Sunday, June 2, 2019

BOOK REVIEW: The Mists of the Dead, Travis Adkins

★★★★

Travis and I are both indie fantasy authors who, coincidentally, live in the same city. We decided to exchange books, but this review is all my own thoughts.

As I do with all novels nowadays, I'm very much approaching this from a writer's perspective. I think of plot, characters, and world as the major components of speculative fiction, and sometimes, one aspect outshines the others. I tend to be a character-first writer, but there's nothing wrong with any approach. The different approaches are just that--different, and they make for interesting variances. In this case, it feels like Adkins started with his world, which is rich and fully realized, and built from there.

From the characters to the settings, there are lots of good details. But because the world is so fleshed-out and Adkins sometimes stops to explain cool ideas, that means the book gets off to a slightly slow start. We're introduced to the main character, Warrel, in the first scene, but the plot takes a while to get going. Even when Warrel decides to follow Kogliastro the wizard on an adventure, he has loose ends to tie up around town, which means he, Kogliastro, and the third member of their party, the dwarf Gumgen, don't even leave the city until almost a quarter of the way into the book.

There are also a lot of good musings and thoughts packed into the story. One such moment is when Warrel, who grew up orphaned and fighting to survive, is looking for food but his companions are focused on other problems. "Hunger, he knew, was an enemy that could not be outlasted or reasoned or bartered with." There were lots of these small, poignant moments throughout. I very much like little tidbits of wisdom that give insight into the characters like this.

What I liked most, though, is Adkins's insistence on the importance of stories. Warrel is a bard, and he's interested in both stories and language. Once their adventure starts, he bases a lot of his decisions on his knowledge of stories--whether he's the hero or the sidekick, what traditionally happens at certain points in a story. As a writer and avid reader, this was pretty fun to read.

Because I tend to mostly read books with female protagonists, Mists of the Dead probably isn't something I'd pick up on my own. In some ways, the unexpectedness of it made the read more enjoyable in that I didn't have a lot of expectations and was just along for the ride. In other ways, it made it less so. There are really only two non-minor female characters, and they both take a while to appear. What threw me most, though, is that it's very sexualized, more so than books I'm used to reading. The very first scene is Warrel trying to get a girl to sleep with him, and the women are often described as wearing very little clothing. That's definitely a personal thing, but I thought it was worth mentioning.

Overall, I always love finding new, interesting indie fantasy, and Mists of the Dead certainly qualifies. While the world-building pulled me in, the story is what got me invested, and I thought the ending was particularly strong. I'll definitely read more from Travis in the future, and I'd recommend this to readers interested in indie fantasy, high fantasy, zombies, and world-building.

Friday, May 3, 2019

Book Spotlight: Ecosystem Trilogy by Joshua David Bellin


Joshua David Bellin's Ecosystem trilogy is now complete!
Read the synopses below and then head over to Amazon to snag them.
Now through May 6, each book is only $0.99 on Kindle.

In a far distant future, Earth's environment has mutated into the Ecosystem, a collective sentience that has pushed human beings to the brink of extinction. Only those individuals who are born with the psychic power known as the Sense can negotiate the Ecosystem's deadly maze in search of the food, water, and fuel their people need to survive. When Sarah, a seventeen-year-old Sensor with a grudge against the Ecosystem, sets out to avenge her mother's death, she learns more about the Ecosystem--and about herself--than she ever bargained for.

Book One: Ecosystem

Miriam, an apprentice Sensor, is lost in the Ecosystem, and Sarah sets out to rescue her. Joining Sarah is Isaac, a boy who claims to possess knowledge of the Ecosystem that will help their people survive. The harrowing journey to find the missing apprentice takes Sarah and Isaac into the Ecosystem's deadliest places. And it takes Sarah into the unexplored territory of her own heart, where she discovers feelings that threaten to tear her--and her society--apart.

Book Two: The Devouring Land

When Sarah’s village is overrun by monstrous creatures from the Ecosystem, she shepherds the survivors into the forest surrounding the village. Her own Sense badly damaged in an earlier attack, she must fight through a host of new threats in hopes of discovering the place where her mother was born, rumored to be home to a community of healers. But the City of the Queens is haunted by a dark secret of its own, and Sarah will have to learn the truth of her lineage in order to save the people she loves and protect the world she knows.

Book Three: House of Earth, House of Stone

The City of the Queens is under attack. Sarah is forced to flee into the treacherous mountains to the far north, where she hopes to gain allies to contest the power that assails the city. But to wage this final battle, Sarah will have to overcome an ancient curse that threatens not only the survival of her people but the existence of the Ecosystem itself. And she will have to decide whether to save Isaac, the boy she loves, at the cost of losing everything else she holds dear.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Creativity and Burnout

I want to be this cat.
At the end of March, I released the second book in the Heartfriends series. 127 thousand words are a lot of words no matter what genre they're in, and I put in a lot of work to get them. The smart thing to do after all that writing, editing, and proofreading would be to take a break, wouldn't it?

But I didn't. As soon as the book came out, I was on to the next project, looking into next steps for the press, and planning a way to release multiple books this coming calendar year. For my current work in progress, I signed up for Camp NaNoWriMo with a goal of 30K words. At first, the writing went fine--until it didn't, until nothing I was putting to paper was living up to my own expectations. I realized I didn't have a strong sense of my characters, which is how I like to build stories, and I realized it was because I never gave myself the time to brainstorm. I finally decided that I needed to take a break, a small one to start with. I had a few days off from work recently, so I took those days off from writing, too, in an effort to clear my head a little.

Turns out it's hard to take a break, and even after just four days, I'm chomping at the bit to get writing again when I know I'm not ready to dive in. Taking a break is especially hard in a community that often gives advice, though well-meaning, like, "You have to write every day." Because then when I don't, I start to feel like a loser. And I feel like that even when I make myself try to write because I end up just staring at the screen. If I do manage to get some words down, I know they won't be good. People might say that having something down, even if it's bad, is better than nothing, but sometimes that's just not the case.

The reason those forced words won't be good enough to even revise is because I'm burned out. Maybe creative people are especially prone to burnout anyway, but for indie authors, the pressure to produce is incredibly high and constant. All the advice says the more books we put out, the better they'll sell. The longer our backlist, the better our frontlist does. It's no wonder I want to just go, go, go even when it's clear I'm going nowhere.

This feeling is extra frustrating because I used to have good instincts for where a story should or might go. Now, often, I flounder when it comes to the plot. I don't know how to regain those instincts or what my particular answer to burnout is. But, as with everything in life, we love talking about the good aspects of the job and hiding away the bad. I figure the best way to start finding a solution is to start talking about it. So, fellow writers, do you have preferred methods for dealing with burnout? 

Thursday, March 21, 2019

BOOK REVIEW: Love on Lavender Lane, Karis Walsh

★★★ 1/2

Love on Lavender Lane is about Paige, a consultant who helps businesses improve profit margins, and Kassidy, a lavender farmer whose dad pays for a consultation from Paige. Though Paige is more accustomed to working with bigger companies, she relishes the chance to get away from Portland, work in the countryside for a bit, and get her hands dirty. Kassidy, on the other hand, doesn't exactly care for her estranged father's gift, and she thinks Paige will advise her to sell the farm. Their attraction is pretty immediate, and although I wouldn't categorize it as insta-love, part of me wish they'd spent longer in the almost-rivals stage.

I'd definitely classify this as a soft story. Not a lot big happens, and I'm very okay with that. The characters are the main focus here, and Paige and Kassidy are both lovely. I liked Paige a little more because she was more outgoing and funny, but I connected with Kassidy more because she's more reserved and likes to stay in her comfort zone. They spend a lot of the book learning about each other, and they both deal with past baggage in a believable way. My biggest complaint about that is the black moment was a little too dramatic. I had some trouble following Kassidy's logic there and wish the characters would've talked it out more.

This book also features a loveable dog named Dante, who was my favorite character--hands down! I only wish Kipper the cat had featured a bit more, too, but Dante stole the show. Although it didn't blow me away, this was a pleasant read with an interesting premise and an even lovelier setting.

Thanks to NetGalley, Bold Strokes Books, and Karis Walsh for the e-copy!

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Happy Release Day to WOLF SMOKE


Now available in paperback and e-book from Sky Forest Press
Available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and wherever books are sold, or ask your library to purchase a copy

Add it on Goodreads today, and check under the cut for an excerpt

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

The Road to Book Two--Part 3

It's certainly been a while since I've talked at length about Book Two! That's partly because I've had other projects to work on, and I want to give the Sky Forest Press projects proper attention. But it's also because I get embarrassed to talk about my slow writing pace. Though it sounds so silly when I write it down, it seems like other people churn out multiple books a year while it takes me at least two years to write one epic fantasy. That sometimes makes me feel like I'm less of a writer, which I know I'm not! As Baymax said, "I am not fast." That's all there is to it.

Now for the news: Book Two is almost done! Getting close to the end means it's easier to see the end result, and I'm happy to report that I'm proud of this book. I hope readers will enjoy reading it!

Check under the cut for a look at the cover, designed by me and my friend Erica Hogan. She also created a map of the world, which is incredible and something I've been asked about often. I'm excited for you guys to see it. If you're interested in connecting with her for her map-making skillz, you can find her on Twitter.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Happy Galentine's Day!

In celebration of my second favorite holiday-that-came-from-a-television-show (the first is Treat Yo Self Day, of course), I'm featuring a few of my favorite books that include female friendships.

credit: www.bustle.com
1. Lumberjanes Volume 1: Beware the Kitten Holy, Noelle Stevenson
A cute story featuring five girls at the Lumberjanes summer camp, where they get caught up in supernatural shenanigans.

2. The Legend of Wonder Woman: Origins, Renae de Liz
I think this excerpt from my Goodreads review sums this up pretty well:
"But my absolute favorite part of this was her friendship with Etta. Etta and the Holliday girls are fiercely loyal and brave even without Wonder Woman's powers. It's so refreshing and great to see the central relationship be a super supportive one between women."

3. Code Name Verity, Elizabeth Wein
Beware, though! This one's sad, but I still love that the driving force of this story is the friendship between Maddie and Queenie.

4. Rat Queens Volume 1: Sass & Sorcery, Kurtis J. Wiebe
Hannah the Elf, Violet the Dwarf, Dee the Human, and Betty the Smidgen make up a guild called the Rat Queens, who kill magical monsters for booze money, basically.

5. Beauty Queens, Libba Bray
A plane crash leaves the fifty contestants of the Miss Teen Dream pageant stranded on a deserted island, where they fight to survive both the island and each other. This satire tackles female friendship and all the uncomfortable issues that come with being a teenage girl head-on.

What are some of your favorites?

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

BOOK REVIEW: The Delivery of Flesh (Bulletproof Witch #1), F.J. Blair

★★★ 1/2

As an indie fantasy writer, I love to find other indie fantasy writers who are new to me. I can't quite remember how I came across this novella, but I'm certainly glad I did! This is a fun, quick read with an interesting world and shades of Wynonna Earp. It's about Temperance Whiteoak, whose grandfather was the first Pistol Warlock, people who can make and use hex bullets. Now, though, the Pistol Warlocks are lawmen, and Temperance isn't interested in that nearly as much as she's interested in revenge against the demons who slaughtered her town and family.

But getting revenge means Temperance needs hex bullets, and hex bullets mean she needs money. She agrees to help a marshal escort a prisoner to Benson City in exchange for payment. Things get complicated, though, when the prisoner's men chase them across the wilderness thanks to a magical brand.

Because it's a novella, the plot is pretty straightforward, but I think where the story shines is in the worldbuilding. Little by little, Blair sprinkles in interesting or cool details that add to the world. The concepts of Pistol Warlocks and hex bullets are vital to the story, and the further in you get, the more you know about both. I especially liked the tidbit when Temperance refers to making and casting the bullets as an art form. But even the details that were less important to the plot made the world seem more developed and less cookie-cutter. My favorite was Astor the horse, Temperance's familiar, who can communicate telepathically with her and frequently does to tell her she's making bad decisions.

My biggest complaint is I didn't think Temperance was fully fleshed-out. Part of that is just the length of the story. It's hard to fit a lot of character development into 100 pages. Mostly, I want to know more about what drives her--outside of revenge--and I'm looking forward to seeing where the next novella takes us.

Friday, February 1, 2019

BOOK REVIEW: Pursuit of Happiness, Carsen Taite

★★★

Pursuit of Happiness is the third book I've read by Taite. Actually, my first ever NetGalley book was Taite's A More Perfect Union, which came out December 2017. I'd requested it on a whim and ended up really enjoying it to the point of seeking out more books in the lesfic genre. This one features a few recurring characters from A More Perfect Union and an earlier Taite book I haven't read, but you don't need to read those before reading this one.

As you can probably guess from the titles, Taite often writes about politics and the law. One thing I like about that is her stories feature strong women with tough jobs. In Pursuit of Happiness, Meredith is a Democratic senator and and Stevie is a public defender. Both are career-driven but find themselves drawn together after meeting at a senate hearing. But things get complicated when Meredith gets a last-minute opportunity to run in the primaries for the chance to be the Democratic presidential nominee, and Stevie's not sure she wants the exposure that would come with dating a presidential candidate.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Short Story Round-Up

In late December, an anthology called Fall Into Fantasy 2018 came out from Cloaked Press. It collects 13 fantasy stories, including "Steeping Spells," which is mine! Check it out on Amazon in paperback and e-book.



I have another story, "Lonesome," coming out in an anthology called Gunsmoke & Dragonfire, a collection of fantasy westerns. Here's the blurb for my story: 

An elven veteran is called back to face her demons when a little girl is snatched to serve the army that destroyed her…

Although the anthology doesn't come out until March, it's available for pre-order on Kindle for just 99 cents for the month of January! Then, the price will increase in increments until it reaches full price upon the release in March.

Pre-order it HERE.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Happy Release Day to RAGNAROK UNWOUND




Available today from Sky Forest Press
Purchase it on Kindle or in paperback

Add it to your Goodreads today

Check under the cut for an exclusive excerpt and giveaway!

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Fave Shows of 2018

The Great British Baking Show

I'm starting off with an old favorite. In a year that's been hard for a number of reasons, this show always brings some much-needed joy and comfort to my life. Even though I was apprehensive about the new judge and hosts, they ended up being charming in different ways than the former ones, and I'm looking forward to as many new seasons as Netflix and PBS will give me. Maybe this year, I'll even start baking more. I've always wanted to try bread.


Killing Eve

What a wacky show--in the best way. I didn't expect a show about a serial killer to be as funny as it is, but all the characters seem so real and genuine. The whole cast hits it out of the park, and I have a soft spot for Fiona Shaw's serious, enigmatic Carolyn. Sandra Oh is a particular strength, and it's wonderful to see her in the lead even if her character isn't always as put-together and in control. Despite the synopsis, this isn't simply a spy thriller cut-and-pasted to include women. I haven't read the novellas on which it's based (the first is Codename Villanelle by Luke Jennings), but I think I can credit Jennings as well as show creator/writer Phoebe Waller-Bridge and her writing crew for featuring fascinating women who also feel real. There are lots of women in this story, all of whom are different and messy, and that's one thing I love to see on TV.
 

Doctor Who

Although I'm not quite finished with the season, I found it to be full of wonder and heart. I was excited at the prospect of a female Doctor, and Jodie Whittaker certainly hasn't disappointed. She's got a ton of energy, but my favorite thing about her character is something she said herself in her first episode: "When people need help, I never refuse." The world's been pretty dark, and a lot of times, I find that hard to deal with. Watching this show for an hour reminds me that there are genuinely good people in this world (and out of it!) who want to help. What I find even more refreshing, though, is the trio of companions--Yaz, Ryan, and Graham. I love seeing a more inclusive cast, and I love that they each have their own strengths and struggles. This is getting long, so I'll end it with one of my favorite quotes from the season:

May the saints of all the stars and constellations bring you hope as they guide you out of the dark and into the light on this voyage and the next and all of the journeys still to come for now and evermore.


Legends of Tomorrow

Apparently, I just love wacky shows! While Killing Eve skews dark, Legends of Tomorrow skews silly while still managing to tackle important topics and hit emotional beats. Time travel has always been a staple, but the current season has added magical shenanigans! How could I possibly not love it? That said, the strength of this show is in its characters and its heart. I'm always a sucker for found-family stories, and this one features a timeship full of weirdos who stick together out of necessity before becoming friends and then family. I can't wait to see what the second half of the season has in store.


Runaways

Season 1 was a slow burn that I didn't fully appreciate until I rewatched it in preparation for season 2, which really embraces the found-family trope as Alex, Chase, Gert, Karolina, Molly, and Nico face the reality of leaving the (relative) safety of their parents' homes. Not only does it give them a chance to bond and argue while living under the same abandoned roof, but it makes them band together to figure out and increase their powers. Karolina was always a favorite because I happen to like genuinely nice characters, and it was a treat digging into her background a bit more. But this season has endeared me to all six of the Runaways, with Nico and Molly in the running for second favorite. The show also features some kick-butt music. I'm really hoping Hulu renews this one because I can't wait to see what's next!


Stay tuned for my favorite movies and books of 2018!