Review of The Mythic Guide to Characters

In The Mythic Guide to Characters, Dr. del Drago explains how to create complex characters who fit into your story and who act in a way consistent with who they are.

Why to buy this book: I spent a lot of time in my college days reading psychology books in an attempt to understand how people act. That study helps me greatly as a writer, and that’s the approach that the author brings to this book — to understand characters, you need to understand people. He also goes into detail on how those characters fit into the framework of your story.

Why not to buy this book: My expectation on picking up this book (I think because of the word “guide”) was that it would detail step by step how to make a character relatable, how to present certain character traits, etc. Instead, the book presents how to build characters at a fundamental level. I think that the approach presented is essential for building comprehensive characters, but it’s important for the prospective purchaser to understand that this book takes a different angle than most of the character development books I’ve read.

Bottom Line: Though the book seems written for the plotter instead of a pantser, I think a discovery writer (as one myself) will get just as much out of it. You just have to come at things in the opposite order. While the outliner builds a character sheet and writes the story so that the character’s actions conform to the created personality, the pantser needs to examine his character after the story is finished to make sure the actions are coherent. This book provides the tools to perform those tasks. 5 Stars.

Reviews at Any Cost?

Most authors who are either self published or are considering that route understand how important reviews are. The right mention in the right place can drive a lot of people to your book. Once a potential customer finds your book page, the quantity and quality of reviews influence the purchasing decision.

It’s also evident that obtaining reviews is not easy. Book blogs are inundated with requests. A low percentage of people who buy a book, or acquire it through giveaways, leave reviews.

Given the above, that reviews are both important and difficult to obtain, it’s no wonder that some authors pursue practices that other authors feel are morally and/or ethically unacceptable.

Let’s start with providing book bloggers, and other legitimate reviewers, with free copies of the book. I doubt that many of us would question this practice, but there is the point of view that you gave something of value to someone in return for a review. In reality, the “value” of the “gift” is in question. Would the reviewer have ever purchased your book anyway? And, what’s the alternative? Saying to the reviewer, “Hey, can you do me the enormous favor of trying to bring attention to my book and, oh, while you’re at it, pay for the privilege of doing so?”

At the other end of the spectrum lies the concept of fake reviews — creating fake accounts to post glowing reviews of your own book. I think most of us would consider this to be abhorrent behavior.

Where, then, is the line?

Let’s consider a generic review rather than one for Amazon or another particular site so as to avoid the issue of adherence to specific guidelines. At the core, which of the following do you agree or disagree with and why?

Review Trading – You ask an author to review your book, and, in return, you do the same for his. While both of you are planning “honest” reviews, there still exists some degree of social pressure not to trash your acquaintance.

Paying for Reviews –
• “Legitimate” sites like Kirkus that charge money for an honest review from someone who actually reads your book.
• Site where, for a small fee, you can get a great number of reviews from people who probably, at best, only skim your book. While there’s no requirement that the reviews be 5-stars, it’s understood the most of them will be.

Asking Family and Friends – Let’s be honest. Great Aunt Mable probably isn’t going to do anything other than say, “This book was great!!! 5 Stars!!!” Is that really an “honest” review? On the other hand, she bought the book. Why shouldn’t she voice her opinion?

I don’t have all the answers here, though I have opinions. I’d like to hear what you have to say on the matter, and I’ll revisit the subject with my thoughts in a future post.

Review of Timekeeper

In Timekeeper, the sequel to Timepiece, Ms. Albano continues the story of Elizabeth, William, and Maxwell as they travel through time trying to create a better future.

Why to buy this book: This book focuses more on relationships and less on action than its predecessor, and I think the book is better off for it. This author seems more skilled at the romantic elements and character development, and she plays to her strengths. Truthfully, though, even the action sequences are better.

Why not to buy the book: Whereas I had a litany of complaints about the first book, I felt this one was much better. There was one interlude chapter I skip-read because it annoyed me so badly. The only other major issue I had was that some of the character conflicts got a little repetitious.

Bottom Line: This wasn’t the best book I’ve ever read or anything, but it was a good experience, well worth the $3 I paid for it. 4 Stars.

Review of Firefly Island

In Firefly Island, Mr. Arenson tells of a land separated into five distinct regions, each inhabited by a people with a particular magic ability. One among each of the peoples is gifted with power far beyond the normal, and this novel relates the fight against one such firechild who seeks to rule the entire island.

Why to buy this book: There does exist within this book a coherent story.

Why not to buy the book: My use of the word “tells” in the first paragraph of this review wasn’t an accident. The author spends far too little time showing. There is absolutely nothing subtle or engaging about the techniques employed in the writing of this novel.

Bottom Line: Please understand that it is my desire to support authors. I want to read and enjoy books. Unfortunately, this novel is too poorly written for me to offer even the most lukewarm recommendation. If this were a self-published writer, I’d probably tell him that he needs to work on his craft a bit more. It boggles my mind that a traditional publisher, even a small one, would choose to put a product like this one on the market. Two stars.

Review of Timepiece

I’m having WordPress issues. I wasn’t able to access the “New Post” feature at all yesterday, and it’s still acting buggy today. Is this just me or are others having problems?

In Timepiece, Ms. Albano tells of a young woman stifled by early 19th century society. When she received a watch in the mail that lets her move through time, her adventure begins.

Why to buy this book: If you like time-traveling steampunk with monsters, giant robots, and alternative history, this book is a bargain. The romantic elements and character development were, for the most part, done quite well. I also liked the hook she through in at the end (trying not to give spoilers here) that gives an interesting hint about the origin of the third protagonist.

Why not to buy the book: To begin with, I don’t really like prologues all that much, and the author added to my misery by going out of her way to not describe the “monsters.” I’m assuming that she wished to build up hype for when the things appear later in the story, but she mainly ended up annoying me by withholding information in a clumsy manner. When the monsters eventually entered the plot again, they did not meet the high expectations the author established in the prologue. Speaking of that prologue, she revisits the events but has the time travelers change what happens. No problem there, but the scene got repetitive. Perhaps it would have been better to start nearer the point of divergence. Like I said above, overall the character development was decent. I did, however, have one quibble. The two protagonists both have disdain for their society, which the author does a good job of showing. However, it seems like these two are the only ones in the world who find it stifling, and, given that their attitude is somewhat necessary to the plot, this makes the plot seemed contrived. If the author would have spent a little more space developing a general teenage rebellion toward society (she does this somewhat; just not quite enough), it would have smoothed out this objection. Another issue I had is that, if you’re writing alternative fiction, you need to have a reason for things to go differently than what happened in real life. I’m not sure this author addressed those issues well enough. Though, perhaps, she intends to do so in the sequel(s). Finally, the writing could have been tighter. The extra words didn’t bother me too much throughout most of the book, but I felt it detracted from the action scenes, leaving them feeling incorrectly paced and muddled.

Bottom Line: Putting a star category on this one is difficult for me. On one hand, I enjoyed parts of it and plan to buy the sequel. On the other, there were at least five annoyances that ranged from minor to pretty bad. For 99 cents, it’s worth buying, but, based on the sheer number of problems, I had to go with 3 stars instead of four.

Review of Playing for Keeps

In Playing for Keeps, Mur Lafferty tells the story of a group of people with powers so worthless that they’re not considered adequate to become a part of the city’s elite group of heroes. When the hubris of those very heroes leads to their downfall, it’s up to the misfits to save the day.

Why to buy this book: It is competently written, and the ebook edition doesn’t cost a bunch.

Why not to buy the book: While the writing is competent, it is not spectacular. Though there are no major stylistic annoyances, the plot drove the characters whether than my preference of the reverse. My biggest complaint was that it sometimes wasn’t clear what was happening and why it was happening.

Bottom Line: I don’t regret reading it, but it didn’t feel special to me. I give it a middle-of-the-road 3 stars.

Review of Zero Sum

In Zero Sum, Mr. Shier continues the story of Dieter Resnick, and more stuff involving happens to him involving the convoluted magic system the author employs.

Why to buy this book: The writing technique is sound, and the voice is good. If you liked the first in the series, you’re probably not going to absolutely hate this one.

Why not to buy the book: Though a lot happened in the first book, it still felt character driven. For this book, I felt the characters got lost in all the plot development. My biggest indictment is that a lot of major events happened to the characters that should have evoked emotional responses. Truthfully, I felt nothing. Side rant with minor spoiler ahead – If you’re going to introduce a potential romantic relationship, the reader has certain expectations. I think it’s fine that the two didn’t get together in the first book. Drawing out a relationship can be a good thing. However, the lack of development of that relationship throughout the second book just got tedious. Readers (or, at least, I) will accept character stasis for only so long.

Bottom Line: Overall, it was a solid read but left me disappointed at the lack of emotional development. It wasn’t bad enough that I’m giving up on the series, but it wasn’t good enough that I’ll buy the next one without reading reviews first. That leaves me at 3 stars.