SEVENTH SON by Author A. M. Offenwanger

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A. M. Offenwanger has written a magical fantasy that is a delight to read. I know when a book is really good and that is when I can remember with clarity the characters and the story weeks later. This tells me that the characters were memorable, likable, and the story interesting. Offenwanger’s writing is memorable, delightful and magical. The story involves a former Librarian, Cat, who is not happy with her life and decides to do some traveling with the money she has saved. She has been “dumped” by her boyfriend and life seems to be going nowhere for her. A lover of museums, Cat visits a museum of antiquities and admires several beautiful and strange appearing turquoise bowls, that apparently have a magical quality about them. Little did Cat know that these bowls would change her life beyond anything she could imagine.The world building is simple, but effective. I highly recommend Seventh Son, as a delightful summer read. It is uplifting, with a love story that will make your heart melt.

 

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.

 

 

How to Jumpstart Book Reviews for Self-Published Books!

BY JOEL FRIEDLANDER ON JANUARY 15, 2018

It’s never been a better time to be a self-published author, and there have never been more book reviewers available to the writer who decides to go indie.

Book reviewers help spread the message about your book by publishing a review to their own network. But if you’re new to publishing, you have to figure out how to get those book reviews that can bring you more readers.

First, Get Your Kit Together

Before you go hunting for reviewers, make sure you’ve got the essentials you’ll need. At the minimum you should have:

Either a PDF or an ePub of your book, or both. Include the covers, and also have the cover available as both a high-resolution (300 dpi) and low-resolution (72 dpi) graphics, preferably in JPG format

For print books, plenty of copies and mailing supplies. If you’re publishing via print on demand, order enough books to respond to reviewer requests, since you’ll need to add your marketing materials to the package.

Press release about the launch of your book. Try to make it sound like a story you would read in the newspaper.

Cover letter. This should be a brief introduction to you and your book, but keep it short.

Photos of the author. Again, you’ll need both high- and low-resolution images if you’re approaching both print and online reviewers.

Author biography. This is a good place to show your qualifications, particularly if you’re a nonfiction author.

There are lots of other things you can put in a press kit or a reviewer package, and you can find more about that here: Media Kits for Indie Authors

How to Find Reviewers

There are literally thousands of book bloggers online, and most of them review books even though they aren’t paid. Nevertheless, many are thoughtful reviewers and good writers, and have a significant following.

There are also reviewers offering paid reviews, and over the years this has become much more acceptable in the indie community. It’s one of the ways we get word out to readers about our books.

Paid reviews might work for completely unknown fiction authors, who have little chance to get exposure when they get started. Otherwise, use free review sources at first, it will be a long time before you run out of them.

Here are some recently updated resources that will help you locate reviewers:

Midwest Book Review welcomes self-published books, and their website is bulging with targeted information about book reviews and reviewers.

Indie Reader invites authors to submit their books for review, and they have become a trusted source for reviews. The site is run by authors and writers.

The Indie Author’s Guide to Free Reviews is an updated article from Publishers Weekly by By Daniel Lefferts and Alex Daniel with lots of excellent resources.

Indie View keeps an updated list of hundreds of reviewers.

Self-Publishing Review has been reviewing books since 2008 and also has lots of information about book marketing in general as well as an archive of great content.

Don’t forget the many reviewers who post on book-oriented sites like Goodreads, where you can also find genre-specific groups, too.

Reedsy has built an excellent list of Best Book Review Blogs of 2017. Authors can search by genre and filter out blogs that do not review indie books.

The Book Blogger List is another searchable curated list of online reviewers.

A recent interview with Jason B. Ladd, How To Get Book Reviews As An Unknown Author, with a great outline of the process of getting reader reviews.

For print reviewers, consider the programs run by the Independent Book Publishers Association. These mailings of books for review go to over 3,000 newspaper and magazine editors and reviewers.

There are an almost endless list of blog articles and books on this subject to research, too. Getting reviews is a standard part of book marketing, and you should plan on spending

Here are some recently updated resources that will help you locate reviewers:

Midwest Book Review welcomes self-published books, and their website is bulging with targeted information about book reviews and reviewers.

Indie Reader invites authors to submit their books for review, and they have become a trusted source for reviews. The site is run by authors and writers.

The Indie Author’s Guide to Free Reviews is an updated article from Publishers Weekly by By Daniel Lefferts and Alex Daniel with lots of excellent resources.

Indie View keeps an updated list of hundreds of reviewers.

Self-Publishing Review has been reviewing books since 2008 and also has lots of information about book marketing in general as well as an archive of great content.

Don’t forget the many reviewers who post on book-oriented sites like Goodreads, where you can also find genre-specific groups, too.

Reedsy has built an excellent list of Best Book Review Blogs of 2017. Authors can search by genre and filter out blogs that do not review indie books.

The Book Blogger List is another searchable curated list of online reviewers.

A recent interview with Jason B. Ladd, How To Get Book Reviews As An Unknown Author, with a great outline of the process of getting reader reviews.

For print reviewers, consider the programs run by the Independent Book Publishers Association. These mailings of books for review go to over 3,000 newspaper and magazine editors and reviewers.

There are an almost endless list of blog articles and books on this subject to research, too. Getting reviews is a standard part of book marketing, and you should plan on spending some time doing this for your own book launches.

5 Key Tips for Getting Book Reviews

Now that you have your materials together and access to lots of reviewers, you’re ready to go. Here are my 5 best tips for getting book reviews, whether online or off:

Pick the right reviewers. This is the single most important thing you can do to help your review program. Find out what kind of books the reviewer likes to review, and only select appropriate reviewers. Don’t just spam your contacts or people you know in unrelated fields. I do few book reviews on the blog, but I constantly get pitched by romance novelists, thriller writers, and just about everyone else. Save everyone time and effort by aiming your review requests in the right direction.

Query the reviewers. Check each reviewer’s requirements. Some want you to just send the book, but many ask for a query. Some review e-books, many do not. Conforming to their requirements saves both of you time. Check out this query letter tutorial.

Send the book. In your query make sure to offer both as many versions as you can of the book. You can use a PDF, an ePub or Kindle format, or a print copy. Let the reviewer decide how she wants to receive it.

Follow up. Don’t stalk or harass the reviewer, who is probably doing this in her spare time. But if you haven’t heard anything after a few weeks, follow up to see if they still intend to write the review.

Thank the reviewer. It’s common courtesy, but it also shows you appreciate the time and effort someone else took to help bring your book to the attention of more people. Every reviewer has an audience of some kind, and every audience can create network effects that spread the word about a book that really stands out.

Book reviews can be very effective in spreading the word. Nothing sells books as well as word of mouth, and you can get people talking about your book if you can bring it to their attention. Book reviews will do that for you. Consequently, an aggressive, ongoing book review program is one of the best ways for self-published authors to get attention for their books.

Something to Add?

In addition to the resources mentioned in this article, do you know of others for finding book reviewers, and particularly identifying top reviewers in your field? Any tips to share? Please let us know in the comments.

 

 

Blog Tour for Charles F. French and His New Release, Gallows Hill, A Review

Gallows Hill, by author, Charles F. French, is the second book in his series, The Investigative Paranormal Society.  Within this taunt, terrifying, page-turner, we find Roosevelt, Jeremy, Helen, and Sam continuing to pursue ghostly evil and new revelations about a heart-breaking past event, that complicates an already murderous ghost assignment that the IPS needs to vanquish before more innocent lives are lost.

Adding to the taunt, terrifying ghost encounter, is a back-story vendetta out to destroy Sam, a retired police detective, and anyone else in proximity to Sam.  Beyond the uniquely horrific ghost mystery, is a heart-breaking love story, as well as a long-lost love rediscovered, that adds to the emotional complexity that drives this story forward.

The character development within this ghostly horror novel is superb and adds to a narrative that is taunt with tension and suspense. The dialogue is not shy and gives a realistic representation of language, idioms, and images within the back-story to the present day, that reflects the different characters’ prerogatives and state of mind. The physical environment presented in this horror novel, is tangible, adding to the realism, terror, and fear in Gallows Hill.

Anyone who loves, not only a terrific horror story, but also one that is expertly written with a strong human story, heartbreak, and a love story, wrapped up in terror and courage to face what could be a death sentence, this story is for you. Don’t miss out on reading Gallows Hill, you won’t be disappointed. I highly recommend this intriguing horror novel. I give it 5 stars!

*****5 stars*****

Three Secrets to Great Storytelling!

Whispering

 

 

 

3 SECRETS TO GREAT STORYTELLING as presented on Writer’s Digest. I found this article by Steven James helpful in forming the structure of scenes.  (this is a re-blogging from 2014 but I thought it deserved a revival now, because it is simple, straightforward, and to the point.)

As a novelist and writing instructor, I’ve noticed that three of the most vital aspects of story craft are left out of many writing books and workshops. Even bestselling novelists stumble over them – Steven James But they’re not difficult to grasp. In fact, they’re easy.And if you master these simple principles for shaping great stories, your writing will be transformed forever. Honest. Here’s how to write a story.

Secret #1: 
CAUSE AND EFFECT ARE KING.

Everything in a story must be caused by the action or event that precedes it.  As a fiction writer, you want your reader to always be emotionally present in the story. But when readers are forced to guess why something happened (or didn’t happen), even for just a split second, it causes them to intellectually disengage and distances them from the story. Rather than remaining present alongside the characters, they’ll begin to analyze or question the progression of the plot. And you definitely don’t want that. When a reader tells you that he couldn’t put a book down, often it’s because everything in the story followed logically. Stories that move forward naturally, cause to effect, keep the reader engrossed and flipping pages. If you fail to do this, it can confuse readers, kill the pace and telegraph your weaknesses as a writer.

Secret #2: 
IF IT’S NOT BELIEVABLE, IT DOESN’T BELONG.  

The narrative world is also shattered when an action, even if it’s impossible, becomes unbelievable. In writing circles it’s common to speak about the suspension of disbelief, but that phrase bothers me because it seems to imply that the reader approaches the story wanting to disbelieve and that she needs to somehow set that attitude aside in order to engage with the story. But precisely the opposite is true. Readers approach stories wanting to believe them. Readers have both the intention and desire to enter a story in which everything that happens, within the narrative world that governs that story, is believable. As writers, then, our goal isn’t to convince the reader to suspend her disbelief, but rather to give her what she wants by continually sustaining her belief in the story. The distinction isn’t just a matter of semantics; it’s a matter of understanding the mindset and expectations of your readers. Readers want to immerse themselves in deep belief. We need to respect them enough to keep that belief alive throughout the story.

Secret #3: 

IT’S ALL ABOUT ESCALATION.  

At the heart of story is tension, and at the heart of tension is unmet desire. At its core, a story is about a character who wants something but cannot get it. As soon as he gets it, the story is over. So, when you resolve a problem, it must always be within the context of an even greater plot escalation. As part of the novel-writing intensives that I teach, I review and critique participants’ manuscripts. Often I find that aspiring authors have listened to the advice of so many writing books and included an engaging “hook” at the beginning of their story. This is usually a good idea; however, all too often the writer is then forced to spend the following pages dumping in background to explain the context of the hook.

IN CONCLUSION

By consistently driving your story forward through action that follows naturally, characters who act believably, and tension that mounts exponentially, you’ll keep readers flipping pages and panting for more of your work.

 

A Review: MY BARSETSHIRE DIARY by Lord David Prosser

Lord David Prosser writes about his daily life in the lovely Welsh countryside with his Lady, Julia Prosser, in the most delightful way.  Lord Prosser has a natural ability to write about common elements of daily life in the most comedic monologues. Especially, about Oscar, a very spoiled cat, with a taste for blood, human blood. Meaning, that the cat bites and scratches his owners at will. Then there is the bird. Well, you can imagine the jealousy and the Oscar tricks to get his way.  How Lord and Lady Prosser handle this situation is utterly charming and funny.

Lord Prosser manages life at the manor with aplomb, forbearance, and laughter. Although, even for his jaunty style for helping daily life run smoothly – more or less, there are occasions when even he sneaks away into the woods, for a quick cigarette. However, rarely does he succumb to the frustrating moments that life offers all of us. There are so many incredible moments throughout this novel that incited my laugher and giggles throughout the reading of this insightful and charming novel.

For instance, I never knew that being a pallbearer could be an unexpected danger to one and all, as well as hysterically funny. It is the unexpected, even the most exasperating comedic situations in life, that bring laughter and joy. Lord David Prosser presents them to us in the most delightful way.  When I asked David about the bird, Joey the third, he said, “If I gave him a female he’d stop speaking and just squawk all the time. I spent ages letting him teach me his name.” When Lord David wrote this, I laughed so hard, I came down with the hiccups!

By the way, if I didn’t send everyone, HUGS XXX, I would be remiss, because David always sends everyone hugs!  A very hysterically funny and happy read. I highly recommend this book for everyone!

It Can Happen Here: A Lesson from Charlottesville, Virginia

Charles French has written a very germane commentary about fascism, bigotry, hatred, and dictatorship. I will also add neo-Nazis, and Racism. President Trump has played a large role in this democracy-crushing-road to ending the United States of America, as we know it, by his dog-whistle baiting, tyranny-like speech, and the company he keeps.

charles french words reading and writing

ItCantHappenHere

(https://en.wikipedia.org)

This will not be a post about my normal subjects.

In 1935 Sinclair Lewis’ book It Can’t Happen Here spoke to the issue that many Americans held that fascism could not occur in the United States of America. His book is satirical, frightening, and, unfortunately, still applicable.

Erik Larson’s nonfiction history book In The Garden of Beasts, 2011, detailed the experience of Ambassador Dodd in Berlin in the 1930s, during the rise and solidification of Hitler’s power, and it is a terrifying read.

We must always remember that it can happen here, that bigotry and hatred can lead to terrible results. That white nationalists and neo-nazis brought their horror and bigotry to Charlottesville, VA yesterday, resulting in violence and death should make all Americans, regardless of political party, Democrat, Republican, or Independent, aware of what can happen.

We should all be frightened of the possibilities of such hatred…

View original post 126 more words