Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Ivanhoe Gambit (Simon Hawke)

There are some books that I periodically re-read, and this book is one of them. It also happens to one of the first books that I brought on my own after leaving home (back in the stone age before ereaders and the internet in every home).

The Ivanhoe Gambit is the first book in the Time Wars series. Set in an universe where time travel has been discovered, Hawke uses famous stories of fiction (such as Ivanhoe and Robin Hood) as historical events. In the case of this book, I have never read the original version of the Ivanhoe story, but I am familiar with the history of the Crusades (more so now than when I first read this novel).

One of the reasons that I like this novel is that it is a good example of the literary equivalent of a television pilot--the hook that sells the rest of the series--one that could have stood alone if necessary. One of the frustrating things about the way that the print market was set up was the fact that a book series lived or died based on the sales of the first book (just like TV decides based on the number of eyeballs that watch a pilot episode); during the 1980s, there were several science fiction series that had only the very first book published. A couple of the series I loved based solely on their initial books, despite the fact that none of the rest of the series were issued...or maybe even written.

And one of the frustrating things about such failed literary series (provided that you are willing to admit science fiction into the literary world) was the number of loose ends that some of those first books left dangling. This is not the case with The Ivanhoe Gambit; outside of one loose end, and it can be read as an actual closure of a loose thread if one pays the "what if no more of the series was published," the book is self-enclosed. One can read this book as a stand-alone book. As such, this book is many ways, my model for what first book in a series should be like.

Given the fact that I have read this book a dozen times (at least), it should be no surprise that I give it five stars.

[Disclosure: I paid a whole dollar and some sales tax in 1985 to buy an used copy of this book--a copy that I still own.]

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Contagious by Jonah Berger

As most of the readers of my blog know, as do my Facebook friends, I spend a lot of time sharing pictures of cats and links to articles that make me generally annoyed. (I like the cat pictures--it is the articles that annoy me--in fact, I LOVE cat pictures.) And being a writer, I am generally curious about why certain articles and trends light up the internet.

Contagious--Why Things Catch On (by Jonah Berger) is one attempt to explain why certain things on the internet and elsewhere go viral. It is not the only attempt that I have encountered, but it is the first that I have read by an actual Ph.D. who has conducted research on the subject.

Berger starts off the book with the story of Barclay Prime's hundred-dollar cheesesteak (the brainchild of Howard Wein), something that I never heard of before. Yes, I said, hundred-dollar cheesesteak. Exactly the type of item that I would have been curious about when I was still in the restaurant business...and let's be honest, I am still curious about such things. Berger hooked me with an interesting story, and kept me interested though-out the rest of the book.

I learned a lot about marketing from this book. I am not sure if I can make any of it work for me; let's be honest, I am not great when it comes to marketing (an advertising major, I am not). On the other hand, the book does give me hope that a certain project that I am involved in (yes, the farting monkey project) might have viral potential.

I give this book five stars. And I am keeping the book for my own personal library.

[Disclosure: The book used for this review was given to me by the good people at Simon & Schuster, a result of a GoodReads First Reads contest that I entered--thank you Simon & Schuster and Professor Jonah Berger of the University of Pennsylvania.]

Monday, March 18, 2013

When the Siren Calls (Tom Barry)

When the Siren Calls (by Tom Barry) is a mixture of business drama and romantic suspense. Honestly, I am not sure what to label it--I guess drama is as good of a term as any. Maybe contemporary is the term that I am looking for.

I found the first third of the book hard to get into. I am not sure if I was just having a bad reading day--something that every English major is familiar with--or if it was the book itself that the cause. It may have been the fact that one of the characters, Isobel, was moping around about being unloved...I tend not to like rich (or even just well-off) people complaining about their problems. And there was that point where I realized that two years had passed between two scenes--it was a shock to realize how quickly time was passing in the book. At the end of the first third of the book, I thought that the best the author could ask for was a three star review.

I was wrong.

The second third of the book sucked me in. And the third part just knocked my socks off. As the book progressed, the action speeded up and the emotions of the characters got more intense. I actually came to like the character of Isobel by the end of the book.

The one character that I had absolutely no sympathy for was Jay. I find this interesting because When the Siren Calls is the first book of a trilogy, with the next book entitled Saving Jay. I wonder how Tom Barry is going to make me a fan of that book...I presume that he can win me over for a second time.

So much to my surprise, I am actually giving When the Siren Calls a full five stars and looking forward to reading the next book in the trilogy.

[Disclosure statement: This review is based on a NetGalley galley copy that was provided to me by the author.]

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Some of my occult book reviewing rules

Troll Cat gives all dog lovers one star reviews.
Yesterday on Facebook, a friend of mine was describing her latest wanker of a troll reviewer; it was someone who claimed because previous reviews did not mention what groups she belonged to, nor who she trained with, that all the previous reviews were not helpful. Now, I suspect that this particular reviewer, who gave her a review despite not buying her book, is part of the Loathing Club that another member of her occult bent has organized trying to destory this particular writer's reputation.

Now, I have been described as a troll reviewer myself--by someone (and their group) whom I saw fit to give a three star review to. In hindsight, nothing less than proclaiming this author's book "the greatest thing since white sliced bread with yummy jam" was going to make the author happy. Interestingly, he has spent more energy trying to discredit my three star review than he has spent trying to convince others that the numerous one star reviews that he got was undeserved.

The problem (for him, that is) lays in the fact that I will not change my mind about his book. Basically, I gave it my honest review based on the rules that I have decided upon for judging occult books. Here are some of the things that I judge occult books by:

Price: Is it worth the money that a person is spending on it? Is it a must-have at that price? (And in the case of an out-of-print book, is it worth the outrageous price that it is reselling for?)

Information: Is the book just a rehash of previously published information? Is there anything in the book that I cannot find in some other book, or reinvent on my own if I know the basics of occult study and practice? Does it repeat the same information over and over again? Do I have to double-check everything because your work is riddled with errors? Would I trust a Neophyte to use your book?

Authority: Is this someone's "masterwork"? (I tend to judge texts that are meant to prove that its author is the ultimate authority, one that needs to be listened to, more harshly than I do other texts; there is a difference between sharing information and declaring oneself fit to run the entire esoteric tradition.) Does the person convince me that they know what they are doing? Or do they come across as an "armchair occultist"?

Group Membership: Actually, I do not give a damn about this. It is nice to know from a community viewpoint, and helps explain certain differences between theories and practices talked about--but it really has no bearing on my review. (And my own membership do not need to be disclosed either.)

Personal Feelings about the author: I tend to admit to these upfront; there are some occult writers that I personally know or have watched that I dislike terribly--personalities of sandpaper. This tends to extend to the behavior of their followers. I try not to let it affect my reviews; but with some people, it is hard not to deduct a star from their review if they are guilty of being complete wankers.

Ability to Write: I am sorry; this one will kill my opinion of your book if you lack the ability to write a clear sentence. I understand that occult authorities are not always trained in writing, but one can find editors who specialize in editing occult material.

Usefulness: If your book is glorified paperweight with no useful context...well, you are not going to like my opinion of your work.

There are probably more things that I consider, but you get the idea.

Smashwords Read an Ebook Week 2013

Yes, I am involved in the creation of this ebook.
It is "Read an Ebook Week" until March 9th 2013 on Smashwords.

This time around, I have three ebooks discounted during the annual Smashwords promotion.

Five Reasons Why Magic Fails is 50% off (promotion price $1.50--normally $2.99).

Golden Dawn Rituals--Volume One--Neophyte Ritual (0=0) Three Officer Version is 75% off (promotion price $1.50--normally $5.99).

And the first volume of the pagan/Wiccan friendly children series that I am doing the covers for, Meet Turtle Monkey is 50% off (promotion price $1.50--normally $2.99).

[Update: July 2013: Due to differences in sales expectations and business philosophy, in early July 2013, I ceased to be involved in the Turtle Monkey project.]

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Submerged (Cheryl Kaye Tardif)

As most of my regular readers know, I am a writer. What they might not know is that writers have a tendency to dissect books that they read; it is part of our search as professional readers (because you have to be a reader to be a writer) to find the perfect formula for writing the perfect book.  Not so thay we can copy that book, but so that we can write the perfect book that lays within ourselves.

Towards this quest to find the perfect book within ourselves, we tend to collect books that we consider examples of a perfect book written by someone else. Tonight, I am adding another book to my small collection of perfect books.

Submerged (by Cheryl Kaye Tardif) is an good example of a perfect book. The cover is perfect for the story that it advertises. The pacing is perfect with just the right amount of new information being given, and new questions being placed in play. The chapters are the right size--just big enough to satisfy, yet short enough that one is tempted to read just one more chapter...and then another. The symbolism used supports both the plot and the characters. Submerged is a good example of a perfect book.

(I wish that I was as good of a writer as Cheryl is.)

My only concern with it is that some of the culture references might age quickly, and I am not sure if that can be helped given the speed that our culture changes at.

Submerged is a hard book to put into a category. It is about half romance, half suspense, and a quarter supernatural (yes, math is not my friend); it also a tale of addiction, fall, and redemption. I quite enjoyed reading it.

If you didn't already guess, I am giving this book five stars and two big thumbs up. This book is going to be enjoyed by both regular readers and those picky writers.

Submerged is available on Amazon.

[Disclosure notice: This review is based on a pdf that the author provided me. As for the Amazon link, it is just a regular link because I live in Colorado, therefore I can't be an Amazon Associate.]