Archive for the ‘Book Review’ Category

This post has been a long time coming not only because I finished my own 90-day novel back on Labor Day weekend (September 1), but also because I’ve flirted with this book before and never gone all the way.

I first came upon Alan Watt’s The 90-Day Novel in my local library sitting among the other “How to Write” books. Looking back, it’s very strange to me that a library, which only allows books to be borrowed for 21 days and then renewed once has a book that takes 90 days to finish. Who thought getting a book that a patron can only get through half of in the allotted time was a good idea? If it wasn’t one of the librarians then it means it was suggested by a patron who was looking to get it but didn’t want to invest money unless they were sure they liked it.

In any case, the book somehow found its way onto the shelves of my local library and my much younger self thought I should check it out. I’m sure my initial thoughts were that it was a formula, a step by step process to how a person would accomplish writing a book within 90 days. (Spoiler Alert: I’ve since found that the magic formula to writing within a time limit is to sit your ass in a chair and actually write. NaNoWriMo has people writing books within 30 days, and some indie authors are putting out a book a month. Don’t even get me started on how fast the guys over at The Self Publishing Podcast seem to put stuff out because those guys are nuts.)

Anyways, back to the point: The 90-Day Novel is, in some ways, a formula, and in other ways it’s a cheerleader supporting you as you sit your ass in a chair and write.

Watt opens by explaining his own journey of writing a book in 90 days. He was traveling for work and thought with all the free time he had to himself he might as well dive in and write a novel like he always wanted to. That book (Diamond Dogs) happened to do really well (a fact that he has no shame in putting out there as his credentials) and earned him a lot of money. He figures if he could do it, you can too.

The 90-Day Novel is a self-guided 90-day workshop. After the preliminary explanation of how your time will be split between pre-writing and actually drafting it takes you day by day through a series of motivational reflections and writing exercises until you hit day 90 and have a finished draft in front of you. To help you along the way there are additional writing exercises in the back as well as a sample outline.

The premise is simple enough, and if you’re self-motivated it is possible to complete the task you’ve given yourself within the stated time frame. I am not very good at sticking to a schedule, hence why I’ve started this book at least three times before and never gotten too far with it. This time around I took the schedule with a grain of salt and that seemed to do the trick.

The Formula Part: You spend a lot of time pre-writing. The first 30 days of the process is emptying your head of all the ideas for characters, setting, plot and it gives a free-form way to grasp how to write an outline. I’ve never outlined anything in my life. Okay, so back in high school I think I was required to submit an outline along with a research paper for my AP Psychology class, but that’s not quite the kind of outline we’re talking about here.

Research paper outlines are like using a GPS. The turns are all there, laid out for you. Fiction outlines are more like planning a trip before we had GPS. You have this huge road map, you find the two points, and you mark a route in red pen only to find out roads are under construction and you need to detour. In the past, I’ve been a pantser, which is to say I had a destination, and I was pretty sure my internal GPS could handle it, so I just started driving and maybe got lost somewhere along the way because I really wasn’t familiar with the city.

The Non-Formula Part: After you spend 30 days imagining your world, story, and characters, it’s time to take them out for a test drive and see if they can really get you where you planned to go. There is no short-cut for this. You have to do the work. If you don’t actually sit down and write getting it done within the 90 days is going to be tough. To help you on your way, Watt has written little anecdotes and cheerleading pieces to reassure you you’re doing a good job and you’re where you need to be. This is coupled by “road signs” such as “by the end of this week you should be at…” or “Don’t worry about it if you aren’t very far in this part of the story, we are spending a lot of time in Act 2.”

Does it work?

It worked for me.

Did I finish in 90 Days? Yes, but I took a lot of days “off”.  For me, it was 63 days of actual writing. From the day I started the pre-writing until the day I wrote “The End” I sat my butt in a chair for 63 days. That’s less than advertised. So depending on output/length of your story it is possible to finish early. However, 63 days doesn’t mean I sat my butt down every day for 63 days straight. Looking at my dates of June 7th through September 1st that’s a total of 86 days. I will say, I skimped on the ending. I needed to be done before I went back to work and I wrote a lackluster ending that I knew needed more time and effort but I figured I’d handle that in post as it were. (Considering the edits I’m doing, I probably would have scrapped the denouement anyways, but it doesn’t change the fact that I cheated the work in the interest of keeping to a deadline.)

Overall, I liked The 90-Day Novel. I thought it was a good way to break the process down into friendly bite-size bits, and hey, it got me to outline for the first time, which is a skill I plan to cultivate more in the future. Bottom line is, if having a daily routine is going to help you immensely then this may be the book for you. I know I got locked into the habit of reading the daily entry and then getting to work. A few days I refused, nay, found myself incapable of starting before I read the blurb cheering me onward. Still, it’s not a strict task master, and it’s really possible to take it and make it your own. Truly, I didn’t do all of the daily prompts but I still found the suggestion to pre-write really helpful in planning out my book. So many cool things were discovered there.

I’d recommend buying it. But if you’re just not sure it’s for you, check to see if your local library has it. You can get all the way to Day 42 before you’ll have to return it.

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At the magical price of $1.99, The Paper Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg was one of the biggest risks I’ve ever taken with a book. I’ve always been one of those people who buys books after I already know I’ll enjoy them. You know, the ones I’ve already borrowed from the library dozens of times or are sequels to something I already own. With the digital revolution and indie book prices so low (often less than a cup of coffee) I still find myself stuck in the “try before you buy” mentality. I download the preview and if I like it I’ll buy it. If I don’t I’m not out anything.

I couldn’t do that with The Paper Magician.

The Paper Magician came my way via an e-mail from Amazon, one of their KindleFirst deals. For those of you unfamiliar with KindleFirst, as I was at the time, Amazon basically picks four books from their imprint and offers them at a reduced price one month before they’re slated to come out.You purchase it and it’s sent to your Kindle that same day.

The catch is there is no “try before you buy”.  You decide to buy the book at the reduced price or you wait until it comes out and pay the full price when later. Reading the description for The Paper Magician I felt that it was a story worth taking a gamble on.

I was so happy I did!

In the world of  The Paper Magician  people who have a talent for magic bond with a specific man-made material to channel their magic through. As you can already tell by the title, the story focuses on one bound to paper. It’s not the most exciting of the options but much like the main character, Ceony Twill, I found myself gaining a respect for the medium.

Ceony Twill is a recent graduate of the Tagis Praff School for the Magically Inclined, and her story begins on the first day of her apprenticeship with Emery Thane. At the beginning I found Ceony to be one of the most annoying characters I’ve ever encountered. She’s very upset at being bonded to paper (she really wanted to craft with metal) and in all honesty comes off as being a bit spoiled despite her meager upbringing.

The story kicks into high gear when Emery Thane’s heart is stolen by an Excisioner (a magician whose magic is bonded to flesh and blood). As any apprentice in a fantasy series does, she goes off to retrieve Thane’s heart before it’s too late. Facing off against the Excisioner she finds herself sucked into Thane’s heart, experiencing his joys and heartaches as she searches for a way out.

Her journey is what I found so enchanting about the story because for once it isn’t about the monsters she defeats, it’s about the truth that can be found inside a man’s heart. The flashback scenes where beautifully done, several of which broke my heart to imagine and others that brought a smile of joy. As Ceony journeys through Thanes heart she doesn’t just learn about the Master Paper Magician, she learns about herself.

The book was beautiful in its simplicity, and I urge anyone who likes their fantasy novels a little out of the ordinary to give it a try. It won’t be the most complicated story you’ve ever read, but it has a lot of “heart”.

I’m looking forward to the next book in the series, The Glass Magician, which is set to come out November 4.

I wouldn’t so much call this a “test” as I would call it a “questionnaire”. A “survey”, if you will.  A charming list of questions that anyone who reads a lot can answer, and no two would be exactly alike. Yay sentence fragments!

I found this list through Matt Gerrard’s blog, and after looking at his links to other people who have filled it out as well it would seem this thing has been floating around the internet for a while until as if by magic it floated onto my radar. Without further ado, I give you, The Book Blogger Test. Be warned, it’s a doozie.

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Reading this book was a long time coming. My friend loaned it to me months ago, as in last June, and I put it into the pile to be read. My sister then saw it laying in the pile and said, “This looks pretty cool. Can I borrow it?” She finished it within a week and asked if my friend had the sequel. This doesn’t typically happen. My sister isn’t a big reader so for her to pick something up of her own free will and then request the next one means a lot. She then pestered me about whether I had read it or not for weeks after.

The Looking Glass Wars by Frank Beddor is a book that requires a certain mindset to get into, but maybe it was just me. I was never a huge Wonderland fan. I didn’t really care for the Disney animation, the live action ones were interesting but nothing that grabbed me enough to invest a second viewing, and when I picked up the original Through the Looking Glass, or whatever its called by Lewis Carroll I had to set it down after the first chapter because Alice annoyed the living shit out of me. I couldn’t understand how a girl could be so utterly clueless. Her behavior wasn’t endearing, or cute, it was just empty-headed. This is relevant because the first chapter or so of Beddor’s novel you have a very naive, hard to deal with Princess Alyss age seven who is just as annoying in my opinion, though your own mileage may vary. I had to set the book down the first time I picked it up. It sat around for the whole summer. The only reason I picked it back up was I needed something to take to work that would be an easy read that I could put down at a moment’s notice and now completely lose my place.

I’m not writing this review because I hated the book. Quite to the contrary, the second time I picked it up, knowing the annoyance I was about to face, it didn’t seem so annoying and bit by bit I fell in love with the story. The premise of the book (the whole series in fact) is that Wonderland is a real place. Alice is actually Princess Alyss, and her mother is the queen of hearts. After a hostile takeover by her Aunt Redd (who gets the catchphrase “Off with her head!”) Alyss escapes through the looking glass with Hatter Maddigan into the world we all know and love. Maybe not the exact world we know and love, as it’s set back when the Lewis Carroll book was written but you get the picture. Alyss and Maddigan become separated, and through a series of events Alyss meets Lewis Carroll, tells her story to him, and he in turn messes it up to create the book that we know as Alice in Wonderland. The book goes between Alyss’s adjustment to a world where the imagination does not rule, Maddigan’s search for the lost princess, and the rebel group of Wonderlanders who oppose Redd’s rule.

Without giving anything away, I have to say that Beddor’s retelling/continuation of Alice’s story is really well done. Every character who appears has a twist on the character people are familiar with. My favorite alteration is General Doppelganger who can separate himself into twin halves. Though they’re not nearly as flashy as Hatter Maddigan who’s a highly trained bodyguard of the Millinery, the simplicity of the concept I found to be very clever. Baddor adds to the known cast with characters specific to his own story, including a love interest for Alyss and a sagely tutor for the young princess. The action slowly builds to a crescendo and leaves you with a satisfying ending even if you choose not to look into the other books in the trilogy.

All three books are in paperback now, so there’s no waiting for the next installments. I just picked up the second book, Seeing Redd, from my local library. Fingers crossed it will be another fantastic adventure.

I’ll admit it. I’m a habitual book sampler. I love downloading the free sample so I can try before I buy. It’s probably my favorite feature of e-books.

That being said, first impressions mean a lot. My first impression of a sample helps me determine how much I’m willing to pay to read the rest of it, if it’s the kind of thing I’d much rather borrow from a library, or if I don’t want to read any more and am grateful that I haven’t paid anything. In fact, I put more stock in what my own opinions are than a bunch of good reviews.

How does this apply to Shane Michael Murray’s The Orc of Many Questions? It’s probably one of the first previews I’ve downloaded where I felt the content was not ready to be shared with the public. I enjoyed the story I was reading. I thought it was a cute take on the standard fantasy genre where Orcs are perpetually dumb war mongers. As a DnD player I know Orcs are not the brightest crayon in the box, so it was fun to see what happens when a young, precocious Orc steps out of line and asks too many questions that the older generation tell him he doesn’t need the answers to. The story held within the first three chapters was fun to read and after a few pages I had been thinking I would like to purchase it.

And then I noticed it on the third page: a typo.

I’m pretty forgiving of typos, they happen even in professionally published media. I’d like to think we live in a perfect world where things like that are caught and fixed but I know I’m guilty of the same sin of not being as diligent with that as I could be. So when an error of verb conjugation jumped out at me I said, “Alright, so they typed that up fast and when they read through it their eyes filled in the proper ending. No big deal.” But then a few pages later it happened again, a missing linking verb, and then again a missing comma. I wasn’t even looking for errors, but I was finding them, and that’s what upset me. I know some people who have English degrees and speak of typos and grammatical errors in popular published books, things I never noticed because the story was so compelling I didn’t care if it wasn’t 100% grammatically sound. So, to say that I noticed the errors means they were obvious enough that it pulled me out of the story.

Knowing there were at least three instances that I noticed without looking for them I’m curious as to how many flew under my general radar that would be found with closer scrutiny.

After finishing the preview I wondered how best to proceed. The story was cute and interesting and I wanted to read more, but the errors I’d found within it made me think twice. I glanced at the page to see the price tag and couldn’t believe it when I saw it marked at $4.99. I’ve bought better for cheaper, and considering the quality I think the price point oversteps it.

Amazingly, none of the reviews even mention the grammatical errors. It’s standing pretty with 4.5 stars. For comparison of self published work, that’s the same as Wool by Hugh Howey who back in the day sold his story for the magical price of $.99 and has since gone perma-free. That’s the same rating that Susan Kaye Quinn has for her MindJacker Trilogy, which you can buy all three of bundled together for $6.99 and not run into noticeable grammar problems.

I suppose my problem is that I see a story with potential but the author didn’t take enough pride in his work to proofread, and that makes me sad. As I was reading I desperately wanted to contact the author, telling him exactly where I found the typos, relating to him that if the price had been lower I would have gladly purchased it and then probably still set about contacting him with a list of all the errors I found within. I would do this because I believe in the writing community. I believe that people should be able to give constructive criticism. When it comes to self-published work, I feel it’s even more important to give that kind of feedback. Hell, if/when I self-publish anything I want to know if my work is riddled with errors. I would love someone to tell me. I want to know if something I’ve put out with the intention of making a profit does not meet expectations.

I’m not talking about the expectations that were, “The blurb made the book sound really cool but I didn’t like it at all.” I’m talking about standards like, “Based on the free preview I was all on board, and then the pace became completely messed up as the author proceeded to throw several books worth of plot into the span of one.” I’m talking about, “Well, I paid for this, but I think I’ve read better for free on fanfiction websites in regards to grammar”.

I want to let Shane Michael Murray know that he has a real problem in regards to quality. Maybe he doesn’t care, but I would assume if he took the time to write all 264 pages of this book that he might care about making it the best it can be. These aren’t big problems, either. These are problems that only require a keen eye to notice and fix. I want to let him know, I just don’t know how. I didn’t read the book all the way through, and it would seem a shame to post the only review on there that says, ” you need someone to look over your grammar and fix the typos, because while the story was good enough for me to read through the preview, the grammar issues stopped me from buying the book”. Is it too presumptuous to contact him through his blog and privately message him?

Writing this blog post clearly isn’t the course of action I’d like to take in the long run. This is me ranting about something I want to change but perhaps don’t have the ability, or right, to change. This is my plea to all those currently writing that we take pride in what we show to others and find the support we need to make our art the best it can be. Proofreading does not need to be expensive. I know that if someone contacted me saying, “Hey, I need a beta reader to look over what I’m writing to provide feedback and help me catch my typos and grammar problems,” I would be all over that, especially if it’s someone I’d seen on message boards, knew in person, commented regularly on my blog. The internet affords us so many opportunities to network, to lean on each other as we all strive towards common goals.

I guess I’m just saying… I want to help people just like I know I’ll someday need help myself. I just don’t know what to do when I want to help someone who hasn’t asked for it.

I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned before how much I enjoy reading about the writing experiences of others. There is nothing quite like the feeling that you are not the only person who has ever felt these things, not to mention the wisdom within these shared stories. It is for this reason that I love following writing blogs (I love them so much that after I find one I enjoy I’ll go back in the archives and read it like a book, starting at the beginning of the story and working my way towards the present). I’ve been reading one published author memoir per month since the year started. Perhaps I’ll endorse those as well some day, but to start with we’ll go with one that was surprisingly not at all what I was expecting when I picked it up.

Nancy Peacock’s A Broom of One’s Own: Words on Writing, Housecleaning, and Life is probably my favorite author’s memoir so far, but at the onset it doesn’t seem to have much to do with writing at all. Within this book Nancy recalls a variety of houses she’s cleaned and the people who live in them. Every chapter stars a different family and a different struggle ranging from the meticulous elderly couple who always seem to have extra tasks to request of her to the pleasant woman who enjoys chatting with Nancy as she cleans the floor.

Considering the book was in the writing section I was actually taken aback by how much she talks about cleaning houses, which is her day job as she struggles to earn a living through her books. A Broom of One’s Own was a stark reminder that not everyone makes it big, even when they have an editor and have published two books. Yes, you heard that right, she was published twice, her book being reviewed by magazines and all that jazz, but she wasn’t earning enough to quit her day job. That fact, I think, is perhaps what has endeared her story to me. When you walk through the library and see authors with several books you assume they’ve done it, they’ve beaten the odds and been able to earn a living through their art. (Or am I the only person who has thought that at one time or another?) The more I look into authors the more I realize this isn’t the case, you just don’t hear about it.

Terry Brooks mentions how he waited a long time before quitting his job as a lawyer, afraid to let go of the certainty of that paycheck even though he was earning enough as an author to make a swap to full time. Hugh Howey details in his blog how scary it was to take that same leap even after he realized he was earning more as an author than he was at his day job and was therefore losing money by continuing to work his job. I’m sure Patrick Rothfuss has probably talked about this on his blog as well (although I don’t remember reading that…admittedly I would have read that part of his blog over a year ago and perhaps did so when I was ready to pass out from exhaustion. To be fair, he does talk a lot about his days when he was barely scraping by eating Ramen, even after graduating college). The difference between these anecdotes and Nancy Peacock’s memoir is that they’re just that: anecdotes. They’re mentioned in a few blog posts or during interviews but the majority of the content focuses on their current success or life stories. This book focuses on the challenges of being that struggling writer, of identity and the desire for something more than your current life.

I wish I had taken a picture of it when I had it in my possession but, alas, I’ve since returned it to the library. Perhaps I’ll smuggle a camera in during my next trip and have a covert photo shoot. Or, looking at the price on Amazon, maybe I’ll just buy a copy for myself. Yes, it was so good I want a copy for my very own.