BookRiot: Self-Published Books

The books reviewed here are far from the first self pubs that I have reviewed on this blog.  Some I was even asked for.

I was pleased to see BookRiot push people to read self published work.  It’s still hard work to self-publish, not by any means the easy way of getting your book out there, even though there are not the gatekeepers that there are for traditional publishing. It doesn’t appear faster, either, to get your book traction on your own, and I think some of the stigma is fading from it.

Also, in case anyone is wondering, I am so pleased that the beauty of summer is here. This weekend I am spending with friends as a Bon Voyage to a friend who is moving to the Netherlands to do a post doc. I usually see my long distance friends over the summer, but later on after the school year is done in New York.  I might have to visit him in the Netherlands whilst he is there.

But on to the self-published books.

A Self-Published Book:

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The Inevitable Fate of E & J, Johanna Randle

A teen boy and girl who used to be best friends but who fell apart through circumstance are brought back together by forces they cannot control:  namely, that their souls are linked via past life experiences and they are warned that being together to figure out the story can be detrimental to them both.  Clearly, this is only the first in a series of indeterminate length.

I actually found this via an indie author community on Twitter and asking one another to comment their books for consideration.  It was hard to determine what books are self-published and which are not, as evidenced by my reading two Ania Ahlborns before I realized that she was picked up by Amazon. (but also not wasted time.  She just came out with a new book that she published herself, Now You See Her, so of course that landed on the TBR).  But I follow Johanna Randle on Twitter and she makes no qualms about having put her own work out there, and I admire her that.

I liked this story, it was completely wholesome and the nice boy is the one who wins, which I always like in YA romance, and the girl is learning through the story to stand up for what she likes and wants, not what others want of her.  The world of what everyone thinks a teenager wants is the life she leaves behind in favor of what her heart says. However, as this is the first in a series, there is a lot of set-up in this one.  There is a lot of uncertainty of the hearts coming back together, a lot of self doubt and wondering over action.   It picked up right in time for setting up for the next book. I’d be interested to see if the second books speeds up with all the initial stuff out of the way.

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A Light Amongst Shadows:  Dark is the Night, Book 1, Kelley York and Rowan Altwood

Two boys meet and fall in love in a sinister, Gothic era/novel reform school.  Ghosts crawl the property and when James’ roommate goes missing, they discover the sinister reason why and free the school of it’s dark secrets.

This was an ambitious novel, Gothic and historical, for something self-published, as well as having a romance/sexual relationship between two males.  I know LGBT is becoming the thing lately in YA, and I can’t say the book I’m sending out doesn’t have that, but I still think a gay relationship is forward in mainstream YA books.   I swiped this one off the list of BookRiot recommends, seeing as I can barely handle finding out what is a self pub on my own.

This one moved along a little more, but it could have used some perking up.  Some more subplots to keep it going.  The curiosity is drawn out with the boys not knowing why the others have been disposed of in reform school, and the reveals do have their effect on the main romantic relationship, as they should.  I loved the ghosts, and the secrets, and there were some very scary parts to this one.  It was deliciously dark, which is why we pick up Gothic stories in the first place.  This one also is the start to a series that would be worth continuing.  I saw in getting the image for this post that there is already a 2 and 2.5 out?  Nice.  I love finding something where  I can keep reading.

Mayhaps I have a summer reading/blogging plan.  It could possibly be forming.  It still looks like weekly posts, but I am thinking about working through some of my short story collections, now that I seem to have a better idea of what makes a short story good or special or stand out.  It might help me form my own shorts better if I read a lot of them, armed with this knowledge.  And I could use a short story read down.

But my next post will be two popular novels by women that have gotten a lot of attention.  Ones that I don’t feel I can miss while still considering myself well-read.

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BookRiot: Cozies!

I almost kind of cheated with this category.

I rang in the New Year bingeing on Her Royal Spyness books and feeling at the time that I could just count those as my cozies, and I could, technically, but it wouldn’t be getting around to something new that I had been meaning to read.  Of course I meant to read all the Royal Spyness goodness, but maybe something new to me that also deserved a chance.

I have also read something like 37 Nero Wolfe novels.  Some of them are already due for a re-read.

So I did read two new cozies.  Two I already owned, because reading down the backlist is also important, especially since I want to do better with newer novels (and write all the things, and have a full time job and a son etc).  Stuff.  And both of them are set in mostly arid climates, hence this week’s picture not being some saccharine springtime one (but those are my favorite, sorry not sorry).

A Cozy Mystery:

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The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, Alexander McCall Smith

Precious Ramotswe, burned by marriage at a young age and finding herself free and with a bit of means from an inheritance, decides to start her own detective agency, the only one run by a woman in her home of Botswana.  This is not one mystery in this book but a series of small ones, one probably larger and more serious than the rest.  It’s a light-hearted book, even though the topics can be difficult:  adultery, pregnancy/child loss, and the disadvantaged status of women, crime, etc.  Of course you have to have those things if you are solving mysteries, and they are still cozy, not all of them involving death or murders.  It is one of those where the solutions are usually fairly simple and the detective herself goes out on a limb to test out her own theories.

I can see why people might pick up more in this lighthearted series with a smart woman at it’s helm.  Old world charm, likeable characters, diverting mysteries.  It was a fun read, and I blew right through it.

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The Bride Wore Dead, EM Kaplan

Josie Tucker, a struggling food writer, sets out to solve the mystery of what happened to a distant friend who died on her honeymoon at a health spa.

It says directly on the cover that this is an un-cozy, un-culinary mystery.  It’s cozy enough for my purposes, even though it is decidedly edgier than some of the cozies I have consumed and will continue to consume (let’s be honest with ourselves here). The protagonist, Josie Tucker, can be edgy, cynical and hard to read.  As cozies are usually centered around a hobby, she was a food writer but having gastrointestinal issues and needing to add other things to focus on.  She does get seriously hurt in this one, which makes it a little less cozy than some of them can be, although it’s common for the sleuth in these novels to come under attack themselves as they get closer to the truth.

I liked this book, but it was slow in places. At the beginning, when she is a stand in bridesmaid, we do get to know her major cast of friends, but there is a lot of talk at the wedding table and her learning that the wedding is largely attended by exes of the bride and talking about them.  I don’t know if these were intended to be red herrings, but she dies on the honeymoon, not at the actual wedding.  And when her friend comes over to take care of her when she is hungover, and a doctor visit about stomach issues that cannot be figured out, I feel these could have been pared down a little. I wanted to keep going, I was curious about all the plot threads, and I liked that the protagonist’s life gets a little more back on track at the end, instead of being the loose jumble that it is in the beginning.   Things change for the grumbly, sick and overheated woman we meet in the first few pages.

I’d recommend it, and maybe in her following books the movement is a little faster, as there isn’t as much setup involved.  I’d be willing to read further in.  I have book two, Dim Some, Dead Some.  I’m interested in how Josie will continue to move forward with her illness, and I like that she isn’t as sweet as other cozies can be. Also, this is a self pub but I am reading other self pubs rather than counting this one twice.

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Review: The Hollow Traveller by J.L.Oakman

This week is a short break from the riotous September and the scary reads October.

I am a member of Your Write Dream on Facebook, a group run by Kristen Kieffer of well-storied.com. Sometimes I post on Kristen’s Shameless Self-Promo thread. Quite a brilliant move, I’d say, for her to offer it.  And in return if you have thought about joining an online writing community, this is a great place to ask and have questions answered and get support with writing.

Through my shameless self promo I was solicited for an honest review in exchange for a copy of a book:

 

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The Hollow Traveler, J.L. Oakman

I remember learning about the solar system in elementary school and the briefly breath arresting reality that the sun, as with all stars, will inevitably die, and then so will all the life that depends on the life of the star.  I say only briefly arresting because then I’m told that it’s estimated that the sun will die long after I am long obsolete myself.  As long as I don’t think too long about the fact that I will be so long dead as to be totally inconsequential, instead of just mostly, I’m okay.

But then this book brings out that uncomfortable reality of the universe slowly winking out on itself, the narrator chronicling the last bit of time, the last vestiges of civilization.  It is a little reminiscent of the Jules Verne that I have read, written when the planet was still a new place and not nearly as connected as it is today.  Verne is a little more fantastical whereas the stories of the snuffed out civilizations in The Hollow Traveller are post apocalyptic and completely feasible. They are the stories, that have been true for past civilizations on this planet. They are snippets, dipping a toe into each short segment of a civilization’s ended story as discovered by the traveler.

This was a short read that unfolds surprises about the narrator and the nature of the world he is in in the stories of the places he has visited.  It is a diverting read, perfect if you are into science fiction and need something short.  I am assuming that if you are into science fiction you can handle being reminded of the ending of the too endless to conceptualize universe.  That’s the most anxiety producing part.

I recommend this book and I am grateful for the opportunity to review it.

October begins tomorrow and the scary reads are lined up for the season!

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LBGTQ+ Books

So, I really tried to get to posting on time last week. Really, I did.  But I wanted my son to meet my friend’s first squishy newborn son and there is only a window of opportunity for these things.  I am sure that my tsunami of readers will understand.

I have actually been considering posting every other week.  I did last summer, and I felt that it backlogged my posts which is not a bad thing, but that would not be the purpose this time.  I need to be reading things to hone my writing:  short stories, lit mags, poetry, my New Yorker magazines, types of books I might not want to post on here, nonfiction books about writing or to learn more about topics I might want to include in my writing.  I think for August I will trial space it to every other week and see what other things get worked on.  Blogging is fun and it has become emotionally safer than writing things to potentially submit and the weekly schedule gives me an excuse to continue taking the safe way of writing blog posts instead of taking on more challenges with my writing.

I am training  as well as trying to continue to challenge myself with writing.  I managed to get the motivation back to train for triathlon #3.  Does that make me a triathlete yet?

Also, grocery store malt beverage disguised as a delicious and festive champagne is a little butt kicking even when I fancy it up with rainbow sherbet.

So the inevitable Read Harder cave in resulted in posting on two LGBTQ+ books.  This is a serious hole in my reading.  My reading used to have a hole created by a dearth of celebrity memoirs and I don’t like admitting that that was filled before the lack of LGBTQ+ reading.   I didn’t even intend for this post to land at the time of Trump’s announcement about the transgender community serving in the military, but neither are these about transgender, but homosexual males.  Issues with gays are old hat compared to people who are transgender!  And in case anyone is wondering, discrimination hurts people more than the way they were born, so…. But I digress:

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Drawn Together, Z.A. Maxfield

BookRiot gave this as an example of a book that would fit their requirement of a gay romance novel.  I think it is a self pub, which I don’t think is unusual for a book with that specific of a niche.

I don’t have a lot of experience with any sort of romance novel, so I don’t know how it would be in comparison to the romance genre in general.  I follow some bloggers and writers of romance books on Facebook and this still has not encouraged me to check out the genre more thoroughly.  I picked up a Nicholas Sparks from a giveaway bin and it still is sitting in my bag.  So, romance has not ever been really one of my ‘things.’  I could use more exposure to the genre, though.

That said, the book wasn’t bad. The dialogue was a little stilted at times, unrealistic, and I could not tell if one character calling the other ‘cher’ was meant to be affectionate or derogatory.

I have actually heard of the trope in gay lit where one character is unaware at the beginning of the story that they are attracted to the same sex.  That is the case here, which the book blurb is clear about. The other element driving the plot is one of the men having a stalking, psycho killer that threatens his life, the stress that the characters experience that sharpens their feelings toward one another, especially for the guy who believes at the start of the story, that he is straight.

I might read other gay romance after reading this one.  There was another on the BookRiot list of acceptable books, one about a bed and breakfast, that looked interesting to be able to compare this one to.   Not anytime soon, though, as I am making my way through lists I never said I would.

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Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, Benjamin Alire Saenz

This one was for the requirement of a YA/middle grade book written by an author who identifies as LGBTQ+.

I have come to the conclusion that a good YA novel is one that captures what it is like to be a teenager, and this one has the added bonus of what it is like to be a gay teenager.  Most teenagers wonder where they fit into the world, but this particular teenager Aristotle has the added level of really never feeling like he fit in and his parents notice.   Like, he takes the ‘don’t fit in’ piece to a totally new level.  And Dante does not even know how truly Mexican he is.

Saenz has sparse and clean sentences and he does not ride heavily on description, but he says all the true and painful things in this simple language that makes the story shine.  It is even sparse and simple through some very dramatic events that show the boys in the end who they really are.  It clearly shows Aristotle’s frustration with his family story and how that ties in to who he is and his style of communicating and his family trying to evolve, too, through their own shadows.

This story was a work of art.  It is really something special with it’s multilayers and speaking to a set of underrepresented teens without being dramatic or maudlin.  I love it for that, too. I deal with many underrepresented teens in my life.  I am glad Saenz can write about something he knows so beautifully.

Due to it’s accolades it was on my TBR forever, so I am not completely ignoring my goal of reading it all down in favor of looking at a challenge to diversify my reading.  This also inspires me to read another of the same I have, I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson.

I am glad for both of these categories being on the Read Harder list this year.  There are also in my opinion too many comics, not as important as understanding diverse viewpoints, but as I possibly have a reluctant reader on my hands it might not be an entirely bad thing.

So I am going to see if posting bimonthly will help me focus on other writing projects where I will be challenging myself and pushing through the anxiety that nothing is any good.  Knitting less will also help with this but no promises.

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Bringing Ancient Greece to Life

It finally started getting warm.  I think June might end up being okay.  The rain at least brings the green that I ache for all winter long.  Even when the snow feels cozy, I miss the green.  So there is green.

Myths and legends are the foundation on which we build our cultures and societies.  As such, they provide a framework from which we can make our own spins and interpretations of the well known stories and characters: gods, demi-gods, the foolish mortals, etc.  They contain the classic messages that still apply to us today.

The Greek myths discussed in the books I am reviewing for this post both have their own spins on Greek mythology.  One is an indie review where I was provided a free copy in exchange for a review on my blog, and the author suggested that I could compare his book with Percy Jackson and The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan, as he told me that some of his readers drew parallels between his book and that one.

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Icarus and the Wing Builder, Robert William Case

This is the story of Daedalus and Icarus in Ancient Greece, how Daedalus came to meet and adopt Icarus, their exile and their mutually hatched plot to build a pair of wings to be the first men to fly.  However, there is only one historical keeper of the tale, Daedalus.  Could he be the infamous unreliable narrator who has pulled in many a listener to tales?  Did he really fly too close to the sun to meet his demise?  Does Daedalus have another motive for telling that story? Icarus was originally an orphan, Daedalus was a man sent by the king to explore the secret of bronze after he is blamed unfairly for the death of one of his workers.  Both needed to find new places in the world.

Like other reviewers report, this is mythology but reads more like historical fiction.  The author very much wants the reader to get a feel for what it was like to live in Ancient Greece, the ceremonies, the structure of power and the rise and fall from favor.  What people had to do in order to survive.  If you want to benefit from the author’s research and get a feel for what it was like to live in these times, this book is absolutely a good fit.  There is romance, lots of adventure, and some rebellion against the status quo.  Be warned that this is actually the first in a trilogy, and while the ending does have a degree of satisfaction on its’ own, the excerpt of the next installment suggests there is more to the story. I don’t want to spoil what the next installment suggests, but the whole story is not told at the last page.

And I was able to hang in there even though the story is centered on male characters and their concerns, which is an endorsement coming from me.  I cared about what happened to them, even thought they were males with different power and opportunities.

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The Lightning Thief, Rick Riordan

In my opinion, the similarities between this book and Icarus and the Wing Builder nearly end at the facts that they both use Greek mythology for their characters and that they both bring these stories more to life for someone who has not researched them considerably on their own. For one thing, this is a middle grade/young adult novel, whereas Case’s book is an adult book. For one thing, there is sex and romance in Icarus that a reader of The Lightning Thief would not understand or likely care very much for.   And persecution, and other adult topics that kids do not relate to in the same way as they relate to issues in books targeted to them.

Percy is a sixth grade kid that has never fit in anywhere in the regular world of mortals, and finds out his true story of being a demi god the summer after sixth grade.  He finds it out because he is put in the middle of a conflict between the gods, goes to a camp for other demi god children, and meets other gods in the process.  I can see where this book has become so popular.  I had wanted to read it because many of the kids I work with have read it and very much loved it and have gained an interest in mythology from it.  I would share this book with my son, absolutely, in that it is relateable, interesting, and funny.

I have probably belabored the point on how important I feel it is to bring history and our culture into tangible detail for people to really understand where our civilization comes from.  As such, these books are both important works.  I got a better understanding of the context and the characters at play in Ancient Greece and what it may have been like to live there.

Comments/likes/shares are always greatly appreciated! Leave the love.

 

Review: When the Serpent Bites by Nesly Clerge

This is the first indie book I received in exchange for an honest review that has made it to a review on the blog.

Excuse two posts in a day, but I wanted to be as timely as my book review policy promises.

I want to start by saying while I do enjoy a thriller, this is not the usual kind of book that I would pick up. It sucked me in.

This book teased and danced with my curiosity. Honestly, I had a hard time liking any of the characters save for a few because they are mostly crazy wealthy, entitled, privileged and self centered. But I wanted to know what happened went down to get these people to where they were now, with Frederick Starks, (Starks) a guy in prison after confronting one of his estranged wife Kayla’s lovers, the estranged wife pregnant with some other guy’s kid, and a best friend Jeffrey caught in the middle.  Clerge teases you with snippets of the backstory through conversations between characters and in therapy.  Therapy is a great way to expose teasers of backstory because only parts of the story are revealed, and of course only the self serving ones, in the beginning.  And then, as the true story starts to come together, he throws in a big twist that puts the final nail in the coffin of the old Starks.  The book ends as the new Starks is transforming.  I am curious about where the story came from but also where Starks is planning on going from here.

I also liked the use of the prison setting.  The constant drama, the dubious and shaky alliances, always at the brink of eat or be eaten, both from the other prisoners and the guards. It seemed realistic, not that I have ever been in prison to know, but it seems that the author found a way to do his research about this setting to make it work.

A word about Starks:  I kept mixing him up with Tony Stark from IronMan and seeing him in my mind’s eye as Robert Downey Jr. It could have been intended.  I went back and forth between liking him and not.  He has redeeming qualities:  he is generous and kind.  He is meticulous, orderly, and tidy.  He is a born leader but learns from getting knocked down a peg. Where I struggled with Starks was his rigid views and double standards between women and men. He is very entitled.  He can do what he wants, but his wife is supposed to sit in her pretty castle twiddling her thumbs and going to pilates while he has his affairs with whomever he pleases. He is controlling and sets ultimatums:  he will only supply her with her phone if he can go through it at any time.  I may be weird but my husband has never looked through my phone and it is locked because I work where kids could get their hands on my phone. I don’t touch his phone either. If that changed I would re assess my marriage.  Anyway. He has a pretty new girlfriend but it is not okay that his estranged wife has someone else in her home. She is supposed to be a virgin and his claim on her this way is unapologetic.  I don’t like that at all. Not that his wife Kayla is a sympathetic character though either. I found her less appealing, but the story does not go into her head in this volume.  She tells people her version of what went on and their relationship is reported from Starks’ perspective, but not yet hers.  I wonder if that is coming.

Favorite character?  His third cellmate. No spoilers though.

I also have been wondering if the details of the assault that led to the sentence will also be forthcoming.  See what I said?  I am still wondering.

A final note is that I like how he portrayed the therapy sessions in the book. As a therapist I struggle when the dialog is stilted or stereotyped in media. Communication can sound stilted in a therapy session, because there is a degree of educating going on, but I am glad the therapist is a regular guy who cares and makes mistakes too that he is accountable for.  He pushes Starks a lot in session to examine his role in the marriage, which sometimes Starks starts to admit and take responsibility for his part, but sometimes when he is pushed in session, he does not.  The therapist pushes more than I generally do, but realistic text from early therapy sessions is sometimes slow and not useful to plot development.  A guy like Starks probably needs a lot more sessions of denial and justification of his actions before he could get to where he is in the story in his sessions.

I see from Amazon that the second installment, When the Dragon Roars, is already available. I can’t pick it up immediately because I may have over committed myself to completing three reading challenges.

Comments/Likes/Shares are always appreciated!

5 over 500, Book 4: Childhood Magic

Okay, so five books over 500 pages will end up being a conservative goal, as is my Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 55 books.  Confessions of a binge reader.

My fourth book over 500 pages this year was a Christmas gift from my mother, and incidentally, also a self published book. Its purpose for being reviewed on here is three pronged:  0ver 500 pages, it counts for my reading challenges (book recommended by a family member or a middle grade novel) and it is self published.

The Time Seekers, by D.A. Squires

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A twelve year old girl, Alexandra, lives with her grandmother and service staff (who are naturally like family to her) in an old mansion in Maine, steeped in old money.  She goes to a miserable school until her long lost family starts to show up in her life, from which proceeds a series of whimsical and magical events that pulls her family back together.

This story is female childhood wish fulfillment.  A cool old house, a quaint village, an exotic pet that is practically human, finding and pulling together long lost family, and magic.  So much magic.  Even the places frequented in the old house would be where I would go:  the conservatory and the library.  Even has a dumbwaiter, which I had dreamed of having ever since I read Harriet the Spy at about that age.  If I was reading this at the intended ages of grades 4-8 I would have wanted to crawl between the pages and live there for all eternity.

As an adult, it was a little less fun.  Apparently my wish fulfillment patterns have changed as I have ambled into my mid-thirties and have developed an aversion to real pants and an un-caffeinated day. This novel lacked tension in parts and focused instead on the details of this very appealing childhood, like the pretty outfits worn and the quaint little shops. When it did have tension it was amped up in shorter bursts, which is probably ideal for a child audience.  I know that I can’t take tension that has been too dragged out and my tolerance was less as a kid. I was struggling to stay engaged about halfway through but I did make it.  But I guess I care more about other stakes than the ones that were at play here.

The ending and epilogue were jam packed with more enthralling and exciting events for a child.  Just when you thought it was all great, most characters had something even more awesome happen to them in the epilogue.  Kids like that kind of closure. And awesomeness.

I also thought that the decorative tigers in the book could have had more play than they did. I was waiting on all the animals to give me a surprising twist.

My assessment:  perfect for a child, maybe a good bonding snuggle parent child read together, perfect for a kid to tackle their first epic sized novel.  Not as appealing to me as a stand alone book as an adult. I might share this as a read along with my son when he is older and does not pick through the bookcase at night for Pete the Cat, Harry the Dirty Dog, Trucks, Piggies, Harold and the Purple Crayon, and a four pack of Mater books on colors, shapes, numbers, and opposites. I hope he likes magic like I do, but he is a lot like his father and he really wants to be involved in trips to Lowes and the dump.  Just last week he was worried that his dimples meant his face had holes.  I have some time to see who he will be.

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