I Spy: Spot the Space Marine

Spots the Space Marine is a cute story about an ex-military mom who gets reactivated. She served her country in the reserves, but when the battle against crab-like aliens goes sour, she is shipped to war. The post should have been easy as it lies far from the front line. What could possibly go wrong?

(courtesy of the author)

Spots the Space Marine

Unlike Aphorisms of Kerishdar (which was also written by the capable M.C.A. Hogarth) this is “simply” a delightful romp in a sci-fi novel featuring a female protagonist. I like the way this story plays stereotypes against archetypes. Spots is a tough mother who refuses to let her marines settle for anything less than their best. She does so, however, by reaching out to the battle-hardened troops. I love the contrast between her method and what you’d expect from military leaders.

M.C.A. Hogarth has an updated and edited version of this story available on Amazon, Nook, and Smashwords, but has very graciously given me the ok to direct you to the free version, which is no longer linked to her site. Here’s the link. Enjoy!

One thing that might interest you, oh gentle reader, is that the publication of this story is a story in its own right: the author overcame a trademark infringement claim made by Games Workshop. For those who are unfamiliar with Games Workshop, they produce some of the biggest known names in table top miniatures, including the Warhammer series. Since it’s in the best interest of indie writers that companies become more careful with their copyright claims, I hope that all of you consider getting this book. You won’t be sorry!

Spots does not contain any swearwords but it does have a lot of asterisks showing where swearwords are meant. Personally, I found the constant censoring one of the biggest annoyances of the story, but your mileage may vary. As you can imagine, this story does involve violence, though it never becomes graphic. With a little effort at ignoring the self-censoring, this story is appropriate for all ages.

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How do you judge a book?

I just want to take a moment to discuss how I judge a book. This took some thought because I had to analyze my own reading. When I got frustrated, I had to stop and think about exactly what made me frustrated. When I continued reading despite the frustration, I had to figure out why I was still interested.

While I performed this study for the purpose of this blog, I want to make it clear that my process described here applies to any book I read, whether traditionally published or self-published. I do not wish to lower my standards for the self-published author. So without further ado, here is my list of criteria:

  1. Is the story interesting enough to keep me reading?
    For me, this has a lot to do with the characters. If I like the characters, I can forgive the plot. To some extent, it’s true for the other way around. If the plot is really awesome, I can deal with lame characters.
  2. Do I understand the main characters’ motives?
    What I mean here is that if I can’t follow the characters’ line of thought, I get irritated. I feel like I’m seeing the author instead of the character.
  3. Is the plot compelling and consistent?
    I can deal with some plot holes if the writing and the characters are strong. However, if there are gaping canyons in the plot, nothing can save the book.
  4. Is the author’s created world believable?
    In fantasy, everything should work harmoniously. I should get an idea of how the world works within a few pages. If the author then proceeds to throw a machine gun in the middle of the feudalistic, magic-based story, I will yell at the book.
  5. Does the writing support the story, or get in the way?
    I can deal with typos, although they make me cringe. However, if the whole book feels like it’s a rough draft, I lose patience very quickly. I can’t enjoy the story if the writing continues to remind me that I’m reading. I want to get lost in story.
  6. Would I recommend this to a friend?
    While this isn’t the deciding factor for a good story, it sure is important for the book’s sales. There are a few books that I like a lot because they touched me in some way, but I hardly ever recommend them because I don’t think everyone will like them.

By this time it should be clear that I am a subjective reader. Just because I don’t like a book doesn’t necessarily mean no one will like it. I understand that, but it would not be fair to anyone if I reviewed books I didn’t like. I know that there are plenty of people out there who have completely different tastes than mine. I am not reviewing based on what I think a lot of other people might like. The moment I try to guess what will please the masses is the moment I lose credibility as a book reviewer. I would become the much despised marketing department.

The three reviewers of Self-published Gold have very different tastes, which allows us to reach varying audiences. We hope to extend our reach by recruiting more reviewers. For now, we do not want to overwhelm our readers with too many opinions.

The most important thing I want from a book is an element that resonates with me. I want it to impact my thoughts in some way. If it does that, I will give it five stars even if I feel the writing is a little clunky. Conversely, if a book meets all the criteria I listed above, I might still only give it three stars because it didn’t “wow” me in any way.

Now I want to hear your thoughts. How do you judge a book? What makes you keep reading and what makes you put a book down forever?

Vintage Shabby Chic meets Cross-Cultural Tension: A Review of The Dress by Sophie Nicholls

the-dress-cover

Cover courtesy of Amazon.com

Rather than attempt to write something clever, I want to start with a short excerpt from Nicholl’s book to show you just how gorgeous her prose is: (scene is daughter, Ella, thinking about her mother Fabbia’s singing)

“Sometimes Ella would surprise Mamma singing to herself in the kitchen, the soft upper notes that seemed to shimmer in the air and the harder sounds that came from somewhere deep in her throat in a way that Ella couldn’t imitate, no matter how much she practiced in front of the mirror. Fat, blurred words and long words with drawn out sounds that mingled with the steam from the saucepans so that, when Ella swallowed Mamma’s thick stew, the one with beans and garlic, she liked to imagine she was eating the stories of her ancestors.”

Incredible. That’s all I have to say about that.

The Dress is a story batting low at 211 pages but full of lyrical goodness. The plot is simple: a mother and daughter move from England to New York to start a new life. Fabbia, the mother, loves vintage clothing and opens a shop where she can work her everyday magic in sewing and alterations. Her daughter, Ella, struggles to fit in as she deals with the new surroundings, puberty, and her mother’s fanciful personality.

I’d compare this book’s feel to that of Sandra Cisnero’s House on Mango Street, though The Dress deserves even more props. It creates a magical, melt-in-your-mouth feel that’s lightly sugared with the cultures of Tehran and New York. I love how Fabbia has an Iranian background that subtly colors her perceptions of the world around her. Fabbia’s perceptions clash with her daughter Ella’s impressions in the big city world of New York and her attempts to fit in with the other teens.

Fabbia’s and Ella’s struggles to adjust to life in America and the social mores of the affluent elite paint a brilliant picture of coming of age for both mother and daughter. They move beyond petty and sometimes even ugly human behavior directed at them by neighbors and so-called friends and learn to let others in.

Honestly, this is the first self-published novel that without reservation I give five bright, gold stars. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

“No More Ramen” For This Metathesiophobic: A Review of Drew Hayes’ Digital Novel

Meet Seth, the most unlikely millionaire to grace your computer screen. He’s the kind of wacky, off-the-cuff kind of guy that so many frat boys wish they could be. He’s got a self-deprecating sense of humor hiding a surprising layer of depth in this quirky little tale by Drew Hayes.

The story begins with Seth winning the largest jackpot lottery in Texas’ history. Only, Seth won it on a lark. He had no intention of actually spending the money. He tries desperately to keep his life as low-key and interesting as it was before. Life, however, seems determined to make sure that he doesn’t squander his new gift.

Despite the frequent spelling mistakes, I really liked this story. Seth is such a lovable character and he is surprisingly perceptive (with a little help from his friends). His friends don’t feel like carbon-copies of each other; they each have their own perspective and motives.

On the other hand, the situations and the characters were often highly improbable. The story had me snickering because the whole thing was so absurd  That, I think, is actually a major part of the story’s charm. And unlike a lot of humorous pieces, there is actual character development for several of the characters.

Warnings for language, including the f-bomb. There might have been a barroom brawl, but if so, it wasn’t serious. There’s also an openly lesbian character in the story (*le gasp!*). Lastly, alcohol is consumed in vast quantities. If any of these things doth offend, give this story a miss. If not, welcome to No More Ramen. I hope you enjoy!

X-Men vs. Magneto: A Review for THE MIND READERS by Lori Brighton

Cover image courtesy of Amazon.com

Cameron is in her last year of high school and desperate to move on, though not for the typical reasons. While she has her own share of teen angst, what she can’t wait to escape is the deluge of petty thoughts spilling from everyone’s heads. She’s been able to read minds since she was five and as far as she’s concerned, it’s the bane of her existence.

When a new student approaches Cameron and invites her to join him at a Xavier-esque mansion for other talented mind readers, she accepts. The prospect of learning to control her ability is too tempting to pass up. However, she soon finds that the leader of this group of mind readers is more of a Magneto than Xavier. Cameron must ultimately decide where her morals and her loyalties lie.

I am a sucker for super hero stories, so this whole concept intrigues me. Brighton does a good job identifying the decisions that separate a hero from a villain and the ethical questions that arise from those decisions. I also appreciate the dynamics of the super powers. They are all grounded in mind reading but take a unique twist for each individual.

For the most part the writing is clean. There are a few typos but they would be quick fixes. The errors I found most disruptive were the character inconsistencies. Cameron tells us she’s one way, but behaves contrary to it. For the way she thinks and behaves, I don’t understand why she would be friends with a snobby rich girl. Also, her motives as she explains them don’t make sense to me. Cameron’s relationship with her grandma also lacks conviction.

Cameron’s attraction to the new kid at school bases primarily on his physique, which is annoying, but I am happy to say there is a satisfactory answer for it. The end of the novel is the most interesting part. The characters are more vibrant and Cameron finally acts decisively. I am mildly interested in reading the sequel.

Overall, THE MIND READERS is a good read, despite its flaws. I give it three stars.