2019 – A Year of Reviewing Indie Books

With the ringing in of the New Year, a calendar decade has ended and a new one has begun. Last year was a busy year for me, as I continued on in my position of president of my HOA board which dealt with many resignations during the year. At the same time, I completed my second novel and selected Outskirts Press to handle the self-publishing process. Disappeared and Found was officially published and released in November. In addition, the length of time that my first novel, Legacy Discovered, has been available as a solo published work has led to more decreasing connections with fellow indie authors on social media. It is probably for this reason that I only read and reviewed twelve indie books this past year. None of the books I read was rated at 5 stars, but most of them were rated at 4 stars, and only one had a rating of 2 stars. I enjoyed the group of books I read this year.

Now to reiterate my review standards from the past years postings, I had to be open to all genres and not let a genre type affect the rating and review of a work. My focus was on whether the story was told well, the characters were relatable, the plot functional and understandable, and the pieces fit together. If I could follow an enjoyable tale while pushing aside the typos, grammatical errors, and historical or cultural anomalies, the book landed within the 3 star zone. If I could feel more emotional attachments to the characters and find myself drawn into the plot action with less distractions from errors, then the book was landing into the 4 star zone. When character and plot all came together nearly perfectly within the genre I was reading, and editing was well-done, it was a 5 star effort.

My main method of selecting the books that I review come from the fellow indie authors who retweet my key tweets promoting my book, but last year two of the books I read were direct requests from two fellow indie authors asking me to be a beta reader for their new works. One of these works, Bump Time, was a start of a new series from Doug J Cooper, who wrote the marvelous 5 star four novel sci-fi Crystal series. When he informed me that the new series was a multi-universe time travel series, I warned him that I am tougher with time travel concepts. His plot was very innovative and imaginative, backed by his excellent writing skills, but I was not distracted enough to avoid seeing the basic time travel contradictions, so I gave it 4 stars. He did inform me that he will address the contradictions in the second book of the series.

The second book I was asked to beta read was from another indie author that I had provided high reviews for a couple of his previous books. However, this book was a different genre from the previous works, so he was publishing it under another name. I noted and commented on some plot issues in his suspense action thriller, issues that I found that he had addressed when I purchased the published version later. The hyper action in this political thriller does walk the line at times which is why I only gave it 4 stars, but it was still a very entertaining and suspenseful tale.

The other five books that received 4 stars from me included a post-WW1 historical fiction action thriller, a very graphic abusive relationship drama at the high school age level, a dark young adult horror tale, and two action detective mysteries with one having a psychic element. All were very engaging with only minor issues that held them back from the 5 star level.

Only one novel fell to a 2 star level in my opinion, as the sci-fi tale of a complicated relationship between a woman celebrity and a couple of males from an extraterrestrial alien refugee community on earth had just a few too many complex contradictions in the character mythos to overcome in the tightly written thriller.

The four works that landed in between with 3 stars dealt with an erotic romance thriller of Greek gods in modern day culture, a relationship road journey in the hippie generation 1970s, a serial murder mystery with a psychic consultant, and a very short 40 page novella of a prison drama that mainly plays out as an introduction to a potential series.

It was a light year of reading, but still a good year. I now have two self-published novels, and I hope readers feel they live up to the standards I have used to judge the works of my fellow indie authors. If avid readers do check out Legacy Discovered and Disappeared and Found and decide to purchase and read either or both of them, I hope they decide to let me know if they liked it and why through Amazon, Goodreads, and other book sharing sites. Good honest reviews are an indie author’s best friend.

My reviews can be found on my Goodreads Author page at http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6491046.Kerry_Reis.

 

Disappeared and Found: A New Novel

Over seven years ago, I took a story idea and wrote my first novel, using the new process of self-publishing to put it out to reading community. Legacy Discovered received wonderful support from my friends and family, and generated a fair amount of good reviews on Goodreads and Amazon. However, as an independently published work, it has been a tough road to market this work among the millions of books that have been self-published during this time. Yet, I will not give up in promoting this act of creativity, which is why a close friend recently challenged me to try again by writing a new book. Soon after his challenge, I was watching a couple of new episodes from two cable reality docuseries that I enjoy when I had a creative story idea that arose by the combination of these shows’ premises. I wrote up an outline, got input from several friends, and then started out writing a new fiction novel. This new creative journey is about to cross the finish line as independent self-publisher, Outskirts Press, is within days of releasing it for sale through available outlets. The new novel is called Disappeared and Found.

The story is about a young woman, Dorothy, who inadvertently discovers that parents that raised her could not be her biological parents, which leads her to overhear her father tell a neighbor about his fear of her finding out that she was adopted. Dorothy had already faced dealing with the death of the mother who had raise her several years back, so when she faces her father, he tells her that they kept the adoption a secret from her in order to keep her love toward them as real parents, especially as his wife dealt with the cancer that led to her death. Dorothy tries to deal with the confession, but she wants to understand why and who had put her up for adoption, so she reaches out on her own to a cable reality show whose hosts help adopted individuals and biological parents to reconnect. The DNA test the show has Dorothy take seems to match closely with another person in the database, a potentially biological brother close match. The host reaches out by phone to this brother match for confirmation. Yet the young man, Scott, who answers the phone tells the host shockingly that he did not have a sister who was put up for adoption, but rather his mother took his sister out for a walk nineteen years earlier and disappeared, a cold case that is still open. In fact, Scott had just finished an interview with another investigative reality show that focuses on mysterious missing person cases, and the potential break in the case energizes their current production, as well as the local and federal agencies involved. What is the truth about how a missing baby girl wound up being raised by another couple in another state, and what happened to the missing mother?

The story is a much more direct mystery, a genre that I have a long love for. Yet, I am also drawn to the inner conflicts over family and uncovered hidden lies that the main character, Dorothy, has to struggle through. As I wrote the story, I had to empathize deeply with the dark mixed feelings all of our characters were feeling, and I hope that readers can feel and work their way through these conflicts while uncovering the answers to the mystery in a satisfactory way. I hope readers are intrigued to read it and find an enjoyable read in the journey.

 

2018 – A Year in Reviewing Indie Books

2019 is here, which means that I survived 2018. Last year was an interesting year. A rash of resignations on my HOA board led to me landing in the president position on the board, taking a bit more of my time. I also had fewer connects from fellow indie authors through my social media campaign. At the same time, I developed another idea for a new book that I outlined and have started to write. All of this led to a lower number of books that I read last year from previous years, only 21 novels and novellas. Going over my reviews for the year, the quality range was quite broad with most ranking at 4 stars, but an equal number of books hitting the high range of 5 stars to the number of books landing in the middle range of 3 stars. A couple of books landed at 3½ stars which stayed at that rank on LibraryThing, but rounded up into the 4 star range on GoodReads and Amazon. Then, there were three books that slid down to the 2 star range. It was an interesting mixture of reads over the past year.

Now to reiterate my review standards from the past years postings, I had to be open to all genres and not let a genre type affect the rating and review of a work. My focus was on whether the story was told well, the characters were relatable, the plot functional and understandable, and the pieces fit together. If I could follow an enjoyable tale while pushing aside the typos, grammatical errors, and historical or cultural anomalies, the book landed within the 3 star zone. If I could feel more emotional attachments to the characters and find myself drawn into the plot action with less distractions from errors, then the book was landing into the 4 star zone. When character and plot all came together nearly perfectly within the genre I was reading, and editing was well-done, it was a 5 star effort.

Of the four novels that landed in the top 5 star ratings, three of them were from two indie authors whose works I had previously reviewed. Doug J. Cooper’s Crystal Escape completed the four novel sci-fi series with the same level of storytelling as the first three, pushing me to gladly recommend the full series for sci-fi adventure fans. Western historical fiction expert John Rose Putnam’s Face of the Devil and Hang Billy Mulligan engaged me into the late nineteenth century historical adventure of the northern California gold rush days. The one 5 star novel from a new author was Beneath the Silver Rose by T.S. Adrian, which fully engaged the adventure of a medieval fantasy tale, even if it was adult-only erotica.

At the other end of the scale, the three novels that landed in the 2 star zone were basically stories that overplayed their hand, stretching plot devices and missing character connections, from a multi-year future history space fleet sci-fi tale to a couple of psychological horror stories, one with a seemingly unstoppable stalker and the other with a missing child case that upends a couple’s life.

In the 3 star range, three of the four novels were based in the sci-fi and medieval fantasy genres, showing some of the challenges in constructing a solid mythology to back up and support the plot and characters of these highly imaginative worlds, especially when erotic elements are added. The erotic element also interfered in the complicated love story of soulmates finding each other in the fourth 3 star novel. The two 3½ star novels take a step up in finding their base stories, one in a near-future zombie apocalyptic opening tale of a series and the other in an archeological high-adventure story.

The larger 4 star body of works I read had some very entertaining works, from a basic police mystery, a psychological drama of abuse, a sci-fi space flight fantasy adventure, and a graphic superhero team adventure to a family curse paranormal adventure, a 70’s English spy thriller, and a dramatic rebuilding of a shattered romance. The eighth 4 star work was actually a nonfiction how-to book for self-publishing, a book I bought directly from the author at a local book fair in Denver.

It was a good year of reading, and I hope that this year will be just as good. I will also be striving to complete this new dramatic mystery that will live up to the standards I have used to judge the works of my fellow indie authors. At the same time, I hope avid readers will check out the novels I read in 2018 and also check out my self-published novel, Legacy Discovered, and if they purchase and read it, let me know if they liked it and why through Amazon, Goodreads, and other book sharing sites. Good honest reviews are an indie author’s best friend.

My reviews can be found on my Goodreads Author page at http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6491046.Kerry_Reis.

 

2017 – A Year of Reviewing Indie Books

Welcome, 2018! Many of us wonder how we got through 2017. However, despite the angst of the year, I continued to find time to read works from fellow indie authors, racking up 30 novels or novellas. As I go back over my reviews for these works for the year, I find it interesting that my ratings were more centered this year. I wound up only rating one work with a 5 star rating, but before anyone worries about a loss of quality, I also notice that I did not rate any works below a 3 star rating. Beyond the one 5 star rating, the other works were pretty evenly split between the 3 and 4 star level. I rated 15 works at 3 stars, one at 3½ stars, and 13 at 4 stars. The 3½ star work could only maintain the ½ star on LibraryThing, but had to be rounded up to 4 stars on Amazon and Goodreads. I still felt some positive vibes from all of the works I read this year.

Now to reiterate my review standards as I posted over the past three years, I had to be open to all genres and not let a genre type affect the rating and review of a work. My focus was on whether the story was told well, the characters were relatable, the plot functional and understandable, and the pieces fit together. If I could follow an enjoyable tale while pushing aside the typos, grammatical errors, and historical or cultural anomalies, the book landed within the 3 star zone. If I could feel more emotional attachments to the characters and find myself drawn into the plot action with less distractions from errors, then the book was landing into the 4 star zone. When character and plot all came together nearly perfectly within the genre I was reading, and editing was well-done, it was a 5 star effort.

The one 5 star novel was actually the next novel in Doug J. Cooper’s Crystal Series, Crystal Rebellion. Doug’s introductory novella and two previous novels in the series had also received 5 stars from me, so the complete science fiction series of an artificial intelligence crystal being and its human handlers battling alien invasions can officially qualify as a full 5 star effort. The characters are empathetic and exciting, the plots are well constructed, and the thrills are wonderful. I heartily recommend the series.

Two of the 4 star works were actually quick novellas, one even being closer to a short story looking for a few more equally good stories from the author to form a good anthology of shocking tales. The other novella provided a touching look at the world of autism. The other eleven 4 star works are standard novels that delve into a broad range of genres with a few suspense thrillers ranging from drug conspiracies to corporate secret agents, a couple of science fiction adventures from corrupt enterprises within space wars to an utopian genetic enterprise, two mysteries from a dark serial murder investigation to a dramatic romance seeking redemption within the resolution, a horror tale derived from paranormal religious conflict, a rugged historical drama, and a light comic erotic romance. The 3½ star work was a sports novel about a young golf prodigy and his mentoring by a local golf course pro. The broad range of themes and genres in this group means that many readers will find something in this list that will please their preferences.

In the 3 star list, one book was an anthology of 43 short stories, each story no more than 2 pages in length with the theme of food and murder. Each story was submitted by a different author, which meant that some stories had duplicative plots and ideas, and that not every story hit the mark. However, my 3 star review meant that there definitely were some top gems in the bunch in order to create a decent collection of tales. The other fourteen 3 star works covered a broad range of genres and themes that covered a couple of science fiction tales focused on underground communities and utopian military space action, two time travel fantasies that placed their characters back in the US Civil War and pre-Revolutionary British historical eras, an erotic historical romance in the antebellum South, three YA fantasy stories with magically gifted heroines having to face a little horror and action, a couple of dark murder mysteries that includes some psychic detective work in one of them, a couple of more YA teen tales from a romance after a rescue from danger to a teen against the world survival conflict, an erotic romance between social classes, and a Hollywood tale of four women’s relationships. For some of these novels, the general plot stretches held back some interesting tales, while in the others, the occasional stumble upended a basically strong theme. Still, there is enough in these works to provide a decent story for many a reader.

All in all, it was another good year of enjoying my fellow indie authors, and I hope avid readers will check out these earnest works, while I seek out more for the following year. I also hope that avid readers will check out my novel, Legacy Discovered, and let me know if they liked it and why through Amazon, Goodreads, and other book sharing sites. Good honest reviews are an indie author’s best friend.

My reviews can be found on my Goodreads Author page at http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6491046.Kerry_Reis.

 

2016 – A Year of Reviewing Indie Books

Here it is 2017 and I am going over the books from fellow indie authors that I read in 2016. It was my first full year in Colorado to which I am still adjusting. Perhaps this is why I read about the same number of indie books that I read in 2015, 31 books total. I do notice that 2 of these books are actually short novellas, each tied to another book on the list, so maybe I should just count them as one book, making my reading list total as 30. One positive is this year proved to be an especially good year in the quality on the list with 8 books I rated at 5 stars. 2 of these 5 star books were the novellas to which I just referred, and the 2 books with which these novellas were associated also received 5 stars. I wonder if I should just count each book with its associated novella as one book, but I think I will just keep the total as is.

Now to reiterate my review standards as I posted over the past two years, I had to be open to all genres and not let a genre type affect the rating and review of a work. My focus was on whether the story was told well, the characters were relatable, the plot functional and understandable, and the pieces fit together. If I could follow an enjoyable tale while pushing aside the typos, grammatical errors, and historical or cultural anomalies, the book landed within the 3 star zone. If I could feel more emotional attachments to the characters and find myself drawn into the plot action with less distractions from errors, then the book was landing into the 4 star zone. When character and plot all came together nearly perfectly within the genre I was reading, and editing was well-done, it was a 5 star effort.

Of the 8 books which I rated 5 stars, 4 of them were additional works from fellow authors I had read earlier in previous years. Of these 4, two of them are one of the novel and novella combos to which I had referred at the start of this post. This combo, Crystal Conquest and Crystal Horizon, were written by Doug J. Cooper, the only author to receive a 5 star rating from me last year. Crystal Conquest was the second in his Crystal series, which has the artificial intelligence crystal and his handlers fighting off a new attack from the villainous alien race. Crystal Horizon was just an introductory novella that deftly introduced how our hero handlers initially met before the alien battles. The novella is offered free on the author’s website to introduce readers to his characters and sci-fi adventure flair in his writing. As to the other two additional works, one was another women-lit romance from Deanna Lynn Sletten, Walking Sam, about a widower and a divorcee that meet and connect through the widower’s dog. Two years earlier, I had rated one of her other novels as a 5 star work, and it says a lot that the work I read this year matched that level. The other work was Hangtown Creek by John Rose Putnam, a historical adventure fiction tale set during the California Gold Rush era. Last year, I had given his novel about Spanish conquistador Hernando de Soto’s conflicts with native American tribes a 4 star rating. His rough adventure of the Gold Rush Era drew me in more.

The other four 5 star novels were written by new authors to me. Steve LeBel’s The Universe Builders: Bernie and the Putty was a very imaginative concept that equated universe creation as products of a high-pressure god engineering firm, where one nerdy god is harassed by a bully god while trying to build the ultimate universe. It is no wonder that this book has received a couple of indiebook awards. The next 5 star novel was an exciting spy thriller set in the mid-70s by Paul Hollis entitled The Hollow Man, in which an unnamed NSA hero uncovers a plot against the European economy while on a personal mission against a terrorist assassin. Finally, the last two books I read in 2016 was the other novel and novella combination referred to at the start of this post, Theo and the Forbidden Language and The Queen and the Dagger by Melanie Ansley. The main story is the opening tale of an epic fantasy series about a rabbit with the knowledge of language who is enlisted to be part of a group of apprentices to lead the animal communities against a villainous human empire intent on enslaving them with a pacification potion. The associated novella is an introductory back story of one of the other apprentices, a princess warrior rabbit, in this very well written fantasy saga.

Just like the previous year, I had three 2 star rated books. In the first one, the author was too focused on creating and intricately describing an erotic romantic relationship between the two main characters in the thriller, causing the villain characters to be barely formed and hyped up actions to seem like weak plot devices. The next disappointment was actually a second novel in a romance series, and its plot was mainly unbalanced between the lovers’ well-described physical love moments and the somewhat bland interactive moments with family and friends. The author attempts to create conflict with a minor villain, but this character’s actions just appear to be a forced plot device. However, the final 2 star turned out to be an extreme adult erotica tale based on sadomasochistic games, which challenged my commitment to being open to all genres. Yet, even though I admit I do avoid novels whose themes are basically based on adult erotica pleasure, my main issues with this tale was that none of the characters, including the main narrator, had any true empathetic features to draw the reader in and that the promotional blurbs for the novel really understated the true nature of the level of adult erotica, which is not cool to readers who would be sensitive to this type of genre.

The remainder of the books I read in 2016 were split down the middle between 4 and 3 star ratings. Even though the 4 star books spread over a broad range of genres and themes, half of them did land in the paranormal range from a psychic involved in murder mysteries, a secret religious society hunter seeking and battling monsters, and a secret intelligence unit fighting a dark mythological order to a mystical Celtic location and a saga of a vampire feud. The other 4 star reads dealt with a mafia tale of romance and power competition, a spy thriller uncovering a devious plot, a family and crime drama stemming from the 9/11 events, a complex character drama about friends whose lives are affected over the years by underlying acts of abuse and manipulation, and a coming-of-age drama about a decade of summers with two best friends during the 70s. It was an impressive range of creativity.

So it was another good year of reading, and I hope that next year I will be able to match or better my reading time from my previous years. At the same time, I hope that more readers will find my novel, Legacy Discovered, and let me know if they liked it and why through Amazon, Goodreads, and other book sharing sites. Good honest reviews are the writer’s best friend.

My reviews can be found on my Goodreads Author page at https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6491046.Kerry_Reis.

Villains Are Characters Too

When I go back over the indie books I have read over the past few years, I find myself interested in where a few of them were flawed or, in some cases, totally failed. To me, the core of good storytelling rests with a good balance between plot and character. Keeping the reader engrossed in the story requires presenting the characters in ways the reader can connect and understand their actions, while presenting a series of events that affects and directs these characters in a way that the reader can follow and accept the revelations the story presents. If the reader is truly embracing and understanding the story, the reader will begin to expect where the story is leading, but will still find satisfaction whether the actions and reactions follows expectations or takes a turn toward a totally unexpected resolution. The keys to whether the reader is accepting the story are whether the actions and events are explainable within the parameters of the story and whether the motivations of the characters are sensible in their reactions. For this reason, many authors work to empathize with their main characters, seeking to express the inner debate and growth these characters experience as they somewhat heroically face the challenges they are tasked to overcome physically or emotionally. However, when the author focuses too heavily on the main characters without taking into account the antagonists who have created and continue to push the challenges and dangers upon the main protagonists, holes will appear in the story that causes the reader to become confused and lose interest. In other words, the author needs to understand that villains are characters too, ones that are just as important for the proper balance of plot and character to keep the reader engrossed.

Nearly all stories deal with a major challenge or series of related challenges that are faced by a major character or set of characters. The reader is introduced to the major character or characters, gaining a quick understanding of who they are and where they are at a certain moment in a real or imagined time, then the elements of the challenge or challenges they must overcome are revealed. In some stories, the reader may be introduced to the main character or characters at the height or depths of the challenge, instantly enhancing the reader’s empathy with the character or characters. These challenges faced by the characters are the framework of the plot, and it is important that the segments fit together so the reader can experience the challenges with the protagonists. Often, these challenges are generated by other characters, whose actions run contrary to the general benefit of the main characters and the humanity they represent. These are the villains, responsible for the grief, danger, and obstacles faced by our heroes. It is when the author treats these villains like plot segments to generate story direction that the author risks losing the reader. This happens when the author depends upon a simple stereotype description – bully, terrorist, evil wizard – to present the villain, then just uses the villain to push the plot along at critical times. Sometimes this may work in a one-time fateful crossing of lives, like a bank robber who locks a man and a woman previously unknown to each other inside a safe, initiating a very unique environment to create a romantic connection before the two are rescued, or a terrorist bomber whose recent attack collaterally kills a woman, forcing her husband to spend the rest of the story trying to get beyond the loss of his soul mate. In these types of stories, the villainous party is not directly related to the main characters, so the reader does not have to ask why the villain created the situation, since the reader has become so engrossed in the aftermath of the villain’s actions on the main characters. However, if the story presents any connection between the antagonist and the main characters before a major evil action, or interaction occurs between the parties after the initial critical action, then the reader will become just as interested in both the motivation and ability of the villain to create the chaos and challenges to the main heroes. The villain is no longer a plot device, but rather a character of interest to the reader.

Of course, the reader does not need to delve too deeply into the back story and mental state of the antagonists of the story. The reader only needs to know enough to answer the “why’s” and “how’s” of the antagonists actions towards the main characters. The level of interest in the villain and any other secondary character who abets the villain’s actions will be dependent upon the level of interaction the villain and abettors have toward the main characters. If the interaction is somewhat random throughout the story, the reader will expect to discover an obsessive characteristic and a rash capability for action from the antagonist. However, if the antagonist and protagonist have a deeper history, then the reader will be expecting the author to provide a deeper understanding of the motivation behind the antagonist and a better sense of how the antagonist will be able to manipulate the actions toward the protagonist. Again, this includes abettors of the main villain.

As an example, I recently read a work about an erotic romance between a daughter of a well-to-do politico and a hunky owner of a small security protection agency. Some casual incidental meets at a night club and a coffee shop generate initial sparks, but her kidnapping and initial rescue by him and his team amps up the relationship to a new level. The kidnapper is revealed to an abusive and possessive mental case who had developed an obsession with our heroine, but before we can find out more, the hero security guy is informed by the police that the perp has escaped. How did he escape? To the author, this was not considered important. The escape meant that the heroine had to move into a safe house with the hero to be protected, creating the situation where the couple had to bond and submit to their carnal feelings for each other. However, as a reader, I had no real idea just how much danger our couple was in. How committed and skillful was this villain? If authorities were looking for him, why would he stick around? Was the escape skillfully planned or did it occur because of police error? After a period of time of this relationship, an ex-girlfriend villainess of the hero appears at the door and tells our half-dressed heroine that she is the hero’s fiancée, sending the heroine rushing home to her parents’ mansion. Of course, this ex doesn’t have to show off a ring on the finger to prove her lie, as the reader is supposed to accept this spur-of-the-moment attempt to reclaim an old beau. However, this little unrelated deception allows the kidnapper to come back and re-kidnap the heroine from her parents’ home that very night. However, the kidnapper brings the heroine back to the original location he held her before, allowing the hero to re-rescue her and re-capture the villain. But this does not tell the reader how the villain was able to escape in the first place. Oh, and how was the villain able to know when the heroine was back at her parents’ home? He had a cousin on the parents’ household staff who sent him a message when the daughter returned. No other information than the distant familial relationship is provided for why a loyal staff member would put the heroine in instant jeopardy. In the end, no matter how vested a good reader could get with the relationship of the two main characters, which wasn’t badly written when it was just about the interactions between them and their inner romantic insecurities, the reader begins to feel all of the antagonistic drama brought by the villains around them is just a bunch of straw plot devices to create action, slowly turning the main characters into straw figures of their own.

In the end, a well-defined villain or enemy actually enhances the empathy we have for our heroes and main characters. Whether the heroes are able to overcome or find reconciliation with their antagonists becomes a major part of a plot’s theme, which is why authors need to remember that villains are characters too.

2015 – A Year of Reviewing Indie Books

At the start of 2015, I posted about the independent and self-published books that I had read and reviewed on Amazon and book social media sites in 2014. At the time, 2014 was a very good year in reading with 40 books read and reviewed. However, I was not as productive in my reading in 2015. Unfortunately, my relocation to Colorado took up more of my time. Yet I did wind up finishing 30 books from my fellow indie authors, which I feel is still a decent number in the midst of my moving activities. When I started the year, the books I had read in 2014 gave me a lot of hope for the books I would read in 2015. I wish I could say that my expectations were met.

First, I would like to re-iterate my review standards that I posted last year. I had to be open to all genres and not let a genre type affect the rating and review of a work. My focus was on whether the story was told well, the characters were relatable, the plot functional and understandable, and the pieces fit together. If I could follow an enjoyable tale while pushing aside the typos, grammatical errors, and historical or cultural anomalies, the book landed within the 3 star zone. If I could feel more emotional attachments to the characters and find myself drawn into the plot action with less distractions from errors, then the book was landing into the 4 star zone. When character and plot all came together nearly perfectly within the genre I was reading, and editing was well-done, it was a 5 star effort. In 2015, I only rated one book with 5 stars.

The one 5 star book for 2015 was Crystal Deception by Doug J. Cooper, a science fiction romp with the future of the human race at stake as a highly developed artificial intelligence crystal and its handlers work to protect earth from a devious alien race. The book is actually the first in a trilogy series and evokes the same science fiction adventure flair that can be found in classic series like Star Trek with a touch of James Bond action thrown in. The adventures in this book do come to resolution with the reader being informed in the final chapter that our protagonists will be expecting further adventures in the future, encouraging the reader to obtain the next book in the series.

For 2015, even with fewer books read, I still came up with more 2 star disappointments than in 2014, three out of the thirty read. In one, the author attempted to power through a forty year uplifting tale that barely gave the reader any real chance to connect with the characters, who seemed to face more challenges with their own insecure mental strawmen than actual interactive conflicts. The rushed time frame of the tale actually led to some openly anachronistic moments. The second disappointment was a fantasy suspense tale that sought to explore the roles of gender conflict in determining sexual superiority and retribution. However, the reader is never given enough feeling or understanding of the main characters to develop empathy to care about the conflicts and challenges these characters face. In both of these books, despite the vastly different thematic storylines, the inability of the reader to bond positively or negatively with the characters causes the reader to lose interest and not care about the direction of the story. However, the third 2 star effort was more a breakdown in plot, as the story’s very interesting main character faces a very not-so-mysterious mystery and survives a dangerous situation by overcoming a survival challenge after the lackadaisical carelessness of the antagonists. These plot weaknesses opens the reader to see the author behind the curtain, making the story an unrealistic puppet show. All three tales, by their flaws, reveal the importance of properly balancing plot and character for the reader.

As for the other books I read in 2015, they pretty closely split evenly between the 3 star and 4 star rating range. The 4 star tales spread widely over multiple genres from intense introspective and paranormal sci-fi, a hyper action spy thriller, a viral horror thriller, an intense romance family drama that evolves into a suspense thriller mystery, a fantasy adventure, a steampunk adventure, a redemptive family drama novella to a group of American historical fictions that range from Spanish explorer conflict to a good old fashion western tale, with one of the historical fictions taking on a tinge of the paranormal. It was quite a range of tales to take in, and the imagination of my fellow authors were quite impressive.

So it still was a good year of reading, and I hope that next year I will be able to match or better my reading time with my previous numbers in 2014. I also hope that more readers will find my novel, Legacy Discovered, and let me know if they liked it and why through Amazon, Goodreads, and other book sharing sites. Good honest reviews are the writer’s best friend.

My reviews can be found on my Goodreads Author page at http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6491046.Kerry_Reis.

Micheal Rivers – Best-Selling Author and Paranormal Investigator

In my last posting about the books I reviewed in 2014, I stated that the first book I gave a 5 star review was Verliege by Micheal Rivers. It was a very thrilling and insightful ghost story that I figured had to be inspired by Micheal’s career of paranormal investigations, a subject that has fascinated me since I read Frank Edward’s Stranger Than Science as a young boy. I am thrilled that Micheal has reached out and agreed to provide me and my blog with a personal look at those years of investigating haunted sites and the books he has written based on his research and investigations. He was also kind enough to allow me to post an introduction of Legacy Discovered and some thoughts on the art of storytelling on his website. So without further ado, I present Micheal Rivers, best-selling author and paranormal investigator.

Micheal RiversKerry Reis, a talented writer and friend, was kind enough to have me present this post on his site. He is the author of Legacy Discovered, a refreshing read with an escape from the norm. His years of work with Disney ABC have given him an insight that is unique. Thank you, Kerry, for letting me have the podium today.

I have been investigating paranormal activity for over thirty years. The subject seems to draw attention anywhere you go. Kerry asked me about the paranormal and the evidence collected over the years. Armed with cameras, recorders for capturing EVPs, (electronic voice phenomena) and the electronics capable of finding evidence beyond our senses, you find yourself in places you would have never dreamed of. The amount of excitement, evidence, and also the disappointments are numerous.

There are many investigations where the residents honestly believe they are living under conditions where they believe their house is haunted. The more that is experienced, the more one will come to believe they have a ghost in their home. I can sympathize with these feelings. I have experienced the same thing until I became educated on what is necessary to look for to validate a haunting. A perfect example was the family who had a television that would turn on seemingly under its own accord. The stereo was under the same conditions. The variation with the stereo was not only would it turn itself on, but also the volume would go completely out of control. The culprit was an unsuspecting neighbor’s remote control with a malfunction. It did not affect his equipment, but it wreaked havoc with the haunted family. This is not the end of the story. The neighbor eventually moved away some time later. During the holidays, a full body apparition was photographed in the kitchen of the home. To their surprise, it was the haunted family’s great aunt who had died ten years earlier. The smell of the apparition’s perfume stayed in the area of the kitchen for most of the evening. This is only one example of how you can be fooled into believing and then the tables are turned where you actually do have spirit activity. This case was in England in the early eighties as reported by a little-known journalist of the time. Non-believers in the paranormal reported the photograph as a hoax and the news just drifted away into obscurity.

During my tenure as an investigator, I have found everything from loose pipes in the basement to faulty electrical wiring to be the culprit. It is amazing the effects electromagnetic fields have on the human body. Physical and mental reaction to this not only is evident but very real to the person living the effects.

An actual haunting brings out some very intriguing evidence and more questions concerning the cause or purpose of the haunting. I usually come out with more questions than when I entered the premises. I have been asked several times if any of my evidence was questionable. I do everything possible to debunk any evidence before I decide whether it is an actual haunting or just an unidentifiable anomaly.

What have I experienced that completely blew me away? I have seen four full body apparitions. One of them was so perfect; the only way to tell it was an apparition was the clothing. The clothing was homemade from another time period. That and the fact it is a fourth person in a three-man group. There were three investigators, yet the photograph shows this apparition in plain view and not picked up by the second camera sitting right in front of it, but instead the photographer standing behind it with the second camera still in full view picks up the apparition. We can go on for years with the pros and cons of investigations, and hopefully, one day, there will be some kind of evidence that will have no trouble convincing others, yes, we are not alone here. A fine example of one of our best EVPs can be heard here on YouTube. The man in the room grew up in the house and returned for the investigation.

I write paranormal thrillers as well as folklore and ghost tales that are considered to be fact. In Ghost of the North Carolina Shores, you will walk through the history of North Carolina via the spirits long dead. Appalachian Mountain Folklore is a book in which I was able to tell whether I could find any evidence of truth to the stories. In some cases in both volumes, I have incorporated actual investigations in which I conducted or was involved in. The stories in both books involved quite a bit of research and interviews with witnesses of the events.

Be the host to your ghost.

Thank you, Micheal, for giving us a look behind your years investigating the paranormal as well as the books that those investigations have inspired. Below are the links to connect with Micheal and check into all of his books:
Micheal’s website
Micheal’s Amazon Author Page
Micheal’s Facebook Author Page

2014 – A Year of Reviewing Indie Books

When I first self-published Legacy Discovered, I knew I needed to reach out to fellow independent authors to help promote my effort. I quickly realized that the most important promotional tool indie authors need are the reviews of readers on Amazon and book social media sites like Goodreads. For that reason, I knew that we authors as readers needed to step up and read each other’s works and honestly provide reviews that will either help us promote our works to the general reading public or improve our writing for readers down the road. I began to consider the books of authors with whom I had connected and chose promising works that seemed to need reviews. At first, even though I rated each book I read honestly, I held back on some critical observations and provided a short, somewhat encouraging review for the books I read after a friend berated me for even considering bringing up errors that would upset my fellow authors. However, after reading a couple of works that I felt really needed work, I realized how unfair I was to my fellow authors and brought the critical comments back in. My instincts proved to be right as I have received better responses from my fellow authors for my fuller reviews beginning around the holidays a year ago. So what were the highlights and lows of the indie books I read last year?

First, I must put in a small disclaimer that I had to be open to all genres and not let a genre type affect the rating and review of a work. My focus was on whether the story was told well, the characters were relatable, the plot functional and understandable, and the pieces fit together. If I could follow an enjoyable tale while pushing aside the typos, grammatical errors, and historical or cultural anomalies, the book landed within the 3 star zone. If I could feel more emotional attachments to the characters and find myself drawn into the plot action with less distractions from errors, then the book was landing into the 4 star zone. When character and plot all came together nearly perfectly within the genre I was reading, and editing was well-done, it was a 5 star effort. In the 40 indie books I read last year, I only rated 4 books with 5 stars.

My first 5 star book of 2014 was Verliege by Micheal Rivers. Micheal has been a paranormal investigator for over 30 years, so I expected a good ghost story and I was not disappointed. His novel of a team of investigators taking residence inside a castle haunted by ghosts in conflict reminded me of the Richard Matheson classic Hell House. It was spooky, thrilling and well-done. Immediately after I finished Micheal’s book, I took up Summer of the Loon by Deanna Lynn Sletten. This was the exact opposite of Verliege, as it was a redemptive story of a newly-orphaned 16-year-old girl having to move from Southern California to upstate Minnesota to reconnect with a grandfather she has never known because he had turned his back on his own daughter who had become pregnant out of wedlock. This was a sweet women’s lit story that depended so much on character to drive the story over a course of a summer. Deanna has become very prolific in the past three years with 9 self-published books.

The other two 5 star books I read were part of a ten book stretch for the Book Review Co-op. By choosing ten books on the site’s list and reviewing them, Legacy Discovered is now added to the site’s list to get ten reviews from other indie authors who participate in the site’s program. Among the ten books I reviewed, I found Eddie & the Gun Girl by Mark Kram Jr. and Aliens in the Gift Shop by D.E. Morris. Eddie & the Gun Girl is actually a non-fiction short relating the incident of the shooting of Philadelphia Phillies’ first baseman Eddie Waitkus by a stalking fan in 1949, adeptly looking at the history of shooter and victim leading to the event and the long-term consequences, especially since Eddie was injured but not killed in the shooting. Aliens in the Gift Shop, on the other hand, was a comic sci-fi novel about a couple of space alien scientists who swoop little gift shop owner Marcy into the adventure of her life. It was very much in the tone of a good Doctor Whovian tale.

For most of the year, the books were mainly 3 or 4 stars in their reviews with the majority of them being 4 stars. With so many self-published offerings in today’s digital world, I find this to be impressive. However, within the last two months, I finally came upon a couple of books that failed and landed in the 2 star zone. In one, the author did her homework in creating her main characters, but failed to consider that the mainly unseen villains were as much a character that needed consistency and not a simple but erratic plot device to push the main characters’ buttons when needed. In the other, the author structured a relationship of deceit and tension between a group of characters, then brought in another character that promised to blow everything up in an exciting climax, only to lamely take the air out of the anticipated blow-up and allow the story to limp into the ending. In both cases, the stories started decently, but broke down when they veered into a path that was not truly there.

So, it was a good year of reading and I hope to find even more worthy tales to enjoy in the new year. I also hope that others find my tale and let me know if they enjoyed it and why. Good honest reviews are the writer’s best friend.

My reviews can be found on my Goodreads Author page at https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6491046.Kerry_Reis.

The Careers of Fictional Characters

Since I wrote in my last post about the importance of character in television series, I have been thinking about how critics have viewed characters on television in general. As I thought about it, a particular criticism which has periodically cropped up in broad opinion pieces by TV critics throughout the history of television kept floating up in my mind – why do many main characters seem to have the same types of careers, even though these jobs represent a small portion of the general population? I am sure many will recognize the questioning commentary that most TV series and their main characters seem to be lawyers, doctors, police officers, or private eyes, when the majority of the general population has jobs as construction workers, factory workers, sales clerks, or farm workers. The general critical discussion tends to tilt more to bemoaning the unrealistic impression that lawyers, doctors, police officers and private eyes are more important to society, thereby not giving enough credit to the value of these other clerical or labor intensive jobs to society and civilization. However, in considering this position, especially as it pertains to creating characters when writing, what I realized is despite the admirable concept of seeking a more equal view of all individuals, the art of storytelling and mythology throughout the history of mankind has focused on heroic characters that broadly lead or challenge society in general. From the beginning, the early myths, legends and fairy tales were stories of gods, kings, wizards and warriors.

Classic storytelling is built around conflict or challenge – not the everyday challenge of handling the daily grind of life, but the broad challenge of facing a major conflict or struggle. The sagas and myths explained why nature acted the way it did, gave praise to the triumphs of a tribe or civilization, and sought solutions to battle the monsters around us. It was the gods who created the world and the rules under which nature worked for and against man. It took kings to lead armies against enemies, to mediate among opposing forces, and to protect societies from disorder. It took strong warriors to protect lesser men from evil and destructive forces and to boldly explore new lands beyond the horizon. It took powerful wizards to create and project major spells to ward off evil monsters and deadly diseases. For ancient and medieval civilizations, these leaders guided and defended the common members of society during important challenges of war, growth, exploration, and death. With the advances in scientific knowledge and the rise of more democratic and republican governments within a more interconnected global culture, these characters may have faded from the modern story, but their roles have not. Within modern society, lawyers, doctors, police officers and private eyes take on these roles at the local level.

When a disagreement escalates between two parties, police officers would be necessary to help maintain order and try to resolve the issue peacefully, while lawyers become mediators seeking to define the rules around which the parties must operate peacefully. A lawyer can also represent a strong defender for the common client against corrupt forces, while a private detective can be the solitary hero uncovering the truth against an evil army of lies. Doctors cast modern spells of medical knowledge against disease, injury and death and explore the continuing mysteries and horizons of life. It is very easy to see that these jobs represent the mediators, explorers and defenders of society at times of conflict or challenge, so in a way, it is understandable that the somewhat heroic (or anti-heroic) major characters of television and movies would more likely take on these professions over the more common careers that maintain the steady drumbeat of life.