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Still Doing Other Things

Media consumption continues. Documentation continues.

Movies & TV:

Dark Tower: This could have been great. It could have been good. It settled for sadly forgettable. Too bad.

The Mummy (Tom Cruise running edition) The best I can say about it is, “Welp, it kept a lot of production crew employed and effects people busy for a while.” If I hadn’t given up and started doing laundry & dusting after half an hour, my analysis would probably be more like, “OhgedohgedcanIhavethosetwohoursbackplease?”

Black Mirror: Episode 5 was a pointless exercise in directorial control. The rest, I enjoyed. Far less overt gore in this season, for which I am grateful.

A re-watch of Peaky Blinders + the new season. I don’t know if I ever remembered to include the previous watches in a media consumption post. I watched the first one while doing a Boardwalk Empire binge and my brain, being a cluttered place, put them both in the same memory drawer. Oh, well. It’s fantastic stuff: super-tight storytelling, phenomenal acting, brilliant direction, perfect costuming & production. Violent as hell.

Something or other Planet of the Apes. The last one. Um. Ew. Watching these is like picking scabs. I can’t stop, but I hate. No magical hydroelectric dam in this one, so it has that to recommend it. It also has Woody Harrelson channeling Marlon Brando from Apocalypse Now, and I don’t know what to make of that.

Books

More Sarah Maclean aka “the Maclean I like better than the other two who also write 19th century British fantasies.” They aren’t deathless literature, but they’re jolly good.

Babylon’s Ashes. The next-to latest Expanse novel. I LOVE THIS SERIES AND ALL THE CHARACTERS IN IT. (pretty sure I say that every time I finish one of these tomes. It bears repeating.) Re-settling into the timeline took a few chapters, but I was expecting that. Setting up the plot-board on something big takes time, and the scope of this work is beyond epic. The authors’ take on colonialism’s problematic side make for a bloody conflict-soaked take on space settlement. And yet… it isn’t gritty, grimdark “we’re all gonna die” morality play.  It’s the opposite of the shiny, optimistic, idealist-populated perfect-people science fiction of my youth…and yet it is relentlessly, infinitely hopeful about the future. It’s a no-punches exploration of what it means to be human in an inhuman universe. I could go on for hours about the frail, imperfect, sometimes monstrous–and yet still heroic–protagonists. (but I won’t)

Other-other Things

That’s all for now. I’m back on a regular schedule, and progress is occurring in the writing sector, but those things will get their own updates in due time.  Gotta feed the blog something after all.

Last doing-things post of the year (mostly movies)

Hard to believe, but I’ve kept up this semi-regular documentation of media consumption for over a year now. Consistency may be the hobgoblin of small minds, but in this case, I’m happy to be small. Any day I get to say, “I have done the thing,” is a good day.

So what have I been doodly-doing? Mostly socializing, baking, and eating holiday food. But also the usual reading & watching. This is a long post since it’s been a LONG time since the last one.

Books: Lots of fantasy fluff–errrm, that is to say historical romance fluff. Many reprints, which meant plenty of squirmy “wow, that’s not a good behavior to promote,” moments. Elizabeth Boyle (good stories, but a lot of recurring phrase tics and sketchy themes) Sarah Maclean (great dialogue, fun alterations to history, good job with consent) Julianne Maclean ( similar to Sarah Maclean ) I plan to read/re-read all of N. K. Jemison’s ouvre in January as my hibernation treat.

Television: I’m watching less and less TV. NCIS will definitely be off the schedule after this season. Ditto Lucifer. They’re both okay, but okay isn’t enough to justify my time these days. Supernatural is ending, and that’s cool. Mostly I’m watching Netflix originals & DVD sets from the ‘brar

Punisher: A punishing experience, pun intended. (Bwahahahahahaha…ahem…sorry.) I’m not a fan of gore, and this spilled over my tolerance threshold, but it avoided the origin story trap, and it didn’t stretch for a redemption arc. I have Major Issues with people giving heroes a pass on murder just because they’re killing bad guys, but this mostly dodged that trap too.

Defenders: Origin story could have been forgivable if they hadn’t taken so MANY episodes setting up the team. Also I could do with a LOT less Iron Fist. And even less “throw every supporting character from every series into this because why not?” plotting. It wasn’t bad. It should’ve been better.

Movies:  This has been a bad year for catching movies in the theater. So I’m grabbing them from the library as they hit DVD. (Have I mentioned lately how much of a library fan I am? PUBLIC LIBRARIES RULE!)  Ahem. Anyway. I watch a lot of movies in midwinter. So, grab a cuppa. This gets long.

The Great Wall. I almost liked it. Loved that a white guy was the Exotic Dispenser of Magical MacGuffins (contrary to many viewers, I didn’t see Damon as White Savior nearly so much as “barbarian dude barely tolerated the whole time.” The smart dude who engineered the victory was Chinese, as was the heroine who delivered the final blow. Never was Damon’s arc the focus of the plot.) I say “almost liked it” because OMG it was stupid. Fantasy siege battles are all fun and games except the engineering is JUST AWFUL AND COMPLICATED FOR NO REASON and war doesn’t work that way. I felt like Sigourney Weaver in GalaxyQuest for over half the movie.

Transformers Last Knight. Watching this made me wonder if the writers and producers  got lost in a props department and came up with lame excuses to use everything they ran across. Possibly they were also intoxicated at the time? King Arthur. Aliens. Transformers in all shapes and varieties. Add in massive amounts of voice-over and awkward failed attempts at “snappy” dialogue, stir with a huge cast of cardboard cutout characters and pretensions everywhere. It’s a painful, boring, overblown, disjointed mess. Not as bad as Battleship, but close. It made fine background viewing for three batches of cookie dough, but I would have been royally ticked off if I’d spent money on it.

Thor: Ragnarok.  Did I mention this one already? No, my November posts were all about food. So here’s my Thor report.  I prepped for the new movie by watching the first two back-to-back on Thor Eve, and was once again annoyed by all the oportunities missed in both films.  Thor 1 was not an origin story.  That’s the best I can say about it. Well, that and a shirtless Hemsworth. Ragnarok was worth the theater prices and made up for all the prior missed opportunities.

I adored seeing Thor as an earnest straight man constantly stumbling into comic situations. I always liked him better in the graphic novels when he was played for comic relief.  I am evidently in the minority when it comes to not missing the formal forsoothian Asgardian language and grammar.  The “main” villain didn’t impress me, as well-acted as she was, and the plot felt like they trid hard to cram two movie’s worth of plot into one, but hey. Loki & Thor banter. Dr. Strange banter. Hulk banter. ALL THE BANTER AND GIGGLES.  I like it. Another!

Star Wars Episode 8. For this one, too, I made the effort to hit a theater, and I’m glad I did.

Kong: Skull Island. Hooyah, I’m glad I didn’t spend popcorn money on this putrid mess. Not even Hiddleston & some other great actors could save it from its “Heart of Darkness meets Jules Verne plus Jurassic Park with a 70’s retro feel” premise. Too many flavors went into the smoothie blender. The result was horrible: gritty, lumpy and with a bad aftertaste. The only redeeming quality: seamless integration of the CGI. Never once did Kong or the other critters remind me they were merely imaginary.

Alien:Covenant. Um. The crew were not as fundamentally, hatefully stupid as the crew of the Prometheus, and the dual dose of Skaarsgard was scenery-chewing, over the top fabulous, but…it was still a problematic mess of people behaving so ridiculously I was rooting for them all to die much faster than they did. And the demonstrably incompetent captain’s faith being played as a beneficial trait misunderstood as a flaw by the foolish secularists bugged the shit out of me almost as much as the “superior intelligence equals emotionless also equals evil” theme.

Get Out. This one would have been too intense for me in the theater. Right at the painful edge of scary. So good. So creepy.

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. Does adding a subtitle subtract quality from a movie? Just asking. This might have been a decent, albeit anachronistic fantasy movie a la Knight’s Tale, (which I hated on first viewing because I was told it was historical, hah, lols NO) but the producers just had to slap King Arthur’s name on this, and it so very much is not true to the King Arthur legend, not even tangentially or as a “re-imagining of the themes.” Also WTF with putting in magical war mommoths. EPIC EYE ROLLS.

Baby Driver. I can see why it’s so well-reviewed. Fantastic cast of fine actors giving it their all, razor-sharp direction, solid writing. More happened in 20 min of this movie than in the first hour of King Arthur. I didn’t like it, I generally don’t seek out the “I’m only bad to protect other people” not-really-a-redemption-arc tropes. It just didn’t wow me. But I can see why other people adore it. (shrugs) It’s quite a brilliant film.

The Last Jedi. I enjoyed it from opening credits to final fade to black. There is much I loved. Don’t get me started on the flaws. Just don’t. My objections are all storycraft fails and/or internal consistency issues, nothing to do with changes to the mythology, vioating tropes or departures from canon. I’m on board with all those things. Also, to my surprise, porgs.  I love most the way the story is treating its own history like a spiral that keeps coming around to the same touchpoints but with changes & development each time.

The Christmas movie tally: both the Christmas Die Hards, Meet John Doe, (instead of It’s A Wonderful Life) Bell, Book & Candle, Lethal Weapon, and A Christmas Carol.

…and that’s a wrap.

Upcoming plans include getting my hair buzzed off because it’s past time, and buckling down on the new book (which I have shamefully neglected in favor of Doing All The Other Things this month) plus beginning revisions on Heartwood.  I’m try to aim at weekly or bi-weekly updates here. Shorter reports are happier reports.

Book Reviews, Deli Style

If you dread seeing pleas for online reviews from your author-friends, you are not alone. Me? I get performance anxiety.  Composing a Real Book Review is hard mental work and time consuming.*

Ordering lunch is easy. So I came up with a system. Think of your review as a deli meal. Yes, folks, it’s time for “Build Your Own Book Review!”

Sandwich. Sides. Drink. Make a few choices, and it writes itself.

Bread: all reviews come with stars. Choose 1-5. Don’t worry about hurting feelings. Seriously. The raw number of reviews carries far more weight with the Almighty Search Algorithms than whether they’re positive or negative. That said, 5 stars is the white bread of the review world. Just saying.

Fillings. Pick one or more from as many categories as you want.

This book is

  • ______ well worth reading
  • ______ suspenseful  & fun
  • ______ a real thriller
  • ______ warm & inspiring
  • ______ entertaining
  • ______ on my best-of list
  • ______ fun but nothing special
  • ______ totally skippable
  • ______ A bore from beginning to end

The plot

  • ______ was twisty and full of surprises
  • ______ kept me turning pages
  • ______ made me think
  • ______ was brilliant
  • ______ didn’t really move me
  • ______ confused me in places
  • ______ started well but got boring
  • ______ goes nowhere fast

The world-building/main idea

  • ______ blew my mind
  • ______ was amazing and original
  • ______ was well thought-out
  • ______ felt tired and predictable

The characters

  • ______ were flawed and human
  • ______ were relatable
  • ______ felt real
  • ______ really got to me
  • ______ acted like real heroes
  • ______ never stopped complaining
  • ______ were full of themselves
  • ______ seemed like tired stereotypes

The dialogue

  • ______ sounded real
  • ______ had lots of good jokes
  • ______ moved the story along
  • ______ was stilted and fake
  • ______ sounded like speeches
  • ______ used too many big words

Side orders: not required, but extras add a little pizazz to your review

  • My favorite character/moment/scene _____________­­­­­­­­­_______
  • The best thing about the book was _____________­­­­­­­­­_______
  • I really liked_____________­­­­­­­­­_______

Drink. A little statement to pull the whole review together.

  • Give this book a try, you won’t be disappointed.
  • Recommended for/as/to________________________
  • This is a must-read
  • If you like ______________ then you should check this out
  • Skip this one if you value your brain cells.
  • Only recommend it to your enemies.

Take a look at these popular combos:

House Special:  5 stars! This book is on my best-of the year list. The plot was twisty, the world-building blew my mind, and the characters really got to me. My favorite scene involved a teddy bear and a glue stick, and that’s all I’m saying. If you like funny books full of crazy jokes, snappy dialogue and cute animals, take a look.

The Snark: 2 stars. Skip this book. The world-building is mind-blowing, but the characters spend the whole book complaining and the plot goes nowhere fast. Recommended as an insomnia cure.

Short, Sweet & Simple: 4 stars. I liked this book. The plot kept me turning pages, and the characters felt real. Give it a try.

Now, if you you feel like this is cheating somehow because it’s easy, YOU ARE SO WRONG. Trust me on this. I recommended books for a living for nearly two decades. Sales reviews are about bearing witness. Standing up to be counted.  Very few readers go to Amazon or B&N looking for a deeply-pondered journal-style literary critique. They want to know, “Did someone else like this book? Y/N and why.”

Be kind to yourself. Give your favorite authors a huge boost. Go deli style.  And if you want to practice, I have a bunch of book listings pining away for reviews right here behind this link: author.to/kmherkes.



 

*No, really. Reviews are hard. That’s the reason Goodreads lets all members assign star ratings without writing words at all. (My books are listed there, too. Hint. Hint.)

 

New Doings

What’s going on with me? I’m SO glad you asked. It has been a while since I did one of these. (Before DragonCon, I think?) Busy month. Why a gargoyle for the pic? WHY NOT?

Books. I read books that weren’t historical romances! Books I enjoyed!  Contemporary Fantasy! Steampunk! Exclamation points! I have high fantasy and space opera on my TBR list, but don’t get too excited. It may not get reviewed for months. Okay, here goes;

Convergent Lines. Michelle Cori. Its tagline is A Tale of Gothic Horror, and it definitely has a great gothic feel, but  horror makes me think blood & jump-scares. This has a fantastical moodiness, with fae, humans, witchcraft,  loads of intricate world-building and history…and so much more. The narrative jumps between the protagonist’s past and present by chapters leading to a major plot development, and it has that “drop you in and let you roll along”  approach I adore. (but it isn’t everyone’s cup of tea.) Not sure if there’s an ebook version of this, so buy the paperback or make your library get it. The cover and the interior decorations are mind-blowingly pretty.

A Desperate Plan (Tales of the Automazombs) Toni Johnson et. al. Steampunk. Zombies. Need I say more? I really don’t. It’s a fun collection of shorter and longer stories that each stand alone but advance a larger plot. Some fine storytelling in a variety of styles. Great hints of reveals to come, but no sense of anything being left unfinished.  Ebook and regular book.

A lot of romance got consumed in the last month too, but nothing I would recommend. I must say I seriously wonder if authors who consider “purely masculine scent” to be attractive have ever actually smelled a live man. I’m someone who can find the scent of a sweaty guy appealing, but “masculine scent” still makes me think, “Ew.” Ya know, I think I’ll be moving on now.

Television: Daily Show & Samantha Bee over suppers, and the occasional sportsball game while I peel apples. That’s it.  A bunch of shows got boring or cancelled, others haven’t started. Zero interest in The Orville, not paying to watch commercials with ST:Discovery,  have to wait for DVD on Game of Thrones. I record Law & Order reruns because I know half of them by heart and specifically watch them so I can tune them out.

Movies: Finally saw Guardians of the Galaxy 2. Underwhelmed.  I mean, I enjoyed it, I can say, “okay, fun movie,”  but the whole Hollywood knee-jerk sequel philosophy of “take everything that was cool in the first one and evolve it” does not now and never has worked for me.  Plus I loathed the writing for Drax. Sure, expand our understanding of the character, but literal-minded to clueless is not a personality progression. Neither is there a line from single-minded to impulsively stupid. And Gamora was pretty much sidelined except for the OMG-SIBLING-HATRED thing. And then there’s the whole “why can’t heroes have two normal, living parents?” question…

…so, maybe I mostly didn’t like it. I  dunno. Nothing I’ve mentioned will stop me from watching it again a few times.

I watched Wonder Woman again to make sure the DVD worked. Yeah. That’s why.

The latest in re-viewing: disaster flicks.  2012, Day After Tomorrow, Dante’s Peak and San Andreas. Just because. Figured out another reason I love San Andreas: the male teen lead listens to the female teen lead who knows what she’s talking about. Multiple times.

In other news, autumn is apple time, which means day trips into the Wisconsin not-so-wilds in search of all the scrumptious yummies. I’ve already socked away the first of the year’s cider & saucein the big freezer, and the first fruits & cheeses of the season have made into tasty treats. The garden is an exuberant mess of drooping grasses and drying flowers, except for the asters, goldenrod & Joe Pye weed, which are in full glorious bloom.

That’s all for this report. Next post: all about the writing and authoring.

Edited to add a full-length pic of Grawlix the Gargoyle:

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Not tired of my words yet? My published works are available on Amazon and all the other usual online retailers, or you can take free peeks at them on this page here. 

Science-fiction thrillers, science-fiction romance, and science fantasy, full length novels and shorter works. So many choices! Here be direct links to the published stories that have escaped the confines of Amazon. 

Extraordinary books2read.com/u/4N19e6
Powerhouse books2read.com/u/3kZ1VW
Nightmares books2read.com/u/3yPExv
Lockdown books2read.com/u/3GM2Xn
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Spring Things & Summer Plans

The last couple of weeks I have been busy writing, preparing for conventioning,  doing the conventioning, and writing posts about that. All the same I did wedge in some recreations. Of course I did.

Books:

More Grace Burrowes Regency romances. These are tremendously fantastical. Plots are nicely tangled, Our Heroes not only come equipped with all the usual Heroic Attributes, but they also understand hygiene and contagion control,  exhibit saintly patience, and have wondrous modern attitudes about social & sexual equality. Truly, they are so far from any real historical human realities that they might as well have dragons and psychic powers, but no. They stick to the best romance standards–family secrets, misunderstandings, and social tensions–and more importantly avoid all the annoying and/or rage-inducing tropes. None of the no-means-yes

They’re like comfy fleece blankies for my brain.

Thanks to the con I have some excellent new authors to try out (not sure how I missed Claudia Gray, but I have catching up to do!) plus I found out that both Josh Vogt and Tracy Korn have new novels out I need to buy.

Movies & Television

One Million Ways to Die in the West. Wow-howdee, this was bad. I enjoyed much of it and laughed at many inappropriate things, but it’s a patchwork of jokes–some good, some horrible misses– that don’t play well together.  It’s as if Seth McFarlane said to a bunch of A-List actor friends, “Hey, let’s put on a show! I have a bunch of funny gags based on Western tropes. Now all we need is a plot.” Only none one came up with a plot. Or else  too many people did. It has that committee feel common to many modern Hollywood productions.

Passengers. I can see why critics didn’t like it, but I was not disappointed. I outright liked it. It was visually lush, Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence both did  solid jobs with their characters, and the story skimmed past the questionable premise quickly and lightly. (Colony ship with NO ONE awake? Hrrrmmmmm, okay… The scriptwriters dealt with the most problematic aspect of the plot (no spoilers)  better than I expected from the set-up too, which was a pleasant surprise.

Feud. Continues to please me.

Detours:

I drove. All the way from Chicagoland to Indianapolis. This was the first Major Test of my foot bones since I broke them driving up to WisCon in…2014, I think.  I did a dress rehearsal drive up to central Wisconsin earlier this year, and that success convinced me this was worth a try. I mean, the worst that could happen would be new stress fractures, and I know how to treat those now, so…

The gamble paid off. I had a great weekend, I sold books, and I got new art — a new gargoyle for my Grawlix notebook by Buzz, and a neat take on Valerie from Afua Richardson. They’re both fantastic artists, and I love both new additions to my collection.

That’s about it. In fits and starts I continue to art forward.  I’m doing character profiles and an outline for a new project that requires such things, Heartwood is plugging along, and I have decided I am definitely going to fork out the ducats to make Rough Passages happen as a shiny-polished properly formatted print book this year.

Now I have to contact some epic-awesome people and get quotes on custom services. And I learned at this con that the same company does FABULOUS banner design, so I may get one of those too.  Plus I have an idea for the new business cards I want to do myself.

Just have to keep the energy up and the momentum going. Chug-chug-chug-chug-chug.

Ah! Pics. Right.

First, Afua Richardson’s take on Valerie, the main character in Extraordinary and a supporting character in Heartwood.

Valerie Wade art

Valerie Wade Artist: Afua Richardson

Second, Buzz’s take on Grawlix, the gargoyle from my (prize-winning) short Up On The Roof. These are phone snaps, I’ll get scans into the character art folders eventually.

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Grawlix in a mood. Artist: Buzz