December 31, 2013

What I read in 2013

2013 was a record year for me in terms of number of books read. I wound up reading 102 books since January 1st! I'm sure that this is the first time in my life that I've read over 100 books in a year.

The ratings for the books I read broke down as follows:
  • 5 stars - 26 books
  • 4 stars - 44 books
  • 3 stars - 30 books
  • 2 stars - 2 books
This comes out to an average rating of 3.92 stars per book read in 2013.

When I counted the number of indie books I read this year, I was astounded to find that HALF of the 102 books were indie published! I didn't set out to read so many indie books. Some of them were books written by other indie authors I got to know, and some I picked up not knowing they were indie. It just shows how far the indie publishing business has progressed in the last couple of years.

In case you're interested, the ratings for the indie books were:
  • 5 stars - 9 books
  • 4 stars - 24 books
  • 3 stars - 18 books
The average rating of 3.82 was slightly lower than the overall average, but there were definitely some great books among the indies that I read.

For the Authors A to Z challenge, the average score was an even lower 3.73, broken out as follows:
  • 5 stars - 5 books
  • 4 stars - 10 books
  • 3 stars - 10 books
  • 2 stars - 1 book

That shouldn't be a surprise since I read some books as part of the challenge that I normally wouldn't read.

In my next post, I'll list my top ten favorite books of 2013. Stay tuned!

December 27, 2013

Cover reveal - Keep Your Enemies Close

I'm putting the finishing touches on my latest novel, titled Keep Your Enemies Close, and here's the  cover for the book! It will be released in early January 2014. Stay tuned!

First, the probes arrived. Then the mother ship landed. Then Lia’s world changed forever.

With the alien invaders’ arrival, Lia and her best friend, Bryn, sign up for military duty to protect their town. When the aliens attack, however, Lia and her comrades are helpless to stop them. Worse, after the attack, she discovers that several of the townspeople, including her family, were abducted. Despite Lia’s pleading, no one wants to save those taken by the aliens.

Desperate to rescue her parents and her little sister, Lia turns to the only source of help she can find… a captured alien invader. 

December 21, 2013

100 books in 2013

It's hard for me to believe, but I finished reading my 100th book of 2013! I don't think I've ever read that many books in one year, even when I was in school and had required reading assignments. At the beginning of the year, I didn't have a goal to read 100 books, and things started off slowly. I averaged six or seven books a month for the first four months. Then summer hit and I started reading at least ten books a month through most of the summer and fall. Things have tapered off again since then, but not before I managed to reach the 100-book milestone before the end of the year.

Will I now set a goal to try to exceed my 2013 reading total in 2014? No way, are you crazy! :-) I'm sure I'll still keep reading at a good clip next year, but I have a feeling that 2013 was the exception, not the new rule.

December 14, 2013

Announcing Through a Tangled Wood

I'm happy to announce the release of Through a Tangled Wood, a collection of fairy tale re-tellings written by a group of great indie authors... oh, and me. As if that wasn't enticing enough, the anthology is FREE! So get your copy now before they run out. OK, they won't run out, but why wait?

Download from Amazon here
Download from B&N here
Download from Smashwords here
Download from Kobo here

A variety of writers come together to twist traditional fairy tales into unusual and mysterious stories. From Beauty and the Beast, to Hansel and Gretel, to the Ugly Duckling, these stories will be sure to pull you into a fantastical world of princes, romance, and maybe a little science fiction.

"Plan B" by Katie French. When Nolan is selected as one of the few candidates to work in the Breeders’ hospital, he thinks all his troubles are over. Now he can afford precious medicine to save his ailing father. He’s heard of the Breeders’ cruelty, of their inhuman experiments, but he’s sure they’re fabrications. Then he stumbles into the Plan B room and learns how truly awful the Breeders can be.

"Tailless" by Ariele Sieling. A retelling of the Ugly Duckling, set on a far away planet in an unknown galaxy. While fighting a war with her people's biggest enemy, young Bode struggles to understand why she feels out of place in her community, and why she, unlike her comrades, was born without a tail.

"I Am the Maid" by Sarah Dalton. A hostile zombie killing Maid Marian meets an ill-behaved ex-soldier Robin in this post-apocalyptic retelling of Robin Hood. When a young girl falls deathly sick, the two are forced to join forces in order to outwit the Sheriff, and the mysterious Guy Gisbon.

"Three Wishes" by Marijon Braden. When Aladdin rubbed the magic lamp, things went pretty well for him. But a few thousand years later, the world has changed and the genie is old, cranky, and doesn't play fair. Young Alison thinks she's found the answer to all her prayers, but instead finds that having wishes come true isn't all it's cracked up to be.

"Killing Snow White" by Jamie Campbell. A magical retelling of the story of Snow White, told entirely by the Evil Queen who supposedly tried to poison her. Think Snow White is innocent? Think again.

"A House in the Woods" by H.S. Stone. At the conclusion of a scavenger hunt for Old World artifacts, Hansel and Gretel find themselves lost on the outskirts of the city after dark. They stumble upon a house in the nearby woods, hoping that they will find help inside, but the house's inhabitant has other ideas.

“Flight” by Zoe Cannon. A retelling of Beauty and the Beast. Dragged to the palace at swordpoint, commanded to cure the cursed prince with a kiss, Lucia wants nothing more than to return to her solitary world of books and magical study. But she soon discovers that she and the prince share more in common than she could have imagined… and that the truth behind his curse could destroy—or save—them both.

December 7, 2013

Book review: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

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It is 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier, and will become busier still.

Liesel Meminger is a foster girl living outside of Munich, who scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she encounters something she can’t resist–books. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, she learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement. 

Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)

When I chose The Book Thief as the final book in the Authors A to Z reading challenge, I thought I'd be finishing the challenge on a high note, given the great reviews of the book I saw. However, a story of an adopted girl's life in World War II Germany is not normally the type that I can get into, and I feared I was going to be disappointed like I was with The Cave Man. In the end, the book was somewhere in between.

Let me get the negative comments out of the way first. The Book Thief was too long. There were parts of the story where I started to skim because I was getting bored. Given the genre, I expected that, but I did it less often than I thought I would.

I still gave the book 4 stars instead of a lower rating because of the wonderful writing. More than once, I re-read a passage because Markus Zuzak's use of words was remarkably poetic yet appropriate and I wanted to learn how he did it. I felt like an unworthy apprentice watching a master at work.

Having Death narrate the story was also a stroke of genius. Not only was it an original point of view, but it offered a perspective on death that both soothed the horrors in the book and at the same time heightened my emotional responses to them. If that seems contradictory, it's because it should be, but the author is so good he still pulls it off.

I understand why so many people raved about The Book Thief. If it fell into one of the genres that I'm a fan of, I would undoubtedly give it 5 stars. However, given that the subject matter would have put me to sleep in the hands of a lesser writer, I applaud Mr. Zuzak for his work.

I read this book as part of the Authors A to Z reading challenge. This marks the end of the challenge!

November 30, 2013

Cover reveal: Through a Tangled Wood

For the last few months, I've had the privilege of collaborating with a group of talented authors on an anthology of fairy tale re-tellings. Not only was it a great experience for me to participate in this project, but I think the end result was a great collection of short stories based on some of your favorite fairy tales. 

Our anthology, titled Through a Tangled Wood, will be available on December 6th, and the best part is, it's going to the FREE! Seriously, you ask? Stories from six fantastic authors - and me - for nothing? Yup. Consider it our early Christmas present to all of you readers. So stay tuned for the release of Through a Tangled Wood in just one week!

A variety of writers come together to twist traditional fairy tales into unusual and mysterious stories. From Beauty and the Beast, to Hansel and Gretel, to the Ugly Duckling, these stories will be sure to pull you into a fantastical world of princes, romance, and maybe a little science fiction.

"Plan B" by Katie French. When Nolan is selected as one of the few candidates to work in the Breeders’ hospital, he thinks all his troubles are over. Now he can afford precious medicine to save his ailing father. He’s heard of the Breeders’ cruelty, of their inhuman experiments, but he’s sure they’re fabrications. Then he stumbles into the Plan B room and learns how truly awful the Breeders can be.

"Tailless" by Ariele Sieling. A retelling of the Ugly Duckling, set on a far away planet in an unknown galaxy. While fighting a war with her people's biggest enemy, young Bode struggles to understand why she feels out of place in her community, and why she, unlike her comrades, was born without a tail.

"I Am the Maid" by Sarah Dalton. A hostile zombie killing Maid Marian meets an ill-behaved ex-soldier Robin in this post-apocalyptic retelling of Robin Hood. When a young girl falls deathly sick, the two are forced to join forces in order to outwit the Sheriff, and the mysterious Guy Gisbon.

"Three Wishes" by Marijon Braden. When Aladdin rubbed the magic lamp, things went pretty well for him. But a few thousand years later, the world has changed and the genie is old, cranky, and doesn't play fair. Young Alison thinks she's found the answer to all her prayers, but instead finds that having wishes come true isn't all it's cracked up to be.

"Killing Snow White" by Jamie Campbell. A magical retelling of the story of Snow White, told entirely by the Evil Queen who supposedly tried to poison her. Think Snow White is innocent? Think again.

"A House in the Woods" by H.S. Stone. At the conclusion of a scavenger hunt for Old World artifacts, Hansel and Gretel find themselves lost on the outskirts of the city after dark. They stumble upon a house in the nearby woods, hoping that they will find help inside, but the house's inhabitant has other ideas.

“Flight” by Zoe Cannon. A retelling of Beauty and the Beast. Dragged to the palace at swordpoint, commanded to cure the cursed prince with a kiss, Lucia wants nothing more than to return to her solitary world of books and magical study. But she soon discovers that she and the prince share more in common than she could have imagined… and that the truth behind his curse could destroy—or save—them both.

November 23, 2013

Book review: Rebel Heart by Moira Young

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It seemed so simple: Defeat the Tonton, rescue her kidnapped brother, Lugh, and then order would be restored to Saba’s world. Simplicity, however, has proved to be elusive. Now, Saba and her family travel west, headed for a better life and a longed-for reunion with Jack. But the fight for Lugh’s freedom has unleashed a new power in the dust lands, and a formidable new enemy is on the rise.

What is the truth about Jack? And how far will Saba go to get what she wants? In this much-anticipated follow-up to the riveting Blood Red Road, a fierce heroine finds herself at the crossroads of danger and destiny, betrayal and passion.

Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)

Blood Red Road was one of my favorite reads of 2012, and I can't believe it took me so long to read the sequel. In hindsight, I didn't need to rush. Rebel Heart wasn't bad, but it didn't nearly live up to the great book that Blood Red Road was.

After the events of the first book, Saba is haunted by her deeds. As a result, she spends much of Rebel Heart acting guilty, angry, confused, stubborn, and just plain annoying. The book spent way too much time inside her head, in my humble opinion, rather than focusing on the action, which was what made Blood Red Road so awesome. It didn't help that Lugh, Saba's objective in the first book, wasn't a very likeable character either.

Ironically, my biggest complaint about Blood Red Road, the writing style, was Rebel Heart's saving grace. Knowing what to expect this time around, I appreciated the way that the author told the story. The narrative is as fluid in this book as in the first, and I felt like I was there with the characters.

Rebel Heart wasn't a bad book by any means. I still think it's good, even better than the average YA dystopian story. I just wish it was more like the first book. There is supposed to be a third book coming out in the beginning of 2014. Despite what I thought of Rebel Heart, it was still good enough that I plan to follow the series to its conclusion.

I read this book as part of the Authors A to Z reading challenge. Next up: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.

November 16, 2013

Everything is a story idea

Last month, I read a news story about the discovery of a toxin that has no antidote, a toxin so deadly that the scientists who discovered it had to withhold its DNA sequence for fear of it falling into the wrong hands. So did I panic? Was I worried? Of course not! When faced with such information, my first response is naturally going to be, "How can I turn this into an awesome story?"

It's not just news of killer toxins that spur my imagination into action. Almost anything that I run into in life, it seems, triggers the fiction writer in me, even something as mundane as my kids talking about their day at school. Some questions that I inevitably ask myself include:

  • What if some aspect of the event was different?
  • What if this event happened under a different set of circumstances or a different universe?
  • What happens next?
  • What could have happened in the past to one or more of the characters that led to the event?

Even before I became a published author, my imagination ran wild, but it admittedly happens more often now that I write regularly. So which came first? It doesn't matter, because the two feed off each other, and hopefully, the ultimate beneficiaries will be my readers.

November 9, 2013

Book Review: The Cave Man by Xiaoda Xiao

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The Cave Man is an exceptionally moving portrait of a brutalized man named Ja Feng, who has survived punishment in a 3 x 4½ foot solitary cell for a miraculous nine months, a time that has forced him to question his basic human faculties.

The Cave Man follows Feng as he is released from his solitary confinement and as he integrates with fellow prisoners who view his skeletal figure and screaming fits as freakish. It follows him through his heartbreaking attempts to assimilate, to reestablish familial bonds, and to seek an ordinary human experience.

Rating: 2 stars (out of 5)

As I expected, it was nearly impossible to find a novel written by an author whose last name starts with X, so from my slim pickings, I chose The Cave Man by Xiaoda Xiao.

To my surprise, the story started out well, with the description of Ja Feng's solitary confinement and the effects of his brutal punishment. When he's first released back into the real world, I could sort of see how his experiences caused the problems that he encountered. But as the book wore on, I lost interest in Ja Feng's life. Perhaps it was the writing, which just didn't seem to flow for me, or perhaps reading about the protagonist's everyday life became boring after the first weeks. Regardless of the reason, after the first quarter of the book, I found myself struggling to get through the rest. Even worse, it felt like many of the things that happened to him weren't related to his imprisonment but rather to his faulty character. That made the story even less interesting. In the end, I finished it only because I had to in order to give an informed review. Needless to say, I don't recommend this book to anyone else.

I read this book as part of the Authors A to Z reading challenge. Next up: Rebel Heart by Moira Young.

November 2, 2013

Re-reading Ender's Game and Catching Fire

I'm re-reading Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game in anticipation of watching the movie, which just hit the theaters. It's been over thirty years since I first read the book, and aside from the basic premise, I've forgotten what happened in the story. I'm almost done with the re-read, and I think I enjoy it more as an adult than when I read it as a kid. From the trailers, it appears as if the movie adaptation is fairly true to the novel, but I'm afraid that they revealed the big surprise already.

After this, I plan to re-read Catching Fire, also in anticipation of its movie release. It's only been two years since I read Catching Fire, so the story is still pretty fresh in my mind, but I wanted to re-read it anyway, if only because the Hunger Games trilogy is one of my favorites of all time. I can't wait to see the movie, especially to watch how they bring the game arena to life this time around.

October 20, 2013

Book review: The Bar Code Tattoo by Suzanne Weyn

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Individuality vs. conformity. Identity vs. access. Freedom vs. control. The bar code tattoo.

The bar code tattoo. Everybody's getting it. It will make your life easier, they say. It will hook you in. It will become your identity.

But what if you say no? What if you don't want to become a code? For Kayla, this one choice changes everything. She becomes an outcast in her high school. Dangerous things happen to her family. There's no option but to run . . . for her life.

Rating: 3 stars (out of 5)

The theme of freedom from a Big Brother entity is common in dystopian fiction, and The Bar Code Tattoo is just the latest in the line of such books that I've read. Unfortunately, nothing about this book stands out. The source of this society's problems, the titular bar code tattoo and the global company behind it, doesn't seem so scary compared to other dystopian threats. To me, there's nothing more nefarious about these tattoos than what we already have today with credit reports, browser cookies, and companies like 23AndMe. The problem is that everything the main character feared could still come to pass without bar code tattoos.

The characters and dialogue were also bland, as if they were written by a high school student. At least there wasn't (much of) a love triangle, but the relationships in this book also happened so easily that I wondered if the author was trying to simplify it for young kids who might be reading the book.

The topic of The Bar Code Tattoo carried a lot of potential. However, the execution was botched with the underdeveloped level of story telling. This is really a 2.5 star book that's rounded up to 3 stars.

I read this book as part of the Authors A to Z reading challenge. Next up: The Cave Man by Xiaoda Xiao.

October 12, 2013

Popular YA SF/Fantasy books I never got into

With the recent movie release of City of Bones and the upcoming releases of Catching Fire and Divergent, millions of people will be introduced to these new YA SF/fantasy series. Having read all three books, I have very different opinions about these movies. I highly anticipate Catching Fire and the Divergent movie because I enjoyed the books, but I could do without City of Bones.

It's true, not all YA books that become movies are good. That said, let's take a look at some popular YA SF/fantasy books and series that I never got into. These all have movie adaptations or are rumored to be adapted to film.

In no particular order:
  • The Mortal Instruments by Cassandra Clare - City of Bones is the first book in the Mortal Instruments series and the only one I've read. I haven't read any other books in the series because City of Bones just wasn't good. It's a derivative of every cliche YA paranormal book out there, which means the characters are nothing special and the romances don't make any sense.
  • Matched by Ally Condie - Matched suffers from the same problems as City of Bones, but it was a better written book. The love triangle in Matched made absolutely no sense to me, and as a result, I haven't read any other books in the series and don't plan to.
  • Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld - I'm a big fan of Scott Westerfeld's Uglies series, but Leviathan just didn't do it for me. I think the problem may be that it was written for a younger audience than I like because I felt the story was shallow and the characters uninteresting. On the other hand, Suzanne Collins' Underland Chronicles are targeted to the same or younger age group, and I like those books, so who knows.
  • The Passage by Justin Cronin - I'm not sure if The Passage is a YA book or an adult book, but since it shows up in many lists with other YA books, I'm including it. This book had a good premise and showed promise, but it was just way too long. If it was 300 pages instead of 800, I bet I'd like like it a lot more.
  • Twilight by Stephenie Meyer - I admit that I've never read any of the Twilight books, and I don't plan to. I blame this series for the popularity of YA paranormal romance and the stupid love triangles that you find in too many YA books today. While I will avoid Twilight, I have nothing against Stephenie Meyer as an author. I've read The Host and liked it, as well as its movie adaptation.

October 5, 2013

Book review: Heir Apparent by Vivian Vande Velde

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In the virtual reality game Heir Apparent, there are way too many ways to get killed--and Giannine seems to be finding them all. Which is a darn shame, because unless she can get the magic ring, locate the stolen treasure, answer the dwarf's dumb riddles, impress the head-chopping statue, charm the army of ghosts, fend off the barbarians, and defeat the man-eating dragon, she'll never win.

And she has to, because losing means she'll die--for real this time.

Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)

Heir Apparent is the second book that takes place in a virtual reality game I've read for the Authors A to Z reading challenge. In May, I reviewed Epic by Konor Kostick. I liked Heir Apparent much more, despite the fact that Epic sounds like a game I'm more likely to play.

Heir Apparent is a bit like Groundhog Day. Giannine's game character, Janine, starts off the game at her foster parents' farm, where she learns that the king has died shortly after naming her the heir to the throne. In her quest to survive until her coronation, Janine runs into other characters who try to kill her. Every time she dies, she restarts the game back at the farm. Through trial and error, she learns what she has to do in order to "win." When done well, I find Groundhog Day stories entertaining, and it was certainly the case with this novel.

Unlike Epic, Heir Apparent takes place almost entirely within the game. I think that's a plus, because it's what happens inside the game that's most interesting. The other characters in the story were also interesting, and the author did a good job with giving each of them distinct personalities that evoked different reactions from me. Janine/Giannine also grew on me because I shared her frustration whenever the game restarted and I could sympathize with the decisions she made in the game.

Overall, this was a very good book, and now I want to read other books by the same author.

I read this book as part of the Authors A to Z reading challenge. Next up: The Bar Code Tattoo by Suzanne Weyn.

September 28, 2013

Amazon's Kindle MatchBook

Next month, Amazon is launching its Kindle MatchBook program, which will allow owners of selected print books to buy the Kindle edition for $2.99, $1.99, $0.99, or free. The e-book discount is up to the author/publisher.

As a reader, this is a great deal because I still like to read the paper versions of books, but sometimes I also wish I could upload them to my Kindle. Under the MatchBook program, I can do both at a lower cost than before. If I understand the description of the program correctly, the e-book discounts also apply to books you've bought in the past from Amazon! However, only a small percentage of traditionally published books are part of MatchBook.

The reluctance of some publishers to enroll their books in the program makes it exciting for me as a self-published author. If the big boys don't want to take part in MatchBook and indies like me do, that could give us an advantage over traditional publishers. As soon as I heard about MatchBook, I immediately enrolled the print versions of all three of my novels.

That's right. When MatchBook launches, if you buy or have bought print copies of George and the Galactic Games, In the Hands of Children, or Beyond New Eden, you'll be able to get the Kindle version for ... FREE! I want you to have what I want from a book -- the paper back and e-book versions for just the price of the paper back. Happy reading!

September 21, 2013

Book review: Montmorency: Thief, Liar, Gentleman? by Eleanor Updale

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When a petty thief falls through a glass roof while fleeing from the police, it should have been the death of him. Instead, it marks the beginning of a whole new life. Soon he has become the most successful -- and elusive -- burglar in Victorian London, plotting daring raids and using London's new sewer system to escape. He adopts a dual existence to fit his new lifestyle, taking on the roles of a respectable, wealthy gentleman named Montmorency and his corrupt servant, Scarper.

In Victorian London, after his life is saved by a young physician, a thief utilizes the knowledge he gains in prison and from the scientific lectures he attends as the physician's case study exhibit to create a new, highly successful, double life for himself.

Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)

We're getting near the end of the alphabet for my Authors A to Z reading challenge, and there are going to be some letters where I'll have difficulty finding authors with last names that begin with them. The letter U is one of them. The only author I know of whose last name begins with U is John Updike, and I have no particular desire to read his books. So instead, I went with someone I'd never heard of, Eleanor Updale.

Montmorency turned out to be an entertaining book. It was fun to read about the transformation of the petty thief, whose real name is never revealed, into the high class gentleman named Montmorency and his servant Scarper. The idea may seem absurd at first, but with the way that the author described the steps involved, you almost believe that it can happen at that time in history. The details made sense to me as well as being engaging.

My only complaint with the book is that it reads too much like a biography instead of like a novel. There wasn't enough tension in the plot. Every obstacle that Montmorency encountered was easily solved within a chapter, so there was never any sense of a larger danger to his endeavors. Aside from that, I found the book to be a pleasant surprise and would recommend it to other readers.

I read this book as part of the Authors A to Z reading challenge. Next up: Heir Apparent by Vivian Vande Velde.

September 14, 2013

What is success?

My idea of what it means to be a successful author has changed in the time since the publication of my first novel. Inspired by success stories like Amanda Hocking's, I originally thought that was my measuring stick -- to become an indie author who sells a million copies of his books. Obviously, I was misguided. As reality set in and I realized how hard it really is to make a living as an author, I've now come to appreciate the accomplishments I've already achieved.

They include:
  • Finishing and publishing a novel - I know it sounds like a lame accomplishment for someone who is an author, but I've been writing for most of my life, yet I didn't know if I had it in me to finish a novel until it happened. Now I can cross that off my bucket list.
  • Selling a copy of my book to someone I don't know - My first sales were the result of telling my friends and relatives, but I didn't know if anyone who didn't know me would buy my book. What a relief when it finally happened. I'm not sure when I made my first sale to a stranger because that level of information isn't reported, but I know I did because of the next accomplishment.
  • Receiving a positive review from someone I don't know - As gratifying as it was to sell my book to a stranger, I felt even happier when I received a positive review from one. Someone has actually read my book and likes it! As an author, reading a positive review makes me happier than anything else because I write so that I can entertain readers, and hearing that they like what I write is a reward in itself.
  • Receiving my first royalty check - Not only was the money nice, but my first royalty check made my feel like I was a real author, someone who could potentially make a career out of writing. Of course, I'm far from selling enough to quit my day job, but getting paid for my writing made it more than just a hobby, and I can now justify the time I spend on it to my wife. :-)

While I'm proud of my achievements so far, I'm still not where I want to be. I may have reached some level of success, but I still don't consider myself a successful author. I no longer aim to be rich and famous like Amanda Hocking. However, I do have a more realistic goal -- I want to sell enough books to have the option to write full time. I may not quit my day job when I reach that point, but it would be nice to have that choice. How much longer will that take, assuming it ever happens? I have no idea. But at least I'll be adding to my list of achievements along the way.

September 7, 2013

Book review: Ashes, Ashes by Jo Treggiari

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A thrilling tale of adventure, romance, and one girl's unyielding courage through the darkest of nightmares.

Epidemics, floods, droughts -- for sixteen-year-old Lucy, the end of the world came and went, taking 99% of the population with it. As the weather continues to rage out of control, and Sweepers clean the streets of plague victims, Lucy survives alone in the wilds of Central Park. But when she's rescued from a pack of vicious dogs by a mysterious boy named Aidan, she reluctantly realizes she can't continue on her own. She joins his band of survivors, yet a new danger awaits her: the Sweepers are looking for her. There's something special about Lucy, and they will stop at nothing to have her.

Rating: 3 stars (out of 5)

Ashes, Ashes should have been right up my alley. It's a YA post-apocalyptic story about the survivors of a virus outbreak, much like In the Hands of Children. The problem is that it never grabbed me. The novel wasn't bad. All of the required elements were there, but for some reason, the book just didn't resonate with me.

I think part of it was that there was a lot that didn't make sense. The premise is based on two big popular fears: global warming causing mass flooding and a pandemic that kills most of the people on the planet. I can buy both of those happening in the same story, and in a way, Ashes, Ashes is original in that it does. However, how the survivors live their lives afterwards was confounding, e.g., why Lucy doesn't raid stores or empty homes for more supplies, why the survivors don't try to evade the Sweepers. The math also didn't add up. According to the fatality rate of the virus, there should only be a handful of people alive on the planet, but there are hundreds alive just in the New York City area!

The last quarter of the book did pick up a bit, but the characters continued to make decisions that didn't make sense to me. It was just too hard to get into this book when I kept questioning why things happened the way they did while I was reading it.

There are a lot of YA post-apocalyptic novels out there. Ashes, Ashes isn't bad, but there are others that you'll enjoy more.

I read this book as part of the Authors A to Z reading challenge. Next up: Montmorency: Thief, Liar, Gentleman? by Eleanor Updale.

September 1, 2013

Writing what you enjoy or writing what sells

If you've scanned the best seller lists recently, you'll find that they have been dominated by three types of books:
  • Books by authors who are already wildly popular, like James Patterson or J.K.Rowling (even when writing as Robert Galbraith)
  • Books in a popular series, especially if that series is tied to a movie release, such as Divergent or City of Bones
  • Romance books
If you're an unknown author like me who's writing a new book, there's nothing you can really do so that your book falls in the first two categories. I'm not a famous author and none of my previous books are popular, and neither of that is likely to change before my next book is published.

That leaves #3. The hot genre right now is romance. It may have started with  50 Shades of Gray, or it may have been the case for a long time without my noticing it. However, nowadays, I can't help but see how many romance books are making the best seller lists. In the author forums that I frequent, I sometimes read about new romance authors who've published their first book wondering why it only sold 50 copies in the first week. It takes me months to sell 50 copies of a book! Elle Casey, an author who I admire and whose YA novels I've read, didn't make the best seller lists until she released her first romance novel, Shine Not Burn.

All of these anecdotes make me wonder, why aren't I writing a romance novel? Why aren't I taking advantage of the popularity of the genre to make more money by writing romance? The simple answer is, I don't like to. I don't like reading romance, I don't like writing it, and I sure don't know what goes into a  romance novel. One good thing about being an indie author, especially one who has a full-time job to pay the bills, is that I can write what I enjoy writing. I happen to like YA speculative fiction, and that's what my novels have been so far. That's also the genre that my current work in progress falls under.

That's not to say that I should shun popular genres for the sake of independence, but there's no reason for me to chase a hot genre right now to make a buck (or thousands of bucks). And it's not like YA speculative fiction is unpopular. It's just not nearly as popular as romance. The second most popular genre today seems to be thrillers. That's actually a genre that I like to read, but I've never written a thriller. I've thought occasionally of trying my hand at a thriller in the future. It may happen or it may not. In the end, I'll do so if I find that I enjoy writing one and if I feel that I can write a good story that readers will like.

August 28, 2013

Book review: Everlost by Neal Shusterman

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Nick and Allie don’t survive the car accident, but their souls don’t exactly get where they’re supposed to go either. Instead, they’re caught halfway between life and death, in a sort of limbo known as Everlost: a shadow of the living world, filled with all the things and places that no longer exist. It’s a magical, yet dangerous place where bands of lost kids run wild and anyone who stands in the same place too long sinks to the center of the Earth.

When they find Mary, the self-proclaimed queen of lost souls, Nick feels like he’s found a home, but Allie isn’t satisfied spending eternity between worlds. Against all warnings, Allie begins learning the “Criminal Art” of haunting, and ventures into dangerous territory, where a monster called the McGill threatens all the souls of Everlost.

In this imaginative novel, Neal Shusterman explores questions of life, death, and what just might lie in between.

Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)

Neal Shusterman's Unwind was one of my favorite reads of 2011, so I was excited to pick up Everlost. I thought the premise was interesting, and I found myself as intrigued with the realm of Everlost as the main characters were when they first arrived. Shusterman paints a vision of the afterlife with well thought out rules. The first quarter of the book flew by for me as I tried to understand where Allie and Nick were destined to spend the rest of eternity.

Then, the story turned into something different, a fairy tale that reminded me at times of Hansel and Gretel, Peter Pan, and Beauty and the Beast. Although most of Everlost wasn't the kind of story that I expected, it was still entertaining.

Toward the end of the book, Shusterman recaptured the magic of the afterlife again. The turn of events in the last chapters secured the book's 5-star rating for me. While not as good as Unwind, Everlost was another very good read that I would recommend to others.

I read this book as part of the Authors A to Z reading challenge. Next up: Ashes, Ashes by Jo Treggaiari.

August 21, 2013

"Drive" is FREE on Amazon Aug 21 and 22

You read that right! My new short story, "Drive", is FREE on Amazon for the next two days!
Click here to get it.

August 17, 2013

Book review: Across the Universe by Beth Revis

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Amy is a cryogenically frozen passenger aboard the spaceship Godspeed. She has left her boyfriend, friends--and planet--behind to join her parents as a member of Project Ark Ship. Amy and her parents believe they will wake on a new planet, Centauri-Earth, three hundred years in the future. But fifty years before Godspeed's scheduled landing, cryo chamber 42 is mysteriously unplugged, and Amy is violently woken from her frozen slumber.

Someone tried to murder her.

Now, Amy is caught inside an enclosed world where nothing makes sense. Godspeed's 2,312 passengers have forfeited all control to Eldest, a tyrannical and frightening leader. And Elder, Eldest's rebellious teenage heir, is both fascinated with Amy and eager to discover whether he has what it takes to lead.

Amy desperately wants to trust Elder. But should she put her faith in a boy who has never seen life outside the ship's cold metal walls? All Amy knows is that she and Elder must race to unlock Godspeed's hidden secrets before whoever woke her tries to kill again.

Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)

Across the Universe had the potential to be a really good book. It's a YA sci-fi/dystopian story that's right up my alley. There were big mysteries to uncover, which I enjoyed (and some which I guessed early on). The premise and the setting of the ship were planned out logically for the most part. The main characters, Amy and Elder, were both well developed and people I could root for. I even liked the way their relationship evolved. It seemed realistic given their very different backgrounds, none of this nonsensical insta-love that pollutes YA books.

The main reason I'm giving this book 4 stars instead of 5 is that it's way too long. The hardcover edition I read was almost 400 pages long, and it could've easily been pared down to under 300. In fact, the first half of the book dragged at times while I waited for something to happen. It wasn't until the second half, when the mysteries of what's happening on the ship drove the plot, that the story became really interesting. If the first 300 pages had been like the last 100, this would be a 5-star book.

I read this book as part of the Authors A to Z reading challenge. Next up: Everlost by Neal Shusterman.

August 11, 2013

Drive is available on Amazon

The short story I've been working on for the last month, Drive, is now for sale on Amazon for 99 cents!
Click here or on the cover image below to go to it.

Claire knows only a world where most of humanity lives inside sparsely populated cities protected from the Outside by guarded walls. She is a new Driver whose job is to transport items between these cities. Under the watchful eye of her Protector, Shaun, Claire makes her first run from San Jose to Angel City to bring back medicine needed to save hundreds of lives. However, the trip takes them through the dangerous land of the Outsiders. Using their skills, Claire and Shaun must escape from their armed pursuers in a chase across miles of barren wasteland with no hope of help.

August 7, 2013

Book review: The 500 by Matthew Quirk

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Mike Ford is a former con artist who's been plucked from his Harvard Law School classroom to be an associate at The Davies Group, Washington's most high-powered and well-respected strategic consulting firm. Their specialty: pulling strings and peddling influence for the five hundred most powerful people inside the Beltway, the men and women who really run Washington—and by extension the country, and the world.

The namesake of the firm, Henry Davies, knows everyone who matters; more importantly, he knows their secrets. Davies' experience goes back 40 years—he worked for Lyndon Johnson, jumped shipped to Nixon, then put out his own shingle as the Hill's most cut-throat and expensive fixer. Now he's looking for a protégé to tackle his most high-stakes deal yet, and Mike fits the bill.

Quickly pulled into a seductive, dangerous web of power and corruption, Mike struggles to find his way out. But how do you save your soul when you've made a deal with the devil?

Rating: 3 stars (out of 5)

When I started the Authors A to Z reading challenge, I knew there were two letters with slim pickings: Q and X. I couldn't think of any authors with last names starting with Q, so I went to my local public library in search of one. Their selection spanned less than twenty books, and The 500 was the one that sounded the most interesting.

When I started reading it, The 500 reminded me of a John Grisham legal thriller, like The Firm or The Associate. As a fan of Grisham, I thought I had stumbled upon a gem. However, as I continued reading the novel, I found that Matthew Quirk is no John Grisham.

There were two main problems with this book. First, I didn't feel anything toward the main character, who narrates the story from the first person point of view. If I can't relate to someone who is directly telling me the story, then something's wrong. The second problem I had was that the first half of the book didn't read like a coherent story. It felt like we were getting vignettes from Mike's life, jumping back and forth in time and space at random. The author would end one chapter on a cliffhanger situation and then start the next chapter with a flashback to another point in Mike's life. It resulted in a jarring and annoying reading experience.

The only thing that kept my interest throughout the novel was my affinity for books in this genre. If you're a Grisham fan who's read everything he's written and are looking for other similar books, then you might want to give The 500 a try. Otherwise, if you're just looking for a good legal thriller, I recommend reading Grisham instead.

I read this book as part of the Authors A to Z reading challenge. Next up: Across the Universe by Beth Revis.

August 3, 2013

Coming soon: Drive

I mentioned last month that I was done with the first draft of my latest novel and that I planned to work on a short story before editing the novel. I'm happy to announce that my short story is almost ready to publish! It's titled simply Drive, and my wife thinks it's the best story I've written so far. :-)

I'm putting the finishing touches on Drive and expect it to be available for sale in the next week or so. Stay tuned!

July 27, 2013

Book review: Private Games by James Patterson and Mark Sullivan

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On your mark
Private, the world's most renowned investigation firm, has been commissioned to provide security for the 2012 Olympic Games in London. Its agents are the smartest, fastest, and most technologically advanced in the world, and 400 of them have been transferred to London to protect more than 10,000 competitors who represent more than 200 countries.

Get set
The opening ceremony is hours away when Private investigator and single father of twins, Peter Knight, is called to the scene of a ruthless murder. A high-ranking member of the games' organizing committee has been killed. It's clear to Peter that this wasn't a crime of passion, but one of precise calculation and execution.

Newspaper reporter Karen Pope receives a letter from a person who calls himself Cronus claiming responsibility for the murders. He promises to restore the Olympics to their ancient glory and to destroy all those who have corrupted the games with lies, corruption, and greed. Immediately, Karen hires Private to examine the letter, and she and Peter uncover a criminal genius who won't stop until he's completely destroyed the modern games.

Rating: 3 stars (out of 5)

Private Games is a thriller about a terrorist who threatens the 2012 Olympic Games is London. It's the fourth James Patterson book I've read, having now read an Alex Cross book, one from the Women's Murder Club series, and Maximum Ride: The Angel Experiment. As with the other three James Patterson book, I found this one to be just so-so.

As a fan of thrillers, I thought that the story had potential. It moved at a pretty good pace, and the topic was one that interested me. The biggest problem I had with Private Games was that I didn't care about any of the characters, a problem I have with other Patterson novels. Despite everything that was happening to Peter Knight and his family, friends, and colleagues, it didn't bother me when any of them were in danger. Except for one, I didn't feel much sympathy for any of Cronus's victims. The authors didn't spend enough time letting the readers know the characters and build up an investment in them.

A less annoying problem with this book was that it tried to portray an accurate picture of the Olympics only some of the time. Since the book was written before the games took place, I didn't expect it to predict what would happen during the Olympics. However, to include high profile events like the men's 100 meter sprint in the novel without giving any mention to the international leaders in the sport (hasn't James Patterson heard of Usain Bolt??) seemed like a shame. It made the story even more unbelievable than it was.

If you're a fan of James Patterson, you will probably like Private Games, but if you're just looking for a good thriller, there are better choices out there.

I read this book as part of the Authors A to Z reading challenge. Next up: The 500 by Matthew Quirk.

July 20, 2013

What's in a name?

There was big news this past week in the book world when it was revealed that J.K.Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series, published a mystery titled The Cuckoo's Calling under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith. What struck me as most interesting about the story wasn't that Rowling wrote a book using a fake name. Stephen King famously did it when he created the alias Richard Bachman. Like Rowling's pseudonym, people soon found out who Richard Bachman really was.

What caught my attention was how well The Cuckoo's Calling sold before the revelation and after. In the first three months after publication, when readers thought an unknown author named Robert Galbraith wrote The Cuckoo's Calling, the book sold 1,500 copies. That's nothing to sneeze at (I would love to sell 1,500 copies in three months!), but it won't land the book on any best-seller lists. However, I know several indies who sell more.

Once news broke that the author was really J.K. Rowling, the book zoomed up to #1 on Amazon within a day! Talk about a marketing strategy that works!

Aside from asking whether the revelation was a ploy boost sales, the events made me wonder about a few things:
  • Why wasn't Rowling's publishing team able to sell more copies of the book before the news? Isn't that what traditional publishing companies are supposed to do for authors in return for taking a big cut of book revenues? If they couldn't do it for J.K. Rowling, what hope is there for a truly new author?
  • For the rest of us whose real names aren't J.K. Rowling or Stephen King, what can we do to get more people to buy our books? Supposedly, The Cuckoo's Calling was a well-written book and well reviewed, but as we see here, a good book doesn't translate into good sales.
  • If the author's name is so important, at what level of success does the name naturally bring in sales? How big do you have to get so that just having your name attached to a book results in sales?
I wish I had the answers to these questions. It seems like the longer I work in this business, the more questions I have as I struggle to find success.

July 13, 2013

Book review: Birthmarked by Caragh M. O'Brien

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In the Enclave, your scars set you apart, and the newly born will change the future.
In the future, in a world baked dry by the harsh sun, there are those who live inside the walled Enclave and those, like sixteen-year-old Gaia Stone, who live outside. Following in her mother's footsteps Gaia has become a midwife, delivering babies in the world outside the wall and handing a quota over to be "advanced" into the privileged society of the Enclave. Gaia has always believed this is her duty, until the night her mother and father are arrested by the very people they so loyally serve. Now Gaia is forced to question everything she has been taught, but her choice is simple: enter the world of the Enclave to rescue her parents, or die trying.
A stunning adventure brought to life by a memorable heroine, this dystopian debut will have readers racing all the way to the dramatic finish

Rating: 3 stars (out of 5)

There were many similarities between Birthmarked and The Line, a book I reviewed in April. Both had interesting premises, based on their descriptions, both turned out to be different types of stories than I anticipated, and both failed to live up to expectations.

Like The Line, the main problem with Birthmarked was how slowly it moved. Whenever the plot reached a point where I expected it to pick up, the author stretched it out with long scene descriptions or having the characters make choices that lessened the tension. Whereas The Line was agonizingly slow in the beginning and then picked up, Birthmarked maintained its sluggish pace throughout. However, it was a better book than The Line overall.

I wouldn't say that I hated the novel though. After all, it received three stars, not one or two. There were parts of it that I liked, for example the small reveals that the author provided as the plot unfolded. I also liked the male protagonist almost from the beginning. Birthmarked had a lot of potential to be better. Unfortunately, it never got there.

I read this book as part of the Authors A to Z reading challenge. Next up: Private Games by James Patterson.

July 7, 2013

First draft of fourth novel done!

When I started writing the first draft of my fourth novel (I still can't believe I'm on my fourth!) in March, I set as a goal to finish it by the Fourth of July weekend. Well, I did it! The weekend isn't over yet, and I'm done with the first draft!

This is usually the time when I start editing my manuscript, the part of being an author that I most abhor. However, this time around, I'm going to put it off for a month. I'm not doing this just because I dislike editing. I also want to try a technique that other authors have suggested -- setting aside a first draft because it's still fresh in my mind. The rationale is that if I take a break from the manuscript, then when I look at it again, I'm more likely to spot problems with it. I'm all for trying new ways to improve my writing.

The other reason I'm postponing editing my novel is that I want to try something that I've been thinking of doing for the last year: writing more short fiction. For an unknown author like me, publishing short stories is another avenue to market my body of work. I also have some story ideas that I haven't written because there isn't enough to turn them into a novel, but they're well suited for a short story or novella. It's time to give one of those ideas the chance to see the light of day.

My intention is to spend a month or so working on a short story, publish it, and then go back to editing my novel. Not only will I have added another book to my writing resume, but I also hope that the time off will make me a better critic of my novel in progress.

July 3, 2013

Book review: Headhunters by Jo Nesbo

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Roger Brown is a corporate headhunter, and he’s a master of his profession. But one career simply can’t support his luxurious lifestyle and his wife’s fledgling art gallery. At an art opening one night he meets Clas Greve, who is not only the perfect candidate for a major CEO job, but also, perhaps, the answer to his financial woes: Greve just so happens to mention that he owns a priceless Peter Paul Rubens painting that’s been lost since World War II—and Roger Brown just so happens to dabble in art theft. But when he breaks into Greve’s apartment, he finds more than just the painting. And Clas Greve may turn out to be the worst thing that’s ever happened to Roger Brown.

Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)

I've been seeing Jo Nesbo's name pop up more and more lately, with people saying he's the next Stieg Larsson. Then again, that means little to me since I've never read Stieg Larsson, but I've watched the Dragon Tattoo movies. :-)

First off, let me say that I didn't care for the protagonist of Headhunters, Roger Brown. It wouldn't have bothered me what kind of tragedy befell him. However, I still found the book entertaining because it was interesting to read about the situations that Jo Nesbo put him in. One of the situations was probably the most revolting scenes I've read in a long time. I won't spoil it (or disgust you), but surprisingly, it didn't involve any blood or dead bodies. (There is another disgusting scene with blood and dead bodies, but for some reason, it didn't bother me as much. Nesbo is a sick bastard nonetheless.)

Headhunters also included a couple of delightful twists, one that I sort of saw coming and one that I didn't at all. The story starts out making you think it's about an art heist until you learn something else is going on, only to find out there's yet another reason for the actions in the book. Jo Nesbo does a good job of narrating so that it kept me on my toes.

Aside from an unsympathetic protagonist, I wondered about the reasons why both Roger Brown and the villain of the novel did some of the things they did. Nesbo seems to like having his characters take things to extremes when it wasn't necessary, when a more rational option was available. Those choices made the story more interesting, perhaps, but it also lost credibility in my mind.

Despite its flaws, I can see why the author has received the praise heaped upon him. Headhunters is a solid story that piqued my interest in more of Nesbo's works.

I read this book as part of the Authors A to Z reading challenge. Next up: Birthmarked by Caragh M. O'Brien.

June 28, 2013

Book review: Ten by Gretchen McNeil

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Don't spread the word! Three-day weekend. House party.
White Rock House on Henry Island.
You do not want to miss it.
It was supposed to be the weekend of their lives—three days on Henry Island at an exclusive house party. Best friends Meg and Minnie each have their own reasons for wanting to be there, which involve their school's most eligible bachelor, T. J. Fletcher, and look forward to three glorious days of boys, bonding, and fun-filled luxury.
But what they expect is definitely not what they get, and what starts out as fun turns dark and twisted after the discovery of a DVD with a sinister message: Vengeance is mine.
Suddenly, people are dying, and with a storm raging outside, the teens are cut off from the rest of the world. No electricity, no phones, no internet, and a ferry that isn't scheduled to return for three days. As the deaths become more violent and the teens turn on each other, can Meg find the killer before more people die? Or is the killer closer to her than she could ever imagine?

Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)

Ten has been on my TBR list for a few months, and I finally got around to reading it for the A to Z reading challenge. One thing I have to say about this book is that it keeps up the pace, and I had a hard time putting it down. There's something happening in every chapter, and the book is written in a simple language that makes the story speed by.

The plot itself is fairly standard, taken straight out of a typical teenager horror movie. Even most of the characters are the stereotypes you find in other stories in the genre, complete with their own flavor of high school drama. And like the teens in many horror flicks, I couldn't believe it took so long for the characters in this book to figure out that something bad was happening. If the author had made the characters smarter and focused less on their high school problems, I might have given this book 5 stars.

Despite the criticism, I did enjoy this book and will read others from the author. If you're looking for a fun story that entertains but doesn't challenge you intellectually, Ten will do a pretty good job of that.

I read this book as part of the Authors A to Z reading challenge. Next up: Headhunters by Jo Nesbo.

June 22, 2013

Pet peeves in books I read

As a reader, there are certain things about the books I read that turn me off of them. If a novel has one of these "flaws", I won't like it as much as one without any.

Books that are too long:
I can't recall ever reading a novel of more than 400 pages where I thought every page needed to be there, even when it comes to some of my all time favorites, like the latter books in the Harry Potter series. It's always been the case that I would have enjoyed the book more if it were shorter. (And I'm not the only who thinks recent books are too long.) For me, the sweet spot for the length of a novel is between 300 and 400 pages. That's enough to tell a rich story while keeping it interesting. This is one of the main reasons why I'm not a fan of Stephen King. That guy suffers from a severe case of "diarrhea of the typewriter," as he calls it. Another recent example is The Passage by Justin Cronin. Weighing in at almost 800 pages, I had to wade through 200 of them before anything interesting happened. If not for the rave reviews from readers with similar tastes as mine, I would've stopped reading The Passage by page 100.

Love triangles:
For some reason, love triangles are a staple of young adult novels, which also happens to be my favorite genre to read (and write!). I don't understand why YA authors feel the need to include a love triangle in their books. Is it because they feel that they need to stick to a formula? Honestly, in real life, how many of your romantic relationships involved a love triangle? Maybe I've led a boring life, but a small minority of the ones involving me or my friends have ever included a third person. It's tough enough for two people to get together. Why the need to throw in a third?

Character actions that don't make sense:
Part of this pet peeve has to do with the one above regarding love triangles. When there is a love triangle involving a girl and two boys (which is almost always the case), the girl will choose the bad boy, the mysterious one, rather than the one that I think is best for her. A perfect example of this is Matched by Ally Condie. There was no rational reason for Cassia to even consider Ky over Xander except that there would be no story unless Cassia kept making one decision after another that didn't make sense. I was frustrated with Cassia by the end of the book and don't plan to continue the series.
It's not just with love triangles where a character's actions don't make sense. If a protagonist starts off as being timid and later becomes a hero, there had better be a good reason why she turns into a hero. I can understand when someone has to do something heroic because the situation offers no other choice, or if a character does something heroic because her goal is really something else, but "because I need a hero" is not a good reason for an author to turn Clark Kent into Superman. Better to have the protagonist start off having heroic qualities so that it's more believable.

I'm a firm believer that every book should resolve the major plot lines that it introduced. As a marketing hook, writers are sometimes told to end a book in a series on a cliffhanger so that readers will buy the next book. I think this is cheating and unfair to the reader. I continue reading a series because the first books are so interesting that I want more of the same, not because I have to due to a cliffhanger. If anything, I've stopped reading a series that could have been interesting because the first book ended with a cliffhanger. With cliffhangers, I feel that the author is just resorting to marketing schtick rather than caring about the quality of the story.

As a writer, it would be hypocritical of me to include one of my own pet peeves in my novels. So far, I believe I've managed to avoid them. The closest that I've knowingly come to carrying out a pet peeve was in Beyond New Eden, when I hinted at a possible love triangle. I tried to nip it in the bud when it looked like it was blossoming, and I hope I was successful.

You can continue to look forward to more novels from me that are less than 400 pages, do not have love triangles for the sake of love triangles, where the characters do things that I believe have real motivations, and conclude without a cliffhanger!

June 15, 2013

Book review: Legend by Marie Lu

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What was once the western United States is now home to the Republic, a nation perpetually at war with its neighbors. Born into an elite family in one of the Republic's wealthiest districts, fifteen-year-old June is a prodigy being groomed for success in the Republic's highest military circles. Born into the slums, fifteen-year-old Day is the country's most wanted criminal. But his motives may not be as malicious as they seem.

From very different worlds, June and Day have no reason to cross paths - until the day June's brother, Metias, is murdered and Day becomes the prime suspect. Caught in the ultimate game of cat and mouse, Day is in a race for his family's survival, while June seeks to avenge Metias's death. But in a shocking turn of events, the two uncover the truth of what has really brought them together, and the sinister lengths their country will go to keep its secrets.

Full of nonstop action, suspense, and romance, this novel is sure to move readers as much as it thrills.

Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)

Legend has been on my TBR list for a few months. Looking back, I can't believe I've waited this long to read it. It's probably the best book I've read so far this year!

As a fan of YA dystopian novels, Legend has everything that I want: an exciting (albeit sometimes predictable) plot, characters I connect with, and a dash of romance in a way that makes sense (not the I-don't-get-it relationships or love triangles that I come across too often in YA). The writing is also fantastic and really thrust me into the story. I found myself rooting for Day and June almost from the beginning, even when they were enemies.

This was a book that I couldn't put down once I started reading it. I finished it in two days, which is fast for me. As far as dystopian books go, I'd rank this somewhere in my top 5. I was happy to learn that the second book in the series, Prodigy, is already out, but the third book, Champion, isn't scheduled for release until November. I'm not sure if I want to read Prodigy now because Legend was so awesome or wait until Champion's release in case Prodigy ends on a cliffhanger. Regardless, there's no question that I will continue with this series.

I read this book as part of the Authors A to Z reading challenge. Next up: Ten by Gretchen McNeil.

June 9, 2013

George and the Galactic Games is 99 cents this week!

From now until the end of the week, the Kindle version of George and the Galactic Games will cost only 99 cents on Amazon! Get it while it's on sale!

George is the new kid in school. He also recently lost his father to a heart attack. In an effort to cheer him up, George’s mother takes him on a camping trip. That’s when their troubles really begin. Extraterrestrials abduct both mother and son. Now George finds himself an unwilling participant in the Yumal Contests, a galactic game against an alien species. He must overcome his fears and limitations to win because these games are not just a casual sporting event… his life hangs in the balance.

June 1, 2013

Should I give up?

Every once in a while, I'll read about indie authors considering quitting because their books aren't selling. In some cases, I think it's just a case of unrealistic expectations. IMHO, any author who has just published a first novel and wonders why it hasn't sold a thousand copies in the first week is delusional. On the other hand, there are also authors with multiple books that have been available for years, and their books still aren't selling. Should they quit? That's a tougher question.

I know how they feel because I've entertained the same thoughts recently. My publishing career is still relatively young (about two years), but I now have three novels and two short story collections for sale. I thought that I had somewhat realistic expectations going in, but sales still aren't up to my modest goals or compared to what other indie authors are seeing. Fortunately, I have a full time job and don't need to rely on book sales as my primary source of income. However, my sales results still make me wonder sometimes if I should give up.

Whenever I think about it, however, my answer is no. The simple reason is: I've been writing all of my life, so even if I "quit", what does that mean? I don't see myself not writing anymore. It's just not going to happen. So does quitting mean that I won't publish what I write? Perhaps, but given the ease with which authors can self-publish their books nowadays, I don't see a reason why I wouldn't want to publish a story that I believe is good and that people will want to read. It would be another situation altogether if readers gave my books bad reviews and told me that my writing sucks. Then I would feel bad about putting books out there for public consumption, much less making people pay for them. But the few reviews I've gotten so far have been positive for the most part. My problem doesn't seem to be that I'm writing crap, just that people aren't finding what I write. To me, that isn't a good enough reason to quit. I don't know if enough readers will ever find my books, but it shouldn't stop me from writing them.

For other authors out there who are thinking of quitting, I think the decision boils down to why you started this business in the first place. Is it to make a lot of money? Is it because you have an urge to write? Some other reason? For me, unless I don't want to write anymore, quitting isn't even an option.

May 25, 2013

Book review: Epic by Conor Kostick

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Welcome to a society governed through computer games!

On New Earth, society is governed and conflicts are resolved in the arena of a fantasy computer game, Epic. If you win, you have the chance to fulfill your dreams; if you lose, your life both in and out of the game is worth nothing. When teenage Erik dares to subvert the rules of Epic, he and his friends must face the Committee. If Erik and his friends win, they may have the key to destroying the Committee’s tyranny. But if they lose . . .

Rating: 3 stars (out of 5)

I thought I would like Epic more than I did. Roughly half of the story takes place inside the video game called Epic and the other half takes place in the real world. The chapters within Epic are better, but I found the chapters that take place outside the game to be boring.

The game of Epic itself is not unlike some of the MMORPGs we have today. Players take on characters like warriors, thieves, or wizards to engage in combat or go on missions in order to earn money, which they can use to improve their players. I found the events that took place within the game to be interesting, if somewhat disjointed because of the jumps in and out of the game. The game narrative builds up to an entertaining climax at the end.

On the other hand, the scenes that took place in the real world were boring. Because dying in Epic doesn't mean you die in the real world, there wasn't much tension involving the real world characters. Given how unfair Epic is, the author could have raised the stakes a lot more by building on the conflict between the common people and Central Allocations in the real world, but instead, the people in the real world are strangely content to let their lives be run by the outcomes inside the game.

I wished more of the book took place inside the game or that the real world situations contained more tension. If you're into MMORPGs, maybe you'll like the book for that aspect. Otherwise, it was just an OK read.

I read this book as part of the Authors A to Z reading challenge. Next up: Legend by Marie Lu.

May 18, 2013

What I envy about other authors

Envy is a part of being human. I'm certainly guilty of feeling envy at times. What I don't understand, as it relates to being an author, is how some authors can become so envious of another's success that they try to sabotage that success. For example, I've heard stories of authors leaving bad reviews for other books in the same genre, books they haven't even read, just to bring down the ratings of other authors' books.

When I hear about another indie author's success, I'm happy for them. Success stories like Amanda Hocking are what inspired me to publish my books. When I heard about Hugh Howey's big publishing deal, I congratulated him on it. (It's great how the Internet lets you do that!)

That's not to say that I don't envy other authors. There are two things about some authors that I absolutely envy: productivity and great writing.

Dean Wesley Smith is an author that I've learned a lot from. One thing he's preached over and over is for an author to spend time writing, not marketing. Recently, he even posted a daily log showing how he wrote a novel in ten days! Another author who is unbelievably productive is Elle Casey, who has written 18 books in 15 months! She recently wrote a post describing how she does it. It's quite an eye opener. It typically takes me about ten months to write a book. I would love to be able to write faster because I've got a lot more story ideas than the bandwidth to write them.

I also get envious when I read a book that's so well written that I immediately fall in love with the writing. I start wishing that I could write as well as the author, and oftentimes, I refer back to their works when I'm writing. For example, it's no secret that I love The Hunger Games. When I was working on Beyond New Eden, I re-read The Hunger Games and kept going back to it because Beyond New Eden was the first book I wrote from the first person POV, and The Hunger Games is the best first person novel I've ever read. A couple of other writers I discovered this year who fall into that category are Susan Ee, author of Angelfall, and Katie French, author of The Breeders and a guest poster on this blog earlier this week.

For the authors I envy, I wish them all the success in the world because I believe they deserve it. I can only hope to learn from them and become a better writer myself.

May 13, 2013

Guest post: Why I Write Dystopian by Katie French

Earlier this year, I read The Breeders, a YA post-apocalyptic novel from author Katie French. I loved the book, and in the process, Katie French became one of my favorite indie authors. In February, she published Nessa, a companion story to The Breeders, and just last week, the first book in her new YA trilogy, Eyes Ever to the Sky, was released. For fans of YA and dystopian, I highly recommend picking up one of her books.

Not only is she a fantastic writer, but Katie also agreed to a guest post on my blog today! So without further ado, here she is with a post about why she writes dystopian novels.

A few days ago, as I was watching the critically acclaimed show, The Walking Dead, I had a thought. Just as Andrea was about to stab a screwdriver into a zombie's eye socket, I wondered what exactly was wrong with me. Just an hour before I was listening to Justin Cronin's The Twelve, an equally brutal look at possible human annihilation by vampires. Prior to that I was on the treadmill reading Fuse, Julianna Baggot's masterpiece about survivors of an atomic blast that left them fused to the objects, animals or people they were touching when it detonated. Looking back on my day, I realized there might be something really psychologically wrong with me. Why would I spend copious amounts of time amerced in human destruction? Why would I be draw to stories that start with the basis that everything we love and value has been destroyed? Conclusion: I need a good therapist.

Yet, I am not alone. I know that if you have picked up The Breeders and liked it, you might be a little sick in the head like me. The third season finale of The Walking Dead pulled in a whopping 12.8 million viewers. Hunger Games books were on the New York Times Best Seller list for over 100 consecutive weeks. That's a lot of us crazies walking around out there. So, humanity is fascinated with its own demise. But why? Folks, I have a theory.

In general many of us read for entertainment and escape, but those of us who read dystopian also read for a third purpose, to prepare. Do we all think we'll die soon by a North Korean missile and build bomb shelters in our basements? No. But, many of us might wonder, late at night, how we would act if society suddenly came to a halt. Would we be those that took up arms, marched to the aid of others and rallied those left to a new America? Or would we be zombie food? We read to ponder the multitude of ways it could go down. We read to quantify those qualities it takes to overcome. And when and if that bomb drops, we'll be the first to roll out our super secret Zombie survival plan. (Mine includes a visit to my local Outdoor World.)

There's one more reason I believe people read dystopian. There's something so magical about basic human survival. When all this commercial garbage is stripped bare, the human soul and its capacity to overcome is astounding. We know that about our race, that we never go down without a fight. There's a scene in episode two of season two of The Walking Dead where Hershel, the veterinarian turned surgeon, is speaking to Rick. Rick is destraught, wondering what's the point? Why go on in such a broken world? Hershel turns to him and says (I'm paraphrasing here, so don't get mad at me Walking Dead fans). "This is just a bump in the road. It's just nature's way of resetting itself. That's the beauty of humanity, we always overcome." Well said Hershel.

So, my lovely dystopian readers, if you need some recommendations here are some of my recent favorites. Happy reading.

Fuse and Pure by Julianna Baggot
Wool by Hugh Howey
A Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
The Scourge by A.G. Henley
Open Minds by Susan Kaye Quinn
The Dog Stars by Peter Heller
The World of Shell and Bone by Adriana Ryan