Announcement 20 March, 2020: Rating Scale

Is Haskell is practicing the art of camouflage to avoid rating anything? Nope, that’s just me.

Initially, I *did not* want to give ratings. I wanted to write reviews and post them only here and Twitter. But life is not that way. In order to come up with some way of objectifying my scale I meditated and thought through this process methodically because I refuse to be subjective 100%. I tried to establish a rating scale of 1-5 over the course of September – November 2019. Thank you to all of the indie authors that patiently worked with me as I developed this rating system.

Then that one book by those Best Selling Authors happened that dragged on and *really* shaped the bottom of the rating scale.

I admit my biases because I don’t hide those things. I am accused by some of being too honest. Not in the “you talk too much” way – more like the “you’re too blunt” way. I refuse to do paid reviews, ever, on ethical grounds, but I understand that ethics are subjective. Every person is allowed to shape their own independent understanding of right and wrong. ANYWAYS – I wanted the whole process to be less subjective – I didn’t want to guess on what number I was giving a book. That’s not fair to the author or the reader.

As an aside, I’ve taught nursing students. Nursings students would lose their ever-loving minds if grades were entirely subjective like some book ratings seem to be. Have you met a nursing student or been a nursing student? I think of authors in the same way – intelligent, detail-oriented, hyperaware, and information-seeking. It is not fair for reviews to be entirely subjective, just like it’s not fair to anyone in the position of teaching or taking a microbiology lab for nursing students.

A bit about my rating scale:

5 stars are reserved for books where I absolutely love the story. They must be very close to meeting the 1/10,000 word editorial standard for basic proofreading or blow me away and move me. Any book I am immediately inspired to gift to someone in my life automatically gets a 5/5.

4 stars are reserved for books where I love the story, but they don’t meet the 1/10,000 word editorial standard, have some consistent problems, or have one or two major content concerns, such as a major plot hole.

3 stars are reserved for books where I do genuinely enjoy the core story, but the book does not meet the 1/10,000 word editorial standard, has many consistent problems with following sequence of events, requires a large amount of work on the part of the reader to understand the story, and/or possesses additional concerning issues. My long form review may be vague – I do that as to protect the privacy of the author. As many authors I have previously reviewed books for know, just because I don’t say the page number in the review, doesn’t mean I don’t have it. I can refer you to examples for every single concern I mention.

I do not publicly post 1 or 2 star reviews for any author that is not a “Best Seller”. Even then it may take me 4 months and I’ll need to have a good reason. I will send unposted reviews privately by request to the author only. These are NOT available to anyone else. I won’t add these ratings to GoodReads or Amazon without talking to the author first. Point is: I will still write an honest, thoughtful review with constructive criticism explaining why I had that reaction even if it’s for the author’s eyes only. When I say my reviews are author oriented – this is what I mean.

Things that never influence a the rating a book is given: the additions of content warnings or anything related to the sensitivity of the content. This is too subjective for me to base a rating on. I will mention it in the review for the benefit of potential readers, particularly if there is reason to believe that the content could be potentially harmful. I have never, ever allowed this to impact a book’s rating. If I suggest an author consult with a sensitivity reader, this does not influence the rating of a book and is because I genuinely believe the author would benefit from hearing a professional perspective. I am not a professional sensitivity reader.

Authors are welcome to request examples to be added to reviews for clarification. I can always add detail to reviews and edit them to reflect changes made if an author notifies me of what has changed in future editions.

I am meticulous in detail in my notes and am happy to share examples of the trending issues directly. My notes focus on Fundamental Editorial Standards. FOR EXAMPLE: POINTING OUT THE NEED FOR FACT CHECKING BECAUSE AN AUTHOR’S BOOK SAID THAT NASSAU, BAHAMAS IS IN THE SOUTHERN HEMISPHERE IS NOT “STUPID NITPICKING”.

I research what current readers care about – I spend hours dedicated to ensuring my review benefits both a reader and the author. Please remember that I AM NOT BEING PAID AS A DEVELOPMENTAL EDITOR, so please do not expect me to provide feedback to the extent of one. It is the job of the author to hire a paid developmental editor if their book requires one.

I’m an indie author too, y’all. I put out short stories bi-weekly and I’m working on longer manuscripts. I do this because I’m publishing a book soon and I write short stories. I make mistakes too. I open up and read my published works and think based on my own scale “that’s a 4/5” or “that’s a 3/5”. I don’t give myself a 5/5 on my own scale. I try to earn it during the editing process though.

Listen: I self-published a book in 2008 under a pen name, then pulled it from digital shelves because I was scared. I sold 1 copy to myself. My grandmother was the only human who ever read it (I don’t count dogs). I honestly couldn’t afford to take the risk of printing and distributing more than that one, lonesome pre-reader copy. I chickened out. Any indie author I’m reading is brave. They didn’t chicken out. That’s already something to be proud of.

Anyways, back to our regularly schedule programming.

February 2020: “But I Am Here” by Pamela Bettencourt

This review is going to be a little bit different for a couple of reasons. First, I received this book from the author after receiving an email asking if I would read it and consider reviewing it on my website and in my LiveTweet format. Upon reviewing a summary and the website my answer was a resounding yes. This was my answer because the author is not alone. It was good to know that I’m not alone.

Summary (Caution – Mild Spoilers):

In her memoir “But I Am Here” Bettencourt uses prose poems and free verse poetry to tell the story of her abuse, how it impacted her life, still impacts her life, her attempts to get help, and when she had to make the choice to tell her husband and the world.

The book begins with reflection as an adult, then transports the reader into the mind of a child. In each section the reader lives through Bettencourt’s eyes as she tells these stories without ever using names. Each section concludes with a reflection on the experience from the adult perspective based new insight gained through healing.

Overall Reaction:

In this powerful, moving memoir I ache for the author and her experiences. I feel very passionate about protecting children and helping those that are survivors of sexual abuse. The author does not use complex language, nor does she need to. She hides information appropriately to ensure that the reader experiences each moment the way she experienced it. This amplifies the experience of the book.

I found I had to take several breaks due to the intensity of the material. The book does not hide its content warning. It’s on the front cover. There are resources in the back for those that read it and need help processing any emotions or past trauma that may come up while reading the book. All of this is extremely well thought out.

The amount of vulnerability involved in this writing and the amount of information shared by the author is incomparable to books like “Helping Her Get Free” or “Perfect Daughters” due to the accessibility of the information. Both of these books discuss forms of abuse experienced in childhood and how that shapes adult behaviors with heavy analysis. In contrast, Bettencourt brings the reader inside her own head. We are guided through her thoughts and experiences overtime to see how she got into each head space without going into the academic view point beyond helpful information any reader can understand. This makes the book accessible to a very broad audience.

I am sad that more was not mentioned about the experience of disclosure to loved ones. I believe that part of the purpose of the book was the disclosure. This is both painful and makes complete sense.

In terms of my own personal experiences and what the book brought up for me, I will be brief. For survivors of childhood sexual assault/abuse it is a hard read, but I felt a deep connection. The book takes great care in the reflections shared to connect with the reader’s experiences and own journey, whether these realizations be new or old. It does not try to explain the realizations – they can all be explained to the reader on their own journey by the resources in the back or through therapy.

“But I Am Here” is a painful, beautiful read. Reality is stranger than fiction and child sexual abusers are a great example.

LGBTQA+

I believe this book is absolutely relevant to anyone, including members of the LGBTQA+ community, who are survivors of childhood sexual abuse. There is no mention of LGBTQA+ individuals in the book, but this does not impact my opinion on this matter.

Grammar & Punctuation

There are a few spelling errors that can easily be corrected in future printings of the book. These errors do not interrupt the overall reading experience.

For More Information On Getting Help

You can visit online.rainn.org or call 1-800-856-4673 (US) – these are mentioned in the back of the book.

Additional organizations that provide information, work to assist in reporting, and help victims and survivors:
https://www.d2l.org/
https://www.nctsn.org/what-is-child-trauma/trauma-types/sexual-abuse
https://thercc.org/get-support/supporting-loved-one/supporting-child-sexually-assaulted/
https://www.dvrcv.org.au/help-advice/sexual-abuse-in-childhood

I would love to expand this list – please feel free to submit additional websites to lopotterwrites@gmail.com

Want To Read More About The Author?
You can visit the book’s website here. For each copy of the book sold through the publisher’s website the publisher will donate $1 to the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline. You can follow the author on Twitter here.

January 2020: “The Engineer: A Chronicles of Actaeon Story” by Darran M Handshaw

Summary (Caution – Mild Spoilers Balanced with Extreme Vagueness):
Actaeon of Shore comes to the Pyramid in search of his future. He hopes to establish his profession as one of importance to his people because he sees its value. But others don’t – that’s the first hurdle. What is a capital “E” Engineer? Actaeon must prove what that is to the aristocracy to earn his place. And thus, our hero begins this life journey. The reader tags along as he defeats various threats to the great capitol city, houses refugees, prevents invasions, and discovers the potential good and evil technology brings to the world of Redemption.

During these many adventures Actaeon grows from a young man without ties to the owner of his own workshop. He takes on apprentices and employees, extending the benefit of his knowledge. He forges alliances of diplomatic importance by association with his homeland as a consequence of his own good humor and drive for success rather than political gain.

More importantly, Actaeon grows from a young man into a mature adult that is in love with strong values that were not shaped, nor present at the beginning of the book. He falls in love and finds that his entire life shifts as he has to rebalance his own priorities on multiple occasions to better suit these new circumstances. One this is certain: every action is not without consequence.

Overall Response:
First off, I need to address 2 pachyderms currently hanging out with me while I write this review: LitRPG and pacing. Let’s hand pacing the first peanut. This is a long, slow paced book. The language and pacing is similar to that of the Charles Dickens serial story telling style. This is not for everyone. It may frustrate some readers, though I think it works well for a book that needs slow, deliberate pacing and language that detaches a reader from the present day. That said, readers should go into the book knowing it is a slow paced 600 pages broken up into short segments filled with every aspect of life.

Next peanut – the book is LitRPG. As far as I’m aware, this is the first LitRPG book I’ve read. I had to read up on the genre, and previously I boycotted reading Ready Player One because the concept annoyed me. I read more and as it turns out, I definitely did this with NeverWinter Nights as a preteen. If I had skipped the forward, I would have never thought of the book as a “video game” and instead thought of it as fantasy. The details and mechanics of Redemption are built upon in such a way that I would never have known or had to have looked for more information.

The pacing works because this is a modern bildungsroman for a mature audience. The entire overarching story is Actaeon’s life and character growth as he develops his profession and falls in love – then learns what both of those things mean. Life changes and character growth don’t happen overnight, so the speed is realistic. I found myself having epiphanies with the Engineer as he watched his inventions be used for good and evil. There are moments where the most painful tragedy in a scene is the loss of innocence a young adult must face as a result of their own naivety. Who can’t relate to that?

Handshaw approaches serious topics including neurodiversity, politics, religion, love and death with a sense of humor and the friendly detachment of a fictional setting. ‘The Engineer’ is a deep and thought provoking read.

On a separate note, I found myself in awe when I realized that this book truly is a love letter. I admit it’s really romantic.

Grammar:
While at times confusing or frustratingly passive, the pace is purposeful. The book meets or exceeds the <1 error/10,000 word industry standard.

LGBTQA+:
There were no major characters that overtly fell into this category. That said, there is distinct discussion of “otherness” and being separated and outcasted. Additionally, there is a touching coming out scene for a character experiencing otherness and revealing this to someone they love and trust. Based on the presence of a coming out scene, otherness, and constant challenging of what gender means, I think this book lands potential inclusion. I would love to hear what others think.

Twilight Zone Moment:
Every book has at least one. There are a couple strange religious groups that show up in the background and some loose ends from super minor characters that disappear. These aren’t necessarily Twilight Zone Moments as much odd details that melt into the background without knowing more about the game the book is based on.

Want to know more about the author?
To read more by Darran M Handshaw’s author page on Amazon or buy the book here. You can follow his new writing and wit on Twitter as well. A man dedicated to his engineering and family he did share with me that his wife, Stefanie Handshaw, has a book of poetry and photography recently released called “My Ephemeral Light” also available here.

January 2020: “MORNNOVIN: The Way Of The Falling Star Book 1” by Alyssa Marie Bethancourt

Summary (Warning: Mild Spoilers):

Elves living in hiding. Humans oblivious to their continued existence. What could go wrong? The humans of Asrellion live under the false belief that they eliminated all elves in a genocidal war centuries ago until a prince encounters one in the forest and she saves his life. From that moment their lives are intertwined, even as she disappears and the human nations go to war. At least he is comforted by the dreams they share together in each other’s absence.

Seven years into the raging war between human nations, the prince becomes suspicious and discovers that humans are being manipulated – pitted against one another by a mysterious force. The elf princess too must face this same mysterious enemy. When reunited by a common threat, there is no time to dwell on the realization that they know each other’s worlds or that their dreams were shared.

But the world is so much more complicated when hidden siblings with language barriers emerge and necrophiliacs are watching.

Amidst the lore of this book and the implications of the mythical bond, lies a story of love and self discovery twisted by outside forces. As we follow our adventurers around the amazing world of Asrellion the reader witnesses a race war unfold.

Overall Reaction:

Holy Crap. I mentioned that I had previously met the author, but I had never before read anything she has written. I love this book and the world of Asrellion. Where’s Sir Peter Jackson?

Think: The Princess Bride meets The Lord Of The Rings (and The Hobbit) with more genocide balanced with artfully crafted dialogue for each individual character’s voice and way fewer song breaks.

The world of Asrellion has an attribute I will from here on out refer to in reviews as “other laws of physics.” Magic and other mythic properties are consistent and comfortable and don’t take on illogical cause and effect relationships. A reader can wander around and learn Asrellion in their own head as they choose and based on the MORNNOVIN fanfiction, I am glad to say it appears many are!

I love that all of the characters are deeply flawed in complex ways. Characters are irrational, emotional, arrogant, petty, in denial, self-serving, and some are extremely out of touch with the reality other characters around them are seeing. There’s also character growth. These flaws are chipped away at, little by little, so they morph and change, but never fully go away.

In regards to character presentation and point of view: I don’t call it head hopping and based on everything I’ve read, this doesn’t actually fall into the definition. One perspective per scene (from third person) is used to reveal limited information to the reader, even with an omniscient narrator and the perspective is always logical and clearly presented. This tool is used to follow intense emotions (example: we follow a character that leaves the room instead of staying to hear what another character says that’s painful for them to hear). I haven’t encountered this before and it made it possible to focus on emotional aspects of the story without having to use words to talk about the emotions.

Each kingdom of elves or humans has unique cultural practices that play out through dialogue, dress, and mind games between characters. Culture clashes and language barriers are constantly explored through observations and reactions unique to each character’s personality making each reaction feel genuine to a reader without ever feeling heavy handed.

Overall, I loved the story of war strategy, fighting an enemy, and how the author allowed adversity to exist beyond the main plot in numerous ways I can’t get into here without spoiling the book. If you love fantasy books about elves, humans, culture clashes and genocide this is probably the book for you.

LGBTQA?

Major characters are represented as having diverse relationship types. Absolutely belongs on any LGBTQA Fantasy Book list.

Grammar+

The few items I found were not noticeable enough to interrupt the flow of reading and are within the 1 error/10,000 word standard.

Twilight Zone Moment

Every book has one. Without going into detail or spoiling anything, there is a scene where a character shows up beaten to a pulp to execute a secret plan to take down an enemy, but I was very confused as to how the character got beat up.

Learn More About The Author

To learn more about Alyssa Marie Bethancourt check out her interview as part of the 2020 Author Interview Series. To keep up with future projects, you can visit her website and follow her on Twitter here. You can buy the book direct from the publisher here or on Amazon here. There is a Kickstarter for the second book, Trajelon: The Way Of The Falling Star Book 2.