Monday, September 18, 2017

Book Review: A Tale of Mist and Shadow by M. R. Laver

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Hello, fellow readers! Here I am with my second book review. Today, it is M. R. Laver's A Tale of Mist and Shadow, the first book in his series by the same name. It is classified under Science Fiction and Fantasy, but I would definitely call it pure Fantasy. The book itself is 450 pages long and can be purchased both in e-book format and as a paperback through Amazon.

I started reading this book shortly after I "met" Laver online through a mutual friend of ours. When I found out he was a fellow author, I knew I wanted to read his first book and throw some support his way. We independently published authors need to stick together, after all. Knowing he was a Fantasy author and a fellow Christian, I figured that chances were pretty high that his work would be right up my alley. So I downloaded the book and got to reading. In truth, it took me far longer to get through this book than it should have, and that was my own fault. I had to stop reading for awhile to get a different book in, and that may have made some details revealed earlier in the book a little fuzzy.

The story starts off by throwing the reader into a bit of a battle and some conflict between those in charge (and those who think they're in charge) of a small town, and it really doesn't slow down much from there. Laver's strength is definitely writing battle scenes. Actions are precise and easily pictured, explaining what is happening and with what kinds of instruments and types of people involved without talking down to the reader. These scenes were easily my favorite. I will say that there were one or two battle scenes that felt drawn out for longer than they should have been, but even then, these were the scenes where the storytelling really shone.

As a whole, the book is not without its flaws. There are multiple grammatical issues, inconsistencies, and some characters that you just don't like. Even the worst villains have some sort of quality that makes you want to read more about them. Unfortunately, that is not the case with the demi-villain in this book. She has no redeeming qualities about her and I honestly sighed every time she was involved in a scene because I knew there would be some sort of subtle (often far from subtle) allusion to sex.

The plot doesn't feel fleshed out enough, which says something for a book that is 450 pages long. There is so much thrown into the novel that not enough time is spent on a single element to get the reader truly invested in it. I was always taught that a good novel in a series takes two or three big ideas and focuses on them while weaving the smaller elements around them, saving other big ideas for later books in the series. It felt like Laver took all his big ideas and stuffed them into this first novel, which left me feel a bit chaotic. There were so many things to learn, characters to keep track of, myths to separate, that sometimes I felt overwhelmed, which made me not want not read as much. Not a good thing.

Dialogue between characters was 50/50. Sometimes it felt extremely organic and believable, others had them pausing in the middle of very serious situations to have a slapstick comedy moment full of laughter. Sometimes reactions were so out of the ordinary that it took me out of the story to wonder about it. There were also moments of swearing which took me completely off guard and just didn't sit well with me. It felt thrown in there to try to make the scene more intense or important, but it just made it awkward.

I did love some of the characters. Grace was definitely my favorite bar far. She felt the most real to me, and her story had a distinguishable arc to it that I thought was beautifully handled. There was even a side character or two that I wished we could have seen more of or learned more about, but again, this was an area where there was just so much that there was not enough time spend on any one character.

My overall rating for this title:


If you would like to check out this title for yourself, check out the Amazon page. 
If reading isn't you thing, you can also find it on Audible
M. R. Laver can also be found on Facebook and Twitter.

If you are an author and have a book you would like me to review, leave a comment down below and I'll get back to you as soon as I can. The wait list is rather long at the moment, but I am still taking new titles.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Practicing the Pause

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My father has never been a very patient man. If you asked him, he'd be the first to admit it. He hates sitting in traffic, complains loudly over the commercials that come before theatrical trailers, and mumbles, mutters, and curses under his breath when something isn't finished when he believes it should be. Out of all the traits I have inherited from my dad, I am thankful this was not one of them. The thing is, he's not alone in his impatience. While I may be more of a “go with the flow” type of person, there are many people who are the complete opposite.

This morning, I decided to walk down to my local craft store. Unless it's a holiday or there is a major sale going on, it's unusual for more than a couple of people to be in line, especially on a Monday morning. For some reason, today the store was packed. Even with multiple registers open, the line was quite long. When I was ready to check out, there were five people in front of me with more people quickly falling into line behind me. One of them was an elderly gentleman. He heaved a great big sigh behind me when he saw how much of a wait there was. It was the first of many. His impatience was not hard to understand. I certainly hadn't expected the store to be so busy. As more and more sighs sounded behind me, I was torn between amusement and annoyance. We all needed to buy things. We were all stuck in the line if we were intent on purchasing the things we wanted. How was expressing irritation over and over helping? It did nothing but make me feel rushed and cause his wife to question whether or not she really needed the things she had in her cart.

A trip to Market Basket is always a lesson in patience, no matter the time of day. There are people everywhere. All the time. No matter what. I have learned to go in with the expectation that it's going to be chaotic, and rushing will only raise my already high anxiety level. (Little known fact about me: grocery shopping stresses me out, and by stresses me out, I mean I would rather sit naked on broken glass than grocery shop because it raises my anxiety level so much.) I had a list with me, as I always do, and was strolling through each aisle, grabbing what I needed, waiting when people were in my way to move before taking what I needed. As it seems to happen when I grocery shop, I kept going down the same aisle with the same people, one particular woman standing out. She was quite a bit larger than me, and tended to walk (and park) her cart right down the middle of the lane, making people either have to wait for her or shimmy around her if they could. We happened to be down the frozen veggies aisle together at the same time, both of us heading for the other end. An elderly couple entered the way we were looking to exit and stopped to discuss whether or not they wanted frozen tilapia. The woman with the cart stopped, waiting for the couple to move. They blocked the aisle as they talked for all of fifteen seconds at most, a much shorter time than her own record for blocking the way. Instead of politely asking if either of them would step aside, she let out a loud, obnoxious growl, whipped her cart around, nearly taking me out in the process, and stomped back down the aisle saying rather rude things about impolite people who don't take anyone else into consideration in a loud voice.



How many times do we do this? How often are we oblivious to the ways we hold other people up, yet feel impatient, angered, even outraged and abused when we feel like someone else is hindering our ability to accomplish or complete something? Why do we feel like we deserve to have every want and need met the second we realize it is there, but if we see a want and need in someone else, we react to fill them with much less speed and conviction than our own? I don't have any real answers for this, but it's something I intend to be more aware of. This “righteous indignation” that tends to take root when we are faced with obstacles that remove situations and outcomes from our control gets us nowhere. What of, instead of huffing away or sighing loud enough so that everyone knows you're unhappy, we took a breath? What if we paused?

Life moves so quickly and we've become so accustomed to getting what we want exactly when we want it. It's killed our ability to wait and made patience practically an antiquated ideal. We rush through everything, looking for the quickest way and in doing so, we sacrifice so much: experiences, memories, interactions. Sometimes our inability to take a second before reacting makes us say or do things we wouldn't normally, simply because we're giving knee-jerk reactions.



Practice the pause before you give that tell-tale sigh. Practice the pause before you speak. Practice the pause. Let it be the action that comes before your reaction. It isn't easy. I'm working on doing this myself, and I'll be the first to tell you that it doesn't feel natural. I can also tell you that it's incredibly freeing to not be bound by impatience and frustration.

I'm in the middle of a rather long pause myself, and it's certainly testing my patience. I've promised a new website and blog, and neither has been able to see the light of day yet. Unfortunately, this has not been a good year for book sales and I'm definitely feeling the pinch of it. Stay tuned. The website is still coming, the new blog with guest posts, reviews, and interviews is still coming.

In the meantime, in the breath before the exhale, I wait to see what's going to happen instead of jumping ahead, opening my mouth before I take a second to think and make things worse. I'm going to try to do that more often. Hopefully others will do the same.

Friday, July 28, 2017

New England Author Expo

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How's that for a dynamic, eye-catching title? *eye roll* Okay, so I have some things to work on when it comes to this blogging thing. No great shocker there, not to me at least. I'll get better at it. Or I won't. Stay tuned, I guess?

This past Wednesday, I was able to be a part of my very first author exposition. Let me tell you, it was nothing like what I was expecting. Part of that was because I had no idea what to expect, and part of it was because I set the few expectations I had way too high. I Loved. It. There were tons of other authors, there were panels, and with that came a great deal of networking. My favorite part, hands down, were the panels. If that was the extent of my day, I honestly would not have been mad. I was never the best student in school, but when it came to subjects I was interested in, dude...I was INVESTED. I felt like a little nerd, sitting in the second row with my pen and notebook, listening as though these people were giving me the secrets to all the things in the universe, and I could not have cared less.

Though some of my readers are authors themselves, most of you are not so I will not go into detail about everything I learned. Anyone who does want me to share what I learned, drop me a comment and let me know. Maybe I'll compile a special email for those of you who show interest.

It was amazing having my editor with me for the day. She's one of the few people who can take my neurosis, look me in the face, and tell me to chill out without me reacting poorly. That's a huge reason why she's the best editor for me, as well. I know most people hear that she is my best friend and automatically discredit the author/editor relationship between us, and with good reason, but I like to think we're different. She's brutally honest with me. She's flat out told me she doesn't like things. Heck, most of the time, she doesn't even like my main characters, but she's able to still work with them. It cracks me up now (but never in the moment) that the things I get most excited about in my writing are usually the things she absolutely does not like. She made me cry when she told me a huge chunk of Dragon Song had to be taken out or vastly rewritten. Yes, she's my best friend, but she is also a phenomenal editor. I could not be more grateful for her and the support and encouragement she provides. *cough* Anyone who is in need of an editor, let me know. She is now taking new clients.

During the course of our day, not only was I able to make connections with other authors and local publishing houses, but Jessica was also able to make some pretty amazing connections. One of the women we met during the day was a local television producer. I had no idea who she was when she came to my table and asked me about my Claymore dirk. I explained to her that I am ridiculously proud of my Scottish heritage and that it plays a big part of my series. She then asked me if I had any books that had come out this year, so I showed her Dragon Song, giving her a quick synopsis when it was asked for. She asked who Jess was and I explained she was my editor. Upon asking Jess how she got into editing my novels, Jess told her how she could only read so far into the first book before she had to stop because of all the problems she was finding. We told her about the books filled to the brim with red pen, and still, she was a little bit skeptical of the whole best friend/editor dynamic. It wasn't until I told her that Jessica made me cry that her attitude became rather open. She quickly snatched up one of Jessica's cards as well. She told us both that she is a local television producer, and that she's looking to fill slots on her show for next year. Though she made it clear that she couldn't promise us anything, she told us that she loved what Jess and I had and that she wanted me to send her my press package (Um...my what now?) and my book.

...so now I need to figure out what the heck a press package/media kit involves, and fast!

I didn't sell any books that day but I was able to trade with three other authors. I'm really excited to read their work, mostly because they are all so different from one another. They took my books as well, and hopefully, we'll all get some good reviews from one another out of the deal.

Up next: Black Swan Renaissance Faire in Tilton, NH, August 12-13. If you're cool, you'll be there.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Book Review: Doorways and Debts by J.P. Michaels

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Hello, dear readers. Please give me a moment to blow the dust off of this thing. It's been sitting for nearly a year and needs a bit of a tidying up. I had plans to move my blog to my own website but things have happened...in some cases, they have NOT happened...and here we are. I can't promise to be better at this blogging thing, but I'm certainly going to make an effort.

As an independent author, I know how hard it is to get your name out there and to get recognition and reviews for your books. Because of this, I want to support as many other independent authors as I can. My goal is to read and review at least four books a year, starting in 2018, written by self-published and little-known authors. It may be a lofty goal, especially looking at my busy schedule, but it's something I feel is important enough to make time for. That being said, if you know of an independent author or are one yourself, send titles (or books!) my way. I'm starting a list to go through.

Before I begin I will say these thoughts and opinions are my own. They are not a representation of how anyone else I know who has read the book feels about it. My reviews may sound harsh at times, especially given that I know for 100% certainty that my own books are far from perfect. However, I feel it is important to be honest and to help each other along this rather arduous and isolating road of being an IA. None of my comments are meant to be malicious, neither are they meant to blow sunshine. They are meant to help grow, refine, and encourage. I can only hope others would do the same for me.

This first review is of a book called Doorways and Debts by J.P. Michaels. I was actually in the middle of another IA's book when I received this one, but chose to make this title a priority since I would be seeing the author again in a month. When I sold my book at the Mutton and Mead Medieval Festival in Turners Falls, Mass last month, I had the pleasure of meeting J.P. in person. We were able to have a great, albeit short, conversation in which we agreed to a book exchange. Because I was slow and stupid busy, it took me about six weeks to get through. Having finished it just last night, I wanted to get the review done while thoughts and feelings were still fresh on my mind.

Format and Grammar
J.P. writes in a block format that is sometimes hard to follow. Instead of starting new paragraphs each time a new character speaks, there could sometimes be up to three different characters speaking in the same paragraph. Many times, I had to go back and read things over to be sure of who was speaking and when. Another thing that made me pause at times were the paragraphs that were little else but definitive statements. He did this. He did that. She came from here. She went there. Sometimes it was just a laundry list of what the character was doing, and that made reading certain sections a little tedious. He also tended to get caught up in describing characters to minute details, even sometimes, characters who were only used very briefly. It may be a personal preference, but I like basic descriptions of characters that leave room for personalization through imagination as I read. It matters little to me the exact height or weight of a character. Short, tall, average is really all I need to know. Several times I was taken off guard by incorrect words, such as "wonder" instead of "wander," and little things like that. However, I've had a few similar instances in my own books, so I can't really be too picky about that.

Setting
I want to know more about this world than I was given. To be fair, this is a side story to J.P.'s main series entitled The Legacy of Jiraiya, but it left me feeling like I was jipped on this fantasy world he created. There are clear indications that this place is not like our world. There are lions that walk on their hind legs, orcs, dwarves, elves, even creatures that look like talking rocks. There are allusions and brief mentions of a war, but other than that, this great big fantasy world is very limited. I was disappointed that we didn't get to explore things a little more. For most of the book, we are inside an inn and its different levels that have a bar, a restaurant, and a spa. Different, certainly, but not expansive.

Plot
This is where my review may come across as harsh, but as I said, I'm going for 100% honesty in hopes of helping people grow in their craft. The plot of this book was very thin and not very engaging. The first few chapters where we are getting to know the main characters and find out about this magical doorway that leads to another world got me so excited about what was to come...only to find out that the rest of the book follows only two of the five characters we're initially introduced to as they do odd jobs to pay off this mysterious debt that is keeping them all from returning home. That's it. There is very little conflict, and when there is, it is addressed and solved rather quickly and tidily. There was no villain, no antagonist at all, really, and that was disappointing.


Characters
I love these characters. J.P.'s strongest feature in this book is definitely his ability to create endearing characters. Though the book mainly focuses on two young teenage boys, Andy and Roger, we also get to meet Ed, Tom, and Jack. They are all distinctly different from one another in personality, though not always in voice. For as young as they are, they have a bit of a Dawson's Creek syndrome to them in that they speak a lot older than they are. That doesn't do much to tarnish who they are, however. I got a clear Goonies vibe from the group right from the beginning. I loved the relationship between Andy and Jack especially. There is always one kid in every group of friends who ends up the butt of the joke, even if it's not meant to be mean, and I loved seeing the "leader" of this pack come to the rescue and stand up for his friend even against his other friends.

Mister Gravoa was a fun character to meet. His pattern of speech instantly made me think of Gru from Despicable Me which, whether intended or not, made me love him all the more. As a mentor, he watches over all five boys from afar while still managing to be involved. No easy task when it comes to teenagers.

The three girls we are introduced to-Laurel, Nicole, and Marie-are all very different from one another and just as endearing as the boys in their own individual ways. I could see bits of myself in each of them, just as I'm sure boys/men would see bits of themselves in each of the boys. There was a brief scene at the end of the book between Laurel and Mister Gravoa that actually made me quite sad. It was beautifully addressed and I'm sure it was the reaction J.P. was going for.

Final Thoughts
This is a good book for pre-teen/young teens if they need a casual read. There are a few swears within, so if that is something you're worried about, be aware. I always encourage parents to read the books their children want to read first, simply because you just never know what can be hidden within the pages nestled between a pretty cover and a back-of-the-book summary.

Links
The Legacy of Jiraiya Website
Read the Prologue
Amazon Page
Facebook Page
 

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