Friday, January 27, 2017

Fairy tales: Timeless Tales (Intro)

A beautiful phrase from one of my favorite retelling series that happens to be true even in its simplicity.

Fairy tales have been a part of written and oral storytelling forever and it doesn't matter how much time goes on, readers and listeners still love them. It's a love that is timeless.

Fairy tales are broken down into two sub-genres: retellings and originals. I love both, but I see a lot more of the retellings than originals. Since I love fairy tales, I'm going to do a mini-series on them.

So let's get started!

There is some debate on what actually makes a fairy tale a fairy tale. Here are somethings that are commonly used to define the genre.  

Fairy tales are often placed in a fantasy world with no definite locality. We expect to see good triumph over evil, heroes win their quest or defeat the great evil. Heroes win the kingdom and marry the princess. A lot of times the characters are of simple origins, or are archetypal. The goose girl, the princess in need of rescue, the seventh son, the youngest son, the heroic prince, the kind and dutiful daughter/sister. Fantasy creatures often play a role as well, either as helpers or villains. Ogres, giants, dragons, and trolls. Wicked stepmothers and evil witches. And of course fairy godmothers. Other helpers might be talking animals or objects.

Sometimes it's the plot points that make a fairy tale a fairy tale, and other times it's the elements of the tale such as the inclusion of the above listed things that make it one.

Next we'll discuss who the audience is.

Are fairy tales only for children? Or are they something adults can read in broad daylight out from under their covers?

With Disney and the current slew of live-action films on classic fairy tales, it's hard not to associate fairy tales with fluffy storylines, happy endings, and children. That's just one trail in the fairy tale woods, though.

A lot of old fairy tales had a dark side. They had sad endings, dark moments, deaths, gruesome scenes, and went deeper.

Here's some moments you may not have known about!

- In Grimm's tale, Cinderella's stepsisters cut off their heels and toes in order to make the golden slipper fit their foot, but the Prince spots the blood on their stockings and realizes they are impostors. 
Later the stepsisters invite themselves to Cinderella's wedding where Cinderella summons birds to attack the stepsisters' faces, mutilating their beauty and tearing their eyes out, sentencing them to a lifetime of blindness as punishment for their behavior.

- Rapunzel's beginning rarely changes, but it's worth mentioning the rather disgusting nature of the poor girl's beginning. Her mother can't control her urge for the neighbor's property and instead of asking or buying the food she craves, she convinces her husband to steal it multiple times. When he is caught, he bargains his daughter for an unlimited supply of the rampion/rapunzel. 

Eventually the witch locks Rapunzel in a tower. When the prince shows up, he does make a plan to rescue Rapunzel, but is also sleeping with her and it's an accidental commit betraying her pregnancy that foils their plan. After Rapunzel is cast into the wilderness, the prince climbs up to find the witch and she drops him into a patch of thorns where he is blinded. 

Now things do end happily for the couple, but it's still got a gloomy chain of events that is kind of crazy if you think about it.

- Sleeping Beauty definitely has a major difference between the version we know and its Italian version which has the princess waking after her prince rapes her. She gives birth to twins and that's what wakes her! The story goes on to show that the "prince" is already married and his wife wishes to cook both Beauty and her children! 

Overall there's a lot of injuries, death, and general moments where "gosh, that's a bit much for kids!" With so many fairy tales, and so many versions, there's something for everyone.

Adults or kids, lovers of dark and light. Bittersweet endings? Or Happily Ever After? There are both. Tragedy, comedy, and romance.

I had a friend ask me once what the fun was in reading retellings. "You already know the story!"

It's a legitimate point, and one I think that deserves a response.

First, I'll say that you don't really know the story. You may know the plot points, but the story is new. The character's are new, the world is new, and how you get to those plot points is new.

Second, in a way don't we know most stories? Usually we can gather enough information from the genre and the blurb to surmise some things. We'll be able to pick out which two people fall in love(in a romance) no matter how far apart they are or how much they hate each other. We know somehow they're going to meet and they're going to get over their differences. In a dystopian we know the MC is going to get shaken out of their comfort zone and challenge the system or get swept up in a group who will challenge the system.

There's a lot of things we can guess with a pretty good accuracy rate. So I like to think any book is about the journey, not about the surprise.

To round off the intro into fairy tales, here are some interesting fairy tale related tidbits.

  • The very first Cinderella tale was actually from China! It was recorded around 850 AD. Cinderella is named Yeh-hsien(or Yeh-shen) and wears a dress made of kingfisher feathers. Instead of glass slippers, she wears golden slippers.

  • The habitable region around a star where planets can support liquid water (being neither too hot, nor too cold) is called the Goldilocks Zone.

  • The Guardian made a promo video in 2012 featuring the "true" story of the Three Little Pigs.

  • Neuschwanstein castle in Bavaria is easily one of the most famous castles and inspired Walt Disney himself. The Magic Kingdom, along with Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella's castles were based no Neuschwanstein.

 Unlike most castles, Neuschwanstein was created after there was no longer need of defensive architecture. It literally is a fairy tale castle that was built for no other purpose than beauty. From its location to its design, it's not hard to see why people from all around the world have fallen in love with this romantic castle.
  • The Brother's Grimm are famous for collecting 210 fairytales and publishing them in their novel(not intending the work for children). They continued to edit the collection and ended up with seven editions. Most changes were to make the books available to the largest possible audience by removing the sexual and gory parts.
  • Despite the Grimm reputation of violent or sad endings, most of the collection did end happily ever after.
  • Most of the Grimm's stories were collected in the comfort of their home where educated, middle-class women who were excellent storytellers came to share them.
And that's all I have for you today! The next post in the series deals with retellings! Part 1

Monday, January 23, 2017

Blood Debt - ABB Review

Welcome, dear readers, to another Angry Book Blogger review. I've been chomping at the bit to write this post since I finished this story. The meme's within me do not want to be contained!!

Basics first as usual. Blood Debt is a NA something romance. Basically it's about centaurs that are actually humans with abilities so I'm not sure if that puts this in fantasy, paranormal, or mythological. I'd say it's best described as a wish-fulfillment book(for some people).

Her whole life, it had just been the two of them. Before her mother’s last breath, she gave Camille the information she had craved her entire life: the identity of her father. Daring to contact him, Camille was welcomed by an entire family she never knew existed. But nothing comes without a price, as she discovers when her family claims a legendary heritage tracing back to a centaur touched by Zeus.

As she learns the secrets of her Centaur bloodline, she is drawn into a forbidden love with Drake. Her life may be the blood debt required to pay for her mother’s transgressions. The same person who once held her mother captive, and forced her into decades of hiding, now controls Camille. Her only chance is to seek a piece of her mother’s past that will win her freedom and the life she desperately wants.

I'll start with saying I hated this book. I was not feeling well at the beginning of the year and flew through seven books in five days. I'm happy to report that I enjoyed most of them, with a couple okays in the mix. 

This one though, I must've read a different book from everyone else(no I didn't) because almost all the reviews on this are . . . glowing. So hopefully I'll save some hapless reader who may have tastes that are like mine from falling for the same beautiful, positive-reviewed trap that is Blood Debt.

The first paragraph of the blurb is what you learn within like the first two chapters. We start the story with Cami's mother dead and her making a call to the father she's never met. The call goes really well and he wants to see her. In fact, he pays to have her flown to the other side of the country the next day so they can meet.

Cami gets to South Carolina and is greeted by a gooooogeous and well-mannered young man around her age. Surprise! She has a half-brother! He's been sent to pick her up and he leads her out to a ridiculously expensive vehicle. 

Waiting in the front seats are two more ridiculously handsome and polite young men a few years older than her. Surprise! She has two more brothers. They're quick to inform her that there's two more brothers(also hot gentleman, who'd have thunk) waiting to meet her later.

Now, these five men pretty much all look alike, sound alike, act alike, and for some possessed reason the author decided to name them in a way that I knew would cause problems. 

Okay, so there isn't a brother named Bacon but for the life of me I can't remember their names. I just know they were all about the same length and started with B. SERIOUSLY!!!?? I quickly gave up trying to remember who was who and just rolled them all into one who'll now be referred to as Uni-Brother.
Cami then meets her dad who (shocker) is good looking and totally excited to meet her and oh, did I mention, he's filthy rich and lives in a house that I'm sure most of us would weep to know the price of. He also bought all five kids matching expensive vehicles and buys her one as well after 2 days.

She then meets her dad's wife who(was married to him when the one-night stand with her mom happened) is beautiful, warm, welcoming, and just so happy to have Cami in her home.

I mean, this is like the PERFECT family. I kid you not. Everyone is rich, has a good job, a nice house, they're healthy, and friendly and there isn't even a hint of them not accepting Cami as a permanent part of their lives.

It is so hard to get involved with a book when everything is so cotton candy sweet and perfect that it gives you a toothache. At this point, Cami's doing a little "something must be wrong" thinking and I'm right there with her. I mean, obviously something has to be wrong.

She's told she's a Centaur(who are not half-horse/half-human but humans with gifts) and it takes all of like two paragraphs for her to be like "Oh yeah, I believe this." 

OH COME ON! Her mother never showed any special gifts, she never showed any special gifts, these people haven't either. And she's totally going to buy it? 

She's already well on her way to believing when the mother starts conversing with her dead mom because apparently spirits don't move on right away. That's the clincher for Cami. No more doubt.

Cami now finds out that male centaurs so outnumber the females that they're desperate to make a marriage. I mean, Cami is a fully-grown Centauride(female centaur) and she is the hottest thing on the market.

Cue hot, polite, dashing, well-groomed, rich man parade. 

"Hello, I'm a tall, fit, perfectly tanned young doctor who owns an island with a mansion on it and 20 servants." 

Uh-huh. These men pretty much are submitting their "husband resumes" by telling her all of their achievements. They're all good-looking and well-off. Top that off with further discussion looking like this, "So what do you like to do HAWT man?" "Whatever you like to do Cami. Anything you think would be worth my time to do, I will do wholeheartedly." "What do you do in your spare time hot man?" "I help out at the soup kitchen and feed starving children in third world countries, and if I have free time I read to kittens in the shelter."
So I can't remember the actual word for word dialogue, but I kid you not she did ask what they liked to do and the answer was whatever she liked, and when pressed she was given a list of saintly deeds.
Shoot me now!

She then attends Uni-Brother's wedding and trips on the stairs. But no fear! Another chivalrous hot man is there to catch her.
Now, you think you know insta-love? Well, you don't until you've read this book. He catches her people. That's all he does!!! And they're now soul-mates.

To be fair, we just see Cami being gobsmacked at first, but later when Drake relives the scene, we see it. He had no interest in her, then he touched her and fully admits to being head-over-heels for her.

Here's where it gets tricky . . . he's engaged!!! To her best friend! Wait, Kristen, wait . . .she just moved here, how does she have a best friend? Oh, didn't I tell you? She met Bianca(Drake's fiancee) at this wedding and Bianca says, "So I have this friend that has visions and she said we're destined to be BFF's." 

Cami goes, "That's so cool! No having to shop around for a friend. I have one already set for me!"

Uh-huh. I can't make this stuff up people.

Centaur rules say that once engaged, the male centaur can have almost no contact with other unmarried female centaurs. We're talking no eyes meeting, no contact, no conversation. And no unsupervised time.

Cami's dad explains this to her, yet she turns around and kisses Drake(on the cheek) after he rescues her(a second time). Like . . . she was just told about this! Drake's the last of his bloodline, he needs this marriage, and any rule-breaking means his fiancee will break up with him and almost no centaur ever receives a second offer because the centaurides see them as "someone else's unwanted leftovers."
And she does that! And that's after he risked himself to save her when she publicly insulted someone without knowing all the facts.

Now let's go back to the perfect life(did we leave it?). Cami's constantly taken on outings with her brothers and she spends time with her dad's wife(Gretchen) who is a SAHM that cooks the most amazing meals and is trying to teach Cami how to use her centaur gifts.

In fact, the only "bump" in Cami's perfect world is that she's expected to marry a Centaur before the age of 30. She does a good number where she's proclaiming she'll marry who she wants and when. She'll marry a human if she wants, because love is love.

Finally! Something that's not having my eyes roll.

Except she's smacked over Drake! A centaur! How convenient that she can spout her bit about "I won't buy into this whole pure-blood thing and I'm all about love" when her looooove is a pure-blood centaur. So no conflict there.

And then she goes out on a yacht trip with Bianca, Drake, and Uni-brother. Bianca drags Uni-brother inside to play an playstation game or something, leaving Drake and Cami alone on deck. Let's be clear, this is the day after the wedding where their only contact was the two brief times Drake saved her and they didn't say more than a few words to each other.

She touches Drake's head to read his mind(because we're still not doing the whole respecting culture thing) and he sends her a bunch of graphic *cough* scenes of the two of them getting down and dirty. Next thing you know, they're kissing.

I'd be like, "EWWW, I don't even know you!!!" *flee scene* Not Cami, she's like "make out time!"

Someone pass me the head desk gif!!

Guilt sets in and Cami hides from Bianca for days, refusing to answer her calls. She calls her only connection back in California for advice. Which, takes me to another point. So she has this guy friend that we're told in no uncertain terms has never been and will never be a love interest. For some reason it was necessary to put him in the book(we'll call him the Nameless one, since I can't remember his name), but his role is down to a few brief phone calls and texts.

Basically Cami texts/calls him if she's going to do something at first in case this perfect world is not what it seems(it is). And then this once for advice. I mean, he literally is the most useless character and the role he played was unnecessary. 

But we get to spend about a chapter in his pov as he freaks out over not being able to get ahold of her and flies to SC to make sure she's okay. (more on this later)

Finally Cami decides to talk to Bianca and we find out(while in Bianca's pov) that her premonition friend also knew that Cami and Drake will have insta-love if they touch and informed Bianca. Bianca took Drake to the wedding with the hope of setting him and Cami up. That's why she left them on the deck of the yacht.

So no conflict there because Bianca's aware and totally cool with this. She informs them of her knowledge and her genius plan so that no one ends up unattached or in trouble, etc. etc. Cami gets Drake, which frees Bianca to get her one true love who just so happens to be the guy that Cami is supposed to marry unless someone else marries him first. 
All is well in Cami's world!

Wait, but this book is about a blood debt! Yep, and now we'll get to that. When Cami's mom ran away and left her fiancee, because of how serious that matter is(possible bloodline dying out since no one wants the reject) there is this thing called a blood debt. You think ooh scary, but not really. No one collects on females because there's so few of them. Cami's life isn't in danger, and we know that pretty early on.

Cami meets the man her mother ran from and he did actually get a second chance and now has a son. He says in repayment of the debt, if this son isn't married by 29, Cami has to marry him, and she can't marry until he has. This of course is the man that Bianca loves and since we learn that quick, there's no tension about whether or not this'll be an issue.

At this point the most interesting thing is that Cami's mom is desperate to tell her something and refuses to tell any of the people that can actually communicate with her.

I spent the whole book waiting for Cami to learn her spirit-communication gift and get this super-important, highly-classified message from her mom. The VERY end she finally can speak to her for a few moments and mom tells her something completely random and dull instead of the important message. Then she fades out before she can say the important thing. SERIOUSLY?
Besides all of the above, I found it really annoying that any parts of the story that could've been interesting were immediately dealt with(problems or roadblocks being swept aside with ease) or were just never resolved.

Cami only ever reads Drake's mind and it's always love scenes of what he'd like to do with her(romantic or sensual). She only communicates with her mom at the end and it's not to receive the anticipated conversation.

The character she misjudges she never apologizes to or even thinks in her head that wow, I misjudged that person. 

The antagonist is given one pov scene near the beginning where she's hunting Cami, but then we're told that Cami's father has spoken to this person(grandmother) and all is well, so you forget about it.

Which makes Cami's kidnapping extremely bizarre. All the grandmother does is trap her on her estate, say you have to marry the person she already agreed to marry if he didn't marry anyone else, and teach her some boring history.

If Gage's(her forced fiancee) dad had wanted the marriage for sure and immediately, he couldn't made that the condition of the blood debt and not tell her she can wait until she's 29. The history had very little import. The only interesting bit of this whole section of the plot is that her grandmother is whacked and that Cami's mom ran from crazy lady not her fiancee.

She even finds her mom's old journal but that's another letdown because we get like two small entries and the rest is glossed over.

And Gage is allowed to bring Bianca and Drake to stay on the estate, which makes the kidnapped thing a lot less tension-filled. Grandma finds out there's some sort of fancy love-square going on and walks out to the garden with her hands covered in blood to say "I killed them." Gage runs in and screams and cries, and comes out covered in blood. Clearly they're dead. (Gage is one of the good guys, so he has no reason to lie.)

Yet like one chapter later, we find out they're just being held prisoner somewhere. Wha-how-I. DOES ANYONE ELSE SEE THE ISSUE? And it's never explained! 
Meanwhile, Nameless got thrown off Cami's family's property and goes down to the grandma's estate because he senses something is wrong. He gets turned away at the gate and taken back to the airport. He then returns home. Like, what was even the point of him doing all of that? So much space taken up to show a failed trip!

And the only thing we learn is that he's half-centaur which there was absolutely no indicator of that at any point in time. 

That hits on most of my major issues with the novel. (Had a few there, did you Kristen?)

Honestly, the amount of problems with the plot and characters makes me feel like this is such a hit is because it's for readers who want to imagine themselves striking it rich in this way. You get the perfect everything and all issues are easily made moot. Apparently "HAWT" men is a huge part of why other reviewers loved this book.

So yeah, if that's your thing then you'd probably love this book. And who knows, maybe that's what the author was going for. Clearly there are lots of people who read and loved this book. I did enjoy the character of Bianca, but other than that, this was a definite fail for me.

I like things to be more realistic and for there to be a good story arc. I found the romance to be ridiculous with the immediacy, and then the back and forth on Cami's part. And so on and so forth.

You know how women are like, "This is terrible, don't eat it." And men are more likely to go, "Oh dude, that was nasty. You have to try it." This is one of those cases where I almost want to say, "this is so bad, you have to read it to believe it." Not that I want anyone else to suffer, but seeing is sometimes believing.

In conclusion, I gave Blood Debt 1 star.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Author Interview with Fanni Sütő

Starting this month, I'll be hosting two author interviews each month. The first will continue to be an interview of a fantasy writer. The second will be an interview of a YA/NA author!

Here to kick off the year for the YA side is Fanni Sütő!

Kristen: What can you tell us about your imaginary reader as you write? Do you write with a specific reader in mind?

Fanni: It might sound a bit selfish, but I write stories I know I would like. I am my imaginary reader. I like stories which suck you in and make you forget about your life for a while. I used to work in jobs I hated and I was immensely grateful for books that could transport me elsewhere. I’m a strange creature, I like deep and thought provoking things alongside something easy going and very silly. Hm, basically I think I write for intelligent but a bit crazy people. I mostly write with a female reader in mind but I make conscious efforts to try to keep it interesting and enjoyable for the male reader as well.

Kristen: Not selfish at all! I'm sure a lot of writers do that. We write what we'd love to read because that's when we write the best. It shows the most heart, I think.

To what extent do you try to broaden your audience? (What role does diversity play in your writing process?)

Fanni: I know that I mostly write with a young, female readership in mind but I try to do it in a way that it’s enjoyable for a wider audience. I try to write diverse characters, although they’re mostly from Middle-Europe or East Asia because these are the cultures I know better and feel comfortable writing about, without being afraid of making a mistake or offending someone. However, I like to learn new things about the world so probably my palette will be more colourful as years go by.

Kristen: I also find that my work targets largely a female audience. Though I'd love to have more people enjoy it, I do understand a book that focuses on what mine do appeal more to women.

Have you ever intentionally tried to make your readers cry?

Fanni: No, I don’t think so. It’s a thing I actually try to avoid. Don’t misunderstand me, I love when my readers get emotional but, for example, I got really upset with John Green when I was reading Fault in Our Stars. I could smell the effort he put in there to make me cry and I didn’t like that. I cried alright but I didn’t read another one of his books because I don’t like to be manipulated. That is to say, I don’t mind being emotionally manipulated by the author as long as I don’t find him/her out. Once I find that they are in my mind, trying to pull at strings, they lose my interest.

Kristen: I think I see where you're getting. I've never intentionally tried either. I know when I'm reading that sometimes I have what I call "good" cries. They might sting a bit, but I don't hate the whole experience. I can also appreciate that whatever made me cry is fitting for the story. On rare occasions I'll cry over a book and hate it because whatever caused me to cry is so upsetting that I wish it hadn't happened. That can seriously drop my love of a story.

Are there actions you hope your readers will take?

Fanni: I hope they will write to me and tell me what they liked, what made them happy, what made them cry. I dream about inspiring them, maybe to fan fiction, maybe to fan art and one day it would be nice to hear a young writer to say they were inspired by me. I also hope my readers will stop for a moment and reflect on what they read and maybe just maybe they will take something from it. I hope to spread a culture of kindness and open mindedness.

Kristen: One of the most amazing things I've learned in the past year(since I started contacting authors) is how much of an impact I can have just by saying that I enjoyed their story. I wish I'd known years and years ago that it meant so much to authors. I'd have done it sooner!

What advice would you give young readers who want to become authors?

Fanni: Read a lot, travel a lot, live a lot.

Kristen: Thank you so much for stopping by! Best of luck with all of your writing endeavors.

Fanni Sütő is a writer, poet, dreamer who believes in fairy tales even if they are dark, disenchanted and deconstructed. She writes about everything which comes in her way or goes bump in the night. She has been published in Hungary, the US, the UK and Australia. She is very happy to do collaborations, art exchanges, cross-art projects, so if you’re interested in such things, please get in touch.

Keep in touch with Fanni on Twitter and her blog.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Katya's War - ABB Review

This year we're kicking off with a novel my husband got me for my birthday. Angry Book Blogger reviews are created around books that got me emotionally swinging in any direction as those provide the best content for this series. If you're new to this series, info and disclaimer are here.

Katya's War is the second book of a Sci-fi Adventure series.

The battle lines have been drawn. The people of Russalka turn upon one another in a ruthless and unwavering civil war even while their world sickens and the deep black ocean is stained red with their blood. As the young civilisation weakens, its vitality fuelling the opposing militaries at the cost of all else, the war drums beat louder and louder.
Katya Kuriakova knows it cannot last. Both sides are exhausted – it can only be a matter of days or weeks before they finally call a truce and negotiate. But the days and weeks pass, the death toll mounts, and still the enemy will not talk.

Then a figure from the tainted past returns to make her an offer she cannot lightly refuse – a plan to stop the war. But to do it she will have to turn her back on everything she has believed in, everything she has ever fought for, to make sacrifices greater even than laying down her own life. To save Russalka, she must become its greatest enemy.

I read the first book (Katya's World) in 2015 and sadly did not write a review for whatever reason. But it was one of my favorite books that year and I was disappointed that I couldn't find a copy of Katya's War at the library. Then my husband bought it for my birthday this year and I was all sorts of happy.

I'm always nervous over sequels because sometimes they're notorious for being a letdown. I'm excited to say that Katya's War was the equal of it predecessor.

First off, I LOVE that this book does NOT have any romance whatsoever. It's so refreshing to read a GOOD book for young adults that stars a self-sufficient, intelligent, brave, teenage girl who wants to do the right thing and is willing to risk her life to do so, AND she doesn't NEED to have a love interest to complete her.

I'm sure the author faced all sorts of people who were like, "What is this nonsense about a book with no love interest?"

Now I have a confession to make . . . I have this completely irrational fear of being trapped in a sinking sub. So WHY did I decide to fall in love with a book that takes place on an all-water planet where everything happens UNDERWATER.

We start off the story with Katya doing her new normal: transporting cargo, getting paid with IOU's, etc. Her copilot, Segei is a new addition to the story and the two of them ship out for the main underwater city.

Of course, it is impossible for Katya to have a safe journey in this series. With a war between the government and the rebels, nowhere is safe. So they manage to get where they're going but the freaking underwater police people that everyone knows are super evil snatch her.

I'm like SHE DIDN'T DO ANYTHING!! And Sergei leaves her and they pull her in this dark tunnel in the middle of nowhere and I'm like, well, that happened. Bye Katya, nice knowing you.
But you know, we're like 5% of the way in the book at this point and that can't be the end. NO I WON'T TELL YOU WHAT HAPPENED IN THE CREEPY TUNNEL WITH THE SECRET POLICE.

My cat just walked off with my caps button. Why would she do that?

Katya meets up again with Sergei who has a cargo for them and as they're packing up, the regular "police" are grilling the benign person next to them. There's some new packing ordinance that's going into effect soon and apparently this guy thinks everyone should already be obeying. The cop man gets more and more frustration and then he fricking snapped! I was scraping my jaw off the floor like whaaaaat just happened?

Back into the clutches of super creepy enforcers, I mean does it ever end? And then they're traveling and something's wrong with the steering mechanism and I'm all like "yikes, technical malfunction!" But Katya's got another idea.

You know when you're watching a movie and the camera angle is behind the person and suddenly it spins when they whirl around to look behind them and OH MY GOSH CRAZY MURDERING AX WIELDING RED-EYED MONSTER. (got my caps back) That moment is the one I had in this book right then.

Besides wimpy Sergei and the industrious Katya, there's also the pirate Kane and his partner/muscle Tasya. Neither of the latter two characters are what we'd call upstanding citizens and that's what makes them so much fun.

Kane's the leader of the ragtag pirate band that's left over from the invasion of the Terrans(Earth's people) and what is an invading force with no way off a planet going to do? While Tasya's got a dark history that no one dares delve into. She's the heartless assassin type character and gosh do I love her.

I'm totally on team crazy mad-skilled super warrior woman who'll snap your neck if you're late.

And that's just the beginning. Katya's about to discover just how wrong she's been . . . about everything. Nothing she's known is as it seems and holy crap is it screwed up. Toss in a sneaky mission that's bound to end in capture and eventually death, rational people suddenly snapping, another TOTALLY creepy element, and finally . . . that trip I've been dreading since book one!

The trip to the most dreaded place on the planet--The Deeps. We're talking a sub anchored to a shelf so far down in the ocean that no ordinary sub can reach it. We're talking a prison that is only a short distance above the poisonous gases of the ocean floor that'll eat through anything. This is a sub with no capacity to move . . . it is a death trap.

It's also the perfect situation for my irrational fear to go crazy. Every second of this book I'm thinking, "She's so going to get trapped in a sinking sub and die."

Cryptic, right? It's meant to be because . . . going down this journey yourself with no spoilers is so much of the fun. But let's say that when things finally climax I DIDN'T SEE IT COMING!!!

I also didn't sleep that night. Nope. Not a wink. Stared at the ceiling and waited for daylight.

In conclusion, this is a second book that totally does justice to the first and I'm a sad banana that it seems to be one of those undiscovered gems because this series deserves to have a wider audience than it does. I gave it 5 stars.

If you like sci-fi with lots of twists, that's clean with no romance and a fun cast of characters, you really should read this.

You can buy the first two books of this series on Amazon(available in paperback or ebook).
Katya's World
Katya's War

You can also find Jonathan Howard on Twitter.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Reading Challenge(s) 2017!

Ahh, a new year and a new set of reading challenges. I love reading challenges mostly because I like seeing my little graph bar fill up(yep, I'm weird).

This will be my third year of setting a general reading challenge(read x amount of books in the year). General challenges are fun because all you set is a total number of books. Anything you read will go towards that goal and you can read whatever you want.

This year my goal is 50 books! The same as my goal of 2015 and 15 more than 2016's goal. I usually spend the first 4-6 months a year being so busy and burnt out from end of year stuff from the prior year, that I don't read much if at all. Setting a book goal has been a bit nerve-wracking because I feel like I'm setting myself up for failure.

Paranoia sets in and last year I caved and set my 35 book goal. I ended up reading over 60 books in 2016 and slaughtered that. But I didn't beat it until Fall, if that gives you an idea when most of those books were read.

This year, I refuse to let that little voice whisper that I can't read that many books in only half a year of reading. 50 is a good amount of books, but also not so many that I'll feel stressed to hurry up and make it. Reading's my leisure activity, so I'm not looking for a goal I'll only make if I stress out and read non-stop.

My second reading challenge of the year is a classics challenge. This is my second year with this challenge and it's one I "invented" for myself. Basically I choose a number of classics I want to read for the year and then with some insight from friends, I decide which books those will be.

Last year I did 10. Eight of them I finished and two were did-not-finish. This year I decided to go with five. Again I asked for some suggestions from friends, but overall I had a better idea of what I waned to choose. Before 2016, I'd never set a specific challenge and I was super nervous that I'd hate it. I actually closed the year with about 50/50 for like/dislike on my classic challenge. More importantly though, I found I REALLY enjoyed the challenge.

So this year I was very excited about this challenge and a fresh outlook on it had me thinking of several options.

And yep, that list above is my five for the year! I'll be sharing reviews for my classic challenge throughout the year, and also be doing reviews in my Angry Book Blogger series when I find suitable material.

Excited for another year of reading!!! Anyone else have challenges for the year?

Monday, January 9, 2017

Author Interview with S.M. Pace

Time for another author interview! This month I had the pleasure of talking to fantasy author S.M. Pace. She currently has two published books belonging to her Threads of Magic series.

Both Shadow of the Wolf and Wings of the Butterfly are available on Amazon on ebook and paperback .
And now to the interview!

Kristen - So many authors are also avid readers. Would you say you're one of them? Who are your favorite authors.

S.M. - I read quite a bit, but I don’t have too many favorite authors. I read a blurb, and if the novel sounds good, I will read it. I do love Terry Pratchett, and Patricia Briggs, and I have/will read anything written by them. I’m still working my way through the Discworld series. 

Kristen - I certainly understand not having many favorite authors. I love so many books, but they span across more authors than I can count. Usually it's easier for me to say a favorite series than author.

Can you tell us about your writing process and the way you brainstorm story ideas?

S.M. - Most of my brainstorming is done through freewriting. To develop characters I have a list of go to questions I ask, and then I’ll free write on what the character looks like. I try to stick with things that are really unique about them, like an unusual hairstyle, or scar. I’ll free write on the problem of the story and use that to map out all my scenes. I try to shrink my scenes down to a single manageable sentence, showing conflict, character and outcome. Odds are pretty good any of those things will change when I actually sit down to write the scene, but it helps me get a baseline. 
Kristen - Do you have any advice for other authors on how to market their books?S.M. - I can’t really give advice yet, because I don’t know much at this point about marketing. I’ve tried some things, but I haven’t had time up until now to really explore marketing. 
Kristen - I'm in the same boat. I've mostly been focusing on adding another book to my series and my ventures into marketing have been few. Hopefully one day we'll both be able to give sage advice on the matter as marketing experts!

Would you say being a writer is a gift or a curse?S.M. - For me it’s a gift. I love telling stories. But I guess it could also be a curse, at those times when I have a plot bunny rattling around in my head not letting me get anything else done. 
Kristen - Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?S.M. - My first genuine, original fiction story was about a family of young witches who were charged with guarding a special amulet that served as a prison for a malevolent evil. This was in my Sims days, so a lot of the appeal for me came from writing about how each of the characters grew up, got married and had families. I’ve heard writers talk about how they found it impossible to envision a child character becoming an adult, but I’ve never had that problem. I love revisiting my characters as adults.

Kristen - I've always been on the fence about characters who become adults. Sometimes I love it, other times I wanted them to stay perpetually young. I think part of it is what kind of life do they have as an adult? If it's one that's been laden with tragedy then I'd rather they stayed young in my mind. :) 

Thank you for stopping by and answering some questions for me!

Don't forget to connect with S.M. Pace on social media. 

I’m a fantasy writer and self-published author of two novels, Shadow of the Wolf and Wings of the Butterfly. I would have published more by now, but I also have a husband (Bear) a baby (Bunny) and a full time job (Teacher). All which keep me very busy, and forced to carve out writing time whenever I can.

But I always do, because writing is my passion. I love to tell stories, of every kind. Hidden away on my hard drive is every genre of story; drama, romance, fantasy, sci fi, mystery western and everything in between. But my favorite, above all of them, is fantasy. Because fantasy can be all of them. Fantasies can have drama, romance, mystery and they can even share the frontier outlaw nature of western, and the feel futuristic feel of sci fi.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Book Reviews in a Very Large Nutshell

Ah yes, today I will be tackling the treacherous subject of book reviews. While the posts on book reviews abound, I still want to compose one myself.

To start, I am many things in life. One of those things is an author, but before that I was a reader. I've been a reader forever. My mom described me as having a burning desire to read everything. I'm not supposed to say it, but if I had to choose between reading and writing, I'd pick reading without skipping a beat.

Reviewing, though, is a new concept to me. My method of searching for books to read used to be as simple as combing library shelves and their database. And since you don't open a book and see a review, it just wasn't part of my world.

About three years ago, I started writing seriously. This involved running in new circles and learning new things. Next thing you know, I discover Goodreads, that people actually read Amazon book reviews, and that reviews are very important to authors.

I HAD to be part of this. I mean I LOVE reading and to try and analyze a book and have a written record of my thoughts, not to mention a count of how many books I've read, I was like YES YES YES!!!

And so I began my reviewing journey. It was new, it was difficult, it had bumps and moments where I was like, "Why do I do this to myself?!"

Then I became an author and I was on the other end of things waiting for reviews.

I treasure those suckers, hoarding them like precious gems. I dance like a crazy person in the rain every time I get one. And then pace nervously waiting for the next one. I see someone reading my book and it is like the review's dangling just out of reach, so tantalizing. No, no, act cool. Don't act desperate. *rubs hands together* Will they leave one?

DANG IT!! Lost control for a moment!

Okay, so I've never actually lost it and went all Bilbo on someone at the possibility of receiving a review. No please, don't back away. I swear. 

Over the years I've seen authors wish for reviews, talk about ways to get more, celebrate over the good ones, and moan about the bad ones. I've read blog posts and heard opinions of all sorts on what is good or bad.

So finally, here it is, my thoughts on book reviews for both readers and authors.

Number One: A review is an opinion! There may be facts layered in  such as "X happened. There were a few typos, etc." but a review  at its heart is a reader's take on what they liked or didn't like. That is subjective, it is not right or wrong, it is an opinion. 

Readers - Yes, we sometimes see someone hating on a book that we loved. That's okay. They're entitled to do so. The world is full of unique individuals who like and dislike different things. Even the most popular books have people who hated them. It's not an affront to you if someone read your favorite book ever and said they didn't like it.

Authors - Does it hurt when someone dislikes your book? Um, yes! It's your baby, you slaved forever over it, poured your heart and soul into those pages. But it's still an opinion and you're selling a product. 

Imagine you're shopping for a new pan and all the reviews are glowing, so you buy it only to find out that everything sticks to it no matter what you do. WHY DIDN'T ANYONE SAY SO!? 

Because . . . feelings. Someone created that pan and put a lot of work into it. No one wanted to be the evil witch who said hey, here's an issue I had.

Is there such a thing as bad review? And I don't mean as in negative, low starred reviews. Yes, I believe there is. I've heard the stories. Someone leaves a review that is clearly NOT for your book. If it's a positive review, you can at least laugh it off, but when you're getting a bad review for someone else's book, that sucks.

There's any other number of crazy things a review can entail. "I don't like this genre." (Then why did you read it?) "This book was full of sex." (What? The Foot Book has no sex in it!)

Here's the great news, in most cases the people who read the review will be like "Ooookay then." And move on. Trust readers. We're smart enough to know when someone's review is a little wonky.

Number 2: Everyone is qualified to leave a review. You are a person, she is a person, he is a person. People have opinions and regardless of their education level, intelligence, life experiences, or how well they can articulate their thoughts, their opinions are valid.

Some people's opinions may be more helpful than others. But here's something to remember: Readers, we can skip a review that's not helpful to us and read a different one, no harm done. Authors, if a review seems like it won't help people, then don't worry about it! People will skip it if they don't think it's useful to them.

Number 3: All reviews can be helpful. Yep, I said that. 

Authors -  We so badly want those precious reviews. We wish more readers left them and we know we need them for marketing. A negative review CAN turn a reader away, but consider this. If you are shopping for that perfect pan again and this time you see negative reviews on it and go "gosh, I hate it when my pan sticks" you can move on. The seller of that pan no longer has to pack up that pan, pay to ship it to you, deal with a possible return(pay to ship it back, talk to the buyer), and then have another negative review.

If a negative review lists anything such as "I didn't like this" and a reader sees it and goes "Oh, I hate those kind of characters, or that kind of material, or those kind of plot twists" and decides not to read it, chances are they weren't your target audience. You don't really want to deal with refunds and more negative reviews!

And we all know that marketing sites often require x amount of reviews to even apply for promotion. As long as your star rating is over the amount given(if one is given), then those negative reviews are adding to your total amount of reviews and could in fact help you get accepted. 

Readers -  It's scary to review at times, isn't it? You've heard the stories, seen the public complaints about negative reviews. You want to be honest, but what if you don't like a book!?! Will you be slaughtered at the next author barbecue? Believe it or not, it's worse for authors who read! Who knows when you'll upset someone who goes off the deep end and revenge reviews your book and gets all their friends to join in!

Fortunately those scary people are few and far between, but it does give many reviewers pause. I've talked to a lot of reviewers who have personal guidelines they follow to try and keep themselves out of hot water(no negative reviews, only post negative reviews on old books, etc.)

Don't be afraid. You don't have to be verbose and have reviews that are like long essays that hit all the do's and none of the don'ts of reviewing(TM). It is OKAY to say "I liked this!" or "I didn't like this."

It's okay to just have a two sentence review because it does bring up an author's review total, it helps authors gauge how their book is being received, and not everyone is going to like to post the epic long reviews that some of us *cough* do.

I'm going to wrap up with a few rapid-fire points.

1, Reviewers should strive to keep reviews about the book. Attacking an author, their mother, and their cat is personal and has nothing to do with the story.

    2. Authors should try not to take reviews personally. Your product is being reviewed by an individual with an opinion. It's not about you. If you have to read your reviews then try and see them from a perspective of "is there a point to this and if there is, how can I use this to improve future writing?" And if there's not a point, then move on. Just as I'm sure you appreciate restaurant reviews, clothing reviews, store reviews, movie reviews, and any other number of product reviews(in person or online), please respect that books are no different.

    3. Don't let reviews get you down. I'm sure most readers aren't trying to ruin your day or your life. Pick yourself, remind yourself that there are people that love your work and that NO book is universally loved.

    4. Don't publicly moan about your reviews. Yes, it's sad. Find a close friend/family member and wail to them. Vent! Rant! Let loose your frustrations! But public moaning reflects badly on you and there are a lot of people watching who may take note. Unless you are laughing/wailing about one of the "silly" reviews people leave, you may frighten people off from reviewing your book because "if I don't like it, I may be mentioned."

    5. Don't assume that every negative reviewer is a troll, or an idiot, or unable to discern quality, or unqualified, or someone who just wants to see the world burn. MOST reviewers are just honest, everyday, ordinary people who for whatever reason may not have liked your book and just want to say their piece in a place that is meant for such things and go about their lives.

    In conclusion. Yes, reviewers can learn to improve(mark spoilers, not personally insult). Authors can learn to not take things so personally and where it's appropriate(and when) to cry about a bad review.

    Feelings are valid. It will hurt, and that's okay. It's okay to talk about it, just don't forget that in a public setting anyone can be watching and it is impossible to tell who is listening/reading and hey, they could actually know the reviewer in question. 

    Readers, your opinions are so important to us. Especially Indie authors like myself who really need your support. We need reviews to get the word out and you don't have to be that well-connected individual who everyone goes to for book thoughts, or interested in writing a 10 page paper on a book.

    "I enjoyed this book. The characters were my favorite part. I thought they were hilarious and easy to connect to." is a perfectly acceptable review.(or anything that's brief like that)

    Support your favorite authors! A three minute review means the world!