Nurturing creativity with art, animals, and science fiction

Tag: Book Reviews

Header images for the three Weird Blog articles described in this post show book covers for nonfiction books "Sedition Hunters" by Ryan J. Reilly, "Burnout," by Emily and Amelia Nagoski, and "Why Does my Cat Do that?" by Catherine Davidson; a design by Erin Phillips that says, “Feed an author. Leave a Review. It takes five minutes and helps more than you can imagine. (from) Erin Phillips.me.”; and a montage of four covers representing books by two authors: By Jodi Burnett, "Extraction" and "Corruption." By Travis Baldree, "Legends & Lattes" and "Bookshops & Bonedust."

Recent Posts on The Weird Blog

The realities of SEO searchability have forced a change in how I’ve handled recent posts on The Weird Blog and here on Artdog Adventures. Unfortunately, Artdog got the shorter, messier end of that stick.

This blog, however, has been my “home blog” for a long time. I want to keep it current for the moments when my opinion pieces are a bit too “political” for my partner! 😊 And I’d like to keep you better in the loop, if you’re a loyal subscriber. To that end, I thought you might like some glimpses of recent posts on The Weird Blog that I am no longer able to share in full here.

This square image has a black background. The words are at the center, surrounded by a design of stars and dots. The words say, “Feed an author. Leave a Review. It takes five minutes and helps more than you can imagine. (from) Erin Phillips.me.”
Courtesy of Erin Phillips via Rebecca’s Write Inspirations (see Credits below).

Recent Book Reviews

I figured out what my New Year’s Resolution needed to be when I looked back over my recent book reviews from 2023. I only wrote eleven! Book reviews are essential for authors, so I decided that I must do better than that, if I’m going to ask my own readers to write reviews for me. Since I am reading many things every day, whether it’s fiction or fact, I have no excuse. Here’s how I formed my resolution to write more reviews.

This square image shows the covers of the three books featured in the blog post “Three Nonfiction Book Reviews,” by Jan S. Gephardt, published on “The Weird Blog,” 1/17/2024. The covers, L-R are those of: Ryan J. Reilly’s book “Sedition Hunters: How January 6th Broke the Justice System,” “Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle” by Emily Nagoski, PhD and Amelia Nagoski DMA, and Catherine Davidson’s book “Why does my CAT do that? Answers to 50 Questions Cat Lovers Ask,” on a background that is a blend of the covers’ colors. Montage design by Jan S. Gephardt.
See Credits Below.

Three Nonfiction Book Reviews

In my first January post, I talked about book reviews that I have (and more importantly have not) written in 2023. At the end of that post I made writing more book reviews a New Year’s resolution. This post is my first installment toward making good on that resolution. In it I share three nonfiction book reviews, written either in 2023 or – a true start on my resolution – in 2024.

The covers of the four books reviewed in the blog post overlap each other slightly in a grouping around the central area of this square montage. The books represented are upper and lower left, “Extraction” and “Corruption,” both by Jodi Burnett. At upper and lower right are “Legends & Lattes” and “Bookshops & Bonedust,” by Travis Baldree.
Cover images courtesy of Amazon. (See Credits below).

A Post Full of Page-Turners

Rounding out my list of recent posts on The Weird Blog, how about a post full of page-turners? Book reviews have been the theme of the month. But fiction is my particular wheelhouse, and it’s the core business of Weird Sisters Publishing. So how about some fiction reviews? But not just any fiction. As promised above, it’s a post full of page-turners.

Header images for the three Weird Blog articles described in this post show book covers for nonfiction books "Sedition Hunters" by Ryan J. Reilly, "Burnout," by Emily and Amelia Nagoski, and "Why Does my Cat Do that?" by Catherine Davidson; a design by Erin Phillips that says, “Feed an author. Leave a Review. It takes five minutes and helps more than you can imagine. (from) Erin Phillips.me.”; and a montage of four covers representing books by two authors: By Jodi Burnett, "Extraction" and "Corruption." By Travis Baldree, "Legends & Lattes" and "Bookshops & Bonedust."
See Credits Below.

A Month of Book Reviews – Next up, Artists!

There were three recent posts on The Weird Blog for January, because there were three Wednesdays. I’ll post more book reviews and also share the links to them here in future months. In February I plan move on to a different theme, one that might be closer to the “home turf” of Artdog Adventures: profiles of fantasy and science fiction artists whose work I admired at science fiction conventions during 2023.

About the Author

I, Jan S. Gephardt, have been writing this blog since 2009. Since I don’t want to let it die of neglect, I still plan to come around as often as I can to post new things and keep readers up-to-date with recent posts we’ve run on The Weird Blog. It’s not a perfect solution, but it’s the best I can do right now.

I’m also a novelist, as well as being a paper sculptor. I’m currently in final edits on Bone of Contention,the third novel in my XK9 “Bones” Trilogy. The series centers on a pack of uplifted police dogs who live, and solve crimes, on a space station in a star system far, far away. It is scheduled for publication September 24, 2024.

IMAGE CREDITS

Many thanks to Designer Erin Phillips and Rebecca’s Write Inspirations for the “Feed an Author” quote. Thanks to Amazon for the book covers used in second image, Sedition Hunters, Burnout, and Why Does My Cat Do That? And ongoing thanks to Amazon once again, for consistently high-quality cover image files! Here are direct URLs to the sources for Extraction, Corruption, Legends & Lattes, and Bookshops & Bonedust.

Brian and the cover of “Almost Perfect.”

Almost Perfect Except . . .

By Brian Katcher

Brian Katcher is a writer whom one of our usual bloggers, Jan S. Gephardt, met at the science fiction convention Archon 44 (He’s also spotlighted in Jan’s Authors of Archon 44 post). He told this story during a panel discussion in which they both participated. She asked him to share it with our audience, because it demonstrates an issue we also face. The Weird Blog and Artdog Adventures support diversity and representation. As a pair of older, middle-class white women Jan and G. at Weird Sisters Publishing understand an author can confront many challenges when they try to promote inclusivity and multicultural representation in their fiction “while white and straight.”

The Almost Perfect Story

Almost Perfect is the story of Logan, a cisgender boy, who recently had a bad breakup with his girlfriend. He then meets Sage, a new girl in his school, he thinks he’s met the person who’s going to help him move on. When he discovers she’s transgender, however, he is forced to rethink their entire relationship. Can they still be friends? Can they be…more? Almost Perfect won the 2011 Stonewall Book Award for Children’s Literature.

This book started out as a short story. I was looking to write a boy meets girl story that hadn’t been done a thousand times, and I hit upon the idea of writing about a heterosexual boy and a transgender girl. How would a relationship like that work? When I showed a draft to my writers’ group, they told me that I couldn’t do that in 80 pages. To make it into a novel or not to bother.

Brian Katcher received the 2011 Stonewall Book Award for Children's Literature.
In 2011 Brian accepted the Stonewall Book Award for Children’s Literature, for his book Almost Perfect. (Credits below).

Research and Early Responses

Well, transgenderism wasn’t a subject I’d given a lot of thought to, so I turned to the internet for research. I went to forums for transgender people and said that I was writing a book and needed information, both specific and general. Boy, did I get some great responses. And the more I heard, the more I wanted to tell this story. The overwhelming theme I got from older transgender people was the idea of having absolutely no one they could share this with, no one whom they could confine in, and having no idea where to turn or what to do.

I was overwhelmed with the response to the book. The ALA awarded me the Stonewall, I think because I was probably the second YA author to write about a trans character (After Julie Anne Peters’s Luna). Fan mail poured in. I heard from countless transgender people who thanked me for finally telling their story, and praising my research.

Covers for the books “Almost Perfect” and “Luna.”
Two of the earliest books about transgender youth written for young adults, both Almost Perfect and Luna broke new literary ground. (credits below).

Delayed Reaction

However, after a year or so, I started to get blowback. Sure, some of it came from transphobes (The Florida Tea Party tried to get it removed from school libraries), but most of it was from the LGBTQ community. Some of it was taking me to task for poor turns of phrase (I said ‘transgendered’ instead of the preferred ‘transgender’, or having Sage come out to Logan by saying ‘I’m a boy’).

Others didn’t feel that as a cisgender man, it was my place to tell a story like this. But the most overarching criticism was that the story was depressing. Sage is repeatedly used by Logan, assaulted by another man, and ultimately moves away, still trying to live the life she needs to. Why couldn’t she have a happy ending? Why would she fall for a jerk like Logan? Was I trying to say that transgender people are destined to be unhappy and will never find true love?

A snapshot of Brian Katcher near a body of water.
Here’s a more casual photo of Brian. (Brian Katcher).

Brian’s Self-Critique

While I did do my research beforehand, I really should have gotten some sensitivity readers to look at the finished product. There’s no excuse for that omission. While I feel I wrote Almost Perfect with the intention of educating people about how difficult it can be to be transgender, I failed in several respects.

Still, I’ve never once had a reviewer say they didn’t like Sage. More than one person told me the book gave them the courage to come out. And there are at least two women who chose ‘Sage’ as their new middle name. This is my book that gets the most requests for a sequel. Well, it’s the only book that gets requests for a sequel.

Covers for Brian Katcher’s books “Playing with Matches,” “Almost Perfect,” “Everyone Dies in the End,” “Deacon Locke Went to Prom,” and “The Improbable theory of Ana & Zak.” Also Brian’s picture.
If you read Jan’s post Authors of Amazon 44, you might remember this profile image. (Amazon; Brian’s website).

Pitfalls and the Creative Process

When you’re a boring old white straight guy like me, you get into a kind of Catch-22 situation. You don’t want to write yet another book about white, straight people, but is it your place to tell someone else’s story? My advice is to get sensitivity readers, both at the front and the back of the creative process. And be sure to thank them afterwards. If you feel good writing about people like yourself, no problem. And if you’d like to expand who you write about, the world needs diverse books.

But above all, be true to your own creative process. Find a character you and your readers can fall in love with. Remember, you’re never going to please everyone. But when those one star reviews come in, make sure they’re because of your hackneyed writing and unoriginal plots, and not because you misrepresented someone’s culture. And if someone has a problems with how you present someone, listen.

Brian and the cover of “Almost Perfect.”
Here are Brian and the cover of his book Almost Perfect. (Credits below).

IMAGES

Many thanks to Brian Katcher for the photo of him accepting his Stonewall Award, the cover image for Almost Perfect, and his author photo. Learn more about Brian at his website. Read his book reviews (and support the review website if you wish), at For Every Young Adult.

Many thanks to Books Bird for the Stonewall Award image, and to Amazon for the Luna cover image.

Have you thanked an author today?

The Artdog Quote of the Week

While preparing last Wednesday’s post, I found several images and quotes on this subject. It seemed as if my Quotes of the Week were finding themselves for me. I figure if I post them now, before my own book is out, I can promote a message that’s dear to my heart at a time when it’s not too embarrassingly self-serving.

The truth of the matter is, it’s really hard for any author–traditionally published or Indie–to help more people find his/her book, especially when s/he’s just starting out. Traditional publishers set an author loose upon the world with a stamp of approval–somebody already thought this was good. But a new author is allotted no advertising budget by his/her publisher, and no promotional help. So once the book is produced, they’re in the same boat as the Indie (just making lots less on each sale).

No matter how it’s published, readers need to know about new books they might like. And authors’ careers and future as producers of more excellent books absolutely live or die by how many people find, enjoy, and share the information about their book.

One excellent way to get out the word about a good new book is through reviews that readers write and post: on Amazon, definitely. But also on Goodreads, on other review sites, on social media, on one’s own blog–anywhere possible.

Reviews don’t have to be long, either. Most people won’t read past 50-100 words, so stop there, especially if you’re crunched for time. A review short enough to tweet is a hundred times better than no review at all, “because I don’t have time.”

IMAGE: Many thanks to Monica Hart on Pinterest, for this image!

Chipping away at the TBR Tower

Actually only PART of
my TBR pile. It’s harder to
photograph a pile of e-books!

I recently tweeted a photo of my “TBR” pile . . . not “to be READ,” but “to be REVIEWED.”

I’d been giving my work area a far-too-long-delayed cleaning, in an attempt to regain (the illusion of) control over my collection of books. On an impulse, I started stacking up books I’d read but to the best of my recollection had not yet reviewed . . . oh, my. What a guilt-inducing exercise!

Why guilt-inducing? Because some of those books are Indie-published. Even for traditionally-published writers, their reviews play a part in their ranking on Amazon’s lists. And an Indie without very many reviews is in many ways INVISIBLE.

As Sean Platt and Johnny B. Truant note in their indispensable Write. Publish. Repeat(white spine, middle of my pile; sorry, guys, soon, I promise!), “Regardless of whether your reviews make you feel good or bad, that’s not what matters in the big picture. Reviews mainly matter because they serve as social proof. The more reviews a book has, the more legitimate it will appear to people . . .” (italics are mine; p. 299 of the print version).

If someone reviewed a book, that is supposed to mean they read it (please DO read them! Anything else is fraudulent behavior that no one appreciates and many websites have effective means of punishing).

This meme goes around from time to time–and it’s as right-on as ever. Pass it on!

I have often held back from writing a review if I am critical of some aspect of the book, but (especially for Indies) I’m trying to mend my ways in that respect, at least on sites such as Amazon. That’s because even critical reviews are valuable. (I still prefer not to review books I just don’t like at all, on this blog)

Critical reviews are never fun for authors to get, but even if a certain percentage of those who read the book didn’t like it and say so in a review–they still were interested enough to read part or all of the book, and cared enough to write a review. Others might read what was meant to be a thumbs-down, and think, “hey, that sounds interesting!” (because not everything one person dislikes is “bad” to someone else).

Read it for 3D characters and nonstop adventure!

Let me give you a case in point. I double-checked my memory about several of the books in that pile (“did I really not write that review? I sure meant to!”). In the cross-checking I ran across a review by someone else for Remanenceby Jennifer Foehner Wells (I did review that one, thank you!! Also posted the review on this blog, which should tell you what I thought about it).

The guy (yes, it was a guy, but you guessed that, I bet) who wrote it criticized “the amount of time spent developing a touchy feely/romantic relationship between two main characters.”

This, of course, is one of the many things I love about Wells’s novels: three-dimensional characters who are more than just their job or their mission. They have personal lives and relationships (not all of them romantic) with other characters. Thus, this guy’s “I dislike this” review reflected an aspect I really liked, and (alongside all the reviews by folks who loved the book) might have induced me to read it, if I hadn’t already enthusiastically done so.

So go ahead and write those reviews. Take the time–especially if you liked the book, and double-especially if the author hasn’t garnered 1,000 reviews yet!

For an Indie (basing this guideline on Platt & Truant, again), 10 or more reviews are reasonable, but not stellar. More than 100 reviews means the author’s made a respectable showing, and might be worth a look from someone who’s not sure. More than 1,000 puts the writer in a much more impressive league, alongside bigger-name, more established writers. Every review is important, even if it isn’t the one that pushes the writer over a threshold, because every review gets them one step closer.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go write some book reviews . . . .

IMAGES: I took the photo of my own “TBR Tower.” If you wish to re-post it, please do so with an attribution to Jan S. Gephardt and a link back to this blog post. I found the “I support Indie Authors” meme on Jo March’s blog, via Pinterest. Thanks, Jo! The cover image for Jennifer Foehner Wells’s Remanence is from her website. The cover artwork is by Stephan MartiniereIf you haven’t yet read Remanence, you should buy it from Amazon and read it! Don’t miss the rest of the Confluence Series, either!

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén