A Muse Bouche Review: December 2019

Tony McFarland.jpg

Dedicated to Tony McFarland (May 1970 – November 2019)

This issue is for our dear friend Melanie, who’s father passed away on November 20th.

Tony McFarland was honestly the best father I could imagine. I knew him as Dad, an artist, historian and the best person for a hug in the world (even with complaints). He was the kind of dad that did cheerleading moves to practice with his daughter or learn a dance because it was important to them. He drew cartoons to make them happy and knew all the Disney songs by heart. He painted their nails, cut their hair and (only once) did braids.

But he was also a jack of all trades. Everyone who met him immediately fell for the sarcastic dark humor that fell from his lips. He made sure that if he did it, he did it right. He gave 110% at any job he did and no matter the pay.

And that rolled over into everything. He met my mom in Freshman year of high school and by Junior year, they were together. They’ve been together for over 30 years.

On November 20th, he was doing what he did every day with people who loved him like a brother. And while we may not have been there, he knew without a doubt that we love him. We told him every day, especially through the bad.

The final lesson he ever taught me was that pursuing what you love is not what breaks you, it’s when you give in to societal pressure to be something your not. He held my hand as I read my last rejection and stood with me when I decided to self publish. That’s the biggest and best lesson I have ever learned.

by Melanie Reed

To Melanie and her family, we offer our love and condolences:
Packy Smith, Jessa Kaina, Kelly Kristensen, Paul Grealish, Jess Hardy, Alex Gardner, Crystal Kirkham, Renée Gendron, Dustin Hitz, Christopher Rice

A Muse Bouche Review Logo

Feature: Writing is a Contract with Your Reader   (Renée Gendron)   Writing Advice
The Critic & the Author   (Guest: Jessa Kaina)   Fiction
So It Goes   (D. W. Hitz)    Fiction
A Guide to Reading My Work   (Paul Grealish)   Satire
Can We Talk About: Romance Tropes   (Jess K Hardy)   Writing Advice
Reading With Your Ears   (Packy Smith)   Writing Advice
Libraries and Digital Materials   (Alexandra Gardner)   Public Library Guidance
The Necessary Art of Leaving Reviews   (Crystal Kirkham)   Reader Advice
A Jar of Mushrooms   (E.G. Deaile)   Fiction

Editor’s Note:

Kelly Kristensen (@kellykediting) is recovering this month. We wish her a speedy return and can’t wait to see what she creates for our next issue!

AMBR December Feature:
Writing is a Contract with Your Reader

by Renée Gendron (@reneegendron)

Respecting your readers is the cornerstone to building a fan base and developing your writing career. There are no greater compliments for a writer than to hear: your writing inspired me, or I loved your book. Better yet, I loved your previous book so much, I’m going to buy the next.

I’d like to share some thoughts on how I’m developing my readership. I write across genres. All my books are fantasy romances with an additional genre such as crime, thriller, action-adventure and so on.

There are the four things I include in my contract with my readers:

  1. Be specific as to what my book contains
  2. Have interesting characters
  3. Have an interesting plot (by playing around with tropes)
  4. Engaging prose that is as mistake-free as I can make it

I’ve noticed people who are disappointed in a book tend to be so because the book didn’t deliver on the expectations of back cover. If the back cover said the book was sci-fi, but there was no mention of being in space, or establishing a world in a futuristic setting, or has aliens in it, then it’s reasonable for the readers to be unfulfilled.

When a reader picks up one of my books, they’re entering a contract with me. On my back cover, I make it clear that my book is about half romance with high heat (explicit sex) and half fantasy plot that occurs in a second world. I then make clear the fantasy plot revolves solving a crime, committing a heist, going on a quest and so on. By being clear, I establish expectations for the reader and deliver on them. If a reader doesn’t like the terms of the contract, they don’t pick up my book.

After I’ve established the expectations of the reader, I need to show my worth as a writer. Romances are character driven and fantasy books are plot driven. Like in all books, the challenge is to have interesting characters and strong plots.

I’ve been disappointed many times by a great story arc with boring characters. Flat characters wounded me as a reader and made me think twice if I should buy the author’s next release.

Characters aren’t two dimensional like the pages they’ve been printed on. They need quirks, personalities, mannerisms and back stories. They need to have deep hurts and great joys and goals that propel them through the story. Too many characters are flat because they don’t have individual goals or conflicts. The more challenges a character suffers through, the more the reader will be interested in knowing how they are getting out of their current sorry state of affairs.
The last thing I do to build trust and rapport with my readers is to nail the prose. How many times have you read: he spun on his heel or her gaze slid from face to face? It’s been done and done and done, so often there are layers of dust on both expressions. Don’t get me wrong, I use these in my WIPs, but to respect my readers, I make a conscious effort to limit the use of the tried-and-true expressions and strive to come up with new ways of describing the action.

Let’s take ‘he spun on his heel’ as example. Which other verb could be used? He swiveled, he pivoted, he swung around. Those are less common usages and can still engage the reader. I can also expand the sentence to give stronger characterisation. For example, he turned and limped towards her, his body as broken as the look in his eyes. This adds more detail about the character, hints at a problem/conflict (broken look) and adds a component about the relationship. Why does he look broken? Something he did? Something she said? By adding layers to a simple action, I’m enticing the reader with details and intrigue. The more engaged the reader is with my story, the more they will devour it.

When I’ve done all of this, I turn my work over to beta readers. I found beta readers through the creation of a local writing club. We shred each other’s work to encourage each to do better. A professional edit is always a good thing, but it can be cost prohibitive. If you can’t afford a line edit, consider having a structural edit where a professional editor will read and shred your work, look for problems with the plot, problems with the characters, and common errors you make in your prose. They won’t correct the errors, they’ll leave it to you to correct them, but it’s still an improvement.

My promise to my readers is that I will do my utmost to produce quality work – no matter how many drafts it takes. I’ve developed a steel jaw when it comes to feedback because I know I need that kind of criticism to polish my work.

Writing is as much craft as passion. My hope is that by being clear with my reader, I establish the parameters of our relationship and keep them coming back for more.

How will you establish a contract with your reader?

PS: TV Tropes is a great website to research tropes per genre. I use it as a tool to plot tropes and come up with unique twists.

Guest Contributor!
The Critic & The Author

by Jessa Kaina (@JessaKaina)

The author sat first, spinning their wedding band around their finger. Her two toddlers were resting at home with their father. They had finally settled into a routine of napping in the afternoon after much resistance. She had written the book when the second toddler was born, editing the pages from her hospital bed.

The critic was seated across. She straightened her shirt, drumming quietly on the side of the chair. She didn’t have any inclinations towards this author. She read too many books to form her own biases against their personas. She read the pages and commented solely on the book, in its own right.

They were both briefed before the segment. The public wanted drama. They wanted emotional outbursts, bloodshed, during the debate. They wanted to see each of them fight for the superior hand.

The two women had never met before. Nor were they allowed to engage before their appearance.

With only a five-second countdown, the first bell sounded. The battle had begun.

They turned to their phones and began to type.

They were instructed to be harmless with their jabs in the beginning. It gave depth to the conversation as the audience would rush back to see where the first exchange had happened. It would be news. A scandal. At the expense of their person. But such was the price of fame, they were told.

The critic posted her review. Two stars.

The author’s phone dinged several times. In came the messages of outraged fans, eager to share stories about how the book had changed their lives. They insisted the review was unjust, the book could haven’t possibly received a measly two stars. Though they were also quick to defend countless books before, the books that had changed their lives before this one.

The author’s first response was decided, one not to respond at all.

The critic continued to engage in neutrality, in her responses to both fans and self-proclaimed haters alike, ignoring the trolls. She agreed with valid points regardless of which side presented them. She engaged in conversations, literary debates, and meaningful interactions. She knew that books were never one-sided, it was a combination of the meaning presented by the author and observed from the readers.

The author set her phone on the table until the notifications finally halted. She allowed the storm to pass.

She checked her private messages. Fans and friends expressed their opinions, she expressed her gratitude.

Both the author and critic engaged in their messages, the critic in public and the author in private, until the crew asked them to stop. An exchange that was designed to expose and linger, was completed in less than a half-hour.

The crew dismissed the author and the critic. They both walked away, still having never engaged, to focus on their next book.

So It Goes

by D. W. Hitz (@dustinhitz)

EPOCH: 342534023836.3411

December 18,

My name is Barry Watson. I’m writing this account in case we end up dead. It’s been three days since Emma and I watched Denver get vaporized, and two since we’ve seen a human aircraft in the sky. I’m already starting to think we’ve lost the war- if you could even call it that. As soon as that beam ripped open the sky


but at least the cabin was stocked for a short vacation. And nicely enough, the owners have a bookshelf, which will help us pass the time as we wait for rescue or discovery. There are some “classics” and some twenty-first-century books. Some I haven’t read since high school. I think I’ll start with Of Mice and Men. I don’t quite remember it all, but what I do remember has good feelings attached.

Hopefully, we see some signs of human life soon. If we haven’t been rescued, I’ll write more tomorrow.

December 19,

Emma went out to check on the neighboring cabins. I tried to convince her not to. Who knows if anyone’s there, and if someone is, they may be just as scared as we are. She’s just as likely to get shot as she is to find an ally.

That stubborn streak of hers, it’s one of the reasons I was going to break up with her if this trip failed to bring us closer. Thank God I kept my mouth shut. After the shit hit the fan, I was glad to have a body to talk to, but I’m not sure how long I can put up with this relationship. Still though, she has to know something isn’t right.

I’ve gotten about three-quarters of the way through this book. It’s an interesting enough picture of farm-hand life in the Great Depression, but I keep waiting for something to happen, and I think I’m running out of patience.

I see Emma now, walking up the driveway. So I’m guessing she didn’t get shot.

December 20,

Food’s getting light. We’ve been trying to ration things, but if it keeps up like this, without rescue, we’re going to have to risk hiking down the mountain in search of food. I really don’t want to do that. It snowed again last night, and there has to be ten more inches on the ground.

Emma said there was no one home in the two cabins she checked. I asked her if there was any food in them, and she said she didn’t check. Like, what the fuck? Maybe I’ll take a trip over there later today and see for myself.

I finally gave up on George and Lennie. I tried reading A Clockwork Orange and only made it through three pages. How are you supposed to read a book when only every third word is actually in English. I see The Shining on the shelf- but I’m holding off on that. I’m not sure if my mind can take a story with cabin fever and murder right now. I think I’ll give Ready Player One a shot. People said the movie was good, maybe the book is too.

Well, Emma’s giving me that eat-shit look again. She seems to really hate when I write in this notepad, almost as much as when I read. I try to tell her it will help pass the time, but she’d rather pace and stare out the window, as if that’ll get the calvary here to save us. Better go.

December 22,

Where do I start? The last two days have been a shit-show.

Those other cabins? Broken into, and not a crumb of food. The curious thing is there were no other tracks than Emma’s. She said it wasn’t her, but in the back of my mind, something tells me it was. I’m wondering if I might lay down for bed tonight and find crumbs on her clothes while my stomach’s screaming about being empty.

At least we have heat. The fireplace is gas, and there’s a giant Tylenol of propane keeping it lit.

We saw eight of those alien fighter-jets soar overhead while we were out. I think the trees concealed us, but who knows what kind of infra-red or ET-scanners they have. They could be on the way to finish us off right now. Who knows.

Still, no humans in sight. No Air Force jets, no helicopters, nothing. I’m starting to think this invasion is over, and we lost.

Tomorrow I think I’ll head down the mountain an look for more cabins. I remember seeing other turnoffs on this road, I just can’t remember how far they were. If the car were working, it’d be a hell of a lot easier. If they’re more than a few miles down the road, I’m a bit worried that we wouldn’t make it back alive.

If you can believe it, I finished Ready Player One. Not the most profound story ever told, but it took my mind away from this isolated misery we find ourselves in. And, I can actually say I read a book in this century. I suffered through the eat-shit stares, of course, but my tolerance of her in total is really waning.

I tried reading Cloud Atlas because I heard it had a movie too. After pretty good luck with Ready Player One, it was worth a shot. Nope. The thing is like an old piece of English literature, and I just can’t get through it. I thought this was a new book? Anyway.

I think I’m going to try one of those older books again. Maybe something will stick. I think I’ve heard of Slaughterhouse-Five, will give that a go.

December 24,

Merry Fucking Christmas Eve! Jesus, I hate the world right now. The snow won’t stop. There must be twenty new inches, and there isn’t a goddamn thing left to eat. Though Emma doesn’t look nearly as hungry as I am. That bitch better not have hidden food from me. I’m going to search the house and


so much blood. I can’t believe how much blood.

All I was doing was looking through her things, and there it was, smiling back at me, a goddamn empty Doritos bag. She could scream at me all she wanted, but me searching for her hidden stash was nothing compared to her hiding it.

Can you believe she slapped me? I was stunned. I called her out for what she was and listed every reason why I was going to leave her. She leaped on the bed and jumped on me. We fell on the shag carpet, and my head landed an inch from the fucking fireplace. She nearly killed me! So, I threw her across the room. She stood up and darted out the door. I couldn’t tell what she was saying other than a string of profanity, but I could feel something bad was about to happen.

I found her around the corner that led into the kitchen. Emma ran into me with the blade of a knife. A hot, searing sensation tore up my left arm, and she pulled back the weapon, aiming for my neck.

I’m not proud of what happened next. And I won’t describe it here. I’ll only say that I defended myself, and Emma’s dead. I wish there had been another way. But one of us has to survive, right?

I don’t know what’s left of humanity, but I’m worried. I still hear those goddamn alien jets overhead. I guess all I can do now is try to stay warm and read. So that’s what I’ll do. I finished Slaughterhouse-Five, a good book. I’ll start a new one after dinner. So it goes. I’m free of being stared at and despised.

A Guide to Reading My Work


Dear Subscriber ‘Mmm_Tasty_Paste88’

What does an author want from a reader? Good looks? A discerning mind? Very good looks? Yes. But there’s more, of course.

To begin with, you have to buy the book. Just put down the Battlefield Earth (Man-Animal Edition) Blu-Ray, or Bull-fighting’s Greatest Bloopers, or whatever people use to entertain themselves these days. Put it down and buy my book. In hardback. Then, grab the e-book. Hardback for bedtime, e-book for the train, audiobook for those long, boring workdays when you’re pretending to move stocks around while secretly playing The Mario Games on your personal computer.

You will, of course have views about what you read. That’s unfortunate. Be kind. Maybe you’ll find the sub-plot between John Bicycle and the Queen of Ham a little much. Perhaps you won’t like the blow-by-blow account of the Hulk Hogan-Andre the Giant bout from WrestleMania III that takes up most of chapters six, eight, and thirteen through nineteen. It’s a matter of taste. You could review the book and point out its flaws. The lack of full stops, for example. Or, and hear me out here, you could shut your damn mouth. Your choice, I suppose.

Now, once you’ve finished the book, left a good review, used a few burner accounts to leave further good reviews, and bought everyone in your office/prison wing/militia a copy, I ask that you think about the book. Let it slowly consume more and more of your life until you can barely breathe without your copy in hand. Murals? Homemade t-shirts? Why not?

Let me close with words I assume come from Shakespeare, or someone who looked much like him: Buy all of my books, but don’t purchase any from the list of authors attached to this email because they think they’re so big and cool when, really, they’re not.

Your Loyal Guide,

Byron A. D’Ysmal

CEO – B.A.D Writing Services*

*As accidentally emailed to Paul Grealish as part of an ongoing legal dispute over ownership of the Fake Hemmingway Beard Hair Company LLC/PLC/CDC

Can We Talk About: Romance Tropes

by Jess K Hardy (@JessKHardy2000)

I am so hot for romance. It’s what I read, it’s what I write, and it’s solely responsible for the fact that my husband and I still spend plenty of time between the sheets. Perhaps you’ve never read a single romance book. Maybe you think romance stories are silly, unrealistic, even dangerous in their portrayal of true love and happy endings. Maybe you’ve only dabbled in the genre, racing through Fifty Shades in your bathroom and never telling a soul (and if this is true, I beg of you to try the genre again). Or, you could be the type who’s read every word Tessa Dare has ever put to paper. No matter where your romance proclivities lie, there’s one thing about romance stories that cannot be denied: they’re all about the tropes.

What are romance tropes, you ask? Well, they are distinct, they are plentiful, and along with a happily-ever-after ending, you can’t have a romance without them. So without further ado, I present a nowhere-near-all-encompassing list of romance tropes.

#1. The Love Triangle

Do you remember that one summer at camp when both Beverly from kayak class and Susan from archery wanted to be your best friend? Remember how difficult it was to choose between the two? But a person could only ever have one best friend at a time (unless you’re reading poly romance). Beverly was beautiful, but a bit boring and often mean. While Susan was hysterical and attentive, but she had terrible hair. If you found the inability to choose between the two exhilarating, you might enjoy a romance with a love triangle trope.

Although the better-looking, but demonstrably less worthy suitor often wins—especially if they have a tortured past or a painful secret that needs to be nurtured into the light of day—when done well, you will never feel let down by the partner your main character chooses in this trope.

#2. Fated Mates

You’re eighteen, he’s two-hundred and fifty, and yet, somehow, despite your vastly different life experiences, despite the multiple-generation-wide age gap that exists between you, even despite the expansive gulf separating your preferred leisure activities (mindless hours on TikTok vs. memorizing the immortal works of Shakespeare), you are absolutely it for each other. Not just it, either. You are soul mates, destined to find each other over space and time and the rigors of high school science classes.

Even if you know deep down in your heart of hearts that something is so very wrong with this trope, when wielded skillfully, you’ll likely find even your cynical, skeptical heart believing in the age-defying power of true love.

#3. Enemies to Lovers

He is such a bastard. She is such an asshole. Nobody since the dawn of time has ever been as cruel to each other as enemies destined for love in a romance novel. From verbal, to emotional, to straight up physical abuse, no dickery is too low for these unlikely paramours. And, just like real life, it is so hard not to have sex with that person who treats you like shit. Oh, wait…what did I just say?

While, personally, this is not a trope I go for, it is wildly popular and does keep you flipping pages to find out what they’ll do to each other next. I just can never make the mental leap required to believe that people who start out awful to each other won’t end up that way again, eventually.

#4. Second-Chance Romance

Across the crowded dance floor at your twentieth high school reunion, you see him, standing with your old math teacher and laughing hysterically at something that couldn’t possibly be funny. But it doesn’t matter. He’s here. After years of wondering, waiting, and dreaming of this day, there he is. And he’s looking right at you. Maybe you ended badly, maybe he never even noticed you at all. Maybe he’s been waiting for this moment for as long as you have. Either way, you, my friend, are absolutely going to get laid.

This trope is all about redemption and exploring what could have been. It’s hot, it’s sweet, and I’m not certain there’s a single soul who doesn’t resonate with it on some level. What wouldn’t we give for a second chance with the one who got away? High school Scott, I’m looking at you.

#5. Forced Proximity

You’re a bookish wallflower. He’s a gregarious sportsballer. You couldn’t be more different. Yet, somehow you find yourselves alone, snowed in at a rustic cabin with only one bed and a single fireplace that’s truly wretched at keeping you warm. And it’s so cold, so unbearably cold. Hypothermia will surely set in if you don’t huddle together right by the fireplace, or, better yet, exploit the natural wonders of body heat. And while you reluctantly spoon against the frigid night, you find you have more in common than you’d thought. You both like kittens, both prefer cake to ice cream, and neither of you have ever bungee jumped. You find he’s kind and considerate. And he finds you’re a book that should never have been judged by its cover.

This trope is fun in its simplicity, usually involving only a handful of characters and making quick work of uncovering what keeps our lovers apart, what drives them together, and leaves no self-imposed barriers unbroken. Forced proximity will make you wish for winter, or a storeroom locked from the outside, or maybe even, gasp, a broken elevator.

#6 Fake Relationship

This trope puts the ‘com’ in romcom. Imagine you’re trying to convince your overbearing, traditional parents that you’re getting married so they’ll leave you alone. Or you’re desperate to make your ex jealous. Maybe, like in the perfect embodiment of this trope: Red, White and Royal Blue, you have to convince your respective countries that you, the first son of the US, and the prince of England are besties to avoid an international wedding cake-related crisis. No matter the situation leading to the necessity of a fake relationship, odds are solid that the ‘fake’ modifier will vanish in an intoxicating mixture of late-night phone calls, drunken karaoke, and readers everywhere screaming, “But you obviously love each other, dum dums!”

In my humble opinion, this trope is a great starting point for a romance virgin. So carve out an afternoon, watch How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, read Red, White and Royal Blue, and go to bed smiling.

Because, at their heart, no matter the trope, no matter however hot, or scandalous, or sweet they are, romance stories, and, by extension, romance authors, just want to make the world a better place, one orgasm at a time.

Reading With Your Ears

by Packy Smith (@packysmith)

I hate editing.

There… I said it. We were all thinking it, especially when it’s our own writing we’re editing. There’s a veritable cornucopia of reasons why I hate editing, such as:

  • My first draft writing is always rougher than a cat’s tongue.
  • My redrafted writing can often seem just as awful as my first draft writing.
  • I don’t even want to edit because the words written in this redraft are pretty much already perfect and say exactly what I need them to (spoiler warning: they’re never perfect and there’s always a better way to write whatever drivel I’ve just typed… even after extensive editing).
  • I can’t pay someone to edit for me, even though I often wish it were that simple. I’m not cheap, just living on a super tight budget and think it would be far wiser to spend that money elsewhere, like food, clothes, gasoline for the car, and other such important things that I’ve grown accustomed to having in my everyday life.
  • After a while, I get to feeling like I’m too close to my writing. This is usually about the time I Stry to believe that no more editing is needed and everything is perfect as is. This is never a good sign. For more clarification see the spoiler warning above.
  • Finally, and if I’m being totally honest, I’m just not any good at editing.

All of the aforementioned reasons are 100% valid in my mind, and yet the editing must be done. So what’s a writer to do? How does one edit when they are admittedly awful at it? I struggled with this very issue for quite awhile. I tried a lot of alternatives including grammar/editing software, meaningfully marking up hard copy, joining a writing group, and using a critique partner, and yet my editing skills showed no signs of improvement and my writing style was not evolving like it absolutely needed to. I was getting disheartened and frustrated by the fact that I had multiple completed manuscripts and each were uniquely unpublishable. I loved the stories, the characters, and the worlds that I had created, but my skill as a novel writer was still far too lacking.

One day while watching a filmmaking documentary I heard this magical passage, “You can type this shit, but you can’t say it!” It was something Harrison Ford griped to George Lucas during the filming of the classic Star Wars films. Therein lies the truth behind my editing issue. I could write a ton of words, string ‘em all together, and then call them a story but I had never read them aloud to see if those words were any good. How I read in my mind differed greatly from how I heard words as they were spoken. So I did something wild and read my manuscript out loud (only to myself, thankfully).

Once I started reading my chapters aloud the glaring issues within my writing became clear. Perhaps it is a comprehension issue, but I hear spoken words differently than how I read them in my mind. I’m often too forgiving when I’m reading. I’m less forgiving when I read something out loud. I notice far more issues with words, how they flow together, and whether or not they are being used correctly. When I heard my written words resonate from my own vocal chords, I finally started to fully understand just how much I was like Harrison Ford yelling at my manuscript for being unreadable.

You’d have thought I’d have been mad to discover that my writing was amateur levels of awful, but truthfully, I was excited. I had finally found the Rosetta Stone of editing which had eluded me for years. As I read each word aloud, I could more easily discover where I had used too many words or phrased a sentence the wrong way. It was like magic! Now I swear by it. My writing may still need a lot of work before it will ever be ready for publishing, but now I have a powerful tool to help me identify issues within my writing and to understand my writing in a new and deeper way.

If you find yourself stuck in editing, read what you’ve written aloud and see if that doesn’t help you get right back on track. Trust me on this, reading with your ears will benefit your writing in a huge way.

Libraries and Digital Materials

by Alexandra Gardner (@agardner_author)

The library has it all. Books, DVDs, audiobooks, Playaways, CDs, and so much more. But did you know, most libraries subscribe to third-party vendors in order to give their patrons access to digital library materials? Content is free to you, and authors and publishers are more than compensated for their products. All you have to do is sign-up for a library card and download the free apps.

Depending on your library system, they likely subscribe to one or all of the following: OverDrive, RBDigital, or Hoopla. There are other platforms available, but these are the top three most commonly purchased by library systems. Each has different materials and various products available.

OverDrive is an ebook and audiobook provider. Authors and publishers give OverDrive access to their digital materials, and then it’s up to the individual library systems to purchase a lease to the titles they want, how many copies of each title, and which version (i.e. ebook, audiobook, or both). With one of the largest libraries of digital titles, it’s little wonder that OverDrive is available through most library systems.

OverDrive provides the “Libby” app on mobile devices for free. With your library card number and PIN, you can log into Libby and start checking out ebooks or audiobooks. The interface is simple to navigate, providing you with the “Library” search option and the “Shelf” where your titles are stored once checked out. Items usually check out for twenty-one days but are easily returned if you finish sooner. Like with physical library books, you might have to place holds and wait your turn, but some libraries purchase access to Lucky Day copies of novels, which check out for a shorter loan period but are available now.

Audiobooks download directly to your shelf, but ebooks give you the option of downloading the ePUB directly to Libby or to borrow from Amazon. If you’re partial to reading on your Kindle, Libby redirects you to Amazon’s “checkout” page for you to borrow the title directly onto your Kindle app or device.

RBDigital is known for its downloadable magazine titles, but it also offers access to just under 10,000 audiobook titles. The selection is much smaller, but they’re almost always available for immediate checkout. There are even popular titles, like Sarah J. Maas’ A Court of Thrones and Roses series. Like OverDrive, downloading the app and having your library card and PIN is essential to getting started. Be ready to open RBDigital’s homepage on your desktop or phone browser, however, because this provider requires you to register with them first.

RBDigital gives you the option to search either “Audiobooks” or “Magazines,” and all materials you borrow are available under the “Checked Out” tab. Unlike Libby, items don’t automatically download, so be ready to hit the magic button or use data streaming. Audiobooks check out for twenty-one days; magazines stay on your shelf until you return them.

Another popular streaming service is Hoopla. Hoopla offers immediate access to audiobooks, videos, music, and ebooks. Sign-up requires email registration in-app before you enter your library card number and pin. The interface opens to your home page where your checkouts are stored, and there are navigation tabs across the bottom of the screen for refined searching.

Unlike OverDrive, Hoopla charges your library system per checkout. Due to this, most library systems limit their patrons to eight checkouts in the span of a month. Movies check out for three days, audiobooks and ebooks check out for twenty-one days, and music checks out for a week. Just like with RBDigital, these items can be downloaded or streamed directly through the internet.

For more information, contact your local library!

The Necessary Art of Leaving Reviews

by Crystal Kirkham (@canuckclick)

I’ve heard it from friends and family, even from other authors. I’m not good at leaving reviews. I don’t know what to say. I don’t want to offend the author. Those are the three things in various formats that have been said to me when I ask people about leaving reviews and why they don’t.

I get it. Reviewing books isn’t easy. You don’t want to say the wrong thing and offend someone or sound like you don’t know what you’re talking about or any one of a million reasons.

But reviews are important to authors and readers alike. Reviews let you know if this is the book for you as a reader and also helps the author get their book in front of others since some sites like Amazon use algorithms to suggest books to customers.

Do you read reviews before buying things? If so, this is a great example of why you should be leaving reviews as well.

Okay, enough about why, let’s talk about how to write an actual review.

Things to Keep In Mind

Always start a review (no matter how good or how bad the book) with what you did like about it. It’s constructive feedback 101—the criticism sandwich. Criticism is between two slices of goodness. And while it should go without mention, I will mention it. BE HONEST. Honesty is so important.

One other thing to remember before writing a review, sometimes you read a book and there’s nothing wrong with it, but you didn’t like it. If that’s the case, say “I am not the target audience for this book” or “This is not the kind of book I like to read”. This can be put somewhere at the top of your reviews which helps people know you personally didn’t care for it, but that you took the time to read it and are trying your best to give feedback.

The Good Part 1

Start with what you enjoyed about the book. It can be a few sentences or a couple of paragraphs. While not an exhaustive list, here are a few things you can touch on about why you enjoyed a book. Saying you liked it or enjoyed reading it is a great start, but it doesn’t hurt to say in more detail what it was that made you like it.

1. Talk about what drew you into the book. Was the writing style something that made you swoon? Were the characters realistic and diverse? Were the landscapes vividly described? Did it make you laugh, cry, or excite you in anyway?

2. Did the author do something different that you enjoyed? A unique way of looking at things, they paid attention to a detail that you’ve found other authors haven’t. Did they touch on a sensitive topic in a way that you admire?

3. Technical writing. Was the grammar perfect? Was the story beautifully structured with a character and plot arcs with all your burning questions answered at the end?

The Criticism

Not everyone is going to like every book they read. Sometimes there is nothing you can say to the negative and that’s fine! One of the most important things about adding criticism to a review is knowing if it is an objective or subjective criticism. Is it something you think would bother other people about this book? Then it might be objective. If it’s a personal pet peeve, then it would be subjective and it’s important to say that.

Once again, not an exhaustive list, but here are some things you can think about in terms of criticism.

1. Writing style. Did the author use complex or strange word choices for no apparent reason that drew you out of the story (not including names/place/ect.)? Was there are lot exposition that bored you to death and made you want to skip over parts? Did they keep screwing up the names of their own characters?

2. Plot points. Did they forget to wrap up the main or subplots? Were you left wondering well “what about X?” and there is no indication that there is a sequel coming? Did the plot of the story make sense?

3. Technical writing. Lots of spelling and grammatical mistakes?

The Good Part 2

This is your wrap up. This is a great place to give an overall impression of the book. Say why you’re giving it the star rating you are (we’ll talk about stars in a second) or who you think would enjoy this book the most. It can be as simple as “if you love escapist fantasy then this is the book for you.”

Always leave on a good note. Someone spent what is likely years of their time working on this novel that took you a few days to read. No list for this one and, like everything else. A few lines will do it.

Seeing Stars

Star ratings, while often taken as more objective than many reviews, I am sad to announce that this is not the case. Everyone sees star ratings differently. I’ve known people to only give 5 stars to extraordinarily outstanding books and three stars was where most books landed—good, but nothing wow-worthy. There are people who give out 5 stars to books like candy. And there are people out there who have set formulas and count points to determine star ratings.

Choose a method of star ratings that work for you. Whether everyone starts with five stars and any major issues knock them down or everyone stars with three stars and the book goes up or down based on how good or bad you think it was doesn’t matter. Don’t be afraid to be honest.

Stars are great and I am sure you may at least do that part without the review, but those reviews for many authors and readers are far more important in the long run.

What if it sucked?

Sometimes we pick up a book, struggle through it hoping it’ll get better and then close it feeling like we want that time back. It happens, unfortunately. If the reason you hated the book wasn’t simply because you were not the intended audience and there is little to find redeemable then there are two things you can do: don’t write a review or write a review.

If you choose to go forward with writing a review, still try to be kind. Remember, someone worked hard on this even if it doesn’t look that way. Try to find something redeemable. “This was a great concept and the back cover blurb was well written, unfortunately it didn’t quite live up to my expectations.”

Don’t spend paragraphs listing everything wrong with the story or suggest the author give up and find a different career. Keep it short. No one needs an essay about how they suck. Be kind. A few lines about some of the issues you found with the story will suffice. Write it as if you were the one receiving this review.

A Note Regarding Authors

I do understand that there are some authors out there who may take things reviews a little too personally and react to them on the personal level. Go ahead and block that author, never read their work again, and don’t respond. Most authors know better than to act like this, but some people can’t seem to help themselves.

In the end, the review isn’t for the author. It’s for the other readers. Sure, some authors will read them and see your words. Some don’t and will never know what you said. Mostly though, be kind, be considerate even in your criticism and don’t let a few bad apples dissuade you from leaving a much needed review.

In that same vein, please do keep in mind that there are many authors out there who do not want to even know you left a review. Many people tag authors in their reviews on social media, but be aware that this is often considered a faux pas. If you are going to tag an author, be sure that the author is okay with being tagged first. Never tag them if you are not sure and definitely, do not do this for less than complimentary reviews unless you know the author is okay with being tagged.

Remember, these are for the reader and while some authors may read and respond, many do not want to know.

Happy reviewing, folks!

A Jar of Mushrooms

by E.G. Deaile (@egdeaile_writer)

Clyde pondered the suggestive blog page by wiping the oil from his chin. A jar of jumbo garlic marinated mushrooms teetered in his lap. His fork fished for more, guided by the singular glow of the computer screen.
The oil spilled forth from his lips once more, running down the sparse hair of his chest. He scrolled to the next article, which offered a treatise on the major arteries of the human body, in where to poke and sever for maximum effect. He had seen a chart like this before, it was for field dressing a deer.

He traced the dotted lines and circles with his fingers on the screen, leaving his residue behind. He reached into his drawer and withdrew the knife he had purchased online last week. According to the blog, it wouldn’t do. Too many crevasses and wells for the blood evidence to hide in. A crime lab would fully disassemble it if they ever got their hands on it, swab every piece of it.

To wash his clothes, he could make do with that oxy-powered stuff. Destroying his garb would be better each time. Where, though, to find a surplus store? He could not use this computer to search. Did he even have a phone book anymore?

Of course not.

Clyde wheeled the lid on his jar and set it to the side. There were details to get ready, but he could start tonight. He turned off the screen and drew up the blind. There, across the way, he could trace her outline in the slatted blinds. She never fully closed them. Her blonde hair splayed across the back of her reclining sofa, trailing down far enough he wondered if it were real. Only one way to find out.

He felt that urge, in his chest, in his loins, in that cold spot in his right thigh from the accident. The boyfriend came into her living room, carrying a blackened bag of popcorn. What a tool. She rejected the offering, and Clyde knew that meant it was he who she would accept.

Whether she wanted to or not.