Tag Archives: Review

Book Review: Intent to Sell: Marketing the Genre Novel

“Intent to Sell: Marketing the Genre Novel” by Jeffrey Marks isn’t one of the usual books I review for this blog. It’s not a novel; it’s non-fiction with the noble goal of helping the novice writer do that most difficult part of writing: marketing. I can tell you from my own experience that writing the novel is only part of the battle. Once it is written and polished to perfection, the next step is getting the word out. To that end, Jeffrey Marks wrote “Intent to Sell.” It’s not a long book; it consists only of thirteen short chapters; but it covers a lot of ground.

 

The first chapter begins with the basics, covering some of the concepts behind marketing etiquette. According to the author, you have to walk a line between successful marketing and being obnoxious. There is such a thing as being too pushy in your marketing and that is something you need to avoid. From there he moves on to other things like getting blurbs for your book (a very lucrative thing to do, if you do it right), building relationships with bookstores, and establishing an on-line presence (what he calls an electronic business card). Every author needs a web-site these days with author photos, a booklist, biographical information, the latest news, contact information and whatever else might add to the site.

 

Near midway through the book he starts with the social media: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc… He discusses how to effectively use these sites to leverage your book into public consciousness. He also discusses the press kit: what makes one, why it’s important, and when you should use one. There’s a lot more in the book; I can’t really cover it all chapter by chapter, but I can say I found it all useful and informative. The book was worth the couple dollars I spent for the ebook.

 

Anyway: Strengths: It has a wealth of information; what I listed above and much, much more. Also, there are two appendices that are crammed with pertinent information: web-sites, urls, and permanent addresses the genre writer needs to have at his or her disposal. Weaknesses: not many. There were a number of typos in the book—it probably could have used at least one more scan by a good proofreader—but other than that it was a strong, informative work.

 

After all is said and done, I’ll give it four stars out of five.

 

Remember, I’m running a month-long contest with a signed hardcover copy of my novel Drasmyr ($25 value) and a Drasmyr bookmark as the prize. You can find the details of the contest: here. I encourage everyone to sign up for my newsletter and post a response.

Movie Review: Riddick: Rule the Dark

Riddick: Rule the Dark is the third installment in the series of movies chronicling the adventures of outlaw and fugitive Richard Riddick played by Vin Diesel. The movie begins a short while after the last ended. It provides a brief flashback to fill in missing details. Apparently, Riddick has been betrayed as Lord Marshal of the Necromongers and left stranded on a desolate planet full of vicious creatures.

 

The first half hour or so just follows Riddick and his struggles to survive on this hostile world. Then he finds an old mercenary outpost and sends a distress beacon. The beacon summons two different ships, both bent on capturing or killing Riddick. But Riddick, being the ultra-alpha male, just starts picking them off one at a time. After he’s killed three, he approaches the mercenaries to try to work out a deal because he knows a rain storm is coming and with it, a horde of nasty monsters that come out in the bad weather. His deal with the mercs turns sour, and, amazingly, Riddick is captured. When he comes to, the mercenaries begin to interrogate him. But then, the rain storm hits and with it come the nasty critters. The mercenaries decide they need Riddick’s help to face these formidable creatures. Together, can they brave the horrors this world has in store for them and Rule the Dark?

 

Strengths: this movie was a testosterone filled action movie. The things they had Riddick do were, more or less, impossible, but it was still cool. I mean, he starts the movie with a broken leg, which he fixes by wrenching back into place. Seriously? Still, it was cool watching Riddick repeatedly outsmarting and taking out the mercs one at a time, and then kicking butt against the monsters. Weaknesses: well, as I suggested above, I think they made Riddick too superhuman, too awesome. It took, I think, three horse-strength tranquilizers to take him down. Again, that’s a bit much if you are going for “realism.” Finally, there is some nudity in the movie (that’s not necessarily a weakness, just a viewer warning—of course, it is rated R, but there is a shot of full frontal nudity). Anyway, on the whole, I think this movie ranks about as well as the first (Pitch Black). My favorite in the series so far is #2: The Chronicles of Riddick.

 

Overall, I’ll give Riddick: Rule the Dark three and a half out of five stars.

Short Story Review: Polaris

I have a whole book of short stories by H.P. Lovecraft. One of the first ones in the book is a short piece entitled “Polaris.” It comes in at only 4 pages or so. But that is all it needs. Polaris is a clever little piece about the mystery of the North Star and dreams (the entire book is a collection of dream related stories, actually).

 

It tells the story of a man living in a house by a swamp who spends a great deal of time watching Polaris. Its position fixed in the sky gives him considerable pause to ruminate and wonder about hidden meanings. To him, it seems as if the star has a message, perhaps to him, but one that has been lost in time. So, he begins to dream. He dreams of an ancient civilization 26,000 years in the past; a civilization called Lomar that flourished at an earlier time at which Polaris held a similar position in the firmament (according to astronomers, the actual position of the North Star does change, but very slowly, as a result of a wobble of the Earth’s axis. This phenomenon is called precession (I think) and it causes the apparent motion of Polaris in the sky. It takes the star approximately 26,000 years to complete one cycle and return to the same position—it’s a clever little scientific insert into the story). After some time he assumes an identity in that civilization of a craven man who possessed incredibly keen eyes. As a result, he is tasked with watching for the advance of a hostile army of creatures called Inutos: “squat, hellish yellow fiends” that have been plaguing the ancient kingdom. Atop the watchtower, the accursed narrator is bewitched by Polaris and falls asleep. Instead of keeping faithful watch, he dreams of a future time in which he is a man grown accustomed to sitting by his window in a house by a swamp to stare at the North Star. He cannot wake from this dream, and no matter how he tries to explain his predicament to those around him, they do not believe him. There is no record of a long lost civilization called Lomar; the only beings to ever dwell in these frozen wastes before are the Esquimaux: “squat, yellow creatures.” (Another name for Eskimos is Inuit, a word deliberately close to Inuto) By the end of the story, the narrator’s descent into madness is all but assured as the division between dream and reality is so obscured. Which story is the dream? And which the truth? Is the narrator a dreaming watchman who has failed his countrymen in the lone task to which he was appointed? Or is he a modern day man who has lost his grip on reality? Or … is he a modern day man who is the reincarnation of a dreaming watchman who failed his countrymen? The story does not answer these questions; it simply asks them and leaves the reader wondering and with a profound distrust of the seemingly mundane North Star.

 

The only weakness in the story that I can think of is the possible accusation of racism against Eskimos. But that seems a trifle unfair and a bit too PC for my tastes. He described the Eskimos and imagined a conflict 26,000 years in the past with an imaginary ancient civilization. In the conflict, the Eskimos are the aggressors and every culture in history has been an aggressor at one point or another. If you seek to be offended by such, you can choose to be so; but for myself, I don’t think imagining conflicts between cultures or even using the terms “squat” or “yellow” to describe someone or a group of people is necessarily racist. I can see how it can be interpreted that way, but I choose not to (then again, I’m not an Eskimo). Putting all that aside, I thought this was a great story.

 

Overall, I’ll give this short story four and a half stars out of five. Most excellent!

Movie Review: The Heat

“The Heat” is the latest movie featuring Sandra Bullock. In it, she plays a somewhat arrogant, uptight FBI agent named Ashburn. She’s due for a promotion, but all the other agents don’t like her. She’s a smug know-it-all, and her captain knows it. So, instead of promoting her right away, he gives her a mission to prove her worth; he sends her to Boston to find a drug lord. There she partners up with Detective Mullins (played by Melissa McCarthy), a foul-mouthed, street-fighting, rough and tumble cop.

 

In the beginning, the two do not get along very well. Ashburn steals Mullins’ parking space, and then her case. But Mullins will have none of that. She tries to threaten her way back onto the case—which was originally hers—steals an FBI file, and generally goes about driving Ashburn nuts. Eventually, their superiors pair them together whether they like it or not and they go about looking for the drug lord, fighting all the way. Eventually, though, things smooth out and they become friends. The plot revolves around the ruthless drug lord, a mole in one of the various law enforcement departments, and the developing friendship between Ashburn and Mullins. There’s a few explosions, a few people being shot, and other typical cop-movie activities.

 

Strengths: the acting was good. The characterization was good. The storyline flowed together well; there were no obvious logical flaws that I saw; and there was plenty of humor. Weaknesses: I’m of mixed minds about the profanity. I just get tired of every other word being an f-bomb. That said, the profanity did serve to characterize Mullins quite well, so perhaps it was necessary. There was also a brief spat where Ashburn swore up a storm, which was kind of humorous. And, again, served the needs of the story. Still, it seemed to be overdone some. Also, the character Sandra Bullock played (Ashburn) was unfortunately similar to the character she played in Miss Congeniality years ago. I’m not sure if that’s a weakness or not. There was also a twist in the movie—not one that was too shocking—actually, it was more an evolution of the plot than an actual twist. You knew there was a mole, revealing who it was wasn’t really too shocking. Anyway, although there were no major flaws in the movie, it never gripped me.

 

Ultimately, I will give “The Heat” a rating of three and a half stars out of five.

Movie Review: Despicable Me 2

I saw the original “Despicable Me” a number of years ago as a rental at a friend’s house. I remember that I enjoyed the movie, but I don’t remember many of the details: only that the main character, the arch-villain, Gru, had a grand scheme to steal the moon. That, and he turned out to be a decent guy because he started to raise three young girls. “Despicable Me 2” takes up where “Despicable Me” left off. Gru (Steve Carell) is now raising the young girls and has given up his life of crime to try his hand at business (he makes really bad jams and jellies). But he is neither fit for nor destined for the life of a common businessman. It is not long before he encounter Lucy (Kristen Wiig) from the AVL (Anti-Villain League). She captures him and drags him off to a meeting with the AVL. They want to recruit him to help them recapture a powerful chemical that transforms living creatures into horrible monsters. At first, he says no, but eventually he comes around and agrees to the mission.

 

The story is pretty basic from there: Gru and Lucy are assigned to work together to reclaim the secret chemical compound. They investigate a mall. After a few misadventures, Gru identifies the culprit. Unfortunately, this evil super-villain takes Lucy hostage and Gru is forced to brave his fortress where he has assembled a virtual army of indestructible monsters harvested from Gru’s own vast collection of minions. I’ll leave the rest to surprise the reader.

 

Strengths: I always enjoy a good kid’s movie. The animation was good. The characters were cute, humorous, and likeable. The storyline held together; there were no logical flaws that I saw on a first viewing, and things were wrapped up nicely. Weaknesses: My biggest complaint with the movie was some of the crude humor. For example, there was a fart gun. It’s hardly a big issue, but, really, I’ve noticed in a number of kid’s movies that we have been reduced to entertaining our children with references to noisome bodily functions. Can’t they come up with something a little more … I don’t know, wholesome, maybe. Must we act like kids to entertain our kids? There were also a couple of veiled sexual references that kids wouldn’t get, but adults would. I suppose it’s supposed to be adult humor, but to me it strikes me more like adolescent humor. Again, can’t we do better? Can’t we do something that is actually clever? That said, those were minor weaknesses. Another weakness was that for some reason or other, the story just didn’t grip me too much. I usually enjoy kid’s movies, but this one was lacking something, I just don’t know what.

 

Overall, I’ll give it three, maybe three and a half, stars out of five.

Movie Review: After Earth

Sorry. A day late with this one. Got caught up in other things…

 

“After Earth” is M. Night Shyamalan’s latest movie creation. It stars Will Smith as Cypher Raige and his son, Jaden, as his son, Kitai. It is set in the distant future. Humanity has abandoned earth; they have encountered and waged a war with a group of aliens who have engineered human-killing creatures called ursas (I think?). Cypher Raige is the commander of an elite group of warrior humans called rangers. They are renowned for their ability to “ghost.” Basically, the ursas hunt humans by smelling the excretions of the human body that come about with fear. A ranger with the ability to “ghost” has control of his emotions and feels no fear. As a result, such a man or woman is invisible to the ursas and can kill them with relative ease.

 

With the above as the backdrop, the plot of the movie is pretty basic. Cypher and Kitai are on a ship that is bombarded by asteroids, knocked off course, and forced to crash land on Earth, which has become an inhospitable planet filled with vicious wildlife that have evolved to kill humans. As the ship crashes, the tail comes off and lands a good distance (several days travel) from the rest of the ship. Cypher and Kitai are the only survivors in the main section of the ship, but Cypher is seriously wounded. It is up to young Kitai to brave the wilderness, travel to the tail, and retrieve the beacon that will send up a signal that will help them get rescued. Pretty basic. Pretty simple.

 

Perhaps, too simple.

 

I found this movie dull, and boring after the first half hour, so much so, I eventually walked out. If I had known it was M. Night Shyamalan’s work, I might have stayed through the full bit. I got as far as Kitai’s arrival at the tail (I guess that’s a spoiler: he makes it to the tail), which I think is a good portion of the movie, but I’d gone to a lot of movies that week combatting depression and I didn’t want to sit through something I wasn’t really enjoying. It’s a shame, but it seems that all the movies M. Night Shyamalan has been doing lately have been unimpressive. It’s been all downhill since “The Sixth Sense” and “Signs.” Oh well.

 

Strengths: The special effects were good, but special effects don’t make a movie. I think the acting was fine, too, but it was just a weak script. Weaknesses: The movie was boring. I guess it was a coming-of-age story for the kid and all about his relationship with his father, but it didn’t hold my interest.

 

For that, I’ll give it a whopping one and a half stars out of five.

Movie Review: Now You See Me

“Now You See Me” is the latest fictionalization of a magician’s life brought to us by Hollywood. Well, more specifically, it is a fictional story of four magicians’ lives and the FBI agent and Interpol agent who are pitted against them in a game of wits and misdirection. It stars: Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher, and Dave Franco as the four magicians. It also stars: Mark Ruffalo as the FBI agent and Melanie Laurent as the Interpol agent.

 

The plot is simple: the four magicians begin the movie performing separate acts but, after a few mysterious encounters, are drawn together by a stranger. They meet in a secret location where they are given specific instructions. A year later, their four separate acts have been combined into one act and they begin going about the work that they have been instructed to undertake: robbing from the wealthy and giving the money they take to the crowds at their shows. They are dragged before the FBI after their first trick where they come to the attention of Agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo). After a brief exchange of unpleasantries and a figurative slap in his face, Agent Rhodes is incensed and bent on stopping the magicians. Unfortunately, he must release them … unless he wants to accuse them of teleporting to London to rob a bank! From there it is a game of cat and mouse with the magicians always seeming to have the upper hand and Agent Rhodes always desperately playing catch-up. But slowly, he begins to unravel the mystery behind the magicians, revealing a secret society and a long-planned effort at systematic revenge.

 

Strengths: the four magicians had a good chemistry, the writing was good, the acting was good, and most everything (most of the magic tricks) were explained in a logical, coherent way. One or two of the tricks were left as mysteries but they weren’t plot crucial tricks to begin with. The special effects were well-chosen and well-used. Weaknesses: I’m of mixed minds regarding the twist at the end. It was an interesting twist, but … it didn’t really have any preamble as far as I could tell—there was no way you could figure it out beforehand, and I think that makes it a weakness. Still, it was an enjoyable movie.

 

In the end, I’ll give “Now You See Me” three and a half or four stars out of five.

Book Review: Game of Thrones

I finally got around to reading George R. R. Martin’s “Game of Thrones.” It’s a classic fantasy book with battles, intrigue, and fantastical creatures. When I first heard of the series, my original impression was that it was just a simple medieval setting without any fantasy creatures. I don’t know why I had that impression, but I did. As it turns out, I was completely wrong: It’s got the medieval armies and the fantasy creatures. Specifically, just in book one, it has direwolves, wights, and dragons. It also mentions a few other critters that may rear their heads in later books.

The story is complex and convoluted. There are quite a large number of point-of-view characters: Eddard, Catelyn, Tyrion, Danerys, Sansa, Arya, Jon, and Bran (I think that’s all). Things start out simply enough with most of the action taking place in the northern citadel of Winterfell. Soon enough, however, the storyline fractures. Eddard Stark is appointed the King’s Hand. As a result, one group of people goes south to King’s Landing, another group stays at Winterfell, and Jon Snow (Eddard’s bastard son) heads even further north to the Wall. There is also the building side storyline involving Danerys who, I think, is on an entirely different continent not shown on the book maps. I assume she’ll be crossing the water soon enough, but on the whole, it makes it difficult to follow the plot … not the major thrust: the assassination attempt on Bran and Catelyn’s investigation into such and Eddard’s intrigues at court. That went well enough, but the problem was the whole horde of characters in this book. There’s probably five or six or more characters for each point-of-view character, so very soon, the sheer numbers of such become unmanageable.

Also, this book should come with an adult warning. There’s incest, teen sex, and a six-year-old boy who still breastfeeds just to name a few eyebrow raisers. I also read somewhere that things go very poorly for the Starks in later books, which is a shame, because those are the characters I liked the most … particularly Jon Snow. Because of that, I probably will not read any further in the series. I read the first book and overall I’d say my reaction was lukewarm. It wasn’t bad; it was decent, but the eyebrow raisers listed above and the fact I was forewarned about a number of Starks dying does not inspire me to read more.

Strengths: I liked the direwolves and dragons, and the Night’s Watch. The writing was decent and the main characters were likeable enough. Weaknesses: there were too many characters, too many things done simply for shock-value, and for some reason or other, I never fully sank into the book. Sometimes, it was almost a chore to read.

Ultimately, I’ll give “Game of Thrones” by George R. R. Martin three stars out of five.

This review was originally published on Goodreads on 6/27/13.

Movie Review: Star Trek: Into Darkness

I’ve been wanting to see this movie for quite some time, but I kept putting it off. I’m sorry I did. It was a great movie. It continues the reboot of the “Star Trek” series of movies. We have the original cast of characters being played by different actors. These include: Chris Pine (Captain James T. Kirk), Zachary Quinto (Science Officer Spock), Zoe Saldana (Communications Officer Uhura), Karl Urban (Dr. McCoy a.k.a. “Bones”), and Benedict Cumberbatch (Khan). It’s basically a reboot (in a very loose roundabout way) of either “Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan” or the original series episode “Space Seed.” Only because it involves Khan and the 72 other superhumans of the Botany Bay crew.

 

The story begins on a distant planet where Kirk steels a valuable artifact from a primitive culture in a ploy to get them away from an erupting volcano so Spock can set off a device to neutralize the volcano. Things get hairy, Kirk is forced to violate the Prime Directive a couple of times, and Spock files his own report detailing that. That sets up the tension between Kirk and Spock (and also Spock and Uhura) throughout the movie. From there, they return to Earth, whereupon they learn of a terrorist whose name escapes me (It is really Khan, but he’s going by another name). They determine that Khan has fled to the Klingon home world of Kronos. So, the Enterprise is sent in pursuit armed with special photon torpedoes. Their orders are to kill Khan from a distance. But Kirk leads a landing party to capture him. After single-handedly wiping out most of a Klingon patrol, Khan surrenders. And from there, things get really dicey.

 

Strengths: There were a lot. The acting was good. The special effects were good. The story was good. And the character conflicts and crises were believable. There was only one logical flaw that I can think of in the movie, and that was a pretty minor one. Weaknesses: well, I think the sexualization of Kirk was a little overdone—he was always kind of like that, but they were more discreet in earlier films and the series (of course, that’s some forty years ago or so—oh well). Also, there was that logical flaw where transporters worked while the shields were up in one scene, and then not in another (Or did they lower the shields? I don’t remember, now).

 

Anyway, I’ll give “Star Trek: Into Darkness” four and a half stars out of five).

Movie Review: The Man of Steel

I saw this movie last week and have been taking my time getting around to review it. According to IMDb it earned around 8 out of 10 stars and I find that almost laughable. I think someone got paid off there. The movie has some big name talent (in notably smaller roles): Russell Crowe, Kevin Costner, Diane Lane and a few lesser names-in-the-making: Henry Cavill, Harry Lennix, etc… The story, well, it’s about Superman. It’s basically a reboot of the entire series; it gives the whole genesis of Superman and the destruction of Krypton from the get-go, and works in a plot basically derived from Superman 2 in the original series.

 

The plot in a nutshell: Kal-el (Superman) is one of the only survivors of Krypton. He is launched in a spacecraft to Earth where he finds a home with the Kents. Meanwhile, while Krypton is the process of imploding, General Zod tries a coup, but is defeated, and he and his forces are sent into a cryo-state in the vicinity of a black hole (or something like that). So, Krypton dies, and General Zod and his forces escape their imprisonment after their sentence is up. So, they seek out Kal-el (who is now grown up on Earth) to find the genetic information to rebuild Krypton that was sent with Kal-el on his craft (or so Zod thinks). When they arrive, conflict ensues. It is Superman versus several dozen other super-beings from Krypton.

 

Strengths: at least Superman looked physically fit. That was about it. Weaknesses: my biggest beef with the movie was the fact that the fight scenes consisted basically of nearly indestructible beings slugging it out, throwing each other through buildings, causing explosions, and making virtually no progress. It was boring and repetitive, and did not make for a very entertaining movie. I heard that this movie was supposed to have Christian overtones: the Heavenly Father, sends his only son, to inspire and lead the Earth. You can interpret it that way, if you wish, but I personally think it was just a movie about an orphaned alien. Looking for a religious subtext gives the movie more credit than it deserves. You could also look at it as a metaphor for Moses just as easily.  What is it they say? There are basically five different stories that form the root of all stories: each one adds a little flavor here or there, but they all come back to the same thing. Some of these stories are told well, others, poorly. This one was told poorly.

 

In the end, I’ll give “Man of Steel” a whopping two stars out of five.