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text 2019-11-24 14:55
24 Festive Tasks: Door 9 - World Philosphy Day: Tasks 1 and 2

My reading philosophy: As long as there is at least something in the book that maintains a minimum of my interest, I'll finish it.  If I get bored or, worse, seriously annoyed, I'll DNF; regardless how far into the book I've gotten up to then.  This (almost) past year, I finished a few books that I would otherwise have DNF'd because I was reading them for BookLikes games -- that may very well change next year.  Life's just too short and there are too many other books out there that I'm interested in.


My rating philosophy is set out HERE -- tl;dr version: It's a gut feeling; definitely not a mental template (least of all, an unbreakable one).  Every so often I'll revise my rating as a result of a reread, or if I decide that compared to similar books or in the grand scheme of all books by that particular author that I've read, my spontaneous rating perhaps wasn't entirely fair, but if I do this at all (and it's only in rare cases to begin with), it will likely only be a half-star adjustment; almost never a full star, and under no circumstances anything even more drastic.


As for reviews, I only ever write them if I feel strongly motivated enough to do so in the first place.  I don't ever want reviews to become anything even remotely resembling a chore; which is also why I don't do Netgalley and why I don't accept free books for review purposes.  I also don't ever want even the slightest sense of feeling beholden to someone to get in the way of my reviewing. -- If I do review, again I don't have any template; mental or otherwise.  Drafting each review individually, based on the book in question and my personal reading experience (and the associations the book may have raised in my mind) is a huge part of what makes reviewing fun to me.


(Task1: Share your reading philosophy with us – do you DNF?  If so, do you have a page minimum to read before you declare it a DNF?

Task 2: Share your reviewing philosophy with us – how do you rate a book?  Do you have a mental template for reviewing?  Rules you try to follow, or rules you try to break?)

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review 2019-08-06 18:54
One Star: A Short Story
One Star: A Short Story - The Behrg

I am not going to lie, I was scared to death to start this short story. The title is "One Star" and if you've been around the block as many times as I have, you already know how treacherous the world of the one star review can be for the reviewer. If the author is sensitive, having a bad day or simply cannot take any criticism about their book baby they and/or their fans could drop a world of hurt on you for ruining their career (when in reality their tantrum is likely the thing that'll do it). I'm not talking about the shitty "you have atrocious taste, you are too dumb to read blurbs and you are a moron" comments left on your review (okay MY review, haha). That's all part of this social media thing. I'm talking about real life danger. Someone having a bad moment might chase you down and hit you with a wine bottle, create a website and DOX you and spread falsehoods about you, attempt to sic a lawyer after you, call your place of work, create a petition in an attempt to make your name public knowledge on Amazon (thanks for boosting that one, Anne Rice), perhaps even do some snooping and locate your home address to pay you a little visit and give you a talking to. (NOTE: All of this shit has happened, if you want proof lemme know). But you can read some of it with linkage here .


So yeah, after all of that stuff, I am a little wary of the big, bad one star. I used to write light-hearted, silly one-star reviews. Click on a cover to read some silliness:










It is highly unlikely that anyone would feel that those reviews are constructive or helpful or nice which is what people continually and to this day tell me I should be doing. I don't believe in that. I will never believe that I, the consumer, need to be helpful in my unpaid review. You can tell me that until you or I turn blue but I will not change. I wrote those reviews for fellow readers which is what I always do. I'm not forcing anyone to agree with me and some of those people in the comments in those reviews don't agree and that is perfectly okay by me. Those are my true and unpolished feelings. It is the only way I know how to be. I will now likely DNF a book if I hate it because, as I learned with the books above, it is never worth the time and my free time is a precious thing. Ain't none of us getting any younger over here. Nor is it worth the potential hassle if someone is feeling slighted or may be slightly unhinged and I have too many good books to read before some crazy person murders me.


Anyhow, I have made this review all about me because I have some strong feelings on this matter as I was put on a "bad reviewer hit list" years ago for my open and big-mouthed book reviewing ways as were several well respected reviewer friends who absolutely did not deserve it.


Now on to the story, haha!


One Star begins as a blogger is penning her final blog post. She has witnessed something so terrible that she is haunted enough to pull down her own blog because she feels her review sent an author off the deep end. I feared the worst, truly I did, but The Behrg promised this was a love letter to reviewers and I put my trust in his hands and he was not fooling around. He brings up some good points from all sides of this debate and debacle. There is a sinister turn and it surprised and pleased me very much. The things some people will do for money, for fame. . .


These are my quickie thoughts after a quickie read through but I plan to sit down and give it another read so I can chew on some of this stuff. It was super interesting and is worth a read. Thank you, The Behrg, for being one of the sane voices out here in the wilds!


And to all of you reviewer types who bravely review day in, day out because you must, YOU NEED TO READ THIS!



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text 2019-07-01 18:45
Reviewer's Etiquette or You Do You

Reviewer's Etiquette.


Does such a thing even exist? If so, is it documented? Who's in charge of it, who invented it? In point of fact, no such thing actually exists. Some of us may follow guidelines put out by one site or another. Some of us may review for sites that have their own guidelines,  whereas others are out there flying by the seat of their pants.


I think most of us are trying to spread the word about great and not so great books, and great, or not so great authors. If that IS the case, then why oh why, are we attacking each other? There have been a few dust ups recently and I have stayed quiet because I don't want to be a drama queen, (it takes too much time away from reading), but also because I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings. (Be aware that I'm not going to name names today, because the post to which I am referring has been deleted.) However, today I AM going to lay out where I stand and if you like it, great! If you don't, please feel free to unfollow or unfriend or whatever you feel the need to do. I'm not reviewing to make money or take in advertising (though if you click the links in my reviews I do make a small cut). I'm reviewing because I love books. The only thing I ask is that you please read to the end before you make the follow/unfollow decision. 


I feel passionately about a reader's right to review. When I say passionately, I mean it. I don't feel like a reviewer OWES the author anything. If I spent my time reading the book, I have earned the right to say whatever the hell I want to say. For me, this pertains to any reviewer, no matter what their day job is, and that includes being an author. If you read the book, say what you want to say, however you want to say it.


I don't have to be helpful to the author by offering ways for them to write a better book. I am not their beta reader. I was not hired to give helpful criticism or to do editing.


I don't have to be respectful to the author. If I think the book is a piece of junk, I have the right to say so. I don't owe Stephen King or David Morrell respectful words, nor do I owe them to any independent author.


I do not think it's right to jump on another reviewer's review space and tell them how wrong they are. There are one star reviews out there for my favorite book. I don't take the time to tell them they're insane. That's THEIR review space and they're entitled to it. 


I do think it's okay to respectfully comment on how disappointed you are that they didn't care for the book, or why you disagree with their review. Again, it should be respectful and not filled with comments like "You're an asshole if you don't like this book."


All of these things said, my personal canon requires that I be respectful in my reviews. I know authors work hard and I know that negative reviews can hurt. That does not mean that all other reviewers must go by my canon. If you're a reviewer, go by your own personal canon. You do you.


I also do not review many books negatively. Why is that, you ask? Because if I am not enjoying a book, I will not continue to read it. I go by a 10-20% rule and if I am not enjoying it by that time, it's out. I have too many books to read to force myself to go on. If that involves an ARC from a publisher, I DNF it and explain why, with no rating or review. If it involves an ARC directly from an author, I will message them, tell them how I'm feeling and DNF the book with no rating and no review. Am I now telling you that's what you should do as a reviewer? No! You do you.


My personal canon dictates that I support other reviewers, whether or not I agree with them. I will support you against attacks from the author or from other reviewers. I can only speak for myself here, but it's important to remember that we ALL are only speaking for ourselves. There is no one reviewer or one reviewing site that speaks for all of us in the genre, (in my case the horror genre.) Not one of us controls what you say in your review, or whether or not you should review at all. NOT ONE OF US. We all have our opinions...and you know what they say about those. 


Please note, that if you write a negative review, there is a chance, that the author attacks you, or if it's an author with thousands of followers,  they can organize an attack against you. These things have happened and will continue to happen. All we reviewers can do is support each other and stay vigilant. (#HaleNo) But we shouldn't have to support reviewers against attacks/essays/monologues from other reviewers. I WILL, but I shouldn't have to.


This is my personal canon. Are you required to follow MY personal canon? No, (though in the case of attacking other reviewers, I highly recommend it), but again, you do you. I will respond as my personal canon requires, by unfollowing or unfriending, and by expressing my support for the reviewer. 


In short, (too late!), I feel a reviewer's space is sacred. That is at the top of my personal canon. Am I asking you to do or feel the same. No!







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review 2019-05-14 06:49
Hell's Shadows by Dean Klein: a Negative Stars Review
Hell's Shadows - Dean Klein

Disclosure:  I downloaded only the free Kindle sample after seeing this book referenced on Twitter.  I do not know the author and do not want to.  I am an author of historical romance and contemporary gothic romance and assorted non-fiction.


Here's the link to the post that got this all started.




The site has rules regarding their reviews, and this author broke the rules. 


Now, I gave a quick review to another obnoxious author's book earlier today, but that was in a genre -- vampires -- I'm not familiar with with, so I didn't really get into any kind of analysis.  The formatting and mechanics of the first few Kindle pages of Todd Davis's The Third Bride were enough to turn me off.


Dean Klein's behavior was magnitudes greater than Davis's, but it was also off my direct radar.  I was initially inclined to put my post on Twitter and let it go at that.  But nothing good ever comes from letting the BBAs get away with it, so I added the link to my timeline here.


Whether it's something in the air or the water, or a response to the current political climate, these authors' actions put a subtle pressure on both the reading and the writing community.  To a certain extent, traditionally published authors are insulated against this.  It should be noted, however, that author Natasha Tynes, who reported a transit worker eating on the job and posted the employee's picture on Twitter, has lost her publishing deal and her book already set for publication has been delayed.  Bad author behavior does have consequences.


Tynes's behavior, obviously, had nothing to do with her writing and/or publishing.  Davis and Klein, on the other hand -- along with a few others in the past few days -- have gone public with their bad writing behavior.  Davis tweeted that he believes all reviewers should give "indie" authors only five-star reviews, even if the books are bad, because it's all a matter of boosting sales.  I guess.


Anyway, when the news of Klein's behavior reached my Twitter feed, I followed up on it in part because the whole haunted house trope is right up my alley, pun intended.  I at least know something about this horror sub-genre because it morphs over into the gothic.  And though I'm not an expert on the gothic sub-genre of romance, I've read more than a little and of course I've actually written a gothic romance featuring a haunted house.


So let's get started on this review, based solely on the free Kindle sample.



At first I was kind of inclined to ignore the cover as posted on Amazon.  It's obviously the "flat" of a paperback cover, which seems kind of odd.  I mean, why wouldn't the author just post the regular cover art?  The paperback edition is shown as being published in 2012 via CreateSpace, so we know the author is essentially his own publisher.  He has control over how the Amazon listing looks.


But what I've screenshot above is from the actual Kindle download.  It's not just from the Amazon listing.  The author doesn't even know how to do his cover for his Kindle edition!




I rarely would DNF a book based on the cover. If the cover is that bad, I just wouldn't pick it up.  Maybe if the cover were stolen or something, I might comment, but bad cover art isn't one of those things that usually grabs me.  In this case, it's not the cover itself -- which is just letters on a red background anyway -- that's bad; it's the formatting of the cover that fails.


Any expectations I had for this book being even marginally readable have gone out the window.


Most of us, I think, know what a "teaser" is.  It's that page at the front of a book -- usually a paperback edition -- that contains a little snippet of the book as an enticement, a taste of what's to come.  And we know what a blurb is.  Again, it's a hint of what the book is about, setting the tone and even some expectations about the plot.  "They were strangers in a strange land, never suspecting that their forbidden love could topple an empire and turn the tide of war!"  That sort of thing.


Here's what Dean Klein has given us:



That teaser page needs a spoiler warning!


This is a book about a haunted house that itself is a serial killer.  Oh, and the wife of the couple in the house has empathic powers.  I doubt that's revealed on the first page of the novel.


But this isn't a new concept, regardless what Klein would have the reader believe.  Though I haven't read The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, even a Wikipedia summary suggests that there are some similarities between Jackson's novel -- acclaimed by many as one of the best horror novels of the 20th century -- and Klein's.  The idea that the house is an active participant in the events of the story is one.  That a main character has unknown, subconscious psychic abilities is another.


Barbara Michaels used the semi-sentient house as a character in her novel Someone in the House as well.


Fortunately, author Klein doesn't stint on his teaser: there is another full page plus a bit more!  At least he lets us know he's biased.




If you read his entire response on SciFiandScary, you're not surprised at his shameless self-promotion.  But it's still rather mind-boggling, isn't it? that someone -- anyone --  really thinks this highly of himself and his work.


Is the work worthy of that self-confidence?


In a word, no.


The teaser is over-written and laden with spoilers.  The opening of the book is the same. 


It's an epilogue-as-prologue opening, in which we learn that Gil is looking back on the events of five years previously, when he and his wife Robin first saw the house.  It's now decrepit, falling apart, mouldering.  They are no longer -- apparently -- living there.  There's a strong hint that they are not living together, and perhaps she is no longer living.


The reader is also subjected to this bizarre formatting of indented block paragraphs.  An extra line between paragraphs plus the indentation is overkill, and to me it suggests the document has been formatted by someone who doesn't know what books look like.


The writing, however, is uncomfortable.  It's not exactly awkward, and there aren't a whole lot of the painful, obvious grammatical mistakes we've seen in other books.  What Klein seems not to understand is one of the basic tools of story-telling: point of view.


The book opens more or less in Gil's point of view, as he thinks back over those five years since he and Robin saw the house.  But Klein slips into a distant omniscient point of view for no real reason, as when he describes Robin's sudden illness:


Robin was completely unresponsive, the blood flow to her brain all of a sudden strangely insufficient to maintain consciousness.

Klein, Dean (2014-01-18T22:58:59). Hell's Shadows . Dean Klein. Kindle Edition.


When Robin recovers, Gil accepts her insistence that she's fine, but Klein pulls the camera back, so to speak.


If this man [Gil] had known the real reason Robin had passed out, he would have been far more than worried. He would have known visiting the ER would have accomplished nothing. Indeed, no ER in the world was equipped to diagnose the reason why this woman had suddenly passed out. Gil also had no way of knowing Robin’s fainting spell occurred on the very ground upon which people had horribly died, all the deaths related to an old ramshackle property directly across the road from them.

Klein, Dean (2014-01-18T22:58:59). Hell's Shadows . Dean Klein. Kindle Edition.


This kind of thing worked for Rod Serling, sort of, and maybe for Lemony Snicket, but it doesn't seem to be working for Dean Klein.  It falls short of direct author intrusion, such as Henry Fielding did in Tom Jones, but it's distinctly outside the story.  The net effect is a distancing of my involvement with the characters and the action.


The whole idea of a house having been witness to horrific events is hardly a new concept either.  Nor is it innovative that an ancient haunting would interfere in a marriage, as this was the premise for Howard Rigsby's The Tulip Tree (1970), which I read last year and reviewed here.


The scene then abruptly shifts to a specific locale in 1830.  Now there are new characters, but the narrative voice is still disengaged.  Klein is telling everything, never showing anything. 


I skimmed through a few more pages without ever feeling drawn into the story.  Nothing is particularly creepy because I'm not engaged with the characters and what's happening to them.  Without any explanation of how the 1830 scene is connected to Gil and Robin's story, Klein abruptly shifts back to the "present" to hand us on a silver platter Gil and Robin's personal histories.  All telling, no showing.  This is backstory that should come out in the course of the novel.


I no longer care.  At 25% of the free sample, I'm done.  This is bad writing.  So bad that by itself it does not earn even half a star.  Combined with the poor formatting -- the cover, the block-indented paragraphs -- it slides into negative territory.  Throw in the author's atrocious behavior, and this becomes irredeemable.


(Did you notice that Klein couldn't even spell the title of Stephen King's Pet Sematary correctly?)


Speaking of Stephen King, I want to end this with what I consider one of the best parts of his book On Writing:


I am approaching the heart of this book with two theses, both simple. The first is that good writing consists of mastering the fundamentals (vocabulary, grammar, the elements of style) and then filling the third level of your toolbox with the right instruments. The second is that while it is impossible to make a competent writer out of a bad writer, and while it is equally impossible to make a great writer out of a good one, it is possible, with lots of hard work, dedication, and timely help, to make a good writer out of a merely competent one.

King, Stephen. On Writing: A Memoir Of The Craft (p. 142). Scribner. Kindle Edition.


There are two parts to writing fiction: story and story-telling.  No matter how good the story is, it will never ever be good enough to salvage poor story-telling.  A good story with a bad writer is still bad writing, and it's almost certainly such bad writing that not even a good editor can rescue it.  In the hands of a competent writer - one step up from a bad writer -- the story may survive, but it's still going to need help.


Stephen King acknowledges that it's possible, though not necessarily probable, that a competent writer can make the leap to good writer, but he doesn't explain why the jump from bad writer to competent one isn't even feasible.  Personally, I think there's a raw talent that can be nurtured, maybe even trained, that puts the writer automatically into the competent category.  You're there because it's natural.  It's like the kid who can shoot baskets or hit baseballs or spin on ice skates or hit high C.  You don't know how you do it, but you do.


You're never going to be a bad writer.  You start out competent.


I can't shoot baskets.  I might get one out of 25 or even 100 tries.  I was a little better at baseball/softball.  Never could spin on ice skates.  You don't want to hear me sing.  I have none of these raw talents, and no amount of coaching, training, or practice is going to make me any better.


Dean Klein is almost sure never to improve as a writer.  The native talent isn't there, but neither is the willingness to learn, to put in the hard work, to listen to critics, to improve.  He already knows it all.


He's never going to make it to zero stars.






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text 2019-05-14 00:11
how some authors really need to be treated




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