’t write with wicked step-mothers, but it’s an archetype for a reason. And my last complaint is that by the half-way mark, the examples are no longer funny because they’re beating the same too-clever characters/situations to death. Lastly, the examples are TOO LONG. I shouldn’t have to read an entire page of bad writing for you to make your singular point.
I would recommend this book to anyone that writes fiction. It’s a nice resource to put on your shelf alongside some of the classic writer’s tools.
Book Review: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
I really wanted to like this book more than I did. It’s the prototype for horror novels before there were horror novels. Oh sure, you could argue that horror novels go back much further, and really things like Beowulf and Greek legends have all the elements of a good horror story: heroes, monsters, death and destruction, and a bad, bad ending. But this novel and Brahm Stoker’s Dracula are the ones horror fans go back to for old school feel.
I’m actually surprised I hadn’t read this book before. It’s such a staple of English lit classes in high school and college that I wonder if I missed a reading assignment somewhere along the line. I skipped a lot of classes, so it’s entirely possible. The book is chock full of five paragraph essays, an infinite mine for essay themes like father-son and creator-creation relationships, moral duties in science, nurture vs nature in upbringing, etc., etc. If you’re pressed for time on an English paper, I wouldn’t choose this book as a basis. It’s a long, slow read and there are elements of the story buried in rambling passages where the protagonist describes how miserable he is for the eleventeenth time.
You should also be warned, kiddos googling for essay topics, that the classic horror movie of the same name bears NO resemblance to this novel. Do not put the words “lightning”, “castle”, or “Igor” in your essay. You’ll get an F!
A young privileged man from a good family and happy childhood goes off to University with dreams of becoming a master of natural philosophy (biologist/chemist). He abandons his study of alchemy and pursues knowledge of physiology with a passion that borders on OCD-like. He gets the brilliant idea to test his knowledge by piecing together a human body from spare parts and then reanimates it (though he never tells us how). He immediately flips out and abandons his now-alive creation to raise itself in the wilderness while he goes slowly insane.
The re-animated person (daemon, fiend, monster, whatever) finds out he’s a hideous abomination in the eyes of humanity and gets a little pissed off about being abandoned by his creator. He vows revenge and hijinx ensue.
The language in the book is beautiful. It was written when people still cared about five-dollar words and prose as poetry in the written word. It’s no wonder, Mary Shelley was married to a famous poet, and dabbled herself. The characters have depth and are fleshed out well, especially Victor and the Monster. You feel like you would know them if you passed them on the street and could have a conversation with them.
The scope of the book is also impressive. It ranges from the cities of Austria to the polar wastelands of the North and dozens of well-described locations in-between. Just reading the descriptions of the mountains and valleys of Switzerland, France, and Austria made me want to get on a plane and see the majestic sights for myself.
The underlying theme is brilliantly creepy and fitting of any horror story in any setting. You’ve created a monster with super-human abilities and it’s gotten free. Your creation is beyond your control and now it’s coming to get you and everyone you love. Pretty fucking scary if you think about it.
It’s pretty simple. Even though Victor Frankenstein is a compelling character, he’s a great big pussy. I’ll say that again really slow. He’s a cowardly, pathetic, impotent, dishrag of a man who makes you hate him by the end of the book. You don’t feel sorry for him, or empathize with him. You (or at least I) end up disgusted with him. He created this monster and set it loose on the world, and allows innocent people to die because he’s too cowardly to admit to the world that he’s made a colossal mistake. He spends most of the book telling the reader about how miserable he is. If he’s not in prison, or an insane asylum, then he’s in a sick bed, or moping around on a lake somewhere being pathetic. Just to give you an example; at one point, Victor knows the monster is coming for him right now and Victor gets pistols and a dagger to exact revenge. The battle is imminent, and when the monster appears on cue and does something completely evil…Victor collapses with the vapors. WTF.
Ultimately, the other thing that makes the book irritating is the grand finale is anything but. The ending isn’t satisfying. It doesn’t give anyone in the book completion of mission or revenge or retribution. I’m not going to give you the exact spoiler, but the reader is left to wonder if this creature will keep his word and end the story. Even the intrepid young explorer who relates the tale of Victor after finding him on the ice doesn’t achieve his goal. After many grand speeches and retelling of would-be adventures, everyone goes home a loser. And that just fucking sucks.
I would only recommend this book to classic horror fans who have patience, anyone interested in studying the philosophy of creation, or English Lit majors that need a book that can be debated endlessly without anyone really being right.
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