2015’s Bad Book Compilation

As some of you may know, I don’t do negative book reviews any more. I don’t have the time to invest in something that ultimately does no one any good, nor do I have the mental energy.

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However, as any storyteller knows, negative reviews have one big, fat benefit. They show you what doesn’t work, and you can then in turn look for x, y, or z in your own stories. Since everyone’s trying to improve their craft, it doesn’t make sense to at least not take what we can from an otherwise less-than-positive-reading experience.

Without further ado, here’s what I gleaned from my not-so-great (read: terrible) reads of 2015!

How to Murder a Murder Mystery

  • Don’t leave any clues. ANY.
  • Don’t explore the mind of the killer until the last 5 pages, and, even then, skim.

How to Let You’re Reader Know You’re Smarter than Everyone Else (aka How To  Be Generally Annoying)

  • Abuse and exploit the thesaurus.
  • The more confusing the sentence structure, the better. If your reader doesn’t follow what you’re trying to say, good. It’s their fault for not being as smart as you.
  • Name drop important people and places every other sentence.

How to Write High-Brow Fantasy that Only You are Worldly Enough to Understand

  • Use a plethora of made-up deity and object names without ever explaining or contextualizing them.
  • Never explain or explore the characters’ motives. It’s fantasy; who needs motive when you have magic and monsters?

How to Write a White-Noise Dystopian Novel

  • Combine elements from Hunger Games, Stung, etc. to form a generic world.
  • Your protagonist MUST BE “the special/chosen one” or unique in some discernible way.
  • If there isn’t a love triangle, you might as well quit already.

How to (Not) Write an Action Novel

  • Only ever write action scenes. Leave no room to breathe, no exploration of the character’s psyche, etc. Only fighting, all the time.

Stand-Out Character Guidelines

  • Do not give your characters distinguishable personalities; readers should ONLY be able to tell who’s talking/thinking when you say their name.
  • Making literally every character in the book a straight white old male. (LITERALLY. EVERY. CHARACTER.)
  • Only give teh womens lines like “Oh, goodness Papa!” or “I’m a delicate flower incapable of deep thought!” (Bonus points if they’re breathy exclamations or shy exchanges.)

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The very least a bad read can give you is a writing lesson, so run with it! What lessons did less-than-enjoyable books teach you in 2015?

 

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Best Reads of 2015

(NOTE: Not all of these books were published in 2015; this is merely pulled from the list of books I read this year.)

2015 has finally come to a close! And it’s good riddance, from my perspective. That being said, 2015 was a time for some particularly good reads. Below are my top books from this trip around the sun, and what earned each of them a spot on my list.

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Title: Queen of Shadows (Throne of Glass #4)

Author: Sarah J. Maas

Release Date: September 1st, 2015

Rating: 5 out of 5

If you know me, you know that I’m a huge fan of the Throne of Glass series. As this is book number four in the series, things are finally coming to a head in an exciting way. There were many riveting action scenes, a deeper discovery of the characters, and DID I MENTION ACTION HELL YEAH SIGN ME UP. And y’know what, I’m not even going to apologize for that outburst, because good lord, does QoS ever deserve it!

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Title: Milk and Honey

Author: Rupi Kaur

Release Date: November 4th, 2014

Rating: 5 out of 5

This book is a departure from the norm for me because I typically don’t read many poetry books. But like the hipster scum I am, I’m already familiar with Kaur’s work and decided it was worth the $10.77 leap of faith. It was. Milk and Honey contains heartrendingly beautiful poetry unlike anything I’ve ever read before. Reading it is a truly unique experience, (if sometimes the theme is a little repetitive), and even has the occasional illustration!

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Title: The Oresteia

Author: Aeschylus

Release Date: 458 BCE

Rating: 5 out of 5

A true classic. As in, a classic that way out-dates even the classics. (Just look at that publication date!) The Oresteia does what many stories even to this day fail to do: provide a cohesive tale of love, betrayal, covert assassination plots, ancient (…child…) sacrifices, and a story of homecomings after war. What more could you want?

 

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Title: Seraphina

Author: Rachel Hartman

Release Date: July 10th, 2012

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Seraphina is one of the best fantasy books I’ve ever read, hands down. (You can even find my review of it here.) The writing is rich and immaculate. The world-building is almost (dare I say) on par with that of Harry Potter. The characters are varied and dynamic and catch you off guard if you don’t keep an eye on them. The pace was pitch perfect. If you haven’t read this book yet, get your life together and read it NOW.

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Stay tuned to catch my 2015 Bad Book Compilation, likely coming out next week!

What books did you read in 2015 that stood out the most? Comment below!

Book Review: Seraphina

Seraphina_book_cover_(US_addition)Title: Seraphina

Author: Rachel Hartman

Release Date: July 10th, 2012

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Summary: “Four decades of peace have done little to ease the mistrust between humans and dragons in the kingdom of Goredd. Folding themselves into human shape, dragons attend court as ambassadors, and lend their rational, mathematical minds to universities as scholars and teachers. As the treaty’s anniversary draws near, however, tensions are high. Seraphina Dombegh has reason to fear both sides. An unusually gifted musician, she joins the court just as a member of the royal family is murdered—in suspiciously draconian fashion. Seraphina is drawn into the investigation, partnering with the captain of the Queen’s Guard, the dangerously perceptive Prince Lucian Kiggs. While they begin to uncover hints of a sinister plot to destroy the peace, Seraphina struggles to protect her own secret, the secret behind her musical gift, one so terrible that its discovery could mean her very life. In her exquisitely written fantasy debut, Rachel Hartman creates a rich, complex, and utterly original world. Seraphina’s tortuous journey to self-acceptance is one readers will remember long after they’ve turned the final page.” – Goodreads

Excuse me while I scream.

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Seraphina is easily one of the best books I’ve read in a long, long while. The reasons for this are multitudinous. The writing, the world-building, the characters, etc.

First off, the writing. It is gorgeous. It strikes that perfect yet elusive balance between rich and clear, all without being overly flowery. This is probably some of the best writing I’ve ever seen, hands down.

One of the things that sets this fantasy novel apart from others, however, is the world the author built. The cultures and lore are intriguing, and not strictly based on Europe! Yay! Also, Hartman has a distinct way of approaching the topic of dragons. They’re not straightforward monsters to be conquered (well, depending on who you ask), but rather characters to be engaged with, each with a variety of motives and angles. Their culture and what makes them tick is just as engrossing too.

The characters were varied and believable. I could relate well to Seraphina, but aside from her I’d have to say my favorite character is Glisselda. She’s regal, kind, confident, and is armed with a sharp wit. The characters aren’t predictable or transparent, which lends to part of the charm of the book. You’re constantly guessing at people’s true loyalty, and usually I’m very good at guessing who the ultimate Bad Guy is. Not here! I was taken completely by surprise. Which I love.

The rhythm and pace were fine tuned to perfection. Even when things were (technically speaking_ slow moving, it didn’t feel slow moving. It felt more like the literary equivalent of gliding down a lazy river.

The only thing I didn’t like about this book was the romance. I saw no real reason for it, aside from the fact that (*SPOILER*) Kiggs was the first guy in Seraphina’s age range to really interact with her. (END SPOILER) The romance felt a bit forced; I feel like they make better friends than romantic partners. That being said, I do like that the romance isn’t there for drama’s sake. They decide to be honorable in how they intend to go about it.

All in all, Seraphina is one of the best fantasy books I’ve ever read. The characters, plot, pacing, etc . . . all of it is hands-down delightful. Highly recommended!

Book Review: Sora’s Quest (Cat’s Eye Chronicles #1)

16084685Title: Sora’s Quest (Cat’s Eye Chronicles #1)

Author: T. F. Shreffler

Publisher: The Runaway Pen

Release Date: November 20, 2013

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Summary: “A noblewoman, an assassin, and a soul-stealing necklace…. Sora planned on running away from her wedding, but she never expected to be kidnapped! Dumped into a world of magical races, arcane jewelry and forgotten lore, she finds herself at the mercy of a dangerous assassin, haunted by an even darker past. She yearns for freedom, but he won’t let her go—not when her Cat’s Eye necklace is the only thing that can save his life. But the necklace itself presents a problem. It is an ancient device from the long forgotten War of the Races, and its magic has the ability to steal souls. Can Sora learn to wield its power—or will the power wield her?” – Goodreads

I have a weird relationship with this book. My affection for it is split along a very clear divide. There’s the first 80% of the book, which I’ll review in one chunk, and then the remaining 20%, which I will also review in its own separate chunk.

So, let’s take a look at the first 80%.

For the first 80% of the book I really wasn’t feeling it. It read more like a middle grade book to me. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with middle grade, but it just wasn’t what I was expecting. I didn’t feel a huge connection with the characters, nor was I super interested in their dynamic with one another. (I did however like all the bits with Dorian though. He’s such a darling.) The writing was just okay at this point. It wasn’t anything spectacular, and to be honest a little cheesy in parts. The pacing had a major lull in the middle, as is sort of common in fantasy novels. Also common is the fantasy formula for generating plot which is “don’t know what to do next with your characters? Have them get attacked by a crazy monster!”. This gets very old vey fast when used in abundance, as it is here.

Now, the remaining 20%.

You may be wondering, then why the high rating? You see, I have no idea what happened in the last bit of the book, but the writing suddenly took on a new, astonishing quality. The pace was perfection. The character dynamics showed multiple layers, tantalizing and rich. The characters were infused with an indescribable vitality. I have to be honest, if I’d only read the first 80% I wouldn’t have been interested in reading the next book. The last 20% changed everything, and I’m very excited to read book number two!

In conclusion, I would recommend this book. While I initially didn’t care for it, the ending part was just too compelling, too awesome to ignore. It has the promise of an exciting world to explore, authentic characters, and a plot that draws you in.  If you’re a fan of fantasy far and wide, this is most definitely the book for you!

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Oh, and by the way . . . Sora’s Quest is permanently FREE on Amazon!

Book Review: Heir of Fire (Throne of Glass #3)

20613470Title: Heir of Fire (Throne of Glass #3)

Author: Sarah J. Maas

Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Children’s

Date Released: 2014

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Summary: “Lost and broken, Celaena Sardothien’s only thought is to avenge the savage death of her dearest friend: as the King of Adarlan’s Assassin, she is bound to serve this tyrant, but he will pay for what he did. Any hope Celaena has of destroying the king lies in answers to be found in Wendlyn. Sacrificing his future, Chaol, the Captain of the King’s Guard, has sent Celaena there to protect her, but her darkest demons lay in that same place. If she can overcome them, she will be Adarlan’s biggest threat – and his own toughest enemy.
While Celaena learns of her true destiny, and the eyes of Erilea are on Wendlyn, a brutal and beastly force is preparing to take to the skies. Will Celaena find the strength not only to win her own battles, but to fight a war that could pit her loyalties to her own people against those she has grown to love?” – Goodreads

I stood in line for nearly 2 hours to purchase this book, and I’m glad to say that it was well worth it!

The characters, most of them new ones, are to die for. Between the new cast in Rifthold, the new world and characters and creatures in Wendelyn, and the covens in the Ferian Gap, there’s a rich selection to choose from, all with backbones and stories and secrets of their own. Speaking of the covens, initially I wasn’t a huge fan of the Manon storyline. I had difficulty understanding its relevance and direction, but it eventually won me over in a big way once the relationship with Abraxos entered. This book has no lack of strong women, that’s for sure.

Celaena is great as always, powerful and regaining her spark that for so long has threatened to go out. I really like her dynamic with Rowan, and her potential dynamic with Aedion once they’re reunited. (BE STILL, MY HEART).

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Once you finally get to the action in this book, it goes hard. It never leaves you wanting, but never annoyingly overwhelms either. I can only think of one fight in the entire 600 pages that was too long for my liking, which, for a book with a lot of fights, is great. This book strikes just the right balance.

The writing is wonderful as always, powerful and clear while still retaining a poetic flow. I do feel though that things in the first couple hundred pages took a bit long to get moving, but once they did, the book stopped for no one. And that’s not even to mention the innumerable well-crafted plot twists! I will say that I quite literally screaming once or twice while reading.

All in all, Heir of Fire earns itself a solid 4.5 out of 5 for rich characters, quality writing and pace, and surprises of intrigue you’ll never see coming. And after all, how much more could you want?

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Find Heir of Fire on here Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

Book Review: These Broken Stars

13138635Title: These Broken Stars

Authors: Amie Kaufman & Meagan Spooner

Publisher: Disney-Hyperion

Release Date: December 10th, 2013

Rating: 4 out of 5

Summary: “It’s a night like any other on board the Icarus. Then, catastrophe strikes: the massive luxury spaceliner is yanked out of hyperspace and plummets into the nearest planet. Lilac LaRoux and Tarver Merendsen survive. And they seem to be alone.
Lilac is the daughter of the richest man in the universe. Tarver comes from nothing, a young war hero who learned long ago that girls like Lilac are more trouble than they’re worth. But with only each other to rely on, Lilac and Tarver must work together, making a tortuous journey across the eerie, deserted terrain to seek help.
Then, against all odds, Lilac and Tarver find a strange blessing in the tragedy that has thrown them into each other’s arms. Without the hope of a future together in their own world, they begin to wonder—would they be better off staying here forever?
Everything changes when they uncover the truth behind the chilling whispers that haunt their every step. Lilac and Tarver may find a way off this planet. But they won’t be the same people who landed on it.” – Goodreads

I have to admit, I initially was interested in These Broken Stars because of the gorgeous cover. I mean, just look at it. *sighs* Thankfully, I was treated to a great read in addition to a beautiful cover!

The first and most prominent thing that stands out to me are the characters. And they are awesome. They have backbone, they’re distinct from one another, and are overall very charming and dimensional. They do become more similar to one another as the story progresses, but they still retain many of their individual qualities while developing new ones. Not to mention, the dual point of view was on point.

Think of the plot as something that starts off as a sci-fi retelling of Titanic, then spirals into a paranormal, wilderness survival story. Awesome, right? One of the most intriguing things about this book from a writer’s standpoint is how the authors made the story progress and have momentum without much of an apparent conflict or manifested issue to overcome. (Such, survival is great and all, but it’s difficult to write conflict if there’s not something tangible you’re fighting against, which is why it’s so neat to find a well executed example.) I’m always amazed when people can pull that off. (See Rainbow Rowell‘s books to get an even better feel for what I mean.)

The writing is lovely, striking a harmonious balance between being rich and clear without getting too flowery.

The only drawback I felt in the story was that it comes across as a little overinflated. What I mean by that is that it takes a bit too long to get from point A to point B. Also, the conclusion regarding Lilac and her father was something I did not see coming, and not in a great way either. Something about it feels a bit off, like it was out of character, but that may have just been me.

Overall, I’d highly recommend this novel to fans of sci-fi, romance, and/or survival tales. Clear writing, developed characters, and a plot with momentum all come together into a literary treat. A solid 4 out of 5 stars!

On Leaving Bad Reviews

Lately I’ve been considering my professional image as an author. In doing this, it’s brought me to decide to delete the poor reviews I’ve left of books (2.5/5 and lower) in the past. I will also avoiding writing poor reviews in the future.

Thing is, I don’t want to be seen as an author that “trashes” other peoples’ work. And yet, I also don’t want to be seen as someone who sugarcoats sucky books because I want favorable treatment in return, (which is not at all what I’m trying to do).

However, one of the huge values of negative book reviews is that people read them and see what does and doesn’t work in stories. Many times, I’ve read a book only to be overwhelmingly disappointed, and had to really think on what it was that didn’t work for me. Nothing seemed wrong, but it just didn’t feel right.

Then, lightbulb.

You figure out that crucial part that ruined what would’ve been a great story, or what was wrong from the outset, or x, y & z. Negative reviews can be valuable for writers to educate themselves with.

However, that doesn’t mean I have to leave bad reviews. At the end of the year, I may just write up a summary post of things I’ve found over the year that worked or didn’t work, leaving the names of the specific books out.

I’m a reader, and I like to have my opinions heard. But on the other hand, I’m a writer. A virtually unknown writer who’s trying to break into the business. Reviewing fellow authors’ works poorly could come back to bite me in bad ways, and as long as I’m reviewing books under my pen name, those reviews will forever be attached to me.

How do you feel about these changes?