Review of “The Overstory” by Richard Powers

This book won a Pulitzer Prize and I can understand why. It was a massive work of over 600 pages that literally took me months to read. The research is amazing and so is the theme. Most themes involve man versus something: man vs. man; man vs. himself; man vs. nature, etc. In this case it’s man siding with nature and trying to save the environment from exploitation.

I heard years ago that a moral dilemma always makes a gripping story. If nothing else, they’re thought provoking. Who are the good guys? Who are the bad guys? Is there really a difference? Or are both wrong in some way?

This story features a handful of unique individuals from diverse backgrounds whose experiences drive them to try and save the trees. Not just any trees, but primarily those massive giants like the redwoods which have stood their ground longer than civilization itself. Science has learned that trees, even those in the typical forest, communicate with each other. Some of us talk to our plants. I have five live oaks in my yard that I named. I had a bald cypress when I lived in Houston that I also named. I wrote a science fiction story about a telepathic walking plant, so I guess I fall out on the side of the people in the book. Of course their protests were directed toward big lumber companies and the like. To date, I have not gone that far.

Another character in the book was an individual who’d become crippled when he fell from a tree. His response was to become an IT guru creating gaming software that ultimately covered the earth, kind of like the old game SimCity on steroids. In other words, creating worlds while ignoring the one they live in.

The dilemma lies in the question how can our supposed civilization expand and prosper without exploiting the environment? Indigenous people are the only ones who “get it.” They understand that they’re an integral part of nature and honor it, giving thanks for those things they need to survive. Their attitude is more like being partners with the Earth as opposed to its conquerors.

More irony lies in the concept of using “renewable” resources. A tree that is a thousand years old is not exactly “renewable,” at least in our lifetime. They are no more “renewable” than fossil fuel and actually provide far more benefits, such as cleansing the air and providing oxygen. Have you ever seen one of these giants, or even a mighty oak, and wondered what it might say if it could talk?

This book is worth reading as it takes you into a world you have most likely never seen before. Sometimes it gets off in that realm where your unconscious probably understands it while your conscious mind doesn’t. It would have been helpful to me if the author had included a dramatis personae, since there were so many characters. There were only about three I could keep straight, while the other ones tended to blend together, especially the way the author skipped around. The ending almost felt as if Powers simply quit without really tying it all together. Yet that was probably deliberate to let each reader draw their own conclusions. I suppose I should issue a spoiler alert when I state the conclusion wasn’t in the “happily ever after” category. Frankly, if I were the story’s editor, there’s quite a bit I would have cut out.

All that aside, it’s an amazing work that will allow you to see the world around you through different eyes. You’ll probably appreciate nature a lot more, maybe even start talking to your plants. But it’s unlikely you’ll have any answers, either.

You can pick up your copy on Amazon from this affiliate link.

5-Star Review from Readers’ Favorite for “The Curse of Dead Horse Canyon: Cheyenne Spirits”

Authors are always sensitive to both praise and criticism. When I received an email this morning from Readers’ Favorite I braced myselft. I realize that it’s next to impossible for EVERYONE to like your book. Everyone doesn’t even like the Bible, for heaven sake (pun intended.) But when you give it your all, then someone rips it to shreds, its pretty devastating.

To use a Texas term, this is not my first book rodeo. I look back at some of my earlier work and cringe. But this is published novel number six and I like to think at this point I know what I’m doing.

This review validated that for me and felt really, really good. It made me cry. Here is what it said:

Reviewed By Susan Sewell for Readers’ Favorite

Conspiracy and murder have taken place in the Colorado Rocky Mountains in the chilling thriller, The Curse of Dead Horse Canyon (Cheyenne Spirits) by Marcha Fox and Pete Risingsun. Both of them dying at the scene of a car wreck, Sara Reynolds watches her husband Bryan go into the light just before returning to her body. Before he moves into the light, Bryan requests that Sara expose those who murdered him. However, when Sara awakens in the hospital, she has no memories relating to the day their pickup plummeted down the side of the mountain. As her health improves, the feeling that the wreck wasn’t an accident persists. When she is once again the victim of another near-fatal accident, Sara realizes someone wants her dead. Why is Sara being targeted? Had Bryan’s computer hacking skills unearthed a deadly secret that someone thinks Sara knows?

Brimming with drama and suspense, The Curse of Dead Horse Canyon (Cheyenne Spirits) by Marcha Fox and Pete Risingsun is the first book in an exciting new series. Opening with a heart-rending scene, the story captured my interest from the outset. Infused with a sense of danger, the intricate plot and dramatic storyline create a breathtaking and intense story. Containing a fascinating combination of Cheyenne and Dine spiritual practices seasoned with astrology, the novel is educational as well as entertaining. The Cheyenne fasting vigil, spirit animals, and the medicine wheel combined with astrology readings are intriguing aspects of the story that are genuine and authentic. It is an exceptional novel complete with conspiracy, intrigue, and murder that will enthrall everyone who has an affinity for suspenseful thrillers with just a smidgen of the paranormal.

This review was especially sweet because a few months ago I paid big money for a Kirkus Review. It sucked. It was apparent from the poorly written choppy paragraph that the person had not even read the book. It was slapped together like a 7th grade book report written at midnight the night before it was due. I would bet dollars to donuts that this supposed “professional reviewer” was some down and out semi-literate individual trying to make a few bucks with no sense of honor or integrity. Furthermore, Kirkus PROTECTS these people by allowing them to be anonymous, PLUS you cannot complain–they make you sign a release upon submitting your work. They pile a boatload of requirements on you while not maintaining professional standards themselves.

I complained, nonetheless, and wrote them a scathing letter to which, as expected, they did not respond.

Authors, please take note: DO NOT WASTE YOUR MONEY ON A KIRKUS REVIEW! If you are an indie author who is relatively unknown, they will throw your book to some unqualified cretin who probably won’t even read it, much less give it an honest assessment. They are just another one of those fraudulent services preying on indie authors. I am not the only one who has had this experience with them. Besides putting a huge hole in your wallet (which would be better spent on classes or promotion), they do NOT give you a fair shake.

Please spread the word. It’s too bad we can’t find all their victims and go after them with a class action suit, except we’re too busy writing. Attention, those of you who write murder mysteries! Try this for a premise: Author goes psycho over bad review and tries to find, then stalk the anonymous reviewer.

Revenge is sweet, n’est-ce pas?

I was not only insulted, but upset for all the reasons stated above. Some little demon in the back of my head kept telling me that the book was no good. Now I’ve been vindicated and it feels mighty good.

Take that, Kirkus! May your dirty deeds be exposed along with all the other corrupt, blood-sucking services targeting me and my kind!

“Dark Energy”: Another hilarious episode in “The Alien Affairs” Series

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The Alien Affairs team is at it again in another hilarious adventure. I love this series and it is one of the few that I have actually read more than once. It’s witty, politically incorrect, intelligent, and never fails to make me laugh, sometimes hysterically. There were a few parts in this one where I laughed so hard I was in tears, especially when they retrieved that “American hero” mentioned in the online book description.  I was reading this while in the waiting room for a doctor’s appointment and I was getting all sorts of funny looks when I would giggle out loud. Best of all, by the time they took me back to see the doctor, my blood pressure was surprisingly low, proving that laughter truly is the best medicine.

There is plenty to be worried about in the world today. As with most things in life that are troubling, we can either cry or laugh. I much prefer to laugh and these stories are guaranteed to generate plenty. Whether it’s grey alien, Deschler, and his persistent body odor issues; banter between Terrie and their avatar, Cassandra; or Uncle Eddie and his antics with Nordic wonder, Emelda (no doubt pictured on the cover), the snarky dialog, clever sci-fi plot that’s full of surprising twists and turns, and of course the author’s strong writing style, kept me fully entertained.

This episode deals with finding a new home for a bunch of Nordic invaders, the options for which lie in different time-frames and dimensions. The fact that these uninvited guests think that Earth’s terraforming efforts on Mars are insufficient,  making it no more than another “sh*thole” planet, cause all sorts of problems for the team, the solutions to which are innovative and original as well as suspense-filled.  There’s a lot of bouncing back and forth through time and space with fascinating effects that testify to the author’s fantastic imagination.

This is the fifth in the Alien Affairs series and I can’t recommend them highly enough. Keep ’em coming, Scott, you have created a hilarious world that is far better than the one we live in.

You can pick up your copy of “Dark Energy” on Amazon here.

Click on the titles to see my reviews for other books in this series, which include Alien Affairs, Alien Eyes & Alien Child,  and Gravity Waves.

Here are my reviews for additional stories by this author, who you can probably tell is clearly one of my favorites.

A Little Rebellion Now and Then

Half-Life.

Today’s Writing Tip

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Authors all want to gather positive reviews, not only because they’re encouraging and feed your ego, but because they help readers decide if they’ll like it and then, hopefully, buy it. Being an active reviewer yourself is good karma and helps you network with others.

You can learn a lot about writing from other author’s work, both negative and positive. Once in a while something in a book may drive you to distraction. When this happens, think long and hard about whether you’ve ever been guilty of the same faux pas. When you read something that makes you hope you can write that well someday, spend some time analyzing what made it so outstanding so you can incorporate a similar technique in your work.

Today’s Writing Tip

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Reviewer’s opinions of your book are not only subjective, but their rating systems are often inconsistent as well. I can’t believe how many 3-star reviews I’ve seen where the person goes on to say how good the book was. I don’t know about you, but when a reviewer awards less than 4-stars I expect to see some explanation for why the book rated such a mediocre review.

I suppose you can associate the 5-star system with academic grades. In other words:

***** = A

**** = B

*** = C

** = D

*=F

In that context, I suppose a 3-star review thus equates to a C, which supposedly is average.  But I still find it confusing, if that’s the case, how a reviewer will then go on to compliment the book and say good things about it without saying how it could be improved.

As an author, you want reviews and should thus be reviewing books yourself. Bear this in mind when you do so: If you give a book a poor rating, do the author and readers of the review a favor and tell them why, even if it’s purely subjective, such as you didn’t like the main character or the writing style. That will give them a better idea what you’re trying to say.

Review of “Half Life” by Scott Skipper

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The premise of this story is that a brutal earthquake and tsunami, similar to what happened to Japan a few years back, strikes California, causing a meltdown at a decommissioned nuclear plant. Due to various political stalemates, the fuel rods had been left on-site rather than being transported to a permanent storage location, causing considerable havoc as radiation saturates the populated area around Los Angeles. The credibility of such an occurrence is so high, that I can’t help but wonder how much of this book will turn out to be prophetic.

The story takes place during a gubernatorial election year and the political issues associated with this disaster are paramount. One thing potential readers need to know about Scott’s books is that they are extremely political incorrect. If telling it like it is bothers you, then don’t even try reading one of his books. It will just piss you off, you’ll miss the entire point, and then you’ll give him an abysmal review, which will be totally undeserved. Why? Because his books are well written, witty, boast clever plots, are populated with convincing characters, and don’t shy away from some of the political issues in the news today. Personally, I find them hilarious, albeit painfully true.

This complex tale not only covers the political and conspiratorial aspects of such a preventable catastrophe, but its impact on the main characters, the agendas of those running for political office, and those trying to clean up the mess. The technical details were absolutely outstanding. As a science geek myself, I ate them up, because I’m one of those weird types who loves to see science tightly woven into a plot. It lends authenticity, and when well done, is instructional. Obviously, he did his homework researching such a mess and what it would take to clean it up.

Scott Skipper is one of my favorite authors, especially his “Alien Affairs” series, which I love. This story isn’t quite as enchanting and took a while to get rolling. The “travel-log” chapters near the beginning moved pretty slowly, even though I could understand he was trying to demonstrate the frustration and complexity of Eric and Jamie’s convoluted  trip home, which required a jaunt through Mexico to skirt the “hot zone” left by the power plant meltdown. If you get stuck somewhere in Mexico, somewhere around Guadalajara, skip ahead–you won’t miss much and the rest of the story is well-worth it.

About a third of the way through the story it really took off in typical Scott Skipper style with the sarcastic humor and snarky characters I love. One secretary, Enid, served as great comic relief with her British slang and often racist and bigoted remarks. This story would make a fantastic movie, the main problem being that the political leanings of those in Hollywood wouldn’t touch this story if they were wearing a hazmat suit and wielding an insulated barge pole.

Since I think the story could use a bit of tightening of those early travel-log chapters and would like to see a more sophisticated cover worthy of what is really a great story, I can’t quite give this story five starts, but certainly 4.5. Just be warned, if you’re easily offended, don’t even bother, unless you’re open-minded enough to recognize the many truths embedded in this thought-provoking, cautionary tale.

You can pick up a copy on Amazon here.

Review of “The Contract Between Heaven and Earth” by Gwen Plano and John Howell

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I really enjoyed the original premise of this fast-moving thriller. I must admit that it is the first book in quite a while that I stayed up into the wee-hours of the night to finish. The characters were well-developed and engaging. I also appreciated the fact that it was nicely edited, thus lacking any typos or other issues that tripped up my engagement with the characters and plot.

It was truly cross-genre, not only of two, i.e. thriller and romance, but also a paranormal/spiritual element as well, all of which were nicely intertwined in a non-contrived manner. I have only two criticisms, one of which is I would have liked to have seen a bit more plot complexity for something that supposedly had the potential to destroy the world. Exactly who, how, and why were never satisfactorily revealed. My other criticism is that there was at least one major loose end dangling at the end, which was another thing that I found slightly disappointing.

These are minor issues with what is otherwise a well-written story and I hope that perhaps the authors plan to deal with them in the sequel. As with all reviews, this one is subjective. I’m a detail-oriented person who loves a meatier plot (think Tom Clancy) and saw so many ways this could have been a more expansive story. However, for those who like a straight-line, predictable plot, it’s a smooth, enjoyable read.

Pick up your copy on Amazon here.

An Author’s Lament on a Hot Summer Day

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No doubt you’ve seen those unfortunate individuals on the side of the road with a sign that says “Will Work for Food.” Somehow I can relate, though I admit I’m not quite as destitute as those poor souls. Nonetheless, if you’re an author, unless you have a patient spouse who pays the bills or an alternate source of income such as a day job, retirement, or you have the good fortune to be a trust fund baby, chances are your income could be in a similar range, or possibly even less. Way less, like in negative numbers.

It seems no one these days wants to pay for anything, especially if it’s creative. The starving artist has been a familiar entity for eons. People want their music for free, their reading material for free, their games for free, and their artwork for free. This is what the electronic age has brought us. Now that books, music, pictures, and even movies are no longer on tangible media, they’re expected to be free. And of course, now that they’re teaching AI to create, in no time artists of all varieties could be out of business entirely. Muses today get no respect.

So tell me–who out there in any other profession, whether it’s accounting, engineering, administrating, or heaven forbid, even politics, is willing to work for free? To coin an apropos phrase from “Ferris Buehler’s Day Off,” Anyone? Anyone? When’s the last time you went into the grocery store and got your food for free?

Now that I’m retired, I can indulge in pursuing my work as an author. Unfortunately, lately that’s been directed more at marketing and promoting than creating. And the frustration some days is downright scream-inducing. The cash going out for services far outweighs what little comes in. If I were a logical person, I’d quit. If it were only about money, I’d quit. But do I? No. Because writing is in my blood (at least my astrological imprint, which features Kalliope, the muse of epic poetry on my ascendant). While I can make ends meet (barely) through other means, I’d love nothing more than to make a generous (or even adequate…okay, even meager) income from my writing. Tax write-offs are nice, but after a while it gets old. Just once I’d like to finish in the black.

The one thing authors appreciate (most the time, anyway) is a review, especially when we give away our books. And trust me, selling it for 99c is virtually the same as giving it away. Thinking about how long it took to write, edit, and publish it is verboten, because that’s downright depressing. I couldn’t even begin to calculate what I make per hour when selling a book for 99c, most likely less than a Mexican peso per hour, maybe even per day, if that. Yet people who are qualified to do no more than repeat the mantra, “Do you want fries with that?” want $15/hour. Right. And people in hell want ice water.

Reviews are important. Once you get a certain amount, vendors such as Amazon give your book a little more attention and help. If you want to look for an agent, be accepted by certain promoters (for a generous fee, mind you), or even expand into the audio book world, reviews are one measure of your popularity.

Thus, to me, it’s no more than common courtesy to leave a review, especially when you get a few hours entertainment and enjoyment out of a book that took someone a considerable amount of time and effort to produce. If you don’t like it or don’t finish it, fine. No review is better in most cases than a really bad one. Yet, some don’t take your book seriously until you have a few bad ones to show it wasn’t just your family and friends posting them (which isn’t as easy to achieve as you may think, unless you have some serious blackmail material). Granted, reviews are subjective and one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. I get that.

More than likely, unless you’re a fellow author you haven’t even made it this far in my rant du jour. But even fellow authors aren’t always diligent in leaving a review. It doesn’t have to be an essay worthy of a Pulitzer Prize; a few sentences will do.

We authors ask so little. Is it really that difficult to log into Amazon? You know it’s not. If you bought it there, they’ll even remind you and send a link. And the next time you get a book for free or less than you pay for a good cup of coffee, feel it’s your obligation.

I, for one, would rather work for royalties, but reviews, especially a good one, can make it seem at least marginally worthwhile.

So get off your lazy ass and leave one today for a starving author who, in return, will not only love you forever, but might even keep writing. Capisce?

Today’s Writing Tip

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If you leave a poor review for a book, do the author a favor and tell them why. In some cases it might simply be subjective, since there are few stories everyone loves once they get past Winnie the Pooh. If it’s technical, such as too many typos, say so, giving the author a chance to correct it. Same goes for other things that were confusing or threw you out of a story.

Authors tend to take their reviews seriously and often use them as a guide for future revisions or as lessons learned for future books. However, no one should expect everyone to love their book. You can’t please all the people all the time.

Review of “Non-Profit” by Larry Hyatt

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The author is clearly a talented writer. The story flowed nicely and his characters were fairly well-developed. I think there may have been a few too many characters, but the story revolved around a conference held for those working for non-profit organizations in Louisiana, so a fair amount of people were required. Since I’m retired, in many ways the story reminded me too much of work, LOL. Those who work in the non-profit industry would probably enjoy it. I did laugh out loud several times at their antics. The politics, interaction between employees, dirty little secrets, and so forth were certainly credible and somewhat typical of any office environment, with the added flavor of the South.

One thing I found confusing and then annoying was the fact the author was inconsistent in how he spelled one of the main characters name–sometimes it was Rachael and others Rachel, which at first made be think it was two different people. Another character, Valerie, was also spelled Valarie. It’s also usually a good idea to keep character names different enough they don’t get confused. Having a Rebecca, Jacob, Josh, and the protagonist, Jay, didn’t help keep them separate.

There was also minimal if any physical description regarding what the characters looked like. I realize some readers prefer to imagine what a character looks like themselves and not be told, so this is subjective and a moot point, but I prefer to have that included. I suppose the cover did some of this, which was clever and a great representation of the story. To the author’s credit, there was only one or two actual typos, which I always appreciate. As a grammar Nazi, I can really go on a rant when I’m continually thrown out of a story due to flaws that should have been caught by an editor, proofreader, or even a spellchecker. A few times I got lost regarding who was speaking with the group dialogs, but at least the conversations sounded real.

To me, this was primarily the story of a crazy week at a conference. While it was credible, it wasn’t that interesting to someone outside the industry, but I think the author has the talent to make a more interesting story, perhaps throwing a murder or some other mystery in there for his next work.

You can pick up your copy on Amazon here.