Archive for August, 2012

VIDEO!

Posted: August 28, 2012 in Non-Fiction

Baltimore: Anatomy of an American City

A Cup Full of Midnight : A Jared McKean Mystery
By: Jaden Terrell
Hardcover, 288 pages Published August 15th 2012 by The Permanent Press
ISBN13: 9781579622251

Overall 4 out of 5 stars

This is is second book in the Jared McKean Mystery series. I have not read the first book, yet, but as soon as I get a chance to, I will. A Cup Full of Midnight is a murder mystery. McKean is a private investigator and former homicide detective whose nephew has become a suspect the the murder of a former lover. McKean gets involved to clear his nephew’s name but uncovers a lot more trouble than simply clearing his nephew’s name.

Creativity 4 out of 5 stars

This is a classic murder mystery in format and the story itself is classic murder mystery so the for stars do not come from the creativity in plot. The four stars come from one of the two outstanding things about this novel, style. Jaden Terrell’s writing style is awesome, I loved it. There is a certain style to the writing that i cannot quite explain. Jaden Terrell does a little more telling than showing than I do, but it really works. Terrell leaves much of the scene to the imagination of the reader, which I prefer because it makes everyone see the book from a slightly different perspective, but Terrell throws in these little nuances of the scene that you would probably not even notice in a movie, but add a poetic style to the writing.

Characters 5 out of 5 stars

These characters jump from the pages and this is really where Jaden Terrell shines. Almost all of the characters have the appropriate amount of page space, have  their own uniqueness that you can relate to and really make the story. The best thing about this book is the main character, Jared McKean, who is one of the best protagonist that I have ever read about. These types of books generally have extremely tough, manly men, that you wouldn’t really like in real life, overly smart detective minds that make preposterous conclusions with psychic like abilities, or females that have and implausible ability to defeat multiple foes that are way stronger than her, but not McKean. Jared McKean is human, his vulnerability, compassion,  and realism shine through to create a main character that you can empathize with, root for, and thoroughly enjoy. This is everything that character development should be. When other authors read my criticisms about their characters, this is how it should be.

Spelling and Grammar 4 out of 5 stars

I did not find anything glaring about the editing at all. The knock comes from the occasional repeating of certain things. For instance, the first time Jaden wrote about a character counting down with his fingers by saying that he ticked them off on his fingers, which was a nice way of visualizing the movement of pulling the top of a finger down, like people do to count something off, but the third or fourth time I heard it, the uniqueness was lost and it became annoying.

Execution 4 out of 5 stars

Jaden Terrell executed A Cup Full of Midnight very well. For about three fourths of the way through, I thought I knew how it would end, but I was wrong, which was nice. The best part about the execution was that while McKean has a police background and still has connections in the department, Jaden Terrell has some familiarity, but is no expert and chose to not get into the procedural elements of how police interact or run investigations, like I do in Eliot because it is my expertise. Terrell chose instead to focus on character driven elements of the plot and did it exceptionally well.

Without question I recommend this book to anyone that enjoys mysteries or character driven stories. Outstanding job by Jaden Terrell and please remember that recommendation does not come very often from me.

Michael A. Wood Jr.
The Critical Critic

Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator By: Ryan Holiday
Hardcover, 288 pages Published July 19th 2012 by Portfolio Hardcover
ISBN13: 9781591845539

Overall 3 out of 5 stars

My system is set up to review fiction novels, so I will have to adapt a bit. I received this copy of Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator in a Goodreads.com giveaway, which I have been having some good luck with lately, enough to have a hard time keeping up on reviewing them. I received a signed copy, so I guess I feel pretty cool right now.

It’s not that there is anything wrong with this book that I am giving it 3 stars, it simply did not entertain me enough to warrant higher, or lower. Ryan Holiday built most of his reputation and education working in public relations with Tucker Max, author of I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell, and for American Apparel. Holiday tells some of the behind the scenes stories of “news” stories that have grabbed the spotlight in recent years. This behind the scenes look includes how he has manipulated the system to grab positive attention for his employers and fend of negative attention, as well as how the world of blogging is flawed in its fundamental structure.

A lot of what Holiday reveals about the underbelly of internet media is shocking to say the least. It’s not as if we don’t know how it works, but when Holiday lays it all out so you can easily see the cause and effect, you will be left with no desire to ever read an internet blog again. This subject was quite interesting to me because, being an aspiring author without a publisher or literary agent, I need to find a way to get my work out there on my own. I was hopeful that maybe there was some dark magic to be revealed in Holiday’s writing, but sadly not for me. I even tried one of Holiday’s techniques without any success, no that it did not work in his world, but these are not universal tactics.

It would be grand if Holiday ended this on a positive note, but he couldn’t even if he wanted to. No matter how much he reveals, the internet world of page views and advertising will keep us all being feed gossip, lies, and half truths as long as people keep clicking on the headline, and they will.

Creativity 3 out of 5 stars

Again, it’s not has if Holiday had to come up with a gripping fiction plot, he is just telling his version of some events that he has been a part of. It is like my police leadership guides, you really can’t give me creativity points for writing about what I do for a living, can you?

Characters N/A

Spelling and Grammar 4 out of 5 stars

Some of the normal run on sentences or confusing sections that had to be re-read but certainly nothing distracting like some books I have read that are so bad, you just start looking for the errors instead of reading.

Execution 3 out of 5 stars

Holiday worked with what he had. Ironically, just like he talks about in the book pertaining to people simply not being very interested in fact based news that is supported by evidence, he subject just isn’t sensational enough for me to get all giddy about. That is quite a sad truth that Holiday repeatedly comes back to in the book and I give 3 out of 5 stars to support his beliefs. Holiday often repeats himself in the book and I assume that is because he believes in what he is saying and really wants to make people understand.

I enjoyed Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator as I think anyone that is into social media, blogs, self-promotion, advertising, conspiracies, et cetera would also enjoy giving this a read, maybe in ebook or something though, I can’t see forking over hardback money for this.

Oh Literary Agents

Posted: August 7, 2012 in Uncategorized

Why do you hate me so?

A.I. Apocalypse
by William Hertling
Paperback, 262 pages
Published May 24th 2012 by liquididea press (first published March 1st 2012)
ISBN 0984755748

Overall: 1 out of 5 stars

Being an aspiring writer myself makes these types of reviews very hard to do. If I am also going to be “The Critical Critic” which I very much enjoy and like to be a gatekeeper of quality, then I have no choice.

I only read the first few chapters of A.I. Apocalypse and skimmed the rest because it was simply all I could take. No matter how much William Hertling wanted to write a good story or had good ideas, there is simply no way that he can look someone in the eye and said that he did his best writing this book. There is minimal effort given in writing A.I. Apocalypse and it came through in the pages and dialogue. Reading the first few chapters, I said to my wife that it read like someone who just used technology terms but had no idea what they actually meant, then I read on the back cover that William Hertling is a fifteen year veteran of the technology field and that is….let’s just say interesting.

If you had to put A.I. Apocalypse into a genre, it would be a technological thriller set in the not so distant United States. A 17 yeard old, smart kid develops a virus that infects the computers and things become a mess.

Creativity: 1 star

Anyone heard of this idea before?

Spelling and Grammar: 3 stars

Nothing stood out, but wasn’t really looking.

Characters: 1 star

The main character Leon, is very smart and has aspirations of going to a great college. Leon’s family cannot afford college, so he is doing his best to fulfill his dream and hunts after a scholarship, from being so smart, Almost, immediately he completely risks all his dreams because an uncle, that he has met once and lives in Russia, emails him, asking for help in committing a crime. When the main character’s completely violates his reported personality, imagine how weak the rest of the characters are. I am a rookie writer, I know that, but this mistake is a basic writing no-no.

Execution:  Black hole that adsorbed all of the other stars

The whole of the writing sounds like someone simply making stuff up to try and sound cool or fool the people around them. I have to go over some of them:

It took 6 years to develop this cell phone, if you spend six years developing something in today’s technology, how obsolete would it be when it came out? You can’t spend six years developing anything anymore.

These teens spend time drooling over the resolution of this cellphone screen and this is set in the future. It doesn’t matter how high the resolution of the screen is…WE CAN’T SEE IT! The new ipad screen exceeds our visual capabilities. We are at the limit now of not what technology can do, but what we can see and anyone into graphics knows this, and these kids would know this for sure.

This is set in the future with crazy technology, but the communication that changes everything, was sent on email? to his phone? and the guy waiting for a response keeps clicking refresh to see if he got a response, who clicks refresh anymore? and this is like 40 plus years in the future, we are using email to send what a simple text message could?

All of the cars have government mandated stopping devices to avoid collisions and the HOV lane cars are controlled by a central computer. This is not fantasy, this is our world in the near future, so these things must have a logical basis. The cars would all need to be retrofitted with this technology at a cost that would be impossible, even if we started today with such a project, it would take 15-20 years to accomplish and that’s just for stopping, now centrally controlled cars is a whole different problem. This must be set a good 40 or more years in the future but the military still has some 1960-70 jeeps running around?

One character’s father was in the military about 14 years ago (in the story’s timeline) and she has his M16, they hardly use M16 now, they won’t be using them 30 years from now.

The electric car engines, emit an electric whine noise, but today’s electric motors are silent, thus the controversy over the subject with blind people not being able to hear them. Did we suddenly lose technology and our electric engines got noisy?

When downloading an email attachment from his uncle, Leon note’s the huge size of the file. The files was nothing but text, algorithms, and notes, By today’s standard that files doesn’t make a blip. With today’s technology an entire book is (overestimated) 2MB and my service can download at 9MB/sec (and that’s slow compared to some) so in 1 second, I can presently download 4.5 books, Leon certainly didn’t even download that much and with future bandwidth and file that size would be literally nothing.

This novel feels cheesy and a less than half hearted effort. There is no effort to research technology, military, or anything at that matter. The characters are weak and violate their own codes. I do not recommend this book to anyone for any reason.

By the way, this is the sequel to Avogadro Corp: The Singularity Is Closer Than It Appears

Michael A. Wood Jr.
“The Critical Critic”
http://www.criticalcriticreviews.com


Damage Control: A Jonathan Grave Thriller
By: John Gilstrap
Mass Market Paperback, 400 pages
Published June 5th 2012 by Kensington Publishing Corp.
ISBN 0786024933
edition languageEnglish
url: http://www.kensingtonbooks.com/finditem.cfm?itemid=20659

Overall: 4 out of 5 Stars

Maybe I’m too critical, haha, I am the Critical Critic, but when I see a mass market paperback, I frown. That’s what I did when I received Damage Control in a Goodreads giveaway. I have promised myself that I would conduct a thorough, unbiased, review of every book that an author sends me, so I cracked open Damage Control. I loved it! This is an entertaining thriller in John Gilstrap’s Jonathan Grave series, of which I have not read any of the others, but I am certainly ready to, now. Jonathan Grave has spend a life being the hunter, but now he is the hunted. His back against the wall, he must fight to survive, while still protecting his valuable cargo, a young teen, Tristan.

Creativity: 2 stars

Sorry, but it is not that I am knocking Gilstrap here, it is just not creative, not in the surprising or revolutionary sense. As stated under the Execution section, I believe Gilstrap could take any old idea and pull it off well.

Characters: 4 stars

There are many characters in Damage Control that play roles in helping or harming the three targets, Graves, Boxers, and Wagner there was no connection with them, but there didn’t need to be. Graves, Boxers, and Wagner were very well written. I felt the personalities of all three of them, their actions were always consistent with their stated personalities. In other words, show and tell, blended seamlessly, a true compliment for a writer.

Spelling and Grammar: 5 stars

I always look for grammar and spelling errors, none were noticed.

Execution: 5 stars

I am going to admit some arrogance and prejudice here. When I am about to read something based off of the military or police, my experience in the Marine Corps and Baltimore Police Department causes me to brace myself for tons of B.S. about tactics, weapons, the way we speak, and so forth. I looked on the back cover and saw the picture of John Gilstrap, honestly, I presumed, here we go again, what could this guy know about tactics and weapons? Once again, I was put in my place. John Gilstrap thanks some SEAL members and other military members for teaching him a bit. Whether they were excellent trainers or Gilstrap is an excellent learner, I cannot say, but I did not find myself complaining a single time about the military and police issues. A job well done, indeed.

When I write, I painstaking focus on ensuring that there is not a single flaw in my time lines and that everything makes complete sense. Due to my OCD, I constantly looks for flaws in this with other writers. While there were some minor issues that I noticed in Damage Control, nothing detracted from the story and the real praise for Gilstrap is that I am sure there are more. The praise comes in the fact that I was so into the story, it was so fact paced, and there was so much going on that I lost my desire to scrutinize the details.

I think that anyone that enjoys reading, would have to enjoy Damage Control, regardless of their preferred genre. The story has a bit of everything, while predominately a thriller, there are some love interest, comedy, and mystery, in order to appeal to everyone. This is the first novel that I am giving 4 stars to and the first that I can  recommend to everyone. I am reserving my 5 stars for a true classic, if it ever comes along.

Michael A. Wood Jr.
“The Critical Critic”
http://www.criticalcriticreviews.com


Jordan Wilde – The Devil’s Hoof Prints
By Frederic M. Perrin
292 pages Published 2012 by Ankh Books
ISBN: 9780973803624

Overall: 2.5 out of 5 stars

I approach book reviews as if I were buying them off of a shelf, so first impression of Jordan Wilde – The Devil’s Hoof Prints is that of a dark pirate book, so I was a little surprised to find out that it is a young adult novel. Surprisingly, I read the entire novel in a few hours. It kept my interest for sure, but also there are deep margins and excess sentence spacing, which makes the 292 pages appear much longer than it actually is. Jordan Wilde – The Devil’s Hoof Prints is a classic treasure hunt / mystery about fourteen year old, Jordan Wilde, who is pretty much a young Batman that does not fight. I had a hard time giving this novel a score because of the problems I had with it, but I was entertained and read it without stopping, and I must admit that if people read my novel, Eliot, and did the same thing, I would consider that success.

Creativity: 2 out of 5 stars

While I was entertained,  simple minds are amused by simple things, there was absolutely nothing original about the novel. The mixture of Batman, Hardy Boys, Pirates, and Mission Impossible, was interesting. This novel would make an outstanding, seriously, Disney or Nickelodeon original movie for television. They should look into that. I know my daughter would be thrilled by such a movie.

Spelling and Grammar: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Here is something that needs investigation. Why is it that every independently or self published book that I have read, has way better editing than those form the major authors and publishing houses? Two I noticed, p.105, improper possessive James’s and p.108 improper comma. Overall, very good.

Execution: 2 out of 5 stars

I know this was written for young adults, but they are not completely stupid. It is partly my problem of reading too deeply into everything, but here are some problems I had:

1. Initially, I had no clue, judging by cover-art that this was young adult.
2. It is deceivingly short, feels shady.
3. The characters has no sense of realism or connection, at all.
4. FBI agents had to go on a trip and already had a key fob for a car parked in another state, pre-paid for an entire hotel to be booked (while supposedly trying to be under the radar), but waited in line to buy first class plan tickets just before the plan took off?
5. FBI agent demonstrated outward disdain for a war-hero, purple heart, Marine vet? No FBI field agent would ever be that way, other agents and police would check that attitude at the door.
6. Agents were shot up with machine guns, but lived because they had concealed bullet-proof vests. Come on Mr. Perrin, a little bit of research and or realism, no vest can withstand multiple rifle rounds, let alone a thin plain clothes type.
7. The detective teen has a secret , James Bond / Batman, technology division with nano-machines and his own satellite, but after he has already been threatened with active sniper shots, they only scan 300 feet around him, and the bad guys just happen to be 385 feet away from him. Again, I know this is fantasy but the enemy in this are ex-military with unlimited funds and weaponry, 3,000 foot shots would be routine for them, but they only scan 300 feet? They also have audio capability, which they only use once, despite hundreds of times it should have been used.
8. While driving in the dark and turning off the headlights, to move without giving away their position, they use the brakes, which would activate the brake lights and light up the night. Any military / police / criminal knows to use the emergency brake so they brake lights do not come on.
9. Quicksand cannot consume / drown a person.
10. The teenage millionaire owns all kinds of things, buildings, his company, the technology wing, an arcade, et cetera, but is not emancipated?
11. The fourteen year old detective fights a trained, ruthless, military veteran and wins? Come on again, reminds me of Obi Wan defeating Darth Maul with a light saber, just dumb, he would need to outwit him, not physically win.
12. The fourteen year old detective and his thirteen year old girlfriend act and speak like 30 year olds, which just throws some credibility out of the window, I don’t care how smart he is.

It was an interesting read, like I said, I was entertained, but there were so many “come ‘on now” moments that it took a lot away. I cannot recommend this novel for serious reading, but if you are in the mood for light, mindless entertainment, then it can hit the spot, especially if you are not being critical of the facts.

Michael A. Wood Jr.
“The Critical Critic”

http://www.michaelawoodjr.com


Learning From the Octopus: How Secrets from Nature Can Help Us Fight Terrorist Attacks, Natural Disasters, and Disease
By: Rafe Sagarin

Overall: 4 out of 5 Stars

First and foremost, this book should be required reading and studying for every single military and law enforcement member in the U.S. and our allies, we do not want our adversaries adapting these lessons.

In Learning From the Octopus, Rafe Sagarin makes some extremely compelling arguments for the lessons found all over nature that can enhance public safety in a multitude of fashions. I make this evaluation from a point of experience, as I have been a police supervisor in Baltimore, and a Sergeant in the United States Marine Corps. From the inappropriate allocation of resources of the TSA to the mismanagement that is rooted in law enforcement, Rafe Sagarin finds examples of successful implementation of more efficient and better management that has already been proven to work, in nature.

I don’t think that the subject matter of better management is anything revolutionary, scholars and successful businesses have been showing law enforcement the better ways to manage for a long time now. What Rafe Sagarin does that is special is bring it down to simple examples that can be understood by all education and experience levels. From the patrol officer just out of the academy to the federal czars, there are simple lessons that can make citizens safer and utilize their money more efficiently.

Creativity: 5 stars
I have spent a great deal of effort in my personal writings to try and find a way to break through the wall of comfort that is found in law enforcement. I sincerely hope that this new angle of speaking to those working to protect us can help open their eyes to the mismanagement that is everywhere. Law Enforcement especially is extremely afraid of change, which is why they keep doing the same things over and over, with the same pathetic results. Rafe Sagarin does an excellent job of presenting a creative new way to encourage a change for the better.

Spelling and Grammar: 3 stars
Rafe Sagarin is not an author, he is a marine ecologist, so given that, he did a very good job at presenting his case. I did not discover any obvious errors, but the writing is educational in nature and thus, does not flow like a book. There are sections that repeat and sections that can speak over the head of the target audience, but he does the best that he can.

Execution: 4 stars
Overall, I am in awe of the work that Rafe Sagarin has put together her. This execution gets knocked down to four stars because of the occasional speaking over our heads and the biggest flaw in the whole book, a glaring hypocrisy. Granted Rafe Sagarin is a marine ecologist, has a love and respect for the environment, and by nature of his profession has been force-fed liberal agendas, but if he is going to speak to us in public safety about thinking on a new level and appreciating history, he must do the same, else his lessons fall on deaf ears.

Rafe Sagarin makes some humorous and intelligent insights into how religious beliefs are a key factor in many of the poor decisions that humans make or beliefs that they hold dear, even when all evidence points to the contrary. While I agree with him, I cannot overlook that his religion of global warming has blocked some of his own thinking.

Here is an example on pages that sit next to each other:

Page 150: “And we ignore over 100 years of collected scientific wisdom while we watch human-induced climate change alter our entire planet.”
Page 151: “If we convert our years as humans on Earth to words in a book, analyzing security only in the context of the past few thousand years of human history is like trying to understand all of War and Peace by reading only the last word.”

Page 151 is where Rafe Sagarin speaks to us, page 150 is where I can’t help but dismiss him. Mr. Sagarin, if the past thousand years of human history is the last word of War and Peace, then looking at the last 100 years of weather patterns is like reading the last word in the entire library of congress.

Michael A. Wood Jr.

“The Critical Critic”

http://www.michaelawoodjr.com

*** Advance Reader’s Copy ***
Portlandtown: A Tale of the Oregon Wyldes
By: Ron Deborde

Overall: 3 out of 5 Stars
*** Please not that this novel is not due out until October 2012 and I am reviewing an advance reader’s copy that could be slightly altered.

Based upon the cover art and the description that this was a “western a la Stephen King’s Dark Tower…” I pretty much had a good idea of what the novel would feel like and what you imagine is pretty accurate.
Years ago, a mysterious and powerful criminal was put down by Joseph Wylde and his father-in-law, the former U.S. Marshall. The criminal was known as the Hanged Man. The Hanged Man possessed a powerful book of black magic and a cursed revolver, which were the sources of his power. The black magic falls into the wrong hands and the Hanged Man is resurrected.

The Hanged Man seeks to redeem his former power and exact revenge on those who put him down. I do not want to give away any spoilers, so I will leave it at that.

Creativity: 3 stars

The basic premise to the story had pieces of things we have all seen before, but they are interesting and I did not feel as though I was reading something that I had before.

Spelling and Grammar: 5 stars

Considering that I was reviewing an advance copy, I was looking particularly hard at finding errors. I really had a hard time finding any. There were two minor finds, that I am not even sure were errors. The spelling, grammar, and formatting were absolutely outstanding.

Execution: 2 stars

Here is where I had my problems with Portlandtown. I felt as though there were too many characters, so it was almost impossible to connect too much with any of the characters. Joseph Wylde’s children, Kick and Maddie, were extremely interesting and I really wish that they would have ended up the heroes. The Hanged Man was also a very interesting character and I really wanted to know more of him and his tale.

There were many other characters in which so much time was spent with, I thought they would be more integral to the story, but they ended up largely irrelevant.

Page Turning: 4 stars

I definitely kept turning the pages because the buildup to the climax was very good. The problem wasn’t being interested, the problem was with where it concluded. I was left wanting so much more, maybe that was intentional because a prequel is a strong possibility with this. The Wylde’s were the heroes, but the Hanged Man is who I was interested in.

Overall: 3 stars

Very much a good premise and there was a great story here, but it was drowned out by the uninteresting characters. I cannot say that I recommend the book to fans of this genre (because you have already read better books like this), but for those that have not read much from this genre, I certainly can.

Michael A. Wood Jr.
“The Critical Critic”

http://www.michaelawoodjr.com