2 More NetGalley ARCs–1 Great, 1 Good

Here are two more great novels you won’t want to miss that I got from the wonderful NetGalley:

  1. Into the Fire— next in the Nowhere Man series and maybe the best
  2. The Deserter — a personal tragedy turns an amoral criminal against his own kind
–received free from NetGalley in return for an honest review
–a note about my reviews: I only review books I enjoyed. I need to be inspired to write. That’s why so many of my reviews are 4/5 or 5/5

Into the Fire

by Gregg Hurwitz


In Hurwitz’s latest in the Nowhere Man series, Into the Fire (Macmillon 2020),  Max Merriweather engages Evan Smoak, aka the Nowhere Man, aka Orphan X, when Max’s cousin is brutally murdered after giving Max an envelope to turn over to the press should said cousin be killed. Max resolves to fulfill his promise but the reporter has also been murdered. He tries to figure out what to do next but has no idea where to even start.  To say he is desperate is like saying the Mona Lisa is a nice painting. So, he turns to a stranger recommended by another stranger he serendipitously met in a coffee shop.

When Evan Smoak gets Max’s call, he wants to complete one last case before retiring his Nowhere Man persona, the hat he wears to solve unsolvable problems for ordinary people. Unfortunately, every time Evan thinks he’s secured Max’s safety, another threat arises until the final one is far too personal for even the Nowhere Man.

If you like brilliant crime solvers that have no quit in them, if you like clever stories that make you think, if you like smart people not afraid to use their brains, if you are a fan of Hurwitz’s Nowhere Man series, this is the novel for you.

The Deserter

by Nelson DeMille and Alex DeMille


Nelson DeMille’s latest novel and first in a new series (co-authored with his son), The Deserter (Simon and Schuster 2019), as we have come to expect from DeMille is a spine-tingling, fast-moving, complicated story of international intrigue. Chief Warrant Officer and Army CIS officer Scott Brodie and his partner Maggie Taylor are tasked with finding a Delta Force Officer, Kyle Mercer, who deserted his post in the Middle East for no known reason. When soldiers die searching for him, it changes his desertion from odd-but-probably-explainable to how-could-he-do-that. Despite the Army’s best efforts, Mercer disappears, finally showing up in an underage whorehouse in Venezuela two years later. Brodie and Taylor are sent to bring him back to America for trial.

Brodie is a wise-cracking smart-aleck while Taylor is a by-the-books investigator. Once they arrive in Venezuela, they go through innumerable problems, solved cleverly with lots of death-defying confrontations in what has become a lawless nation. Each step gets them closer to not only the deserter but unraveling the conundrum of why a patriotic kid from Iowa who achieved the highest level of trust the Army could offer–Special Forces–would dump it all to seemingly aid the enemy.

When I got this book I was worried. So often great authors like Nelson DeMille can’t deliver the same spectacular level of storytelling when working with another writer, even if it’s their son. I could give examples but I’ll keep them to myself. In this case, I needn’t have worried. The Deserter is true DeMille from its blistering pace to its nuanced understanding of the environment and its well-developed characters. I also worried whether I would like this character as much as I liked, say, John Corey. Again, I shouldn’t have. The author’s voice for Brodie is friendly with enough humor to soften serious issues while Taylor plays his foil expertly. Check these out:

“I have eyes in the back of my head.” “But your head is up your ass.”

Taylor asked, “Are you very cool in a dangerous situation, or do you just not understand what’s going on around you?”

“Mr. Brodie. Enjoying Caracas?” “Not even slightly.” “It grows on you.” “So does toe fungus.”

“The two most common elements in the universe are hydrogen and stupidity.”

The only negative of this book is the endless hammering about the destruction wrought in Venezuela by their government and how heavily it weighs on its people. I appreciated the education the first time he built it into the story, didn’t mind it the fifth time, and wished I could hide from what is an impossible humanitarian nightmare by the fifteenth time. I started feeling guilty that I was reading fiction instead of doing something productive to help these well-meaning people.

Anyone else read this and feel that way?

–published first on Today’s Author

More thrillers

3 More Thrillers–Loved these

The Cuban Affair

3 More NetGalley Mystery-Thriller Wins

Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy, the Rowe-Delamagente thrillers, and the Man vs. Nature saga. She is also the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, blog webmaster, an Amazon Vine Voice,  a columnist for NEA Today, and a freelance journalist. Look for her next prehistoric fiction, In the Footsteps of Giants, Winter 2021. You can find her tech ed books at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning


What Authors Should Know About MS Sway?

Lately, among teacher-authors (these are teachers who also write), one of the most talked-about webtools is Microsoft Sway. Though fairly new, Sway may unseat PowerPoint as the presentation-tool-of-choice because Sway projects are visually appealing while minimizing the amount of time spent formatting.

What is Sway

Sway is free from Microsoft and part of Office 365 Education. It is an easier, more versatile alternative to the popular PowerPoint slideshow program. Using the Sway canvas, writers select a theme and then add notes and media. Sway organizes the content, suggests images and even data, and then helps the writer to quickly arrange everything into a comprehensive and fully-fleshed project. If the selected theme doesn’t work, simply click “remix” and get a different look. More advanced users can edit the pieces to fit particular colors and interests. When everything’s perfect, it can be shared, embedded, and/or published.

Sway accepts almost any file format including videos, PDFs, text, audio, images, native camera pictures, charts, audio clips, audio recordings, and links. A completed project can be embedded into any Office app (such as Excel, PowerPoint, or Word) and automatically updates with the original. Sway works in Windows, on iPads, iPhones, and desktops.

How to get started

  • Install the Sway app to your iPhone, iPad, Surface Pro, or use it on the web.
  • Create an account so you can collect all of your Sways in one place.
  • Click the “Create new” button or alternatively, create a Sway from a topic or an uploaded document.
  • Click to add new “cards” (these are content areas; you might think of them like slides in a PowerPoint deck). These are stacked to the right of the screen and easily moved by dragging-and-dropping. Each of these contains space for all content related to the theme of that card.
  • As you add content, Sway suggests web material that may be relevant and might be good additions to your document.
  • When your Sway is finished, add it to any site that accepts embed codes, send it out as a link, or share it to a variety of social media outlets.

Prosms sway for writers

It’s free — so much power for no money. That’s amazing.

It’s easy to use and has lots of automated options that take the stress out of being creative.

Sways are automatically saved, by default to the MS Office account you used for the sign-up.

Multiple people can collaborate on a Sway. All you have to do is send the Sway link to collaborators.

Sway will create a project from a theme. You type in the theme and Sway suggests text, pictures and more that fit that topic.


Sway requires a Microsoft account (but not Office 365). This isn’t bad, just one more place that requires a log-in.

While Sways can be shared on various social media or via an embed code that can be played in situ, other options aren’t as easy.

8 Writerly Uses for Sway

Here are some of the ways my teacher-author colleagues and I use Sway:

  1. Easily create quick book trailers that pop to share with your writing community.
  2. Create a linear website for your book with content that’s revealed with a flick of the finger.
  3. Create a website with your resume and/or writer’s portfolio.
  4. Research and collect notes in OneNote, then send that information to Sway to be mashed up as a presentation
  5. Write and format marketing materials. Input the text and then let Sway suggest images and other resources.
  6. Prepare any presentation, much as you might a PowerPoint.
  7. Create a themed newsletter quickly to share with your (GDPR-approved) mailing list.
  8. Create digital stories with a mix of text, images, and other multimedia pieces.
  9. Create a portfolio of artwork, poems, or writing that can be shared to showcase your work.
  10. Collaborate with your writing team on your WIP or marketing materials.

Overall, Sway does a great job of minimizing formatting in favor of writing — a real plus in today’s busy world.

More on writer’s tools

Jacqui Murray has been teaching K-8 technology for 15 years. She is the editor/author of over a hundred tech ed resources including a K-8 technology curriculum, K-8 keyboard curriculum, K-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum. She is an adjunct professor in tech ed, CSG Master Teacher, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, CAEP reviewer, CSTA presentation reviewer, freelance journalist on tech ed topics, a weekly contributor to TeachHUB, and author of the tech thrillers, To Hunt a Sub and Twenty-four Days. You can find her resources at Structured Learning.

Review of Write!

For the last few months I’ve been test-driving Write!—a word processing application that lives in the grey area between a text editor and a WYSIWYG word processor.*


Why, you might ask, are we talking about another entry in the word processing universe?  And that’s a fair question.  Since you’re reading this online, I’d be shocked if you don’t already have a go-to program when you want to hammer out a few pages.

But every job has tools—carpenters have hammers and chisels, analysts have computers and spreadsheets, and writers have pens and paper and word processors.  And anyone who performs a job for any length of time can get a little particular about the tools they use—just listen to a chef grumble if you tell them to use knives that are not their own.  Writers are not immune to this pickiness.  Bring it up at a gathering of writers and you’re likely to hear a dozen different opinions on what word processor—or lack thereof—works best.  Personally, since Ami-Pro—of the 1990s—disappeared, I’ve been drifting aimlessly. But for many people—and I’m one of them—using the right tool, or at least the tool that’s right for you, can be a critical thing.

This review has taken me longer than I expected; and while part of that has to do with the way free time dries up when you buy a house, it also took me a while to figure out how I felt about Write!  Not because it’s difficult to use—on the contrary, you can be up and running, and comfortable in your surroundings in less than 5 minutes—but because it’s fundamentally different that other word processors I’ve used.

After using it for several months I’ve started thinking of it as the Goldilocks of the word processing spectrum.  If you’re a high-end user of the fully-functional WYSIWYG programs, especially if you need something with powerful layout tools, Write! just isn’t going to be for you.  Conversely, if you’re like me, and gravitate toward the ultra-simplistic, barely-more-evolved-than-Notepad choices, Write! may have enough features to distract.  But if you fall somewhere in the middle, Write! could be the program that offers just the right mix of features to enable your writing, while getting out of your way.


Likewise, Write! sits in the Goldilocks price zone.  High-end packages like Word can cost quite a bit, and the free software generally just isn’t full-featured, or can be a bit buggy.  Write!, at $24.95 for a lifetime license, is inexpensive, and if it’s features are what you’re looking for, that’s not a lot to pay for a slick, well-programmed word processor.

At its core, it’s that dichotomy that made this review so difficult for me to wrap my mind around.  It took a long time to understand why there needed to be a middle-ground between the extremes.  The way I’ve worked for years is to open up PSPad, or the WordPress post-creation screen, and once the writing was done if I needed to make it look pretty, I’d copy/paste it into MS Word to do the heavy-lifting.  Write! won’t solve that problem—if you need to get a document presentation-ready to take to the printer you’ll still need something else to make it look professional.

Instead, Write! has included a suite of features that can help you with the technical work of pounding out the pages.  Instead of fancy fonts, and clip-art packages, Write! includes features focused on productivity—cloud storage, powerful cross-document search capability, quick publishing of documents to allow sharing and collaboration.  Focus Mode—where the paragraph you’re working on is highlighted and others are de-emphasized—is a feature I thought would bother me, but I found surprisingly helpful.

As with any program, it has it’s quirks, some of which may resonate with you and some won’t.  I don’t love the way the spell-checker works—I think it takes one too many clicks once a word has been identified, but a friend tried it and liked it better than what she was used to.

There are a lot of things to like about Write!, but there is one feature that I REALLY need that Write! just doesn’t do very well—Portability.  The main reason I’ve come to rely on Google Docs is that if I find myself with the time to write I can open the document on my home laptop, my work computer, my tablet, my phone, or any computer I borrow—all without installing extra software.  Write! has the ability to export documents to other formats (docx, pdf, txt, and a couple of others), but without a phone app, or web version, portability is limited.

So is Write! worth it?  That will depend on how you intend to use it.  It seems tailor-made for writing copy for online use, because the text it produces isn’t bogged down by formatting codes.  However, it doesn’t do everything as well as it does the basics, and if you use your processor to make flyers, brochures, or anything that needs graphics, visual elements and formatting, it’s probably not your first choice.  To me, it’s a solid program and it has it’s uses, but until I can edit documents on-the-go, I’m only going to use it when I’m home or toting my own laptop to the coffee shop.

*DISCLOSURE:  I received a free license for Write! in exchange for agreeing to evaluate it and share my thoughts.  Since that agreement my only contact with the Write! staff was to ask a few clarifying questions, and to let them know this review was scheduled for today.


9 Breakout Tips from Donald Maass

I have a huge bookshelf of self-help books for writing. If I get stuck, I roll my chair around to face my floor-to-ceiling shelves and explore tips from Donald Maass, Bob Mayer, Strunk and White, or James Frey on my problem-du-jour. These books are a wealth of information and take a long time to digest. I thought I’d take a few of my favorites and distill their highlights.

Literary agent Donald Maass is also the author of more than sixteen novels. I must admit, I’ve read none of those but have devoured his thoughts on how to write. I’ve reviewed both Writing the Breakout Novel (Writers Digest Books 2001) and The Breakout Novelist: Craft and Strategies for the Career Fiction Writer. These next nine tips are a distillation of both:

  •  When novelists whose previous work merely has been admired suddenly have books vault onto the best-seller lists or even achieve a large jump in sales, publishing people say they have ‘broken out’.
  • I first came to my conviction that the techniques of breakout storytelling can be learned around the moment that I first met one of my best clients…
  • Writing the breakout novel is… the habit of avoiding the obvious or of covering familiar ground, and instead reinforcing the conviction that one’s views, experience, observation of character and passion for chosen story premises can be magnified and pushed so one’s novels achieve new levels of impact and new degrees of originality
  • To survive in today’s book publishing industry, it is not good enough just to get published (as true today as ten years ago when Maass first wrote those words)
  • Most authors commit to story premises instinctively. Their gut tells them this is the one. There is nothing wrong with that, except the gut can sometimes be mistaken. It cannot hurt to subject your breakout premise to a little scrutiny.
  • The key ingredients I look for in a fully formed breakout premise are 1) plausibility, 2) inherent conflict, 3) originality, and 4) gut emotional appeal.
  • If there is one single principle that is central to making any story more powerful, it is simply this: Raise the stakes
  • Relegate setting to the backseat or make it the chassis on which everything else rides, but do not ignore it.
  • …if you do not have a moment of unexpected tragedy or grace in your novel, …consider where you might put it in

What’s your favorite how-to-write tip? Share it in comments.

–published first on Today’s Author

Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy, the Rowe-Delamagente thrillers, and the upcoming Born in a Treacherous Time. She is also the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer,  a columnist for TeachHUB, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her books at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning.

The Writers Circle: Writing Book Reviews

One of our goals here at Today’s Author is to help all of the writers among us to do what we love to do: write. One of the best ways to accomplish this is by talking to each other and learning from each other.  Our Writers Circle series is designed to do just that – provide a chance for us to discuss writing, editing and publishing questions.

This week’s topic is:

A lot of authors rely on readers to provide an honest and (hopefully) positive review for their books on sites like Amazon, Goodreads and others.  Do you do this on a regular basis or only if asked?  Do you do it only if you really loved the book or really hated it? How many plot details do you go into during your review and how do you come up with a rating for it?  As an author, do you look for or ask for reviews?

Let’s discuss this in the comments and see what our community thinks.