My Bookbub experience and a few tips

Phew. What an experience. Talk about pins and needles.

I ran my first Bookbub promo on May 15th and wanted to share a bit of my newbie experience — what I learned, and what I might do differently next time.

First of all, I dove into this effort after reading a detailed post by Deborah Jay (author’s of The Prince’s Man – an excellent fantasy series, I might add). Deborah provided wonderful guidance regarding her strategy as well as a look at her results.

I wasn’t as financially successful as Deborah, but I did turn a profit. Two months after the promotion, my sales are still above pre-promo levels. I’m happy with that.

I also hit #1 Bestseller in a number of categories including Epic Fantasy, ahead of Sarah Maas (and her 22K reviews) for a day! And ranked #24 in the Fantasy genre over all. That little “Best Seller” banner was a giddy high while it lasted.

Some things I learned:

Make your book available through multiple retailers.

Some authors say this doesn’t matter, but I had tried to snag a Bookbub promo a number of times in the past and was always turned down. My books were exclusive to Amazon, a requirement of Kindle-Unlimited. This worked great for lazy old me, but from my perspective, it seemed to be a problem when it came to Bookbub.

I took seven books off KU, including the series I wanted to promote, and three other books that were languishing on Amazon anyway. I had to wait for the KU contracts to expire which can take up to 3 months, so I did this step first.

When the KU contracts expired, I published all seven books on multiple platforms: Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Apple, and Googleplay. I didn’t realize that Smashwords publishes (on your behalf) on Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and Apple. So I did more work than I needed to. But live and learn. Smashwords and Googleplay would have done the trick.

A special note here: Bookbub knows what they’re doing. If the book had only been available on Amazon, I would NOT have made my investment back. For me, the multiple platforms were essential to pushing up the sales.

Pricing

I went with the $.99 promotion, dropping my retail price from $2.99. I’ve heard that the bigger the drop, the bigger the incentive to buy from a reader’s perspective. I have no idea whether my price deal was significant enough to cinch a purchase if someone was on the fence, but there you go.

I dropped my prices a week ahead of the promotion on all sites. I didn’t know how long it would take for all retailers to make the adjustment and didn’t want a hiccup. This also enabled me to do some pre-Bookbub promotions to give the book a bit of a boost in rankings.

Be sure to check ahead and make sure the prices changed. This should be a no-brainer. But… I set up Googleplay to drop automatically and it didn’t! I discovered it the day after the promotion and lowered it then. UGH!

Pre-Bookbub Promos

The Bookbub promotion is expensive – $705 expensive. I used the family’s vacation funds, hoping, HOPING, that I’d be able to replace them. Phew. I also ran $100 in pre-promotions with various sites to build momentum and improve the book’s Amazon ranking. I went with 12 sites, about half of them free with no guarantees.

(There isn’t time to book some of the better promotion sites, so act fast before slots fill).

Basically this was a bust. I sold about 12 books this way with a revenue of $4. Next time, I’ll go with more free sites. Authors who use multiple platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) may do a lot better than I did.

First in a Series

Catling’s Bane is the first in a (4-book) series, and this was key, for me, in making the promotion a success. Sales of the other three books in the series topped 125 in the first week after the promotion, and they continue to sell across the retail platforms. I would not have broken even without them. If you’re thinking about giving Bookbub a try, I recommend going with the first book in a completed series (unless you’re last name is Rowling or Clancy).

Reviews

One question that Bookbub wants answered when considering your book, is how many reviews you have (and your average). I had 66 at the time of submitting, and apparently, this was enough. (I’ve hear that books with fewer are accepted too.) Getting reviews is no easy task! I’ve recommended Goodreads Reading Rounds before, and still believe it’s a great tool. The reviews are Amazon approved. Here’s a link to a post that explains more about them: Goodreads Reading Rounds.

Post-promotion reviews are coming in from Bookbub readers. Yay for Bookbub Readers! Not many of them are text reviews, but even those star-only reviews add up.

A Few Other Things of Note:

US or International or Both:

Bookbub offers a choice in promotion markets. It’s more expensive to go global, but I’m glad I elected this option and was accepted. I had sufficient sales both domestically and internationally to cover the combined cost. I would go this way again if I have a choice.

Reporting lag times:

Don’t panic if a week has gone by and your numbers are giving you heart murmurs. Retailers report at varying times! Apple, for example only reports at the end of the month, so if you run a promo at the start of the month, it will be a while before you have the slightest inkling how you did there. It took me almost two weeks to know that my family vacation was back on again.

Payment lag times:

This takes months, so don’t panic. My promotion was mid-May which Amazon will pay at the end of July. The other retailers take just as long.

Bookbub writes the blurb:

I didn’t know that Bookbub would be writing the blurb for my promo. A bit scary to say the least. They did a good job, but it wasn’t what I would have done (or did). My eyeballs fell out of my face. Just be prepared.

Cover:

This goes without saying. A professional cover is essential. Your promotion is competing with others in your genre.

Quality:

This also goes without saying. A Bookbub promotion is a big investment, and you not only want to snag a bunch of sales, but you want the readers to pick up more of your work. I made another editing pass through the series (and corrected a score of typos) in the weeks before the promotion. I was glad I did.

Was it worth it?

It appears so. I was a wreck, but ultimately Bookbub did what it says can do – provide a return on the investment, sell books, increase sales over time, improve ranking, and generate reviews. No guarantees, of course, but this seems to be a consistent outcome. Would I do it again? Yes.

May Book Reviews

Summer is Coming (or Winter)! Time for some reading!

Summer is always a busy time of year here in the Pacific Northwest. The rain stops and we all spill outside. My husband and I named our deck “vacation.” So every afternoon we go outside on “vacation” to read.

May book reviews include my 4 and 5 star reads of a lot of poetry, two installments of a serial fantasy, a fallen angel fantasy, a thriller, and a prequel to a new mystery. I hope you enjoy them.

Click on the covers for Amazon global links.

*****

Word Craft: Prose & Poetry: The Art of Crafting Syllabic Poetry by Colleen Chesebro

This book is a must-have for writers of syllabic poetry. Chesebro has the experience and credentials to have crafted this easy to follow and detailed look at twelve forms of Japanese and American syllabic poetry, as well as their variations. Styles range from the well-known haiku and tanka to the less familiar gogyohka and etheree. Though written for poets beginning their exploration of these beautiful forms, I learned quite a lot (and I’ve been writing several of the forms for years).

Chesebro’s explanations not only include the technical aspects of each poetic form, but a quick history, the style’s creative intent, and tips for finding inspiration and writing. These aspects of each poetic form are conveyed in a concise manner, and each section is followed by examples of her poetry and the poetry of authors I’ve enjoyed for years. The poems not only illustrate the preceding lesson but are beautiful in their own right.

The quality of this book and its citations make it useful as a “text book” on the craft of writing syllabic poetry, appropriate for academic settings. Chesebro’s conversational style, easy to understand explanations, and poetic selections also make it accessible to a wide range of learners. The book’s format lends itself to lesson-planning for young poets.

Highly recommended to poets who are just starting out or who’ve been writing for years. An excellent learning tool filled with wonderful examples of the forms.

*****

The Vanished Boy by Harmony Kent

 I read this book in two sittings. I even listened to it on my phone while working out to Jane Fonda. I couldn’t put it down. What parent hasn’t had those moments of panic when a child doesn’t call, or shows up late, or wanders off? For Carole, that scare becomes a nightmare as her son Jayden vanishes without a trace.

The first 75% of the book follows Carole as she desperately seeks clues. I was riveted to her every move, including the realistic struggle of tracking her son through social media, with all the unhelpful information and hurtful comments that come with it. The author did a great job with Carole’s navigation through the technical aspects. Her resourcefulness felt authentic as did her unraveling of the clues—even as she’s emotionally falling apart.

The story is told in Carole’s tight pov until the last quarter of the book when several other characters share their experiences in their own points of view and in varying formats: flashback-style narratives, diary entries, and an interview. This is where the details of the events surrounding Jayden’s disappearance come to life. I would have liked the story to continue with Carole, but the pov of the perpetrator was worth the diversion.

The pacing is desperate until the wrap up at the end. The plot holds together well, and there are some surprises that I didn’t see coming. A great read for fans of fast-paced thrillers.

*****

Crossroads (Winds of Love): Poetry and Prose, by Jude Kirya Itakali

I enjoyed Jude Itakali’s debut poetry book. This is no ordinary collection of poems about love. Instead, Itakali’s poems tell a story about the journey of love, beginning with a prologue and progressing through three Parts. Part 1: Longing and searching. Part 2: Intimacy and Lust, and Heartbreak and its horrors, and Part 3: The other side of love, and New beginnings. The structure intrigued me as well as how he describes some of the poetry as short stories. The styles range from rhyming sonnets to free form verse to a number of syllabic forms including haiku, tanka, senryu, and nonet.

Personally, I agree that love is a journey with parts (or stages), and it was interesting to see the poems divided this way, as well as to follow the emotional journey with the author. A favorite from the section on longing:

Hope

Sing me to sleep
Nightingale of sorrow
Soothe my lonely heart
Cool breeze of twilight
Let the robin trill in the dawn
And bring my soul hope
Let the first rays of sunrise
Beam upon the One
With whom I’ll spend, my last days.

*****

Son of the Serpent (Fantasy Angels Book 2) by Vashti Quiroz-Vega

Son of the Serpent is Book 2 of the Fantasy Angels series, and the story of the fallen angels shifts from Lilith, the instigator behind the angels’ banishment, to Dracul, the son she bore on Earth with Satan. Where Book 1 includes a large cast of pov characters, I enjoyed the narrower focus on Dracul. That said, if you enjoyed Lilith in the first book, she’s still in the picture and has some chapters of her own.

Dracul’s goal in the story is to find his mother, learn why she tried to murder him, and then kill her. Lilith’s goal is to find her perfect mate and rule a world corrupted by her evil. While she’s the epitome of despicable, Dracul is nuanced. Despite his propensity to drink blood and murder, he is full of regret and turmoil and desires redemption and love. I enjoyed the inner conflict and his emotional volatility.

The author weaves the “quest” plot into encounters with biblical characters, places, and events including Noah and the flood, Lot, baby Moses, and Sodom and Gomorrah, to name a few. I’m not especially familiar with the bible, but I recognized elements of the stories, and followed easily. Like the bible, there is rape, evil, and plenty of graphic violence.

The writing and dialog seemed formal, which gave it an authentic biblical feel. I enjoyed that aspect, though the narrative style created a bit of distance from the characters. Pacing was good, and Dracul’s emotional rollercoaster was compelling. He’s a great character, and I look forward to more of his story as the focus shifts in Book 3 to the angel Gadreel.

Recommended to readers who enjoy biblical spin offs, fantasy, fallen angels, and stories of good versus evil.

*****

House of Sorrow: Legends of Madeira by Joan Hall

Ruth lives alone in an old Victorian home. For her whole life she hasn’t believed in luck of any sort. She’s not superstitious, but there are some coincidences that leave her wondering. House of Sorrow is a look at her life, the relationships she develops, her volunteer work, and the newsworthy events of the 1960s including the moon landing and the Kennedy assassinations. Despite gentle pressure from her concerned nephew to move into assisted living, Ruth refuses to sell her home, and only she knows why.

This novella reads at a steady pace. The plot unfolds subtly, and the reveal doesn’t come with a big splash. This story is a prequel to a series, and from that perspective, it works great to set the stage. The length of the read is perfect (about 66 pages, plus back matter which includes the first chapter in the continuing series).

The details of the time are well done as is the setting, and it’s easy to get a feel for the house, neighborhood, and town. I found the characters thoroughly believable and distinct, and the unfolding of Ruth’s life is relatable. There aren’t any villains beyond the mystery surrounding the house, and I would like to learn more about the letter she found in an old chest, a letter that changed her life. Recommended for readers of mysteries, especially as a prequel to the following series.

*****

Just Her Poetry Seasons of a Soul by D. L. Finn

Finn offers a generous supply of poetry to while away the hours. Part One of this collection focuses on the author’s love of nature and her peaceful moments of reflection when enjoying the world outside. It includes a number of selections based on motorcycle roadtrips through sunshine and beautiful scenery. Part Two is entitled Seasons of the Soul and focuses on a wide range of personal emotions from dark to light, including feelings of loss, anxiety, yearning, self-discovery, and love.

As a whole, the tone of the collection is positive with an emphasis on self-awareness, gratefulness, respect, and personal growth. A lovely book for readers who especially enjoy uncomplicated, sincere, and uplifting poetry. One of the author’s nature poems that I enjoyed:

Waves

The waves glide smoothly on top
Of the salty surface, proudly…
Blending against the azure
Until they merge together profoundly.

Their roar precedes them…
As they hit land—this is where it ends…
They are positive, but they are wrong…
That was only their birth, now the journey begins.

*****

Dead of Winter, Journey 4, The Old Road by Teagan Geneviene

I read journey 4 on the heels of 3. It was fun reading them back to back, though I’m becoming used to the installments and look forward to them each month. In this episode, the danger to Emlyn and the Deae Matras increases since the brethren haven’t given up the hunt. This installment gives the reader a deep look into Boabhan, a member with some remarkable abilities, and a familiar face joins the group.

The writing continues to engage me, and I like the increased action now that I have a good feel for most of the characters. They’re distinct and well rounded. The story moves along at a good pace with lovely descriptions and details about this world. I have no idea where it’s going, so I look forward to starting Journey 5.

*****

Dead of Winter, Journey 5, Llyn Pistyll Falls by Teagan Geneviene

I think this was my favorite installment of the Dead of Winter (serial) Journeys so far. The backstory of the characters and world is taking less text now that I’ve come to know them, and the pace of the story continues to pick up. The dead are starting to make their presence known, the Un’Nafians are still in pursuit of Emlyn, and she’s gradually revealing her unusual skill to the Deae Matras.

I especially enjoyed the beginning of this journey and the way Geneviene gave glimpses into a variety of random characters lives as the dead came calling. The ending is a huge cliffhanger, an effective one as I’m eager to know what happened! Readers interested in the story, should begin with the first journey. Recommended to fans of epic fantasy.

*****

Happy Reading!

Book Trailer: The Ferryman and the Sea Witch

I love making book trailers and this time tried to include more video along with my images. If this is too small, you can view a larger-sized version on YouTube.

I hope you enjoy the trailer for The Ferryman and the Sea Witch.

Now available for Preorder at $.99. Amazon Global link

Thank you to the blogging community for all your kind support of my work. If you pick this one up, I hope you enjoy it.

Tea Toast & Trivia Podcast Reading of Liars and Thieves

Once again, I’m visiting with Rebecca Budd over at Tea Toast & Trivia. This time I’m reading a couple of snippets from my book Liars and Thieves. The excerpts offer early glimpses into my three main characters: Alue, Talin, and Naj.

If you have a few minutes while washing dishes or cleaning the bathroom (or if you’re just hanging out on the hammock), feel free to stop by for a listen. I sound like I’m twelve years old. Ha ha.

And while you’re there, check out the other wonderful podcast interviews and readings on Rebecca’s sensational blog. There’s something there for everyone to love.

Happy Listening!

Click on the above image to head over to Tea Toast & Trivia

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And for a little more shameless promotion…

Today is my Bookbub promo for Catling’s Bane. Wish me luck! And if you’re interested, the book is $.99 cents on Amazon (and elsewhere) for a few more days.

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Cover Reveal: The Ferryman and the Sea Witch

This post feels a little like a “what I did over summer vacation” essay from grammar school. During my blogging break, I tackled my to-do list, and near the top (after vacuuming up a year’s worth of dust) I finished up a book. It’s off for a final look before I slap it on Amazon and celebrate.

The Blurb

The merrow rule the sea. Slender creatures, fair of face, with silver scales and the graceful tails of angelfish. Caught in a Brid Clarion net, the daughter of the sea witch perishes in the sunlit air. Her fingers dangle above the swells.

The queen of the sea bares her sharp teeth and, in a fury of wind and waves, cleanses the brine of ships and men. But she spares a boy for his single act of kindness. Callum becomes the Ferryman, and until Brid Clarion pays its debt with royal blood, only his sails may cross the Deep.

Two warring nations, separated by the merrow’s trench, trade infant hostages in a commitment to peace. Now, the time has come for the heirs to return home. The Ferryman alone can undertake the exchange.

Yet, animosities are far from assuaged. While Brid Clarion’s islands bask in prosperity, Haf Killick, a floating city of derelict ships, rots and rusts and sinks into the reefs. Its ruler has other designs.

And the sea witch crafts dark bargains with all sides.

Callum is caught in the breach, with a long-held bargain of his own which, once discovered, will shatter this life.

And now for the cover:

Coming Soon!

(On my break, I also prepped for and landed a Bookbub promotion. Thanks to Deborah Jay for her informative post that inspired me to do the work. The notice from Bookbub set off a flurry of activity over the past two weeks as I reread all four books of the series to look for typos. It was frantic and exhausting, but I finished, and thank goodness I did the work – enough said about that!)

Now I’m back to blogging and working on a trailer for The Ferryman and the Sea Witch. Stay tuned!

April Book Reviews

Happy May! Time for some reading!

April was a month of catch up on my to-do list, which included resuming my Jane Fonda workouts from 1985 (before some of you were born!) That means I’m not reading on the treadmill anymore, but I still made time for some great books!

April book reviews include my 4 and 5 star reads of a western romance, a military romance, an afterlife time travel fantasy, a serial fantasy, and a horror anthology.

Click on the covers for Amazon global links.

*****

The Seal’s Temptation by Jacquie Biggar

Another awesome action/romance mash-up from Jacquie Biggar, and this one ranks toward the top of my favorites. After a disastrous mission and rescue, the seal team is taking a breather at the peaceful cattle ranch of Chief Seal Frank Stein. Maggie is among them, still suffering from the trauma of her time undercover with the Mexican cartel. While the attraction between Frank and Maggie heats up, all is not well at the ranch as cattle disappear and calves are slaughtered. Drug smugglers and a couple of escaped convicts are causing trouble, and the team can’t help but get involved.

What I loved about the book was the depth of the characters, the whole team. This isn’t a light romance with the usual tropes. No drama queens or kings in this read. These people have serious lives and histories. They’ve risked their lives for each other, and friendships and loyalties run deep. The relationships are grounded in multi-layered emotions, in the maturity that comes from age and from facing hardships together. Personalities are well developed, and there’s a strong sense of history. Maybe part of that is because…

This is Book 7 in the series, which probably wasn’t the best place to start. There are 6 books that provide a lot of backstory and relationship building before this one. The book did read well as a stand-alone, but that said, it makes sense to start at the beginning of the series, to get to know the characters and learn their stories chronologically. It took me a bit to catch on, but then I was hooked.

To be honest, I skimmed the few sex scenes, but I did fall for the romance and action and characters. The pace moves along quickly, and I enjoyed the skilled and well-edited writing. I may have to skip back to book one and start at the beginning. Highly recommended to readers who love a military romance mash-up.

*****

Gwen Slade, Bounty Hunter by Sandra Cox

Gwen is a female bounty hunter in the old west of Kansas, and she has a problem when Jordie Kidd saves her young brother. She’s grateful, but Jordie has a bounty on his head. He’s also handsome and a nice guy. Gwen and Jordie form a temporary alliance as they hunt down the Rondo brothers, a lucrative bounty that will solve a lot of problems for them both before they go their separate ways.

This western is half romance with many of the familiar conflicts and longings that romance readers love. It’s also half action and adventure as Gwen and Jordie meet up with the brothers one at a time and bring them to justice. Readers who enjoy gunfights, danger, and hard rides will find plenty to hang their hats on.

The pace is good and becomes even better as stakes increase near the end. The plot is straightforward, but there are a couple twists too that I didn’t see coming. I enjoyed all the characters. They were well-rounded with strengths and flaws, believable emotional lives and motivations. Gwen is tough, insistent that she can play in a man’s world, but she also must rely on Jordie despite her independent streak. Trust me, all kinds of sparks fly.

This book is well-edited and has something for readers of westerns, readers of romances, and readers of both! Highly recommended.

*****

Dead of Winter, Journey 3 by Teagan Geneviene

Journey 3 continues with the same mystery, action, and beautiful descriptions of the two previous episodes. Zasha seeks the golden runes belonging to the mysterious staff in her possession. Emlyn runs away from the religious zealots who are determined to put her on trial, and she encounters the strange silver man who has visited her dreams. Finally, she connects with the Deae Matras.

The first half of this journey is still introducing characters, building the backstory, and developing the world. The action takes off in the second half with Emlyn’s flight. Emlyn continues to be my favorite character and her ability to see into the world of the dead is intriguing. I loved the scene with the silver spirit/man. There is still a lot to learn about who he is and what Emlyn’s role will be, which makes me eager to read onward.

The pace is moderate during the first half and picks up significantly as the journey progresses. The details incorporated into the descriptions are well researched and many of them are vivid as well as beautifully written. Characters are distinct and have well-rounded personalities, especially the women. Readers who have gotten this far will likely be hooked. I’ve already started Journey 4 of the serial. Recommended for readers of epic fantasy.

*****

Eternal Road by John Howell

Samantha has been dead since childhood, and when James is killed in a car accident, Sam becomes his guide, tasked with leading him to his eternal home. Don’t count on deep religious overtones or run of the mill theories about the afterlife in this book. The story quickly becomes a fantasy time-traveling “road trip” where Sam and James participate in key historical events such as the shootout at OK Corral, the battle at the Alamo, and the invasion of Normandy, to name a few. They also travel two thousand years into the future.

For most of the book, the plot rambles from event to event while the ultimate goal of reaching James’ eternal home takes a “back seat.” The tangents are interesting and details seem well researched, though loosely connected to the overall goal. The debonair Devil has his hand in the mix, and the sexual relationship between Sam and James offers intermissions between the tenser time-traveling activities.

Both Sam and James are well-rounded characters. Their relationship feels genuine, and the dialog flows naturally. Because Sam and James are already spirits, they aren’t in any mortal danger and they experience little fear. Other emotions, like grief and sadness, play a small part until the end when some of the more satisfying and heartfelt aspects of the story take place. This isn’t a deep philosophical read, but if you’re looking for a jaunt through time with two companionable friends, this will do it. Recommended.

*****

Wings & Fire Anthology: an anthology

I seem to be reading a lot of horror short stories lately. This generous collection of 24 stories from 16 authors fits the bill. There’s a wide range of tales here from a realistic and utterly gruesome home invasion to evil magic and fantasy. There are vampires, werewolves, zombies and, monsters in the woods. Some stories are shocking, others are clever, and there’s even a laugh or two.

As true with most anthologies, I enjoyed some stories more than others, but all were well written and cleanly edited. My favorites are usually those tales that offer something highly clever or original. A few that I thoroughly enjoyed: An Unsolvable Problem or Not, Abraham’s Theory on the Paradigm of Choice, Mary, The Classics, and The Great Potoo. Recommended to readers who are seeking a variety of horror short stories.

*****

Happy Reading!

March Book Reviews

Happy April! Time for some reading!

I’m planning to take some time away from the blog to finish up my WIP and spring clean my house. Yeesh. I need a band of house spirits to help with that second task. One of the challenges with a log house, is wiping down each and every dusty log.

Wish me luck.

March book reviews include my 4 and 5 star reads of fantasy, a medical thriller, two poetry collections, a short story, and a Vietnam War memoir.

Click on the covers for Amazon global links.

*****

Sorcery of Thorns by Margaret Rogerson

I loved The Enchantment of Ravens and looked forward to reading another of Rogerson’s books. Just imagine a fantasy set in a Great Library where books ruffle their pages or grumble or sniff or snap at your clothing as you pass. Some of them are talkative, others love to sing opera, and a few are so wicked they have to be chained and locked in a vault. Imagine a world where demons can be bound as servants and where love tests the limits of evil. Where a haunted sorcerer and librarian’s apprentice join forces to save the world. Oooooh. This book is so magical.

The story is told from the POV of the apprentice. Elizabeth is quite daring, full of energy, genuinely emotional, and mostly fearless. Secondary characters are equally rich with distinct personalities. There’s a lot of humor in the relationships as well as tenderness and a touch of clever banter. The book isn’t a skinny little thing, but the plot moves well, and the story kept me turning pages.

And if that isn’t enough, the writing is beautiful, visual, and evocative. I love the imagery: “As the afternoon shadows deepened, the coach clattered into the Blackwald, the great forest that slashed through the kingdom like the stroke of a knife. Everything grew dark and damp. Here and there among the undergrowth stood shocking white stands of birch trees, like specters floating among the black gowns of a funeral party.”

Highly recommended to fans of fantasy, beautiful writing, and giant libraries full of magical books.

*****

Acts of Convenience by Alex Craigie

The opening of this book got me all riled up! It starts with some political maneuvering that might strike a little close to home depending on where you live. The lives of people are reduced to statistics, and their value is measured based on a cost-benefit analysis. In the case of healthcare, old people are deemed a burden on the system, and the government devises ways to help them into an early grave.

Cassie is a nurse in said healthcare system and doesn’t at first acknowledge that a broader conspiracy is at play. She notices poor care and unfair decisions, but there always seems to be a justification and excuse. Time moves forward, and the situation only gets worse. After 40 years in nursing, she has no choice but to acknowledge that something nefarious is occurring at her hospital. And she can’t let it go.

The story starts in 2017 and extends decades into the future. It becomes completely Cassie’s tale at about the 20% mark, and what a thriller. I had a hard time putting the book down and, over several nights, reading wrestled with my need for sleep. The plot is riveting as Cassie engages with an underground group who is dedicated to the truth and willing to risk their lives. Her secret life puts her at odds with her husband and family, and the danger ratchets up until the final showdown.

The characters are well-rounded and distinct with a full range of emotions. Cassie’s evolving relationships are varied and believable, the dialog natural. I especially liked Cassie and her granddaughter, Seren, and the closeness of their relationship. I also was delighted to read a thriller with an “older” main character. The pace speeds up as the stakes rise. Highly recommended.

*****

The Prince’s Son by Deborah Jay

Deborah Jay can write fantasy. This is the second book in The Five Kingdom series. The story focuses on several main characters: One, Rustam Chalice, who has been ordered by the Prince to escort two young women over the treacherous Tylocian mountains. Two, Nessa Haddo, one of the women who is kidnapped by the barbarian clans and must use her wits and burgeoning magic to escape. And three, Resada, the prince’s wife who is pregnant and conflicted about her life.

This is a long read, almost 500 pages. The worldbuilding is fascinating and politically complex, and it’s easy to see the depth of work that went into crafting it. For most of the book there are three related but independent plots, one for each main character. Despite some page-turning action, the navigation between the multiple storylines does make for a modest pace. The three narratives converge and wrap up well with a few dangling problems for the next book.

The characters are three dimensional and emotionally rich, and all three grow during the book with Nessa making the largest leap. To me, she stole the show in this read, though my heart also ached for Rustam and Resada. Highly recommended for fantasy readers who love an epic story with a lot of depth to the worldbuilding and characters. Start with Book One, The Prince’s Man.

*****

Midnight Haiku by Sue Vincent

I read this lovely collection of 365 haiku over a few days, but honestly it should take a year to fully savor them. For that reason, I plan to read the book again, one poem a day, which is how the author crafted them. The poems loosely follow the seasons. They’re reflections on the beauty and wonder of nature and the passage of time. They explore the mysteries of an ancient landscape and the human connections to sacred places. Some return home to the heart, to the magic and poignancy of love and the mysteries of life. In every sense, I found this a deeply spiritual read. Highly recommended to readers who enjoy haiku, daily inspiration and reflection, and beautiful, thought-provoking imagery. A few favorites:

walk forward in grace
stars have strewn a path of gold
bounded by beauty

from a darkling shore
dreamers can walk on water
a land of light calls.

closer to earth
a child’s eyes sees miracles
we have forgotten

we pass as shadows
ephemeral fallen leaves
on the path of time

*****

Minus One by Elizabeth Merry

Merry describes her collection of poetry as “The Story of a Life” and as I read her poems, I was aware of an underlying and poignant theme of loss—sometimes as a result of death, but also those losses brought about by change, time, growth, and aging. The poems are touching. The imagery digs deep, offering glimpses with carefully chosen details more than telling stories.

The book took about an hour to read, and I used the time to reflect and savor the words. It includes a combination of free-form poetry, haiku, and a selection of photographs to complement the poems. A stand out collection from start to finish, I had a difficult time picking favorites. A few that I highlighted are Minus One, The Red Petticoat, Seascapes, Landscapes, In a Yellow Dress, and Frances. Recommended to readers who enjoy reflective poetry from the heart.

As an example, here is the first stanza of Frances:

Here I will rest
My ashes falling
Into swirls of bog-brown water
In Spring perhaps
The river quiet
And the birds gone mad
My ghost will hover –
A shape in powdered white
Casting chills on my attendants…

*****

Brother’s Keeper by Jan Sikes

This short story touches on the relationship of two brothers, Quentin and Rowdy. For his whole life, Quentin has been his brother’s keeper, but when Rowdy kills a man, what will Quentin do? The story is a quick read, almost a character study, and moves at a speedy clip. The ending left me thinking about the family dysfunction and how it impacted every character and relationship, as well as the choices the two men made and were willing to live with. No one walks away unscathed. A grim tale. Well written and recommended for fans of short stories.

*****

Waiting for Westmoreland by John Maberry

John Maberry’s memoir tracks his life from his childhood in a struggling family through his disillusionment with the Vietnam War, and how that experience compelled him to make a positive difference in the world. That difference came first as an anti-war activist, second through getting a law degree, and finally, through embracing Buddhism and the recognition that change comes from within.

I most appreciated the account of his childhood and his years in the service. I was a child during the Vietnam War and “protected” from much of the grim news by my parents. John provides a personal glimpse into the war, and his account of his experiences, particularly the devaluation of human life, is heart-wrenching. The callousness and corruption of US political and military leadership, is infuriating.

I found the account of the subsequent years of activism and academic pursuits detailed and not quite as engaging, though they are part of his search for belonging and a way to facilitate change. How that search led to an understanding of Buddhism and the role of karma in his choices brings the memoir to a conclusion. I recommend this story to readers who enjoy memoirs and anyone interested in a soldier’s experience of the Vietnam War, the anti-war movement, and the search for wholeness that followed.

Happy Reading!

February Book Reviews

March is almost here! Time to plan some reading for spring (or autumn)!

February book reviews include my 4 and 5 star reads of fantasy, a paranormal western, a psychological thriller, a western contemporary romance, and a spooky kid’s book. ! I hope you enjoy the browse.

Click on the covers for Amazon global links.

*****

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

I’m a total sucker for beautiful, lyrical writing, and this book is loaded with it. I was underlining the paperback like a mad woman. The story is based on a Russian folktale, I think, but it was unfamiliar to me, so I read the story as if it were a fantasy. It definitely has the feeling of a folktale with a Russian flavor. The details are rich, rich, rich, magical and fantastical, a feast for a reader’s imagination.

The story begins when Vasya is a child and goes until her young womanhood. She has “the sight,” capable of seeing the spirits of the home and northern forest. Some of them are kindly and some terrible. Vasya’s stepmother believes they are evil and tries to drive them out. Their battle of wills is magnified as the Frost Demon and his brother, the Bear, compete for Vasya’s life. Tragedy befalls the north when a Christian zealot arrives, spreading fear of the old ways. As the spirits weaken, Vasya is the only one with the courage to take a stand. There’s so much more to this story than that – a battle for independence, deep family love, madness, the old gods against the new, and all set against the beauty, magic, and deadly cold of winter.

Aside from the exquisite writing and storytelling, the characters are deeply drawn with multilayered emotions and motivations. Little is spelled out and the complexity of the story, details, and characters had me flipping the pages deep into the night. Highly recommended to readers who enjoy folktale retellings, fantasy, and beautiful writing.

*****

Mateo’s Law by Sandra Cox

What a fun read. Mateo is a shapeshifting sheriff in small town Grizzly, Montana, and few, if any, residents know his secret. His chief deputy, Blair, is a transplant from Atlanta, and when a black wolf begins killing animals and slashing people, the two of them are on the case. Sardonic banter and aggravating behavior scarcely mask the sexual tension flying between them.

Mateo is a competent, dark, mysterious, and hunky guy, but Blair was my favorite character, her snappy sarcasm and self-deprecating humor right up my alley. She’s also tough, comfortable with her identity, and undaunted when it comes to doing the right thing. She doesn’t know Mateo’s secret, which generates some entertaining situations.

Secondary characters are well done, particularly the wolves and Mateo’s estranged friend, Jesse. Other characters and the setting serve to round out the story without going into a great deal of backstory or detail. The plot isn’t complicated, but it’s a great backdrop for a lot of fast-paced action that showcases Mateo’s and Blair’s relationship. No dull moments in this book. I recommend it to readers who enjoy contemporary westerns with a paranormal flair, and great characters with lots of personality who generate sparks.

*****

Brody Cody and the Haunted Vacation House by Toni Pike

Tornado Boy and I enjoyed the first Brody Cody book and were eager to pick up this one. It had the perfect amount of scariness for an 8-year-old who’s just started to enjoy ghost stories.

Brody, his mom and dad, and three friends go on vacation to the Blue Mountains. They’ve rented the Wysludge Manor, a dusty cobwebby house with overgrown, dead gardens. Things start going wrong right from the start, and Brody and his friends are determined to get to the bottom of the strange occurrences, creepy noises, and visions of ghosts.

The book is about an hour’s read, the language accessible to young independent readers and a fun choice for parents and kids who enjoy chapter books. Grammy and Tornado Boy highly recommend Brody Cody books and look forward to the next one!

*****

Seasoned with Destiny by Mary J. McCoy-Dressel

Judy Carlson is at the stage in life where she’s enjoying her grown sons, their families, and a batch of grandchildren with more on the way. She’s also having hot flashes and after years of widowhood, starting to date. But Dale Conner comes with some baggage that opens her eyes to the real hero in her life, one right under her nose.

There’s danger in this book, but this romance is well…mostly romance. And for those who wonder if it’s ever too late to love, this might be the perfect read. There are also lots and lots of babies, as well as family dynamics that keep Judy busy between asserting her independence and discovering love. She’s a tough lady.

This is the fifth book in the Double Dutch Ranch series, but I read it as a stand-alone, and it worked just dandy, though I can see how reading it in order would flesh out her family in preparation for this novel. I enjoyed the story and recommend it to readers of contemporary western romance.

*****

Dead of Winter: Journey 2, Penllyn by Teagan Riordain Geneviene

In true serial form, Journey 2 starts at the end of the first and isn’t meant to be read as a stand-alone. In other words, start at the beginning! The first half of this Journey primarily introduces Zasha, a member of the mysterious group called the Deae Matres, as well as Zasha’s guardian, Tajin. They travel the countryside and grow concerned about threats to outlanders, particularly to women. I enjoyed this intriguing relationship and am eager to learn more about them.

The second half returns to Emlyn as she and her father walk to the village of Penllyn to sell cider from his orchard. It’s at the inn in Penllyn, that a second motivation for the trip becomes clear to Emlyn, and the truth is worse than her most worrisome imaginings.

Descriptions are vivid and beautiful and sometimes chilling. The worldbuilding is intricate and thorough. I came to like Emlyn more and her father less as the characters continue to develop. A fair amount of Emlyn’s experience is conveyed through her thoughts as italicized internal dialog. I have mixed feelings about that, but there’s plenty of verbal dialog to round it out. Dreams play a large part in this journey as well as ghosts who introduce Emlyn to potential allies in the Deae Matres. I’m looking forward to seeing what happens next.

*****

Warning Signs by Carol Balawyder

This psychological thriller is told from three points of view: a serial killer, the young woman who loves him, and the detective investigating the murders of several teenagers.

Eugene Munroe is a creepy guy, and there were times during the read where the real world disappeared and I was completely absorbed in his strange and fascinating thought processes. Angie is overly needy and desperate for love, and Eugene’s attentions have her ignoring the warning signs that something is wrong. Van Ray is the cop on the case who compromises the law in more ways than one.

The plot starts with a lot of tension that kept me glued to the pages. A significant twist at the halfway point changes the nature of the story, shifting it away from imminent danger into the psychology of the characters. The pace slows slightly as the book works toward a conclusion, but it wraps up the various threads nicely. The writing seemed well researched, particularly related to the serial killer.

I encountered a problem with formatting on my kindle (it may just be my kindle). There were no breaks or indents distinguishing paragraphs. This made the read more difficult for me, but otherwise, I recommend it to fans of thrillers, crime novels, and psychological dramas.

*****

Finding a Balance by Lauren Scott

I read this short book of poetry on a quiet evening. Many of the poems are reflections about the journey of life: love, pain, hope, and self-discovery. They’re told from a gentle and often wistful perspective. Scott’s language is accessible, as are the emotions within her poems.

Most of the poems rhyme, some subtly and some more pronounced. I generally prefer free-form poetry, but there are some lovely pieces in here including a selection of haiku. A few of my favorites were: Pillow, Healing, Refreshing, and Butterflies to Stay.

For an example of her poetry, this is the first stanza of Healing:

Gasping for air
with my head underwater
lungs on the verge
of exploding
I’m in orbit
heading into a world
of other dimensions
where gravity
has no bearing…

*****

Voyage of the Lanternfish by C. S. Boyack

James Cuttler’s sweetheart, Bonnie, is bricked into a tower by the Earl of Grandelur and won’t be released until James and Dan (Bonnie’s brother) incite a war between two rival nations. This demand kicks off the adventure as James and Dan travel through the fantasy world—first by wagon and later by sea as pirates. They assemble allies and a ship’s crew and cause havoc everywhere they go.

The book is a jaunting quest with a focus on a unique collection of characters and worldbuilding detail. The pace is moderate, and the plot ambles in places, but there are also bouts of intense action, and readers who enjoy pirates will appreciate the sea battles.

As other readers have mentioned, the real stars of the book are the root monsters. They “grew” on me, and their scenes are hysterical from start to finish. Boyack has a wonderful way of creating magical characters and imbuing them with distinct—and frequently outrageous—personalities. The root monsters are impressive. I recommend this fantasy read to anyone who enjoys rambling quests with fabulous characters, sea battles, and plenty of humor.

Happy Reading!

Opening: The Ferryman and the Sea Witch

I’m a couple of weeks away from finishing my first draft. I should focus on those last 20k words, but I keep returning to the opening. Tweaking, mulling, editing, changing, and then changing back. Then changing again.

Openings are important. If a reader has been intrigued by your cover and blurb… and cracked open the book, you don’t have much time to give your hook a good yank (or subtly slide a barb through the reader’s lip).

There are a lot of suggestions for crafting openings that grab your reader:

  • Showcase your protagonist in his or her POV. This way your reader knows who to root for.
  • Reveal something about your protagonist’s emotional landscape. Help the reader care.
  • Start in the middle of a tense situation with your character in the thick of it.
  • Arouse curiosity or create intrigue. Pull the reader in so he asks, “What will happen next?”
  • Share a glimpse of the setting (world or place or time period).
  • Establish a unique voice for the character.
  • Hint at the theme and what your story is about.
  • Structure the opening like a plot. Tell a story.
  • Convey your writing style.

Yikes!

This opening isn’t finished, but I think it’s getting closer.

The hemp net hung from the boom over the waves. Within its lattice of pinched knots, the slender merrow drowned in the heated air. She had ceased her struggle as the sun tilted up, when shadows pooled beneath hard-heeled boots. Her graceful tail with its angelfish fins dangled from the end of her confinement. Beyond the reach of her fingers, swells rose and fell. Taunting, seductive. Rhythmic as they sloshed against the hull.

Like a storm-torn sail, the tip of her tangled hair dipped into the sea with each crest, shed droplets with each trough. The creature wept for her kind, for the sea breathing beneath her. The mournful plea filled young Callum’s head, overwhelming the clamor of merriment arising from the Brid Clarion officers who’d captured her in their mesh.

“We should free her,” Callum murmured. He drew his fish-knife. “She’s dying. They’re killing her.”

 “I spoke my mind, boy.” The captain placed a firm hold on Callum’s scrawny shoulder. “Put away the blade. It’s not our place to chart the course of another man’s conscience.”

January Book Reviews

Now that I’m writing again, my reading has dropped off. *Sigh*

January book reviews include my 4 and 5 star reads of paranormal fiction, a vampire anthology, Gothic anthology, and YA fantasy! I hope you enjoy the browse.

Click on the covers for Amazon global links.

*****

The Light by Marcia Meara

I could read a book about 11-year-old Rabbit navel-gazing and be entertained. I’m in love with this character and as long as he’s in the story, I’m satisfied. Once again, Rabbit is using his gift of “sight” to solve murders and heal old wounds. In this book, one of the Brown Mountain lights is different from the rest. It’s full of sadness, and Rabbit wants to find out why.

This story has less violence and minimal danger compare to the previous books in the series, and though Rabbit solves the mystery, the more dire consequences unfold on their own. In this read, the focus has shifted somewhat to Rabbit’s expanding “family” as he spreads around his good will and makes connections with other good people. There’s a sweetness to this story and to these characters, and that’s not a bad thing.

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed Rabbit’s journey and happily recommend Meara’s Wake Robin Ridge series to fans of paranormal fiction, addictive characters, and expert writing. I will miss this little guy. A solid five-star read.

*****

The Vampire Connoisseur (anthology – multiple authors)

I’ve avoided vampire stories for years. I think Anne Rice spoiled me with Interview with the Vampire, which I loved. And the vixen vampires on television… ugh. But this anthology has a great cover and vetted stories. I gave it a go, and I’m glad I did.

There are sixteen stories by sixteen authors, and each story is vastly different. Some have sublime characters with unique voices. Others have incredible world-building. And still others have unusual plots. My favorites included some of each, particularly those stories that surprised me with their originality or made me empathize with vampires, or both. Be prepared for some gruesome blood and guts too.

Favorites were The Red Angel (amazing), The Sun Sets Nonetheless, Finch, and Dissidents. Recommended for readers of horror who enjoy well-written vampire stories.

*****

The Brinwade Chronicles (anthology multiple authors)

This is the third book and second anthology I’ve read from the Fosseway Writers, and so far, it’s my favorite. The collection of Gothic short stories is loosely organized around Brinwade, a fictional village near Nottingham in central England. A map is included in the Foreword, a nice touch that helped orient me as I read.

Though the 29 tales take place in the same village, the authors had leeway when it came to timeframes. Some of the stories take place in modern England, while others unfold elsewhere in a history that spans hundreds of years. This increased the variety already created by having multiple author-contributors and character voices.

As a fan of speculative fiction there was a lot for me to enjoy: ghosts, vampires, elves, very creepy scarecrows, visits from the fae, and haunted marshes, to name a few. Not all the stories are frightening. Some are tragic and others heartwarming. All are well edited. Highly recommended to readers of Gothic and speculative fiction short story anthologies.

*****

Knightmare Arcanist by Shami Stovall

I enjoyed this read though I think it’s geared more toward young teens and precocious middle-grade readers. In this magical fantasy world, young people compete for a chance to bond with mythical creatures and become arcanists (wizards). If you can think of a magical creature, it’s in this story—from phoenixes and pixies to leviathans and yetis. Suspending my disbelief was a necessity from start to finish.

In this first book of the series, Volke and other new arcanists travel to a magical manor on a giant turtle’s back to begin their magical training. The arcanist guilds are struggling with a mysterious plague that’s corrupting the mystical creatures and turning their masters into pirates. The kids are trying to figure out what’s going on and who they can trust.

For the most part, the human characters are fifteen years old. They and their creatures are all different and distinct. The creatures talk and some of them have mysterious or fun personalities (a ferret-type creature called a Rizzel reminded me of some of the hilarious Disney side-kicks.) The adults are the biggest threat in the story though one of the teens is a bit of a bully. The pace moves along with a steady stream of action. Recommended to young readers of YA fantasy who are looking for a kid-driven adventure.

*****

Happy Reading!