Category Archives: book review

Being Kind to Myself

Paying for reviews is not going well for me. I go to a lot of effort to read and review the works of others. Pubby gives you four days. Four days to read a book that may be as much as 75,000 words. You also find some books to be a mind-numbing slog because many writers are simply not as good as they think they are. But there are ways to cut to the chase and evaluate a book quickly and accurately. It definitely helps if the author follows a recognizable genre pattern, but most of the reviewers on Pubby have never heard of a picaresque novel, and have poor conceptions of what a hero’s journey is, or misunderstand the basic structures in a coming-of-age story. So, you make the review pointed, simple, and give the highest rating you can justify.

But the work I put into the process is not reflected in the reviews I get in return. The last review I got on my book, Snow Babies, was supposed to be a verified purchase review. That means the reviewer is supposed to buy a copy of the e-book. $0.99 is not too much to ask. I spent $3.95 on the last book I reviewed. But the reviewer turned in a review about three hours after taking the assignment and did not buy a copy of the book. It’s a five-star review because the reviewer read the other reviews and all but one of those is five stars. So, I am cheated out of the sale, and I did not get an honest review because it does not take a Sherlock-Holmes brain to figure out, “HE DID NOT READ THE BOOK!”

I need to keep going with Pubby at least for the rest of the year-long subscription I purchased because it does give me a chance to get read. And I am not the only honest reviewer on there who will read all night to get a 75,000-word novel or book read in only four days. And a Kirkus Review costs more than a thousand dollars, and if you get an unlucky choice of semi-insane reviewer, the Kirkus Reputation can be the kiss of death even for a good book.

So, in order to be kind to myself, I may need complain to the powers behind Pubby even though it is a five-star review. We shall see if Pubby and Amazon really accept this review that was not done the way we are directed to do them.

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My Bookish Journey (Finale)

by Maxfield Parrish

Like every real, honest-to-God writer, I am on a journey. Like all the good ones and the great ones, I am compelled to find it…

“What is it?” you ask.

“I don’t know,” I answer. “But I’ll know it when I see it.”

“The answer?” you ask. “The secret to everything? Life, the universe, and everything? The equation that unifies all the theories that physicists instinctively know are all one thing? The treasure that pays for everything?”

Yes. That. The subject of the next book. The next idea. Life after death. The most important answer.

And I honestly believe that once found, then you die. Life is over. You have your meaning and purpose. You are fulfilled. Basically, I am writing and thinking and philosophizing to find the justification I need to accept the end of everything.

Leah Cim Reyeb is me, Michael Beyer written backwards.

And you know what? The scariest thing about this post is that I never intended to write these particular words when I started typing. I was going to complain about the book-review process. It makes me think that, perhaps, I will type one more sentence and then drop dead. But maybe not. I don’t think I’ve found it yet.

The thing I am looking for, however, is not an evil thing. It is merely the end of the story. The need no longer to tell another tale.

When a book closes, it doesn’t cease to exist. My life is like that. It will end. Heck, the entire universe may come to an end, though not in our time. And it will still exist beyond that time. The story will just be over. And other stories that were being told will continue. And new ones by new authors will begin. That is how infinity happens.

I think, though, that the ultimate end of the Bookish Journey lies with the one that receives the tale, the listener, the reader, or the mind that is also pursuing the goal and thinks that what I have to say about it might prove useful to his or her own quest.

I was going to complain about the book reviewer I hired for Catch a Falling Star who wrote a book review for a book by that name that was written by a lady author who was not even remotely me. And I didn’t get my money back on that one. Instead I got a hastily re-done review composed from details on the book jacket so the reviewer didn’t have to actually read my book to make up for his mistake. I was also going to complain about Pubby who only give reviewers four days to read a book, no matter how long or short it is, and how some reviewers don’t actually read the book. They only look at the other reviews on Amazon and compose something from there. Or the review I just got today, where the reviewer didn’t bother to read or buy the book as he was contracted to do, and then gave me a tepid review on a book with no other reviews to go by, and the Amazon sales report proves no one bought a book. So, it is definitely a middling review on a book that the reviewer didn’t read. Those are things I had intended to talk about today.

But, in the course of this essay, I have discovered that I don’t need to talk about those tedious and unimportant things. What matters really depends on what you, Dear Reader, got from this post. The ultimate McGuffin is in your hands. Be careful what you do with it. I believe neither of us is really ready to drop dead.

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My Bookish Journey (Part IV)

Once I settled into a publishing plan where I was basically in control of the whole process, the center of my world became the execution of my overall plan to commit acts of actual literature. I had to decide what I wanted to write and the reasons why I was going to write it.

Surrealist Reasons for the Season.

I began the most serious part of my journey into authorship once I was fully retired from my last teaching job. And the darkest part of that truth is that if I weren’t ill enough to be forced to leave teaching, I would still be doing that. It is what God made me for, if there is a God. But since I am stuck in this retirement reality, I really have to use fiction for what fiction-writing is for.

And let me assure you, I know what writing fiction needs to mean for me. I need to rewrite the story of my life in the surreal reality of perceived truth. And what does that mean in simple words? I have to lie a lot. Because fiction is lying in order to reveal the truth.

Two of the most important books I wrote tell the same story for the same purpose.

The Two Stories are really One Story.

I had a childhood full of monsters. And who I became in adult life was not done in spite of what those monsters did to me, but because of it. I was sexually assaulted as a ten-year-old. What he did to me was not pleasurable in any way. He tortured me because causing pain turned him on. I was severely traumatized by the experience. So much so that I experienced PTSD-induced amnesia for a while. These two books are about my fear of monsters and evil, and the deeply embedded fear that when directly faced with evil, I would not know what it really was.

Things in the two novels are not exactly what they seem.

Torrie Brownfield, the Baby Werewolf, is not a monster. He is a boy who suffers from a genetic hair disorder called hypertrichosis, the same disorder that caused the star of Barnum’s freak show, Jojo the dog-faced boy, to have excessive hair growth.

He looks like a monster, but he is really the sweetest, most innocent character in the story.

..

..

..

The Cobble Sisters, both Sherry and Shelly, are nudists. That is a detail that was both kinda true about the real twin girls that inspired the characters, and true enough about these characters in the story to make fans of my fiction from real nudists I befriended on Twitter.

The nudism, however, symbolizes innocence and truthfulness. Sherry labors in both books to get the other members of the Pirates’ Liars’ Club to accept nudism and try it for themselves. Sherry tells them repeatedly that nudists are more honest than other people because they don’t hide anything about themselves.

The ultimate villain of both novels is, ironically, one who hides everything and manipulates from the shadows.

Grandma Gretel is the main character of Recipes for Gingerbread Children. She is a story-teller that has to come to terms with her own monsters from the past. She is a survivor of the Holocaust during WWII. She lost her entire family to the monsters of the Third Reich.

Ironically, she is the one who, through stories and her own keen perceptions, reveals the ultimate villain and his evil. She also, through stories, is coming to terms with her own trauma and loss.

So, what I am saying about my bookish journey at this point is that I have to write the novels I am writing because they allow me to rewrite the world I live in and the facts of my past life in it. I am rewriting myself. I am becoming the me I need to be by writing.

Of course, I am not yet done talking about my bookish journey. Keep an eye out for Part V.

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When One Door Closes…

I confess I do not know anything when it comes to marketing my books. I have worked at it hard now for the past six years. I have managed to make about five dollars a month this year… up from nothing while spending twenty dollars a month on various marketing services. So, by my limited math skills, I am now losing only $180 a year,

I recently got another excellent review on a book I feel good about having written, and I think it bodes well that when someone who actually read the book, a belief that I have because it is a verified-purchase review, seems to confirm that it really is a good book. At the very least, it really did connect with this one reader.

I got a very unexpected boost from a fellow author and book-marketer on Twitter. I am the second of three authors featured in the blog post linked to below.

I don’t know exactly how this came about. I am not used to having success on Twitter from any quarter besides Twitter nudists and Twitter fans of Tom Hiddleston. She, as a WordPress blogger, doesn’t seem to be a member of either of those groups.

One of the books that the Blogger Bookstore highlighted was Laughing Blue, the book I had already chosen for my January free-book promotion. It will begin being offered for free on Friday of this coming weekend. That fact, combined with the way the blog has filled my Twitter notifications this morning may cause the promotion to reach more readers than any previous promotion has managed.

The other book highlighted in the blog post was my very best novel, Snow Babies.

That couldn’t have been a better door to be opened if I had written that post on the other blog myself.

So, as I was getting more and more depressed as my health worsens and the pandemic has been grinding more on more on my soul,, this door to possibilities opened.

Believe me, I appreciate it. It is timely.

More than once a new door has opened, letting light into my life to help me battle the darkness just as the darkness seemed to be winning.

I am glad that when one door closes, two or more open.

I know it’s a cliché. But it is a good one.

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Ugly Christmas Sweaters and the Criticizing of Them

In the Midwest

where I spent my childhood and early youth, there is a great tradition of making fun of the exceptionally eye-bonking ski sweaters and Norwegian-middle-layer clothing that dads and grandads are given as presents less often than only neckties.

Yes, they are functional in the land of 100-degree-below-zero wind-chill. And they also work as defenders of your male virginity when you are in college in Iowa. But we make fun of them not out of derision, but of love. These are gifts, after all, that are given on winter birthdays and Christmas because the giver loves you. And the creative criticism of them is given only as a sign of appreciation for what they are truly for.

And if you tried to click on the X’s on this sweater of mine, and it did not immediately close on your screen, that’s because this one has special meaning. I didn’t get this as a Christmas gift. I inherited it from my father who died in November 2020. And it will keep my heart warm now until it falls apart, or until the time comes to pass it on to my own eldest son.

What…

this essay is actually about is the nature of good criticism.

The fact that this one is a red Christmas tree decorated with lawn flamingos is not the actual point. One has to look past the flaws and try to judge the effectiveness of how it achieves… or fails to achieve… its intended purpose… apparently to keep rats and small birds out of your yard… or from within a hundred yards of the thing.

And…

if I were to be offended by the revelation of Santa’s sexy black thong, then the thing to do as a proper critic is not to use my power to condemn it, but not to take up the critique of it at all. I mean, if you are actually offended by the thing, you would not want to offer an opinion that some would take as a challenge.

“What? You are telling me that I can’t like Santa’s sexy black thong? I will not only like it, I will love it! And I will buy one for myself.”


Following…

the philosophy of the uncritical critic, I would only review this green nightmare sweater of a Christmas mutant demon-dog if I really liked it. Of course, since you are seeing a review of it here, it means I am actually quite charmed by the sweater itself, and amused by whatever seventy-plus-year-old grandmama that has the kitsch-defiant attitude that allows her to proudly wear it… even if it was given to her as a gift by a relative she probably doesn’t really like but, never tells them so.

Doing book reviews one after another (as I have been doing for Pubby in order to get reviews on my own books in return) I have done a lot of the uncritical critic bit. Some of the people I have been reviewing the books of should never have tried to write a book in the first place. But do I tell them that? Of course not. If I have taken the trouble to read the whole book, even though it may be horrible, I am not going to pour cold water on their flame. I have done reviews with innumerable editorial suggestions of what would make it a better story, or a better non-fiction book, or children’s book, or poetry book, or self-help book… I have read terrible books of all of these kinds. And I know the authors did not rewrite the books as I suggested. But in my many years as a writing teacher, I have learned well that you must always point out the fledgling writers’ strengths and ask them to build on those. And some will. Besides the points I earn to spend on reviews of Mickian books, that is reward enough.

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According to Mickey…

I have been using the book-reviewing service called Pubby to get readers to actually read and review my books. I have barely gotten any readers to pick up and read one of my books since I first started publishing my work in 2007. And I get it. Beginning authors, no matter how good they are going to be later, are not so very good on the first, second, or even third try. My family is reluctant to read anything I have written because I pester them too much about it. My children are all creative in their own way, and consumed more by their own projects than by anything I have done. And when my wife reads anything I have written, she becomes laser-focused on what is unusual about how I use grammar and how things are spelled.

“You can’t spell that word like that!” she insists.

“But honey, it’s a made-up word that I made up myself.”

“That makes it worse, because the word it makes me think of is a bad word in the Philippines, even though it is spelled nothing like your word for butterflies thinking of ear wax.”

“Okay, I guess I have to change it then.”

Not my wife and me… but close.

But Amazon doesn’t like your relatives writing book reviews anyway. And their rules knocked out a couple of reviews I got from other writers with whom I had a deal for exchanging reviews. So, this review service was supposed to help with the problem. You read books from Pubby’s list and write a review to get points that you can put toward getting your own books reviewed. That seems both reasonable and equitable to me.

So, I started with some of the best books I have written and began getting them reviewed. So far, Snow Babies has gained four five-star reviews. Sing Sad Songs and Recipes for Gingerbread Children have each added three five-star reviews.

And it began to concern me.

It seems that some of the truly terrible writing that I was reviewing were getting overly-generous amounts of five-star reviews, along with their twos and threes. And the closer I looked at some of the comments in the reviews of my books, which were somehow read in only one or two days, were merely restatements of what other reviewers had already written. It was entirely possible that I was getting reviews like I was because writers were slapping an empty five-star on there to justify earning their points to get their own books reviewed. They weren’t actually reading the stories themselves.

I am not going to complain about mere suspicions over a five-star review. But I was looking for proof that people read and like my books. And I expect to see some lower grades on my work. That’s part of how you know things are real. Not everyone likes every good book. The best books ever written have their detractors.

That is an ordinary tractor in the background, not a detractor.

So, I went with my most recently published book, Laughing Blue. I chose the free-review-copy option and gave the reader every opportunity to dislike my book of boring old essays. And I got back a five-star review with some actual proof that the reader did read it and enjoyed it.

Now I feel better. But I would still like to see some three or four-star reviews, and I would definitely survive a one or a two. It would make me think the whole thing is a bit more honest than it has seemed at times.

And that’s how it’s supposed to be… according to Mickey.

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The Uncritical Critic Rides Sidesaddle

One difficulty with doing the whole book-review-on-Pubby.com thing is that to get a book reviewed you have to give a book review or two.

This comes into conflict with my uncritical critic philosophy. You see, up until now I have done book reviews only at my pleasure, only reviewing books I know I am going to enjoy. I am used to giving five-star book reviews because the books I choose to read are really that good.

But now, on this book-review forum that I paid an expensive membership to join, I am definitely running into books written by authors who only think they are writing the Great American Novel. Some of them have a lot to learn about how to tell a good story, let alone the ones who don’t even know some of the basics about how to write in English.

I recently came across a book that had a number of four and five stars in each review. But I could only give it a two-star review. Bummer. Why is it up to me to bring the hammer down? Some of the reviewers who weren’t mostly incoherent in what they said about the book were obviously being overly kind because it was this person’s first novel. How do you deflate someone’s balloon without breaking their heart while they are holding tightly to the string?

And is it fair to give someone a balloon-inflating five-star review if they haven’t earned it?

As a writing teacher, you have to begin every review of an assignment with the positives you find in the work. The suggestions for improvement that come after may far outweigh the two good things you found in the piece to get them re-started.

I recently read a “novel” by an author who had only written about 8,000 words and was calling this the beginning of an epic series. There was practically no dialogue. The actions were brief and as simplistic as a fairy-tale adventure with demonic possession in another dimension where time-travel was common could possibly be. It makes me cringe about my own unpublished first attempts a whole lot less than before. So, I had to give a two-star review that began with the sentence, “You certainly are an enthusiastic young writer.”

I worry too about all of my own reviews so far being pure five-star reviews. Some of those reviews seem to reveal that the reader actually read the book and identified some of the strengths it has that I believe are there myself. But some of them could too easily be from reading what other reviewers have said, parroting it, and giving me a review based on their assumption that the other reviewers are right. I need to see some of that criticism and argument about what I have done that indicates a thoughtful reading of the book and really disliking it for a valid reason. I am not a perfect writer. Even the guy who wrote Shakespeare’s plays and poems had some flaws, prejudices, and foibles.

And since we are reviewing each other’s novels, how soon before someone gives me a one-star review out of a lust for vengeance? We are probably not all doing this in order to make each other better writers.

Ah, the book-reviewing life! Can you name even one reviewer you think is right more than they are wrong? I can’t. In fact, who besides me ever reads book reviews? I do not know that answer well enough to even guess.

But I paid the money. And someone is actually reading and reviewing honestly, even if it is only me. I mounted the old unicorn of book reading an writing tutorials sidesaddle. That way I’m not likely to get hit where it really, really hurts.

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My Life in Review

My investment in Pubby is beginning to pay off. I am getting good reviews on my books. Sing Sad Songs now has two reviews, both five stars.

Snow Babies is the one I started on to get reviews. It is up to five reviews, all of them five stars.

Recipes for Gingerbread Children will be the next one I put to the test. It already has one five star review before I try it on Pubby.

It takes a bit of work to get a book reviewed on Pubby. Although I paid them a fee for the service ($20 a month) you have to earn points for the reviews you want by reviewing the works of others. Some of those books are quite good. Others are terrible. There are people on Pubby that need a lot of work, practice, and possibly competent editors before they will ever be any good. Some of their ideas about how to write are just plain wrong (at least, if you want people to read and understand your work.)

And I am not saying I am a better writer than the people submitting their work to Pubby. But I have the confidence to say I am not part the worst of them either. Even though my family has not yet read and liked any of my books, I do know how to write well and tell a good story. If I had done what I am doing now twenty or more years ago, I might’ve made a bigger splash than I am making now. It does matter that there are no gatekeepers anymore.

But I am enjoying the confirmations I am getting now from this book-review service. While it does have its drawbacks, it is doing me some personal good at a time when most of what happens in my life is mostly depressing and painful.

If you are interested, here is a link by which you can check it out; https://pubby.co/?invite=5713

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Up and Down, Good and Bad

Lepperd Girrrrl, Jungle Princess

I am in quarantine because of my son’s COVID-positive status, so naturally I am hyper-sensitive to the possibility that I could get the virus and die in just a few days. This morning I woke up to a cough, headache, and sinus drainage that immediately set off alarm bells. Time to start living my last days on Earth…. again.

But I have been thinking about canceling the Pubby subscription I bought before the free ten-day trial period ends tomorrow and they charge my bank account for the whole year. So, before calling an ambulance prematurely and setting the house in a panic, I checked Pubby. One of the two reviewers I thought were both going to stiff me on a review I had earned came through and posted a review. And it was a very literate and convincing five-star review. I was basically thrilled and felt vindicated enough that the other nagging worry felt better too.

This link takes you to the reader-review page.

So, then I took my temperature yet again and got 37.1 degrees Celsius. 37 C is, of course, normal, a fact that I had to look up and then convert to Fahrenheit myself just to be sure. So, I have not had a single instance of fever since long before the quarantine began. And, I was also able to discern that these are the exact same symptoms I had at the end of June that made me go get a COVID test that proved I was negative for the virus after the doctor assured me that taking the test was only a precaution, and I didn’t really have coronavirus symptoms. I still have medication for the allergic reaction I had last time, I remembered trying to do the same clean-up yesterday that I had done the first time I had that reaction.

Since we are on a watch for severe symptoms anyway, I decided to wait until I have a fever or shortness of breath. Exactly what the doctor would tell me to do anyway with the situation whether a test came back positive or negative. I am saving money for the doctor’s phone-call consultation, and saving myself another long trip and long wait in a long, long line. Especially when I don’t feel well enough to drive, and don’t want to risk a healthy family member to drive me. So, while I am sealed in my room waiting to die, I will continue to write and read and try to get more books reviewed. This may be my last day alive. But I am happy and the world looks good even though the Republican National Fear-fest continues to threaten a Trump-family dictatorship.

Oh, and I am continuing to scan artworks as my scanner has temporarily forgotten once again how much it hates me after tax time.

A way to access my artwork from this blog with a simple Google images search.

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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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