Book reviews: 7 hints for the negative review

3 Jul

Yeah, I’m a writer.  But just like everyone else, I’m a reader.  I also review the things I have written and sometimes, my review doesn’t agree with the others.

What then?

I review it honestly, and I hope others do as well.

Face it, some books have obviously fake glowing reviews–we’ve all seen them.  After a while, we also get pretty good at spotting them. That’s not the kind of review that anyone wants to agree with, but it’s also not exactly what I’m talking about either.

I’m talking about some obscure (to you) writer who has received glowing reviews about their novel and how innovative, subtle, unique, ground breaking, etc. it is.  Sometimes, all of these positive reviews set us up for disappointment, because when we read the book itself, it turns out to be so obscure, odd, and hard to get into that we never do get the point.

Then, we feel stupid or uneducated or just plain dull because we didn’t “get it”.  We feel as though we failed on the “worthiness” test.

But is it really us or was the novel so convoluted that it wasn’t our fault we never got the message?  Are the glowing reviews more like the case of the emperor’s new clothes rather than us being the dullard?

Review it honestly, state why you disliked the novel or found it tedious to read.  This isn’t grade school, there is no red pen, and you aren’t trying to impress a soul with your witty book reviews unless you work for a prestigious newspaper or magazine.  You do not have to buy into the emperor’s new clothes!

Unlike our school days, we’re not writing book reports to impress.  We are writing book reviews so that other people who are buying books can determine if they are going to like a book before they buy that book.  It’s not to leave spoilers either–it’s simply to give your opinion of why someone would or would not like a book.  Therefore, be honest, even if you feel like the lone dissenting voice in the crowd of masses who loved it.

Nobody is going to come to your house with a red pen and a glare over your review.

Sure, on occasion, you might get a comment or two about your review, and some of those might be snarky.  Snarky is cheap though, and books, even in digital format, really aren’t.

So, with that said, here are some hints for a constructive (though negative) review.

  1. Be specific about what you hated, whether it was the characters, location, weak plot, editing/proofreading or the narrator’s voice
  2. You are not attacking the author, and don’t make the review into a personal attack on the the author.
  3. Try to think of who would like the story. Maybe you didn’t fit that category and that was why you disliked it. Mention the category of reader  that you believe it was intended to strike a chord with.
  4. Never use profanity or slurs to make your point–it turns off everyone.
  5. Don’t take disagreement with your review personally.
  6. Be honest but remain polite about your opinion of the book and why it failed to be a hit with you.
  7. Above all, remember that authors do put their heart and soul into a book, so don’t shred the author just because you hated the book.  They may or may not ever see the review!

I need a break!

1 Jul

I have never liked my electric cook top & wall oven–they came with the house. I’ve often scathingly referred to the oven as an “easy bake oven” because it is under sized and most baking sheets won’t even fit into it. I wasn’t thrilled with an electric cook top either.

With that said, I did have something to cook on. As of today, it won’t work. Lights flicker briefly, then vanish and the burners don’t heat up beyond barely warm. (I can actually lay my palm on them after having one on for 10 minutes on high.) I’d say it’s broke. Not that it ever worked all that well, but it did get hot now and again. (Pancakes were usually either burned or anemic looking, for example.)

I’m not defeated. Camp stoves I have, and can use. After 2 yrs in a travel trailer, I’m the queen of 1 burner meals.

But dang, I’d like a break. We spent $1200 to fix our vehicle today. Couldn’t that stove top have hung in a few more months? I really want to replace the wall oven & cook top with a more economical stove (a stove costs less than either component does) but that means some kitchen renovations have to happen, which we can’t afford right now, even as minimal as we intended. (New vinyl flooring, new paint, removal of 2 cupboard units, installation of gas line, new counter top, and a new faucet) I hadn’t even priced what it would cost us to get about 10′ of gas line & a new dog leg for the stove installed yet!

So, I get to stare at a hated cook top, while cooking on an all-too-familiar camping stove, trying to stay upbeat, and most of all, trying to write–about food, as well as fiction.  It’s hot.  We live in Mississippi and I don’t do well with the heat and humidity combination anymore.  I’m grumpy and short tempered.  I despise the fact that there will be no reprieve from the incessant hum of biting insects and air conditioners for two months now, as our temperatures approach the triple digit level.

Sure, I could leave the South and move somewhere with a climate that was more agreeable, but I also have a husband. I also want to keep that husband!  He does not want to deal with snow ever again, and while shoveling it is something neither of us can do anymore, trying to convince him that there are places that get very little snow and that it doesn’t stick around long enough to need to be shoveled is proving difficult.  It would also mean leaving our daughter and granddaughter behind to the merciless heat, abandoned to their own devices.

Okay, so that’s a bit of melodrama there.  But, Grandmas tend to get melodramatic about their grandchildren.  I only have the one, so I get to go absolutely gaga over her!  We live an hour away, and I’d rather she lived closer instead of further away anyhow.

So there’s the bait.  I stay, even though July and August mean I’m largely housebound.  Early morning, while cool on the desert, simply is slightly less hot but full of biting bugs here.  My perfume of choice? Repel!  Yep, I’m adapting.  Not sure what the husband thinks of that as my favorite perfume though.

So, I’m looking at scrimping and saving for however long, to accumulate enough money to buy a stove, along with the rest of the work that has to be done to allow the installation of said stove.   While I could just spend enough money to buy that stove on just the cook top, it would still have to be installed.  I already have 30+ year old countertops that are wavy and peeling–installing a new cooktop into THAT is silly.  We can install inexpensive counter tops for a couple of hundred dollars.

I could give up the idea of a gas stove too, and just use the wiring that is in place to install  a new electric stove.  That would be an “easy” fix on the expense of the gas line (we already have gas in the kitchen, just not to the stove)  but, we still have to take out at least one section of cupboard to install a stove, which means we have to put in new flooring and counter tops.  When we’re doing that much work, we may as well get rid of that hated easy bake oven too, right?

So that leaves us just needing to paint and replace the kitchen faucet.  (Sink is fine, if I can’t have the style I want due to budget concerns)  That’s the cheap part, actually–I am certain we can do both for under $200.

I don’t want to replace the cupboards–they are vintage wood, and mostly in very good condition.  There is some damage from a wheel chair to the lower cabinet doors, but that can be refinished and will vanish.  The handles, which were replaced in the 70s from the looks of them, need to go away.  I’d like to replace them with some sleek brushed metal ones, another inexpensive weekend project.

Sounds easy and inexpensive, right?

Ha.

Murphy and his laws have been plaguing us for ages now.  Just when we think we have spotted a light at the end of the tunnel, something will jerk the rug out from under our feet and skid us backwards again. Things like $1200 mechanic’s bills.  Greg’s heart attack. Oh, the transmission.  Breaking equipment.

I just wish Murphy and his assorted laws would simply go on vacation, relocate, or find somewhere more interesting than our house.

Freaky dreams

11 Jun

I thought the end of the freaky dreams was surely the night that I dreamed about the singing chickens.

Yeah, real chickens.  Really singing, in tune, with chicken voices.

It got even weirder last night.

Now yesterday, I was in Hattiesburg when there was a tornado warning & accompanying weird siren to warn everyone.  I’m blaming the tornado portion on that experience.  But the rest?  Heck if I know!

It was an inter-dimensional tornado.  It periodically took people from this dimension and sent them there.  It wasn’t supposed to bring them back ever. Pretty heartbreaking, since many of the ones who left here were kids, leaving parents behind too often.  In this particular incident, the tornado was making an unauthorized transfer, courtesy of some evil gang who was going to kill a bunch of people.

A bunch of kids were packed into a giant bin thing in cocoa powder.

Not sure what that was all about, other than we were trying to get them out before the evildoers arrived.

Outside of the weird facets, it read like a typical g-men kind of tale.  The good guys (like g-men) were trying to save innocent lives, while the bad guys (aka evil scientists or whatever) were trying to do them in.  I woke up before the story was resolved, but I have no doubt that the good guys were going to win, at least most of the situation.

I’m not sure who is in charge of dreams, but I must have gotten whatever was left in the barrel last night.

Guns, gun control, & mass shootings

11 Jun

I originally posted this on my Facebook page, and a friend wanted to share it.  Unfortunately, they couldn’t share it from Facebook for some reason.  So, here it is.  One of my rants, this time about guns.

I believe in owning guns.  I don’t believe in murder, however.  I’m not sure what an “assault” rifle is, other than it must be a gun designed to do nothing else but kill humans.  I’m pretty sure that’s what the military must have.  I’m not a radical, I’m not even a right-winger or conservative even.  I’m a sort of the middle-of-the-road liberal on most issues.  This is my take on guns and violence.

Some things make no sense at all.
When I was a kid, all of the cartoons were “violent” by today’s standards.
It would have raised no eyebrows to see a kid drive into the school parking lot with a gun or two in the rifle rack in the window of the pickup.
Fights occurred regularly, and some of them were pretty serious. Occasionally, some kids were apt to bring a knife to the party, as the saying goes.

But…nobody got shot at school. None of the fights resulted in a death. I know there were some deaths in the area due to hunting accidents. There were some suicides occasionally that involved a gun. None of them were kids I knew, and I don’t even remember it involving a kid in the ones I heard about.

I took a gun safety course when I was 16. I learned to shoot black powder rifles too. They were a lot of fun, and no noisier than the others. They were a lot more complicated to fire, though. It seemed like guns were in about every home. We also had bb guns growing up, and I do remember my sister getting shot. She might even still have that bb imbedded in her leg.

Why the school shootings? Why these increasingly frequent mass shootings by people? What has changed with our society? It’s such a tiny percentage of gun owners that ever shoot another person with a gun, justified or not, but why the high drama and mass shootings?

It’s not lack of gun control–we’ve got way more than we did in the 1970s, and we are still seeing more mass shootings. Something has changed, and not for the better.

Mother’s Day

10 May

I’m not able to spend Mother’s Day with my mother–she lives halfway across the continent from me.

I’m not going to spend it with my daughter either, although she lives closer.

That doesn’t mean that they aren’t both on my mind.  I love them both, more than there are words to even express.

I’m a bit blue though too, as I think about long ago Mother’s Days.

I remember my Grandma W telling me all about what the flower corsages meant.  You wore one color if your mother was alive, another if she was dead.  I don’t remember what color meant what now though.  She was big on traditions like that.  Mother’s Day meant that soon it would be Decoration Day, which most of the country calls Memorial Day.  That meant it was time to start making the rounds of the cemeteries, putting flowers on graves.  It was a time when she would tell me stories about people who were long dead, stuff like how they died, or things that they had done when they were alive.  Sometimes, she would mention things about some extraordinary act of kindness they had done during their lives.

Most of those extraordinary things weren’t about spending money, or not much anyhow.  It was about simply being kind when they didn’t have to.  They lived on, through that act of kindness.

 

Funny how that works.

Then, my mind drifts forwards to my own adulthood.  I remember one year, my son was very small, he’d just turned two that spring.  My daughter was older, she’d be turning ten in a few months.  I was a single mom, and money was usually pretty tight.  I’d bought my own Mother’s Day gift that year, in the form of a cheap wheelbarrow.  I needed one.  My mom and I put it together with an adjustable wrench and a pair of pliers on the front patio.  We had then left the tools lying, and gone on to other things.

That next morning, the kids were outside playing, including my son.  I don’t remember what I was doing, so it probably wasn’t something important.  The next thing I knew though, my son had taken the tools and disassembled his wagon, a small metal red one.  We never did get it back together.  I was still impressed though.  He had learned how to use the tools from watching us the day before, and had put his new information to work figuring out how to take the wagon apart.  Not bad for a toddler, actually.

He died in 2000.  I still miss him.  He was my fishing and hiking buddy.  I still cry sometimes, and the grief will wash over me as fresh and raw as it was on that awful unbelievable day.  How was it that I was alive and he was dead?  My mind still can’t wrap around that.  It makes people uncomfortable though, so I generally keep that grief locked away tight.  I take it out for airing in private.  It’s just better that way.

I wouldn’t wish that experience on my worst enemy.

Now though, I focus more on the future.  I have a granddaughter that is the light of my life.  She’s my little hot shot, the celebrity of our clan, you might say.  She is a miracle in my eyes, something I never thought I’d get to see, let alone hold her hand.  Her bright eyes light up when she sees me, and that alone is worth more than all the money in the world.

Her mother isn’t doing so well though.  She has Type 1 diabetes, and a lot of complications.  Her kidneys and her eyes aren’t in as good of shape as they should be.  I often make the trip to her house and chauffeur her to doctor appointments, as well as spend time with my little girl.  There is almost no chance of a second child, but we don’t let that bother us.

The little one absolutely cannot understand that her mama is my baby, and I am her mama’s mama.  To her, mama is HERS and HERS alone still.  Of course, I’m her grandma, and nobody else’s.  She’s right.  She is my only grandchild.

I was able to go on her first and second camping trip with her.  That was a riot, and something that I’ll always treasure in my memories.  Next week, we’ve got another first.  I will be going to her very first dance recital.  That’s special too.

I get to see my mother too.  She came for a visit shortly after the baby was born, and has come each year.  This year, she was here far longer than she had originally planned.  Her great granddaughter was very sad to see her leave, screaming “Great Grandma!” at the sky for days, as though she was hoping she would hear and come back.  She went home in March, but just a couple of weeks ago, I was wearing a pair of shoes that my mother had given me over a year ago because she didn’t like wearing them.  (We wear almost the exact same size.)  My granddaughter looked down and immediately informed me that I was wearing Great Grandma’s shoes.  We had to laugh, even though we were surprised that she remembered a pair of plain white tennis shoes from over a year before.  I guessed that the reason was because I never wear white tennis shoes, as I am a stick-in-the-mud.  I had worn the same pair of Keens since she was a baby, along with the same pair of knock-off Crocs.  It was the first time in her memory that I was wearing something different.

But Mother’s Day is more than about your own mother.  It’s about every mother or potential mother that you know.  It’s about your wife, your girlfriend, your daughter, your sister, your sister-in-law, your neighbor, your own mom, your aunts…about women, really.  Of all ages, all sizes, all shapes, all colors, and all types.  It’s a time to honor that femaleness and appreciate it.

Spend a bit of time alone and think about the women that helped shape you into who you are.  Some were related, but a great number of them probably weren’t.  Some were teachers.  Some were just friends.  Some were probably people who never knew who you were, like Billie Jean King.  She helped me become the woman I am today, and I’ve never met her, nor am I likely to do so.  She stood up and stood out, in a way that said it was okay to be different and expect fair treatment anyhow.  Watching her, I realized I could be whoever I wanted to be, not who society expected me to be.  That doesn’t mean I didn’t pay the price though.  I learned about how painful standing out could be at an early age, and how to just grit my teeth and get through it.

I must have done a lot of gritting my teeth over the years.  One tooth after another has been sacrificed after cracking or decaying.  This year, I will be getting false teeth.  While I’ll be a bit sad, and I’m really dreading the pain of the extractions of remaining teeth, I’m looking forward to something I have not been able to do in years.

Chewing my food.

Funny how false teeth reminds me of my Grandma W though.  When I’d stay with her, I’d bring her a container of water for her teeth to soak in overnight.  On the other hand was my own mother, who had to have her teeth (which had no cavities at all) pulled when she was in her late twenties.  I remember the first time I saw her without teeth.  She had forgotten to put them in after showering and dressing, and when I said something, she clapped her hand over her mouth and ran up the stairs again.  I still have to grin about that.  Years later, she had to spend an entire day without them while they were being repaired.  She was mortified.  Now, she has to take them out at night, and thinks nothing about me seeing her without them.  Maybe its the difference in our vanity between being ThirtySomething and SeventySomething.

Corsages, cards, false teeth, wrenches, pliers, wheelbarrows and wagons…for me, they are part of my memories of Mother’s Day.

Most of all, I want everyone to remember to tell the women in their life how important they are to you, as well as how much you appreciate what they do for you.  Tell them you love them, treasure the moments.

Because one day, it can all vanish in the blink of an eye, and instead of a warm hug, you will be standing at a cemetery.  It really does seem that quick and they are gone.  I remember my grandmas, all of them.  My daughter remembers one of them, as the others had died before she was born or when she was too young to really remember them.  One great grandmother that I never met, my daughter did meet once.  I only knew her from stories from my mother, and I wasn’t along on that trip.

I look over our family tree when working on tracing our genealogy.   There are a lot of women there, women that are strangers to me.  I can’t help but wonder about their lives.  What were they really like?  What were their dreams?  What did they most fervently want and did they ever get it?  What made them laugh?

History.  Too often, its just HIS story, and we need more herstory.  Listen to the women in your life.  What is her story?  Tell your own story too.  After all, that’s what it is really all about, our stories weaving together to create a rich tapestry, and our mothers’ stories are interwoven with our own.

It’s about love and kindness, cruelty and dismissal, unfairness and justice, dreams, of watching  your hopes be dashed, or seeing them come to life.

Mother’s Day though, that’s all about the stories and the love.  Mothers give up a lot, even now, to be a mother.  Once, it was often fatal to bear a child.  That’s not true in most countries today, but it still is about sacrificing for the next generation, whether it is time, social activities, career advancements/choices, or even marriage.  It’s about putting that next generation’s needs above the current one too.

Maybe we need more mothers in Washington?

 

Random Acts of Kindness

29 Apr

You will often hear of random acts of kindness, also called RAOK for short.  But what is it?

It’s some deed that is kind and given without anticipating anything in return.  I look on them as a deposit in my karmic bank balance and payments on karmic loans, you might say.  I have been the recipient of many RAOK that were needed badly when I received them.  I have no way of thanking the person responsible, and in some cases, I never even knew who the person responsible was.  The only way I can repay for that RAOK is by paying it forward.

I’m not talking about big deeds, or even all of them being medium sized RAOK.  Most of them are small, after all.

But even the small ones have a cumulative effect.  Imagine it like this.

A flood is coming.  One man fills one sandbag and puts it in front of his house.  The flood comes, and that sandbag doesn’t stand a chance of protecting anything, does it?

The whole equation changes with small acts.  Change that story to the man fills a sandbag and puts it in place.  Someone sees it, and sees the empty sandbags waiting by the pile of sand.  She fills one, and puts her bag beside the man’s sandbag.  Many other people do the same thing, until they are running out of sand and bags.  Someone brings another load of sand and dumps it where the old pile was.  Someone else brings more bags.  Somebody brings hot coffee and donuts for the people filling sandbags, and more people come to help and get a cup of coffee too.  Before they know it, there is a huge wall built of sand bags and when the flood comes, the house of the man is protected, as are his neighbors.  Everyone is happy.

RAOK are like those sandbags, the empty bags, the pile of sand, the pots of coffee, and the boxes of donuts.  It all adds up.  Sure, the coffee and donuts didn’t fill any bags, nor did  they keep the flood at bay, but they still helped build the wall, because it made people happy, satisfied hunger, and made them able to work together longer.  It all helped, just  like each and every shovel full of sand helped, like each pair of hands that laid the bags into place helped.

It’s a case of giving that smile to that harried clerk at the store, it made her feel better, and despite a really rotten day, she was able to go home and be pleasant to her mother in law after work.  Her mother in law, surprised at the visit with her son and his wife going so well, comes home happy.  She’s asked for a donation to the local youth program, and she donates just because she IS happy.  That donation pays for after school programs that helps kids with homework, and because John Doe got better grades at school that year, he continued to improve and learn, ultimately going to med school.  As a research doctor, he cures diabetes.

Granted, it’s not an instant thing, and this example is highly accelerated, but…it IS a plausible story.  That would mean that merely smiling at that clerk ultimately found the cure for cancer!  Just for the cost of the small RAOK of a smile and compliment to a store clerk.

But we can shift that story around too.  Instead of smiling at the clerk, you verbally assault her for a computer error that caused you to be overcharged for a sale item.  You cause a big scene, and storm out of the store, leaving the clerk shaking and stressed.  She goes home, but has a fight with her boyfriend because she is in such a bad mood.  They break up, and instead of getting married to him, she marries someone else and never has children.  John Doe is never born. Her mother in law hates her.

Being simplistic, it’s now obvious that you, the clerk assaulting consumer, are responsible for preventing the birth of the man who discovered how to cure diabetes.

We don’t have to try to save the world by curing world hunger.  We start with smaller bites.  Our own neighborhood. Our own town.  Our own county.  Our own state.  Just do it.  Be a little bit nicer, give a little bit more freely.  Commit that small random act of kindness this week.  Imagine its ripples moving outwards.

It’s a great thing.

 

Birthday freebie!

12 Apr

Next weekend is my birthday.  Specifically, the 19th is.  So, while I’m keeping my mouth closed about my age, like any lady older than 21 tends to do, I am letting everyone know that I’m celebrating by giving away books.

Lots of books, I hope!

To start with, there are two books being given away.  (See Gulf Coast Foods blog to see which ones.  It’s right here!)  I’m writing about a totally different book here, even though you don’t have to choose which one you want.  You can get them all, and there are no strings attached.

They are Kindle books, however.  That doesn’t mean you are only given the option of Kindle–they are also available in paperback from Amazon.com.  You don’t have to have a Kindle either–there are free apps to let you read Kindle books on a variety of devices. (It’s right here.)

So what is the mysterious book being given away for my birthday?

It’s Freak Files: The Unexplained Tales.  It’s a collection of tales that were told to me or experienced by me, and are all from real life experiences.  Normally, it retails for $2.99 in Kindle format and $6.99 in print format, with less than 100 pages.  I hope you enjoy it, and that you leave a review!

So mark your calendar and remember, the book is free on April 19th and 20th.  (Yes, that includes Easter Sunday!) Enjoy the book, and thank you for your support of my writing efforts.

Freak Files 09 15 2013

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