Indie Book Review: “Sophie’s Key,” by Jodi Jensen

When I first thought about reading a Romance novel, I shrugged off the idea as quickly as it manifested itself in my mind. Even my choices in film veer away from the Romance genre save but a few. But, some weeks later, I saw promo announcements / Tweets for the release of “Sophie’s Key” by Jodi Jensen. I have known Jodi Jensen to be a friendly and fun person to commune with over the vast distances of cyberspace. Dutifully, I purchased a Kindle copy and here is my spoiler free review.

Characters: The main character is Sophie, as the title would suggest. Through Sophie we get the classic “fish-out-of-water” character. Through which we have some comical and / or embarrassing moments. Along with Jacob and the child Meri, Jodi offers us a main and two strong secondary characters. Together they comprise a sort of trinity of wholesomeness. Of course, as design would have it, we also have an unholy trinity of antagonists.

Plot: The storyline is wonderfully solid and follows a logical progression with some decent surprises. These surprises create fair conflict and do not feel as if they were ‘parachuted’ into the story. Jodi Jensen methodically planted her conflict seeds without a formulaic feeling. No reader should feel the need to second-guess or discover a path of lesser resistance for Sophie or any other character.

Writing: Incredibly neat, clean text. I did not spot any typos or convoluted sentences. Also, there seems to have been keen observance for preventing other amateur slips, like repeated catchphrases, body language or facial expressions used to the point of nausea. Therefore, let us say that both the writing and editing were done with the proverbial fine-toothed comb.

The dialog is professionally written with a natural feel for flow. I am especially grateful for the lack of “info-dumps.” In “Sophie’s Key”, the characters are doing the talking. For example, Jacob is an observer of people and a man of few words. He is somewhat blunt and gets his point across with brevity, and then he reads reactions. Which of course befits and speaks of his background.


Jodi Jensen Links

Follow Jodi Jenson on Twitter and FaceBook

Visit Jodi’s WordPress Blog

Put “Sophie’s Key” on your Kindle or Nook


Conclusion: After two chapters, one aspect of its appeal became clear. The scant Romance Films I enjoy share elements with Sophie’s Key, first, a magical quality and second, a multi-genre appeal. Think about classic films like “The Bishop’s Wife” or “The Ghost and Mrs. Muir.”

Is “Sophie’s Key” a romance? A western? A crime thriller? Or A magical Tale? Of course, it is a romance first, but Jodi Jensen weaved all these other elements in, like a great chef combining ingredients. Jodi pulled off this neat trick without her final product looking like a random hodgepodge of disparaging elements.

Do yourself a favor, read “Sophie’s Key” and let me, and Jodi Jensen, know your thoughts.

A Beatles Fan Reviews McCartney III

McCartney III is the latest musical effort from former Beatles member Sir Paul McCartney. This one quietly grew and grew upon me and I did not realize it until I caught myself singing “Kiss of Venus” in the frozen food aisle. Of course, I continued singing despite strange glances from other shoppers.

Is this only Paul’s third album since the Beatles broke up in 1970?

Um…No! When Paul McCartney self-titles an album, it denotes a total solo / indie project. He plays all instruments and has no interference from other musicians or producers. Granted there was some vocals from his wife Linda, on McCartney II.

What is the reason for McCartney III?

Another reviewer on YouTube said it best. The last few from Paul had too much interference from top producers trying to make Paul sound timely and like other current top-selling bands. I think it best to let Paul be Paul, i.e., his timeless self, rather than molding him into the latest trends and fads.

My initial perception

Thoughts of winter permeate through the lyrics. It is possible that Paul, now 78, recognizes that he is in the winter of his life. At times, he seems to be reflecting upon the past or imparting his sage like advice to us “younglings” about life, love, and happiness.

Tracks:

Track 1: Long Tailed Winter Bird: This one is mostly instrumental and features some bouncy acoustic Appalachian-style guitar.

Track 2: Find My Way: A classic McCartney top 40 designed happy little ditty. Almost as if Paul is announcing “finding his way” through his golden years, and the reason for this solo project.

Track 3: Pretty Boys: I am not sure about the point of this one. Other reviewers boldly claim they can live without this tune. It is certainly a “listenable” song, but I do not see how it fits in with the rest.

Track 4: Women and Wives: Here we have elder Paul tickling the ivories while dispensing some advice for the young. Be careful about the choices you make.

Track 5: Lavatory Lil: A bluesy stomper for sure which harkens back to the late Beatles era. An odd tune to be included within this collection due to the subject matter. Paul usually writes happy tunes and never goes negative. However, I (and this is completely subjective) get the distinct impression that this one is about wife #2.

Track 6: Deep Deep Feeling: This is a mellow and somewhat haunting song that one could interpret as unrequited love. But it seems to me that Paul is pining for those who have passed. Could it be Linda? John Lennon? George Harrison? Or all three? There are some sultry moments, and a somber riff comes in to round out the basic mood.

Track 7: Slidin’: This one is by far the ‘heaviest’ song on McCartney III. A roughly three-and-a-half-minute song destined for charting. But it was not released as a single. Color me confused. If you have any doubts about Paul McCartney rocking, thus tune will quiet those doubts.

Track 8: The Kiss of Venus: Here is one of those McCartney special acoustic songs that you cannot help but sing along. This one is calling me to pull my guitar out of the closet and play again.

Track 9: Seize the Day: The theme of Winter encroaches again. Relish the days you are living, because soon they will be a memory. That is the message I am getting from Paul lyrically. But of course, those lyrics are sung with a snappy tune.

Track 10: Deep Down: This one is the most contemporary tunes on this album. Here’s where Paul delivers some R&B

Track 11: When Winter Comes: A pastoral acoustic “ditty” that also bears the winter theme again. There is a reprise of the guitar intro to the opening song, “Long Tailed Winter Bird.”

Here we have an album displaying varied musical genres. Heck, it’s just Sir Paul McCartney on a creative journey with his muse. As much as I enjoy these songs, I cannot help but wonder what they would sound like if his fellow Beatles John, George, and Ringo had some input. I know that is an impossible wish, but a die-hard Beatles fan can dream, can’t I?

Let me know if you have given McCartney III a listening session.

Indie Book Review: The Seventh Seed by Allison Maruska

Put on your seatbelts for this roller-coaster-rocket-ride dystopian thriller.

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Within the pages of The Seventh Seed we meet Javier, a prodigy of the scientific community. He has accidentally stumbled onto a horrid truth concerning a corporation called LifeFarm. For the most part, LifeFarm is almighty and all-powerful. The tentacles of this mega-corporation control science, government, media, and therefore the minds of most people. Through the course of the book, Javier meets other like-minded individuals who work together to pull the proverbial rug out from under LifeFarm.

There’s an extensive cast of important characters, and to Allison Maruska’s credit, they are quite distinct. Let’s just say they each have a unique reason for their involvement.

Plot: Everything seems plausible and believable. Things happen quickly; Allison obviously had many threads to juggle and yet managed to stay on track. Also, I was quite impressed by some of the science. Just enough was presented to make everything believable without getting too geeky. Several subplots were smoothly weaved into the story. I especially liked the tête-a-tête exchanges between Charlie and Mattson, and the romance angles (sorry, no spoilers) weren’t overdone.

Writing Quality: Allison has an easy, readable style. I did not have to backtrack or stumble over oddly constructed sentences. Obviously, she and Editor Dan Alatorre revised and smoothed things out most assiduously.

The dialog was short and snappy without long-winded speeches or info-dumps.

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Allison Maruska has displayed an adept hand when it comes to mixing in beats, interior thoughts, body language and descriptions. I didn’t notice any show/tell problems, distancing words, or echoing headwords. She squarely put the reader into the head of the current P.O.V. character. The same goes for settings.

In the end, you’ll find an enjoyable read within the pages of The Seventh Seed. It is quite action-packed and fast-paced, and therefore something of a page-turner.

Twitter: @AllisonMaruska

Website: https://allisonmaruska.com/

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Allison-Maruska/e/B00RAS3NFE/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_1

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/allisonmaruskaauthor/

Indie-Author Stigma Part III: Are 5-Star Reviews Meaningless?

Like many indie authors, I only sport small sales and a scant number of reviews. And like many indie authors, I’m fairly sure that’s not a reflection on the quality of my writing, but rather the state of the current market. Here’s the harsh reality: it’s difficult to sell a 12-20 page short story for 99 cents when others are selling full novels for that price, or even offering them up for free.

I used to chalk my low sales up to just that fact. Flooding the market with so many inexpensive books has muddied the waters, if you will.  But after a recent experience on Twitter, I’m seeing that there’s much more to it than numbers.  The water’s not just muddy, it’s outright toxic.

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Scanning Twitter one evening, I noticed quite a few author Tweets plugging their latest works and their 5-star reviews. Naturally, I clicked on their provided link, took a look at their glowing reviews and then used Amazon’s “Look Inside” feature (I think most quality indie-authors already know where I’m heading).

My first horror went something like this…

The prologue heading read “Many Millennium’s Ago.”

How can you call yourself an author when you don’t know the difference between a plural and a possessive? Of course, removing the apostrophe doesn’t correct the matter either, because the plural of “Millennium” is “Millennia.”

Then I read the first paragraph. The author used the tags, “I readily agreed,” and “I say,” within the first three lines. They’re not the standard “I said,” which is fine, but they’re also in two different tenses.

But this book had three 5-star reviews. Cough…gag!

And for my next horror…

I saw another author’s promo Tweet for a short story collection. I jumped at the chance to see this one and clicked over. This collection had about 110 pages and six mixed reviews.

There were five P.O.V. shifts in the first ten lines, including internal thoughts from different characters. I know that such a technique is possible, but it should only be done by the hand of a master. Like Dune, by Frank Herbert. If you’re not Frank Herbert and you don’t have a manuscript to match Dune, then don’t even try it.  This particular author was clearly not practiced in the art of P.O.V. shifts, as it was clunky and impossible to follow whose head I was in.

Yet the collection had one 5-star and nothing below 3-stars. Cough…gag!

If I’d purchased either of these, I would’ve shut off my Kindle and sent out a 1-star review. Does it make anyone else ill that shoddy works are being advertised with 5 stars? I have a very hard time believing that those reviews weren’t paid for, or solicited from friends and family.

I do not cajole, pester, arm-twist, guilt-trip, beg, plead, finagle, nag, or purchase reviews from anyone; what you see on my books is honest feedback from real readers. Between the poor workmanship and the misleading reviews running rampant on Amazon, is it any wonder that indie authors are stigmatized? Doesn’t that get under your skin?

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The Reality

While writing this post, I surfed the internet in an attempt to find others who feel the same way. After all, sometimes I second-guess myself and think I’m being a meanie. Sure enough, I did find a myriad of posts that confirm my sentiments.

This one from Catherine Hoover sums things up:

“When a self-published author doesn’t take pride in their work and just slaps a book up for sale that isn’t even close to being ready for publication…it reinforces the notion that self-published books are of a lower standard.”

I completely agree; poor quality is what has muddied the waters of indie publishing. Now that the “shoddy-ne’er-do-well-wannabee-hacks” are recruiting people to leave misleading glowing reviews, they have turned the water toxic.

In today’s market, being good just isn’t good enough, and if that is not a sad enough reality then consider the following:

Being meticulous, talented, artistic, and making a painstaking effort in order to turn out the finest quality product simply isn’t good enough either. Because through no fault of your own, you had a tainted reputation before you began.

For Readers and Authors

How do you deal with the stigma? Can anything be done? How do you think the community of quality indie authors can fight back?

***See all the titles from Ernesto San Giacomo on Amazon***

The Twilight Zone of Reviews #4

I’ve got a real whopper to tell you about. As most of you know, I’ve just released a new short story called Night Flights.

I went to Goodreads to notify the librarian to list Night Flights along with my other works. To my surprise, it was already there. Huh? Who did that? Then came the next surprise, or should I say horror. It was listed with a one star review. I gasped and my heart jumped into my mouth.

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Pixabay Public Domain Image

 

Who would do such a thing? I mean a one star review is something that you give to unreadable trash. Normally a piece of writing that has miss-spelled words, bad or no punctuation, incoherent and incomplete sentences, is the type of work that would receive a one star review.

Now I know Night Flights might not be appealing to everyone, but one star….get real!

The name associated with the review seemed vaguely familiar, and noticed someone that I know personally from the Boise Treasure Valley Writers Group was listed as a friend of my review troll. I also noticed that the person who left the review lives in Boise. Hmmm, perhaps they really know each other.

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***Put NIGHT FLIGHTS on your e-reader***

Like a flash I notified other author friends asking if they could help. I’ve learned early on from others that you never ever engage with someone who is obviously trolling. Never, ever open a dialog with a troll. Instead get others to leave reviews to negate the work of the lone trouble maker.

I found their Facebook pages and left messages requesting help. Then I decided to see if my review troll had a Facebook page. Sure enough, she had one. As I looked at her picture, I realized there was something familiar about her. Oh my God! I know her! I’ve had her over my house for a critique. I offered her hospitality, food, drink, and waited on her hand and foot.

Now, my mind raced. Did I do or say something inappropriate? Did I offend her in some way?

I get back a few messages. My author friends from Boise knew the individual and would speak to her privately. It was the sister of one of the authors from the group. Holy $hit Batman!

I took a break from the disturbance to make dinner for my wife. It would be better to calm down before doing or saying anything further.

A message comes back from my one star troll’s sister. They were unaware of the review. Apparently, the account was hacked. It must’ve been the same day that I made a promo post in the NaNo Treasure Valley FB page. My one-star-troll was certainly no troll at all.

They assured me that they were actively working on it and were going to make everything right again. Later that evening, the review was changed to 4****, and it lasted for a few days, then it reverted back to 1*. Our little hacker was at it again.

I notified the party concerned and now the review has been completely removed. The whole experience rattled me, but I’m glad it’s over.

And Now For Something (Not) Completely Different

On a happier note, I discovered a five star glowing review on Amazon that I absolutely wasn’t expecting for Night Flights so soon with just a handful of copies sold (which has nothing to do with the previous debacle). Then a second 5**** review appeared a few days later.

 

I wrote the other “Twilight Zone” blog posts because other reviewers have used the words Rod Serling, and / or The Twilight Zone in the same sentence. Well… it has happened once again.

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***Put RAGGED SOULS on your e-reader***

(***Important Note: Some of those Twilight Zone references were for short story singles that have since been taken down because they are now part of the Ragged Souls collection***)

Night Flights now has two five star reviews under its belt, one of them states “…surprise ending that is comparable to any script written for The Twilight Zone.”

Also of note, I haven’t been on Goodreads for a while, but when I logged in to discover the aforementioned catastrophe, I also discovered a 5 star review for Gematria‎².

So fellow Indie Author compañeros…got any juicy review stories to tell? Have you ever been trolled? Have you ever had a surprise slama-dama-ding-dong review?

The Twilight Zone of Reviews (Part III)

 

I’ve discovered the danger of altering my basic writing style and subject matter. Normally, any short story of mine can be seen as a quirky tale laced with dark humor while delivering a very serious sub textual message concerning the downfall of Western Civilization.

I have one short story that deviates from my other works called Gematria². It’s not part of any collection because it is so different. However, that difference has turned around and bit me in the bum.

Like any other author, I have my favorites. Incredible wordsmiths who can make my jaw drop open and stun me. Two of those authors are Julio Cortázar and Jorge Luís Borges. For me, they are the unchallenged masters of the short story. Therefore it should come as no surprise that I had wanted to emulate them at least once. I couldn’t think of a better way to offer homage to a couple of my literary heroes. Thus, the short story Gematria² was conceived.

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When I presented Gematria² to my San Antonio critique group, I was quite proud of the results and feedback. The hairs on the back of my neck tingled, when one member announced to the group, “This is a work of pure literature.” I knew that I had accomplished a very difficult writing goal. I had written a piece that successfully played with the notions of time and space laced together with Jungian synchronicity. All of those ideas and themes were delivered in true Rioplata style in less than five pages. In hindsight, I should’ve put more emphasis on the fact that some members didn’t have an exact opinion. They neither liked it, nor disliked it. However, their non-reaction should not have surprised me. Most North Americans and Europeans are not familiar with the narrative style of magical realism, and would be taken aback by its stark differences from the norms that they’re accustomed to reading.

This short story by Julio Cortázar called The Continuity of Parks is only two long paragraphs and can give you a quick insight as to how the concept of reality and fiction are toyed with in the Rioplata style.

Well, Gematria² has received its first review on Amazon UK…a three-star review. Huh! To add insult to injury, the review was left by one of my biggest fans. Double huh! That’s right, someone who discovered me on Facebook, purchased my works, and has left several glowing reviews was disappointed by this one.

My guess is there were two forces were at work. The first was caused by the same effect that the piece had on some members of my critique group. Gematria² was just too different for him. Second was the expectation factor. He had read all of my other works and was probably expecting more of the same, and was therefore disappointed.

I’m glad that I can laugh, smile, and write happily about these quirky encounters with the reading public.

Gematria² is available for free on Wattpad (no download required) and Smashwords .

Have a quick read and let me know what you think?

And don’t forget to get your copy of Ragged Souls

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