Category Archives: book review

Tom Sawyer Abroad (Book Review)

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Yep, I read about being an “erronort” traveling in a balloon while sitting in a parking lot in my car.

Believe it or not, I read this entire 100+year-old book in my car while waiting for my daughter and my son in school parking lots.  What a perfectly ironic way to read a soaring imaginary adventure written by Mark Twain and mostly forgotten about by the American reading public.

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My copy of this old book is a 1965 edition published for school libraries of a book written in 1894.  It tells the story of how Tom and Huck and Jim steal a ride on a balloon at a town fair from a somewhat mentally unhinged professor of aeronautical science.  The balloon, which has space-age travel capabilities due to the professor’s insane genius, takes them on an accidental voyage to Africa.

Of course, the insane professor intends to kill them all, because that’s what insane geniuses do after they prove how genius-y they really are.  But as he tries to throw Tom into the Atlantic, he only manages to plunge himself through the sky and down to an unseen fate.  The result being a great adventure for the three friends in the sands of the Sahara.  They face man-eating lions, mummy-making sandstorms, and a chance to land on the head of the Sphinx.

The entire purpose of this book is to demonstrate Twain’s ability to be a satirical stretcher of the truth, telling jokes and lies through the unreliable narrator’s voice of Huck Finn.

Here is a quoted passage from the book to fill up this review with words and maybe explain just a bit what Twain is really doing with this book;

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Notice how I doubled my word count there without typing any of the words myself?  Isn’t the modern age wonderful?

But there you have it.  This book is about escaping every-day newspaper worries.  In a time of Presidential Candidate Donald Trump, global warming, and renewed threats of thermonuclear boo-boos with Russia, this proved to be the perfect book to float away with on an imaginary balloon to Africa.  And the book ends in a flash when Aunt Polly back in Hannibal wants Tom back in time for breakfast.  I really needed to read this book when I picked it up to read it.

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Filed under book reports, book review, foolishness, good books, humor, imagination, Mark Twain, old books, strange and wonderful ideas about life

Andre Norton, Sci-Fi Royalty

It began for me in 1977 with this wrap-around cover illustration. I knew there were a lot of this guy’s books on the shelves of the college bookstore along with works by Robert E. Howard, Roger Zelazney, and Theodore Sturgeon. And I knew this guy had also written paperback books under the name “Andrew North”, a name I had seen on the twenty-five cent novels in the drugstore where you could buy the really good pulp fiction novels only slightly used.

I had never before bought one of his books. And the book money I had for the fall quarter at Iowa State was supposed to all go towards the book-list given to me as a Junior-level English major. But the naked kid on the cover had a wired-up collar around his neck. And I had only recently recovered long-suppressed memories of being a victim of a sexual assault. I had to have it. I had to know what that illustration had to do with the story inside.

So, I bought a book that I judged by its cover.

And it was not the wrong thing to do.

The main character was a boy named Jony, the naked boy on the cover of the book. He is taken by alien beings as a study specimen along with his mother, the pregnant woman on the back of the wrap-around illustration. The story starts with Jony in a cage, treated like an animal. His mother, also a study specimen has been mated to a Neanderthal-like humanoid specimen who cannot speak, and she has given birth to twins, a boy, and a girl. They are kept in separate cages by their inhuman captors.

Jony manages a mass escape, taking his mother and his younger siblings with him, and releasing as many of the other study specimens as he can. Luckily they escape onto a very earth-like planet. But unluckily, the mother is in very poor health and dies soon after escaping. Jony is then responsible for his little brother and sister in a wilderness that is not empty of others. Luckily, the others they first run afoul of are the bear-like ursine aliens who share their need to not be recaptured by the zoo-keeper aliens.

It was a perfect novel for me. I identified strongly with the main character, who had been violated in a very personal way by monsters. And then had to build a new life in a world full of potential other-monsters. Andre Norton shared my pain and helped me overcome it.

But she also fooled me big-time. She was not a he.

She was a librarian and editor of pulp fiction who wrote enough sci-fi and fantasy in the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s to finally become a full-time author.

She was already on book number 29 when she retired from being a librarian to write full time.

And I would go on to own and read several of her other books, which were good, but never quite lived up to that first one I read. Of course, that may have been because of the timing and circumstance that led me to a book that I actually needed to read. That book set me on the road to recovery from my personal darkness. And it may have sparked in me the need to eventually become a nudist. And more important than that, it may have led me to a lifelong need to teach reading.

Andre Norton was a real writer. And she made me one too. Though I never knew who she really was until after I bought that book because of the picture on the cover. And I never got around to properly thanking her for all of that… Until this very moment.

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Filed under aliens, autobiography, book review, science fiction, strange and wonderful ideas about life

Terry Pratchett, the Grand Wizard of Discworld

image borrowed from TVtropes.com

image borrowed from TVtropes.com

I firmly believe that I would never have succeeded as a teacher and never gotten my resolve wrapped around the whole nonsense package of being a published author if I hadn’t picked up a copy of Mort, the first Discworld novel by Terry Pratchett that I ever encountered.  I started reading the book as a veteran dungeon-master at D&D role-playing games and also as a novice teacher having a world of difficulty trying to swim up the waterfalls of Texas education fast enough to avoid the jagged rocks of failure at the bottom.  I was drinking ice tea when I started reading it.  More of that iced tea shot out my nose while reading and laughing than went down my gullet.  I almost put myself in the hospital with goofy guffaws over Death’s apprentice and his comic adventures on a flat world riding through space and time on the backs of four gigantic elephants standing on the back of a gigantic-er turtle swimming through the stars.  Now, I know you have no earthly idea what this paragraph even means, unless you read Terry Pratchett.  And believe me, if you don’t, you have to start.  If you don’t die laughing, you will have discovered what may well be the best humorist to ever put quill pen to scroll and write.  And if you do die laughing, well, there are worse ways to go, believe me.

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Discworld novels are fantasy-satire that make fun of Tolkien and Conan the Barbarian (written by Robert E. Howard, not the barbarian himself) and the whole world of elves and dwarves and heroes and dragons and such.  You don’t even have to love fantasy to like this stuff.  It skewers fantasy with spears of ridiculousness (a fourth level spell from the Dungeons of Comedic Magic for those fellow dungeon masters out there who obsessively keep track of such things).  The humor bleeds over into the realms of high finance, education, theater, English and American politics, and the world as we know it (but failed to see from this angle before… a stand-on-your-head-and-balance-over-a-pit-of-man-eating-goldfish sort of angle).

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Terry Pratchett’s many wonderful books helped me to love what is ugly, because ugly is funny, and if you love something funny for long enough, you understand that there is a place in the world even for goblins and trolls and ogres.  Believe me, that was a critical lesson for a teacher of seventh graders to learn.  I became quite fond of a number of twelve and thirteen year old goblins and trolls because I was able see through the funny parts of their inherent ugliness to the hidden beauty that lies within (yes, I know that sounds like I am still talking about yesterday’s post, but that’s because I am… I never stop blithering about that sort of blather when it comes to the value hidden inside kids).

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I have made it a personal goal to read every book ever written by Terry Pratchett.  And that goal is now within reach because even though he is an incredibly prolific writer, he has passed on within the last year.  He now only has one novel left that hasn’t reached bookstores.  Soon I will only need to read a dozen more of his books to finish his entire catalog of published works.  And I am confident I will learn more lessons about life and love and laughter by reading what is left, and re-reading some of the books in my treasured Terry Pratchett paperback collection.  Talk about your dog-eared tomes of magical mirth-making lore!  I know I will never be the writer he was.  But I can imitate and praise him and maybe extend the wonderful work that he did in life.  This word-wizard is definitely worth any amount of work to acquire and internalize.  Don’t take my convoluted word for it.  Try it yourself.

borrowed from artistsUK.com

borrowed from artistsUK.com

map

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Filed under book review, humor, NOVEL WRITING

Three Books at Once

No, this isn’t some kind of multiple-book book review.  This is an ungodly silly claim that I can actually read three books at once.  Silly, but true.

Now I don’t claim to be a three-armed mutant with six eyes or anything.  And I am relatively sure I only have one brain.  But, remember, I was a school teacher who could successfully maintain a lesson thread through discussions that were supposed to be about a story by Mark Twain, but ventured off to the left into whether or not donuts were really invented by a guy who piloted a ship and stuck his pastries on the handles of the ships’ wheel, thus making the first donut holes, and then got briefly lost in the woods of a discussion about whether or not there were pirates on the Mississippi River, and who Jean Lafitte really was, and why he was not the barefoot pirate who stole Cap’n Crunch’s cereal, but finally got to the point of what the story was really trying to say.  (How’s that for mastery of the compound sentence?)  (Oh, so you could better?  Really?  You were in my class once, weren’t you.)  I am quite capable of tracking more than one plot at the same time.  And I am not slavishly devoted to finishing one book before I pick up the next.

I like reading things the way I eat a Sunday dinner… a little meatloaf is followed by a fork-full of mashed potatoes, then back to meat, and some green peas after that…  until the whole plate is clean.

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson is the meatloaf.  I have read it before, just as I have probably had more meatloaf in my Iowegian/Texican  lifetime than any other meat dish.  It’s pretty much a middle-America thing.  And Treasure Island is the second book I ever read.  So you can understand how easy a re-read would be.  I am reading it mostly while I am sitting in the high school parking lot waiting to pick up the Princess after school is out.

fbofw1Lynn Johnston’s For Better or Worse is also an old friend.  I used to read it in the newspaper practically every day.  I watched those kids grow up and have adventures almost as if they were members of my own family.  So the mashed potatoes part of the meal is easy to digest too.

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So that brings me to the green peas.  Green peas are good for you.  They are filled with niacin and folic acid and other green stuff that makes you healthier, even though when the green peas get mashed a bit and mix together with the potatoes, they look like boogers, and when you are a kid, you really can’t be sure.  Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter wrote this book The Long War together.  And while I love everything Terry Pratchett does, including the book he wrote with Neil Gaiman, I am having a hard time getting into this one.  Parts of it seem disjointed and hard to follow, at least at the beginning.  It takes work to choke down some of it.  Peas and potatoes and boogers, you know.

But this isn’t the first time I have ever read multiple books at the same time.  In fact, I don’t remember the last time I finished a book and the next one wasn’t at least halfway finished too.  So it can be done.  Even by sane people.

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The Literate but Illogical Introvert (Part 2)

I claim to be a literate individual. But, of course, before they let you teach English Language Arts to seventh graders, you have to prove it. They want you to prove you can handle a classroom, and not only can read and write, but can teach seventh graders to do it too… at least to a minimum competency level. After all, the English language in the hands of a hormonal personality-bomb otherwise known as a seventh grade boy or a seventh grade girl, it is a potential weapon of mass destruction.

I set out to become more than merely competently literate in high school. Even then, I wanted to read all the best books ever written and learn to write like that too. In fact, I set myself a quest when I was a junior in high school taking Mr. Sorum’s version of the novel-reading class set out by the Iowa State Board of Education’s curriculum guide as The Modern Novel, a quest to find and read the greatest novel ever written. I started in that class with Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye.

But that fit too easily into the “Modern Novel” thing since it was written in the 60’s and I was reading it in the 70’s. I had to be more illogical than that. So, I also found a book on the Scholastic Book Order form called The Return of the Native, by Thomas Hardy and read that. It was not exactly a modern novel having been written in the 1870’s and was actually a 96-year-old book when I read it. And it was a tragic love story where everybody ends up married to the wrong person and true love was thwarted up until the chapter where there are multiple drownings. I, of course, fell in love with the Reddleman, Diggory Venn (Reddlemen go from farm to farm dipping sheep in the reddle to kill ticks and fleas) who is covered head to toe in red dye from dipping sheep. He is the humble soul who loves the good girl that the bad man wants to marry even though he’s actually in love with the bad woman who wants to marry Clym Yoebright (the returning native of the title) for his family fortune so she can escape the hated heath country. I realized from the first chapter onward that I was supposed to identify with Clym as the main character. But, illogical introvert that I am (and that Diggory also is) I had to identify with the humble Mr. Venn. And guess what? Diggory not only saves Clym from drowning as he lets the bad man and the bad woman visit Neptune the hard way, he also gets to marry the good girl in the end.

Goofy choice for a great book, right? But it is a great book. It is about people who love drama in their lives and live for the wrong things in life getting what they probably deserve while the plodders and reddlemen get the real rewards in the end. Victorian hooberglob, sure… but good hooberglob with vivid characters, an oppressive setting, and a darkly comic look at love, repressed love, evil love, and just plain love in the end.

But I couldn’t go on thinking forever that The Return of the Native was the best novel ever written. I would go on to read some very good Hemingway, some x-rated Heinlein, and a couple of dog stories before I finished that class. (I definitely read more novels than anyone else in that class as most of them were making their book reports from the blurbs on the back of the book and the part they hide inside the front cover rather than actually reading a whole book.)

But then, as a freshman in college, I was introduced to Saul Bellow.

Good god! Why had they been keeping this writer a secret from me?

Humboldt’s Gift was the book we read and discussed in class. It was written the year before we read it and it both won Bellow a Pulitzer and helped him win the Novel Prize for Literature the year after I read and studied it. It is the story of a friendship between writers. The narrator, Charlie Citrine and the Humboldt poet from the title get to know each other in a friendship that spans the decades between the 1930’s and the middle of the 1970’s. But it also convinced me that most great writers and the books they write that become great books are totally obsessed with sex and death. Charlie is mourning in the story about his latest divorce, his new love that his last love is keeping him separated from, the death in an airplane crash of his love before the lady he just divorced, and his own obsession with his own death.

Yes, sex and death. Lesson learned about great books.

And I learned all those lessons again in a book I found at the university book store by Bellow and read on my own. Henderson the Rain King is about a rich and socially powerful man who is seeking the meaning of life and totally dissatisfied with everything he has discovered so far.

He goes on a trip to Africa complete with guide and tourist group only to take off on his own when he gets there, hiring a native guide, visiting a native village, lifting a gigantic stone statue of a god, and accidentally becoming the official Rain King of the Wirari tribe. He then goes into a long period of philosophical discussion with the tribal king, pokes around at learning the meaning of life from an African point of view, and then goes on a lion hunt with the king wherein the king is killed by the lion, making Henderson the new king, the next step up from tribal Rain King.

And then there was William Faulkner.

Yes, the drunken postal clerk who wrote some of what may be the best novels ever written.

Make that some of the best super-wordy novels ever written, long paragraphs and all.

I have read more Faulkner than just The Sound and the Fury. But this is the first Faulkner I read as part of an American Literature class in grad school.

The title of this book is based on the Shakespeare quote from MacBeth’s soliloquy. “…It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury… signifying nothing.” So, this writer can poke fun at himself.

The three main characters of the book, the Compson brothers, are three very different viewpoint characters that take the swirling toilet bowl of stream-of-consciousness narratives about life in Mississippi and show us how meaningless and pointless our lives are. Benjy is the mentally handicapped brother who barely understands anything about the world around him. Jason is the hot-headed brother working in a farm-supply store and constantly fuming about money and class struggles. Quentin is the lucky brother who gets to go to college and mess up his life on a bigger stage than the other two. Caddy is the sister that all three talk and think about, especially when it comes to the tragedy of what actually happens to her. Everything is one big joke to Faulkner, as demonstrated by the scene in the end of the story where Jason (symbolizing Fury) is beating the snot out of his loudly squalling brother Benjy (the Sound.) It almost seems like the entire story is one big set-up for that one final sight-gag.

I have to say, I considered all of these books as potentially the best novel ever written. But none of these were the final choice. And the four books that I intended to add to this discussion weren’t the final choice either, so I had no trouble editing them out as this essay is way too long already. But the fact that I read and loved these books is basically proof that the reading part of being literate I have down. I’ll bet, if you have read this far, that you haven’t read any of these classics. But I don’t bet money. And you probably didn’t even read this far into a big-windy essay like this one. It doesn’t matter. These books exist. I love them. And I am glad I made them part of my little introverted and totally perverted world.

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Filed under autobiography, book reports, book review, humor, strange and wonderful ideas about life

Bad, Bad Mickey

My writing has generated some bad reviews of late. Things I am not sure have very much validity, but are a part of public opinion you have to learn to live with. I recognize as an experienced public school teacher, there are always going to be people who automatically hate you for no reason, and will be motivated enough to find a reason, and even get you fired if they can.

The critics are not going to get me fired in this case, since I am a retired school teacher and no longer teaching. And I live on a pension, not the money I make on my novels (currently between $2.50 and $5.00 a month) so getting them banned from Amazon has no financial consequences.

My book The Baby Werewolf got a two-star review from a lady who claimed to have worked in publishing and editing. She said she hated to give a bad review, but my book was so unprofessional and bad that she had no choice but to recommend that nobody else ever reads it. She said it had too much telling rather than showing, an unprofessional cover, and a story that doesn’t have a coherent plot.

But she also says that my book, a horror comedy, is too creepy. And she qualifies that in that she thinks it’s creepy in ways that a horror story shouldn’t be creepy. She objects to humor involving Sherry Cobble, the nudist character. She says that she has no problem with the idea of nudism, just the way I use it.

So, I think, what it boils down to is she is not so much shaming the novel for being a bad novel, but she is saying that I, as the author, am either too stupid to effectively write a novel like this, or that I am a bad person with evil motives for writing a novel like this. So, she got me! Curses! Foiled again!

I do take note of the fact that this novel has also gotten glowing reviews from some other readers. So, I guess my evil plan worked on them. Whatever that evil plan was supposed to gain me, it must be working more often than it is foiled.

That happened again this week with my novel The Wizard in His Keep. It is due to get a two-star review via Pubby review exchange. I don’t know what the reviewer has found so offensive and wrong about my book, but it must be pretty serious in that Amazon has not yet approved that review after almost a week.

I have a fair amount of confidence as a writer. I have written things that won awards from editors. I have made the final round of judging in a novel-writing contest twice in the last decade. Whatever bad thing they are going to throw at me next, I can take it. There are no writers, even the great ones, that don’t get at least some unfair criticism. It can really hurt when the bad review is one of only eight total reviews. And bad reviews can make me depressed. But, I promise it won’t kill me.

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Filed under book review, horror writing, humor, novel writing, Paffooney

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

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Some books come along telling a story that has to be taken seriously in ways that don’t make sense in any normal way.  The Alchemist is one of those books.

What is an alchemist, after all?

An alchemist uses the medieval forms of the art of chemistry to transmute things, one thing becoming another thing.

Coelho in this book is himself an alchemist of ideas.  He uses this book to transmute one idea into another until he digs deep enough into the pile of ideas to finally transmute words into wisdom.

There is a great deal of wisdom in this book, and I can actually share some of it here without spoiling the story.

Here are a few gemstones of wisdom from the Alchemist’s treasure chest;

“It’s the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting…” (p.13)

“It’s the simple things in life that are the most extraordinary; only wise men are able to understand them.” (p.17)

“All things are one.  And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”  (p.24)

“And when he had gone only a short distance, he realized that, while they were erecting the stall, one of them had spoken Arabic and the other Spanish.    And they had understood each other perfectly well.  There must be a language that doesn’t depend on words, the boy thought.” (p.45)

All of these quotes from the book, as you can see, come from the first third of the book.  There are many more treasures to be found in this book.  I should not share them with you here.  Just as the main character of the story learns, you have to do the work for yourself.  But this book is not only an enjoyable read, but a map for how you can execute your own journey towards your “Personal Legend”.  In fact, you may find that the book tells you not only how to go about making a dream come true, but, if you are already on that journey successfully, it tells you what things you are already doing right.

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The Surprise of Sudden Glowing Reviews

I returned from my trip to Iowa to attend my mother’s funeral to find a Twitter friend has given me a few glowing reviews on books I was not expecting to earn any reviews at all with.

Gerardo Cisneros is a nudist from Twitter who not only reads and enjoys my nudist-related stories, but my other books, including YA novels as well.

Gerardo Cisneros-S.@gcs_nudista Nudist since 1996, founding and former Board Member of the Federación Nudista de México, A.C.; AANR member since 2000. #NormalisingNaturism#NormalizingNaturism

He retweets my Twitter blatherings and promotions and does a lot to help promote my work. The review on Catch a Falling Star was really unexpected. That book, still under contract with I-Universe, is over-priced even in e-book form. Gerardo does a better job of promoting my work than the I-Universe publicists that I had to pay for their work ever did.

Amazingly he even read these two books in their proper sequence, a thing no one else has ever done despite a few of my books having sequels and companion books.

He even read and reviewed the messy first novel I ever completed while still being a teacher in deep South Texas.

Horatio T. Dogg, Super Sleuth is the novella I most recently published.

I write novels because it allows me to deal with the deepest, darkest things in my life. I have trauma as a sexual assault victim from my childhood. I have lost loved ones. I have been a long-time teacher of middle-school-aged kids. Some of whom I grew to love deeply with only the most proper of teacher-child connections possible. I have lost some kids that I loved to violence, accidents, suicide, and one to AIDS. I have been on the dark doorstep of suicidal thoughts more than once myself. I have been broke and broken and bankrupt and mortified. And all of that makes me write novels with humor, imagination, poignance, and love. I have labored hard to turn darkness into light.

And it all becomes worth it when I connect with a reader and give them something of myself that brings a smile to their face. Or a truly heartfelt tear to their eye, because that can be a beautiful, artful thing too.

Gerardo CIsneros, Ted Bun, and other Twitter nudists have done more to fulfill my purpose in life than even my other literary Twitter friends and publishing acquaintances. I am blessed with wonderful readers.

https://www.amazon.com/Michael-Beyer/e/B00DL1X14C/ref=dp_byline_cont_pop_ebooks_1

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In Praise of Louis L’Amour

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This man was my Grandpa Aldrich’s favorite author.  Grandpa had ridden the range in the Dakotas in the 1920’s and early 30’s.  He was basically an Iowa farmer for his whole life, but he rode horseback on the plains just long enough to become addicted vicariously to the life L’Amour so vividly describes in his many western novels.

Grandpa read every Louis L’Amour book the Rowan library had.  He read a few more besides.  And I have no idea how many he read twice, three times, or more.  For the last decade of his life, he did very little sleeping, being used to two hours of actual sleep a night, and spending the rest of the time reading westerns while he rested.

This reading addiction is not only one that I understand, but share.  I, too, love the westerns, the heroes, the manly and poetic prose, and the sheer story-telling ability of Louis L’Amour.  I have not yet read every single book he wrote while he was alive.  But I am working on it.

Recently I reread the book The Daybreakers, a critical cog in the story-cycle of the Sackett family.  Here is my review from Goodreads of the third time I read this book.

Goodreads

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The Daybreakers 
by

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Michael Beyer‘s review

Jul 01, 2018  ·  edit
it was amazing


This book is as much a hero’s journey as Star Wars. In some ways it is more complex. And in many ways it is a better story.
Louis L’Amour is a master storyteller. He created the narrator hero, Tyrel Sackett, as a young Luke Skywalker. His natural Force abilities are those qualities which make him a competent Westerner and a powerful gunfighter. His brother Orrin Sackett takes the Han Solo role from rogue pilot to New Mexico Sheriff and eventual congressman. Jonathan Pritts is the evil Emperor. He wants to take over the Mexican land grant belonging to the Alvarado family (Princess Leiah’s family on Alderaan). (Drusilla Alvarado is the Princess Leiah character). Ironically, Tom Sunday is a reverse Darth Vader. He befriends Tye, teaches him to read and how to be a good cattleman. And then he later turns on the Sackett family because of a wrong he feels from Orrin. The confrontation between Tye and his dark-side father figure is inevitable.
The writer abilities I see in the author deserve a much more detailed analysis than I can write here, but I loved this great American novel and strongly recommend it.

We have lost Louis L’Amour.  He will never write another book.  Which gives me a chance to read everything he wrote.  But he writes so well, and is such an important part of American literature, that is only the smallest of consolations.

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Filed under art my Grandpa loved, artists I admire, book reports, book review, cowboys, good books

The Rules for Reviews

I just got the first review for the last book I’ve published. Cissy Moonskipper’s Travels, book #20, a science fiction novella, has actually been read and evaluated by somebody who wasn’t me. I am tickled blue to get a good review. I don’t see any reason mentioned why it was given four stars and not five. But four is a good review, and I am not totally convinced that I am the second coming of Saul Bellow… not totally convinced. Maybe I shouldn’t be arbitrarily lumped into the same star-category as Faulkner and Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Mark Twain. But I have noticed that a lot of not-so-great reviews are heavily influenced in their judgements by whatever the first reviewer said, and the number of stars they bedazzled me with.

As an Indie author with self-published books, I realize the importance of having people read and respond to your books. Especially when you can’t get a beta-reader you know to look at a manuscript before publication. My sisters don’t read my novels even after I publish them (and give them a gift copy and ask them specifically to read them.) And my wife is a fellow English teacher, so she wants to dissolve the book conversations into arguments about spelling and usage and points where my ideas diverge from her fundamentalist religious beliefs. So, I rely on strangers, some of them apparently semi-literate but highly opinionated, to tell me how they received my books. My source of validation for what I spend so much time doing is dependent wholly upon Amazon, Goodreads, and Pubby reviews. (Pubby is an authors’ review exchange where I earn reviews from other authors in return for my own books being reviewed by them through giving them the best reviews I can muster on their sometimes brilliant but often awful works of literature.)

It is all a matter of opinions. I give them my onions. They give me theirs. And, no, that isn’t a spelling or word-choice error in spite of what my wife probably is going to tell you when she tracks you down for reading this article.

The thing about putting Onions in the stew of reviews, is the way they can easily overpower the entire flavor. You must have a recipe, rules for the use of Onions in the stew.

I honestly don’t expect every reviewer to follow the recipe I use. That’s why I offer these rules only as a guide to how I do a book review.

Rule #1

I always look to give the book the best possible rating I can justify giving it. Therefore, there will always be a reason or multiple reasons given for how I rate the book.

Rule #2

Spelling errors or other minor proofreading or editing errors don’t lower the rating unless they make critical parts or lines in the book incomprehensible. (A five-star book may have such errors noted in the review even if it is otherwise perfect.)

Rule #3

I will not reveal important plot points or cause any spoilers to appear in the review, though I will talk about character-creation, world-building, inconsistencies of plot or character development, or other factors the author got wrong which mess up reader comprehension or basic interest in the story.

Rule #4

Comments are limited to praise or constructive criticisms. I have no wish to ruin the author’s perception of himself or herself even if they are literally a bad writer. Books too foul to do that with, I simply do not review. (And, unfortunately some of those do exist.)

I wish every “honest” reviewer would use these same rules. But they don’t. One Pubby reviewer reviewed my book Recipes for Gingerbread Children, a book about an old German woman who survived the Holocaust and dealt with it by telling fairy stories to children in Iowa in the 1970’s, and said about it, “This book has some really great recipes.”

The bum earned points for a five-star review on a book he not only didn’t read, he didn’t even look at the description on the Amazon page he had to go to to leave a review. Amazon has since removed that review.

  • Here’s what a good fiction book has to do to get a five-star review from me;
  • The lead sentences and paragraphs need to grab my attention, and hold it by telling me who this story is about, what they want or are pursuing, and what they fear most will halt them or harm them.
  • The characters have to be well-developed. I must like them even if they are bad people in some ways, and it is up to the author to make me like them.
  • The story must be well-paced, moving me forward through it because I want to read it, not because I have to read it. Surprises that make sense help. But the story can’t become boring.
  • The ending must be satisfying in some way. It can leave me hanging, but there has to be an identifiable conclusion. The book needs to feel like it has reached an end.

The reality behind all this blathering about rules I will never get all reviewers to adhere to is that I, as a retired English teacher, am not only a teacher, I am a writing teacher. I will be one even after I die and become a ghost writer. So, deal with it.

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