Tag Archives: book review

Books I’ve Enjoyed and Recommend

I’m running a little behind this year. With eleven days until Christmas I still christmas_presents_jpg_300x300_q85haven’t finalized my gift list, written my holiday letter, or put up the decorations. And while I buy gifts throughout the year, I haven’t checked my “inventory” yet to see what I’ve already purchased. For those whom I haven’t yet made a selection, gift cards are a safe bet (especially where teenagers are involved).

While safer (I don’t have to worry about size, color, or changing tastes) gift cards aren’t as much fun to give as wrapped presents. So for some of my friends, I think I’ll take a chance and buy actual books this year, instead of relying on gift cards. If, like me, you’re looking for something new to share with your reading friends (or a holiday read for yourself), here are some of the authors on my automatic “buy list” in no particular order. I hope you enjoy them as much as I have.

Grace Burrowes.  Regency Romance. I’m particularly fond of her Windham family series. Sometimes the external conflict feels almost like an afterthought and the ending a little weak, but I keep coming back because I love spending time with her heroes and heroines. She also has a trilogy about the MacGregor family, set in Victorian Scotland.

Juliet Blackwell. Mystery. I’m new to reading mysteries, but I gobbled up Blackwell’s Haunted Home Renovation Mystery series as fast as I could get my hands on them. Being both a fan of HGTV, and having done some ghost hunting myself, I can tell you that Blackwell knows what she’s talking about in both areas. Her stories kept me guessing and I loved the secondary characters.

Patricia Briggs. Urban Fantasy. I love shapechangers and I’m a huge fan of her werewolves, both the Mercy Thompson series and the Alpha and Omega series.

Janni Lee Simner. YA. Simner’s BONES OF FAERIE is an excellent and unsettling dystopian tale about the aftermath of the war between humans and the Fae, told with lyrical prose.

David Gaughran. Writing and Publishing Advice. His LET’S GET DIGITAL and LET’S GET VISIBLE are chock full of useful information.

Johnny B. Truant and Sean Platt. Writing and Publishing Advice. On the strength of Gaughran’s review I bought their WRITE, PUBLISH, REPEAT. I’m only a third of the way through, but so far I can tell you the information is solid delivered with an amusing voice. Even though I haven’t finished it yet, I’ll still recommend it based on that.

Happy Holidays!


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Review: INTERVIEWS WITH INDIE AUTHORS, compiled by Claire Ridgway and Tim Ridgway

I loved the essays by indie authors in the back of LET’S GET DIGITAL by David Gaughran, so I was eager to read INTERVIEWS WITH INDIE AUTHORS, an entire book of “Top Tips from Successful Self-Published Authors,” by Claire Ridgway and Tim Ridgway. I wasn’t disappointed. This book is exactly what it claims to be.  Every author answers the same set of good questions about how they achieved success.

Some of the authors were brand new to publishing, others already had a fan base after a career in traditional publishing. Almost all of them cited freedom and control as a reason why they turned to self-publishing.

I found it interesting to see where the various authors agreed on what worked for them to “get the word out,” and where they differed. A few used targeted advertising. Most of them said they used social media networking, but several said they didn’t bother with it.  I got the impression that many different things were tried by the authors and only a few of the authors had any hard data about whether any particular thing was responsible for increasing their sales. Getting the next book out, especially when they were writing a series, is one of the few things most authors were sure worked.

The interviews are best read two or three at a time. There is a ton of information in this book, including specifics about where some of the authors advertised. I enjoyed reading the stories of people who are where I want to be someday. If you’re an indie author, or thinking of becoming one, I recommend this book.


LIGHTBRINGER: A Celestial Affairs Novel will be free on Amazon 8/17 through 8/21.


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Review: DYING WISH by Shannon K. Butcher

I just finished Shannon K. Butcher’s DYING WISH, the sixth novel in the Sentinel Wars series. I think it may be the best so far. (I can’t say for sure, since I haven’t read Paul and Andra’s story.) Butcher pulled me into the story with the first sentence and didn’t let me go until the last.

Previously, I reviewed the first book in the series, BURNING ALIVE. While I enjoyed that book a lot (obviously, since I’ve since read most of the series), I wasn’t entirely happy with the emotional blackmail that results from the way the world is structured. (Theronai women must siphon off the energy their bonded mates automatically accumulate, or the men will eventually die. They’re faced with a “choice” of bond with the man that is their physical match, or sentence him to an agonizing death.)


This is an amplification of two old, and effective tropes. Romance novels have long featured relationships where the woman must surrender to a more powerful force, whether it’s a dominating man, or economic compulsion. That’s one of the aspects of paranormal romances that is so effective: non-human characters often have biological compulsions that override choice, or raise the stakes on the choice of whom to love and when. The characters are drawn together against their will. It’s a new take on the arranged/forced marriage plot.

The second trope, an essential one, is that of the healing power of love. In the best romances the couple doesn’t just learn to love each other. Their love brings about their transformation and healing. The individuals give up their self-focused perspective, and the whole of their union becomes greater than the sum of their individual desires.

All of this comes together to make DYING WISH a smashing good read. Butcher does a fantastic job of creating characters (both of whom were introduced in previous books) who are broken but unbowed. They’re both strong, but they’ve been holding it together by themselves for so long that they can’t see they need the other to be whole again. They don’t even think it’s possible to be whole again.

Butcher forces her characters to deal with a horrendous dilemma. She did such a great job of writing her protagonists into a corner that despite the genre demands for a “happily ever after” ending, I doubted the outcome. The solution made an interesting kind of sense, and I’m looking forward to the fallout in subsequent books in the series.


Shannon K. Butcher was a guest of honor two years ago at TusCon Science-Fiction Convention in Tucson, AZ. This year’s guest of honor is S.M. Stirling.


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A Recurring Theme: The Best Use of Time

I read a guest post on J.A. Konrath’s blog yesterday by Stephen Leather. He’s a successful traditionally published and self-published author in the U.K.  This last year his self-pubbed books really took off. So much so that his traditional publisher is making changes to take advantage of his increased popularity. Self-publishing has worked for him, but he’s decided to step back from it. He doesn’t enjoy the extra work that takes him away from what he feels he does best, and what he enjoys: writing.

In addition, he believes that we’ve reached the limit of what he calls the self-publishing “bubble.” That’s why he’s publishing his next books with Amazon. Not quite traditional, but not self-publishing either. (Joe Konrath, of course, disagrees about the bubble. He believes there are ebbs and flows to a self-published books, sales and that generally speaking, a downturn will be followed by an up-tick.)

Leather has made a decision about how to best use his time. His self-publishing success has given him more options, and he’s made a choice to go where someone else will take on the bulk of marketing chores.

I’d like someone else to do the marketing chores too. (I keep trying to talk my husband into taking them on, but so far he’s resisting.) Traditional publishers do some of this for you. They get the average book into a bookstore where it can be seen by the readers (those who still go to bookstores instead of buying online) and they may send out review copies too. They don’t let the author off the hook entirely, though. Many publishers’ marketing departments require the author to do social media marketing as part of the overall plan. Traditional publishing does not mean all you have to do is write the next book.

If you can even sell your book to one.

So that means that no matter which path you choose, you’ll still have to allocate some of your time for promoting your work, with no guarantee that it will actually result in sales. While it makes sense that the more often your name and the titles of your books are seen by readers the more likely it is you’ll make sales, there is little hard data to support any particular effort as being more effective than another. Almost all the info out there is anecdotal. (Including what you read here.) Things are changing so fast that all we can do is read widely and go with our gut. And be patient. (Not my forte.) It can take time to build a following. And while you’re being patient waiting for that following to develop, you’ll get only hints about whether what you’re doing is effective.

Despite that uncertainty, I’d still rather work to build my sales than wait six months for an editor to get back to me on a submission.  With that goal in mind, I’m soliciting reviews for LIGHTBRINGER, and entering it into contests. (If you have an established review blog and would like to review LIGHTBRINGER, please contact me. Likewise if you know of contests for indie-published books.)

Please share how you are promoting your books, and how it has worked for you.





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My Self-Publishing Journey: Paper!

The final step in the Publishing part of my first Self-Pub Journey is almost here. On Thursday, November 10, LIGHTBRINGER will be available in print on Amazon, just in time for TusCon, my local science-fiction, fantasy, and horror convention.

While I do believe that digital is the way of the future, it still only accounts for about 20% of the market. And though most self-publishing authors make more sales from digital downloads than from physical books, there are still a lot of folks out there who prefer paper. So I wanted to give them a chance to read LIGHTBRINGER too. And to be honest, there is a definite satisfaction associated with being able to hold up a beautifully designed book at a convention and say, “This is mine!” 🙂

You’ll note that I wrote this is the final step of the publishing part of this journey. It’s by no means the final step overall. Following on from this is the need for marketing. Word of mouth sells books, but folks need to know about the books before they can talk about them. While I do believe that writing the next book is my most important task, I also intend to contact book reviewers. As a publisher, that’s part of my job.

In six months I’ll share with you what I did to promote my book(s) and what my sales have been. I probably won’t have pretty graphs as David Gaughran does, but I’ll let you know what the numbers are and what conclusions I draw from them about the effectiveness of my efforts.


The drawing for a free autographed copy of one of my books is still active! Leave a review of LIGHTBRINGER or VEILED MIRROR (good, bad, or indifferent) at whichever online store you purchased it from, and on December 1st your name will go into a drawing for an autographed copy of one of my print books (including DANGEROUS TALENTS which will be out by May of next year.) I’ll be drawing four names. (Assuming I have at least four reviews! :-))


On Wednesday Roxy Rogers will be guest blogging here about her publishing journey.  Roxy writes erotic romance with a science-fiction/fantasy twist and her short “Be Careful What You Wish For” is available now for Kindle.


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Review: Let’s Get Digital by David Gaughran

David Gaughran is a 33 year old Irishman living in Sweden. He doesn’t own an ereader even though he’s published more than one digital book. And he knows a lot about digital publsishing.

One of his books is Let’s Get Digital. I’m only about 3/4 of the way through this book, but I’m so impressed that I’m jumping the gun a little and reviewing it before I finish.  This is a book I’d thought about writing, but Gaughran has done such a good job of it that I don’t have to. He’s thorough and balanced in his approach and includes the numbers to back up his arguments. And thanks to the quickness of digital self-publishing, it’s timely: Gaughran includes data through June of this year.

Let’s Get Digital is an overview of the current situation in digital self-publishing.  Part One covers the What — reviewing the digital revolution, Part Two the How — how to do it and avoid commonly made mistakes, and Part Three (which I read first) covers Who — the success stories of 33 self-publishers, most of whom did not have a publishing history before they self-published.

If you want to understand what’s going on in digital self-publishing, Read This Book!


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Review: The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie by Jennifer Ashley

Ian Mackenzie is not your typical historical romance hero.  Yes, he has a secret and a painful emotional burden to bear.  Yes, he has a strong protective streak toward those he loves and cares about.  Yes, he’s tall and handsome and athletic.  He’s even Scottish.  But what sets him apart is that he’s a high functioning autistic.

I first came across The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie when Jennifer Ashley spoke last year to our local RWA chapter.  (I am in awe of her energy and drive.)  I’m sorry it took me several months to get to it, because it’s a fine book.  I only know a little about autism from reading articles and talking with a friend who’s son has Asperger Syndrome, but clearly Ashley has done her research.  I am impressed by how well she portrayed the hero’s autistic characteristics while making him an admirable and desirable hero.

The heroine, Beth, is also well drawn.  Her unusual background makes her a perfect match for Ian.  Their interaction is both funny and touching.

I definitely recommend this book.

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Review: Drink of Me and Jacob by Jacquelyn Frank

I’m wrapping up a book binge.  Every now and then, usually between projects, I take a break from my usual routine and just read book after book after book.  This binge started with Jacquelyn Frank‘s Drink of Me (2010).

Ms. Frank is a new author for me even though she’s published ten other books.  The cover for Drink of Me caught my eye with faces silhouetted in iridescent blue, and the inside teaser sealed the deal.

One of the things I like about this book is that she has created a complete alternate world that is different from what I’ve seen before.  (I’m thrilled to see more fantasy oriented paranormal romances making it to the shelves.) She also has taken familiar archetypes and made them new.  I’m not a big fan of vampire stories, but her Sange are not the usual sort of blood drinkers.  Nor are they werewolves even though they have a pack hierarchy.  Frank convincingly makes use of the amnesia ploy, too. One of the heroine’s special skills is not particularly unique, but since she didn’t remember she had it, her rediscovery of it just before it was too late was satisfying.

Drink of Me enjoyably held my attention, so I decided to read one of Frank’s earlier works to see what she’d built her career on.  (What can I say?  I’m a writer, these things are important to me.)  I bought Jacob (2006), the first of the Nightwalkers series.

Jacob is what I think of as being a more typical paranormal romance.  The eponymous hero is a demon, one of the Nightwalker races which include vampires and werewolves, but who are misunderstood by humans.  They’re really nice guys at heart.  The heroine is our “average girl” when we meet her, and asks all the questions the reader wants answers to.

One of the things that is typical to this sub-genre is the biological compulsion the protagonists felt.  I wrote about this in an earlier post “Why Isn’t Free Will Sexy?” Frank overcame my reservations on this score in two ways.  One, though her characters were clearly drawn to each other to an unusual degree, neither of them knew why until fairly late in the book.  There was no manipulation of one by the other, and no secrets being kept.  Two, and most important, their interaction, their dialogue, made them real and appealing.  They became more than their archetypes.

One touch I loved was that the demons were happy about the rise of Christianity, because it nearly eliminated the use of magic, and more specifically, the necromancers who summon demons against their will.  Another thing to recommend the book:  Frank writes excellent sexual tension and well-developed love scenes.  As I mentioned in “Reading Like a Writer,” some books are worth learning from.  For me, Jacob is worth studying for that alone.

If you haven’t yet read any of Jacquelyn Frank’s books, you should.  I know I’ll be reading more.


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Wednesday Review: A Pirate’s Primer by Jill Knowles

My friend Jill Knowles primarily writes erotic romance, and I recently read her ebook A Pirate’s Primer.  Set in a world of magic and wooden sailing ships, A Pirate’s Primer is a M/M erotic fantasy like her more recent release Concubine (reviewed here).  Unlike Concubine, however, Primer doesn’t have any consent issues.  This is more of a true romance, where the characters’ union is one of equals who come together out of mutual desire.

There ‘s more to this book than the erotic interludes, however.  While those are for the most part well written, the characters Jill has created bring more to the relationship than just their physical needs.  My only complaint is that the final love scene  is a little too similar in the particulars to an earlier one, but this is a minor issue.

A Pirate’s Primer is the first in the Grey Lady series, and one of Jill’s strongest stories.  I recommend it.

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Wednesday Review: A Woman of Choice by Kris Tualla

Writers don’t read like other people.  As I observed in my blog, “Do Writers Read for Fun?” there’s always that little man (or woman) in the bleachers, looking over our shoulders muttering comments like, “I would have done that differently,” or “Oooh, I like that.  I’ll have to do that in my next book.”  Those of us in critique groups are seriously afflicted.

So it was with some trepidation that I picked up my friend Kris Tualla‘s book, A Woman of Choice.  I so wanted it to be good, because it’s seriously not fun when you don’t like your friends’ writing.

Fortunately, I wasn’t disappointed.  A Woman of Choice is good, but it’s different from your standard romance.   This is the first of three connected (but stand-alone) novels chronicling the lives of Sydney and Nicholas.  This is the first difference.  Most romances span only one book.  If characters continue in a series, they usually become secondary to another couple’s romance.  That doesn’t seem to be the case in this series.  Like Diana Gabaldon’s (who blurbed this book) Jamie and Claire, Nicholas and Sydney’s story continues on in A Prince of Norway and A Matter of Principle as their relationship matures.

The second difference from standard romance is that its events aren’t compressed into a week or even a month.  Tualla’s characters take a year to unpack their emotional baggage.  It gives the book a more leisurely feel than most romances, but that doesn’t mean it’s boring.  I found on several occasions that I’d read past my planned stopping time, and went to bed later than usual.

So were there things I would have done differently than Kris did?  Of course!  I’m a writer.  We can’t help ourselves.  Did she use techniques I want to copy?  Yes.  Definitely.

If you read last Friday’s interview of Kris, you know she’s taken the route of independent publishing, a path I’m also considering if my current submissions to traditional publishers don’t pan out. Here’s the elephant in the room:  Is her independently published novel up to snuff?  Without hesitation I say, Yes.  She did a great job designing the cover, the quality of the binding is as good as any,  the editing is good, the prose smooth, and the story itself is well told.

So if you’re in the market for a romance that’s not like all the others, try A Woman of Choice, and if you like it, tell your friends.  Books (both independently and traditionally published) live and die by word of mouth.

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