Category Reviews

The Dragon’s Gold Review

By Ross B. Lampert

Small 4-star rating on dark blue background

Debrah Strait applies some unique twists to classic Young Adult story tropes in The Dragon’s Gold. While fire-breathing dragons, damsels in distress, and bumbling knights are nothing new, the same dragon with a bad cough and a damsel who doesn’t want to be rescued are new, at least in my limited YA reading.

The Tisbees, Sitwells, and Neales are three small but noble clans who occupy the eastern two-thirds of the Isle of Zuber. Before Queen Wiltrude passed away without an heir, the three clans were prosperous, trading with each other and the Sadirrans on the west side of the mountains, and with the peoples across the ocean. But since the queen died, the clans have been reduced to sloth, lethargy, and kidnapping members of the other families for ransom...

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Revision and Self-Editing for Publication Review

Small 3-star rating on dark blue background

Let’s get this on the table right now: Jim Bell does not write a bad craft-of-writing book. Does NOT.

In one case, however, the title of his book does not match the contents. That case is Revision and Self-Editing for Publication. As K. M. Weiland noted in her 3-star review of this book on Goodreads, there’s little here about revision or self-editing. That’s too bad because what little there is clearly shows that if Bell had focused on those tasks, rather than writing yet another book about writing a decent first draft, he could have done well.

Bell divides the book into two sections: “self-editing” and “revision...

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Wool Review

By Ross B. Lampert

4.5-star rating dark blue background

Wool is the title of both the first novella and the first five stories in the Silo series, and the book which rocketed Hugh Howey to science fiction stardom. Deservedly so.

WARNING: There are spoilers in this review. I’ll put them in a different font so you can spot and skip them if you wish.

Wool is the story of a large, thoroughly developed community of people (hundreds if not a few thousand) who have lived for a long time in a 144 story deep underground silo. One of many, as it turns out, but the residents of Silo 18 don’t know that there are other silos until late in the story. Until then, only a select few even know that they’re “Silo 18.”

The silo culture is divided into dozens of functional groups: the Mechanicals live in the “down deep,” the lowe...

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The Most Brilliant Thoughts of All Time Review

By Ross B. Lampert

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A high school buddy gave me this book a long, long time ago. Now that I’ve read it, I have to wonder why. In the spirit of its “(In Two Lines or Less)” subtitle, here are my thoughts.

Cynical: But Ambrose Bierce’s The Devil’s Dictionary did that better.

Repetitive: Go ahead and use the same quote in different chapters. No one will notice.

Egotistical: Never trust an editor who considers more of his own thoughts “brilliant” than those in all of the great religious works ever written… combined.

Repetitive: Go ahead and use nearly-identical quotes in the same chapter. No one will notice.

Disorganized: Organizing quotes like these along themes within a given chapter is a great idea. It’s just not required.

At least I learned the full or true names of v...

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The Portable American Realism Reader Review

By Ross B. Lampert

Small 4-star rating on dark blue background

I was introduced to this collection of short stories about ten years ago, when it was one of the assigned books in one of my master’s degree classes. The 47 stories were published between 1865 and 1918 and were written by both famous authors—Mark Twain, Kate Chopin, Ambrose Bierce, Stephen Crane, and Jack London, to name a few—to writers not known outside of literary circles, like Sioux author Zitkala-Sä and Chinese immigrant Sui Sin Far.

The stories are divided into three general categories whose time-frames overlap: regionalism and local color (1865 and after), realism (1890 and after), and naturalism (also 1890 and after). As the names of the categories and their periods suggest, they illustrate the changing tenors and interests of the times...

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Get Known Before the Book Deal Review

Small 3-star rating on dark blue background  (Non-fiction)

  (Fiction)

You’re a member of “writer mama” Christina Katz’s target audience if you’re (1) a female (2) non-fiction writer who’s (3) looking to traditionally publish (4) in around 2010 and (5) have plenty of time on your hands. The fewer of those categories you fall into, however, the less this book is for you. So for me as a male, indie-published, fiction author with precious little spare time in the middle of 2015, this book had limited value.

That’s not to say Get Known is a bad book. It’s not.

Katz, whom I discovered through one of many writers’ blogs I used to have time to read, treats the topic of “platform”—the base on which you establish your credibility and from which you grow your list of followers and readers—quite thoroughly...

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Love Life, with Parrots Review

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I don’t normally read memoirs but Love Life, with Parrots came highly recommended by a friend, so I thought I’d give it a try for something different.

The book covers the period between the end of Hanson’s first marriage and the early years of her second. Unfortunately, we never know for sure how many years that is.

What we do learn, in quite some detail, is that these are not easy years. Hanson struggles from one bad relationship to another, with each man having his own failings, some of them severe. While Hanson is never physically abused, she suffers a lot of emotional abuse which, combined with her low self-esteem (a legacy of her childhood), makes her struggles that much greater...

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House Made of Dawn Review

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If you’re looking for a book with a linear narrative, a clear and present protagonist, and a consistent point of view, N. Scott Momaday’s House Made of Dawn is not the book you’re looking for. If, on the other hand, you’re looking for occasionally beautiful writing, and an unusual style of story-telling, this 1969 Pulitzer Prize winner may be just the thing.

House Made of Dawn is the story of Abel (an obviously symbolic name), a young Native American from somewhere in southern California...

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The Art of War for Writers

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Put James Scott Bell’s The Art of War for Writers next to Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style on your bookshelf—or better, within easy reach! It’s that good.

Using famous and long-ago Chinese general Sun Tzu’s The Art of War as his model, Bell presents vital and valuable information for writers in bite-size chunks. These nourishing and digestible non-chicken nuggets add up to a lot of chapters, yet only two are longer than five pages.

That’s what makes them so useful: you can read a few, set the book aside to ponder them, and then come back without being overwhelmed with information. These chapter titles will give you a sense of what I mean:

  • From Part I, “Reconnaissance”: 21. Put heart into everything you write.
  • From Part II, “Tactics”: 36...
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The Sweet Trade, by Debrah Strait

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Debrah Strait’s The Sweet Trade is no Johnny Depp Pirates of the Caribbean romp. And that’s a very good thing.

Life in the Caribbean in the second half of the 17th Century was anything but easy: “nasty, brutish, and short” might be a better description. Not just for pirates and other sailors but for the citizens in the many coastal and island villages, cities, and towns and the soldiers assigned to protect them. Death came often, and was often violent, brutal, and painful, whether at the hands of raiders or defenders or in the jaws of thousands of ants or a single caiman.

This is the world eleven-year-old Dirk van Cortlandt is thrust into when Spanish raiders attack the island he and his family live on and kill everyone except Dirk and four of his young friends...

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