Reviews

Welcome to my review section! I hope you find it useful and that it will help you find something you might like. Over the years it has become more and more difficult for me to find books that I enjoy at the bookstore, so it has been nice discovering the world of self-published authors and those published by small and micro presses. Indeed, just as happened in the music industry, the best writing by far these days is to be found in self-published and indie presses like PlotForge and others. There may be more typos and minor errors than you’re used to seeing, but I challenge you to focus on the strength of the stories, not perfection of the text. While authors working alone have much more room for creativity, they don’t have large teams proofreading and editing their books. Most use freelance editors and friends and for the most part produce a product that is on the order of 99.9% error free, as opposed to books from major publishers that are 99.99% error free.

If you are here, you, like me, might have stopped buying books in bookstores. Almost everything I review here will be either self published or from a small press. Most will be available in print but a few might be available only as eBooks direct from the author. All in all, it is a very exciting time to be both a reader and a writer. You have more choices than ever before, at a far lower cost, and can find some marvelous fiction if you’re willing to go beyond the physical stores that you are comfortable with. If you take this step you will be rewarded with powerful ideas and creativity that large publishers won’t publish because they are jaded and don’t recognize quality, or insist on only publishing those with the right ‘connections.’ On the slightly more self-serving side, these reviews might also help you decide if you want to buy one of my own books, since I tend to write the kind of stuff I like to read. On to the meat of how I review a book!

Unlike most reviews, my reviews don’t hinge on a single number between 1 and 5. I find this system to be overly simplistic and based primarily on whether a reader “likes” a book or not. As a writer I feel that my assessment should be somewhat more comprehensive and professional than that since something I don’t necessarily “like” may still have other significant virtues. For this reason I rate books based on the following five categories, each rated from 1 to 5. The final rating is an average of these scores.

Plot - Is the plot compelling and original? Does it hold together or are there large holes that one could built a house in? A derivative plot could make up for it if it is tight and well paced. A plodding plot could make up for it by being highly original. You get the idea. I also assess the structure as to whether or not the plot provided ample reason to keep reading and produced a satisfying ending with an emotional payoff.

Character - Character is that device which bonds the reader to the story. Without character there is no emotional relation to plot. Were the characters in the story believable, relatable, and interesting? Were they different or did they all sound exactly the same? Did they change throughout the course of the story? Did they have depth that stemmed from their desires and motivations? The reader’s emotional connection to the story depends on strong characters. Without them, all you have is index cards.

Setting - This is a multifaceted category. It is important to me, in a book, to feel like I know where I am. I have detected a trend over the last few years away from descriptive settings. This is especially true with products coming from the big publishers. I have been hearing from agents and editors who work with large publishers that story isn’t important, it is only characters that matter. I think setting has suffered as a result of an attempt to cut word count and reduce production costs by people who believe that plot and setting are of secondary importance. I think it lends to confusion and breaks the link of the reader with the story. On the other hand, world building is very important in some types of stories. This category also looks at creativity, richness, and continuity of the world that the author has created.

Execution - While it is unfair to expect the kind of quality control out of self-published and small presses that large production houses can provide with large teams of people, a well designed product is still important. Is the text clean, readable, and error free? Do pages contain random areas of whitespace? Are the font, line spacing, margins, and other features appropriate and readable? Does the book use well-quality paper? If it is an eBook, does it have a Table of Contents? Are there random formatting errors? Does it load and display properly in the device? Having designed and built both print and electronic versions of books, I understand the difficulty and attention to detail necessary for this portion of the product. I also know that the passion of the writer shows through in a quality product.

Cover - Everyone knows we don’t judge books by their covers. Marketing analysis, however, says that we do. Does the book have an attractive cover with quality artwork? Does it have anything to do with the book or is it symbolically connected to the story in an interesting way? Is the information on the back compelling? Is this a book (or eBook) I want to show to people? Incidentally, I discovered my all-time favorite science fiction author because the book had such an incredible cover. What nerdy teen boy could resist picking up Inherit the Stars by James P. Hogan? I couldn’t and went on to buy and devour just about every book he wrote.

 

 

 

REVIEWS: (Most Recent At Top)

Halfskin by Tony Bertauski

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Wool by Hugh Howey

 

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