December 27, 2014

What I read in 2014

For the second year in a row, I read at least 100 books! Having never read that many books in a year until last year, this is a big deal to me. However, I'm not going to promise to read 100 books again in 2015. :-)

The ratings for the books I read this year broke down as follows:
  • 5 stars - 29 books
  • 4 stars - 45 books
  • 3 stars - 27 books
  • 2 stars - 1 book
This comes out to an average rating of exactly 4.0 stars per book read in 2013.

Of the 102 books that I read, 43 were indie published. While that wasn't as many as in 2013, I'm still happy with the number of indie books I read. More often than ever, I couldn't tell if a book was indie published by looking at it or reading it. In 2015, I expect the lines between traditionally published and indie published books to blur even more.

In case you're interested, the ratings for the indie books were:
  • 5 stars - 9 books
  • 4 stars - 23 books
  • 3 stars - 11 books
There are three indie authors who I want to give a shout out to because they've all written 5-star books that I read this year and I think everyone (especially those who are hesitating to read indie published books) should check them out.

  • Kate Avery Ellison - I started reading The Frost Chronicles this year and loved the series. As a result, I'm going to try reading all of her other books!
  • Katie French - I've raved about her Breeders series before. The novels are among the best YA dystopian books I've read.
  • M.A. George - Perhaps best known for her Proximity series, it was her latest novel, Aqua, that turned me into a big fan. I recommend trying both!

Next week, I'll list my top ten favorite books read in 2014. Stay tuned!

December 20, 2014

99 Cent Holiday Sale

The Christmas holiday season is my favorite time of year, and to celebrate it, I'm letting all of you readers buy my books for 99 cents or less on Amazon! That's right. Every one of my books will be on sale for 99 cents or free on Amazon from now until the new year!

99 CENTS (novels):

George and the
Galactic Games
In the Hands of
Children
Beyond
New Eden

Keep Your
Enemies Close
Gifted

FREE (short story):
Drive

FREE (short story anthologies):
Through a
Tangled Wood
Celestial Stories on the Go

Happy holidays!

December 13, 2014

The Benders and an interview with Katie French

I read the first book of Katie French's The Breeders series in early 2013 and it became one of my favorites of the year. Then I read book 2 in January of 2014 and loved it as well. I'm excited to announce that the third book in the series, The Benders, is now available on Amazon! Katie has also graciously agreed to participate in an interview that you can find below.


The third book in the award-winning, best-selling dystopian series.

They’ve escaped the Breeders.

They’ve broken out of the Citadel.

Now, after all they’ve been through, Riley, Clay, and Ethan know one thing for sure: nothing tastes sweeter than freedom. And no one can rest easy with Auntie Bell in bondage. The group journeys home to rescue her and liberate Clay’s town from the cruel Warden. But when an ally betrays them, they must face the very enemy they’ve been trying to avoid.

Captured and separated, Riley is sold to a slave-owner who uses human beings for sport, while Clay and Ethan become the latest in a series of lab rats to be poked and prodded. As a slave, Riley conceals her identity to survive among the other benders, but it’s only a matter of time before a dangerous job takes her life. Clay and Ethan find themselves a war zone between a madwoman and marauders. And the odds don’t look good. 

You can buy a copy of The Benders on Amazon.

December 6, 2014

What I learned from NaNoWriMo

I finally participated in NaNoWriMo this year! It was quite an experience trying to write at least 50,000 words over the course of 30 days. To my amazement, I actually reached the 50K word count goal! However, it wasn't pretty, but NaNoWriMo is about quantity, not quality, right? So what did I learn from the experience?

It IS possible to write 50,000 words in a month.
I may have been selling myself short, but I honestly didn't plan on reaching the goal. Initially, I intended to just give it my best shot, and if I wrote 25,000 words by the end of November, that would have been twice as many words as I normally wrote in a month. Yet, as each day went by and I managed to stay close to the 1,667 words/day pace, it drove me to keep going at it. In the end, I wrote 50,043 words! The resulting manuscript wasn't pretty, but I proved to myself that I was capable of reaching that level of output if necessary.

I can't stop editing while I write.
I've often heard authors write quick first drafts because they don't filter their words. I've never been able to do that. Even with a first draft, I'll sit there and think of the best way to write a sentence or to craft a scene. With NaNoWriMo, I got better at just letting myself write. I had no choice because I didn't have time to edit as I wrote. The end result, however, was a manuscript that left me feeling very uneasy due to the quality of the first draft. I plan to go back to my edit-as-I-write style of first drafts as soon as I start penning my next book.

My NaNoWriMo manuscript sucks.
This is a natural outcome of having to write whatever comes to mind in order to reach the word count goal. Everything after the second week was pretty horrible and I knew it as I was writing it. I'm going to dread going back through and revising this manuscript. My guess is that I'll be spending the next several weeks, if not months, doing so.

Some preparation beforehand helps.
I went into NaNoWriMo having already done some research on the topic I was writing about. I also wrote an outline of the story's plot. This really helped because I didn't have to spend extra time asking myself "What comes next?" whenever I sat down to write.

I like writing a first draft with pen and paper better than on a computer.
With every novel I've written, the first draft was done with paper and pen. Then, I typed the whole manuscript into the computer, revising it along the way. With NaNoWriMo, I didn't have time to write and then type it again, so I wrote the first draft in MS Word. I prefer my old method because I find it easier to change things around on paper by drawing arrows, crossing things out, and writing in the margins. I can do the latter online as well, but it's just not the same to me. Also, it's more painful to carry my laptop everywhere than it is to carry a spiral notebook.

I'm glad it's over.
I had a great experience with NaNoWriMo. I was able to try new things that I hadn't before. However, I'm glad that it's over, and I can go back to how I wrote before. After all, one of the reasons why I chose the indie publishing route is that there aren't any external deadlines to meet. I can write at the pace I choose to. Will I participate in NaNoWriMo again? There's a fifty-fifty chance that I will. I like stretching myself occasionally to see what I can do. But I'm looking forward to eleven more months without the pressure to write 50,000 words a month.

November 29, 2014

Series finales and rankings

So many YA series that I've been following came to an end this year. Some were published last year, but I didn't read the final book until this year. Others released their last installments in 2014. It was a great year of series finales for me, but at the same time, I'm a little sad to say farewell to some of my favorites.

Without further ado, these are the series I finished in 2014, ranked by how much I enjoyed the overall series.

1. Series: Rot & Ruin by Jonathan Maberry
Books: Rot & Ruin, Dust & Decay, Flesh & Bone, Fire & Ash
I started reading the Rot & Ruin series in 2012, and the first three books all made yearly my top 10 lists. These are my favorite zombie books of all time and one of my favorite series ever.

2. Series: Razorland by Ann Aguirre
Books: Enclave, Outpost, Horde
This series kept getting better with every book. I liked Enclave, but I loved Outpost. It came in at #3 on my list of favorite reads of 2013. And guess what, Horde was even better!

3. Series: Newsflesh by Mira Grant
Books: Feed, Deadline, Blackout
How is it that my favorite series are all zombie-related? Who knows? It certainly wasn't intentional because I'm not that much of a zombie fan. Feed and Deadline both made my top 10 favorite reads lists in the years that I read them.

4. Series: Legend by Marie Lu
Books: Legend, Prodigy, Champion
Legend was my favorite book read in 2013. Then I read Prodigy and Champion in the first half of 2014, which is fairly quick for me in getting through a series. While I like Marie Lu's writing, the trilogy lost its way a little in book 2, but it ended on a strong note. Overall, a very satisfying series.

5. Series: Dust Lands by Moira Young
Books: Blood Red Road, Rebel Heart, Raging Star
I loved Blood Red Road, and it was my second most favorite read of 2012. The writing style of this series takes a little getting used to, but once I did, I was hooked. I think it's that style that lends a level of gritty emotion to this series that isn't often found in other YA books.

6. Series: Unwind by Neal Shusterman
Books: Unwind, UnWholly, UnSouled, Undivided
I loved the first book of the series. The concept was original and scary, and the story was gripping. UnWholly and UnSouled didn't measure up to Unwind (I partly blame the introduction of the dreaded love triangle for this), but the series ended with another great book in Undivided.

7. Series: Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi
Books: Under the Never Sky, Through the Ever Night, Into the Still Blue
Under the Never Sky was my #4 favorite read of 2012. The other two books in the series didn't quite live up to the first, but this was still a very good series overall.

8. Series: Grisha by Leigh Bardugo
Books: Shadow and Bone, Siege and Storm, Ruin and Rising
The first two books in this trilogy were good, but the conclusion was great! It's one of the best series finale books I've read.

9. Series: Partials Sequence by Dan Wells
Books: Partials, Fragments, Ruins
Unlike the Grisha series, I enjoyed the first two books in the Partials Sequence, but the third book fell flat. The plot lines split into too many groups for me to easily follow, and the characters all started to annoy me to the point where I didn't care which side won or if they both died out. Not a good sign, and it made the ending a non-event for me.

10. Series: Divergent by Veronica Roth
Books: Divergent, Insurgent, Allegiant
Believe it or not, despite all of the hype over the Divergent movie and books this year, I never got into this series like many others did. Divergent was pretty good, but Insurgent suffered the sophomore slump, and Allegiant was somewhere in between the two. Also, count me among the readers who didn't like the ending. So much of what happened in this series didn't make sense and didn't need to happen the way it did, which is one of my biggest problems with it.

11. Series: Article 5 by Kristen Simmons
Books: Article 5, Breaking Point, Three
This was a series that was decent but never progressed beyond that. It had a very typical YA dystopian story line, and in some ways, that hurt it as the writing didn't wow me and it didn't offer anything original that wasn't already found in other books of the same genre. If I had to compare it to something, I'd label it as a poor man's Legend.

Although I don't anticipate next year to be as eventful, there's one series conclusion that I'm very much looking forward to... and dreading at the same time because I don't want to say good-bye.

Series: The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer
Books: Cinder, Scarlet, Cress, Winter (to be released Feb 2015)
The Lunar Chronicles has become one of my all-time favorite series. The first three books have all been fantastic. Even as new characters are introduced, Marissa Meyer has done a wonderful job of keeping me engaged. I can't wait for Winter in 2015!

November 22, 2014

Reading Outside the Box recap

In January, I set out to read a book for each square in the Reading Outside the Box challenge. Surprisingly, with a month to spare, I managed to finish it!


This was a fun challenge to undertake. I read some categories that I usually never read, like Romance, where I was pleasantly surprised by the book I chose, Star Struck by Jamie Campbell. Of the 25 books I read as part of the challenge, I rated 6 of them as 5-stars, 13 as 4-stars, and 6 as 3-stars.

My three favorites (in order of date read) were:
(Yes, two of the three are indie books!)

As promised, I also posted a review for each book that I read. Here are the links to each review. The number in parenthesis was my rating.

November 15, 2014

Book review: Ninety Percent of Everything by Rose George


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Description:
On ship-tracking websites, the waters are black with dots. Each dot is a ship; each ship is laden with boxes; each box is laden with goods. In postindustrial economies, we no longer produce but buy. We buy, so we must ship. Without shipping there would be no clothes, food, paper, or fuel. Without all those dots, the world would not work.

Freight shipping has been no less revolutionary than the printing press or the Internet, yet it is all but invisible. Away from public scrutiny, shipping revels in suspect practices, dubious operators, and a shady system of “flags of convenience.” Infesting our waters, poisoning our air, and a prime culprit of acoustic pollution, shipping is environmentally indefensible. And then there are the pirates.

Rose George, acclaimed chronicler of what we would rather ignore, sails from Rotterdam to Suez to Singapore on ships the length of football fields and the height of Niagara Falls; she patrols the Indian Ocean with an anti-piracy task force; she joins seafaring chaplains, and investigates the harm that ships inflict on endangered whales.

Sharply informative and entertaining, Ninety Percent of Everything reveals the workings and perils of an unseen world that holds the key to our economy, our environment, and our very civilization.

 
Rating: 3 stars (out of 5)

November 11, 2014

Happy birthday to George and the Galactic Games

It's hard to believe that three years ago, I published my first novel, George and the Galactic Games. At the time, I had only written short stories and didn't know if I could write a full-length novel. It turns out that I can because, after George and the Galactic Games, I wrote four more!

To celebrate the book's third book birthday, I've discounted the price to 99 cents! I don't know yet how long I'll keep it at that price, so get it while it's on sale.

Buy it from Amazon
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November 8, 2014

Book review: This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales


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Description:
Making friends has never been Elise Dembowski’s strong suit. All throughout her life, she’s been the butt of every joke and the outsider in every conversation. When a final attempt at popularity fails, Elise nearly gives up. Then she stumbles upon a warehouse party where she meets Vicky, a girl in a band who accepts her; Char, a cute, yet mysterious disc jockey; Pippa, a carefree spirit from England; and most importantly, a love for DJing.

Told in a refreshingly genuine and laugh-out-loud funny voice, THIS SONG WILL SAVE YOUR LIFE is an exuberant novel about identity, friendship, and the power of music to bring people together.

 
Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)

November 1, 2014

NaNoWriMo 2014

For the first time ever, I've decided to take the plunge and try my hand at NaNoWriMo! If you aren't familiar with NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), it's a month-long challenge that takes place every November. The idea is to attempt to write a novel of at least 50,000 words between November 1 and 30. Yes, in just one month!

I've always been afraid to try NaNoWriMo because I don't think I can complete a novel in one month. It takes me four or five months to write a first draft, so I'd have to write 4x or 5x my usual speed. This year, however, I figured I'd give it a try, not because I have more faith in my abilities, but because I was going to start a new novel anyway, and NaNoWriMo is as good an incentive as any to force me to write daily.

Last month, I did the research for my new novel, and I already have an outline of the plot. (I'm not sure how much preparation is allowed before November for NaNoWriMo, but I hope doing research and outlining is OK.) Now I'm ready to start writing it! If you want to follow my progress, the best way will be to stalk me on Twitter. :-)

October 25, 2014

(Guest Post) My Name is Ariele and I Write Books: What if John and Quin Had iPhones

Hello, H.S. Stone’s fans! My name is Ariele and I write books, specifically science fiction. I recently released my third novel, The Wounded World. The story revolves around my main character, Quin, and his relationship with his father. After returning home from his military duty, Quin discovers that his father has disappeared, leaving behind a very dangerous piece of new technology. Thus, he sets out to find out where his father has run off to, and to solve the problems that get in his way.

If it sounds interesting, check it out here! You can find out more about me or my books by visiting my website or following me on Facebook and Twitter.

To celebrate the publication of my newest novel, I give you three short scenes from my two main characters:

What If John and Quin Had iPhones

Episode 1: The Spider





Episode 2: The Pre-Date Advice 



 

Episode 3: John Tells Bad Jokes
 




Curious to learn more about John and Quin? Get a copy of The Wounded World, or read an excerpt of the book on Zoe’s blog.

October 18, 2014

Book review: Hunger by Michael Grant


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Description:
It's been three months since everyone under the age of fifteen became trapped in the bubble known as the FAYZ.

Three months since all the adults disappeared. GONE.

Food ran out weeks ago. Everyone is starving, but no one wants to figure out a solution. And each day, more and more kids are evolving, developing supernatural abilities that set them apart from the kids without powers. Tension rises and chaos is descending upon the town. It's the normal kids against the mutants. Each kid is out for himself, and even the good ones turn murderous.

But a larger problem looms. The Darkness, a sinister creature that has lived buried deep in the hills, begins calling to some of the teens in the FAYZ. Calling to them, guiding them, manipulating them.

The Darkness has awakened. And it is hungry.

 
Rating: 3 stars (out of 5)

October 11, 2014

Gifted release announcement

My latest novel, a YA Fantasy story titled Gifted, has officially been released! You can now buy it on Amazon. Although Gifted won't be available at other retailers for another few months, the upside is that it's part of the KDP Select program. That means it's also available for free to Kindle Unlimited members and eligible for borrowing if you're an Amazon Prime customer as part of the Kindle Owners' Lending Library. Enjoy!


In a kingdom where the Gifteds are captured and thrown into fights to the death, Voima is fortunate that she is just a Regular. However, her brother, Vendd, isn’t so lucky. Since his Power started manifesting itself, the siblings have lived a life on the run, barely escaping the king’s soldiers.

Just as Voima and Vendd have settled into a new home, a fleeing Gifted enters their lives, begging for help but bringing soldiers after him. Despite the siblings’ efforts, the soldiers discover Vendd’s Power. Now Voima, an outmatched Regular girl, must find a way to defeat the kingdom’s most dangerous Gifteds in order to save her brother from certain death.  

October 4, 2014

Book review: God Made You Special by Eric Metaxas


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Description:
Bob s red and round, and he bounces cause he has no feet. Madame Blueberry lives in a tree. What makes her special? She s as blue as can be. What about those French Peas? They speak with zee accent. Tots will discover that it s okay to be different, because God made you special and he loves you very much. Through fun rhymes and humor, and some help from those lovable Veggies, little ones will realize that God makes everyone special!
 
Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)

September 27, 2014

Gifted pre-order

My latest novel, a YA Fantasy story titled Gifted, is scheduled to be released on October 10th! For those of you who can't wait that long to click the Buy button, you can pre-order it now from Amazon.


In a kingdom where the Gifteds are captured and thrown into fights to the death, Voima is fortunate that she is just a Regular. However, her brother, Vendd, isn’t so lucky. Since his Power started manifesting itself, the siblings have lived a life on the run, barely escaping the king’s soldiers.

Just as Voima and Vendd have settled into a new home, a fleeing Gifted enters their lives, begging for help but bringing soldiers after him. Despite the siblings’ efforts, the soldiers discover Vendd’s Power. Now Voima, an outmatched Regular girl, must find a way to defeat the kingdom’s most dangerous Gifteds in order to save her brother from certain death.  

September 23, 2014

Celestial


I'm happy to announce the release of a new YA anthology: Celestial. These ten short stories revolve around the common theme of the appearance of a comet. See how all of the authors were able to weave that element into stories that span various YA genres!

The best part is, you can download Celestial for FREE from these retailers:

From the beginning of time, the mysteries of the night sky have captivated humanity. Our ancestors foretold the future through the phases of the moon, worshiped the countless stars, and feared the comets that streaked across the sky before disappearing back into darkness.

Now, ten YA authors have come together to explore the impact the appearance of a comet can have on a life, a relationship… or an entire world.

 

'Shadow' by Sarah Dalton. When Mary visits her Aunt Izzy's remote seaside bungalow, past and present collide. She soon realises a dark shadow hangs over her childhood memories, leaving her a task she would rather not complete... A haunting ghost story that explores the delicate relationships between women. Part of the 'Mary Hades' series.
 

‘The Sleeping Goddess’ by Zoe Cannon. On the eve of a once-in-a-thousand-years celestial event, the last surviving priestess must decide whether to obey her goddess and destroy an entire race… or follow her heart and let her own people die.
 

‘Before the Pageant’ by Susan Fodor. In a dystopian city where appearances are everything, Ambrose Addams spends all her time striving to be number one. With classical beauty, the hottest boyfriend in TealĂ©, and the most sought after position in the city, Ambrose should be happy; things rarely go the way they should. One fortuitous exchange will not only change her priorities, but the whole course of her life.
 

‘Comet Cotillion (A Celestial Mini-Wave)’ by Sutton Shields. Marina Valentine spends her days in The Helena Hambourg House for Maladies, where each hour presents a new fight for survival. Life in an institution isn’t exactly ideal, but for Marina, nothing could be more dangerous than being caught in the middle of a vicious scheme cooked up by the evil Head Hoodooess, Madame Helena. Now, Marina and her quirky friends must find a way to escape before everything that makes them special is taken away forever. ‘Comet Cotillion’ is a short, fun-filled prequel to the events occurring in The Merworld Water Wars series by Sutton Shields.
 

‘The Shadow Keepers’ by Anya Allyn. At the terrifying moment that seven-year-old Molly discovers her mother dead, she sees a stranger standing in the room: a teenage girl. The girl holds a shocking secret. A new story from The Dark Carousel series.
 

‘Tragic Magic’ by Jamie Campbell. A stalking ex-boyfriend is one thing. When he is a demon, it’s a whole new ballgame. Lacey would like to think she is an average teenager, except the witch is anything but. In order to get rid of her crazed ex, she must draw on all her powers to vanquish him forever.
 

‘The Greenhouse Gas’ by Ariele Sieling. Galya wakes up to the flash of a falling comet, and discovers that her escape pod is floating in a graveyard of spaceships. Confused and scared, she and her brother set out to search the destroyed ships for signs of their father... or any life at all. This story retells Hansel and Gretel is set in outer space.
 

‘Project #45’ by Marijon Braden. The Brightness wasn’t the end of the world, but it might as well have been. Now, Amy and her family are trying to rebuild their lives, trying to return to some kind of normalcy, all the time wondering…why did it happen? How? And when will it happen again? And a million years (Miles? Worlds?) away, the answer is so simple…
 

‘Moon Warrior’ by H.S. Stone. Separated from her tribe after a sand dragon attack, Luna finds herself alone with no food or shelter. She must cross a desert wasteland to find her people again, but when she loses their trail, she discovers that her warrior instincts may not be enough to save her.
 

‘Love Me or Love Me Not’ by Katie Hayoz. Six months ago, Star’s parents left her with a disturbing secret, one she's guarded despite everything. But as the comet she’s been observing grows brighter and brighter in the sky, the consequences of keeping that secret come to light. A tragic story exploring sanity, love, and the quest for fulfillment. 

September 20, 2014

Book review: Star Struck by Jamie Campbell


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Description:
Melrose Morgan was your typical teenager, flipping burgers and surviving high school the best she could. Yet all that changed after a chance encounter took her face to face with the world’s biggest superstar.

Living every girl’s fantasy, Melrose falls for one fifth of the most successful boy bands on the planet, Cole Newton. He invites her on a date and she can’t help but fall in love with her idol.

But in a world that is full of shining stars, can one small town girl really capture the heart of a supernova? Find out in the first installment of the Star Kissed series.

 
Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)

September 13, 2014

What I like about my favorite characters

I'm the type of reader whose enjoyment of a story is greatly influenced by my feelings toward the main characters. All things being equal, I'm more likely to enjoy books where I like the protagonists.

What makes me like a character? I've been trying to figure that out because I also want to write characters that readers feel an affinity toward. Here's my list of what attracts me to my favorite characters.
  1. They exhibit redeeming qualities that would make me like them in real life. I like people who are unselfish, modest, and dependable, for example. Fortunately, in many of the books I read, the main characters possess those qualities. They're the typical "good guys." Consider the trio in Harry Potter or Katniss and Peeta from The Hunger Games. They think of others, are fiercely loyal to their friends, but they don't seek the limelight despite their achievements.
  2. They have a flaw that they overcome. I don't expect the protagonists to be perfect. In fact, they shouldn't be, but through the course of the story, they should discover their major flaws and strive to address them. That assumes that the character wants to better himself/herself, which is another quality I like. Oh, and the flaw can't be something so huge that it's unforgivable.
  3. They are believable. Regardless of whether a story takes place in a fantasy world or a distant future, the characters should act believably, even when their actions seem extreme. For example, when Katniss volunteers for the Hunger Games in Prim's place, I believed she'd really do that because of her love for her sister.
  4. They have a sense of humor. This is a bonus. I like plenty of characters who are serious, but it's more fun to read a book where the characters inject humor into their situations.

Conversely, there are factors that make me dislike a character (and hence a book).
  1. They are flawed to an unforgivable extent or they don't try to fix their flaws. I'm not a fan of the anti-hero as a protagonist. Nor do I particularly enjoy main characters who are drunks, violent, lazy, or otherwise exhibit attributes I dislike in people I meet. For example, I just finished reading Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. Her writing is great, but I didn't like the book as much as I could have because I just didn't like the character of Nick Dunne. I won't go into details about what he does because I would give away spoilers, but he's flawed to the point that I would dislike him if I knew him in real life.
  2. They make dumb decisions or decisions that seem to only move the plot forward. Matched is a great example of this. Although I liked Ally Condie's writing, I just couldn't get over the fact that Cassie chose Ky over Xander so early in the story for no apparent reason other than that, if she didn't, there'd be no story. Needless to say, I stopped reading that series after the first book.
  3. This is more of a comment on character development than the characters themselves. When an author spends too much time on "character development" by describing everything they do in every hour of every day of their lives (hello, Stephen King?), that puts me to sleep. You don't need 600 pages to develop your characters!

What is it about your favorite characters that make you like them so much? What don't you like about your least favorite characters?

September 6, 2014

Book review: The Mirror Stage by J.J. Stone


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Description:
Ada Brandt wants everyone to think she’s normal. A writing professor at a local Seattle college, she personifies the saying “those who can’t, teach” after a few failed attempts at becoming an author led her to the classroom. She owns a chic little house, drives a sporty car, and comes home to her dog after a long day at work. You’d never know she’s the daughter of one of Seattle’s most infamous serial killers — a fact Ada has labored her whole life to bury.

Then the FBI’s BAU team arrives to investigate a recent murder spree and Ada is strong-armed by the BAU’s bull-headed lead agent James Deacon into helping with the investigation. As Ada and the BAU dive deeper into the case, two things become glaringly apparent: this is not a typical murder case, and catching their suspect is only the beginning of an investigation that will alter the lives of everyone involved.

The Mirror Stage is the first installment of The Imago Trilogy and is J.J. Stone’s debut novel.

 
Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)

September 3, 2014

Book review: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green


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Description:
Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel’s story is about to be completely rewritten.
 
Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)

August 30, 2014

Amazon, where do my sales come from?

This post was inspired by Hugh Howey's recent blog post titled, "Stuff I Want to Know." (This isn't the first time that Mr. Howey has inspired me, by the way.) In the post, he lists 12 things that he would love to know from Amazon. Given his clout, I'm hoping that most of his questions will be answered.

One question that wasn't on his list, and that I asked in the comments (the only time my name will appear on a page written by Hugh Howey, I'm sure), was where my sales come from. I would love to know if people find my books because of this blog, a review that a book blogger posted, a promotion I run, or some other source. For an author, or any seller, that information is golden.

John Wanamaker, a pioneer in marketing, is credited with saying, "Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don't know which half." Digital advertising platforms have sprung up to answer that question. Google and other sites provide that information to some extent. I'm sure Amazon tracks the referrer URLs for all of their product pages. It should be rather simple to link a sale with the referrer URL that led to it. Even if Amazon doesn't reveal the actual URL but only the domain, that can be useful to. Do more people come from Twitter or Facebook? Are promotions from one site more effective than promotions from another? Even if Amazon tells me the referrer for product page views instead of sales, that's still better than nothing. Google's Blogger, where this blog is hosted, provides that information. Why can't Amazon? Here's to hoping the world's largest online retailer is listening.

August 23, 2014

Book review: Battle Royale by Koushun Takami


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Description:
Battle Royale, a high-octane thriller about senseless youth violence, is one of Japan's best-selling and most controversial novels. As part of a ruthless program by the totalitarian government, ninth-grade students are taken to a small isolated island with a map, food, and various weapons. Forced to wear special collars that explode when they break a rule, they must fight each other for three days until only one "winner" remains. The elimination contest becomes the ultimate in must-see reality television. A Japanese pulp classic available in English for the first time, Battle Royale is a potent allegory of what it means to be young and survive in today's dog-eat-dog world. The first novel by small-town journalist Koushun Takami, it went on to become an even more notorious film by 70-year-old gangster director Kinji Fukusaku.

Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)

August 15, 2014

Every story has already been told

Last time, I talked about how worthless a story idea is if you don't do anything with it. What if you have the opposite problem? Instead of thinking that your idea is great, what if you don't like it because you think it's a rip-off of someone else's idea? Well, to tell you the truth, it probably is. That's because, at some level, every story idea has already been taken.

I just read Battle Royale by Koushun Takami. It's about a government that forces a group of teens to kill each other until there's only one survivor left. Does that sound familiar? Hunger Games, anyone? Yup, when The Hunger Games grew in popularity, some critics accused it of ripping off Battle Royale, which was published earlier. On the surface, they are two very similar story ideas, but I believe Suzanne Collins when she said that she wasn't aware of the Japanese book and came up with her idea independently. Anyone who's read both books will see that both authors treated the subject matter in different ways, their writing styles are vastly different, and as a result, a reader can enjoy both books without feeling cheated by two seemingly identical story ideas.

To take it to an extreme, some say that there are only seven basic story plots. (I've also heard as few as three.) So what are the chances that the new story idea in your head is different from what every author who's come before you has written? Zero. But don't worry. You're not Hemingway, you're not Stephen King, you're not Suzanne Collins. And I mean that in a good way because it means that your take on the idea will be different from theirs. Despite the apparent similarities, if you're true to yourself and write the best story you can, it'll be sufficiently different from what other authors have written.

Now, I don't condone plagiarism or conscious rip-offs of other works, but there's a lot of room to work with before you reach that stage. Consider the number of sparkly vampire stories that popped up when Twilight became popular. Those authors were definitely trying to capitalize on Twilight's success by emulating it. I haven't read any of those books (nor Twilight for that matter, although I've seen the movies), but if they can be deemed different enough from the original, chances are that your story idea will be considered original as well.

Don't let the fear that your idea isn't unique stop you from pursuing it. As I mentioned before, an idea is worthless if it stays in your head.

August 9, 2014

Book review: The Caged Graves by Dianne K. Salerni


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Description:
The year is 1867, and seventeen-year-old Verity Boone is excited to return to Catawissa, Pennsylvania, the hometown she left when she was just a baby. Now she will finally meet the fiancĂ© she knows only through letters! Soon, however, she discovers two strangely caged graves . . . and learns that one of them is her own mother’s. Verity swears she’ll get to the bottom of why her mother was buried in “unhallowed ground” in this suspenseful teen mystery that swirls with rumors of witchcraft, buried gold from the days of the War of Independence, and even more shocking family secrets.

Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)

August 2, 2014

Story ideas are worthless

You know that great story idea you have in your head? The one that you think is so awesome and so original that it's sure to be a bestseller? Do you know how much it's worth? Absolutely nothing... if it remains just an idea.

For those who don't know, I'm not a full-time writer. I have a day job as an engineer in the Bay Area, home to Silicon Valley. I've worked at my share of tech startups and have even once started my own company (which was obviously a failure or I'd be writing full-time from some tropical island). One thing that a lot of wanna-be startup founders misunderstand is that their world-changing ideas don't mean anything. They worry about telling people their ideas for fear they will get stolen, and they insist on anyone they share it with signing NDAs (non-disclosure agreements) before revealing their big ideas. Well, what I've learned is that the best startup idea in the world doesn't translate into a successful company without proper execution. Look at Google and Facebook. They didn't come up with the idea of search or social networking, respectively. They just did a really good job executing on the idea, better than their competitors.

Now back to writing. If you're an author, I'm sure you've had the experience where you talk to someone and they say, "I have a great idea for a book!" Or you may be an aspiring author yourself who thinks you have an idea for the Next Big Thing. But in most cases, I bet the person with the idea won't have taken the next step of turning that idea into a book. So what's their brilliant idea worth? Hmm, let's just say that the idea and a dollar will buy me a cup of coffee at McDonald's.

I have a notebook full of story ideas. I think some are brilliant, but they're just notes in a binder that don't do me any good right now. It's not until I turn one of them into a story and then publish it that the idea has value, both to me and to you as a reader. And sometimes, I'll execute poorly on it and choose not to publish it. That can happen to good ideas with flawed execution, like a startup that delivers a poor product or runs out of money before they hit their goals.

So if you have a great story idea, don't just let it sit. Write it. Do the best job you can to bring it to life. Then publish it for the world to read because if the idea remains in your head or in a notebook, it's worthless.

July 27, 2014

Book review: Masque of the Red Death by Bethany Griffin


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Description:
Everything is in ruins.

A devastating plague has decimated the population, and those who are left live in fear of catching it as the city crumbles around them.

So what does Araby Worth have to live for?

Nights in the Debauchery Club, beautiful dresses, glittery makeup . . . and tantalizing ways to forget it all.

But in the depths of the club—in the depths of her own despair—Araby will find more than oblivion. She will find Will, the terribly handsome proprietor of the club, and Elliott, the wickedly smart aristocrat. Neither is what he seems. Both have secrets. Everyone does.

And Araby may find not just something to live for, but something to fight for—no matter what it costs her

 
Rating: 3 stars (out of 5)

July 23, 2014

The Sixth Sense ruined another book for me

Contains spoilers for The Sixth Sense! If you haven't seen the movie yet and don't want to be spoiled, stop reading now!

I doubt it was the first story to employ the device, but The Sixth Sense is the first movie I recall watching where we're led to believe that a major character is alive when he is in fact dead. It's gotta rank up there with the biggest reveals in movie history alongside Citizen Kane, The Empire Strikes Back, and Psycho. The idea that a character may be dead is now something I look for all the time in suspense/horror movies, and it's led me to correctly guess what's going on in at least two movies (I won't name which ones so that I don't spoil them).

Lately, the same thing has been happening with books I read. Just in the past two months, I've read two stories where at least one of the important characters is dead. In one case, I wasn't looking for a twist, so it caught me by surprise. In the second case, the book description reveals that there's going to be a twist (a bad idea IMHO because that's a hard promise to keep), so I tried to figure it out as I read the story. Sure enough, not even halfway through it, I started picking up the signs that certain characters might not be alive. I noticed how other characters didn't interact with them, how they were described, how people reacted at the mention of their names, etc. So when the supposed big reveal came at the end, I had already guessed what was going on, and the book was ruined for me. (There were also other aspects of the novel that annoyed me, so I was waiting for the twist ending to save it).

Am I going to stop wondering if so-and-so is dead when I watch a movie or read a book? Probably not. It is kinda fun to try to figure these things out. However, now that The Sixth Sense planted the idea in my head, I can't shake it.

July 19, 2014

Book review: Wishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher


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Description:
Finally, after four hit novels, Carrie Fisher comes clean (well, sort of ) with the crazy truth that is her life in her first-ever memoir. In Wishful Drinking, adapted from her one-woman stage show, Fisher reveals what it was really like to grow up a product of "Hollywood in-breeding," come of age on the set of a little movie called Star Wars, and become a cultural icon and bestselling action figure at the age of nineteen.

Intimate, hilarious, and sobering, Wishful Drinking is Fisher, looking at her life as she best remembers it (what do you expect after electroshock therapy?). It's an incredible tale: the child of Hollywood royalty -- Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher -- homewrecked by Elizabeth Taylor, marrying (then divorcing, then dating) Paul Simon, having her likeness merchandized on everything from Princess Leia shampoo to PEZ dispensers, learning the father of her daughter forgot to tell her he was gay, and ultimately waking up one morning and finding a friend dead beside her in bed.

Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)

July 12, 2014

The Mirror Stage and an interview with J.J. Stone

Fans of thrillers and suspense novels, I'm pleased to announce the release of The Mirror Stage, the debut novel of author J.J. Stone (no relation, but what a cool name!) and the first book in The Imago Trilogy! J.J. has also graciously agreed to participate in an interview that you can find below.


Ada Brandt wants everyone to think she’s normal. A writing professor at a local Seattle college, she personifies the saying “those who can’t, teach” after a few failed attempts at becoming an author led her to the classroom. She owns a chic little house, drives a sporty car, and comes home to her dog after a long day at work. You’d never know she’s the daughter of one of Seattle’s most infamous serial killers — a fact Ada has labored her whole life to bury.

Then the FBI’s BAU team arrives to investigate a recent murder spree and Ada is strong-armed by the BAU’s bull-headed lead agent James Deacon into helping with the investigation. As Ada and the BAU dive deeper into the case, two things become glaringly apparent: this is not a typical murder case, and catching their suspect is only the beginning of an investigation that will alter the lives of everyone involved.

You can buy The Mirror Stage at:

July 9, 2014

New Harry Potter "story" at Pottermore

There are a handful of fictional worlds that I would call myself fanatical about at some point in my life, and Harry Potter was one such world for me a few years ago. That's why I immediately visited Pottermore (which I'm a member of, naturally) when I found out that J.K. Rowling published a new Harry Potter "story" on the site. The reason why "story" is in quotes is that it's really a gossip column by Rita Skeeter covering the Quidditch World Cup finals. However, it's an interesting view into the lives of Harry, Ron, Hermione, and some of their other friends as adults. Being a gossip column, the story can't be relied on as 100% true, but it was entertaining nevertheless to compare Rowling's words with how I envisioned Dumbledore's Army as grown ups. At the end of the story, Rita promotes her new book, Dumbledore's Army: The Dark Side of the Demob, which will be released on July 31. Might we get more Harry Potter goodness from J.K. Rowling on that date?

Pottermore

July 5, 2014

Book review: Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson


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Description:
Jess Aarons' greatest ambition is to be the fastest runner in his grade. He's been practicing all summer and can't wait to see his classmates' faces when he beats them all. But on the first day of school, a new girl boldly crosses over to the boys' side and outruns everyone.That's not a very promising beginning for a friendship, but Jess and Leslie Burke become inseparable. Together they create Terabithia, a magical kingdom in the woods where the two of them reign as king and queen, and their imaginations set the only limits. Then one morning a terrible tragedy occurs. Only when Jess is able to come to grips with this tragedy does he finally understand the strength and courage Leslie has given him.

Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)

July 1, 2014

Smashwords July Summer/Winter Sale

During the month of July, Smashwords is holding a July Summer/Winter Sale. Lots of books will be 25% off, 50% off, or more. All of my novels are part of this promotional event at half off! That's right, you can get all of my novels at Smashwords for just $1.50 this month! Remember to use the coupon code SSW50 when you check out.


Stop on by and check them out. Also, take a look at some of the other great books on sale before the month is over!

June 28, 2014

Book review: Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury


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Description:
The carnival rolls in sometime after midnight, ushering in Halloween a week early. The shrill siren song of a calliope beckons to all with a seductive promise of dreams and youth regained. In this season of dying, Cooger & Dark's Pandemonium Shadow Show has come to Green Town, Illinois, to destroy every life touched by its strange and sinister mystery. And two boys will discover the secret of its smoke, mazes, and mirrors; two friends who will soon know all too well the heavy cost of wishes. . .and the stuff of nightmare.
 
Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)

June 23, 2014

Cover reveal: With Tide and Tempest by Kate Avery Ellison

I recently raved about Frost and other books by Kate Avery Ellison, so I'm very pleased to participate in the cover reveal of her latest book, With Tide and Tempest. Doesn't the cover look wonderful?


With Tide and Tempest by Kate Avery Ellison
(Secrets of Itlantis #3)
Publication date: June 2014
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult

Synopsis:
Free or not, life beneath the sea in the republic of Itlantis is less idyllic than Aemi might have imagined when she’d been just a surfacer slave. She’s been accused of spying for the enemy thanks to her connections with the traitorous Nautilus family, not to mention her own tangled and mysterious family history. Her mother has arrived, and is determined to take over her life. Oh, and someone is trying to kill her. Again.

When Aemi receives word that her best friend might still be alive in a village on the surface, she and a crew of friends set out to find him, regardless of the danger from Nautilus’s men patrolling the open sea and the mysterious threats on her life. But the sea is not the only thing that holds secrets.

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/22404371-with-tide-and-tempest

AUTHOR BIO
I live in Georgia with my wonderful husband and two spoiled cats. When I'm not writing, I'm usually catching up on my extensive Netflix queue, reading a book, giggling at something funny online, or trying to convince my husband to give me just ONE bite of whatever he's eating.

Learn more about my writing and books at my blog (http://thesouthernscrawl.blogspot.com/), find teasers for upcoming works on my Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/kateaveryellison), and subscribe to my new releases newsletter to be notified of new novels as soon as they hit stores (https://tinyletter.com/kateaveryellison)!
 

June 21, 2014

Damn you, Internet!

The Internet is one of the greatest inventions in my lifetime. It makes so many things easier to do: researching a topic, ordering a book, connecting with friends I haven't seen face-to-face in years. But it's also my worst enemy when it comes to trying to get things done.

During the week, my golden period for getting "author-y" work done is the hour and a half between 4:30 am (when I wake up) and 6:00 am (when I start to get ready for my day job). But before I start to write, I check my author email account, social networks, blogs I follow, etc. Two years ago, that took about 10 minutes. Nowadays, it can take up the entire hour and a half. Part of the reason is that I've gotten to know other authors and readers, so there's more to read and respond to. (There are people who actually want to communicate with me!) If that was the only reason, I'd still finish my pre-writing routine in about half an hour.

The problem is that when the Internet was invented, they made it really easy to jump from one web page to another. Throw in search engines and social media, and you can reach just about any web page from any other through a series of links. So when I see a fellow author tweet about an interesting blog article, for example, I may read the article, only to find that it's linked to two other articles that I want to read, and so on.

If the Internet were a cigarette manufacturer, I'd say it was making itself addictive on purpose. However, since no one owns the Internet, I can only blame myself. I've tried to wean myself off spending so much time on the web, but it's a tough thing to do. I don't know if there's any going back. Maybe I need to start picking a different writing schedule. Or just wake up earlier than 4:30. I really don't know of a good way to reclaim my time, and maybe I won't. But the first step in overcoming your problem is admitting it, right? Anyone else get sucked into the Internet for longer than they want to? How do you deal with it?

June 14, 2014

Book Review: Frost by Kate Avery Ellison


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Description:
In the icy, monster-plagued world of the Frost, compassion might get a person killed, and Lia Weaver knows this better than anyone. After the monsters kill her parents, she must keep the family farm running or risk losing her siblings to reassignment by the village Elders. With dangers on all sides, she can't afford to let her emotions lead her astray. But when her sister finds a fugitive bleeding to death in the forest, a young man from beyond the Frost named Gabe, Lia does the unthinkable. 

She saves his life. 

Giving shelter to the fugitive could get her in trouble. The Elders have always described the advanced society of people beyond the Frost, the "Farthers," as ruthless and cruel. Lia is startled to find that Gabe is empathetic and intelligent-and handsome. And she might even be falling for him. 

But time is running out. The monsters in the forest are growing bold and restless. The village leader is starting to ask questions. Farther soldiers are searching for Gabe. Is compassion-and love-worth the risk? Finally, when a startling discovery challenges everything she thought was true about her life, Lia realizes exactly what she must do.

Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)

June 7, 2014

Mid-year writing update

It's been a while since I blogged about my writing progress. I had three writing goals this year:
  1. Publish a sequel to "Drive"
  2. Write a short story for another collaboration
  3. Write my fifth novel

So far, I've accomplished #1 already. "Protect", the sequel to "Drive" was published on March 10th. Depending on how things go, I may even write the third installment in the series this year!

Last year, I had the good fortune of collaborating with a group of great YA authors to produce the anthology, Through a Tangled Wood. I'm happy to say that most of the same authors -- and a few more -- are back at work on a second anthology! My short story contribution is almost done. I got feedback from the editor last week, and I'm putting the finishing touches on it. Expect an announcement about the new anthology in the August time frame.

As soon as I finished writing "Protect", I started the first draft of my next novel. All I'll say for now is that it's a YA fantasy story, which is slightly different from the YA sci-fi that I've been writing. I'm about 3/4 of the way through the first draft, which is a little slower than I expected. The problem has been that as I write, I discover new things about the world I created and the characters in them, so I've had to go back and revise as I work. (I know that some authors believe you shouldn't do that while you're writing a first draft, but I do it so that I don't forget later on.) In the end, my hope is that the book will be better than what I had first envisioned when I started.

After finishing the first draft, I plan to set it aside for a while before revising it. During that time, I want to write another short story. I'm not sure yet whether it'll be a sequel to "Drive" and "Protect" or whether it'll be something different. I have lots of ideas in my head at the moment. :-)

Hopefully, I'll reach my production goal by the end of the year, which means another anthology and my fifth novel. If I'm lucky, there will also be an extra story thrown in.

June 1, 2014

Book review: I Am Legend by Richard Matheson



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Description:
Robert Neville is the last living man on Earth...but he is not alone. Every other man, woman, and child on Earth has become a vampire, and they are all hungry for Neville's blood.

By day, he is the hunter, stalking the sleeping undead through the abandoned ruins of civilization. By night, he barricades himself in his home and prays for dawn.

How long can one man survive in a world of vampires?

Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)

May 28, 2014

The time I deleted the blog post I spent so much time on

I don't know if this happens to other bloggers, but there are times when I write a blog post, go over it again and again to try to word it just right, and then delete the whole thing before hitting the Publish button because I think it sucks. Is that common? Or is it because I'm a writer and I don't want to publish garbage, even on my blog? (Yeah, I know, some of you are thinking that most of my blog posts are garbage anyway, but that's a topic for a different time.)

I just deleted a blog post because, although it started out as a good idea, I didn't have enough evidence to back up the point I was trying to make. I've deleted other posts because after I started on them, I decided the topics were too boring, too controversial, or I just didn't feel confident enough to talk about them. I don't know if this is a good thing or a bad thing.

Sometimes I think I should be more spontaneous and write about whatever springs to mind, even if it's half baked. After all, isn't that what blogs are supposed to be for in the first place? I'm not writing a book to be published or a news magazine, I'm writing a personal blog. One that almost no one cares about anyway!

So this post is my attempt to do that. If I had my usual filters on, I'd delete this post because, really, who cares about the time I deleted the blog post I spent so much time on?

May 24, 2014

Book review: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams


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Description:
Seconds before the Earth is demolished to make way for a galactic freeway, Arthur Dent is plucked off the planet by his friend Ford Prefect, a researcher for the revised edition of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy who, for the last fifteen years, has been posing as an out-of-work actor.
Together this dynamic pair begin a journey through space aided by quotes from The Hitchhiker's Guide ("A towel is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have") and a galaxy-full of fellow travelers: Zaphod Beeblebrox--the two-headed, three-armed ex-hippie and totally out-to-lunch president of the galaxy; Trillian, Zaphod's girlfriend (formally Tricia McMillan), whom Arthur tried to pick up at a cocktail party once upon a time zone; Marvin, a paranoid, brilliant, and chronically depressed robot; Veet Voojagig, a former graduate student who is obsessed with the disappearance of all the ballpoint pens he bought over the years.


Where are these pens? Why are we born? Why do we die? Why do we spend so much time between wearing digital watches? For all the answers stick your thumb to the stars. And don't forget to bring a towel!


Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)