January 2020: “Guided By The Ghosts” by Sean Haughton

Plot Summary (Caution: Spoilers!)

George Stevenson is a ten-year-old boy like many others. He likes football (translation for Americans: Soccer) and Star Wars like every other kid his age, but he doesn’t have friends and has trouble connecting. Let’s be honest, the situation is worse than his parents know, and the way other children and the school have responded has not helped. George is miserable and isolated.
Then something extraordinary happens. George looks out his window late at night to see two ghosts the same age as him. These two ghosts also struggled in life, and in death, they learned a few things they can now pass along. Now, in one incredible philosophical and therapeutic journey, George has a chance to alter the trajectory of his life for the better.

My Overall Response:

Sean Haughton takes readers through this wholesome, heartwarming tale that takes advantage of parallel comparison and realistic dialogue that sounds like a precocious ten-year-old to show how the experiences George has changed his character for the better. The philosophical and therapeutic lessons provide benefit to a reader. Additional ambitious details add unique discussion points of historical and current relevance in the United Kingdom without allowing them to overpower the story.

The philosophical and therapeutic lessons I appreciated most in this story are:

Skepticism can be removed from Negativity. Be willing to question everything.

Spiritual awakening can be found in your own back yard – don’t automatically reject western philosophies.

Feel your emotions. They’re there. Accept them and give them space to exist.

The most ambitious details of the book were the memories of the ghosts. I believe that these allowed for some series of topics of discussion to be brought up. These details round the ghosts out and make them much more human and realistic. These details also immediately imply additional information about the ghosts’ lived experiences.

I appreciated the references to the religious tensions of the 1990s in the UK because it is so relevant to current affairs, albeit indirectly. For those interested in reading more, I recommend the extensive body of research on the “secularization of Britain” and a variety of factors (e.g., economy, education, immigration, Cold War, the rise of the European Union). I admit I am somewhat tortured that the author only barely touched on this, but at the same time, it meant that I spent an entire afternoon reading old research papers and educating myself. I can’t say I’m disappointed, and honestly, I think the amount of information provided is much more appropriate to a younger audience.

Overall, I love this delightfully wholesome story about a little boy from a loving home that needs some help learning how to process and deal with the outside world. I love that the ghosts aren’t evil, and if you’re looking for that kind of book, look somewhere else.

LGBTQA Friendly?

George is ten. It’s not unfriendly toward LGBTQA members of the population, and the internal struggles George’s character faces are shared by any “out-group” or individual that feels isolated. While LGBTQA presence is not directly mentioned, I think the topics in the book are valuable (given my personal experience).

Grammar:

Update: I have spoken with the author and these have since been corrected for future editions of the book.

For future editions, there are two consistent issues that do need to be addressed.

  1. The dialogue often has additional unnecessary punctuation marks. Example (pg. 27) “‘We can’t remember our names.”, the girl interjected.”  This is an easy fix because it’s consistently present.
  2. The word “corporeal” is used where I believe the author may have meant the word “incorporeal.” Example (pg. 62) “He felt like throwing up, but once again felt corporeal, as though his physical body no longer existed.” It’s a consistent issue through the book, so it should be easy to go back and address.

While there are other grammatical or punctuation issues that may be present, I will not address them here because they do not interrupt the reading experience.

Twilight Zone Moment:

Every book has at least one. The issue I am stuck on is how the ghosts can remember the names of other people but not their own names. This makes it a bit confusing as to why they remember specific details as opposed to others.

Want to know more about the author?
You can buy Guided by the Ghosts here. To read more about Sean Haughton you can visit his blog here, Twitter here, or Instagram here. You can view his other books here.

December 2019: “Christmas Magic” by Alaine Greyson and Marie McGrath in Summary

Summary (Warning: Mild Spoilers):

“Christmas Magic” is a collection of 7 short stories by Alaine Greyson and Marie McGrath focusing on love and family around the holidays in the face of struggle with grief, tragedy, and of course everyone’s greatest enemies: themselves. Each story takes the time to address what it means to be successful, and how the characters’ actions with that success defines them.

As an added bonus, one of the stories by Alaine Greyson is a spin-off of her current Reclaiming Life series, so we get to enjoy characters fans already know and love. Another one of her stories featured acts as a preview to an upcoming release.

Marie McGrath’s short stories center around family and the preservation of traditions around the holidays. These wholesome themes are brought to life with unique, lively characters, each with their own hopes and aspirations.

My Overall Response:

In “Christmas Magic” Alaine Greyson and Marie McGrath took on the task of producing a collection of wholesome Christmas themed stories with a tight deadline against some pretty tremendous personal circumstances. This was the book that inspired me to theme December 2019’s reviews in anticipation of its release. Guess what I learned? Planning, writing, and executing a holiday-themed book with a deadline is hard. Please stand and give everyone at Creative James Media, Alaine Greyson, Marie McGrath, and Brian Paone a round of applause.

With that tight of a deadline, there are going to be mistakes, and I will mention some of them here. I also recognize how AMAZING the turnaround was from when the stories were “done” to when I received my copy of the book.

Now that I’m done explaining that, let me get into some more details on my responses to the individual stories. Many of the stories I really enjoyed – they were the wholesome, sweet, and Hallmark Card style warm fuzzies I imagine readers look forward to using to decompress from holiday stress.

My favorite stories were “Christmas Spirit” and “Paws and Santa Claus”. These are my favorites because they are unique and went against the cliche Christmas Romance stereotype. “Christmas Spirit” really brought out that winter magic that I mentioned being so important to me. It is also a story about mourning and grief during the holidays. “Paws and Santa Claus” brings out the overcoming adversity theme I was looking for, and while there are hints at romance, it is not at the forefront. Enjoyably, it is almost part of a joke about how romance can wait.

I did run into a bit of confusion with the story “The Christmas Locket”. Two major inconsistencies hit me in the story: the main character was both adopted and not adopted, and the family has 5 kids then 6 kids. Only 5 kids are named. In the case of the adopted vs. not adopted issue, it was less of a concern until the mother referenced being pregnant with the adopted child. These sorts of inconsistencies should have been caught, but as previously mentioned this book was on a tight deadline. I imagine a second edition providing clarity.

The other issue I ran into a couple of times was that some of the stories, even ones that I loved, had ambiguous dialogue that could not be attributed to a specific character. This threw me off because I wasn’t sure who was saying what.

Overall, I really enjoyed this collection of short stories and encourage a second, expanded edition to be released next year. I look forward to reading more from both Alaine Greyson and Marie McGrath.

LGBTQA Friendly?
Not mentioned in the book. Does not impact the author’s recommendation, but would not be recommended for LGBTQA book lists.

Grammar and Formatting:
There are a few issues with consistencies (plural pronouns vs. singular pronouns) that do not interrupt the reading experience too badly. This is not terribly surprising given the short turnaround, but the grammar and spelling are otherwise as expected. There are some formatting errors in the book where the font size changes mid-word, but it returns to the original size. This seems like an issue with the formatting program. I would expect that these be corrected with additional time to review for future editions.

Did This Book Bring Holiday Cheer?
Absolutely! 100% – This book brought me holiday cheer and helped me destress. The stories were wholesome, and while some were a bit on the extra-cheese cheesy side for the modern fairytale ending that’s what the holidays need sometimes.

Want to know more about the authors?
The book was published by Creative James Media. You can follow Alaine Greyson on Twitter or visit her website here. You can follow Marie McGrath on Twitter and follow their books on Amazon here. You purchase your copy of the book here.

December 2019: “The 24 Nights Before Christmas” by Rachel S. Bell

Summary (Warning: Mild Spoilers):

Have you ever felt overwhelmed by the holidays? Have you ever wanted to take some time to give yourself the greatest gift of all: self-improvement? In “The 24 Nights Before Christmas” Rachel S. Bell takes us on a journey through anecdotes, religious references, and therapeutic thought exercises with each day leading up to Christmas Eve, December 24.

As a brief example of the topics covered she approaches:
-Self Worth and Intrinsic Value
-Goal Setting
-Forgiveness
-Fulfilling Dreams
-Finding Your Purpose
-The Importance of Friendship
-How Nerd References Are the Best Things Ever And Applicable to Everything
-Motivation

Each day has exercises designed for prayer or for those less inclined for that style method.

My Overall Response:

If you are a Christian, or Unitarian, or a spiritualist of any walk of life that respects good advice regardless of the source, this is a great workbook. I have a friend from high school that knew from an early age that he was called to serve his church and I recommended this book to him to consider for a future workshop.

As a non-Christian, I was thrilled with the exercises and found myself laughing at the funny anecdotes. I constantly connected with the author’s life experiences and the exercises she created. The Bible passages selected were helpful and not the kind of scripture that can be used out of context in a harmful manner. I’m reminded of a phrase I saw a while back:

“Be humble enough to recognize and accept good advice regardless of its source…” ~ Allos of Mr. Lakusu Facebook

I’m not going to quote random Facebook groups at you in these responses.

My point is that Rachel S. Bell created a book primarily for Christian readers that can still reach beyond and touch so many more. I loved it and can’t wait to pass this book along. I highly recommend anyone pick up a copy if you find yourself struggling in dark places.

LGBTQA Friendly?
Not a topic approached in the book. Does not impact the reviewer’s recommendation.

Grammar:
Fantastic grammar. The author is gifted with words.

Did This Book Bring Holiday Cheer?
Absolutely! This book brought levity to some heavy topics that have a tendency to come up around the holidays. That’s quite a hefty task. Bravo!

Want to know more about the author?
You can visit Rachel S. Bell’s website here and purchase your own copy of The 24 Nights Before Christmas here. She’s fairly private and not active on Twitter. I politely request that you respect the author’s privacy and instead show her books all of the love they very clearly deserve.

Upcoming Reviews January 2020

Happy New Year and Welcome to 2020! We have an exciting selection of books this month. There was a last minute substitution due to a change in how I review poetry. This means that I will be examining the works found in Reflections by Sean Haughton later in the year.

Guided by the Ghosts” by Sean Haughton (Live Tweet Review; Full Review)

Emma’s Fury” by Linda Rainier (Live Tweet Review; Full Review; Author Interview)

Mornnovin” by Alyssa Marie Bethancourt (Live Tweet Review; Full Review; Author Interview)

The Engineer” by Darran M. Handshaw (Live Tweet Review; Full Review)

Requirements for submission:

  • Print Edition Must Be Available (preferably paperback)
  • Under $20 (USD) – I buy your book like everyone else!

You must respond to either one of my calls on Twitter for new books to read in the upcoming month (the 15th of each month unless there are no available spots in the upcoming month – February and March have no upcoming availability, so the next Twitter call will be on March 15th)

OR

You can send me an e-mail with the subject line: Only a Hippopotamus Will Do (e-mails not including this subject will be ignored)

In this e-mail include:

  • a link to where I can purchase your book.
  • a brief introduction to yourself
  • a link to your Twitter and/or personal website (if applicable).

IF you are interested in sending me a copy of your book, please send me an e-mail with the subject line: The Buffalo Seem Fine to Me 

December 2019: “Boomer’s Criss-Cross Christmas” by Miriam Van Scott

Summary (Warning: Mild Spoilers):
Boomer the kangaroo takes us on a global journey through Christmas traditions on every continent on a hunt to understand what Christmas is. Through this representation of cultures and traditions around the world Boomer brings some of that Christmas magic into you and your child’s heart.

My Overall Response:
Can someone die of cuteness? Die of warm fuzzies? If you need to feel your heart expand and you want to help give your kid a sense of adventure while at the same time fill them with a sense of magic this is probably the book for them. This is a feel good book and in the depths of holiday stress this is exactly what kids and adults alike need.

LGBTQA Friendly?
No representation in this book. Does not impact reviewer’s recommendation.

Grammar:
The grammar is easy to understand for children and easy to read aloud.

Did this story bring holiday cheer?
YES – Additionally, I felt included as a non-Christian. This means a lot to me in a way I’m struggling to put into words other than Thank You.

Want to know more about the author?
To learn more about the author please visit her website at http://www.miriamvanscott.com/ or her Twitter account.

Want to know more about the illustrator?
The illustrator is Bethany Van Scott. I’m unable to find much information on them at this time and will update in the future if that changes!

I wish I knew more about the illustrator because I love these illustrations! The colors, shapes, lines, and presentations are brilliant. I would love to know how to contact them for future opportunities. I love their style.

My First Bad Public Review: “The Princess Beard” by Delilah S. Dawson and Kevin Hearne

Note: I did this review as contrast. This all started because I was pissed that someone dared to make a comparison of these authors to the great Sir Terry Pratchett on the back of the book. They didn’t even come close. What I learned is that what makes a best selling book is not the quality of the work, but the amount of money a publisher sinks into marketing. Potentially, there is a role for the amount of money they’re willing to sink into paid reviews.

I purposefully delayed posting this review because I’ve struggled to write it. Honestly, I struggled to finish the book. I’m really disappointed. Mostly I’m disappointed by the publication team at Del Rey. I believe that the publisher did a disservice to the authors in many ways I will explain below. The reviews used to market the book referred to the other books in the Tales of Pell series and did not refer to this book itself. Because of my experience, I am unlikely to read another book by these authors, or from the Tales of Pell. THAT’S AN AWFUL EXPERIENCE. I blame Del Rey. As a traditional publisher it is part of their responsibility to be held to a higher standard. If their publications don’t meet that standard, I can’t support them.

Summary (Warning: Mild Spoilers):

The book begins with the introduction to the future Sn’archivist, Itchmael. The Sn’archivist is inspired to finally write something new! With fiber!

In the next chapter we are suddenly whisked away to the Lady Harkovrita. She wakes with a beard and long nails. She also has a very full bladder. In the first of MANY menstruation references in the book, she wonders why that was not a problem for her while she was asleep. With no concept of how long she was asleep, we find out that she was betrothed and is ready to escape her tower once she packs and chops away her excessive nails and hair.

She changes her name to Morgan and goes off on a pirate adventure where she meets up with a series of characters: an elf, a dryad, a centaur, and many more. Each one discovers that they don’t actually want to be what they thought and that there is no such thing as fate through a series of trials. And they all live happily ever after. The End.

For the sake of keeping this review rated PG, I have to skip over any part of the story that involves characters with names of body parts or functions my husband would not want to explain to his aunt during a family game of Cards Against Humanity.

The third installment of the Tales of Pell, it is not part of a series, so much as one of three books that take place within Pell. I thought? There are references to the other books as are to be expected.

My Overall Response:

I am terrified of sounding mean. I love humor and puns. I attempted to read this book aloud to my husband on a road trip because I was genuinely really excited.

The book seems funny at first. The problem is that it beats every joke to death. The jokes are then brought back to life as zombies. Then the zombie jokes try to eat your brains. A reader really can’t enjoy a joke ever again once it has tried to eat their brains. This pattern repeats ad nauseam. If that was the only issue with the book that wouldn’t be a big deal.

But wait, there’s so much more.

These characters don’t grow much. I think the authors attempt character growth, and there are fragments of character growth visible in forced parallelism constantly used as a redundant story telling tactic ad nauseam. None of these characters have unique voices, except the parrot whose Rs are exaggerated.

One of the most egregious offenses involves the misnaming of their own characters as if there was copying and pasting of scenes between completely different, unrelated manuscripts and someone forgot to change the character names. Then this was missed by editors. In other places in the book, character names are inconsistently spelled and this is again missed by editors. In writing it looked like an attempt at a reference to “Whose on First” with too many typos to properly appreciate.

Remember that thing I said about “other laws of physics”? There is no way to lose yourself in the world of Pell. The world is cartoonishly inconsistent to the point that it is unbelievable. It is full of half-baked pop culture references (aka “TV Tropes in a Blender”) and the magic has no rules reflecting poor causation review.

The audience the book was written is inconsistent. Is there an audience? I feel bad asking this question, but I could not tell who this book was written for. On numerous occasions I checked if I the book was registered as Young Adult. At the end of the day, the book was not for me. As a reader I felt this book wasted my time and money; borderline insulted many of the genuinely difficult experiences the authors attempted to portray in a half-hearted manner.**

**I want to emphasize that I am very nervous saying this and it is part of why I have delayed this review for so long.

What did I actually like? Chapter 15. Pg 204 – top of Pg 206 and a few other bits are lovely. There are tender, well-written scenes that demonstrate the authors as capable, thoughtful and talented.

My Response To The Publisher & Marketing Team: What the heck? You spent a ton of money marketing this book on Twitter and other platforms, but you couldn’t spend that money on an editorial team?

LGBTQA+ Friendly?
The book is not inclusive of LGBTQA characters in major roles. I would not recommend this book for an LGBTQA+ reading list.

Grammar and Writing:
The vocabulary used in this book is incredibly inconsistent. As mentioned in the live tweet review sometimes it seems that the authors took the time to find as obscure a synonym as possible for a word, while at other times they then used downright overly simplistic phrasing that kept jarring the reader back and forth like a freaking concertina falling down a flight of stairs. Because of the inconsistency with vocabulary, it’s impossible to judge an appropriate age group for this book – some of the words are great for 10 year olds, while the content is appropriate for 18+, then suddenly the words are GRE level out there unexpected. I honestly don’t know what the authors were thinking with their word choice or why their editors didn’t flag this as a potential issue. Some of the word play is very forced, beyond normal repetitive pun level humor and actually gets in the way of the sentence structure.

Additional concern, particularly for a major publisher such as Del Rey: this book does not meet the 1 error/10,000 word industry standard.

Twilight Zone Moment:
There are so, so many. I lost count. I will focus on this example:

The authors seem a bit confused about whether or not the character of Captain Lucre is able to make facial expressions as a bird. Sometimes the descriptions are correct – feathers flattened as a sign of emotional expression.

Other times they refer to a parrot making human facial expressions readable as emotion, then go back to talking about the parrot not being able to make human like facial expressions and therefore not able to have readable emotion. This inconsistency is one of many that was difficult, particularly for anyone that likes birds.

Why did I review this book?

This book is an example of why I switched to reading only new, emerging, and indie authors. When I bought it as an example I had no idea it was going to be this bad. The Amazon reviews showed it 4.4/5 stars. Later, I realized that the majority of these reviews received complimentary copies. I wanted to have an example of a “traditionally” published book and expected pristine editing. Instead, I learned that the only thing supporting traditional publishing is the power of money driving marketing.

Support New, Emerging, and Independent Authors. Ditch Traditional Publishers.

December 2019: Holiday Theme

This is the first month I am doing a theme, and since it is December and Christmas is culturally huge in the United States, I decided to choose the theme of Holidays.

As a note: I’m not Christian. I am fascinated by Christian mythology and think it has huge impacts on our modern society as well as the development of Western philosophies. I’m not going to be judging stories based on theological accuracy. The values I associate with the modern Christmas/Holiday mythos are:

  • Defying the odds and overcoming adversity
  • Family and the love shared between family (both chosen and by blood relation)
  • Revelations of gratitude
  • A chance for magic to cross over into reality in the Northern Hemisphere during the extended darkness and shorter days
  • A chance for late night summer adventures with a midsummer magic like feel in the Southern Hemisphere
    • GLOWWORMS!!! (I’m a nut about them. Feel free to tease me in the comments below)
  • Crazy Weather Adventures – this applies to everyone, everywhere.

Our December 2019 Books include:

January’s books are already set and I am excited to share that I will be doing my first author interview! You will also see poetry discussion posts more often – if there’s an indie poet and/or particular poem you’d like to see, please send me a quick email with the suggestion.

February’s themes are Romance, Relationships, and Anti-romance if you would like to submit your book to this or any of the other months please follow the instructions below. The theme calendar can be found here.

Requirements for submission:

  • Print Edition Must Be Available (preferably paperback)
  • Under $20 (USD) – I buy your book like everyone else!

You must respond to either one of my calls on Twitter for new books to read in the upcoming month (the 15th of each month unless there are no available spots in the upcoming month – January has no upcoming availability, so the next Twitter call will be on January 15th)

OR

You can send me an e-mail with the subject line: Only a Hippopotamus Will Do (e-mails not including this subject will be ignored)

In this e-mail include:

  • a link to where I can purchase your book.
  • a brief introduction to yourself
  • a link to your Twitter and/or personal website (if applicable).

IF you are interested in sending me a copy of your book, please send me an e-mail with the subject line: The Buffalo Seem Fine to Me 

I will respond to each inquiry on a case-by-case basis because I have not yet set up a Post Box and am currently sharing a UPS locker on an as needed only basis. I hope to have a Post Box set up by early 2020. Once this is set up I will be posting it publicly and will be open to unsolicited and anonymous manuscript submissions.

I hope everyone has very Happy Holidays filled with joy, laughter, and celebrations. I understand that the holidays are stressful, so I will be making several smaller posts and trying to make this month into January as low stress and light hearted as possible.