Friday, May 22, 2015

Book Review: These Starcrossed Lives Of Ours, by Megan Linski

These Starcrossed Lives Of Ours


 Megan Linski


Christine Fjord is on the run. After making her escape from the cult she called her family for three years, nineteen year old Christie is now wanted dead by the girl she’s loved and idolized forever...the cult's cunning and venomous leader, Annabelle Lane. An expert in the art of deception, Annabelle's threats aren't to be taken lightly, and everybody knows that once you're in the cult, you're in it for life. The only way out is death.

Christie's break from Annabelle's clutches leads her to a place she never knew existed, a small town called Manchester, Michigan, and into the arms of a man who is the opposite of everything she's been. Ian Rosenthal is kind, forgiving, and willing to sacrifice everything for Christie's safety. Christie resists Ian's efforts to win her over, despite the strong feelings she has for him. Is falling in love again worth risking her life? Christie knows that nobody crosses Annabelle Lane without paying the ultimate price...


I received an electronic ARC from Gryfyn Publishing in exchange for an honest review.

After reading the synopsis I was instantly intrigued. I love this dark secret, scandalous crime sort of stuff. The day I received my ARC was a busy one so I didn't really have time to start it right away. I thought, "Oh I'll just read the prologue real quick." After ingesting this chilling, dramatic scene, I was like, "Okay, just cancel all my plans for tonight." Seriously. Download the sample HERE and just read the prologue if nothing else. ***Be warned, the violent situation may disturbing to some readers.***

The scenes after the beginning of the book were a bit disappointing. The author set up Christine to be this damaged, hardened girl, but we really didn't know what exactly made her that way. She came from a rough home, but we didn't get much insight into that. I would have enjoyed a flashback or two, especially since I'm familiar with Linksi's work and know she would have been able to execute them nicely. We really don't know much about Annabelle, the antagonist, either - except that she has a split personality that is irresistibly charming one minute and ruthless the next. But again, what made her that way? Most of my questions about her were answered toward the end, but I would have liked a little more character presentation on Annabelle in the beginning to better understand Christine's struggle with leaving the cult.

The cult, or rather Annabelle's little "family" of lonely, misguided teenagers, was one thing that really made me want to read this book. I've always been fascinated by weird fanatic groups and the people that belong to them. I wish the cult aspect of the book had been a bit more developed as well. I understand the kids who belonged to it were vulnerable and susceptible to Annabelle's sweet words and promise of a place to call home, but after they found out about all the rules and that life in her crappy house wasn't worth it, what made them stay? A few tried to run away but many were hopelessly devoted and I just didn't know why. I feel like Christine could have had a few flashbacks during her integration back into society that would have been good insight into what it was exactly that she was leaving.

That part of the book was great. I really enjoyed watching Christine's guarded walls chip away little by little while she is in the care of good people. I really liked Ian. He was flawed, yet genuine and a real model for how a guy should treat his girl. Even though she wasn't his girl...Linski does a really good job of the whole "will they, won't they" scenario. The romance is slow going, but I believe that is more like real life. Or how it should be, anyway. The best relationships are built on a foundation of friendship and trust. I can't say that statement better than how the author illustrates it.

I'm glad I got to read These Starcrossed Lives Of Ours. You get to see the story from the point of view from both Christine and Ian, and the author does a great job of giving both of them a distinctly different voice. There are a few twists, one I saw coming from a mile away and another came up and smacked me in the back of the head when I wasn't looking. Because of the missing links with Annabelle and the cult, I didn't get what I was hoping for out of the book, but it was definitely worth the read.

3 stars





Thursday, May 21, 2015

Author Spotlight: Lesa Howard

Lesa Howard

Christine Dadey’s family uprooted their lives and moved to Houston for her to attend the prestigious Rousseau Academy of Dance. Now, two years later, Christine struggles to compete among the Academy’s finest dancers, her parents are on the brink of divorce, and she’s told no one about her debilitating performance anxiety and what she’s willing to do to cope with it. Erik was a ballet prodigy, a savant, destined to be a star on the world’s stage, but a suspicious fire left Erik’s face horribly disfigured. Now, a lonely phantom forced to keep his scars hidden, he spends his nights haunting the theater halls, mourning all he’s lost. Then, from behind the curtain he sees the lovely Christine. The moldable, malleable Christine. Drawn in by Erik’s unwavering confidence, Christine allows herself to believe Erik’s declarations that he can transform her into the dancer she longs to be. But Christine’s hope of achieving her dreams may be her undoing when she learns Erik is not everything he claims. And before long, Erik’s shadowy past jeopardizes Christine’s unstable present as his obsession with her becomes hopelessly entangled with his plans for revenge

I'm currently elbow deep in Phantom's Dance, so I was thrilled that author Lesa Howard agreed to do an interview!



Phantom's Dance is has plenty of ballet jargon. What is your background in dance? 

I knew what a pirouette was, and that was about it. So I spent tons of time doing research. Watched documentaries and movies, a reality show about ballerinas, and bought the book Ballet for Dummies. But what helped the most was connecting with a former ballerina, now an instructor at the Houston Ballet. For the two years I worked on Phantom’s Dance, I must have emailed her with some of the dumbest questions. But she was patient and I couldn’t have done it without her. 


Where did you draw inspiration to write Phantom's Dance?

I’ve always loved the Phantom of the Opera, in all its incarnations, from the original Gaston Leroux novel to the corny rock opera Phantom of the Paradise and the fabulous Andrew Lloyd Webber musical. I enjoy each unique spin on the story.  

What helps you to prepare to write?

Daydreaming! I’m super good at it. Once, as I stood in line at the grocery store and the cashier scanned my things, she talked to me, sharing the events of her day. At one point I realized I had not heard a word she said because I was running through a troublesome scene in my head! I was mortified and soooo glad she didn’t know I’d just zoned out on her. Too rude. But I can’t always help it. It just happens. 

What is your favorite genre to read?

I honestly can’t answer that. I read pretty much anything. All that matters to me is a good story. It would probably be easier to say what I don’t like— westerns, dystopian, and erotica.

What is the most difficult part of the writing process?

The first draft. It’s in my head, but it’s like chiseling granite to get it out and onto paper. Once I’ve got the first draft down the fun part begins—revising and editing. That’s when I get to add the emotion and drama.

What are the pros and cons of publishing Phantom's Dance independently?

Definitely the lack of exposure. It’s very hard to keep it out there in front of readers because there are so many books available to choose from. Plus, every minute I spend on self-promotion is one not spent on writing.

What do you do when you are not writing?

I’m a writer with a nonprofit organization in Houston called Writers In The Schools. As a writer, I am placed in residencies in Houston area schools where I’m paired with classroom teachers to share my experience as a professional writer and together we work to enhance the children’s reading and writing experience. It’s an awesome gig. All that creative writing! And at the end of a residency, the children get a published anthology of their work. 

What advice could you give aspiring writers?

Grow a tough skin. I’m talking alligator hide, for a lot of different reasons. The most obvious being all the rejection, but then there’s your willingness to be exposed, truly exposed, from the inside out, because more often than not, that’s how it feels. So toughen up.

If you won a weekend getaway, would you choose a tropical island, a cabin in the mountains, a ranch house, or a luxury apartment in a big city?

Tropical island with a fruit-juicy drink served in a hollowed out pineapple!

What can we expect from you in the future?

I’m working on a coming-of-age YA set in the mid 70s. Here’s my working pitch and title.

Holly’s Boys
It’s the me decade and Raynor Davison, a young man born with a sense of entitlement as big as the truck he drives, is all about the me in that phrase. It’s also the decade to see the first International Women’s Year, and Holly Galloway is coming of age at a time more choices are available to women than ever before. In this bittersweet love story, neither Raynor nor Holly is prepared for the fact that having more choices doesn’t necessarily mean making the right ones. 

Follow Lesa and Phantom's Dance on Facebook!


Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Rated Reads

Good news! I've joined the team of excellent reviewers on Rated Reads. The reviews on this website are mostly Adult and Young Adult fiction focusing on rating the content of the book like a rating on a movie. Most reviewers also critique the book and give personal opinions, but the sole purpose of  Rated Reads is to inform readers of the level of explicit content in a book.

1. None
2. Mild
3. Moderate
4. High
5. Dirt

Details on the different ratings can be found on the website. I will be posting some of the books I review to this site. In addition to reviewing small press and indie books here on my author blog, I will also be reviewing the mainstream books I read along with my indie reviews on Rated Reads. This website is a great tool if you are concerned about the content of a popular book. (especially for parents) It's also fun if you want to find some new books to read! Check it out. I highly recommend it.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Book Review: The Black Mage - First Year

The Black Mage

First Year


Rachel E. Carter






Before the age of seventeen the young men and women of Jerar are given a choice -follow tradition, or pursue a trial year in one of the realm's three war schools to study as a soldier, knight or mage...

For 15-year-old Ryiah the choice has always been easy. Become a warrior and leave the boring confines of her lowborn life behind. Set to enroll in the School of Knighthood on the eve of her next birthday, plans suddenly shift when her twin brother discovers powers. Hoping that hers will soon follow, she enrolls with Alex at the Academy instead -the realm's most notorious war school for those with magic. 
Yet when she arrives Ry finds herself competing against friend and foe for one of the exalted apprenticeships. Every "first-year" is given a trial year to prove their worth -and no amount of hard work and drive will guarantee them a spot. It seems like everyone is rooting for her to fail -and first and foremost among them Prince Darren, the school prod-igy who has done nothing but make life miserable since she arrived.

When an accidental encounter leads Ryiah and Darren to an unlikely friendship she is convinced nothing good will come of it. But the lines become blurred when she begins to improve -and soon she is a key competitor for the faction of Combat... Still, nothing is ever as it seems -and when the world comes crashing down around her, Ry is forced to place faith in the one thing she can believe in -herself. Will it be enough? 



After reading a glowing review of the second installment in The Black Mage series on Kariny's Teen Boox Frenz, I decided to look into the first book, The Black Mage - First Year. The description hooked me, the kindle version was on sale, and the stars aligned. I bought the book. 

I have this weird thing for characters that just can't seem to get anything right. I love a protagonist that fails time and time again, but wipes the dirt off and gets back at it. Maybe I can relate, or maybe I feel like the world needs more people like this. Either way, Ryiah and I got along great. She's resilient, headstrong, and a loyal friend. Best of all, she's not just some dumb girl. She knows what she wants and doesn't let anything distract her from her dream. Even with odds stacked against her, you can't help but believe she just might get her cloak after all.

She and her twin brother, Alex, head off to a magic boot camp disguised as a school for aspiring mages. Seriously, this stuff is like Navy Seal training with a bit of magic. The only problem is...Ryiah hasn't actually developed her magic yet! The story draws you right in with conflict and the dangerous journey they navigate just to get to the school.The teachers/masters seem to be working against students as they weed the lot down to fifteen apprentices for the Restoration, Alchemy, and Combat factions. The world is one fantasy lovers can easily fall into. I was intrigued by the military like structure in a castle setting. I wondered if I could keep up with the crammed schedule each student kept on a daily basis. Carter gave us a great look at how the school runs and the rigorous training it's students endure.

The story's main characters are very well fleshed out. However, I wish a little more detail had gone into some of the side characters. Towards the end, some classmates come into play that didn't have enough time in the story for me to remember them when their big moment came up. Ruth, previously mentioned once or twice, shows up and we are led to believe she and Ryiah are close friends. Ryiah claims she's known all along that a boy has a crush on her, yet I could barely remember him in any other scene. I had missed something. There just wasn't enough exchange between the boy and Ryiah to make it believable. These characters felt like an after thought and their page time was rushed. A few scenes, along with the ending, was a little predicable, (I mean, the second book is called Apprentice for goodness sake.) but were exciting nonetheless.

Except for a few minor details, I really enjoyed this book. There was a healthy balance between romance and adventure that kept the pages turning. Rachel E. Carter definitely has a knack for story telling and a flowing narrative. Don't be surprised if you see me post a review of The Black Mage - Apprentice and the third book, which the author is currently working tirelessly on.

4 Stars

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Tips and Tricks: Choosing a Title

It's one of the hardest tasks in the writing process: summing up your entire manuscript in just a few syllables. . It's likely the first impression your book will make, so you better make it memorable. But no pressure, right?

Maybe you've had a title in mind from the minute the idea started brewing, only to find out it's already been snatched up. Or maybe you've played around with a string of words but nothing seems to fit. Just take a deep breath, you can do it! Here are a few quick tips I've learned from other authors, bloggers, and observations from watching the market.

(These tips are meant for YA and Adult genres. Children's, Middle Age, and Non-Fiction are each a different ballgame. These "rules" are generalized. There are exceptions. This article is merely advice and a record of observation.)

List significant symbols, events, and settings.

Step one: What are the key highlights of your book? Every good story has objects that represent themes. A tattered old couch. A pair of shiny high heels. A bow and arrow. Write them down and picture them in your mind as you ponder your story. What's going on in your story? Does it take place over a holiday? A carnival? A funeral? "Walk" through these settings and events as you search for the right phrase to represent your story. Does any particular trinket, face, or sound stick out to you? 


Avoid using character names.

 You may be tempted to take your star character and state exactly what they are going through. Amelia's Dilemma, Staci's Wedding, Jack's Aquatic Adventure, or The Reformation of Stuart Cruise are all boring and vauge. Your reader doesn't know who Amelia and Jack are. There is no feeling connected with these names unless this book is in an established series.These titles don't suggest anything except there is a character with a problem, an adventure, or a change. Ya think? It's a book. It's going to have one of those things and a good book will have all three. 

If you are married to the idea of using your character's name, rest assured there is a time and place for this: subtitles. Subtitles work best for books that are part of a series. They can be title of the overarching story, or the title for the particular installment in the series. For instance, Lilliana's Trial: The Mage Tournaments, Book One. This title not only tells us that Lilliana is being tested, but that it's all part of a magical competition. The Morph-ling Studies Book 4: Jaxon, lets us know this sci-fi series will feature one character for each book and tell their story. 

Personally, I try to avoid using subtitles. They tend to be wordy and can be confusing when a reader is searching for a book. Some of the best selling series' have no subtitle. The Hunger Games, Twilight, Legend, The Maze Runner. Keep this in mind if your book is in a series and you can avoid a subtitle.  


Image is everything.  

A friend of mine was really excited because he'd come up with the perfect title for his book: The Drugarr Riders of Raisnguard. Unfortunately, I could not be excited with him. As a general reader, I was confused. What is a Druggar? Something you can ride, I guess. But where the heck is Raisnguard? Obviously a fantasy place, but was it a city, a kingdom, a wasteland? The name tells me nothing and leaves the canvas in my mind blank. It's best if your tittle strikes up some kind of image in the reader's mind; something they can immediately associate and picture in their head. Something the brain will latch on to. While made up creatures and settings are imaginative and can hook a reader once they're invested in the story, they don't make good titles.  


Five syllables or less. 

This is my golden rule for coming up with tittles. While there are always exceptions, it's best to assume you are not one of them. When a reader is recommended a title, it has to be something they can remember. The fewer the syllables, the better. If someone says, "I just read the most amazing book: The Fires That Light The Way To Home" Are you likely to remember that? Probably not all of it. By the time you search the local bookstore or google it, you're likely to only be able to type or say a few words. What was that book again? Fires of Home? Light the Way Home? If you're like me, you probably won't waste much time thinking about it and move on with your day. 

Just take a quick look at the bestseller list on Amazon. Most of those titles are 5 syllables or less. The Husband's Secret, Big Little Lies, Red Queen, Leaving Time, Girl On A Train. You get the idea. Again, there are definitely exceptions. Take A Discovery of Witches for example. If you believe you are one of those exceptions, don't let me stop you. Just an observation.



Be careful with one word titles. 

  There are plenty of successful books with one word titles. It's just a bit risky. Let's say you've settled on the title "Siren". It definitely puts an image in the mind; a seductive mermaid or a screeching alarm. But go ahead and type that into Amazon Books. 11,613 results. It's unlikely your new book will be the first result to pop up. To give you an idea, there are seven books titled "Siren" on the first page. Adding just one more word will drastically change your book's status. For example, "Siren's Dance" only yields about 3,600 results and there are only two "Siren's Dance" on the first page. The bestselling one of the two earned the top result.  

Check Amazon.

  This one may seem obvious, but let me tell you why it's important. Having another book with the same title isn't a deal breaker, but remember that the top selling book will get the top result on the search page. Random people who hear about your book will probably only remember the title, not nessecarily the author name. When they search for it, they could end up with the wrong book!

When I had come up with the title for Onyx Moon, there were no other books with that title on the market. Three years later when it was finally published, that had been taken as a subtitle and was also included in a three word title. Since they were not of the same genre, this didn't bother me too much so I stuck with my decision. 



Type it out. Say it out loud. 

Write it down. Type it out. Say it out loud. Over and over again, since that is what you will have to do for promotion, emails, and telling people on the street. Make sure it's something that you are comfortable saying six times a day and that easily rolls off the tongue. Just like naming a pet or a child, don't give your book a name that doesn't sync or sounds strange when you say it.

Take a nap.

That's pretty much my advice for anything. :) But if nothing brilliant is coming, you probably need to sleep on it. Most writers love naps. If not, do whatever it is you do to clear your head and draw inspiration. Letting a manuscript simmer for a few days/weeks can help you see things in a new perspective. Keep writing, but give yourself time to think for goodness sake! 

Again, I am not an expert, just a player in the game. I hope this helps you through the struggle. Let me know if you like my ideas or if you have some of your own methods for choosing a title. Happy writing!