The Reading List (and News!)

Fullcover_for_internetA poll! Right off! If you had your choice of the following to be revealed first for Novum, which would you pick?

  • Cover
  • Character Artwork
  • Music

Leave a comment, and next Monday, the group vote wins!

Moving onwards, your friend neighborhood author has dived into a pile of books with wild abandon. First Earth’s Last Citadel, then Consider Phlebas, The Headmaster’s Wife, and Seating Arrangements. On my kindle now are The Privilege of the Sword, The Martian and How Not to Write a Novel!

I’ve got a varied and wondrous pile of things to work through in the near future, including:

…and that’s only a sliver! I’m also playing through Halo and Titanfall, as well as FFVI and FF Tactics, and have been told to watch Sherlock, Orphan Black, and Modern Family. (One of these things is not like the others, but I love me some comedy!)

As for the news …

Yours truly is working on the story and dialogue for a videogame! My goodness, yes! For now, the details remain deliciously mysterious, but there will be a blaze of concept art, story fragments, and gameplay demos coming along in the next couple of months. Stay tuned!

-M

Review: As the Crow Flies

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Hello, Gentle Readers!

A few months ago, I interviewed indie author Robin Lythgoe, and I am pleased to announce that this week, her book As the Crow Flies will be on sale on Amazon! Read onwards for a review!

As the Crow Flies is, at the heart of it, an adventure tale centered around the scrappy and self-sufficient Crow, a renowned thief. His enemies (to wit, a law-keeper named Tanris), his major weakness (his love for a dancer named Tarsha), and one fairly psychotic wizard (a noble named Duzayan), have all collided, sending Crow traipsing off into the middle of nowhere after a magical artifact, with a poison-ensured deadline on his activities, and his least favorite person (Tanris again) as an unwilling participant. In a nutshell, all the two have to do is get to the middle of nowhere without getting killed by bandits, find the artifact, defeat the incredibly powerful guardians of the artifact, bring it back to Duzayan, and hope that he decides not to just kill both of them and their loved ones.

Unless, as the synopsis points out, they come up with a better plan…

What I enjoyed: As the Crow Flies has plenty of twists and turns to keep you on your toes. There were several events I did not see coming at all, which helped keep the story interesting and fresh. The dialogue was snappy (if occasionally veering a bit modern) and our protagonists well-rounded characters. Duzayan, if he did not possess unexpected depths and backstory, was a very good power-crazed, diabolical maniac. The story wrapped up on a satisfying note, with plenty of room for more adventures, but no cliff-hangers!

What I enjoyed a little less: I got a little muddled with how much time was passing at any given point in the book, and there was a definite cluster of events at the very end while everything tied together, which oddly caused a bit of a slog, meaning that the ending was not as snappy as the rest of the book. In addition, I felt like one or two characters had disappointing endings; I had high hopes for one of them in particular, who disappeared about halfway through and returned as a minor antagonist. Oops.

Overall: I heartily recommend this book. I had a great time reading it, the issues were very minor, and there were were some touching moments. Also, there’s a lot of potential for sequels. Lythgoe is a talented author, and I am looking forward to her new releases! (She participated in NaNoWriMo, so we can hold out hope that sequels will be on their way shortly!) While it’s a holiday and you’re incredibly stressed and just trying to get to New Years…why not do so with a book you can read? 😉

You can find As the Crow Flies here (on sale, as mentioned above!), and Robin Lythgoe on Facebook here!

The Parajunkee Indie Summer Blog Tour!

Hello, and welcome to the Parajunkee Indie Summer Blog Tour! The blog tour is close to the end, but there’s still time to complete the treasure hunt and win a Kindle Fire! (Whee!) You can find the earlier blog tour stops here, and I encourage you to check them out. There are multiple genres being featured, and you may find some new favorites!

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As you will certainly know if you’ve been following along thus far, the theme of the scavenger hunt is travel – where would I like to travel? Where would my characters like to travel?

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I myself have always wanted to see Iceland. I cannot think of a landscape that is more wildly evocative than the glaciers, volcanoes, barren isolation and unexpected beauty of the island. Like the burren in Ireland, Iceland is a place where life triumphs in unexpected ways: tiny, exquisite flowers blooming in crevasses, lichen and moss gaining a foothold on a seemingly desolate expanse of rock. In the winters, the long nights bring the aurora to life, and the crispness of winter is offset by yuletide festivity.

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It may seem odd to you if you’ve just begun reading the Light & Shadow books, but I very much think that Miriel and Catwin would enjoy a sojourn to Iceland as well. Catwin, of course, would be only too happy to escape the court, and Miriel, however much she might seem to thrive in her pursuit of the king, is not so simple a character as she might appear…

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Last but certainly not least, don’t forget to check out the other two Shadowborn blog stops, on Papercuts Blog and Erzabet’s Enchantments! There are giveaways for e-copies of the entire Light & Shadow series (because who wants to have to stop reading to download another book? Honestly), and both blogs feature reviews of other delightful indie books!

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Enjoy!

-M

Vacation!

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Gentle Readers –

This weekend is vacation, but with a few exciting details scattered within…!

  • The Light & Shadow short stories are close to completion! I am setting myself the goal of completing them by the end of September, and releasing them by mid-October!
  • While visiting my hometown, I was able to reconnect with an old friend who is also writing! Her first book was The Power of Poppy Pendle, and I am beyond excited to crack it open on this trip! (Also, it’s worth noting that the recipe for shortbread on her website is GOLD. Gold, ladies and gentlemen. Shortbread to make you weep.)
  • I continue to beat my head against this new SciFi piece. That’s not exactly an exciting detail. Whoops.
  • The Parajunkee Summer Blog Tour is winding onwards, and I am very excited for my tour stop on September 12th! As a reminder, the tour is a scavenger hunt, paired with a giveaway for a Kindle Fire – answer a question about each author, and you’ll be entered to win! You can find the tour here.

I hope your summers are going well, gentle readers!

-M

 

Updates

Hello, Gentle Readers!

A brief note: my website was apparently targeted by a brute-force attack sometime yesterday. InMotion shut down access to the site, and the hackers do not appear to have been successful. Hopefully this will not happen again!

After the flurry of activity that was importing all current works into Scrivener, I have begun to wade into writing again. Heaven, Purity, and the Light & Shadow short story set are all seeing modest progress! This morning began early, sending my husband off to a business trip, and I have been writing as the sky got lighter. Now I am all ready for my first nap of the day…

As a note to other indie authors out there, I have just finished beta-reading a lovely short story by Scott Zachary, and I am once again free to be beta-reading or reviewing indie books! If you have questions as to what I read, head on over to my Contact page!

Hopefully, everyone’s weekend is going well!

-M

P.S. If you’ve read any great indie books lately, please think of leaving a review. Reviews, positive or negative, are invaluable to authors and readers alike! As always, if you have any feedback on my works, you can feel free either to leave a review or send me feedback directly!

Why Bad Reviews Matter (and What to Do When They Appear)

One hot topic that comes up on the author forums is how to cope with bad reviews? There have been a range of responses over the years, from the fine strategy of making no public comment, to the less fine strategy of exhorting one’s loyal fans to harass the reviewer (hint: don’t do that). Authors, who have have poured their heart and soul into their works, struggle to be okay with bad reviews. But the thing is, bad reviews actually aren’t as horrible as we generally feel.

Here are some reasons to let go of your fear when facing a bad review:

  1. Not every reader has the same taste. One reviewer may pan your work for exactly the same reasons that another reader gives it five stars. Therefore, a one-star review that says that a book has too many action sequences, or too much of a romantic sub-plot, or not enough magic, might be a review that actually entices another reader.
  2. Negative reviews show readers that real people are reading these books. A range of opinions is to be expected if enough people read your books, and people will be wary if they see a sea of five-star, glowing reviews, with nary a criticism in sight. No book is universally beloved, and readers know that. Leading into that …
  3. People are generally reasonable. If the average person reads a review that starts out, “I got one paragraph into this book and hated it,” that average person is smart enough to take the review with a grain of salt. Readers are not delicate flowers who must be shielded from the slightest hint of a whisper that our work is not perfectinstead, they are reasonable people with a wide range of opinions (see #1), who are perfectly capable of making a decision to buy our books, even in the face of vitriolic dislike from other readers.
  4. They reviews are right. Yes, ouch. On the one hand, many poor reviews have bizarre reasons (too many Es! I hate books that feature horses in any capacity! The author’s pen name reminds me of my least favorite cousin!), but a lot of brutal reviews highlight areas for improvement in your writing. A lot of people say that you should ignore reviews, but I’m actually of the opinion that you should swallow your pride and read the bad ones. You might discover a massive plot hole, a really bad typo, or a systematic issue in your writing that (when fixed) will make you a better author.
  5. You love writing. Wait, what? The reviews of my first book were … well, mostly, they weren’t. No one was interested in reviewing it. One person did review it, and they didn’t like it very much. And you know what? I kept writing, because I love writing. And the next books were better. Trust me when I say that I know how much this bad review hurts, and trust me, also, when I say that even if your book is being panned across the board, that in NO way means you should stop writing.

Of course, these reviews will still hurt. You will still be tempted to tell the reviewer that they are wrong. If I might offer some suggestions, however …

  1.  Expect the bad reviews. Every book, no matter how good, has bad reviews. You will get them.
  2. Have someone to vent to in person. Not online, in person. You need a friend who will sit sagely through a rant about how wrong your reviewer is (or your tearful rant about how right they are), and then pour you another martini, or cup of tea, or whatever it is, and then tell you that you have an incandescent talent and you should go write more things. Because you do. And you should!
  3. Do not engage your reviewers … as this almost invariably goes poorly. The rule is, there is no classy way to tell a reviewer that they are wrong. The one exception to “don’t engage” is bullet point #4.
  4. …unless they mentioned typos and you are writing to ask them for any egregious ones they found. This is acceptable. Use discretion. Have a friend oversee the email before you send it. And thank both the friend and the reviewer for their time!
  5. Know what constitutes slander and harassment. Slander is not disliking the book, such as, “this book had no redeeming qualities and I hated it.” Slander is an attack on the author, such as, “I have determined that this author runs an illegal drug-running business and routinely murders kittens.” Harassment is not, “I do not recommend this book.” Harassment is, “here is the author’s address, I recommend that people go to their house and heckle them.” If people are slandering and harassing you, absolutely contact the host site about the review. If they just really, really hated the book? Let it go.
  6. Have a plan for when a bad review comes in. This plan is a collection of things that help relax you. Tea? Running? Baking? Meditation? Hanging out with friends? Just know what will help you calm down, and be ready to do that in case the bad review really throws you for a loop.

Authors, do you have anything to add? Any tips and tricks?

-M

Review: Tigana

One sentence review: Tigana is a masterful work, a complex and character-driven epic.

What I liked: There is no element of carelessness to Kay’s writing. His sentences seem carefully crafted, and his worlds are well thought-out. Important elements of the world are by and large explained (I can only think of one major example, and that would be the disproportionate strength of Brandin’s sorcery), although exposition is kept to a minimum. The story rarely drags, and it is easy to get invested in the lives of the characters. Epics generally run the risk of being self-important or very dry, and Tigana does not fall into that trap.

What I liked somewhat less well: The ending. It wasn’t specifically the elements of the ending that fell flat (although there was one storyline that resolved in a less than satisfying way), it was just that the ending seemed so…quick. The setup for the ending was so exquisitely done, a slow build. There was a real sense of the wider pain caused by Brandin’s curse. But when the ending (final confrontation) came, it seemed oddly limited.

Things about which I am undecided: Dianora’s storyline. Kay has done a similar thing since, of course, in Under Heaven. He’s very good at allowing his stories not to wrap up neatly. However, since finishing the book, I have been stuck on Dianora.

In conclusion, Tigana is a book that has earned its reputation as classic epic fantasy. I highly recommend it, and feel free (in the comments now, or several months down the road) to tell me your own opinions on the ending!

-M

Review: The Pirate’s Wish

I was lucky to pick up The Assassin’s Curse so close to the release date for the sequel, The Pirate’s Wish – I didn’t have to wait to read the rest of Ananna’s adventures! So:

One sentence review: The Pirate’s Wish is an action-packed, funny, and sweet wrap-up to the story begun in The Assassin’s Curse.

What I liked: The plot moves along quite quickly in a way that is unpredictable, but always ties in to the larger plot arc. This meant that the story was an experience of discovery, plunging the reader into a multi-faceted world. I found the descriptions in this book far more vivid, and I enjoyed learning more about minor characters, seeing the different cultures (court, Confederation and non-Confederation ships, and even a peek into Naji’s world), and watching the relationship between Ananna and Naji. Speaking of this, the romance is definitely a driving force behind the book, but ties up in a satisfying way that leaves both major characters, well … in character.

What I would have liked to see: What was up with those Hariris? Seriously. They’re clearly Big Bads, dabbling in all sorts of illicit technology and magic, and we know from their attempted assassination of a sixteen-year-old that they’re fairly brutal. I could ramble on here, but mostly I was hoping for the villains to be fleshed out a bit more, both the Hariris and the one from the mists. Further, Naji expressed some serious doubts about the continued mission of the Jadorr’a, but later, at a relevant point in the story, those seem to have disappeared. While I understand that Ananna’s culture involves plenty of killing, and Clarke likely had no inclination to go into the rights and wrongs of assassins’ and pirates’ lives, I did feel that those things were glossed over somewhat. (But. This is YA.)

In short: If you enjoyed The Assassin’s Curse, this will be a satisfying conclusion to the story! If you have not yet read Curse, but like adventure and pirates and a fresh YA fantasy setting, for the love of little green apples, go get it! (After all, now we know that the story only gets better the second time around.) It’s on all platforms, but here’s the Amazon link: whee!

What are you reading? Is there a book you’d like me to review? Leave a comment to let me know!

-M

Review: Murder at Castle Rock

Oh, I do love finding novels from new authors – the love of writing is so apparent! There’s no routine feel. It’s lovely. So, without further ado, a review of Murder at Castle Rock by Anne Marie Stoddard.

One line review: Stoddard’s debut novel offers a fresh take on the murder mystery format, and promises a new heroine to join the ranks of the accidental detectives.

Slightly longer review: Speaking as someone who could quite happily spend days reading murder mysteries – you know, the kind set in rural English villages, where the enterprising protagonist lives in a cozy cottage with rose bushes and does a lot of tea-drinking – even I found the setting of Murder at Castle Rock to be refreshing. While the sleazy underbelly of the entertainment business has surely been overplayed, Anne Marie Stoddard does not give it undue page-time, instead portraying the darker, grittier side of the industry as only one facet – the other facet, on which she spends far more of her time, is that of a group of people who are passionate about music, work long hours, eat pizza at lunch, and have perfectly normal lives. (Except for the murders.)

To this end, Stoddard has created up Amelia Grace – a heroine who is similarly devoid of cliché. Grace’s genuine love of music is a defining trait, certainly, but what I found most refreshing was her lack of self-consciousness. Where were the body issues, the relentless self-comparison to other female characters, the cattiness solely devoted to frenemies? Mercifully, nowhere to be found. Female rivalry is matched by male rivalry. Sexual tension is only one of many motives for the murder. It was delightful.

This freshness persisted throughout other aspects of the novel. We’re all well acquainted with the format of mystery novels by this point, and introducing doubt into the proceedings takes a certain amount of skill. This, Stoddard has. She does an excellent job of showing us the unfolding story through Grace’s eyes – thus transporting us out of a mindset where multiple murders are expected, and into a place where the events take on a nightmarish quality. Our protagonist is quite clearly racing against the clock to prove her friends’ innocence (and stop further murders), and she knows it.

Strangely, it was Grace’s unswerving loyalty to her friends that struck me as one of the stranger points of the novel. While we knew from the start that the original suspects had no hand in the murder(s), they carried secrets and motives – I feel that some doubt on our heroine’s part might have amped up the tension. Further, however much I prefer conciseness to rambling (that would be infinitely), I felt that I could have luxuriated a little longer in the potential of each suspect’s guilt before moving on to the next. However, neither of these things should stop you from picking this one up. You’ll want to catch the first in what I hope will be a series of mysteries featuring Amelia Grace!

So. If you’re a mystery fan who is tired of middle-aged female detectives, or simply a summer reader looking for a fresh take on the murder mystery, I not only recommend Stoddard’s Murder at Castle Rock, but also her later novels in the series. She hasn’t released any yet, you see, but I have a sense that we’ll all want to stick around to see what she has in store!

-M

Review: The Assassin’s Curse by Cassandra Rose Clarke

I had seen the lovely book cover for The Assassin’s Curse, but what really got me interested was Tamora Pierce’s recommendation. Pierce wrote The Lioness Quartet, which is (for the record) one of my favorite sets of books ever. Ever. I bought them all again when they came out on Kindle. So I dove in…

What I liked: Ananna and Naji are engaging characters, each with motivations that seem realistic without being over-emphasized. Naji could easily have fallen into the cliche of the tortured male hero, angst-ridden and sulky, but Clarke managed to give him some real heart – not an easy task when dealing with an assassin! In addition, the plot moved ahead at a good pace, with a world that was clearly well-thought out, and Clarke, further, managed to pull off writing in the first person, in a dialect. There were quite a few lines that made me smile, a few more that sparked sadness, and there was a good deal of rapt reading as the story unfolded.

What I liked a little less: The plot moved forward in a few distinct chunks, with Ananna and Naji’s quest separated into different stages. The plot moved nicely, but given the outcome of the book, I didn’t get much of a sense of closure. Further, I would have appreciated a bit more description of the world – what description there was, was well done. But action scenes, in particular, could have been stretched a bit. One always knew when Ananna was walking into danger, but there was very little time for the crisis to build, and then it was all over.

Overall: If you grew up on the Lioness Quartet and the Enchanted Forest Chronicles, if you like snappy dialogue and feisty characters, I recommend this book! It is a quick, engaging read, with a romance that is quite sweet without being saccharine.

Now, gentle readers, I am off to write!

-M