Review: Seriously…I’m Kidding

Seriously...I'm Kidding
Seriously…I’m Kidding by Ellen DeGeneres
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Although I don’t really watch television and have never seen an episode (okay, not a whole episode) of Ellen’s talk show, I used to watch her sitcom (the one where she owned a bookstore, and I envied her character such a great job), and, like probably everyone else in this hemisphere, am familiar with her to some extent. I checked this audiobook out of the library mainly because I was looking for something fun and funny. I was not disappointed. By turns funny, serious, quirky, silly, and thoughtful, this was a delightful listen. I laughed out loud several times, and my only gripe is that it’s fairly short and I could happily have listened to more. I think the audiobook probably has it hands down over the printed version, since listening to Ellen delivering her own jokes must be exponentially more engaging than simply reading them. If you are a fan (or even just feel generally disposed to like her and her brand of humour) you should definitely enjoy this book.

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Review: 1222

1222
1222 by Anne Holt
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I wasn’t certain at first that I was going to enjoy this audiobook…the narrator had a rather strange manner of speaking, although her voice was lovely and clear. However, this is a translation from the original Norwegian, and as the story went along (it is told in first person), I began to rather like that. It actually enhanced the feeling of *place* in the novel, which is extremely important. I also liked the irascible and cranky main character of the novel, as well. She is a very good “imperfect” character.

As to the mystery element of the book, it was well-played and intriguing. I’ll definitely be looking for more by this author.

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Review: Zombies Vs. Unicorns

Zombies Vs. Unicorns
Zombies Vs. Unicorns by Holly Black
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

So, look at the dates–I devoured this book. Precisely for the reasons I picked it up in the first place…the fabulous premise, and the spectacular lineup of authors.

I didn’t love every story, of course, but I don’t think I’ve ever loved every story in any anthology. I liked them all, though, and I did love some of them. That’s a tricky enough task, though, and enough to get it five stars from me.

I especially enjoyed the running debate between editors Holly Black and Justine Larbelestier as they defended their respective teams (Team Unicorn and Team Zombie, respecectively) in the introduction to each story. I think this book must have been as much fun to put together as it was to read.

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Review: Zero History

Zero History
Zero History by William Gibson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Here’s the thing about William Gibson, I think–either you’re along for the ride, or you’re not. I find it difficult to talk about his books in the same terms I use to talk about other books. I’m often annoyed by the way his characters speak to one another–cryptically, abruptly, in non-sequiturs. I’m often annoyed by the things his characters do–sometimes seemingly driven, not by their own motivations, but by the necessities of the plot.

And yet…I’ve really enjoyed the Blue Ant books (Spook Country, Pattern Recognition, Zero History). There’s something about them that I can’t really put my finger on. It’s not always easy to describe what they’re about–or, it *is* easy to describe at least what’s happening on the surface, but they don’t sound at all interesting in those terms. There are admittedly long sections where nothing much of import seems to be happening. There are also sections where things are happening, but you can’t see any sense in them, or how they relate to the plot–or what you thought was the plot.

But for some reason, I find them incredibly engaging. I *want* to keep reading, to see what Gibson has up his sleeve, or what he’s driving at, and what’s going to happen to these characters in the end. Maybe it’s the glimpse at a world that is so like ours as to be almost indistinguishable, and yet that seems to be separated from ours by the thinnest of membranes. Maybe it’s Gibson’s writing style, although I don’t always like that–I haven’t been able to read “The Difference Engine” no matter how much I’d like to. Maybe it’s…ah, heck, I don’t know. I can’t explain it. I certainly couldn’t duplicate it. But I know that if there’s another one, I’ll be reading it.

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Review: The Third Gate: A Novel

The Third Gate: A Novel
The Third Gate: A Novel by Lincoln Child
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Okay, this was a pretty good book–the storyline was interesting and it had several novel elements (no pun intended). Overall, though, I was left feeling kind of unsatisfied. It felt like there was room to do a lot more with the ideas, but the author didn’t explore those possibilities. Also, too many things were telegraphed ahead of time to make the “big reveal” much of a surprise. And somehow, the characters fell just short of being people rather than “types.”

The audiobook was well-read–no quibbles at all with the production values.

But it’s another example of something I see all-too-often lately–books from trad publishers that demonstrate the need for better editing. Honestly, I was really surprised to look back and see that this was a book from a “name” publisher. I can’t fault the author for this–it’s the editor’s job to make that final pass and weed out repeated words, odd sentence construction, etc. Sadly, it’s the author who ends up looking bad when the editorial staff falls down on the job.

However, it’s a good summer read if you’re not too picky about everything being factually correct and you’re willing to get on board for the ride. There was enough interesting stuff going on to keep me listening right through to the end.

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Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Ready Player OneReady Player One by Ernest Cline
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed the audiobook version of this book–Wil Wheaton does a fabulous job of the narration, the story itself is fun and engrossing, and I loved the characters. The *only* reason I didn’t give it five stars is that I felt the author described the virtual world of the OASIS in too much detail and bogged down the flow of the story at times. I realize that he was probably trying to make it understandable to readers who might be completely unacquainted with virtual worlds but still–a bit too much. This aside, however, I highly recommend the book. You’ll enjoy it if you like computer games and general geekery, you’ll enjoy it if you grew up in the 80’s, and you’ll love it if you were a geek in the 80’s when all this stuff was happening. Like me. :)

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Organization Quest 2011

If you read my previous post, you might have noted that one of my short-term goals was “Organize submission history/tracking.” I’ve been thinking that organization, not only of this submission data, but of many other aspects of my writing life, is a really key thing that I have to tackle this year. Without a certain amount of organization, I can make as many other goals as I want, but I will have little chance of meeting them.

In the latter months of 2010, I spent quite a while scouring the internet for the “perfect” submission and manuscript tracking program. I wasn’t entirely successful, as I think the only way I’ll find the perfect program is to write it myself or bully my husband into writing it for me to my exact specifications. However, I did find one that came darn close, and after evaluating it, I ended up buying The Writer’s Scribe from Swatski Enterprises.

I’ve think it’s safe to say that I’ve given the program a complete workout since acquiring it. I did run into a few small hiccups along the way, learning the program’s ins and outs, but the support from Doug Swatski was quick, thorough, and altogether wonderful. I’m very happy with the program now and expect that I’ll be using it for the forseeable future.

The image I’ve included (from the program website) is the Submissions Overview screen, and as you can see, it does provide a very nice overview. You can see at a glance what subs you have out, how long since you sent them, and the results of the last submission for any given piece of work, as well as picking up on stories that are due to be sent out to a new market. It also provides a running total of acceptances, rejections, and subs that are pending.

On the other tabs, you can view the details of a story, publisher, or submission. Depending on the level of detail you choose to include on publishers, the program can also suggest publishers for a particular story. It will provide alerts on a time scale you set, to let you know when the date of an expected reply is past. It also tracks sales and expenses, and allows the generation of many different types of reports.

When I said I’ve given the program a thorough workout, here’s what I meant: I input the data for 72 works, 114 markets, and 193 submissions. I went all the way back to when I first started submitting stories, and although it’s quite possible I missed a few, it’s a pretty good record. All my various scraps and folders of paper data are gathered together to give me a nice overview of my submission habits and history, and I can easily see what I should now prioritize.

I did send the developer a few suggestions for features that might be useful to add to future versions of the program, to which he responded very positively.

I’d definitely recommend this program (especially at its very reasonable price of $25 US) for any writer who wants to get serious about tracking submissions. It’s available for both Windows-based and Mac machines.

Jutoh Ebook Creator ~ For the Win!

I’ve just finished creating the e-versions of Third Person Press’ new anthology release, Airborne. While I was at it, I created new formats for our first anthology, Undercurrents, which previously existed only in .pdf format. I did that because with Jutoh from Anthemion Software, it was so easy.

I’ve spent some time experimenting with, and ultimately being frustrated by, other ebook creators (this over a period of several years). I’ve tried some that were proprietary and some that claimed to handle multiple file formats, but it seemed to me that all of them were difficult to figure out, required enormous and time-consuming amounts of hand-correcting, or simply did not produce properly-formatted, readable output in a reliable way. Then I was fortunate enough to stumble upon Jutoh.

I was already a fan of Anthemion’s Writer’s Cafe, which I know I’ve spoken of here before in glowing terms. I don’t tackle any large writing project now without using its Storylines feature to keep track of my…well, storylines. I rarely write a short story without using it, either. I can see after using Jutoh for just these two projects that it has also become an indispensable tool for me.

My other reason for heaping praise on Anthemion is the absolutely superlative support offered. Questions are answered promptly and personally, and guidance is always close at hand when needed. Their software is also extremely reasonably priced. Writer’s Cafe is $45US and Jutoh is $32US…although buying both together nets you a deal on Jutoh. As a registered WC user already I inquired about the Jutoh discount and was promptly afforded it. I really can’t say enough good things about the support!

As for usability, with Jutoh I was able to take an already-heavily-formatted, multiple-chapter document and convert it with only a minimal amount of hand-formatting into epub, mobipocket, and Smashwords-ready formats. Other formats are also available, as well as export as an .mp3. I expect that the program would have dealt even more handily with a document that was not already extensively setup for its print format. Next time I will create the ebook version first and then do the formatting necessary for print, and see how that works.

The user interface is easy to understand, and upon launching a new project, a wizard walks you through the process of getting started. I particularly like this feature, as opposed to some software programs that seem to sit smugly waiting to see if you will be able to figure them out. In addition, Jutoh has an excellent help file which opens in the workspace, so that you can read instructions and carry them out without a lot of switching back and forth between windows. A sample file is included if you need some visual cues to get started with the program. A built-in “check” feature also reviews ebook files after they are compiled, and offers warning and error messages when problems are encountered. A cover designer with several templates lets you create a cover easily if you don’t already have one.

I did encounter a slight error when using the “find” feature, however, the program automatically generated an error report which was submitted to the developer, and I had a reply to that report in short order. That’s what I mean about the superlative support–they’re actually paying attention to their customers’ experiences with their products. I have seen this in action before with the mailing list for Storylines, where there is a lot of interaction between users and the developer so that everyone’s experience of the program is improved.

If you are interested in creating ebooks of any sort in multiple formats, I recommend Jutoh very highly indeed.