Category Archives: Other Reviews

This is where I review things that are not necessarily entertaining, but probably still deserves an opinion or a score.

Review: Star Wars: The Force Awakens

December 14, 2015

Disclaimer: I am posting this review four days before the movie comes out. So, I have not seen it. This is fake. It’s for the purpose of parody. Please do not take this review seriously. If you’re looking for a real review, check back in four days…on someone else’s blog. This one will likely spoil moments that aren’t actually in the movie. If this offends you, then you’re probably camping out in line as we speak, reading this through your Stormtrooper helmet as you eat marshmallows in your tent.

 Movie: Star Wars 7

Release Date: Friday

Runtime: I don’t know

Review: Okay, so there’s a lot of hype going into George Lucas’s abandoned child, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and let me tell you, as a fanboy, it is so worth it. It’s got stars, and it’s got wars, and it’s got lots of fighting in space, and it’s just awesome. J.J. Abrams really got this one right. It’s got Spock fighting Captain Kirk, and Yoda drinking a soda even though he’s a ghost (spoiler alert!), and Chewbacca, let’s just say, is so hairy. It’s amazing how much detail they put into these characters.

I know what you’re thinking. What about the prequels? No, they aren’t awesome. Episode III is kinda okay. But it doesn’t have enough Jar Jar. You really can’t have too much Jar Jar. Everyone who thinks Jar Jar ruins the movie ruins movies. If I can’t have my Jar Jar, then I don’t want my Star Wars.

The Force Awakens does not have Jar Jar, and it’s better for it. What it has instead is a talking Monkey named Hans. Spoiler Alert! The monkey is played by none other than Harrison Ford. They call him Hans YOLO! and he has a sweet ride. It goes so fast. In one scene, he beats Vin Diesel and the Rock to the finish line. It’s amazing. Really, you should see this movie.

Now, I can’t talk about this movie without discussing everyone’s acting abilities, but I must say, I see an Oscar in R2D2’s future. He’s really got the whole droid thing down. Come on, Academy. Stop ignoring trash cans on roller skates! It’s bad enough you’ve ignored Jim Carrey for The Truman Show and Man on the Moon. Don’t snub the R2!

So, what’s my final verdict? Star Wars: The Force Awakens is awesome! How do I know? Because I’ve seen the trailers for it, twice! Five stars (and three wars)!

The new Star Wars opens this Friday. But you already knew that because you’re yelling at me for writing this crap.

B+

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Dunkin’ Donuts Pumpkin Macchiato: A Review

October 12, 2015

So, I give Dunkin’ Donuts about $20 of my hard-earned money every week. I shouldn’t, but I do; I have what some might call a coffee addiction. Now, I know this is odd to think about, given that the title of my blog is Drinking Cafe Latte at 1pm, but I have yet to write anything about coffee in the ten years or so that I’ve had this blog (with just over one of those years existing here on WordPress).

But that’s about to change!

This morning I went to get my coffee, Monday Edition, when I saw that Everything Pumpkin is back on the menu. Now, I’ve been getting my pumpkin coffees religiously for the last few weeks (I usually get caramel coffees the rest of the year), but today I was stunned to see that DD (cool speak for Dunkin’ Donuts) has introduced a new brand of coffee, the Pumpkin Macchiato. When I stood in line this morning, its picture in the marquee spoke its thousand or so words at me, and all of them said, “Buy me!” My thought: “Yes, please!”

The picture showed a coffee with three layers of coloring: a milky layer on the bottom, a regular brown layer in the middle (the estuary layer?), and a dark layer on top for the espresso.

Ah, yes, there’s espresso in this bad boy. Two shots if I’m not mistaken. Pumpkin + espresso = coffee dream.

Now, I think the drink comes in one of two ways. Apparently, if you don’t specify how you want it, it comes to you iced, which is fitting because iced coffee is generally more expensive than hot coffee, since, you know, ice is costly. If you get the drink by itself, it comes with a cup holder (like a warmer for cold coffee). I got mine with three other coffees, so I just carried everything in a crate.

(Just to clarify, the four coffees weren’t all for me. Just one of them.)

The Review:

So, you’re probably wondering what I thought. Okay, here’s the breakdown.

Well, it was made of pumpkin, so right off the bat it was awesome. As a rule, if it has pumpkin in it, it’s awesome. Case in point: 1. Pumpkin pie = awesome. 2. Pumpkin cheesecake = super awesome. 3. Pumpkin coffee = awesome. 4. Pumpkin sneakers = weird but awesome. See my point? It’s hard to say anything bad about pumpkin anything. Unless, of course, you hate pumpkin. If that’s the case, then how dare you!

The coffee power is marginally high. Normally, coffee is a quick stimulant, fast to get me going, but just as fast to tire me out. It’s one of the reasons I can drink coffee at night. It does little to keep me awake. In fact, I think it’s more psychological than anything. For me, coffee is more of a stimulant for my brain. If I have a cup of coffee beside me, my IQ goes up about 10 points.

Obviously, the amount of sleep I get the night before is a factor in coffee’s general success. I tend to buy coffee anyway (or make it at home if I have the time), whether I need it or not, but on mornings when I get my average sleep, which is to say hardly any, then I definitely need it. This morning was exceptionally difficult to keep awake, so the need for coffee was higher than average.

Fortunately, the double-shot espresso makes waking up so much easier. The downside: the crash is so much harder.

Normally I get sleepy around lunch time. That’s just how my body works. By 1pm (hence the blog title), I’m dragging my feet. On a regular cup of coffee, I’m groggy but coherent. On the pumpkin macchiato (and its two shots of espresso), I am passing out and speaking nonsense. Because I read papers and tutor college students for a living, this sometimes makes giving good advice challenging. Part of the challenge is reminding myself that the dream I’d just had while struggling through a student’s second-to-last paragraph has nothing to do with what he or she has written in his paper, and I should probably give advice that’s relevant only to his paper. The pumpkin macchiato, while brilliant in the morning, was a complete letdown in the afternoon. I’m sure I nodded off in the middle of the conversation at least a couple of times.

Lastly, the pumpkin taste is sweet, maybe even too sweet when you consider the cream, the syrup, and the sugar (sugar being the one thing I never put in my coffee anymore), but the espresso is sufficiently bitter. If you’re going to order a cup, be sure you carry some Altoids with you. You’re gonna need them if you want to talk to anyone later.

Final verdict: Worth buying, unless you feel that spending three dollars on a cup of coffee is outrageous.

If you would like me to review anything else, let me know.

Three Weeks Later

Three Weeks Later

June 19, 2015:

It’s been three weeks since I’ve taken the chance on ebook publishing with my short story, “Shell Out,” and favorite one at that, and now it’s time for a post-mortem.

My intention here is to show a breakdown of what could happen when no one outside of your circle of friends and family actually knows who you are, or what you write about, or that you write at all, and certainly whether or not you’re any good. Though, I would contend that not even friends or family would probably know that last point since they’re either impressed that you have written something, don’t care enough about reading to care about this, either, or care that you’ve written something but don’t actually have the time to experience your talents for themselves. Oh, and sometimes they will read your stuff. Many times they’re so impressed that you’ve written something, anything, that they forget to check whether you’re actually any good, which brings us back to the first point. Needless to say, it takes a wealth of complete strangers to prove whether or not you can build and sustain an audience and a fanbase, and when you’re essentially starting from scratch (because no one is reading your blogs, either), you’re in the perfect position to see exactly what kind of field you’re playing in.

So, here’s what three weeks of publication sandboxing has looked like for me:

Shell Out:

Shell Out Cover Image
Shell Out Cover Image

Price: Free

Word Count: 25,710 (11,965 devoted to story, remaining word count to future book previews and other front and back matter)

ISBN: 9781311264060

Categories: Fiction, Literature, Coming of Age, Humor & Comedy, General

Tags: money, aspiration, twenties, college age

Distributor: Smashwords

Available at: Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, Apple, Kobo, Oyster, Scribd, and everywhere else Smashwords has a distribution relationship with.

Published on May 29, 2015.

Premium Catalog Accepted: June 2, 2015.

Available at all retailers by June 4, 2015.

Uploaded update #1 on May 30, 2015.

Uploaded update #2 on June 17, 2015.

Have not changed the store’s front matter or description.

Notes:

First update fixed the NCX menu for the table of contents. One of the titles was broken due to my using quotation marks to begin the heading. Note to potential ebook publication adventurers: Don’t use quotation marks to start your table of contents headings.

Second update changed the formatting to include page breaks between chapters and sections. Also included a few very minor changes to the first section. Also updates my contact information to include Facebook and Twitter. 6/19 Note: Retailers outside of Smashwords are still carrying the older version.

Story Note: Part 3 contains no dialogue.

Current Total Downloads: 130 (120 at Smashwords)

Peak Download Day: May 30, 2015 (27 downloads)

Driest Download Day: June 10, 2015 (no downloads)

Average Downloads Per Day: 0 – 7 since June 4, 2015

Highest Downloads Since Decline: 7 downloads on June 15, 2015

Promoted on Facebook: May 29, 2015 (Smashwords); June 4, 2015 (Barnes & Noble, Apple)

Promoted on Twitter: June 15, 2015

Current Number of Reviews: None

Current Kobo Rating: #1666 in fiction & literature, humorous

Eleven Miles from Home:

Eleven Miles from Home Cover Page
Eleven Miles from Home Cover Page

Price: Free

Word Count: 12,380 (11,495 devoted to story, remaining word count to front and back matter)

ISBN: 9781311197627

Categories: Fiction, Literature, Coming of Age, Themes & Motifs, Psychological

Tags: narrative, relationships, doom, jet ski, breakups, introspective, pov, choices and consequences

Distributor: Smashwords

Available at: Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, Apple, Kobo, Oyster, Scribd, and everywhere else Smashwords has a distribution relationship with.

Published on June 7, 2015

Premium Catalog Accepted: June 9, 2015.

Available at all retailers by June 11, 2015.

Uploaded update #1 on June 17, 2015.

Changed the store page’s long description on June 8, 2015.

Notes:

First update changed the formatting to include page breaks between chapters and sections. Also updates my contact information to include Twitter. 6/19 Note: Retailers outside of Smashwords are still carrying the older version.

Changed store page’s long description to better include elements from the existing story rather than to focus almost entirely on the backstory.

Story Note: Contains no dialogue. Strictly narrative between two characters.

Current Total Downloads: 84 (78 at Smashwords)

Peak Download Day: June 8, 2015 (17 downloads)

Driest Download Day: June 16, 2015 (1 download)

Average Downloads Per Day: 1 – 4 since June 14, 2015

Highest Downloads Since Decline: 4 downloads on June 14 and 17, 2015

Promoted on Facebook: June 7, 2015 (Smashwords); June 10, 2015 (Kobo); June 11, 2015 (Barnes & Noble, Apple)

Promoted on Twitter: n/a

Current Number of Reviews: None

Current Kobo Rating: #708 in fiction & literature, psychological

Amusement:

Amusement Cover Image
Amusement Cover Image

Price: Free

Word Count: 14,790 (13,312 devoted to story, remaining word count to front and back matter)

ISBN: 9781311070029

Categories: Fiction, Thriller & Suspense, Psychological Thriller, Literature, Literary

Tags: tragedy, happy, marketing, psychedelic, cartoons, professionalism, theme park

Distributor: Smashwords

Available at: Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, Apple, Kobo, Oyster, Scribd, and everywhere else Smashwords has a distribution relationship with.

Published on June 12, 2015

Premium Catalog Accepted: June 16, 2015.

Available at all retailers by June 17, 2015.

Uploaded update #1 on June 12, 2015.

Uploaded update #2 on June 17, 2015.

Changed the store page’s long description on June 15, 2015.

Notes:

First update made some changes to the opening paragraph. Didn’t think it was streamlined enough. Other minor changes in the first section. Note: The first section was added at the last minute to give the story context. Until June 2015, the story had always started with Sammy in the parking garage claiming “he is not amused.”

Second update addressed a couple of character glitches that showed up only in the Nook app, where the accent in cliché was broken and an apostrophe in the final section was screwy looking. I’m sure both were tagged with some hidden Microsoft Word tattoo that the Nook file didn’t like. 6/19 Note: Retailers outside of Smashwords are still carrying the older version.

Changed store page’s long description to sound more polished. Didn’t like how the original version sounded.

Story Note: First section before original parking garage sequence contains no dialogue.

Current Total Downloads: 53 (49 at Smashwords)

Peak Download Day: June 13, 2015 (13 downloads)

Driest Download Day: June 16, 2015 (3 downloads)

Average Downloads Per Day: 3 – 5 since June 15, 2015

Highest Downloads Since Decline: 5 downloads on June 15, 17, and 18, 2015

Promoted on Facebook: June 16, 2015 (Smashwords, Apple, Kobo); June 17, 2015 (Barnes & Noble)

Promoted on Twitter: n/a

Current Number of Reviews: None

Current Kobo Rating: #1061 in fiction & literature, anthologies

So, how does that all translate into a career development standpoint? Well, obviously, the fact that all three books are free (and short) means that my actual paid career hasn’t yet begun. I suppose I could write up another post-mortem once I release future books and begin to charge for them.

But it’s good to note that Smashwords (the distributor) is ultimately the best resource for the newest and most accurate representation of each ebook. It reflects the author’s changes immediately, and offers the greatest number of download options. What it doesn’t offer is use of each of the other retailer’s special apps (as far as I could tell). The others are certainly good, but they may not have the most recent versions of the books. Also, I have yet to verify if those other retailers automatically update user libraries with new changes, or if the user has to redownload the book. With Smashwords, the user has to redownload. But that’s okay because once they own it, they can download as much as they want. For free books (like mine), it doesn’t matter if they have to redownload since the price is the same.

Lastly, part of my publishing adventure involved me testing e-reading apps that I didn’t previously have. This gives me perspective on what potential readers might encounter. Keep in mind that I do not have an iPhone, iPad, Nook device, or anything other than a PC. For things like phones and tablets and such, I had to look over friends’ shoulders while they downloaded and opened the books for me. Here is what I’ve discovered:

Smashwords:

Best source for anyone who wants to read off of a PC. Provides all filetypes, including a copy of the original Word document, so there is no shortage of ways to read the ebook on a PC or laptop. It is also the best resource for Android and other phones that do not belong to Apple. The other retailers seem to focus primarily on their own devices.

Barnes & Noble (Nook):

I admit that this is one of my preferred retailers, but I have yet to be impressed with the functionality of their Nook app on the PC. As I said in “Amusement’s” breakdown, the file conversion corrupted two characters, which makes the book feel only 99.9 % professional – ironic given the book’s theme. I’m also disappointed that my library view keeps trying to open the preview versions of my books (all three of mine, and another free ebook I downloaded when I was testing the app called Skip: Episode One by Perrin Briar), and won’t let me access the full versions without having to redownload them, which I can’t do because the system recognizes that I already own them. As it stands, I’d have to delete them and redownload if I want to read them. Not a big deal for free ebooks, but a huge deal if this is consistent with paid books, since deleting a book from the library is equivalent to throwing it away, which means having to buy a new one. On the plus side, Nook looks really nice. I also like that it saves your book to your onsite library, which means you could access your book on any device that lets you access your Barnes & Noble account. It’s basically cloud-friendly.

And I can’t confirm this without an e-reading device, but I think Nook is the device that actually looks like you’re turning the page when you swipe your finger across the screen. Really cool. (That could also just be a standard function of the .epub file. I’m not sure since, again, I read my ebooks on a desktop.)

Apple iTunes:

This has the largest market for readers, according to what I’ve read and heard, but given that only two of my 267 downloads came from them, I don’t yet know how to reach those readers. As far as my own experimentation goes, I cannot form an accurate opinion since I do not have a dedicated e-reading device or iPhone, iPad, etc., and Apple is the only retailer on the Smashwords distribution list that does not cater to desktop reading (on PC, at least). Basically, I can’t read any of the books I’ve downloaded from them. I’m also no fan of their search engine—seems difficult to search for authors if you don’t know they exist—but I do like very much their widget system. I think the ability to create buttons for your book page is great. If only I could figure out how to make my blog display them.

Kobo:

I actually just downloaded the Kobo app for PC yesterday, and I gotta say that this is probably my favorite of the e-readers. Reading an .epub on Adobe Editions is nice and a .mobi on the Kindle app is pretty cool, too, but Kobo does the best job, in my opinion, with navigation and presentation. If you break your book into chapters, they actually label the chapter at the bottom of the screen and display with it the current page within the chapter and the total number of pages that make up the chapter, so you always know how close you are to the end of that segment. As someone who likes to read books a chapter at a time, this is very attractive to me. I also like that they display a book’s ranking within that genre combination. The downside with Kobo that I’ve noticed, however, is that their propensity for accuracy is a little low. In its first week, “Shell Out” had shared the same ranking and category as my favorite book, Syrup by Max Barry. It’s possible that many books can share the same ranking if they’re all tied for that spot. And if that’s the case, then there are a bunch of books without current download stats ranked at #1700 in literary fiction and humor. Given the vast numbers of ebooks in existence (and likely on the Kobo site), this feels highly misleading. But maybe Kobo’s algorithm is superior to all the other retailer algorithms that factor in 500,000 other ebooks and rank accordingly. For a reader, this means nothing. For an author, it would be nice to know how well his book is really doing in the marketplace.

Unlike the other retailers, I have yet to receive a recorded download count from Kobo. As of this writing, I’m still recorded at zero downloads for all three of my books. This is suspicious given that I downloaded all three of them myself yesterday, yet my numbers don’t reflect that. It’s possible that Kobo doesn’t credit a download when the author downloads it himself. But I’m not sure what magic variables they’re using to determine that I, the downloader, am the one who actually wrote the books. I need to get someone else to download them, too, just to see if the numbers change. But I’ve promoted these books across all platforms so much in the last three weeks that I feel like if no one I can ask has already downloaded the books, then they’re not going to. Maybe I should just ask them to download from Kobo, just to be sure the numbers are getting recorded. My other issue with Kobo is that they’ve misfiled “Amusement” as an “anthology.” Not sure how that happened. It’s been almost a week since they’ve received the book, so it might be time to contact Smashwords support and let them know. I think I’ll wait until I can verify the truth behind my download count, though. If that needs reporting, too, then I’d rather kill two birds with one stone.

Oyster and Scribd:

These are subscription sites that I cannot adequately comment on since I do not have a subscription with either. What I can say is that their storefronts look very, very nice. I can’t decide which one I like better. They both scream “fancy” at whoever visits the site. I wish all the retailers looked this good.

Other Retailers:

Smashwords distributes to a number of additional retailers, such as Flipkart, Overdrive, txtr, and others. Again, I have no comment on these since I either can’t find my books on their site (Flipkart), or they’re responsible for library distributions (Overdrive), or they’re closing their doors (txtr), or they offer some other service not directly related to selling my books. For these sites, I’ll have to hear about them from outside sources.

Amazon (Kindle):

Smashwords distributes to Amazon, but Amazon carries only the higher-rated books at the moment, so I do not have any opinion formed here, either. I just know that if I want to cross-distribute with Amazon (something I plan to do later this year when I release my longer works and need a printing venue), I have to match the current prices for each book I upload there, and I have to avoid KDP Select if I want to freely distribute my book to other retailers (including Smashwords). At this point, I’d rather wait until my publishing roster is a little fuller and more profitable before I go to Amazon. Or, if Smashwords and Amazon strike a new distribution deal, then maybe I won’t have to wait until then. We’ll see what the future holds.

So, that’s my experience with ebook publishing so far. Not sure if this is normal, or weak, or exceptional. The only thing I can say is that this is my experience. Maybe yours will be different. Or the same. I’d still like to hear about it regardless.

I hope the technical talk didn’t bore you too much. I promise my ebooks are more exciting, and you should go download all of them right now. The links to their respective store pages can be found by clicking on the cover images in the right sidebar.