Review Corner: Boy: A Journey by James Stryker

While speaking with James Stryker after I had finished his debut novel Assimilation, he told me about his latest (then upcoming) novel, Boy: A Journey.  After reading the description on his website, I was very much interested in it as well.

A snippet of it is: Everyone knew about Jay’s hidden transgender past — except his son. Now that his father is gone, Luke must seek the truth to understand the man he thought he knew. (click here to read the rest)
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James Stryker was gracious enough to honor me with a copy of Boy: A Journey in exchange for an honest review. So, I eagerly dove head first into the novel, soon realizing that I would need to break from it over the holidays due to the sensitive and heart rending nature of the story and the events in it.

The first chapter includes the brutal and graphic death of Jay, Luke’s father, in the midst of yet another fight between father and son. The room became quite…dusty…during the first chapter, of course being the cause of my watering eyes…

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When I was able to collect myself (and *ahem* find a less dusty room) I returned to the story to learn what happened in the aftermath of Jay’s death.

Boy: A Journey is told in three perspectives. We’re first introduced to Luke, the King of Brats, Luke the “Wronged”; the next chapter, we meet Tom, the man dying of cancer holding secrets to his chest like precious gems, in love with Jay and hiding in the wings; and finally, we have the perspective of Ginger (real name Jake), Luke’s brother-in-law and the man stealing Beau away from possessive Luke (he and Beau are twins, after all).

Unfortunately while reading, I ran into some similar issues that I had with Assimilation regarding pronouns and how time passes. For instance, it could be difficult at times to know for sure who is talking or being talked about. This was especially true when there were more than two people in the conversation; it got a little confusing on occasion.

There was also a lot of jumping back and forth in time without clearly seguing the reader through the time shifts; this made the car ride home with Luke and Jay in the first chapter a little confusing and difficult to get through, in particular.

Some chapters repeat blocks of time from different people’s perspectives, but it’s not always stated or made clear that that’s what’s happening. This left me with a discombobulated feeling. I think if chapter intros were used more consistently and effectively (which may or may not be the case with the final published version, I’m not sure), this problem would be mostly resolved.

Before I go too much further, there is one major detail (or set of details) that I wish were perhaps different: three important characters have the names Jay, Jake, and Jackie…even by the last page, this still messed with me. The names are so similar it took me way longer than it should have from the beginning to place who each character was every time I came across them. I became frustrated with momentary mix-ups more than a few times. It was easier when Jake was called by his nickname, Ginger, but then it would throw me off when I saw “Jake” used again.

Nevertheless, the story drew me in for the most part, despite Luke’s obnoxious and occasionally cruel asides. I did, however, spend a healthy portion of the book wondering why I was reading so much from Luke’s perspective; the giant chip on Luke’s shoulder leaves him with a skewed version of events in his life, all of which are compounded by the unexpected revelation of the secret Jay had kept most vigilantly from his son, and the fact that Luke is the last to know. It’s hard to understand how Luke came to be this much of an ass.

In the aftermath of Jay’s sudden and traumatic death, Luke’s focus is still mainly himself. He may be affected by the loss of his father, but the reasons are far more egocentrically based than truly mourning his dad; he cares more about trying to rattle and humiliate Ginger (his brother-in-law) at Jay’s funeral than he does giving his last respects and saying goodbye to his own father. Even his eventual tender moments towards his mother and sister are all about playing Luke’s most important role, that of “perfect” son and brother.

Everything comes to a head when Luke finds out that there’s a secret and everyone else was privy to it except him, and he believes, his twin, Beau. When Luke finds out that Tom, a virtual stranger to him, knows and has some connection to Jay and thus the secret, he arranges a meeting in hopes of manipulating answers from him. The meeting, however, is brief as Tom quickly realizes that Jay has not told Luke everything and that Luke is fishing. The disastrous encounter prompts Luke to confront his mother, Jackie, and demand the truth from her…the night of his father’s burial.

There are a couple of things I would I like to comment on concerning the conversation where Luke is told of his father’s transgender past and the ending, but I don’t want to give anything away to anyone who wants to experience it for themselves (I definitely recommend that!) So just in case you don’t know the drill, scroll down until you see the kitten under the flannel, it will be safe after that.

Spoiler-Alert-Discussion

No matter what Luke’s justification is to himself, or anyone else, he is incredibly cruel with some of the things he says after the revelation of his father’s past, and Tom’s contribution to his and Beau’s existence.

The best part, though, are Beau and Jackie’s reactions; I loved the ferociousness with which Beau and Jackie defend Jay being a man and Luke’s real father. They rail against Luke and his ignorant and disgusting comments with passion…my heart swelled. Even though it was violent, I have to say I also enjoyed the detail of Ginger noticing Beau moving her wedding ring so that she smacked Luke with it facing him.

Another moment that tugged at my heart strings, and was incredibly sad to read, was Tom’s hallucination of Jay taking care of him, when it is really Luke. I almost cried.

As far as the end goes, one thing that I wish had been done differently was the apology and reconciling conversation between Luke and his family. I’m sure it would have been incredibly difficult to write, but as a reader, it seemed to resolve relatively easily. One long phone conversation after months of nothing, and things are on their way to being better. Not entirely fixed, but better, and mostly forgiven. Though it was obviously painful and difficult to get there for the characters, it still felt a little too easy of a makeup. I think it would have made the book a little stronger to further illustrate this pivotal conversation between Luke, Jackie, and Beau.

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Yes, is safe now.

There is only one other matter I have an issue with and feel I must comment on, and that’s the way Tom talks about the pain medication he is given for his cancer. To read Tom’s experience, it’s incredibly easy to get pain medicine when you need it, which is not necessarily the case, regardless of a doctor’s willingness to prescribe.

For a man that likes to comment on being put upon and listing all the things he has to go through, Tom doesn’t once mention the debacle of having to go pick up his higher dose pain prescriptions himself from the doctor’s office and then taking them to the pharmacy to be filled; a doctor cannot call in a prescription for pain medicine that is classified as a narcotic, they have to have the physically written prescription in hand, and the ID of the person picking it up/who it’s for. I know this from personal experience. And believe me, it’s not fun.

Both to keep to Tom’s character, as well as to accurately and responsibly depict something concerning pain medicine, it’s something I would like to see done a bit better.

All around, even though I wanted to strangle Luke on more than one occasion, it was an unexpected journey to experience, and one I enjoyed reading overall.

My favorite aspect of the book is the “good deeds of truth,” doing something for the sake of someone else without any benefit for yourself. In general, it’s a beautiful sentiment that I wish more people understood, shared, and practiced. In the book, it’s one of Jay’s pillars, especially in concerning his care of the dead; Jay and Ginger are morticians, they care for the dead with love and respect without being repaid in anyway by the person they care for. There is no benefit but to respect another human being’s life.

I heartily recommend this to anyone looking for an LGBTQ+ related read, but only if you can handle some sad and difficult scenes. It’s hard for me to say who might enjoy this book, it has cancer, death, and transgender man holding onto a secret, but it also has a lot of heart and an ending that won’t make you want to throw it across the room, though you might tear up.

It’s safe to say that I’m a fan of Stryker’s writing style and his stories are intriguing. I will be eagerly awaiting and anticipating his future releases. You can get a copy of Boy: A Journey on Amazon or B&N , or visit James at his website.

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Why I Will Never Have a Favorite Book

 

You mention your love of books, or you’re among book lovers, mention that you’re an author, or having an interview, you’re getting to know someone….you know the questions is coming…..what is your favorite book?

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I’ve never been able to answer this question, and I never will. Usually I don’t like using words like “never” but in this case, it’s completely appropriate.

I understand how people can have favorites, but only because I cannot properly place or understand the value someone else has for one particular story; I can only account for the value and significance certain books have to me.

So, why am I incapable of choosing one or even a select few (less than 10) favorite books? It boils down to two basic issues:

First of all…

What defines a favorite book?

A favorite is defined as what is preferred before all others of the same kind.

But seriously, what criteria needs to be met for a book to be considered a favorite? What are the parameters? I’m sure the answers are as varied as the books being read and named, but problem remains: how do you define a favorite book?

Is it the number of times you reread it? Is whether or not you would reread it? Is it a matter of how deeply a book touched you? If a new idea was introduced to you?

My reasons for choosing the books I consider as my favorites (of which there are many) can vary; sometimes the reasons are ineffable and exist in the feeling within the book itself, the magic woven into the ink of the words on the page.

For every possible definition, I could probably conjure up another and another title that would fit, forever making a singular favorite impossible.

Second of all…

Too many possibilities

Even if you were able to construct and agree on a definition, there are far too many possibilities!
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Every day, there are new books being written, published, and found, and if even fractions of those are read, at least a fraction of those are likely to become special or a favorite. The sheer number of stories in existence is enough to illustrate the difficulties, even when you do the math to approximate how many of them you may read in your own lifetime.

Unless you’re reading mostly books that you don’t like, or aren’t interested in, or that are all somehow all just atrocious, you should be scooping up a handful of titles that stick with you.

So again, how, with all of the many wondrous possibilities at hand, is it possible to choose one, or even a precious few, favorites?

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Even if you try and narrow the parameters to make the choice “easier,” there’s still the question of how you decide what kind of favorite? Favorite book(s) of all time (hard to say and subject to change)?

Favorite book in a particular genre? By a certain author? Recent favorite (as in most easily comes to mind, or in the last few months)?

So you see, choosing a favorite anything can be difficult, but choosing a favorite book…

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It’s just not going to happen any time soon…

I could give you a list of my favorites, possibly even rank them from extreme to basic favorites, but that’s probably the best I can do. Personally, I’m okay with that.

What about you? Are you able to choose a favorite book? Please share it in the comments!

Review Corner: Assimilation by James Stryker

Months ago, I was approached by James Stryker about possibly reading and reviewing his debut novel Assimilation. After being given a brief synopsis:

ASSIMILATION, a dystopian thriller with LGBTQ elements, follows the struggle of a man who is reanimated in a woman’s body following a cryogenic error. The story’s main character, Andrew, must fight to assert his own identity against the husband who paid to have his wife returned.

I was intrigued and more than ready to dive in.

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It was a slow start for me, though admittedly, it was a very difficult place to take up the story since the reader is not familiar with it or the characters at all yet. It opens with the emerging consciousness of recently remade/reanimated Natalie, except that it’s Andrew….as I said, it’s a difficult place to dive in, but once I was in a chapter or so, past the foggy uncertainty, and into the ability to learn about and connect with the characters and the story, I was hooked.

In fact, I still blame Stryker for essentially missing a few days of writing progress because I was either reading the book, or distracted by thinking about it…

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The novel is told in three perspectives; we start with that of Andrew/Natalie. There are a couple of chapters with Natlie’s husband, Robert’s, perspective to illustrate his inner thoughts concerning the changes he sees in his wife, and what he thinks about doing to make things the way he wants them. Lastly, we have a few chapters from Oz’s perspective (we’ll talk more about him in a bit).

I was a bit jarred at the first switch in perspective because I was not expecting it. In particular I was not expecting Oz’s perspective, but it didn’t take long to get into the swing of it and not be as jolted by the shifts.

It was soon evident that the author has a gift for evoking an emotional response from the reader, swiftly pulling you into the strange situation at hand; Robert wants his submissive, ‘perfect’, wife and caretaker, mother of his remaining son, returned to him just as she was before the car accident that killed her; Andrew wants to find who is, be who he is, despite his outward appearance being that of Natalie.

While Andrew, attempting to play the role of Natalie, continues to get better and grow stronger while recovering in the hospital, he must face the looming and terrifying circumstances he is in; being “restored” and reanimated by Cryolife comes with a lot of signed paperwork, but also the fact that “Natalie” is under conservatorship for a six month period, where the conservator then decides whether or not to grant full benefits and entitlements to “her” ……just simmer on that one for a moment…

Robert, Natalie’s husband, is the conservator. It is up to him to decide if his wife is “acting appropriately” for the six month period that she will be under observation…packaged as for the sake of safety. Andrew is faced with the task of conforming to Robert’s ideal version of Natalie in order to keep from being returned to CryoLife and “helped” by being put through a process that would essentially kill Andrew and result in any number of possible issues with the newly “restored” Natalie.

Even once deemed well enough to return home, “Natalie” must continue taking antibiotics and other medications, as well as return regularly for sessions with Dr. Zuniga, head of the psychiatric board for Cryolife, and one of the Brigman team that controls the medicines and therapy that Natalie receives, all shaped by Robert’s desires.

It is while picking up the refill of one of these prescriptions that Andrew (in Natalie’s body of course), meets Oz, the pharmacist, and that’s where things start to take a turn for Andrew.

After a most shocking in depth introduction to Oz, “Natalie” begins sneaking out to spend time with him, where Andrew also meets a ragtag collection of fellow reanimated CryoLife subjects, all “returned” more than a little different; one hears an unending loop of the same music in his head, sometimes growing louder to the point of madness, and another with an affinity for things no longer living. For the first time since coming to being, Andrew finds comfort and a sense of belonging, but it’s not with the family that Natalie had made and elected to go through the CryoLife procedure for.

“Natalie’s” odd behavior does not go unnoticed by the demanding, controlling Robert. Behavior such as a complete disconnect from their son, Simon; before, Natalie had been doting, quintessential mom and housewife, but after, she was nearly negligent if not blatantly abusive (secretly drugging Simon with cough medicine to make him sleep instead of clinging to “Natalie”), not cleaning up to Robert’s usual standards (dust on the electric socket…not even joking….), etc. Stryker does an excellent job at portraying a character as a narcissist, one that believes that they are infallible and acts accordingly, including forcing their own desires on other people the way Robert does with Natalie.

Things eventually devolve when Robert finds out that “Natalie” has not being visiting with her best friend, Shelly all the times she’s gone out, but is instead visiting Oz. Again, Stryker knows how to paint a horrifying picture of abuse and abduction, to the point that, as a survivor of abuse myself, I wish I’d had a little more warning, but that’s a personal thing. There’s nothing too terribly graphic, but the inferences and some of the actions and conversations are enough to horrify a reader.

One thing I had a problem with while reading were some confusing uses of pronouns. There were many occurrences where “him/he” were often used without being sure of who was actually talking or being referred to. This seemed to be a particular problem when Andrew is telling the story, especially since Andrew is sometimes referred to as Andrew (he/him), while other times as Natalie (her/she). Using names a little more often would have been helpful in these situations.

Another thing I noticed was an occasional issue with story tense and marking the passage of time. When a character recalls something from the past, there isn’t always a clear marker or segue, or even consistent past and present tenses, to move the reader back and forth between them. Also, things seem to sometimes happen on top of each other; an unexpected and unstated amount of time can pass from one paragraph to the next without it being marked and left to the reader to divine whether it’s been minutes, hours, days, or weeks. This is probably heightened by the switching perspectives without a firm grounding of time.

One other big thing that was difficult for me to go along with is some of Andrew’s reactions; they can be incredibly aggressive, sometimes over the top, often without provocation other than Andrew mistaking something someone said, did, or is thinking instead of asking for clarification (except the pizza throwing, I understand the reason, but the action still felt unnecessary, and there are other reactions that would have been more plausible to me). That aspect was a bit frustrating for me, unless Andrew is supposed to be acting like someone that could have borderline personality disorder. I’m not sure if this is intended to speak to the various drugs “Natalie” is being given by CryoLife doctors, a comment on Andrew’s personality, the damage CryoLife did, or just an attempt to illustrate more conflict, but it didn’t work for me very well.

One of my favorite things about Assimilation, though, is the love and connection forged between Oz and Andrew. Despite the bizarre way they came together, there’s something beautiful about how they are able to connect. At one point, Oz was a mathematician, it was his art, an art lost to him after being reanimated, and Andrew is able to appreciate and see it for that. That really got me, I have to admit, and my description of is it atrocious in comparison to the picture described by Stryker.

I have a few other comments that are or could be possible spoilers so, if you don’t know the drill and you don’t want to see any spoilers, just scroll down until you see the kitten in flannel.

Spoiler-Alert-Discussion

At one point in the novel, after a relationship between Andrew and Oz has been established, it comes to light the Dr. Brigaman, the same man responsible for CryoLife, is Oz’s father. When this is revealed to Andrew, he makes no real comment about it and has essentially no reaction to it, which I find incredibly hard to believe.

As the reader switching into Oz’s head on occasion, it was no surprise that Brigman was his father, but to Andrew, I can’t imagine that’s expected news.

I’m also curious as to what kind of place Robert takes the abducted “Natalie” to that has doors that lock from the outside, or if Robert changed the locks. I don’t remember seeing any mention of that, or signs that it had occurred. I feel it needs to be explained in some way or else it feels like an added detail just to keep Andrew trapped without having a real basis for it.

The only other issue I have is why Santino, one of the group that has been reanimated by CryoLife and is friends with Oz and Andrew, leaves Oz at all in the Savanah General Hospital after he is hurt; it’s connected to CryoLife, which they all know. I just found it a little hard to believe given the parameters of knowing that Brigman is too close, and that the unconscious are vulnerable.

Other than that, I found the ending incredibly sad, but understandable, especially given the way it ends; since Tinks is the one that hears the music and routinely wants to end things in order to make it stop, it’s a difficult ending, a crushing one, but worthy of the characters in it. I really wish Oz and Andrew could have been together in life and happy; it was a poignant ending, but it worked in a strangely love soaked (and thus beautiful) way.

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Okay, it’s safe to come out and read from here if you wanted to skip possible spoilers.

I know I’ve mentioned a lot of things that may not have worked for me, but I need to make clear how strongly invested I was in this novel once I get into the characters. There are always things that could make a novel stronger in hindsight, but the core story-telling, and the characters, were well written.

If you don’t like sad endings, you may want to skip this one, it’s a heart breaker.

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But if you are willing to brave through it, it’s worth the read, my friends.

Those looking for LGBT+ related books might find it of interest, given the involuntary/voluntary switch from Natalie to Andrew. Also, fans of dystopian sci-fi, but really, anyone that wants to walk away with a story and characters you won’t forget, then Assimilation is worth your time.

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James Stryker has a new book coming out called Boy: A Journey, which I’m also personally looking forward to emerging myself in, if you’ll excuse me….

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10 Sensational Books Worth Your Time, Pt 2

Earlier this year I shared a list of 10 books  I feel everyone should read at least once in their life. Of course, it was only Part 1 because there are far too many books in the world (with new fantastic possibilities every day) to pick just 10. But, for exactly that reason, it helps to have a few highlighted. So, without further ado:

Here are another 10 books everyone should read at least once in their lifetime

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

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I first read this during my high school years and fell in love with it. The allure of the roaring 20’s jazz, dancing, slang, and more, did not stay in the 20’s, and this book is a literary form of it. Fitzgerald manages to capture an era rife with issues that continue to this day, in their own ways. This book offers and challenges the idea of the American Dream and what that means. It’s been a while since I last picked it up, but the characters and the feelings stay with me to this day. Definitely worth your perusal.

 

 

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

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I’ve only recently (in the last couple of years) been introduced to the fantastic works of Wilkie Collins. Truly, when you put the stories written by Collins into context of the times they were published (mid 1800s), the works are remarkable. Between posing an intriguing mystery littered with false trails, fiends, and devious motives, there’s the challenge of gender norms, either in appearance or attitude. I was enthralled with story and characters alike and would happily return to it again someday.

 

 

The Yellow Wallpaper and other stories by Charlotte Perkins Gilman 

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This incredibly short collection of short stories will leave your heart in your throat and a chill in your spine. The particular collection of stories I read and am referring to can be found here . Each one touches on serious topics of the age, and still today, concerning feminism, and issues with women’s health, not least of which being mental health. It took an afternoon to finish, but the stories and themes still echo in my mind and will for years to come. I heartily suggest this (un)easy read.

 

 

Maddaddam Trilogy by Margaret Atwood

I actually just finished reading the last book in this series the other day, and talk about some unexpected tear-jerking near the end (should have a review up eventually). In order, the books are Oryx and Crake, The Year of the Flood, and Maddaddam. Seriously, I cannot believe more people haven’t read these books, taken a look at the world, and collectively decided to change things before we put ourselves further down the path it lays out. A horrifyingly realistic story depicting the world leading up to and following a catastrophic plague that nearly obliterates the human race in sickening fashion. I can already tell that I will never shake these characters or the story from my mind, and I suggest you get to know them and their stories too, but it might keep you up at night, one way or the other.

 

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? By Philip K Dick

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Some people may recognize this story better by the name of a movie called Blade Runner, but I couldn’t get into it nearly as much as I got into the book. Considering how speedily we are traveling on the technology road, androids being integrated into society at some point is a very real possibility in the near future. For that very reason, I wholeheartedly recommend reading this book and putting serious thought into your own beliefs about humans, androids, and empathy. Absolutely worth a read in this life.

 

 

The Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon

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I stumbled across this book years ago by pure accident while I was living in California and it still creeps into my thoughts. It’s the story of a man named Lou Arrendale, who is high functioning autistic, and his struggle with whether or not to try an experimental treatment that might “cure” his autism. I really cannot even begin to tell you all that went through my mind during and after I read this book. It gives an evocative and possible look into the future, which raises a myriad of vitally important questions that beg for answers sooner rather than later: questions like, is autism something you “cure”, or should the world at large learn to evolve and accept people as they are and create space for that in our culture? (For the record, I believe in the latter.) This book will challenge and change you, and needs to be read.

 

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

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Another classic too easily looked over and dismissed by the average teen encountering it for the first time, usually, in middle/high school. The movie version with Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch isn’t too bad either, he certainly captures the man I imagined. This book covers issues and themes like racism and racial injustice, class, gender roles, compassion, perception and more. There is plenty of criticism about this book by contemporary adult readers, and while I can appreciate some of those points, I still believe this book is worth a read, at least once in your life.

 

 

Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kayson

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Another book you might have seen the movie version of (I have not, yet), this one is a memoir. It’s not a linear tale, but scattered memories and reflections of Susanna’s experience in a psychiatric hospital. It’s hard to tell you exactly why you need to read this, but with musings so eloquently worded and as relevant as how easily madness can be to slip into and out of, whether or not you can personally relate, I have to recommend a read. It’s short and not terribly complex in style, though the subject matter can certainly be unnerving. Give it a try.

 

 

The Time Machine by H.G. Wells

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The possibility of time travel has fascinated us for ages, and this book somehow remains timeless. Yet another book that’s been retold in cinema form, it’s still the book that keeps me up at night. Picked up by any generation, this book is a cautionary tale meant to challenge and instigate thought about capitalism and the harm it does the workers, as well as questions the assumption that the human race will continue to improve culture and society until the end of time. Depending on where you choose to point your scope, you could puzzle over this book for a long time, and thus, it should be read at least once in this life.

 

 

The Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells

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I’m a fan of H.G. Wells if you couldn’t tell. His novels are short enough to read in an afternoon, but always the ideas challenged and questions posed are certain to stay with you a lifetime. This book is horrifying to imagine, an island of degenerates that have been spliced together and experimented on at the whim of a man that decides he has the right; degeneration and vivisection were big topics at the time it was published. One of my favorite quotes is from this book (though I do have many), and the language often pulls you in and weaves around you. Another book full of ideas worth pondering and words worth retaining, everyone should read this at least once.

 

There you have it! And before you ask, yes, there will be a Part 3 at some point, I’m sure. As I said at the beginning, too many possibilities and more every day. How many of these have you read and what did you think of them?

 

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Review Corner

Good, Bad, and Something Else: How Do You Review Books?

What pushed me over the edge into writing and posting book reviews was getting my first ARC (that’s an advanced reader copy, which is a book that hasn’t been released yet), which was sent to me with the understanding that I would rate and post an honest review of it. I took (and continue to take) that seriously and put a lot of thought into what kind of reviewer I wanted to be.

This was especially true when I was requested to write a review for an ARC by the author of the book. When I most unfortunately did not enjoy much of the book, I found myself uncertain about whether or not to post what was a negative, though honest, review of it. Ultimately, I decided to post it, and I’ll tell you more about why in a bit.

I decided to write this post about book reviews after happening across two very different blogs about not posting negative reviews. The first is from a site I cannot find anymore, but the author was a man who chose to follow the idea of not saying anything if you don’t have something nice to say; I completely understand and respect this sentiment, but I have to say I think there is a fine line to be made between not saying something mean and not pointing out things politely in constructive fashion with no malintent.

The other blog was from author Kristen Lamb where she shares her own reasons for choosing not to post negative reviews. There are many of her points that I agree with or understand, but at the end of the day I have to disagree on the overall message.

There are countless posts citing many incredibly good reasons to refrain or be careful when posting a negative review. Many don’t believe in it at all and some have strong opinions about those that continue to post negative reviews. So, I decided to share my own thoughts and explain why I write and post even the negative reviews and subsequently how I review because there’s usually a lot that goes into it.

So, the Why and the How:

Why I write and post even the negative reviews

Stars and ratings alone don’t work- Two reasons why this doesn’t work for me.

  1. No matter what someone rates a book, I’m often curious what others’ thoughts are, regardless whether or not I take their thoughts into account in my ultimate decision. But if someone ranks a book with a rating of 1 or 2 out of 5 (or whatever the equivalent rating system), especially if there are reviews raving about it, I am painfully curious to know why it received the score it did. If you’re serious about writing book reviews, I thinks it’s important to be able to express what makes a book great for you as well as what doesn’t work for you and why. It also proves that a bad rating isn’t for an unknown petty reason.
  2. In Kristen Lamb’s post, she mentions that silence speaks volumes, and she’s right. Silence can speak volumes but it can also be easily misinterpreted. For instance, generally if you see no rating and no review on a book from someone, it’s very easy to believe or assume that the person hasn’t read it. No one will know you’ve read it unless you mention it, in which case, what do you say? Nothing? Or give your opinion? You can, of course, leave a rating without a review just as easily, but in this case, I do not see silence as a friend. A rating says a lot to some people, and leaving a low rating without any comment as to why may sound nicer than leaving a negative review. To this I posit that seeing a rating without a review can do just as much harm, if not worse, because the reader bothered to rate it enough to inform other users, but didn’t bother taking the time or energy to explain why. Was is it for objective or subjective reasons? To me, this makes silence a dangerous weapon when given no further context, which makes me question using silence as a reviewing tool in an attempt to be kinder than leaving a well written and thoughtful review.

Duty for reading an ARC in exchange for an honest review– I take this seriously anytime I’m offered or receive an ARC if it’s in exchange for the review. To do otherwise makes me feel like I’m stealing or lying, neither of which are high on my list of things to do. I give all of my attention to the book and review it the same way and with the same detail I do when editing or beta reading (feel free to ask me about either). I’m happy to send a review to an author prior to posting and discussing it with them, but if I’ve taken the time to write a review, generally it’s because I intend to post it. In the end, I’m trying to do right by both the reader and the author (which leads me another point later).

Possible help to author open to listening– First, I know how much it sucks as an author when someone doesn’t like your work. I know how little you (or I) feel like listening to someone that doesn’t like our work, and I absolutely don’t presume to be all-knowing or the final authority. It’s never a pleasant feeling when someone criticizes your book. Some people enjoy giving nasty reviews, and many people can’t resist filling theirs with juicy zingers, but I am definitely not one of them. Okay, I wield my wit and sarcasm, but I try to steer away from anything that doesn’t actually present a constructive thought; a jab for the sake of adding a witty jab doesn’t work for me. It gives me no joy to say I dislike someone’s work, especially if I’ve read it as an act of support for an author I like as a person. It is my sincere hope that at some point, my words are taken for what they’re worth, comments on what I enjoyed and what kept it from being the best book I thought or hoped it could be, at least for me.

For readers– Ultimately, why are books reviewed? To give opinions and help others decide if they want to read it too. Reviews may be an author’s friend in selling books, but that’s oscar wilde quote 2true because reviews help many readers decide what to choose next. To me, that alone is enough reason to write thoughtful, if occasionally negative, reviews. As a voracious reader, I’m still depressed by the unfortunate realization that I will never have the time to read (and write) all of the books I want in this lifetime; it’s just not humanly possible, no matter how hard I wish for it. So to me, a book review is incredibly important if the writer does their due diligence. If I’ve helped a reader save valuable time and money on a particular book, or helped show them why another is worth it, I’ve done my job and accomplished what I ultimately set out to do in a review, help the reader decide whether to read a book or not.

 

How I write reviews

What I do for a book I’ve decided I am likely to write a review about (I don’t review every book I read or I wouldn’t read as many book as I want) is have a notebook near me for notes. If I have a thought, question, or reflection, whether it’s good, bad or neutral, I write it down with the page number (okay, I actually do this for *any* book, but the rest is for the sake of reviews). For jots that I know are an overall issue or most likely to be a point I will highlight in a review, I make a note in the margin if it’s good or bad and add a word or two to describe the note; this is so that I can easily find examples for particular issues as I’m writing the review. Other details about how I do reviews:

Try to find the line between objective and subjective– At the end of the day, a review is going to be subjective because each readerno two person read same book goes in with a different perception, knowledge, strengths, weaknesses, etc.

I believe that both are important, but mostly subjective observations are best noted as such; I usually do this by mentioning something specifically as my personal preference or opinion. Objectivity is very important though, especially if it’s the book of an author you’re friends with or know, or a genre that may not be your typical cup of tea (keeping to your preferences is best, but I’m eclectic and occasionally enjoy trying something new or untypical if a description sounds worth it).

Always try to mention things I do and don’t like- If I end up writing a review for a book I enjoyed, I am sure to point out something that didn’t work or could have been stronger or made some aspect work better (if we’re talking about an instant love, this may be harder, but still I try; example, it took me years before I could separate my feelings for Harry Potter enough to do this). Same thing if I end up writing a review for a book I didn’t enjoy very much, I try point out at least one thing that I did enjoy because there usually is something if you’ve paid close enough attention.

Things I focus on and look for in a book and use to write a review:

  1. Characters– I look for a character to invest in, root for. I like to have some sense of who I’m dealing with in a novel. Characters that don’t feel fully developed are usually easy to spot but sometimes it takes reading the entire book to realize there are very few things you actually know about a character. That’s a problem for me and I make note of it when I see it. Even if what you learn turns out to be a lie later, I only feel betrayed or surprised if I’m invested, otherwise I just feel slightly annoyed, if also surprised.
  2. Connection– This goes along with characters especially, but I need to connect in some way with the book. Usually it’s through the character, but sometimes it’s just the voice or the writing style that resonates with me, or the story has be captivated. If there’s no sense of connection and I don’t in some way mourn the loss that comes with ending a book I’ve enjoyed, then it’s something I’m sure to point out.
  3. Story– Obviously the story is important. No matter how great a character is, part of what you invest in is the story, either the one being told in the book or the characters’ back stories, and hopefully both. In descriptions and blurb synopses, sometimes you get clichés that turn out fantastic books, and sometimes you get intriguing descriptions but a less than desirable book. How the story develops and ends is a big factor.
  4. Dialogue- This is one of the things I’m hardest on because characters that can’t talk to each other can really kill a story for me. Writing dialogue is one of the most difficult parts of writing (believe me, I know…) because it’s literally a reflection of different people’s thoughts. It’s also one of the things I appreciate most in a well written novel. I look for how believable or stilted a conversation feels and if it resonates with the character speaking or if it just makes the story the author is constructing, happen and move forward.
  5. Continuity- This is one aspect that I tend to be very critical of. Nothing makes me come crashing out of a novel quicker than a continuity issue that makes me want to go searching to verify it (which I’m often able to do through my notes). Continuity is a huge deal in a story, and this can be especially true depending on genres like mysteries, where a continuity error could mess up the big reveal at the end. Issues with consistency will absolutely kill a book for anyone paying attention. I’m harsh and exact when I write my own novels and hope to be sure every possible plot hole or continuity issue is attended to if not avoided, and I expect a certain level of that from other writers. If your story is littered with continuity issues, whether in story itself or through the characters, I have a hard time believing you have pride in or believe in your writing. But that’s me.

My prevailing thoughts when I finish a book and end up writing a negative review are often that I believe a book could have been stronger. Sometimes I feel like there is an obvious rush for publishing instead of taking the time to listen to a few more beta readers, or take another run through after a break away from the material.

I may change my mind in the future about writing negative review or reviews at all, and that’s okay, but I feel it’s important not to discriminate between reviews that are posted, as long as proper detail is given to them. I believe positive reviews need the same level of attention to detail. Bad reviews can serve a purpose just as much as good reviews, it just depends on your own reason for writing book reviews. I write a review because I want readers to know what they’re getting into and to know what my experience was like. Why else write a review?

Do you write book reviews? What are your thoughts on leaving negative reviews?

 

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10 Sensational Books Worth Your Time

There are so many books in this world that it is depressing to think how many you probably won’t ever get to read (I know, I don’t even want to talk about it). There are a few, however, that deserve to have light shone on them and attention called. For that reason, I give you 10 books everyone should read at least once in their life.

  1. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumascount-monte-cristo-alexandre-dumas-paperback-cover-art

I still remember first reading this in high school. This novel was absolutely brilliant to me, having never read so intricately woven a tale before, at that point at least. I’ve since read books that had complicated and circling plots that reminded me strongly of The Count of Monte Cristo, and it will forever remain one of my favorites ever. I think everyone should read this at least once in their life.

  1. The Harry Potter Series by JK Rowling

If you’ve read my Harry Potter Time of Year post, it should come as no surprise thatharry potter book coe Harry Potter makes this list. As many times as I’ve reread this series, it is definitely one I feel everyone should read in their lifetime. I think anyone can appreciate this tale in some form or another, and its magic never diminishes. If you haven’t, do yourself a favor and read the books; don’t even talk to me about the movies, they don’t even count as the same thing to me.

  1. Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine

Ella_enchanted_(book_cover)I don’t remember exactly what age I was, elementary school years blend together in some ways, but I do remember the scholastic book fairs, and first finding this book. Someone read the first chapter or so to us, and I was hooked. It’s a spin on the Cinderella tale that taught me a lesson about love that I’ve held to my heart for many years. This is another where the “movie version” ceases to exist in my reality. There is only this wonderful book worth a read, whether adult or child.

  1. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontejane eyre book cover

For all of the faults in Jane Eyre that were common of the era, it’s still a wonderful piece of literature (though I’m personally not a fan of the pages of pure ecclesiastical ramblings). For all of Austen’s accalim, there’s just something about Bronte’s words, Jane’s love for Mr. Rochester and the image of the big oak tree that forever will enchant me and be worthy of returning to. At least once, you must live the life of Jane Eyre.

  1. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

fahrenheit-451-book-cover1Now we get to a life altering, paradigm shifting book. This was not given its proper due in high school and droves of teenagers allow this book to slip through their fingers with its incredibly important messages unheard. I cannot count how many times I have quoted this book (or Bradbury in general) in my life. It’s a must read, don’t let them win…keep reading!

 

  1. The Graveyard Book/ Neverwhere by Neil Gaimangraveyard book

neverwhereI honestly couldn’t decide which of these to put up here, including a couple of his other works. Neil Gaiman has a style and way of telling a story that is unique. I enjoy reading his books because they inspire me as a reader, and an author; he always reminds me to use every bit of my imagination, that anything can happen. His work definitely needs a perusal at least once in your life.

  1. A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolfa_room_of_ones_own

This one in particular resonates with me as a woman. Virginia Woolf’s words will echo for years to come, and if you read nothing else from her, read this. I will never forget the image that came to mind as I read the description of all the book shelves empty and waiting to be filled with the words of women writers. There are themes in this book that are worth being visited, no matter the year.

  1. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey

one over the cukoo's nestThis is another incredibly important piece of fiction that is, sadly, poignantly and disturbingly close to a true story. Even today, the issues put forth in this brilliant novel are still in dire need of revisiting; mental health facilities need a change and reform. I will never forget this truly provoking work and it deserves to be read in this lifetime.

 

  1. 1984 by George Orwell1984

One of the dystopian novels that built the genre, everyone needs to read 1984. The hope is to learn from and avoid the measures and mistakes allowed to be taken by the government in this all too realistic “fiction” novel. It’s an eye opener and a question producer, and that’s exactly why it needs to be spread and read.

  1. Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley

frankensteinI know that parts of it are incredibly pompous (*cough Victor cough*), and in general it’s very grandiose in language, but there are some amazing ideas in this book worth absorbing and studying. It’s worth the read to be able to discuss the behavior and ramifications of Victor’s actions, whether or not you feel more for Frankenstein, or the Creature. I’ve always felt the real monster was in the shape of a man, but please feel free to read and discuss with me if you disagree ;). There are some lessons worth learning in this life and this book poses even more interesting questions that necessitate it’s being read at least once in your life.

There are so many books, and with so many talented authors managing to get their voices and work out there, more every day. There are some, however, that will forever be timeless and deserve to be read. These are 10 of…well, I have no idea how many others I may think of…Even as I wrote this I knew I would have to cut it, so stay tuned for Part Two!

so-many-books-so-little-time

How many have you read from this list so far? What are your thoughts?

 

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An Interview with Novelist Susan Crawford

I first tried to meet Susan Crawford at a group book signing of local authors at a nearby Barnes and Noble, but due to some poor placement of the authors around the store and my susan crawfordown introverted tendencies, I did not introduce myself. Nervously but determinedly (since I chickened out in person), I emailed Susan instead and asked her for an interview, noting my first sad attempt. Little did I know that I would find a fellow introvert who welcomed my questions and was kind enough to meet with me, returning to that same Barnes and Noble and indulging me in what would turn out to be a very lovely chat.

We started off talking a little bit about Susan and the start of her novelist journey. She deemed herself officially a novelist in 2014 when The Pocket Wife sold to a traditional publisher, which she had completed that same year. Susan noted that her first draft was written in about six months before going through edits and revisions that would lead to the eventual published tale.

DMG: I assume you like to read

SC: I do

DMG: What books do you enjoy reading?

SC: Right now I’m reading April Witch. It’s very dark in fact it’s a little too dark for me, have to read it in increments. I love Margaret Atwood, anything she writes. She’s able to write so many different kinds of books and people don’t care as long as she’s the one writing. Also, another favorite is Susan Minot. I like Kate Atkinson and Liane Moriarty. It is helpful to read other writers that write similar genres so you can say ‘oh, this works!’

DMG: Your Amazon author profile mentioned reading mysteries in a hammock as a child, what mysteries did you read?

SC: All of the Nancy Drew books, really.

After enumerating the ways that reading aids a writer, we turned to The Pocket Wife.

the pocket wife

DMG: What part came to you first? A scene, a character, the plot?

SC: Before I knew anything else, I knew there was going to be a dead body.

DMG: Did Dana come from anywhere in particular?

SC: She did.  I’ve been very close to bipolar people before, so I had sympathy and empathy for them. I thought it would be interesting because we always look in at the person with, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia and try to see what they’re thinking and judge them, you know ‘what are they going to do next’. And I thought it would be interesting to switch that around and try to show the world from the perception of the bipolar person instead of the bipolar person from the perception of the world.

DMG: One of the things I most enjoyed about The Pocket Wife was this aspect, most interested because of it

DMG: What about Jack Moss’s character? The empathy he seems to have for Dana or someone like her?

SC: I think people are very intolerant of most people with mental illness, which is why so many of them are living on the street, and then we put them down for asking for money. I wanted to show the humanity in Jack Moss. He’s in this position of authority and has, not much power but some power, in the situation at least, and he’s flawed. He’s screwed up his relationships with two women, and two sons and one of them died. And also to show that things that happen to us fleetingly when we’re young, and these things stay, often and make an impression. He had seen someone – maybe it was Dana maybe it was someone like Dana, but it made an impression on him that probably helped him to be a better cop and detective.

DMG: So I was curious, did you actively decide to use present tense or did it just start coming out that way?

SC:  I just do it. The next book is also in present tense. I’m not quite sure. Maybe because with suspense it seems a little more immediate, especially with Dana who is so frenetic.

DMG: Did you learn anything in particular from writing this book, The Pocket Wife?

SC:  I learned something about suspense writing by reading other suspense writers and I learned that it’s really a fun genre to write. And then the whole publishing world was an education.

 

On the subject of publishing and Susan’s writing process:

DMG: What influenced your decision for traditional publishing?

SC: I just never thought about any other way. I didn’t have the money, for one thing to do the vanity press or the personality to be out there selling my books. If it hadn’t been picked up, I would have continued to write.

DMG: What steps did you take to get published traditionally?

SC: Well I’m a member of the Atlanta Writer’s Club and once or twice a year they have a conference. Writers can go meet agents and editors. So that’s what I did, and found a fantastic agent.

DMG: Do you have a favorite writing spot?

SC:  I like, my daughter’s old bedroom, it’s sort of a small room. And it’s upstairs. It’s a really silly place because the computer is on this old desk and there’s a window right there so of course I can’t work there because the light comes through. So I have a shade over the window and I have a quilt over the shade. It would probably be smarter to find a different spot but…that’s how I write.

DMG:  What about music?

SC: I do like music, but it can’t be something so interesting that it takes my mind off work, so sometimes I work without music. Classic music is best, no lyrics.

DMG: What do you have the most difficulty with when you’re writing?

SC: The phone. If you’re not at work you’re not at work, so people think I’m more available, probably, than I am. To say nothing of telemarketers and just sort of random phone calls so I often work with the phone off the hook, and then when I take a break I’ll check my messages.

I’m not a terribly disciplined person so scheduling is key. What I do usually is get up, feed the cats, and then start working. People will say they have writer’s block, or only certain times of the day they can work, I don’t feel that way. I feel like there’s always something that can be put down. Even if I throw it out later.

 

On Susan’s upcoming novel and current writing project

DMG: So you’re next book is also a mystery/thriller type novel, but you said you like writing literary fiction. Do you think mystery/suspense is kind of where you’re leaning towards now?

SC: That’s an interesting question. I think…I like to combine them. I’m not sure I would say I wrote literary fiction because that’s such a nebulous term. I mean what does it really mean, I just really like characters. I like to develop the characters. So my emphasis is on the characters which I think then throws it into that genre of literary fiction. I do that with the suspense as well though. So the concentration is on the characters.

DMG: I definitely saw that in the Pocket Wife

DMG: What can you tell me about The Other Widow other than it comes out in April? The synopsis on the HarperCollins website was really intriguing. Can’t wait for April!

SC: It’s told from three points of view. One is the widow (the wife), the other is his girlfriend (the other widow), I wanted to make her a sympathetic character, not overly so but realistic instead of just somebody out there that steals people’s husbands, not this diabolical character. And then the third point of view is the insurance investigator.

DMG: What about what you’re working on now?

SC: I don’t have a title for what I’m writing right now.

DMG: Is it another suspense type?

SC: It is…I’m only at the beginning of it so it’s still forming, not quite sure where it’s going to go. Sort of feeling my way through it, with the help of the characters who do often sort of tell the story because of who they are. Being who they are, they will only do certain things so that when they come together it makes for a certain kind of scene, which is interesting. But right now we’re all flailing around.

Don’t forget to order your own copy of The Other Widow when it comes out in April!

 

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