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:


*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:


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. 

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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.


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.


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.


Grawlix in a mood. Artist: Buzz

glitter butterfly

March things roaring and bleating

I’ve been posting these media consumption updates at least once every couple of weeks for more than a year now. It’s almost a feature. I’m possibly more pleased about that level of consistency than I should be, but pleased I am, all the same. Here’s the latest.


Silence Fallen Patricia Briggs. Many books into the series, I’m still enjoying it.   Even switching from first to third person between chapters was tolerable,  made fun by chatty explanatory blurbs from the main character. True confession: I cheered when a new POV character showed up 3/4 of the way into the book. I do that even though writing guides all say it’s a huge no-no, but guess what?  It works great.

Nature’s God: The Heretical Origins Of the American Republic Matthew Stewart. I may be gnawing on this one for a while. 450 dense pages with another 125 pages of footnotes. Super fascinating “things that get glossed over in American History Class” stuff. I read a certain page count per day like homework, but I always go over my quota because it’s hard to stop once started.

Spoiler alert: digging into the writings & the formative readings of the Founding Fathers reveals they were mostly not big fans of Christianity. To paraphrase a couple of paragraphs (the prose is super dense) The American ideal freedom of religion traces back to the Founding Fathers’ desire for freedom from religion, specifically from Christianity.  Amazing stuff. Packed with enough citations to give me lots of further reading too.

And some fantasy Victorian-era romance fluff to balance out the Tome Of Learning: So You Want To Start A Scandal, Tessa Dare. Phenomenal dialogue and pacing.


Deepwater Horizon. LOTS better than I expected, especially after the disappointment of Sully. It stuck to the event, not the aftermath. They took a tremendously complicated scientific & engineering situation and explained it well,  portrayed people present for the crisis as flawed but sometimes also heroic, and then skipped out before the backstabbing and finger-pointing started.. Could it have been a huge screed against corporate greed and a saga of ecological disaster? Surrrrrrre, but Humanity vs Nature made a much better movie.

Captain Fantastic. I have no idea why I reserved this one. Oh, wait. Viggo Mortenson. Right. I won’t analyze its premise or message. It wouldn’t stand up well to analysis. I enjoyed it all the same. I can enjoy problematic things.  The casting director is brilliant for finding six kids of varying ages who could all hold their own on-screen with Viggo. Names to watch.

Hell & High Water.  It was…well done. Not my kind of story for fun, but holy catkins, Chris Pine is not just chiseled and pretty, he can act. That’s a thing I know for sure now. He more than held his own with Jeff Bridges. Bridges & Gil Birmingham were an epic cop buddy pair. And that is all I will say.


Grand Tour. Spouseman and I have embarked on a new  “watch TV together” series. Car fun. Vrrrroom. GT is the new Amazon-Prime version of BBC Top Gear with the original hosts, who got fired/resigned (it was a Big Thing, google it) Unlike American Top Gear, which I found unwatchably dull, this show keeps the lighthearted spirit of the original with a fun twist of changing locations every week. I think the title acronym being GT is no accident since it’s a car nerd reference, a nod to the world-traveling aspect, AND the initials for Top Gear backwards.

I hope they lose the NASCAR driver replacement for the Stig, not because he’s bad, but because he’s obviously Jeremy Clarkson’s running stupid-Muricans joke and it was grating on my nerves after one episode. Clarkson’s bullying obnoxiousness gives me heebie-jeebies in general, but he’s hiding the meanness a little better in this incarnation than in later seasons of TG. So far.

Feud. I didn’t turn off the TV fast enough after watching some recorded show and got sucked into this mini-series. I regret nothing. It’s delicious. Bette Davis & Joan Crawford and the production of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?  Period costumes, dramatic spats, and tons of scenery-chewing = great goodness.

Series of Unfortunate Events. Hee. I don’t care if it’s targeted at children. It has Patrick Warburton as a narrator, and a fabulous parade of talent hamming it up in heavy makeup and wild costumes. Then there the storyline wreathed in glittery vocabulary words, Dahl-esque social commentary, and pointed lessons about human frailty. Best of all, it never assumes its audience is stupid, which is one of the things I loved best about the books.

And that’s a wrap on my creative-things intake summary. Of course there’s creative output too. All this inspiration has to be exhaled. I put it in books mostly. You can order my published work on Amazon and at all the other usual online retailers, or  take free peeks at all of it under the blog menu mysteriously labeled Books.

SF thrillers, SF romance, and straight science fantasy, full length novel or shorter, so many choices…

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The Good, the Bad, and the …

Been a while since the last one of these. I haven’t read or watched as much as usual in that time because I have been busy making stuff and dealing with life detours of one kind or another. Now I’m gonna bore y’all with the making as well as the consuming.  Just fair warning. Skip to the end for reviews and snark.

On the making side:

  • A delayed book project  is back in action! Dawnrigger Publishing (me) will be releasing a friend’s fantasy picture reader for kids ages 6-9. The meeting with my new collaborator (Hi, Deb!) and the author was a smashing success. We have plans and materials collected, and we’re off & running…over three months after I’d hoped to be starting major work, but hey. Started.
  • One of my favorite short works, Roundup, is closer to independent publication. Originally published in an online magazine, it will see daylight as a sale piece. Then I will do a print + ebook collection of all the Rough Passages stories, with introductions, a chronology and other extras. And audio? I hope so.
  •  I made a cover for Roundup, and I kind of love it.
  • On a good day I can look at the progression of my homemade covers (Powerhouse–> Lockdown–> Nightmares–> Roundup) and I can see I have learned a thing or two about graphics.  I’m far from great, but I could be convinced I don’t suck.

Roundup 4 titles

But wait, there’s more making!

  • Two scenes finished in Heartwood (how I wish I could share, but spoilers…) and another begun. It’s at 33k words and still growing, and I can see the path to the end now. Novel-length, here I come!
  • The two Restoration Series novels stalled in beta revision…may be stalled in beta indefinitely. In case they never see print, I want to thank my beta readers somewhere.  I am deeply grateful for your time, effort, insights, and helpful suggestions. The stories are infinitely improved by your input, even if  I never make them good enough. THANK YOU ALL.

The detours…The happy sparkles are many in this latest episode of My Exciting Days, but the dark facets of the life disco ball haven’t disappeared.

  • Spouseman is 2/3 of the way through his”abundance of caution” radiation therapy, and he’s feeling the effects, plus I’m feeling hedgehog-caregiver proxy exhaustion. The cancer prognosis is good for the short term, but the long term is uncertain, and that’s a whole herd of break-dancing elephants living in our emotional space.
  • Lately insurance/ employment fears have grown larger, as have the long-term financial ones. (poor Spouseman worries that I will end up living out of a grocery cart with a dozen stray cats to feed someday. I have no legit counter-argument. It’s a fair point. I mean, he’s wrong, but worry doesn’t always care about realism. )
  •  Friends & family members are struggling in many ways, but I have been too self-absorbed with my troubles  to support them the way a good human would.
  • I’m losing Facebook friends & page follows in a steady drip, but I am nigh-incapable of sending requests to boost my social media reach. Too painful, too much juicy panic. One possible new FB friend isn’t worth losing a day’s creative work.
  • crap book sales lately. I’m not promoting, brand-creating or networking properly.
  • zero book reviews in three months. No sales, no reviews. Basic arithmetic.

…so I stress a lot. But hey. I walk this crooked path with eyes open. There are costs associated with choosing eccentric stubborn egotism over a good, solid professional career-building business model. I accept the potential consequences, up to and including dying homeless and covered in cats. (edit to add: don’t forget to read that last part in a dry, facetious voice. It’s my form of a joke.)

Today there are good things. Tasty food. Words. Spouse cuddles. Cat snores. Fuzzy socks. And lots of distractions. Moving forward. Not sprinting, no, but moving. The road goes ever on and on and all that.

Media consumed, for those keeping track:


  • 1636: The Ottoman Onslaught Eric Flint. All by himself. No collaborators, no traveling off to distant lands with characters originally introduced as minor players or in an associated short story. WOO! Cue the big happy dance.  I love the 1632 shared universe, but there’s a 31 flavors issue. (SO many characters and theaters of action, impossible to keep up with all of them equally, and always a few in there that don’t appeal.)   Flint’s solo book started it all off, and his plotting, descriptive prose, dialogue precision,  and political developments always give me the biggest happies. So. A whole new book of just his material? Gobble, gobble, burp.
  • Mr. Impossible & Don’t Tempt Me. More historical romance fantasy by Loretta Chase.
  • Etched In Bone Anne Bishop. Latest in the series. I could call this series a guilty pleasure. The plots skew to the simplistic end of the plot spectrum, and they have problematic elements that make me pull eye-rolling muscles. And yet I feel no guilt. They please me, they are full of cleverness, creativity and immersive everything, and I adore them.


  • Logan. Whoo-ee. Damn. Daaaaaaayum. Too bad it took Fox 17 years to get an X-Men movie right a second time, so sad they had to do it by destroying them (again.)  All the same. Wow. Kudos to whichever producer had the tits to insist on pulling off the PG-13 gloves and giving Wolverine the brutal, bloody, vicious showing he always deserved. Way to go out on a high note.
  • Lilo & Stitch.  I super-needed happy tears & ohana. It’s been that kind of month.
  • Sully. I would’ve liked it lots better with less forced NTSB-as-villains bullshit and more  perspectives of the crash and its classic man-vs-environment conflict. I spent a whole walk rewriting the frame story plot for Spouseman in a way that made it less an anti-gov screed and more the heroic celebration it could have been.
  • Manchester By The Sea. I see why Casey Affleck won an Oscar for it, and I can understand the praise it got. It’s a talent festival for showing off moody, atmospheric writer/actor/director/cinematography skills. Alas, Affleck makes my skin crawl, and the nobody-talks-about-it tension building silences…didn’t move me to care.
  • Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. Loved its oddness from start to finish. Things to quibble over, yes, but Spouseman sat through it with me, and that says all kinds of good things.
  • The Accountant. Um. It was a good watch for dissection purposes only.  Anyone who gushes, “but it was such an great portrayal of autism!” needs to run a search on “What’s wrong with The Accountant autism” and do some research.The Treasury agents were watchable and fun, but the accounting pretty much sucked too
  • Mechanic Resurrection. Could be subtitled, “Jason Statham Takes Off His Shirt.” So. Much. De-shirting.  Not just “on screen shirtless,” oh, no. I lost count of the number of excuses to disrobe on-camera. Tons of excellent fight action too. Horrible cinema, really, but deliciously satisfying for this viewer.

TV Still enjoying Madame Secretary & Victoria (which is over for the season)  although both left plausibility far behind weeks ago. Supernatural & NCIS stay on the list until the end of their seasons. Supergirl is off the keep-up list, as is Riverdale (too much angst, not enough plot) In contrast,  The Expanse keeps getting better and better, and I have a few series recommendations in my queue to session-watch soon when my brain gets tired.

And that’s a wrap until next time.