Writing Exercise: Review of Book Reviews

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Review of my book reviews.

I average over 100 book read a year for the last few years, since I made a requirement to do a book review every time I read a book I’ve actually been able to keep track through my Goodreads count. I passed the magic 100 books in November 2017, which is when I am writing this post in preparation for tax season during my NaNoWritMo craziness.

I’m going to be way less than previous years (182 in 2015 and 128 in 2016). Each year I get a little less because I (1) don’t count books I edit and (2) don’t count books I slush read. As my editing and slush reading increases, the pleasure reading decreases.

With the magic 100 book level, I thought I would see if I raved or depraved too much. As an editor and author myself, I sometimes feel like I need to take it easy on other writers at which point I pull myself up by the shorts and remind me I am writing the book reviews to become a better editor and writer. If I don’t be honest about what I read, I can’t learn from it.

The review levels between Goodreads and Amazon allow me to give higher marks on Amazon reviews.

one star Goodreads “I did not like” / Amazon “I hate”
two star Goodreads “It was ok” / Amazon “I did not like”
three star Goodreads “I liked” / Amazon “It’s okay”
four star Goodreads “I really liked”/Amazon “I liked”
Five star Goodreads “It was amazing”/Amazon “I loved”

If you notice, a four on Amazon is equal to a three on Goodreads. So if someone gets a four star on Goodreads, I usually give them a five on Amazon because of the difference in the grading scale. This helps soothe my writer’s heart, supporting friends and co-workers. The write-up portion of the review is cut and pasted between the two review sites, therefore same review shows up on both, just star level are different. Oh, and Goodreads allows spoilers to be hid but Amazon does not – I sometimes need to work around that.

The Goodread scale for me is as follows:

One Star – Total fail, should not exist. Hated it, usually unable to finish. (One or more of these reasons.)
Two Star – Serious structural problems to the story. A “trunk” story where the author is learning how to write, but should have never been published in its present form. Did not like book. Able to finish reading the book, but frequently thought about quitting.

(Stars One and Two often inspire Editing Rants and Writing Exercises.)

Three Star – Readable. Some flaws. Bland. Nothing stands out. Liked book.
Four Star – Good book. Solid. Really liked it.
Five Star – Loved story – which I have discovered means incredible worldbuilding is involved.

(Stars Four and Five often end up in Author Spotlights and Book Review posts the following year.)

How did my 2017 reading split up?

Five Star – 11
Four Star – 42
Three Star – 28
Two Star – 12
One Star – 7

The disbursement may seem top-heavy, but remember many of these books are edited by publishing companies and many self-published people use editors as well which will reduce the pure clunkers. People want to publish books to make money, therefore most books overall will be better than mediocre.

I think the split between stars is a good disbursement. I’m not afraid to call a spade a spade.

WRITING EXERCISE: Go to your recently finished reading pile and pull out three books. Write a review for each of them figuring out what you liked about them and what you didn’t and post them to an appropriate review site. Of the three books, which book stood out the most and for what particular reason. What book received the lowest score and why? Looking at your present work-in-progress, can you apply any of the lessons you learned from these review-critiques to your own story?

***

The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi (published by Tor) – 5 Stars – Why I loved it the most: Worldbuilding. New thing learned: working with a multiple person POV allows unlikable as well as likable main characters, adding interest to the story.

Mind of My Mind by Octavia E. Butler (published by Open Road Media Sci-Fi & Fantasy) – 4 Stars – Nothing stood out.

Villains Rule by M.K. Gibson (published by Amber Cove Publishing) – 2 Stars – This humorous satire is exactly what I expect from humorous satire. Unfortunately going for the easy joke can be very misogynistic (The Pop Culture Detective Agency covers this well in “The Adorkable Misogyny of the Big Bang Theory”.) New thing learned: This story is very Meta about breaking down the Fantasy tropes and helped me be aware of a few.

Taking the thing I learned: I write likable characters. Maybe I should try for some unlikable ones. All three of these books have at least one of the point of view characters be a unrepentant villain. Something to think about.

If you would like to see all my book reviews on Goodreads, you can follow the book review links above and follow me there.

Book Review: Wool

Book Cover from Amazon

Wool by Hugh Howey

BOOK BLURB ON AMAZON

Thousands of them have lived underground. They’ve lived there so long, there are only legends about people living anywhere else. Such a life requires rules. Strict rules. There are things that must not be discussed. Like going outside. Never mention you might like going outside.

Or you’ll get what you wish for.

 

MY REVIEW

This one is a little weird to write up. Originally published as a short story of only 50 pages, the story was so popular Mr. Howey was encouraged to write a followup, and then another, until he wrote a total of five books in a series (over 500 pages available as a single omnibus as well as sold separately). And that series did so well he added another trilogy. And that did so well he is allowing others to write in his Silo world. So do I rate the story as a short story or the first of a series? Because as a short story it is thought-provoking and as a series introduction, the world-building has huge holes unacceptable for the long-form.

Mr. Howey writes some pretty good short stories that make you think. A number of his stories available on Amazon show his like for this format. “Wool”, as a short story, follows a man mourning his wife and dealing with a post-apocalyptic world where everyone is locked in a buried multistory building with only a few windows to the outside world, which slowly get covered in grime. The story covers both the present day and the history leading to his wife’s death. Wool removes the grime and allows clear-seeing to how the world really is. “Wool” is a solid short story worthy of a good anthology or collection.

As the first of a series, “Wool” lacks a lot. The survival just doesn’t seem possible. To start, how does the central staircase survive? Diamond treads wear off in just a couple of decades, not the 200 plus years they have been inside and using this as a major thoroughfare. Yes, no weather – still humans produce a lot of water naturally. Moisture and rust and use would have killed this in the first 50 years. Second, where does the wool come from – or any of the cleaning products. A carbon suit? Argon? The digital screen? So much is just not possible. I don’t know if he resolved these issues in later books. Again, his original book was not aimed at being anything but a short story and short story worlds do not need to make complete sense. They need to get a reaction – and this story definitely achieves that.

But not enough, for me at least, to continue in this depressing post-apocalyptic world. I agree with the main character who says the children books with green and blue just speak to a person. You know those are the correct colors. I don’t want to read about a people locked in a buried tower without sunlight or hope. Although it would be interesting to see how they survive. How it changes what it means to be human.

Picked up while free on Kindle; using typical marketing model – first of a five book series, with the first book free.

Book Review: Temporally Out of Order

Amazon Cover - Temporally Out of Order

Book Cover from Amazon

Temporally Out of Order, an anthology by Zombies Needs Brains publishing company

BOOK BLURB ON AMAZON

It’s frustrating when a gadget stops working. But what if the gadget is working fine, it’s just “temporally” out of order? What would you do if you discovered your cell phone linked you to a different time? Or that your camera took pictures of the past?

In this collection, seventeen leading science fiction authors share their take on what happens when gadgets run temporally amok. From past to future, humor to horror, there’s something for everyone.

Join Seanan McGuire, Elektra Hammond, David B. Coe, Chuck Rothman, Faith Hunter, Edmund R. Schubert, Steve Ruskin, Sofie Bird, Laura Resnick, Amy Griswold, Laura Anne Gilman, Susan Jett, Gini Koch, Christopher Barili, Stephen Leigh, Juliet E. McKenna, and Jeremy Sim as they investigate how ordinary objects behaving temporally out of order can change our everyday lives.

 

MY REVIEW

Read in one sitting which is not why I buy anthologies … I just couldn’t put this one down.

One of the best anthologies I have read in consistence of quality. I did not find a single one of poor quality and think at least a few will haunt me for a while. The only down-side is the temporal issues (the theme of the anthology being an artifact making time act wrong) was repetitive; and I am never a big fan of time-travel stuff. Which when I say, every short story in the book is good, means an anti-time sci-fi reader enjoyed the entire collection.

Highlights – Batting Out of Order by Edmund Schubert made me cry (again his short works stands out in an anthology, the man needs to write more and edit less); Black and White by David B. Coe reminds us history may be hidden by those trying to rewrite the past, but it is never truly gone; Dinosaur Stew by Chuck Rothman is a lark straight out of the crock pot; The Passing Bell by Amy Griswwold is a strange action adventure; All is not as it Seems by Faith Hunter is an excellent addition to the Yellowrock universe; and Cell Service by Christopher Barili is one of the many “family” stories, because what reaches through time the most to affect us is our blood and our loves whether good or ill – one should always accept the call. 

From crock pots to baseball cards, library rooms to parking garages, you never know when technology might have gone wrong … or what the time stream may be doing to correct it. Each story is more imaginative than the last.

Book Review: Death Warmed Over

Amazon Cover - Death Warmed Over

Book Cover from Amazon

Death Warmed Over (Dan Shamble, Zombie PI Book 1) by Kevin J. Anderson

BOOK BLURB ON AMAZON

Ever since the Big Uneasy unleashed vampires, werewolves, and other undead denizens on the world, it’s been hell being a detective—especially for zombie PI Dan Chambeaux. Taking on the creepiest of cases in the Unnatural Quarter with a human lawyer for a partner and a ghost for a girlfriend, Chambeaux redefines “dead on arrival.” But just because he was murdered doesn’t mean he’d leave his clients in the lurch. Besides, zombies are so good at lurching.

Now he’s back from the dead and back in business—with a caseload that’s downright unnatural. A resurrected mummy is suing the museum that put him on display. Two witches, victims of a curse gone terribly wrong, seek restitution from a publisher for not using “spell check” on its magical tomes. And he’s got to figure out a very personal question: who killed him?

For Dan Chambeaux, it’s all in a day’s work. (Still, does everybody have to call him “Shamble”?) Funny, fresh, and irresistible, this cadaverous caper puts the PI in RIP … with a vengeance.

 

MY REVIEW

A typical urban fantasy detective – the twist on this one is the PI is a Zombie and one of his cases is investigating his own death.

What I loved about the story: This PI doesn’t work just one case, but a dozen cases at a time. He isn’t a down-and-out Noir PI trying to climb into or out of a bottle. He just happens to have been killed recently. Other than that, he has a good set of friends, a solid job, and a smart girlfriend. Unlife promises to be as good as living had been.

With the dozen or so cases, Mr. Anderson doesn’t need to create false trails and red herrings. There is so much going on, of course Dan Chambeaux has a time uncovering the big bad’s case since he also has to work on all the other cases which pay the bills. I think this particular aspect of the story is more real than most detective stories I have read.

What I didn’t like about the story: Several times the author repeats information from the chapter before. About 1/6th of the book is repeats. Now in order to do the investigation, the PI does have to review the evidence to see if he is missing anything. Sometimes going over the information with friends lets him see the problem from a different perspective. If I was editing the book, I would recommend cutting about half of the repeats.

The chapter endings usually complete a mini-story within one of the PI’s cases, which makes picking up and putting down the book easy. If you read about 2 to 3 chapters at a time during a commute or between errands, the repeats may not bother you at all. I tend to swallow books whole – in this case I bought and finished the book the same day.

Overall a good story and solid start to a new series. Also works fine as a stand-alone.