Saturday, March 29, 2014

For the Writers: Successful Book Blurbs

When readers look for books, there are two major factors that help them to decide if they'll read further: the cover, and the blurb. Last week I took a more critical look at book covers, so this time, it's the book blurbs turn. 

Back cover copy, book blurbs, and book descriptions all function the same way: they offer an enticing preview of a book, and invite the reader to continue reading. A good writer can't always write a good pitch, and it's sometimes painful and tedious to trim down an entire novel into a paragraph or two. Even several drafts down the road, a writer may find themselves tweaking and reworking to get it 'just right'.

But what sets apart a good description from a bad one? While many would just peg 'editing' as the culprit, I feel it is a bit more complex than that. Good blurbs are simple, but descriptive: they let us in on the major plot, players, and conflict. Bad blurbs are wordy, vague, or overly verbose. Before sitting down and tediously checking for spelling errors, I think it's just as important to ensure the substance is already there.

Ingredient Number One: The Players
As a reader, one of the first things I look for in the book blurb is who's the main character. When I pick up a book, I am investing in this person to be my companion. I want to make sure we can get along! Are they a know it all? Are they timid? Are they ready for this adventure or did they just get thrown into it? Knowing who a character is ahead of time tells me what to watch out for. 

Bad descriptions don't let the reader know who their companions are. A reader has to turn the page and find out for themselves. Often this leaders to disappointment, and it can result in a negative attitude towards the book as a whole. Readers don't like to be mislead.

Ingredient Number Two: The Plot
Another simple aspect of the blurb is simply, what's happening? I want to know if this is a story I'd like to hear. Is this a quest? Is it a romance? Good descriptions serve as a road map so the reader orient themselves in a story. If you write your plot well, it can actually serve an additional purpose and guide your reader through elements like slow beginnings or side plots. If the reader knows what they're waiting for, it buys some wiggle room.

Ingredient Number Three: The Conflict
The conflict in a description can serve as the hook for your blurb. What is exciting? What would make someone want to read this? A murder? A kidnapping? A mystery? Sometimes, the main conflict is shown only in a brief, tantalizing taste. You can even use part of this in your tagline. However you manage, get the reader hooked.

Mixing it up: Be Concise
When writing your back cover, don't get carried away. Imagine an elevator pitchthey call it that for a reason. If you're traveling up an elevator, and you are 5 floors away from your destination, how would you quickly entice the person next to you about your story? Readers have a limited window of time, and if you don't catch them fast, you won't catch them at all. 

I get at least three review requests from the time I go to bed, to the time I wake up in the morning. I sit down with my cup of tea and read through my e-mails, and the blurbs I hate are the ones that run on. If you can't summarize your plot in two paragraphs, you probably have a problem. Don't risk boring your reviewer before they can open your book. Know when to step away.

Getting Personal
I had a story I fought for months trying to describe. I couldn't fit it into a blurb, no matter how I worked it. By the end, I realized that I couldn't describe the plot because I didn't know what it was myself. It brought me back to a series of revision that cut out at least 40 pages of text that was honestly, unnecessary. It was difficult, but I realized I couldn't justify why it was there in the first place.

Your blurb is a challenge to yourself to defend your work, but you need to know the story well enough to summarize. Nothing should feel so important it hurts the story as a whole. That chunk of text may sound great now, but in the long run, is it doing more harm than good? You need to weigh each word you put into a blurb the same way you weigh each word you put into the novel.

I had the pleasure of sitting next to an author at a convention one year. They had written more books than years I'd been alive. We chatted and talked, and somehow my own work came up. He challenged me to describe it to him, and I won't lie: I flopped. My long-winded, mess of an explanation was painful, but there was a challenge underlying it. By trying to present myself to someone so experienced, I had to rethink. What was the story I was really trying to tell? And now, I pass on that challenge to you. 

What is the story you're really trying to tell?

Focus on that, and everything else will gradually fall into place. 

Thursday, March 27, 2014

White Hart by Sarah Dalton

White Hart
Author: Sarah Dalton
Publisher: Self-Published
Pages: 394
Release Date: March 3rd, 2014
Source: Won in a Goodreads Giveaway

Mae never asked to be craft-born. She never wanted that burden.

The realm needs magic again, and the the King of Aegunlund has been waiting for the first craft-born girl to marry his son, Prince Casimir.

In Mae's town of Halts-Walden, the ambitious miller claims his daughter Ellen is craft-born. Mae knows this is a load of hogwash, but she's glad Ellen will have the unfortunate pleasure of becoming queen instead of her. All she has to do is sit back and wait until Casimir and Ellen are married, then she will finally be free of the threat of her fate. But on that day an event so shocking and terrible occurs that Mae finds herself entering the neighbouring cursed forest on a quest she never thought she'd have to follow. 

Join Mae as she rides her white stag through the Waerg Woods with a pampered prince at her heels. She's out for revenge and nothing, no one, will get in her way.

Were star ratings tangible, by the end of this book I would have been throwing tiny yellow shapes out my bedroom window, then recollecting them and putting them back in place. I liked this book, I did, but the ending felt less like a cliffhanger, and more like I got shoved off the cliff entirely. Sarah Dalton, how could you do that to me? 

I guess we should start at the beginning, though. Mae is craft-born, but she doesn't want to be. She's spent most her life hiding her gift, because if anyone finds out, she will be whisked away to the castle to marry the prince; unlike most girls, the idea just doesn't appeal to her. Luckily, another girl from the village happens to display signs of the craft, and the royal entourage comes to solve Mae's problems forever. Things don't go as planned. She ends up stuck with Prince Cas traversing through the Waerg Woods trying to find his kidnapped bride-to-be, Ellen. 

The story is well written for the most part. It had a page-turning quality that let me easily finish this in one sitting, and Mae wasn't a bad narrator. There was a point I was a bit concerned, when Mae's voice shifted suddenly ["Father is obsessed with me book learning. He insists it will better me."] but that cleaned up after awhile. There were also a few formatting problems, which took me a bit off guard. I don't think I got an ARC copy, but my edition may just be early enough those things hadn't been found yet. 

Mae wasn't an easy to love narrator, but I don't think she wasn't unlikable. She's spent her life judged and treated poorly by the village she lived next to, and their attitudes only change after the loss of her father. Then Prince Cas is nice to her, but he's also pining after a girl he barely met, which is understandably confusing. Mae is the craft-born, so if the prince knew, it could have been her he fell for. But Mae doesn't want that. She just wants to be free, and to her, her only real friend is Anta her white stag. 

The danger in the woods was interesting, but to me it wasn't really original. The fog and the birds definitely felt way too Catching Fire for me, especially since those things stopped once they got to new segments of the woods. There was also some strange disappearance of injuries throughout the book. How did they get nearly bled to death then are suddenly doing okay? I didn't feel like it was ever explained well enough for me. The scene with the natives felt a little cheesy, and I still don't really understand what happened with the Sleeping Willow. I couldn't read the in-book map so part of me was also lost as far as the setting went. 

To be honest, I think the twists at the end are what I enjoyed the most. The woods, as adventurous as they were, felt a bit common, but the tension at the castle really drew me in. The ending, as much as I complain, was really a great turn for this book, and it helps set it apart from other similarly plotted novels (such as The Selection which was a recent release, and The Goose Girl which is just one of my favorites) I think the sequel has a chance to really shine, so fingers crossed, it will carry the strengths from this book and move forward.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Glitch by Brenda Pandos

Author: Brenda Pandos
Publisher: Obsidian Mountain Publishing
Pages: 300
Release Date: January 29th, 2014
Source: Purchased Amazon E-book

Perfect world. Lies. Blue eyes.

When a mysterious guy from the forbidden zone sneaks an illegal slip of paper to a beautiful young girl from Brighton, she must decide if she should turn him in or follow what the note says.

Eighteen-year-old Abigail has no trouble following Brighton’s rules. For one, she’s OCD about checking her Date of Death clock latched to her wrist, making sure her decisions never shorten her timeline, and two, she enjoys the peace Brighton has to offer. In no way would she bring on another attack that destroyed earth’s inhabitants. But when her best friend returns from her Advice Meeting--a glimpse into the future--shocked and won’t tell Abby what’s happened, Abby is worried what awaits her glimpse. The stranger with blue eyes knows something, but does Abby dare enter the forbidden zone to get answers? Or is she doomed to live the life set in her glimpse?

There are three genres that are hard to be creative with recently: vampires, werewolves, and zombies. Not that best intentions don't always add some creative spins, but they always sort of end up the same in the end. 

When I first read the sample for Glitch, I was hooked. This didn't feel like it would be the same old zombie book. To be fair, it wasn't, although I felt like something was missing in the middle. This was a great start to a new series, but like many books, there were still quite a few questions floating around by the end that are left unanswered. 

The story starts out promising: Abby lives in a perfect utopia, following the guidance of her DOD watch, the EAs rules, and casually awaiting to meet with her future Compliment to see what she should do differently. The lifestyle is secure, at least until some blue-eyed guy from the Zombie Zone gives her a note. All he wants is for her to not go to meet her compliment. And Abby goes anyway. 

From there the story sets off on a pretty interesting adventure. She finds out what it's like over the wall, there is a love triangle thing happening, and fate of the future may be in her hands. No pressure, right? The one thing that is strangely missing for like, 70% of this book, however, was zombies. Then, when they finally appeared, I started to feel maybe this wasn't a creative take on zombies, it was just a time-traveling book with zombies thrown in. I still really liked it, but it didn't feel quite as creative at that point. Also, the romance stuff got on my nerves from time to time. I wasn't sure why Abby liked Blue-Eyes over his brother, when she didn't have any time to get to know him. I also wasn't sure what was with the whole Sasquatch stuff. The post apocalyptic side of things was the more interesting element, but there was still more to be desired. The book also ends really suddenly, which is bad when you're like me and find cliffhangers exasperating. 

Overall, this was a good book, but I had hoped for a little more from it. We'll see how the sequel turns out.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

A Lifetime to Die by P.S. Meronek

A Lifetime to Die
Author: P.S. Meronek
Release Date: August 1st, 2013
Source: Won in a Goodreads Giveaway

The darkest of secrets sometimes linger for a lifetime. When they are finally exposed they can be like the discovery of an ancient tomb, perhaps better left alone, although never ignored. Aristotle Mercury’s father knew too much, so he was silenced. With the help of his friends in the Russian mob, Aristotle’s Uncle Jacob is able to move in and take over as the new head of the now successful factory that his own brother created.

The year is 1968. As the Red Army’s tanks roll into Wenceslas Square in the very heart of Prague, a seventeen year old Aristotle learns the horrible truth about his father. Five years ago someone else was murdered in his place to make it appear as if he was accidentally crushed under a factory press. Since then his father has been alive and imprisoned in the notorious Prague Institute for the Criminally Insane.

In a daring rescue Aristotle retrieves his barely alive father from the bowels of the terrible prison. After a short time his father succumbs to the ravages of his imprisonment, but not before he divulges the location of the evidence which proves he owned the now thriving factory, and of Uncle Jake’s murderous duplicity in stealing it from them.

With the Russians taking over the country, and the mob closing in to eliminate the only living heir to a burgeoning fortune, Aristotle flees Czechoslovakia and makes his way to America, vowing to one day go back and even the score.

He settles in New York, in Greenwich Village. He’s honest and works hard to learn the new ways of a strange land. Soon he befriends his eccentric landlord, the elderly Mrs. Schroeder. Telly, as his new friends in America like to call him, ignites a withered spirit of adventure in the lady who still believes in the good in people. She owns some property, and Telly has a talent for building. They both learn Telly also has an eye for the deal. Together they first develop her land, and then other land in the exploding New York real estate market. Telly’s ambitions lead him from the posh boardrooms of New York to the lucrative shores of New Jersey, where he’s almost killed as he constructs the world’s largest casino.

Never too far from his mind, always there to haunt and motivate him, Telly dreams of the day he will finally return to his homeland and exact vengeance on his Uncle Jake. In a sweeping saga of familial betrayal spanning three decades of intertwining lives, Telly Mercury finally gets his chance for justice. But does righting of wrongs of a demon filled closet come with a price too high? Secrets are sometimes better left untold, in spite of their screams from across the years to be heard.

His own salvation hanging in the balance, Telly must somehow accept that forgiveness trumps retribution, and money truly can’t buy happiness. And just maybe, as it is with Uncle Jacob, forgiveness is the worst possible epithet for a life lived in the accompaniment of the unquenchable thirst of greed and murder.

Well. That's over. 

I liked this book in the beginning. I really did. In fact, almost the whole first segment had me turning pages and sucked into Aristotle's life. The writing was good, which is pretty much all that's kept my rating up where it is. While I may not have liked the story, I can't say the author doesn't have a decent handle on prose. 

The problem with this book was the plot which went from the pretty basic 'Uncle cheated us out of money' to ... the end. I don't know what happened. Honestly. I feel like I got tempted into reading with a piece of candy then hit over the head with a cinder block. I'm not usually one to be so harsh about a book, but I'm honestly in disbelief at this point. I just keep asking "What happened?!"

A Lifetime to Die would fit into the Drama category, in my opinion. It was faintly reminiscent of a story like The Great Gatsby, although it lacked any clear hook to tether the reader to everything that was going on. [Warning, I might start dropping spoilers here soon, so if you haven't read it and want to, maybe stop here.] When you start this story, you sort of map out the basic elements: Uncle stole factory, hidden documents, murder attempt, mob, escape from the country. Then we get to America, and things start taking a new turn. Telly starts working construction, trying to earn money. Gradually he has a friend who dares him to go bigger and shoot for new dreams. Telly rises through the ranks and starts to make something of himself. Meanwhile, as a reader you're just hanging in there, waiting. What happened to the Uncle? What happened to Prague? Reassurance comes that this will be down the road. Telly is saving, building relationships so he can take on said Uncle. Then he falls in love. Then there is a casino and someone tries to kill him. 

Life falls apart. Telly falls in love again, and I kept waiting for some sort of epiphany. Maybe he's working too hard, and should just settle down and enjoy life? Maybe he needs to head home and resolve things? But Aristotle just keeps reaching higher and higher, still following the ghosts of his past. Time starts slow, then gets faster the more we read. Five years go past. Then six. Then ten. We read through all the small details of his arrival in America then his cousin comes in and I have no idea who she is or why she is important. The biggest 'reveal' doesn't happen until the end of the book, and I honestly don't know what it had to do with the rest of the story. 

Are you confused? I feel confused. 

The problem with A Lifetime to Die was it tried to do too much. Just like the back cover, everything was crammed into this novel and started to gush out the seams. There were points where I thought it would get better, but somehow things just didn't click. Why was it necessary to have so many conversation about profits and legalities and building the empire? Why didn't we get to know the people in his life the way we did Mrs. Schroeder? Time jumps so unexpectedly, I never know if the next chapter is the next day, or five years. This book left me grasping for straws, holding pages that felt ripped out of order while other segments seemed missing entirely. 

I felt like there were messages woven into the book. They needed more polishing to make them clearer, however. This book, as I understood it, was about spending a lifetime rushing forward, chasing something, only to find you turn around, and the moment is over. Years become moments, gone. It's the curse of youth to never look back until it's too late. However prominent that message could have been, it was lost in the mess for me. There was nothing to carry the story from point A to point B, so I just ended up sitting somewhere between the two, wondering what happened.

Top Ten Tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and Bookish

So the challenge today was to list your bookish bucket-list. Unfortunately, when it comes to reading, I honestly can't think that far in the future. It's like trying to predict who my favorite unborn child will be, or what I'll want to eat in two years. So I'm sort of steering off to left field and taking this from a writer's viewpoint. These are the Top Ten  Five goals of my writing career. 

1. Write and publish at least 10 books
During my lifetime, I want to at least write ten books. Maybe it's a pride thing, but I want to be able to click on my name link on Amazon and see a handful of shiny covers under it. 

2. Be a guest at a comic book convention
So, I'm usually a vendor at comic book conventions. I'd love to be invited to one just as a guest though. Even a small one. 

3. Feel satisfied
At least in this stage of my writing career, I feel like there is too much to say and not enough time to say it. I want to write enough to be able to sit back and just feel like what I said was heard. 

4. Encourage another writer
Being a writer for me is always about passing on the baton, not just about hogging the glory for yourself. I've always been inspired by other authors, and I want to share that inspiration and encouragement one day.

5. Inspire a piece of fan art
I won't lie, I love seeing what other people think my characters look like. Even if I'm an artist, sometimes other people really capture my characters. While I've held an art contest before, I think it would be fun to see a piece of fan art someone did just for the heck of it. 

So yeah, those are my Top Five honest 'dreams' as a writer. To fill out my other 'five' tops for the week though, here are the top 5 covers from my To-Read list. I tried not to repeat any from last week, but Cress sort of snuck in there... Oh well.


Book Covers: Time to Get Critical

Hey guys, so this is a post more for the authors in the audience, but readers, you're welcome to listen in as well. Today, we're going to look a bit more critically at book covers, and one or two problems I've seen popping up in the market.

So this is a topic I've avoided for awhile, because I'll admit, I'm a bit biased on the matter. As an artist, I can be a strong judge of book covers, and while I do read books with bad ones, it is always rare and they always fall below other books on my reading list. A book is your first impression with me as a reader, and content doesn't matter if you can't get someone to open your book. Authors are in risky territory because often what they are being judged on first is someone else's work: the cover art.

Believe it or not, a 'bad' book cover isn't always someone with a homemade picture or a terrible font choice. Covers can be ruined in many other ways, with the wrong image choices, image placing, and more. My point in writing this post is to help shed some light on what can make a bad cover, but also some of the ways these things can be avoided. If you hire an artist, be aware of what they're doing: ask questions, and be informed.

Below are a few of my book cover 'worst offenders'. Please note: all the examples used are cover examples only. I am going to be a bit critical here, but I am looking at covers alone. I have not read the books and this is not a rating of their contents.

Offender Number One: Copyright Copycats
Believe it or not, even good looking covers can be troublesome. The following was a book I found on Amazon just this week. While it looks clean, easy to read, and interesting, there is a big problem with this book: the symbols. Recognize them? If you've ever watched Avatar: The Last Airbender you would. This is clearly, line for line, a water-bending symbol.

To give the benefit of the doubt, maybe this symbol was used before Avatar. Maybe they even got permission to use it. The problem here is the risk of copyright infringement. Avatar is a popular show, and people will recognize this image, so if the artist was being sneaky and didn't go through the right avenues, they could soon have some legal problems on their hands. Authors don't always know to watch out for copyright problems when they hire artists. Good cover,stamp of approval, right? Wrong. Always ask where your images come from. I cannot emphasize that enough. 

I've seen pre-made covers where the characters used looked suspiciously like well known celebrities. This is also risky territory because celebrities themselves can be copyright protected. It's always dangerous to push boundaries like this. Maybe you get away with it, but it's always your gamble whether you want to face the consequences if you're wrong.

Offender Number Two: Stock Photo Syndrome
Purchased stock photos are very legal alternatives  to handmade cover art if you want a clean looking cover. I will put a different caution on this one, however. Below are two covers of books I've seen on Goodreads in the past few months. Notice anything similar?

Try as you might, other people are going to use the same stock photo as you. When someone else owns that photo, it can get hundreds of other downloads, and your cover images has nothing proprietary about it. It's hard to market an image when you have to share it with other people. What can be a cheep shortcut can have a more expensive turn around. 

The thing about covers is you want one that identifies your work. If someone sees your book in passing and thinks "Hey, that looks good", but doesn't have time to pick it up, you want them to be able to recognize it if they cross paths with it again. The last thing you want is for them to grab another book because they couldn't tell you two apart. 

Offender Number Three: Photoshop [Un]Realism
Photoshopping is on the rise in the cover industry. It is another way to cut corners and save time. When done right, it can give you unique and professional looking covers. When done wrong, your book just looks silly. The following example was found in Hastings:

First impression of this book isn't so bad, but the feather is the part that is a little problematic. If you look at the flames, they are poorly warped and twisted, and the blur on the edges really distorts the image. I'm giving this some leeway because phoenix feathers probably don't 'burn' like normal feathers, so we won't get into the physics of that, but the shadow under the feather doesn't match the burning portion, and the flames and feather themselves are in different resolutions. I know that's a lot of jargon to swallow, but basically, the problem is the flames and feather don't 'fit' together naturally. I've also seen this with covers for werewolf stories or supernatural novels. Photoshopping a wolf over a face doesn't look cool if one of them is twice as pixelated as the other. 

Other problems with photoshoped covers are where two images are mashed up and aren't in the same perspective. While not everyone can tell what they don't like about the image, most people will get a sense that something is 'wrong'. Covers that feel 'right' have more appeal even to the untrained eye.

Offender Number Four: Unreadable Fonts
So, this is the biggest offender I see in the self-publishing industry. Now, I love my indie authors, but throwing an orange font on a blue picture is not always the solution to help it stand out! Maybe it worked for Percy Jackson, but unless you're going to get expensive raised fonts, it's probably not going to have to same effect for you. Even Percy Jackson looks a bit flat in electronic format.

I know some people are trying to make covers on their own, but even with paint there are ways to avoid flat fonts. If you can, use Gimp or another cheep photo-editing program. There are plenty of tutorials out there that can show you how to use shadows and stroke settings. Even a 1pt border separates the font enough from the background you won't get colors visually bleeding together. DeviantArt and other websites have hundreds of tutorials to tech you basic techniques like this. It's easy to make excuses about time and money, but nine times out of ten, a reader won't pick up a book with a title they can't read. 

Side Tip: Use a slightly larger, bold, darker font underneath. If you don't have photoshop, this is your walk-around to get a shadow under your font. Shadows help give your font something solid to rest against, so you don't have to pick ridiculous font colors to be able to see them against the background. 

Offender Number Five: Grainy Images
This is another problem when cutting corners. If your source image isn't big enough, it doesn't print well. I've seen this happen in interiors and exteriors, and it really makes readers feel like the value of the book is lowered. Try to keep images 300 dpi or higher, and at least start in the size you are printing to. 3000 x 3000 pixel images should not be stretched from 1000 x 1000 pixel images. 

Offender Number Six: Identity Crisis
This is a problem readers are sometimes unaware of, but it is pretty common in the traditional publishing circuit. Sometimes a book is designed with no real attention to the story. In the case of Jane Lindskold's Five Odd Honors while her cover was beautiful, she admit she wasn't sure who was supposed to be pictured on the cover, since it didn't seem to look like any of her characters. 

There are cases where authors honestly have little control over what cover ends up on the book shelves. I've seen covers where the image has the wrong hair color, eye color, or the image makes no sense for the story line. It's always odd to open up a book and have no idea what the image on the outside has to do with the interior. Mistaken identity covers like these are confusing to the reader, and also problematic if they are on your work. However nice a book is, it should always be an aid to the final product, not a hazard in the way.

Ignorance isn't bliss when it comes to book covers. 'Good enough' can be a disservice to your work. It sucks, but I will reiterate this one more time: the book industry is one of the few places where the first thing people judge you on is someone else's work. It's okay. Get a little critical. People do judge a book by it's cover. 

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Salted by Aaron Galvin

Author: Aaron Galvin
Release Date: April 24th, 2014
Source: ARC from the author in exchange for
an honest review.

Life isn’t better under the sea.

Lenny Dolan is all too familiar with this reality. A Selkie slave in the realm beneath the waves, he has no choice when charged with leading a crew ashore to capture an elusive runaway. If unsuccessful, the loved ones kept behind will pay for his failure with their lives.

But when their target leads Lenny and his crew to deeper, darker secrets, the Selkies are faced with a moral dilemma. Secure their own freedom at the expense of others, or return empty-handed to face the grisly consequences?

How Lenny and his crew answer the question will teach them the harshest truth of all. Only through the loss of innocence does one become Salted.

It's always hard to find a unique novel on mermaids. I've seen a spin or two from time to time, but nothing really original, and certainly nothing I'd really describe as 'cool'. That was until I got the chance to read Salted. This is a creative take in somewhat unexplored territory that leaves the reader questioning and wondering as they go along. What does it mean to be 'Salted'? How do these character's stories fit together? Who are we rooting for? One of the benefits and flaws about being an ARC reader for a book like this, is no one is really around to throw out spoilers for you. 

In this case, I think this is the best way to go into this book, so I will leave you sitting in the darkness.

With Salted, I'll be honest: there are times when it's hard to wait for answers. I find it difficult when a bunch of new terms are handed to me and I don't know what they all stand for. Being set down in a new world with no direction does get annoying, but in the end, I feel it makes the journey more eventful as the book sorts things out for you. Salted delivers a page-turning story that doesn't shy from perhaps more difficult topics and situations. I would consider some of the elements to be 'raw' or 'real', but that is always something I enjoy in a word full of fluff and happy endings.

The story itself is special beyond just the plot, with a rather diverse set of main characters, varying from ethnic backgrounds to physical features. Among the fantasy elements, there are also some real problems that the characters face. Garrett is bullied, several of the characters are in slavery, and characters have to choose between their own safety, and that of others. For a YA novel, there is some heavy stuff in this book, which make sit lean towards the teen spectrum, in case anyone is wondering whether this would be a good book for someone they know. 

I teetered between eight and nine stars on this one, because this book calls a bit in the downer category for me. I think future novels could help ease that element, but it is hard to feel a sense of resolution with the sort of ending this leaves on. I also wasn't quite sure enough of my questions were answered in the end. With books like these, you strap yourself in with the promise more will be revealed. I am unfortunately impatient, and always sulk a bit when I get to the end, and that just brings more waiting.

Overall, I think the creativity alone makes this a good read. The characters felt fleshed out to me, and the plot pulls you forward as it continues. Congrats to Aaron Galvin for taking on such an imaginative project. Now I just have to wait impatiently for someone else to read it so I can compare more detailed thoughts about it....

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Adaptation by Malinda Lo

Author: Malinda Lo
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Pages: 400
Release Date: September 12th, 2012
Source: Netgalley

Reese can’t remember anything from the time between the accident and the day she woke up almost a month later. She only knows one thing: She’s different now.

Across North America, flocks of birds hurl themselves into airplanes, causing at least a dozen to crash. Thousands of people die. Fearing terrorism, the United States government grounds all flights, and millions of travelers are stranded.

Reese and her debate team partner and longtime crush David are in Arizona when it happens. Everyone knows the world will never be the same. On their drive home to San Francisco, along a stretch of empty highway at night in the middle of Nevada, a bird flies into their headlights. The car flips over. When they wake up in a military hospital, the doctor won’t tell them what happened, where they are—or how they’ve been miraculously healed.

Things become even stranger when Reese returns home. San Francisco feels like a different place with police enforcing curfew, hazmat teams collecting dead birds, and a strange presence that seems to be following her. When Reese unexpectedly collides with the beautiful Amber Gray, her search for the truth is forced in an entirely new direction—and threatens to expose a vast global conspiracy that the government has worked for decades to keep secret.

If you like conspiracy theories, aliens, government cover ups and genetic experiments, this might be the book for you. However, if you're like me, Adaptation could just leave you wanting for something more creative.

When I picked up this book, it seemed like something I would enjoy. The opening has a very 'end of the world' type feel to it, and while I felt it moved a bit too fast, there was something exciting about the story line. Getting trapped in an airport while planes are crashing mysteriously due to birds? That seems like a good recipe for a fun book. Once we hit the car crash and the traces of alien conspiracy started showing up, however, I started to loose interest.

I guess it just feels like a 'been there, done that'. Instead of building something new, this book draws onto all kinds of old material. While the opening felt fresh and creative, the middle made me feel like I was watching an old sci-fi on a dusty T.V. I've read some good sci-fi, and I've seen some creative takes on it. This really didn't have that feel to me. 

The most creative aspect involved the birds, but even that gets pushed aside with this awkward coming of age sort of romance aspect that takes up half the book. Don't get me wrong, I don't mind romance or coming of age. But it felt like someone clipped those sections out of a different book and shoved it in the middle of this novel. I would have rather spent more time escaping Phoenix than hearing about Reese's confusing love life. Which is sad, because this is one of the few books that really branches out and diversifies the main characters. The twists and turns seemed to suck out anything 'real' about those interactions though.

The romance with Amber felt forced and unnatural, the opening felt rushed, and I had to spend too long suspending my disbelief. There were also smaller things that bugged me. Like David offering to drive the rental car. Almost all rental companies require drivers be 21 years old to drive, and even then you get fined extra. Then they crash it, and there is just no dealing with the fact they totaled the car. That is some massive debt they just piled on their debate coach's family. The longer I read, the more I started questioning the story line. It felt like a campfire story not a book. There was nothing solid in this novel that drew me in enough to believe what was happening.

Good Sci-Fi has enough in it to make you question what's around you. This book just tried to build on the paranoia that already existed. By the end, it just felt cheesy, and I just wasn't buying any of it.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Review Requests: Tips and Tricks

When you're a writer, reviews can be a life force to your success. Good feedback leaves you dancing and encouraged to move forward, but even critical feedback helps you look at your work differently and address any flaws you can't see on your own. It's easy to see why authors should seek reviews, but there are some positive and negative ways to go about it. Submitting review requests is just like any other professional interaction, and should be treated as such.

As a reviewer, sadly I don't have time to review every book that comes my way. So personal preference will always be a factor. I look for books that fit my tastes, and I know many other reviewers do the same. For authors, this provides the first major hurdle to getting reviews: knowing the reviewer. If you want a reviewer to take to the time to read your work, than it is important to set aside a few minutes to get to know them. Check their recent posts, their to-read list, their top-picks. Does your book fall into any of these groups? Are the books they're reading ones you would pick up? When looking for reviewers it's not enough to just have someone who will 'give it a shot'. The most honest and helpful feedback is going to come from someone who loves books like yours.

The second big step is going to be writing a good request. It is more than just having a fancy pitch, or a good description; you have to be professional as well. Never treat your reviewer like you are doing them a favor sending in your request. While the book is free, they are still committing time to look at your work. Reviewers are just like other readers, and we have to discern what we choose to read. Time is valuable when many reviewers have other jobs, hobbies, and responsibilities. Requests that show you haven't read their policies, or that don't take time to include required information quickly show that an author doesn't care.

The third big factor to a successful request is to take care with your description. How you write your request is as important as how you write your book. A long winded explanation can turn off a reviewer and they may not move forward. Don't rely on your content alone to save you: you need to reviewer to want to open your book first. Be concise, be informative, and be polite.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Shattered Veil by Tracy E. Banghart

Shattered Veil
Author: Tracy E. Banghart
Publisher: Self-Published
Pages: 377
Release Date: February 28th, 2014
Source: Netgalley/Purchased

When everything that defines you is stripped away, who do you become?

For Aris, a talented wingjet pilot, war means sacrificing everything: her home, her name, her face—and the one promise she swore she’d never break.

In the small village of Lux, everyone flies wingjets, but nobody flies them like Aris Haan. When she’s not dancing through the skies, she’s spending every minute with Calix, whom she’s loved since childhood. They plan to Promise, but instead he is sent to defend their dominion against a bloody invasion. Determined not to lose him, Aris follows, joining an underground network of women inside the male-only military. Using secret technology that allows her to pass as a man, she becomes “Aristos”, a Flyer in a search-and-rescue unit. 

As Aris grows stronger on the battlefield and more comfortable in her guise as Aristos, her personal mission becomes less and less clear. When she and her enigmatic commander, Major Vidar, uncover an astonishing conspiracy that could destroy everything, she must make a choice that will determine not only the fate of her heart, but the future of her dominion.

It's been awhile since I read a good book, a really GOOD book, that makes me flail as I reach the last page, sob a little as I realize the sequel isn't coming right away and share it with everyone I know. If someone had to ask me what the recipe was for a book that would make me feel this way, I couldn't tell them. All I know is Shattered Veil WAS this book for me. 

I can't begin to imagine how heart-wrenching, pure and beautiful this book felt. I loved Aris, I loved her struggles, and I hope the sequel is just as wonderful when it's released.

I've read books where women conceal their identities for various reasons, but this one just felt honest to me. Aris loved Calix, and when he was Selected to be in the military, everything fell apart for her. All she had left was flying, and even that was in jeopardy with the demand for her to start working and be more responsible. 

I've been in Aris' shoes, heck, I may still be in them, so maybe that is what drew me in so fast. When you're a dreamer, when you really LOVE something, there is nothing more terrifying than the possibility of loosing it. Whether it is a person, or a passion (like flying). I've heard the voices around me telling me it's time to move on, time to grow up, and it is so painful to take. This book captured that, and when Aris got the offer to join the military, and embrace her talents as a flyer, I was thrilled to watch her take it. In the end, the journey she found herself on had so much more meaning for me.

To me, this was a story about finding yourself. About having a dream and trying desperately to just hold onto it, because that is who you are. But sometimes chasing dreams, who we are can change. Aris realized there was something bigger than just flying, something more she could accomplish by being part of the fight. Even her relationship with Calix shifts as she grows as a character. Calix may have been the reason she joined the military, but he isn't the reason she stays.

It's been a long time since a book really struck a cord in me, and left me breathlessly waiting for more. Tracy E. Banghart has created something wonderful, and I can't wait to see what she writes. I may have got this book for free, but I bought my own print copy because an e-book just wasn't enough. I want this book by my side for years to come.

Can I just keep gushing for the next few hours?

E-book Cost: How much is too much?

I have a confession to make: I'm somewhat of a budget shopper when it comes to books. Don't get me wrong, as an author I know just how important it is to have people support what you do. When I really love a book, I will buy the print copy, and set it up on my bookshelf like a glamorous trophy once I'm done reading it. But when it comes to e-books, cost can be a serious factor when I go to pick one up. Anything over $3.99 just feels way over budget, especially if the author is one I've never read before. 

Maybe it's because the print price is listed on the same page, and the gap just feels too small to justify. As guilty as I start feeling, I start thinking through the used bookstores that might offer it for cheaper. $9 may not seem too crazy to some readers, but my heart starts beating a little faster when I realize the impact even 10 of those books would have on my bank account. At least with a print copy I feel like I have something to show for it. I feel a greater sense of ownership with a print edition. I can highlight if I wanted, I can get it signed, I can save it as a collectible. Those little data codes in my e-reader? My computer? I always feel like I'm just borrowing them. Why would I want to borrow a book for half the cost of owning it?

This dilemma has always plagued me, ever since the start of the e-book revolution. When the Hunger Games came out, I spent a full week debating buying the print of electronic edition to read. If I loved the book, I would have been sad I didn't buy the print edition, but if it wasn't my cup of tea, the money I saved on the e-book would make me feel happier. 

There have been several studies about e-book price point verses sales volume. Smashwords published findings last year that showed the 'sweet points' for e-books were at $.99, and between $2.00 and $3.99. Many of the traditional print books I see fall in the $7.00 and up category, which is often double what many of these Indie authors are pricing at. As a consumer, I can see where some of the patterns kick into play. A $.99 cent book usually isn't one I expect to be 'great', a $7.00 book just feels full of itself. By staying in the middle ground, the pricing allows readers to take a risk without feeling like they are being cheated out of their money.

So what are your thoughts? How much is too much for an e-book?

Ethereal Underground by Brooke Kennedy & Briana Gaitan

Ethereal Underground
Author: Brooke Kennedy & Briana Gaitan
Publisher: KDP
Pages: 293
Release Date: November 13th, 2013
Source: Received from the author in exchange for an
honest review.

Can the person who was sent to steal your soul, be the same person who steals your heart? 

The keepers are protectors of the planet Cabalin, charged with defeating identified enemies and preventing other planets from waging war on their dying planet. They are expected to keep their emotions in check and do as they are told no matter what the consequences. One of their rising warriors, however, has been placed on sabbatical for reasons unknown to those around him. Rebellious, impulsive, and moody, Ash has continued to break the rules by frequenting the Ethereal Underground, the seedy hang out in the eighth layer of the planet. Ash has always believed in the keeper’s cause, but his taste for adventure always seems to get him in trouble. 

The seraphs live on a different plane of existence. They watch over the mortals and reap their souls when it is time for them to depart to the afterlife, but do not associate with the beings otherwise. They are duty bound and loyal creatures, each of them having an affinity for a force of nature that they can use when needed. When a seraph breaks the rules, they are banished and stripped of their affinity. These evil creatures are named the fallen. Annalise, a reaper seraph blessed with an affinity for water, has always followed the rules until she is called to reap Ash’s soul and take it to the afterlife. This time, however, she finds it difficult to take the soul. 

Their worlds were never supposed to meet. Now everyone’s future is in jeopardy, their lives turned upside down as they find themselves on the run from the very people they thought they could count on. The two of them must search for a way to clear their names and hunt down the evil forces of the fallen, without losing themselves or those they hold dearest. This epic fantasy will take you on an exhilarating quest for love, truth, and revenge.

When I saw this cover for the first time, I was instantly drawn to the book. There was something mesmerizing and enticing about the picture, and once I started reading, the story itself was just as interesting. I liked Ash, and while it took me awhile to feel comfortable in the setting, by the end of the book I had really come to like the world. Ethereal Underground was part adventure, part romance, and offered a fun read that was different from many of the books I've picked up lately.

Despite the praise, there were some things that felt problematic to me about this novel. While the writing was fairly good, there were a few places where it really felt like it fell apart. Action scenes in particular were a little sloppy to me: the prose didn't flow, descriptions fell flat and I just got lost instead of getting drawn to the edge of my seat. There was also a really annoying repetition about eye-color that felt unnecessary. About half-way through the book, I started cringing every time I heard about Anna's 'blue eyes'. As a reader, it makes you want to yell "I know they're blue!" every time the color shows up. 

There were some transition issues in a few places, that just could use some ironing. For instance, when Ash has a meeting with the Officials, I had to back track because I had no idea where the change of clothes came from. One minute he was wearing borrowed clothes, then he was at the surface wearing something with a Keeper symbol on it. 

Anna's dialogue was hard for me to read at times. It shifted between being proper, to sounding like she didn't know English very well. Like this sentence: “I do not know exactly what you are meaning." (Page 82). It just doesn't feel believable when it's that choppy. I also found it hard to understand how much she knew about humans. In the opening it said she never saw one in person, but she was watching them in the globe to learn gardening. She mimicked wiping the sweat from her brow so obviously she's been watching for awhile to pick up on that, but she didn't learn any of the language and is still super oblivious? I felt like there were a lot of questions created by that scene. 

There were also a few word dumps. In the opening, things were really smooth, then we suddenly get different species being defined all at once. On page 21, there was a giant paragraph that jumped all over the place. It was talking about the globe, then emotions, then back, and I felt like too much information was shoved into one space. Every time I hit a rough patch of text I was disappointed and started to loose interest. 
In the end, there is potential here, lots of potential! But the version I was reading just needed more work.  One of the upsides about some of these problems is they are easily fixable, and the authors already seem to be working on improvements for the next editions. 

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Top Ten Books on My Spring 2014 Reading List

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and Bookish

So this is my first time participating in one of these weekly memes, but this just seemed like fun. I have plenty of books on my To-Read list, and these are the Top-Ten I'm looking forward to Spring. 

1. Cress
I've actually bee putting this one off for awhile, because I know I won't be able to read anything else until it's finished. The Lunar Chronicles is one of my favorite series right now. Worst part about reading it? Once I have, I have to wait for the final book. 

2. Glitch
This was one of the few e-books I went out and bought this year, and it snuck it's way to the top of my reading list. It is a unique twist on a zombie novel and when I read the sample, I was hooked. 

I picked this story up on Netgalley, and the premise was really unique. Again, this one snuck it's way up my reading list. I really like the main character and the writing style is refreshing.

This is one of the books that I received directly from the author. Sometimes I find these exciting because they have a sort of 'fresh feel to them, and I love looking at books before everyone else gets to them. 

This was a deal on BookBub, but it caught my interest back when I saw it up in a Goodreads giveaway. Look at that cover!

This was a book I won through a Goodreads giveaway, and I love the simplistic cover. The plot seems unique as well. 

7. Legacy
This is a story I picked up through a review program.  The cover is really stunning, and I hope the writing lives up to it!

8. Eve
I get on dystopian kicks, and this was one of the few in that category that seemed the most promising. Hopefully it'll rise where some of the last few dystopians fell apart for me!


This was another book I found in Oyster. I needed some variety to my reading list, so this is one I'm hoping could function as a light buffer between heavier novels. 

10. Life II
This is one of the review requests I received. I am curious to see how it turns out!