Category Archives: reading

Review: The Word Exchange

The Word Exchange
The Word Exchange by Alena Graedon

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

The Word Exchange by Alena Graedon is a book that I have very mixed feelings about.
Let us start by imagining a world where our cell phones anticipate what we need before we need it. We begin to wonder what our grandparent’s birthday is and it springs to life with the information we need. All it required was a thought. That word on the tip of our tongue appears on the screen just before we need it so you can complete your thought without missing a beat. If you can imagine that, then you can imagine the power and obvious desirability of the technology in this book.
The Word Exchange is an online marketplace where words are bought and sold. Did you forget the definition of a word? Have the definition instantly available for mere change. A quick micro-transaction and viola, the word you intended. But we get pretty familiar with the words we use, don’t we? What if we became so dependent on technology that our brains no longer stored memories as efficiently since we have these nifty devices reading our thoughts and providing the data we seek?

The Word Exchange pulls a very clever trick here. The characters in our book write definitions for the NADEL, a dictionary. Their vocabulary is spectacular. I had to use the ‘word lookup’ feature of my Kindle Paperwhite frequently, especially during the first quarter of the book. It provided an incredibly unsettling feeling that maybe this dependence on technology is already happening to us. Maybe we are already forgetting these words that were once a part of our language.

This trick, in my opinion, was only clever because I was able to very quickly grab a definition. If I was reading a paper copy, I don’t think I would have spent the time looking up words. Although perhaps it would have been sufficient to drive a different point home. That point being that if we’re not using this language, we lose it. If it isn’t saved somewhere, it could be gone forever.

On this premise the book succeeds.
Then comes the Word Flu. The Word Flu is an illness that strikes and presents much the way the flu does that we’re familiar with. High fever, nausea, vomiting, etc. However, the Word Flu also presents in such a way that words in your vocabulary are replaced with others. Often times nonsense.

Since a condition of my early readers copy is that I not share any text, I will prepare my own example.
“Why is everyone oxbowing at me,” she wondered. “I did remember to kaneek my pants, right?”
And this example also serves to make one of the points of The Word Exchange. Words are powerful. They are functional. Is everyone looking at her? Is everyone shoving her? Did she remember to wear her pants? Or zip her pants? Words disappearing is problematic for society.

It’s also problematic for the reader. At least for this reader. I read to disappear into a story. I was never able to comfortably settle into The Word Exchange. These breaks would snap me back to reality while I considered what was actually trying to be said.
This is one of those instances where I think the author was making a point but that it also worked against them. The mechanic is beautiful and works. Unfortunately it works to a fault. I found myself hating to read this book.

The books pacing seemed glacial until about the halfway point. From there it seemed to accelerate to a snail’s pace. I think the author or editor must have known that because they occasionally dropped hints that certain parts of the story would pay off later. An example might be something like, “And I’d learn soon that it wasn’t so cut and dry.” They had to keep dangling a carrot. I considered walking away repeatedly and only the obligation to the review kept me hanging around. But I was miserable finishing.

The characters were good enough, I guess. Our character lead Anana was likable enough but also capable enough that I never really feared for her all that much. I guess that makes sense though since much of the danger was presented toward people she cared about, and not necessarily directed at her. Also, despite her being in near constant motion it seems like she’s more a victim of circumstance rather than actually moving the story forward. Honestly it feels like most of the book is just happening to her, she’s not manipulating her circumstances at all.

As for the other characters, Anana seems to care about them but I never saw enough to share in her feelings. I really found myself even struggling to care about anyone beyond her. Even when they set the stage for a romance, I couldn’t care less.

So I guess that’s probably enough. The things that work in the book work tremendously. I get the idea that in the future the Word Flu could really disrupt us due to our growing dependence on technology. I get the idea that words are powerful and losing even some of them could be disastrous. The story itself though, the meat and potatoes of The Word Exchange were just meh.

This one was a hard one for me, folks. And it kills me to dislike a book that executes its premise so well. But here we are.

Good alnox, my friends. Gritbaugh.

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Review: Songs from the Phenomenal Nothing

Songs from the Phenomenal Nothing
Songs from the Phenomenal Nothing by Steven Luna

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Songs from the Phenomenal Nothing is proof positive that Steven Luna is not a one-trick pony. His Joe Vampire books are paranormal (emphasis on the normal) books that mix mundane day to day tasks like office work with the unexpected challenges of life as a vampire. And boy is that Joe Vampire sarcastic. Songs from the Phenomenal Nothing is not. It’s sincere, heartfelt and while ‘Joe’ made you laugh, ‘Songs’ just might make you cry.

Songs from the Phenomenal Nothing is about 17-year-old Tyler Mills who lost his Mom six months ago. He lives at home with his father who stands in polar opposition of everything Tyler stands for. Tyler is a creative, musical prodigy with dreams of supporting himself on music. Dad is a practical, hard-working mechanic. Dad is roots, while Tyler is wings. It’s a water and oil combination that becomes combustible once Tyler discovers one of his late-mother’s journals with a secret that turns his world upside down and threaten to destroy what remains of his family.

Going much further into the book would only serve to spoil what are some pretty surprising revelations, so I’ll spare you that. What really stands out to me is how well Steven Luna writes a 17-year-old boy; with all of the attitude, frustrating certainty of the world, and piss and vinegar that 17-year-olds display. Tyler is at once likable and a bit of an asshole. He jumps to self-righteous conclusions and sometimes finds that he’s made mistakes that he’s reluctant to admit to anyone but himself. In short, his character flaws should be all too familiar to anyone who’s been there or is currently living with a teenager themselves.

Another thing that really comes to the surface is loss. Make no mistake, this is as much the story of Tyler’s loss of his mother as it is his coming to grips with what her secrets mean. In between the butting heads with his old man he must encounter and deal with this very fresh loss. There is a small part in this book that really kicks me in the gut having lost my dad just shy of two years ago.

“It feels like I’ve been broken and pushed back together in the wrong shape. Like there’ll always be something in me that doesn’t fit together the right way anymore.”

In some ways Ty’s journey is familiar to parts of my own. And that ability for a message within the book to transcend the story – revealing a truth – is what, in my opinion, makes a memorable read. This book is going to stay with me for a while.

Thanks Steven for sending me an advanced readers copy. I guess I’m supposed to disclose that I’ve been given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. I wasn’t asked to love it. I was only asked to read it and tell y’all what I think, and I have. I really enjoyed it. And I think you will too.

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Review: Buried in Angst

Buried in Angst
Buried in Angst by David J. Pedersen

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Angst returns and life has not been the sunshine and roses he might have expected after realizing his dreams of becoming a hero of Unsel. In saving those he loved he was forced to separate himself from his magic sword Chryslaenor and it’s killing him. Literally.

If that wasn’t bad enough, a stranger shows up from a recently destroyed coastal city and trouble looms. It soon comes to Angst’s attention that the elements themselves have gone to war. Couple this with his sword being stolen, a friend going missing and the fact that he’s dying and things are bound to be more.. Angsty.

And this title holds especially true in the sequel. While the first book of the series had a lighter tone, the sequel presents a more somber tone. When you consider everything happening to Unsel, Ehrde and even Angst, I suppose that is to be expected. I can’t remember too many laughs, I read a pre-release copy of the book and it’s been a short while but I can remember being very much taken by the story as it rolled out.

It’s a darker fantasy novel than the first book but still satisfying. It’s even better than the first, which is high praise given how much I enjoyed Angst. If you were only interested in Angst due to the comedy, you’ll be disappointed with Buried in Angst. But if you grew to care about Angst, Heather, Victoria, Rose, Tarness, Hector and Dallow then you will be happy to reunite with old friends and learn what has come to pass and what new adventure awaits.

There will be times along the way when you despair for these characters. There will be times when you question what you know. And then you’ll reach the last page and wish to all that is good and holy that Angst 3 comes sooner than Angst 2 did because Buried in Angst ends in a cliffhanger. I can’t wait for the next book. Pedersen has done it again.

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Review: @WriMo: A 30-Day Survival Guide for Writers

@WriMo: A 30-Day Survival Guide for Writers@WriMo: A 30-Day Survival Guide for Writers by Kevin S. Kaiser

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

@WriMo: A 30-Day Survival Guide for Writers is to NaNoWriMo participants what water stations are to distance runners.

This summer my wife pulled me into her world of running. She signed us up for a ton of 5K’s, an 8K, a 10-mile and a half-marathon. There were times in each of those longer events when I felt like I had enough. I felt like I needed to stop running. I had to slow. I saw the distance that was still in front of my goal and I was disheartened. But a voice in my head urged me forward. “Just one more water station. Get to the next station, get some water and see how you feel then. But make it to that station!”

This will be my first NaNoWriMo but I get the impression, based on my time in the NaNo forums and talking to past participants, that NaNoWriMo is a lot like distance running. You’ll have days when the words spill from your fingers effortlessly, these are the days when you feel strong and you just KNOW you are your personal best. But then there are days when nothing you write seems to work, or worse, the words just won’t come at all. You find yourself behind the pace you’ve determined for yourself and you’re ready to walk or quit all together. You are tired. You are worn out. You need encouragement. You need one more water station. You need Kevin Kaiser’s @WriMo: A 30-Day Survival Guide for Writers.

This book isn’t a tutorial on NaNoWriMo. It doesn’t teach you strategy, tips or tricks for getting to 50,000 words. It isn’t an introduction to the Traveling Shovel of Death nor does it introduce you to the mysterious Mr. Ian Woon. That book was written by someone else. This book is about water on your brain. Wait. No. It’s about water for your soul. It is the guy on the course who has clearly ran 100 half-marathon’s in his life who slows next to you and tells you “head up, it’ll help your breathing and keep you running longer.” @WriMo is the guy who pats you on the back and says “you’re doing great, keep it up.” @WriMo is your water station at each mile.

The book is split into 30 separate readings. Each day has a new message to help you on your journey. There is advice on how to start (set a schedule, find a place to write and eliminate distractions), a manifesto to remind yourself that YOU ARE A WRITER. Are you a U2 fan? There is a story about lessons you can learn from Bono. And one of my favorite features of the book is that each chapter has a quote appropriate to the craft. There are quotes from Stephen King, James Patterson, Neil Gaiman, even Steve Martin.

I think I’ve gone on long enough. I think you get the picture by now but there is one more thing I want you to know about @WriMo: A 30-Day Survival Guide for Writers. 100% of the profits from the book go to The Office of Letters and Lights (OLL), the non-profit organization that encourages creative writing in adults and young people alike. OLL’s Young Writers program supplies 2700 classrooms with free posters, stickers, workbooks and lesson plans. Not bad, huh?

So if you are a participant, or know a participant, do yourself or them a favor and help a fantastic cause along the way. Pick up Kevin Kaiser’s @WriMo: A 30-Day Survival Guide for Writers.

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What is on your bookshelf?

bookshelfIt’s been a while since I posted so I figured I’d better write something. I could write about school starting again soon – yay! I could write about completing my first 10-mile race last weekend; which I’ll cheer for only because it’s done. I could write about writing. I’m 8,000 words into my story. I read a couple of days ago that if I were writing a novella that I’d be almost halfway done!

But I’m not going to write about that stuff. Well, at least not anymore than I already have. I figured I’d write about the tiny little bookshelf in my desk.

Here is the inventory from the picture you see here and the reason it’s on my shelf.

Red by Ted Dekker is the second book in the Circle series. I bought this book at a Barnes & Noble in Brandon, Florida. It was November 7th, 2011. We were down in the sunshine state cleaning out my dad and grandma’s place. My sister and I had a long drive home to Michigan in a U-Haul. I was still up to my neck in grief over dad’s passing and I needed something to read that gave me a picture of something larger than myself. This book will remain on my shelf as that reminder.

The Wake of Forgiveness by Bruce Machart is an advanced reading copy book that I got from Barnes & Noble book club. The idea was that the participants of the club would get a copy of the book, read it, review it and get a chance to discuss it with the author before its official release date. It wasn’t the type of book that I would normally read but I thought it was fascinating. This book thrilled me because it was my first ARC book and I was geeked about seeing the notices on the back and inside of the book that it was not for resale. review only. etc. I felt like a member of a pretty exclusive club.

The Year We Left Home by Jean Thompson is an ARC book that I won from a Goodreads giveaway. I read the book’s blurb and it sounded interesting. When I started to read it I just couldn’t finish it. I couldn’t get into it. It may have just been a case of the right book at the wrong time. I have every intention of giving it another shot when I have the time to do so.

CSS, DHTML & AJAX by Cranford & Teague is a college book that I held onto from my web design days. I don’t code anymore but I do occasionally find myself looking at code upon request and it helps to serve as a refresher.

Angst by David Pedersen is one of the first indie books I gave a chance to. I have no clue how I discovered this book or what led to me following David on twitter but I’m glad I did. I read it, reviewed it and then won a contest for an autographed copy. Inside it says: “Dusty, Thank you for the support and the amazing review!! Best regards,” It’s also a collectors edition as it’s sporting an older cover than the latest printing of the book.

Wild at Heart Journal by John Eldredge is a leather-bound journal to complement the book of the same name. I loved the book but only made it a few pages into the journal. Still it’s leather-bound and adds a touch of class to my shelf.

Scrivener for Dummies by Gwen Hernandez is a great resource for writers who use the brilliant Scrivener software. I admit that I haven’t had a chance to open the book yet for more than just a glance at a particular function of the software but I don’t know if most “for Dummies” books are meant to be read cover to cover. Perhaps this one is. I’ll have to look closer.

ESV Study Bible is a study bible. It’s definitely not as worn as it should be but I do use the online membership that came with it far more often than the actual printed copy.

Writing Fiction for Dummies by Randy Ingermanson and Peter Economy is a book that came highly-recommended to me and I can understand why. Just over halfway through and I’m seeing issues with my own story that this book has helped right. I’m eager to reach the editing phase so I can work on sharpening my scenes with the tips I’ve been given so far.

Latest issue of Wired.

Programming in Visual Basic .NET by Bradley and Milspaugh is another college textbook that I’ve hung onto. I haven’t done much VB coding since college but this book was fantastic. I thought it taught the content brilliantly. I’ve hung onto it for that reason.

And that’s it for now. I have a few laptop hard drives on the shelf, a Zune HD music player, an iPad smart cover, some papers, a deck of cards from Poland and my NOOK Simple Touch with Glow Light. That last item has a tens of dozens of more books I could share but that list would be a novel in and of itself.

What have you got on your bookshelf? Are any of those books special to you? And for what reason?

Review: Welcome Home

WelcomeHome

This book is not my typical fare. But as an aspiring writer and blogger, it should be. Nick Thacker is the man behind LiveHacked.com. The website touts itself as a place where you can learn to “write better, live well, earn more.” And it appears to be working for Nick.

Since he’s not one to hog all the glory to himself he decided to write a book teaching you, the writer, how you can repeat his success but more importantly how you can avoid making the mistakes he did in getting his home base off the ground.

The book starts by defining what exactly a home base is. It’s a platform you control, and own, on your own terms. It isn’t Facebook. It isn’t Twitter. It isn’t Google+. It’s your own blog on your own host, preferably. Those other social media outposts are subject to the whim of the owner.

For example, Facebook could one day decide to start charging you to get your message across to folks who’ve already indicated that they like you and want to hear from you. Oh wait. I guess that’s already a reality.

And see? That’s the reason you need a home base. So some monster corporation can’t freeze you out of your own audience or make life unnecessarily difficult.  Social media is great. It’s a crucial aspect of building your marketing home base but the idea is not to setup base on those social media sites, it’s to setup outposts that lead people to your home base. They are recruiting stations. Tools.

That’s why you need a home base. And that’s what Welcome Home helps you do. The chapters move at a quick clip and provide enough detail to teach you what you need to know without burying you in unnecessary information. The information is presented in such a manner that you feel excited to begin his method. It seems so easy.

The book addresses the topics I’ve mentioned above but also goes into detail such as what blogging platform Nick prefers (WordPress), what Plugins he prefers (many) and what tools he uses to schedule and automate his presence (Buffer). Chapter twenty-one is the automation chapter and in my opinion that chapter alone is worth the cost of admission. In fact, I find myself eager to get this review finished so I can start putting some of those plugins/apps into place and signing up for some of the same services that hooked me in.

And really that’s what this is about. Hooking in your readership. Building a relationship with them. Turning them into your fans by providing them value. And ultimately getting permission to share your message with them directly.

So how can you be sure Nick knows what he’s talking about? That depends on you, I suppose. But I can tell you how I’ve made that determination. It worked on me.

I am an aspiring writer. I found Nick’s site, somehow. And after reviewing the page I decided there was enough value to be found that I wanted to hear from Nick directly and signed up for his 20-week fiction writers course and newsletter. I never do this. But Nick promised me a great value and he’s delivered thus far. And as I read through his book Welcome Home I’ve discovered that it’s all part of his master plan. It wasn’t by mistake or happenstance that he hooked me into LiveHacked.com. It was very intentional.

And now he’s handing you the keys to the kingdom.

The keys to your own castle. Your own home base. Welcome home.