Category Archives: book review

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under book review, humor, Paffooney, publishing

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under art criticism, book review, humor, Paffooney, writing teacher

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

Leave a comment

Filed under book review

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under artwork, book review, commentary, feeling sorry for myself, illness, Paffooney

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.

3 Comments

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

Success is All in My Head

Like any Indie writer who has had enough of paying publishers to publish my work, any tiny bit of success is immediately seized upon and cherished, and immediately all goes into my head to swell the ego and make me strut like a rooster in the barnyard who doesn’t realize the next step for him is either the stew-pot or the oven.

I have read enough Indie books to realize that a vast majority of them are written by strutting roosters that, once their head is removed, still won’t realize that they are not the greatest writer since Hemingway and Faulkner. (They can’t compare themselves to Donald Barthelme, or James Thurber, or J.D. Salinger because most of them have never heard of those writers, let alone read anything like City Life, My Life and Hard Times, or Franny and Zooey.) I confess… At least I know I am no Hemingway or Faulkner. But I continue to protect my delusion that I am a good writer of young adult novels.

But this week I got more sugar pills for the ego in the form of reviews and evidence that people are actually reading my books.

My teacher story, Magical Miss Morgan got read at least twice on Amazon Prime, one of those yielding another 4-star review. And A Field Guide to Fauns got its first review, a 5-star review, that can be seen here;http://tvhost.co.uk/april-and-may-reading

That review is written by a fellow author whose novels also contain nudist characters like the Field Guide does.

So, a little bit of success like that makes the old heart keep pumping with hope. But I am still a long way from any kind of financial proof or critical acclaim sort of proof that I am a successful writer. Any notions of success are still all in my head. And that’s where they really ought to be. After all, it is only my belief that my writing is worth doing that will cause any more of it to happen. And more of it should happen. Otherwise my head might explode. And wouldn’t that be a terrible mess?

A road map to the inside of my stupid head. I’m sure there’s a bit of success in there somewhere.

Leave a comment

Filed under book review, commentary, humor, maps, novel writing, Paffooney, publishing, strange and wonderful ideas about life, writing humor

Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night…

The title is taken directly from the poet Dylan Thomas. He was thinking about the death of his father. But, even though my father cannot last much longer either, it is my own mortality that has been weighing heavily on my mind.

I have been thinking a lot about death of late. I am now three years farther along into my retirement than I believed I would be when I retired in 2014. I honestly believed I would not live beyond 2017 with my six incurable diseases. Especially when Banco Americo sued me over medical bills and won, forcing me into bankruptcy, and leaving me to be unable to pay for insulin for my diabetes or mental health services for family members who needed them as a matter of life or death.

So, I suppose I can be forgiven for reading a lot of life-or-death stories lately, especially the kind that don’t have a happy ending.

The Road, Cormac McCarthy’s 2006 post-apocalyptic novel, ripped a good half to three quarters of my soul out. It is about two characters making their way along a road after some unnamed disaster has blasted away most of life on Earth, and that which is left is dying. There is no miracle nor any life-saving solution at the end of the novel. The only grace the reader is allowed is that the character who dies at the end lived for as long as was possible motivated only by love, and by dying, allowed the beloved other character to live beyond him. It is a hard, terrible story to read. But it achieves its goal. It touches your hopeless heart in ways only an award-winning novel can.

The book I just finished reading was a story I originally had to read for an Iowa State University class on Existentialism in Literature. The Nobel-Prize-winning author, Albert Camus’s book, The Stranger, is no easier to read than The Road. In fact, it may be even more depressing and dark than the first novel I mentioned. The main character lives as a stranger in a meaningless world and basically is sentenced to death by a jury because he didn’t cry at his mother’s funeral. The story devastates your compassionate heart and shakes your belief in a benevolent God. And I read it the first time long before I was an atheist who believes in a different form of god. The story is itself cruel. But in the long view, it grants you a certain melancholy sort of peace that can only be had by coming to terms with your place in all of existence.

So, I admit it. I have been obsessing about the end of life far too much. The current pandemic that has us all on the ropes in the boxing match of life has brought me to grips with the fact that, even though the end of life is far closer to now than its beginning, living life is what still matters. I have been spending my shut-in days writing novels about life and love and laughter. I have also been talking to relatives by phone and connecting with people through social media, all of which can be done without risk of viral infection. Well… maybe a computer virus.

But I am alive now. And I am living in every manner I can still manage. For now. Because I can. And because it is the right thing to do.

Leave a comment

Filed under book reports, book review, good books, Paffooney, philosophy

Slade House (a book by David Mitchell)

As a writer of novels, like all passable to good writers of novels, I read novels. Not just any novels. Novels that are the kind of novels I aspire to write myself.

David Mitchell is one of those novelists who can write the way I want to write. His stories are detailed and yet, compelling enough to follow wherever the story leads you. Characters are vivid and seem to have an actual life beyond the pages of the novel. And there is a chance that you will meet them again in another David Mitchell novel, even if they died in the previous David Mitchell novel you read. He writes across swaths of time and gives the story a sense of history.

Slade House is basically a haunted house story, a horror story about a house that is itself a sort of ghost. It can only be entered by a single small iron door that only appears in an alleyway every nine years. And every time it does appear, in October of 1979, 1988, 1997, 2006… , at least one somebody will go in and never come out again.

The story is side-linked to the masterpiece Mitchell novel, The Bone Clocks. It is also a plot less convoluted and multifaceted than Bone Clocks and Cloud Atlas, so much easier to follow

David Mitchell is an author I study to learn about writing and storytelling. I don’t copy him. I do take note of his bag of tricks, his writer’s toolbox, so to speak, and I pick up and play with those same tools and magician’s secrets. I would like to suggest that if you truly wish to be a writer of fiction, you must put David Mitchell’s books on your must-read-before-I-die list. If you can’t put Mitchell on that list, then here are a few others on my list; Michael Crichton, Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman, Louis L’Amour, Charles Dickens, Thomas Hardy, H.P. Lovecraft, Steven King, Mark Twain, and J. K. Rowling. It should be obvious that these names are all on my list for different reasons. And if you don’t read David Mitchell, there are artisan’s techniques there you can get nowhere else. But you are the reader. And if you have chosen to read this far through this essay, then you are at least fool enough to want to know the things I am telling you in this book review.

As a storyteller, David Mitchell is Rumpelstiltskin. He weaves straw into gold. And if you are canny and careful enough of a reader, you can gain some of that value from his work without giving up your firstborn.

Leave a comment

Filed under book review, ghost stories, horror writing, writing teacher

When Readers Respond

I recently got my very first unsolicited review on a book I had written when Mr. Ted Bun, one of the leaders of the nudist writer group on Twitter gave me a five star review on Recipes for Gingerbread Children.

I was grateful and reviewed one of his books on Twitter in return.

But it was totally unsolicited. I didn’t even know any of my book promotions had penetrated such an odd corner of the internet. The story does have nudists in it, but that is not what the book is really about. Mr. Bun acknowledged that much in his review, and still liked it and called it well-written.

My first Amazon book promotion, offering the Kindle version of Snow Babies for free, produced the same kind of fruit. I started by sending a paperback copy to the girl I grew up with that I named the main character after. Valerie read the book to her grandchildren and then sent me this message;

Valerie– Hi Michael! I wanted to let you know that I finished reading your book a couple of days ago, and that I thought it was really good! You used so many colorful descriptions of the characters, that I felt like I could really picture the whole scene! I also enjoyed how you used several people’s names and surrounding towns from our past that brought back good memories. It kept my interest and made me excited to keep reading to see how things turned out! I appreciated how you ended it, too! Thanks again, so much for sharing it with me. I plan to share it with a friend of mine to read and then return to me! Do the Rowan and Belmond libraries have copies of your books? I would be happy to talk to the Belmond library about it, if you haven’t already! I will spread the word, and keep writing! Val

Me– I donated a couple of books to Rowan and one to Belmond.  But I have written a lot more since

They don’t have Snow Babies.   I am so glad you liked the book.  It is one of the best things I have ever written.

Valerie– You can be proud of your hard work! Next time I’m in the library, I will take Snow Babies with me and show them. I know they like to support local authors! 🙂

Me– Thank you for the help. I really appreciate it.

Then I find this tweet on Twitter from a fellow author who responded to my book promotion week.

She read Snow Babies and loved it and shared this review with me before she posted it on Amazon.

Headline: This book has a potential to become a classic

The story takes you to Norwall, a secluded midwestern town where people are expecting a snow blizzard to arrive in couple of hours. Among strangers coming to the town during the blizzard are four very special boys, a hobo, a bus driver, a drunken old lady, a stupid salesman, a couple of newly-weds and a lady following the four boys. Each of them, as well as the local people, has their own interesting story and their stories start to intertwine while the town gets buried in snow.

Some from the locals and the newcomers start to see white naked kids in the snow. In the course of events, they learn that those white kids are so called “snow babies”. According to what people say, those who see snow babies, are supposed to die during the blizzard.

The author has a talent for depicting situations in an impressive manner, so they can be humorous and touching at the same time.  His mature narrative style enables you to learn deeply but in a light way about individual characters and understand their motives. Interesting are the hobo´s droppings of philosophical reflections and life wisdoms from Walt Whitman’s book. Simultaneously, in connection with snow babies, the author keeps you in suspense until the end. The story is not predictable, and the ending left me smiling and absorbed in thought. 

I honestly fell in love with this book from the first page. It is like a fresh breeze compared to a number of today’s books written in similar patterns.

*****

I am amazed that people are beginning to read my books and like them… even love them. I wasn’t expecting that to happen until after I was dead. It is a good feeling that took me by surprise.

2 Comments

Filed under book review, humor, novel, NOVEL WRITING, Paffooney, publishing

A Stellar Review from the UK

Mr. Ted Bun’s review of Recipes for Gingerbread Children is found at this website http://tvhost.co.uk/reading-writing-and-posting

Recipes for Gingerbread Children

Recipes for Gingerbread Children by [Beyer, Michael]

by Michael Beyer

A very clever book. It is easier to describe in terms of ‘Not’

  • It is not a children’s book
  • It is not an adventure story
  • It is not a light and fluffy fairy tale
  • It is not a piece of naturist fiction.

But it is all of these things at times as Grandma Gretel weaves her tales for the children that come to her cottage for cookies and stories.

This book is most certainly well written. It delivers moral judgements with all the force of the Brothers Grimm.

Five Stars and the Read of the Month

Leave a comment

Filed under book review