book reviews

New Book Review Schedule for 2018

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Throughout 2017, I have been doing a book review per day. I will end the year with a total of 365 reviews, which, when added to the reading I do just for pleasure, will mean that I will have read over 400 books this year. It’s been fun, and educational, but the press of other writing and non-writing projects have taken their toll. When I did my annual eye exam in late-November 2017, I was informed that, while my distance vision had improved, my lack of binocular vision, due to a childhood accident, meant that I’ve been reading with only one eye. Even with store-bought readers, that one eye was just reading enlarged text. I was given prescription reading glasses, which, to my surprise has made quite a difference. What it means, though, is that I need now to use reading glasses, not just for reading books, but when I’m on the computer as well.

Because of this, I have decided to set a new reading and reviewing schedule for 2018. Beginning in January 2018, I will only do one book review per week on this site. I still have to do a lot of reading as I research my own books, and I’d like my eyes to be able to reach the end of next year without any further degradation of visual acuity.

Thanks to all my readers who have reacted to my daily reviews, and here’s hoping you’ll keep reading the reduced schedule.

Happy New Year! Happy Reading!

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Welcome to 2017 – I would welcome the new year as well, but I’m holding off on that to see how it shapes up. My only New Year’s Resolution is to reduce the queue of books I have to read and review as much as possible, an almost impossible task with new books coming out that look tempting, and new review requests coming in almost every day.

I got a late start on the year, like most people, but for a different reason. I’d promised myself that I would be in bed well before midnight last night, but I got to reading, and before I knew it, it was 15 minutes past midnight. I’d read from 2016 to 2017 without realizing it. Yes, the book, The 30 Management Principles of the U.S. Marines, was that good. I’ll write a review of it eventually, but last night I was reading and taking notes for a book that I’m writing, Ethical Dilemmas and the Practice of Diplomacy, and this book has a few useful nuggets that I wanted to make sure I got down pat before I go back to my own manuscript.

Just a reminder to those who might have requested a review of their book. If I haven’t done it yet, and it’s been less than six months, please be patient; I’ll eventually get to it. The stack of print books I have to read is over 12 inches high, and my Kindle is full to capacity. If it’s been more than six months, I probably won’t review it for the reasons I gave a few weeks back in a blog post. If I don’t review it, please don’t ask me why. As much as I’d like to explain, with everything I have on my schedule for the coming year, I just don’t have the time.

Wishing all of my followers a happy, prosperous, and hopefully successful new year.

How to get me to review your book

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When I converted this blog from a catch-all for my mental meanderings to primarily a book review blog, with an emphasis on books by indie authors, I knew it would be a lot of work. It’s been a learning process, much as my own foray into indie publishing. I knew going in that once word got out that I did book reviews, I would receive numerous requests for reviews—and boy, was I ever right. I’m deluged with requests from authors to review their books to the tune of four or five every week. Some days, I get three or four requests.

Now, I’m a voracious reader, so I’m happy to accept books to read and review, but since I decided that one posted review per day is probably the most my readers will be willing to put up with, that does put a limit on what I’m able to do; that, and the fact that I do have other things to do. I have my own books to write, edit, format, and publish—oh, and market—a time-consuming job, believe me. In addition, I recently started a line of fashion design incorporating my photography; I’m collaborating with my wife on a collection of paintings, in preparation for an upcoming exhibition; I’m on the board of a few non-profits; I do a summer writing workshop; I like to get out occasionally to take pictures; and I speak and lecture frequently in the Washington, DC area. So, I am able to read only about two books per day at most, and then I have to block out time to write the reviews, which in addition to posting here, I post on Amazon and Goodreads—and on occasion on Barnes and Noble.

I buy some of the books I review, but only if I know the author and it’s a genre I like. If an unknown author wants me to review a book, he or she must provide me with a copy, either hard copy or e-book. And, of course, I cannot guarantee that I’ll write a review, or when I might get around to it. It’s first-come, first-serve.

Now, if you’re an indie author, and you’ve sent me a book to review, but you haven’t seen my review online, you’re probably wondering; what’s up? Please let me explain.

It might be that I’ve just not gotten around to it. All I can advise is, please be patient. If I haven’t decided not to review it, it will eventually appear. If, on the other hand, I decide not to review it, I’m afraid that’s the end of that, and for that, I apologize. In the early days of my reviewing, I often contacted the author and explained that I was not reviewing the book and why. That turned out to be a bad idea.

Usually, my reason for not reviewing a book is that it just doesn’t make it. It’s poorly written; bad grammar, poor editing, formatting or proofreading, or too many typos. When I told authors this, many would write back wanting specifics. Sorry, but that’s not gonna happen. Editing and proofreading is labor intensive, and it takes time (unpaid time) that I need to devote to my income generating activities. As a courtesy, if an author has asked me to review a book, and I can’t give it at least four stars, I won’t write the review. In fact, I usually don’t even finish reading the book, because I know it will be a waste of my time. It makes me sad to see an otherwise good story that is poorly written or edited. I’d like to be able to help such authors do a better job, but not as an unpaid editor. Nor, for that matter, do I even want to be a paid editor.

But, I am willing to dispense some free advice. If I haven’t reviewed your book in four months, you can safely assume that I will not review it, and the reason will be one of the things mentioned in the previous paragraph. At that point, do what I do when someone pans one of my books. Read it again, carefully, not as the author, but as if you’re a total stranger reading it for the first time. Read it objectively. Is your grammar off? Are there typos? Is the formatting different from other books (paragraphs not indented properly, spacing different)? Do you tend to purple prose or over-writing, or do you use excessive speech tags (he roared, whistled, groaned, etc.)? If so, rewrite, cut, add, or whatever you must to make it better. If, after doing this, you want to run it by me again, I’m always here, and I’ll happily add it to my queue—without any promises. What I cannot do is give you a line-by-line, page-by-page list of what’s wrong.

I read almost any genre, but there some I find hard to review. Stories that are just one sex scene after another, with little in the way of story to tie the scenes together; stories that make fun of handicaps, religion, gender, or ethnicity turn me off, as do stories that lack credibility, or just get facts wrong.

There you have it. Those are my review guidelines. Comply with them, and your book will eventually get reviewed. As an indie author myself, I know how important reviews are, and I have no wish to discourage struggling authors. As much as I can, I’m there for you, so keep writing and keep trying.

If you found this post helpful, feel free to leave a comment.

Top 1% Goodreads’ Reviewer

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1459554269-1459554269_goodreads_misc Have you ever opened your email and seen one that you’re tempted to delete without opening because it just seems highly improbable and is maybe a phishing scheme or an enticement to buy something? That’s kind of how I felt when I saw the subject line informing me that I was in the top 1% of Goodreads reviewers. I mean, sure, I write a lot of reviews and post them on Goodreads, but I wasn’t even aware that they were keeping track.


Turns out, though, that they were–are, and they let me know that since I signed up for Goodreads in 2010 I’ve done 704 reviews. Since I often review books here whenever I do Amazon or Goodreads reviews, that means I’ve done a few hundred here as well. Who’d of thunk it. Heck, I just like to read, and I like to share good books with others. Add to that my desire to see indie authors like myself succeed, and doing book reviews is a natural fit.

It hasn’t been all gravy, though. I’ve had a few authors take exception to my reviews when I didn’t give them four or five stars. Believe me, though, I’m a generous reviewer, and if I give a book three stars, chances are it’s actually a bit below that level. That, however, is not an assessment of the author of that book. Perhaps it’s just that the subject matter doesn’t impress me. More often than not, though, it’s because there are just too many technical problems; problems that can be solved with a good bout of proofreading or careful editing.

At any rate, this is, I know, just a bit of blatant horn-blowing and auto-back patting, but I just had to share this with all my readers. Oh, and if you haven’t discovered or signed up to Goodreads, you should really think about it. It’s not just a site for authors, but a good place to find the latest indie gems. Check it out at

Review of ‘How to Find Book Reviewers’

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Every author has to struggle with promoting his or her work, and getting a book reviewed is one of the best ways to get a buzz going. Getting people to review your book, though, can be a challenge. Werner Stejskal, a top-flight author of illustrated children’s books has penned an easy to read, common sense guide for doing just that.

His book, How to Find Book Reviewers, is a departure from his usual fare, but it’s written in the same simple style as his ‘Oliver and Stumpy’ books. In this book Stejskal describes the methods he uses to find reviewers, methods that can easily be used by anyone, indie author or those published by others—news flash, even the big publishers expect the authors to do the lion’s share of book promotion, unless you’re lucky enough to be an established best-seller.

With the advice in this book, you could very well one day join that stellar group. I give it five stars.

Review of ‘Monster ABCs: An Alphabet book from A to Z’

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Monster ABCs: An Alphabet book from A to Z by Sarah Holmlund is an excellent introduction to the alphabet for young readers. Excellent pictures illustrate the letters of the alphabet and introduce new words that will help any child gain verbal fluency, while at the same time enjoying the experience. Kids will especially appreciate the yellow monster that is drawn in a way that is endearing rather than scary.

Five stars to Holmlund for this entertaining little book!

There’s Nothing Wrong with Three-star Reviews

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Happy star

I read and review a lot of books. Most of them I love, some I like — and some, well, I don’t like so much.  I try always to give them as objective a review as possible. As an author, I know the importance of reviews to the visibility—and ultimately sales—of an author’s work.

Different people have different views of reviewing. I know some reviewers, for instance, who will not publish a review unless they can give it four or five stars. Others seem to delight in giving one and two-star reviews. Personally, if I can’t give a book at least three stars I will usually not review it. Some people view a three-star review as negative. I think that’s a mistaken view. It’s not over the moon, sure, but a three star review is saying that a book is acceptable, but it contains a few issues (typos, grammar, formatting, etc.) that detract from the reading experience.

As a writer I know how it feels to get a bad review, but I don’t think of the three-star reviews I get as negative. I take them as teaching moments. They’re telling me that I’ve written a so-so book that could have been better. If a book is on the verge of being great, but has two or three typos or grammatical errors, I’ll give it four stars. Five stars only go to books that wow me and have no issues. That’s the criteria used by Awesome Indies Readers and Reviewers which I apply not only to my reviews, but that I use when I’m doing the re-read and edit of my own work.

So, a piece of advice to young writers—especially those putting out their first book—that will help in the process of maturing as a writer: don’t let a three-star review send you into a fit of depression. Read it carefully and see what you can learn from it. Even after you’ve gained some experience as a writer, don’t expect to get all four and five-star reviews. Not everything you write will appeal to everyone. No problem. Just keep writing. Resolve to do better with each book, and let the stars fall where they may.

Rating System

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Rating System. From ‘A Well Read Woman’s’ blog. Very similar to my own rating system for reviewing books.

#IWSG: Writing Book Reviews – A Great Way to Improve Your Own Writing

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InsecureWritersSupportGroupHere is it, the first Wednesday of the month again, and time for another offering for Alex Cavanaugh’s Insecure Writer Support Group. It also happens to be the last first Wednesday of 2014, and I want to take the opportunity to say that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed being a part of this fantastic blogging community, offering advice and commiseration to fellow writers. Go here to join in and to see all the great blogs that are participating. This month, I’d like to offer a little advice on a way to improve your writing that you might not have thought of – writing book reviews.

All good writers are avid readers. I doubt that anyone would seriously disagree with that statement. Reading is a way to see how others do it, and learn new things – all important to a writer. If you seriously want to become an effective writer; one that people want to read; you should read, and read widely. Not just in the genre that you write, but broadly. You’d be surprised at the things you might learn by reading authors of a genre you’d never think of writing in. I, for instance, would never try to write a romance novel, but I find the way many good romance writers handle dialogue quite useful when I’m writing a mystery or western. I also like the way they handle character emotions. I’d never go so far in my own writing, but I do pick up some great ideas.

Back, though, to my main point – book reviews. Going beyond mere reading, and delving into a book in order to review it, is an effective way to improve your own writing techniques. As you read a book for review, pay close attention to the parts that particularly impress you – positively or negatively – and make a note of why that is so. In reviewing a novel once, by a fairly competent wordsmith who was a master at plotting, I found myself irritated that the author used one word – I forget the specific word now – over and over throughout the book. About halfway through, I found myself counting the number of times this particular word appeared. Later, as I was working on one of my own manuscripts, sensitive to what I’d just gone through, I picked up an annoying habit I had – I was obsessed with the word ‘nodded.’ I had characters nodding two or three times per chapter; sometimes more. I then went back through a couple of books I’d already published, and, what do you know – there was that damned ‘nodded’ cropping up over and over again. I have to confess, I haven’t totally eliminated the word from my vocabulary, but I am now more sensitive to its use, and I try to find alternative ways of indicating a characters assent to something. If I hadn’t noticed another author doing it – and if I hadn’t been reviewing the book, I might not have – I’d probably still be peppering my manuscripts with ‘nodded.’

I also get great story ideas from reviewing other books. After all, there are no new ideas; just old ideas dressed up in new clothes. My YA novel Wallace in Underland came to me when I was reading an autobiography of Lewis Carroll.

So, among all the things you’re doing to hone your skill as a writer, don’t ignore the humble book review.

Back to School Blog Hop with Author Linda Ulleseit

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What better way to get ready to pick up the books and endure the teachers’ dirty looks than to end the summer with a fantastic author of young adult novels, Linda Ulleseit. Apropos of nothing in particular, this back to school blog hop features the author and her works.

About the Author

Linda Ulleseit was born and raised in Saratoga, California, and has taught elementary school in San Jose since 1996. She enjoys cooking, cross-stitching, reading, and spending time with her family. Her favorite subject is writing, and her students get a lot of practice scribbling stories and essays. Someday Linda hopes to see books written by former students alongside hers in bookstores.

Her first novel, ON A WING AND A DARE, was published in 2012. It is a Young Adult fantasy set in medieval Wales, complete with flying horses, a love triangle, and treachery. It’s sequel, IN THE WINDS OF DANGER, was released March, 2013. The focus of that book is the misty past of a groom and the murky future of a rider. The last book in the trilogy is UNDER A WILD AND DARKENING SKY, May 2014. It follows a brother and sister, new to High Meadow, who become involved in a plot to steal flying horses.

Linda Ulleseit


As a child, Linda always loved to write. She took her first creative writing course in seventh grade, accumulating a closet full of stories that she never showed anyone until 2007. At that time, she gave the first draft of a flying horse book to a teacher colleague to read. ON A WING AND A DARE began as a NaNoWriMo novel in 2009. It was revised with the help of reviewers on over the next two years. For NaNo 2011, Linda drafted the sequel, IN THE WINDS OF DANGER. NaNoWriMo 2012 brought the first draft of UNDER A WILD AND DARKENING SKY, and NaNoWriMo 2013 saw the completion of UNDER THE ALMOND TREES. This last is a historical fiction that follows three women who struggle for women’s rights in early California.


Linda has also written a novella titled WINGS OVER TREMEIRCHSON, released as an ebook in Fall 2013. It follows the story of Hoel and Neste, parents of a main character in ON A WING AND A DARE.

Follow Linda Ulleseit


Linda is willing to do interviews and guest blog posts as well as have her books reviewed.

Books by Linda Ulleseit

  on a wing and a dareON A WING AND A DARE


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Book Blurb: Flying horses…a love triangle…poison….Welcome to Tremeirchson.


In Tremeirchson, a barn leader’s children are expected to follow their parents into the sky, becoming riders of the magnificent winged horses that are the medieval Welsh village’s legacy. Neither Emma nor Davyd, however, want to follow that tradition.


Sixteen-year-old Emma risks losing her family by following her heart. Eager to take her place in the air, she longs to ride a forbidden winged colt born in barn of her father’s biggest rival. She also dreams of the rival’s sons, not sure which she truly loves. Bold and exciting, Evan will someday lead his father’s barn. Davyd is quieter, more dependable, with an ability to get things done. Her father disapproves of both boys and pushes her toward an ambitious newcomer. He also insists she ride the colt he’s picked for her.


Davyd, also sixteen, is plagued with a secret—he is afraid of heights. Refusing to become a rider means public humiliation, his parents’ disappointment, and lifelong ridicule from his brother, Evan. He reluctantly prepares to join his family aloft in the Aerial Games that provide the entire village with its livelihood and tries desperately to think of an alternative.


As Tremeirchson’s barns prepare for the Rider Ceremony, winged horses suddenly start dying. Shocked, the adults hesitate, mired in tradition and politics. Is it a disease or poison? Accidental or purposeful? Someone must discover the answer and act before all the winged horses in the world are gone forever.

IN THE WINDS OF DANGER in the winds of danger


On Amazon:


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Book blurb:

Nineteen year old Nia is shocked when she is secretly offered the leadership of Third Barn. This new barn full of flying horses will need someone confident, experienced, and innovative, so why are both warring factions pursuing an untried girl? Suspicious that both sides want a puppet instead of a leader, Nia races to discover their secrets before making the biggest decision of her life.

Some of those secrets are unknowingly buried in the disconnected memories of a young groom named Owain. Terror and guilt haunt Owain’s dreams – and then a face from his nightmare arrives in High Meadow. Owain looks for answers in his past and uncovers a dangerous plot that could doom High Meadow’s future. How can he foil the plot and save his people as well as the winged horses?




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Ralf knows he must take over his father’s bakery, but is it wrong to want some adventure before he does? New to High Meadow, he is befriended by the beautiful and dangerous Branwen, who has her own goal—to entice Ralf to help her steal a winged horse and return it to Tremeirchson.


Meanwhile, Ralf’s sister, Alyna, dives into barn life. Becoming a groom to a winged foal is a lot of responsibility to the horse, to the barn, and to her father, who idolizes the wrong barn leader. Politics, greed, and revenge swirl around the teenaged siblings as they struggle to be true to their family and their future.


WINGS OVER TREMEIRCHSON (a flying horse novella)wings over

Book Blurb: Eighteen year old Neste rides a winged horse in Tremeirchson’s Aerial Games and she is betrothed to the barn leader’s son, Hoel. Life would be wonderful if Hoel wasn’t so unpleasant to the other riders. Adam, on the other hand, is handsome and nice but a terrible rider. Together, Hoel and Adam are the perfect man. Obviously she can’t have both of them. When Neste’s winged horse is involved in a terrible accident, her life changes and she must make different choices about her future. Can she go against her father’s dying wish that she marry Hoel? Can she forgive Adam? Can she make a life away from the barn and the winged horses she loves?



Free on Smashwords:









On Amazon:




Under the Almond Trees is the story of my family – three ordinary women in California who lived extraordinary lives. It started with a falling tree branch that killed Ellen VanValkenburgh’s husband in 1862, forcing her to assume leadership of his paper mill, something women weren’t allowed to do. Women weren’t allowed to vote yet, either. Ellen decided that had to change, and became a suffragette. In 1901, Emily Williams , Ellen’s daughter-in-law, became an architect – very much against her family’s wishes. No one would hire a woman, but Emily would not be deterred. She and her life partner Lillian set out to build homes themselves. By the 1930’s women enjoyed more freedom, including the vote. Even so, Ellen’s granddaughter Eva VanValkenburgh chose a traditional life of marriage and children, even closing her photography business at her husband’s insistence. When he later refused to pay for their daughter’s college education, Eva followed the example of her Aunt Emily and reopened her photography business. I am proud to call these women family and honored to share their story.

‘The Culling’ – My Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Entry

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I’ve entered The Culling in the 2014 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest. A preview excerpt is posted on, and I’d love reader feedback.  Check it out.

Cover for The Culling

Review of “Hour of the Wolf” by Andrius B. Tapinas

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Hour of the Wolf  by Andrius B. Tapinas is a tale of intrigue and not a small amount of horror, set in Russia, spanning a period from 1870 to x.

A financially strapped Imperial Russia, suffering corruption and the excessive consumption of its ruling class, is approached by the Rothschild Corporation with a deal; give them several cities with which they can form an Alliance in which they can carry out scientific research, practice alchemy and other pursuits, and in return, they would write off the Empire’s debts and guarantee no interest on credits for 30 years.

To the advisors to Grand Duke Konstantin Nikolajevich, many of whom with their fingers in the till, it seemed like a grand deal. But then, deals with the devil often are.

Anti-Semitic and intensely nationalistic, the Russians quickly begin to look for a way to get out of the deal. But, deals with those who can summon magic – or higher technology – are not so easily broken.

A fanciful tale, rich in local color, culture, and history, Hour of the Wolf will delight fans of mystery, international intrigue, and fantasy alike. It is alternate history that reads like it could have come from the headlines – albeit a counterculture media outlet. It’s not without a touch of humor here and there either. It is a bit heavy with Russian names, but this merely adds to its authenticity. One word of criticism: some of the names are quite complicated, and a little judicious editing is in order to make sure they are consistent throughout the text. Grand duke Konstantin, for instance, is Nikolayovitch in one paragraph and Nikolajevich in a following paragraph on the same page. A minor glitch in what is otherwise an outstanding first novel.

I received a free copy of this book for review, but would have been quite happy to purchase it.  I give Hour of the Wolf a solid four stars.

Review of “Manhattan Transfer” by John E. Stith

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Manhattan has been stolen! Not a person named Manhattan, nor the drink, nor some objet d’art with that unlikely name. No, the island – the whole freaking island of Manhattan – has been sealed in a transparent dome, dug up, and lifted off the earth.

When it reaches its destination (?), the people inside the dome can see other domes containing other cities. Then begins a frenetic effort to survive, determine their circumstances, and hopefully, escape.

John E. Stith’s Manhattan Transfer is science fiction in the epic style. With aliens aplenty, mind-boggling technology, and puny humans who must somehow prevail against impossible odds. Told from multiple points of view, Manhattan is a story shown primarily from the point of view of Matt Sheehan, a former soldier, who was riding the subway to his new job when the train was sliced up. He finds himself taking the lead in efforts to get out of the predicament the city’s residents find themselves in. After some searching, they find the abducting aliens, an arachnid-like race they call Archies. The question then becomes, are the Archies the dangerous predators they appear to be, or is there something else at work.

You’ll have to read the book to find out, and, I assure you that you’ll be shocked. This is sci-fi as sci-fi was meant to be. A story told on a grand scale through the efforts of individuals to make sense of their environment. Heroic deeds; and some acts that are less than heroic. The characters, even the aliens, are believable; the technology is described in a way that makes you want to believe; and, the action is consistent with the environment Stith has created.

If you like science fiction, don’t miss this book. If you’ve never read science fiction before, make this your introduction to this genre. You won’t be disappointed.