Saturday, March 30, 2013

Books read in 2013: No. 17 -- Hal Spacejock

by Simon Haynes

Started: March 25
Finished: March 30

Notes: I've not read much science fiction of late, so thought I'd dip back into the genre by experiencing an author new to me and his novel of a space freighter pilot down on his luck and in desperate need of some cash. Sounds fun to me!

Mini review: This might be the most fast-paced novel I have ever read. It's not necessarily an action fest in the traditional sense, but the character movement never lets up. And the jokes! They never let up, either. To a small extent, all that constant action and joking grew a little tedious for me after a while, mainly because there's little chance for the reader to try and catch his breath for a while. There's also not a lot of character background, but it's not necessary for this novel. Hal Spacejock is almost like an uproarious sitcom in the way it's written, and what the reader learns of the characters during the action is enough to keep things going. As for the plot, imagine a not-so-talented Han Solo and a less-annoying-but-helpful C3PO teaming up for a a smuggling adventure. Would I recommend this one? Yep. I give it a solid four out of five stars.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Amazon buys out Goodreads

For any writers out there out of the loop, it has been announced that Goodreads will "be joining the Amazon family," according to Otis Chandler, the Founder and CEO of Goodreads.

No, this will not be a rant against Amazon or Goodreads, nor will it necessarily be a rant of Amazon's acquisition of Goodreads. I'm not sure what to make of this yet, though I am somewhat skeptical. Still, I'm willing to give the benefit of the doubt for the time being.

Unfortunately for Goodreads, lots of people, writers and readers, do not seem overjoyed at this news. For examples of this, check out the multitudes of responses in the original announcement's Comments and a growing post over at the Kboards (formerly Kindleboards).

I've never been a huge fan of Goodreads, though I don't have a hate for it. To me it seemed yet another overly busy online social network that would suck up my time, time I would rather spend writing. And then there's the reputation of some of the reviewers over there. I can't personally comment upon Goodreads reviewers because I've not had interaction with them, but ... well, let's just say the reputation isn't great, at least not in all circles. I don't know if there's any truth to this reputation, but as the old cliche goes, where there's smoke, there's fire.

I will say that I have always appreciated that Goodreads was one of the independent places on the Web for readers and writers, a place without specific ties and business interests to any single company that is part of the publishing industry.

As for Amazon, my feelings toward the site and the company are what I think of as grounded. As a writer, Amazon has opened some doors for me, and yes, I make part of my living through Amazon. As a reader, Amazon has given me the Kindle and has made purchasing e-books and books quite easy.

But, I'm no fool. Just because Amazon has done good things for me, does not mean I'm going to roll over and become their puppy dog. Amazon has also done plenty of which I have not approved, though I generally keep such comments to myself (and will not go into detail here). I have personally spoken with Amazon representatives on occasion, and any complaints or concerns I have I always try to frame in a most businesslike fashion. Amazon is a corporation, after all, so I try to speak to its employees in a language they will not only comprehend, but will also give some credence. Screaming and yelling and cursing and voicing conspiracy theories will get one no where, except maybe labeled as a nutcase or a discontent or both. The thing to keep in mind is that what is good for me as a writer, and for other writers, isn't always the same as what might be good for Amazon, and Amazon is going to look after itself first, for which I cannot blame anyone.

I will say this: the other sites through which I publish my e-books give me far fewer headaches than Amazon. Yes, Smashwords still looks like it was put together in the 1990s, and though improved, its processes are still sometimes glitchy and slow, but my sales continue to grow there without any extra work from me. I can say the same for Pubit, and a few other minor e-book distributors. I put up my e-books, and slowly over time my sales continue to build. I can't say that about Amazon, where my sales are quite unpredictable, sometimes up high, sometimes plummeting. Some might suggest this is my own fault for not doing more promotions or for some other reason, but it's funny I don't have this situation with any other distributor. My own feeling about this is that Amazon is always tweaking its site and its algorithms, which causes upheaval with my sales, but I base my opinion from no known facts because it's not like Amazon is passing out information about its site and algorithms.

So, what to make of the Goodreads-Amazon news? I still don't know. I'll be waiting and watching. As I've mentioned, I'm skeptical. The one thing I could praise Goodreads about was its independence, and now that is gone. As someone who publishes through Amazon and who makes regular use of a Kindle, maybe this move will be a good move for me. Again, I don't know.

But ya know what? The indie publishing world has been kind of quiet of late. Maybe it's time for things to be shaken up some more.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Books read in 2013: No. 16 -- Little Big Man

by Thomas Berger

Started: March 13
Finished: March 27

Notes: Until I saw this beat-up paperback in a used book store, I had no idea the 1970 movie of the same title was based upon a novel. The movie stars Dustin Hoffman in a sort of comic Western about a young man captured and raised by the Cheyenne. Hoffman's character also becomes a gunslinger, and eventually even a scout for Custer. The movie has a few decent chuckles in it, but for the most part I felt it falls flat. However, I've read online that the novel is much, much better, and I've even seen the author compared to Mark Twain. That last bit is what really interested me.

Mini review: This read was an unusual one for me. To tell the truth, I did not care much for it until about the last 75 pages or so, and that's out of 447 pages. So that was a lot of reading that didn't do much for me. Why didn't I like those parts? "Plodding," is the first word that comes to mind. "Meandering" is the second. The story moves quite slow. It's not so much that the events themselves are slow or have a long time between them, but it's more the way the story itself is told. This tale doesn't have a traditional plot line. Oh, there's a beginning and an end, but the middle section jumps around all over the place with little evidence of any furthering plot. To some extent this approach makes sense because the story is told as recollections of an old man remembering his days in the Old West, and the manner in which the tale is told is at least as important as the story itself in this instance. There are some colloquialisms, and that "meandering" I mentioned works sort of as an old fashioned story-teller's way of unreeling the tale. Most of it just didn't work that well for me. I thought the writer's approach would have worked fine for a short story, but in a novel it just drug things out too long. Now, all that being said, the climax of the book made up for a lot. I always try not to give too much away, and I won't here, but SPOILER alert: the novel's climax leads up to and concludes with Little Bighorn.  I did catch a few historical inaccuracies, but those might have been intentional (keep in mind the teller of the tale is more than a hundred years of age, and there is some question not only of his memory, but of his sanity and his truthfulness). This was an interesting romp through Old West history with a few famous names and figures thrown in, and a nice look at Indian life, though I'm no expert on Native Americans, so I can't say how accurate is the portrayal of the Cheyenne, Sioux, Crow, etc. I will say the book is indeed better than the movie. The film is completely comedy, farce, and while those elements are in the novel, they do not overpower the novel. This isn't a story of only comedy. There is a serious side here, and that really comes through in the story's ending. Would I suggest others read this? For casual readers, no. For those with a love of Old West and Native American history, yes.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Triple barrel shotgun

Yes, you read that correctly. Triple barrel. See the images below. I've never owned a Chiappa firearm, but they sure are making several I'd like to get my hands on, even if just for experimentation and fun.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Yet another print project ...

Horror novel 'The Storm' now available in print

My horror novel The Storm is now available in print.

That's 368 pages for a price of $12.99.

The back cover copy:

A small town in Kentucky is about to learn fear.

Resting in the foothills of Appalachia, Coal Gap is the kind of place where everybody knows one another and people move to raise their children.

One of those children is 10-year-old Billy Griffith, who harbors a secret of an unlimited power of the mind.

Unfortunately for Billy, his special abilities can't remain hidden forever, and a stormy darkness gathers around Coal Gap, a maelstrom zeroing in on the boy.

Within this storm is a stranger with powers of his own to raise the dead and have them do his bidding. This stranger wants Billy's powers for himself, and he does not come alone.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Books read in 2013: No. 15 -- The Road to Grafenwöhr

by Edward C. Patterson

Started: March 5
Finished: March 13

Notes: I originally received this e-book as a gift from the author a year or more ago when I joined up with Operation eBook Drop, a program the author helped start to send out free e-books to men and women in military service. Since then I've been intrigued by the subject matter, and I'm glad to finally getting around to reading this one. I've been told this novel is fantasy with elements of horror, and it is about a U.S. soldier stationed in Germany during the 1960s around the time of Vietnam and fighting in Czechoslovakia. I find this an unusual and interesting mix for a fantasy story, so I'm interested to see where the tale goes.

Mini review: After what I felt was a somewhat slow start, this turned into a damn fine read. It's difficult to discuss without giving away too much of the plot, but in my mind this novel would be like if Neil Gaiman teamed up with Neil Simon to do a dark fantasy version of "Biloxi Blues," with a touch of Joseph Heller's Catch-22 thrown in. I realize that description probably seems to make no sense, but one would have to read this novel to see what I mean. And yes, I can recommend reading this novel.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Books read in 2013: No. 14 -- The Hunger Games

by Suzanne Collins

Started: March 3
Finished: March 5

Notes: I've been reading so much non-fiction lately, and I've kind of been longing to get back to fiction. I'm in the mood for something light at the moment, and I'm hoping this is it. Yes, I've seen the movie, thought it was okay, not awful, though quite derivative of earlier, stronger works in both literature and film. Also, I'm wanting to check out the writing here, to see what the whole big deal is, what originally drew readers to make this book so popular.

Mini review: I have to say, this was just what I was in the mood for. Not high literature by any means, but a quick, breezy read that for better or worse somewhat reads like it was made for the screen, which is a possibility since the author is also a screenwriter, though maybe this was just her natural style since she is a screenwriter. Yeah, for someone wanting to read a novel in which you don't have to think a whole lot but can just kind of sit back and enjoy the ride, I can recommend this one; for hardcore genre purists and those who consider themselves the literary elite, nope, this won't be your cup of tea. Also, in my opinion, the book is better than the movie, though the film does pretty much follow the book.