BOOK REVIEW: CATLING’S BANE

Catling’s Bane, Book 1 of the Rose Shield series, offers the reader an amazing journey into a world so believable that the characters seem to come alive on the page. This beautifully written science-fiction pulled me into a world that glitters with luminosity. The author reveals this world with descriptions so vivid, so rich in detail, that we forget completely, that it is a fictional world.

It is a civilization very different than our own, yet still, very much the same, with problems of great poverty, injustice, and cruelty, with one exception. There are strange powers of influence, powers that control someone’s intent, beliefs, and thoughts. The poor live their lives in a caste system, while the wealthy and powerful live like royalty, and all others live by hook or by crook.

Yet, even for the wealthy, life becomes a perilous journey, because every word, ever thought, may not be their own.  There are those, however, within this system, who have courageous hearts, make great sacrifices, and if they can escape the Influencers, they may have the opportunity to change their world where everyone can speak their own thoughts and live their lives as they choose to be.

I was completely captured within this incredible world, created by the author, D. Wallace Peach. 5 stars

A Book Review: Sam, A Shaggy Dog Story

“Entertaining humans for cheese is a bit daft really, but cheese is cheese!” Wise words from Sam: a smart, talented, handsome, and very entertaining Collie, who, in my opinion, is the spitting image of Lassie.

Author, Sally Cronin writes through the eyes of her beloved Collie, Sam. It is a poignant, funny, and oh so entertaining story about life with Sam.

Sam tells us about his life and what it is like growing up dog. I couldn’t help but fall head over heels in love with Sam! And so will you! 

Sam is very literate, he did narrate this book, after all. Sam’s memoir: Sam: A Shaggy Dog Story, is a truly incredible life story of his life as a Collie. He narrates poignantly about his first memories of being a puppy, his incredible curiosity of the world around him, as well as his travels, mishaps, and friendships, and about his great of love of cheese and sausages.

Yet, most important in his life is his great love for Sally and David, his adopted family. Sam also had a fan club of sorts; he was friendly with cats, such as Henry, an Irish feral ginger and white cat, a Spanish marmalade cat, named Mollie, and let me not forget his very favorite toy, when he was a mere tadpole, a stuffed toy lamb, named Larry.

Sam, the intellectual that he was, studied human behavior extensively. He learned to speak Cat, English, and even a little Spanish. Sam was also quite good at humming a tune or two with Sally and David, on many of their family travels. Quite an accomplishment!  However, there was a certain rationale behind his thinking…cheese and sausages. If he could entertain Sally and David’s friends, by speaking English, he would be given more cheese by their guests. One could say that Sam was an accomplished entrepreneur!

As a reader of Sam’s story I laughed, I sometimes cried, and I fell totally in love with Sam, who was loved, beyond measure, by Sally and David, his adoptive parents. This is a wonderful memoir that will make you smile, laugh, and even shed a tear, but mostly you will feel a sense of great joy for a life well lived. 5 Stars.

 

The Heart Stone Chronicles: The Swamp Fairy, by Author Colleen M. Chesebro

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This mystical story is bound to capture your heart. Abigale Forester is only fourteen years old, recently orphaned, and has been sent to live with her Aunt Magnolia Forester, a woman she has never met, and is now her legal Guardian. Abigale was born with mystical gifts, inherited from her mother, along with a few hundred acres of swamp land that has been handed down for generations in her family.

This is no ordinary swamp. It is a place where mystical things happens, another realm, that is critical for the safety of mankind. Abigale has no idea what this has to do with her, but she will soon find out. In the meantime, a corrupt, greedy, and wealthy man as plans of his own to destroy the swamp and possibly Abigale and her aunt, as a form of revenge.

Danger is everywhere for Abigale as she tries to adjust to her new life. When the truth about the swamp legacy is revealed to her, Abigale is forced to make a decision about the swamp legacy and her choice is a dangerous one.

I highly recommend this mystical mystery that is so well written, by author Colleen M. Chesebro, that the story itself almost leaps off of the pages, right into your reality. It is that good. 5 Stars!

 

Techniques for Masterful Writing

A Summary of K.M. Weiland’s  “Write Like a Master”

I posted this in 2014 and I realized it was definitely worth posting again! I keep coming back to K.M.’s 10 factors that are simple to remember and key elements in any writing, be it fiction or non-fiction.

My summary of K.M. Weiland’s excellent article presented in Writer’s Digest, Work Book: Exercises and Tips for Honing Specific Aspects of Your Writing presents the key points of her exceptional article. It is especially for writers penning their first novel, but also for seasoned writers to again remember a classic, Jane Eyre, a novel that was ahead of its time, by Charlotte Brontë.  Often, reading classics, as most of us do, gives us fresh insight to dramatic storytelling par excellence, and can improve our own writing skills. K.M. Weiland gives us 10 distinct techniques for dramatic masterful writing.

  1. Hook: Start in the middle of some type of interaction within environment, statement, or internal angst to provoke reader curiosity.
  1. Characteristic Moment: Reveal/show a personality trait of the Protagonist.
  1. Setting Description of Scene: Start broadly, and then zoom in.
  1. Symbolism: Small details set story’s tone and foreshadows its course.
  1. The World Protagonist Inhabits: demonstrate character’s interior and exterior world.
  1. Back Story: Intersperse with dialogue, don’t dump back story in long paragraphs in chapter 1.
  1. The Premise of Story: Present the Dramatic Question early on, involving the moral foundation, the impetus that drives the story forward.
  1. Physical Actions: The physical movements of characters interspersed throughout dialogue increases depth of character traits.
  1. Protagonist’s Belief: Once Dramatic Question is identified, writer presents obstacles for protagonist until she/he can relinquish belief/misconception and meet deepest needs.

10.Extraordinary Factor: What makes the Protagonist important? How at odds is protagonist in his/her world with others that creates friction, tension, and thus the central conflict of story premise.

***see Writer’s Digest, October 2014 edition, for full article.

 

THE IMITATION GAME: Learning How to Be a Copy Cat!

THE IMITATION GAME: Learning How to Be a Copycat!

In Writer’s Digest magazine this month, I was stopped in my tracks, when I saw this article by Karen Krumpak. I thought…What?

But then reading on, I realized that this is what artists do all the time. The apprentice artists are required to copy their “Master’s work” in paintings, watercolor, and pastels. Okay, I thought, but how is copying, word for word, another author’s work going to help me? And is this a good idea? In my effort to understand this “Game”, I read on.

And, I then discovered that this is a practice game to improve writing skills. Great, I thought, I am hooked! It was a relief though, to know I wouldn’t be the only copycat. I was in good company: Jack London, Benjamin Franklin, and Hunter S. Thompson (I honestly don’t know who this man is or was.)

Next step: Learning to Copycat or rather finding a writer I love and want to copy, but, as I found out, this is not as easy as pie…it takes work! Work?? More work??

Okay…I am Game! (pun intended)

Ms. Karen Krumpak, the author of this article, states that “You will learn to have your own Voice and your own Distinctive Style!”  This sounded like magic to me, as I imagined my own Strong voice, and my own Distinctive style!

Or, would I be, “The New Copycat Killer of Words?” (secretly, I wondered if I would finally learn to properly use punctuation, and even learn how to use italics with confidence.) I have a secret love for italics—don’t ask me why, I don’t know. Italics are very pretty to look at, aren’t they?

The first thing is to sort through your personal library for a writer that you would love to imitate.  So, several hours later….I finally made a decision!

I chose a book with 870 pages: THE MISTS OF AVALON.  I figured that after 870 pages…I would really have my own Strong voice and my own Distinctive style! This would be the “Cat’s Meow” (Pun intended)!

This choice was perfect for me with my love of legends, fantasy, fairytales, and most of all, the Magic of Morgan Le Fay, in other words; the magic of a legends, and the magical saga of all the women behind King Arthur’s Throne. Ah Ha!  This is true…there are always women standing behind a man’s throne! (Just to be sure he didn’t forget anything. We women are so helpful.)

Next step: Learn how to be a Sherlock Holmes, but where is my Watson? Well, as Karen Krumpak states, “forcing yourself to impersonate another writer takes off the pressure of writing? Really? What pressure?

Soon, I am told, I will start reading like a writer. But, I do that already…maybe. Normally, I just read, for the pleasure of it. But, if I must, I will.

Soon, states Ms. Krumpak, I will learn to stretch my skills and improve my technique. This better work…if it doesn’t, well, I will have enjoyed immensely, re-reading The Mists of Avalon, just like a real writer reads a book. Good to know!

 

A Review: French on English – A Guide to Writing Better Essays


A Review of French on English – A Guide to Writing Better Essays 

 by author Charles F. French

French on English – A Guide to Writing Better Essays,  is an essential tool for writing, that you will keep on your desk, as I do, for easy reference when writing a resume, a college essay or thesis, a commentary on your blog, or a fiction or non-fiction book.  This well-thought-out little book, reveals in simple and easy steps, ways to make almost any written work error free. An added plus is Dr. Charles F. French’s free online companion site for French on EnglishA Guide to Writing Better Essays.

Charles F. French, author of French on English – A Guide to Writing Better Essays, earned his PhD in English Literature from Lehigh University.  He has been teaching writing courses in composition for more than twenty-five years at Lehigh University, Bethlehem, PA, and at Muhlenberg College Wescoe School of Continuing Education, Allentown, PA.

Dr. French’s essential reference book on writing skills, French on English—A Guide to Writing Better Essays,  includes examples of often forgotten English grammar rules that we learned in high school. He also included in simple and easy steps, how to create that first draft of a college essay or that novel many of us are hoping to write. Another important feature, is learning to create perfect citations that when improperly written, will cause a great paper to be marked down, one that should have been an A+ paper in college.

Another key feature for me when I am writing a first draft of a novel is that moment that finds me in fear of developing Writer’s Block. Dr. French has brilliantly included, in his spectacular reference book, a section entitled, ‘Brainstorming Ideas’ using the technique of ‘Free Writing’ that breaks through the dreaded Writer’s Block.

I know that you will find, French of English—A Guide to Writing Better Essays, an essential writing tool, and you will want to keep it on your desk for easy access, as I do. It is truly a treasure trove for essential error free writing!  

 

Critical Thinking: The 5 Factors that Earn 5 Star Reviews!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An excerpt from: Paul Goat Allen | March 12, 2018, Writer’s Digest. Paul Goat Allen has worked as a genre fiction book critic and written thousands of reviews for companies like BarnesandNoble.com, Publishers Weekly, the Chicago Tribune and Kirkus Reviews.

Novelists live and die by reviews yet uncovering what garners a gushing ovation or blistering takedown is often a mystery. A professional critic lays out what it takes to earn five-star book reviews. For two decades I’d been working as a freelance genre fiction book critic for outlets such as BarnesandNoble.com, Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Reviews and the Chicago Tribune. After sharing my credentials with the group, some of the writers began telling stories about mediocre or bad reviews they’d received at different points in their careers from one or more of the companies I’d listed.

As a reviewer, not much has changed since then. I enjoy all genres and have reviewed thousands of titles in hundreds of sub-genres ranging from apocalyptic fiction to zombie erotica. (Yes, there’s such thing as zombie erotica.) In the end, genre categorization matters little to me—it’s all about the story. With that in mind, I decided to formalize a universal framework through which I process and analyze my various reading experiences. While there are undoubtedly specific narrative elements I look for in-particular-genres (pacing and tension level in thrillers, for example), there’s a pyramid of qualities—a Hierarchy of Needs, if you will—that I seek in every story. While highly simplified, it’s this structure that dictates whether I give a book a positive or negative review.

These five criteria will not only provide a glimpse into how a veteran book reviewer dissects and evaluates a novel but, hopefully, make you look at your writing in a different light. See for yourself: Does your work-in-progress have what it takes to earn a positive review?

The Book Reviewer’s Hierarchy of Needs: How to Earn Five-Star Book Reviews

  1. Readability

A book’s degree of readability is the base layer of my reviewer’s pyramid, and the foundation for any good story. The quality of a novel—narrative clarity, narrative fluidity, having a coherent storyline—is directly related to the number of times I put that book down. Some are so bad, so poorly written, that I struggle to get through a single paragraph without wanting to walk away. Others have such a fl uid plot that I find it virtually impossible to stop reading—Tad Williams’ The Witchwood Crown and Jim Butcher’s The Aeronaut’s Windlass being two such examples of utterly readable, page-turning novels.

I’ve read a lot of “unputdownable” books over the last few decades, and the vast majority of these all have something in common beyond a clear and fluid narrative: The stories have noticeably strong chapter beginnings and endings. It’s a small thing, but a great way to compel readers to keep reading. How can you put a book down when every chapter begins and ends with a cliffhanger sequence, bombshell plot twist or powerful statement? When I consistently find these elements in a novel, I know the author fully understands the significance of readability.

Conversely, novels that aren’t as readable—that are poorly written with awkward sentence structure, a confusing storyline, weak chapter beginnings and endings—are almost asking to be tossed aside. This may sound obvious, but if you can’t compel a reader to read your story, then you need to focus more on your craft before penning another book.

  1. Immersion

I define immersion as the ability for me, the reader, to not only lose myself in a novel (I call these “stay-up-all-night-till-your-eyes-bleed” reads) but to experience the story intimately, living vicariously through the characters. This trick is accomplished through a continued focus on setting, rich description and atmospherics. I don’t want to experience the story as a detached viewer looking down at what’s happening—I want to feel like I’m in the story.

The litmus test for this is easy. If I become so engaged with a book that I lose track of time—if I glance at the clock and hours have passed by—you’ve succeeded in drawing me fully into your read. Writers who are absolute immersion masters (think Cherie Priest, Justin Cronin, Charlaine Harris) are so good at captivating description that weeks, months and oftentimes years after reading their novels I can still vividly recall specific scenes.

This layer is where many writers stumble, and here’s why: While they may excel at world-building and meticulous description at the beginning of a novel, once the action and adventure ramps up, they not only lose focus but completely ignore description altogether. I’ve seen this happen countless times in every genre: rich description for the first 100 pages or so, then almost nothing in the final 200. It’s called literary escapism for a reason. If I can’t lose myself in a read—from beginning to end—then I haven’t fully escaped. Writing the Intimate Character: Create Unique, Compelling Characters Through Mastery of Point of View

  1. Character Depth and/or Plot Intricacy

Three-dimensional, interesting and identifiable characters bring emotional connectivity and intensity to the read. If your readers aren’t emotionally invested in your characters, then the narrative impact of your story is inevitably going to be negatively impacted. Emotions wield power. If you can bring your readers to tears, make them laugh out loud or scare them to the point of checking under the bed, then you’ve succeeded on some level.

Creating authentic characters to whom readers can relate is a solid achievement—but an obvious word of warning: Stay clear of clichés and stereotypes. Overused conventions—like the Chosen One in fantasy who is consistently a white male, or the emotionally damaged billionaire entrepreneur in erotic fiction who needs to sexually dominate his love interest—even if brilliantly rendered, will underwhelm and disappoint more than a few readers (and reviewers).

Now, the reason I include an “and/or” between character development and plot intricacy is because, in some rare cases (particularly in mainstream thrillers), a novel with an impressively knotty storyline can still succeed with relatively cardboard characters.

Which is why plot intricacy is key: Why read a novel where you can accurately predict what’s going to happen after a few chapters? (I do that quite often. After reading the first chapter or two, I’ll jot down a prediction in my notes. You’d be surprised how many times I’ve guessed the ending correctly.) I just finished reviewing a brilliant historical mystery for Publishers Weekly that was filled with so many plot twists I was left guessing until the last few pages. It doesn’t matter if you’re writing a fantasy or a thriller or a romance—the plot has to be intricate enough to keep your reader simultaneously engaged and a bit off balance.

  1. Originality and Innovation

This one ties in with embracing originality, be it atypical characters or unconventional story structure. So many books out there today are built upon unoriginal, rehashed, derivative storylines. I read a lot. And I get bored easily, especially when reading the same basic story arc again and again. My advice? Don’t play it safe. Write a story that you’ve never read before. In a 2016 Goodreads interview I conducted with fantasy novelist Michael J. Sullivan, author of Age of Myth, he said,

“It doesn’t matter if it’s been done before. It just matters if it’s being done well now.”

I love that quote. Just because something has been done before doesn’t mean it can’t be re-envisioned or reimagined but be innovative—put a new twist on an old mythos, turn a stereotype on its head. Have the courage to be creative!

  1. Thematic Profundity

In the introduction to the 2006 reissue of Walter M. Miller Jr.’s 1960 Hugo Award–winning classic, A Canticle for Leibowitz, Mary Doria Russell writes, “You’ll be different when you finish it.” That’s my hope for every novel I pick up—that within the story there will be a kind of spiritual and/or existential wisdom, a kind of revelation or insight that will change the way I look at myself and the world around me.

A novel that holds this kind of thematic power—as well as the other elements in the Hierarchy of Needs—will get a starred review from me every time. Stories, no matter the genre, have the power to change lives. Novels like Andreas Eschbach’s The Carpet Makers, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We have irrevocably changed who I am. After all, that’s the ultimate goal, right? To write a commercially successful and critically acclaimed novel that is both entertaining and enlightening.

Evaluating a novel is a cumulative process. Those with masterful character development but zero immersion will still receive a poor review, for example, while a thematically profound read with excruciatingly bad readability will receive a terrible review.

May this Hierarchy of Needs not only make you more aware of how your writing is experienced by readers—and jaded book reviewers like myself—but also offer up a few invaluable insights that can be used to improve your craft. Who knows, maybe my next starred review will be yours.

Paul Goat Allen has worked as a genre fiction book critic and written thousands of reviews for companies like BarnesandNoble.com, Publishers Weekly, the Chicago Tribune and Kirkus Reviews.