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Book Review: Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet

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Title: Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet by Charlie N. Holmberg

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: ♥ ♥

TL;DR: Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet is a fantasy story that features magic and a hundred pages of Sisyphean punishment that made it a tough read that was not redeemed by a quick and clean ending.


I received a copy of this book through Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.

Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet opens with the tale of Maire, who is able to enchant magical treats in her bakery, but Maire is more than she appears. Four years ago she appeared in town as if dropped from the heavens with no memory of who she was besides her name. Soon, Maire finds herself a slave, sold to a strange and primitive master who forces her to create magical treats while holding her wholly under his control. To be free and find her true identity, Maire must trust otherworldly beings and escape the clutches of her captor.

When I saw Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet on Net Galley, I was incredibly excited. I have Holmberg’s Paper Magician series on my to-be-read pile and thought I would love this based on the description, but I found MBMS to drag horribly and I nearly gave up around 30%.

The majority of the book is mostly Maire suffering at the hands of her captor. It reads like Sisyphus pushing his boulder up hill only to have it roll back. Maire gets instructions from the mysterious, ethereal Fyel on how she can possibly escape, and instead, she doesn’t do it, which leads to more suffering. I read through all of her tasks, cursing her for her stupidity and feeling very little sympathy for her. Poor battered, maimed Maire is a glutton for punishment, and I was completely over it by the halfway point. At the very end, when Maire is putting the pieces together from her memory, all of her tasks seem to have a purpose, but every pointless task is made relevant and done with within a few paragraphs. It was too clean and not worth the hundred pages of drudgery for the reader.

The other incredibly off-putting aspect of MBMS is that the antagonist appears to be a mentally handicapped man. He’s violent, called stupid by Maire, and is treated like a freak and a horrible person for at least 80% of the book. It just didn’t feel right. In the end, his handicap makes sense, but it made me incredibly uncomfortable. Can we really hold a mentally handicapped person responsible for their actions? Should we judge them like they’re normal? Maire tries to understand, but it reminded me of Lennie from Of Mice and Men. The handicapped hulking killer trope shouldn’t be revived.

In the last three chapters, everything comes together so neatly and quickly. It would have been a better experience for me if the beginning had been shorter and the info/flashbacks had been sprinkled in throughout the story. The relationship between Maire and her captor makes me wonder if the author was trying to grapple with a personal experience. I won’t mention what because it could give the ending away, but its deeply personal message hindered the story. Holmberg simply spent too long punishing Maire and the reader.

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Book Review: Ninety-Nine Righteous Men

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Title: Ninety-Nine Righteous Men by K. M. Claude

Genre: Horror, graphic novel

Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ +0.5

Tl;DR: Ninety-Nine Righteous Men perfectly blends the tragedy of unrequited love with Gothic horror into a beautifully illustrated graphic novel that can only be described as a Catholic’s nightmare.


You know a book is good when you dock half a star for not being long enough.

K. M. Claude’s graphic novel begins with two somewhat unlikely heroes, priests Daniel and Adam, who have a rather tumultuous and complicated past together, as they are drawn into the web of a demon possessing one of the parishioners. What transpires is a tale of tormented souls united by lust’s cruel embrace.

The art style for Ninety-Nine Righteous Men is gorgeous. It’s a style reminiscent of both Eastern and Western comics by utilizing a more Western anatomical style with a more manga-like action style. What Claude creates is some impressive juxtapositions with the rigid piousness of Catholic imagery alongside the pliant sensuality of the demon. At times, I’m hesitant to read graphic novels because I typically hate the style of traditional Western comics (mainly the gritty, rather sloppy style of super hero comics), but Claude’s art style is clean, precise, and deliciously detailed.

One of the things I greatly appreciated was the balance between sensuality, sexuality, and the quiet moments of action and dialogue. When I first began reading, I worried the entire graphic novel would be reminiscent of the game Catherine, but Claude deftly balances all aspects of the work until it comes to a head at the climax (puns intended).

As an ex-Catholic, I felt comfortable in the discomfort of Adam and Daniel’s wholly Catholic world. Often what disturbs them, disturbs me, and Claude highlights the rather gruesome aspects of Catholicism that tend to disturb small children with wandering eyes. While what’s discussed in the book might anger some more devout Catholics, we must all remember that priests are humans and should be treated as such. If you’re a fan of Anne Rice’s style of sensual Southern Gothic with Catholic guilt, you’ll probably enjoy Ninety-Nine Righteous Men.

My biggest complaint with the book is a good one. I wanted more. I didn’t want the book to end. I wanted more on Daniel and Adam’s backstories, their lives before the priesthood, their encounters together, and even Caleb’s life before the story takes place. While the characters are well fleshed-out, I think they could have been explored more.

Ninety-Nine Righteous Men is a unique tale of lust, love, and sacrifice through the lens of the Gothic, and I look forward to reading more by K. M. Claude in the future.

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Book Review: Write. Publish. Repeat.

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Title: Write. Publish. Repeat.: The No-Luck-Required Guide to Self-publishing Success by Sean Platt and Johnny B. Truant with David Wright

Genre: Writing, non-fiction

Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

TL;DR: Write. Publish. Repeat. is an indie author’s dream in terms of a straight-forward how-to book for marketing, building an audience, and creating a writing empire.


I love Sean Platt and Johnny B. Truant. This is the first of their books that I’ve read. I picked this one up on a recommendation from several other authors, and I am so glad I did.
Write. Publish. Repeat. is an extensive book, covering the self-publishing/publishing as an industry, how to look professional, what to do, what not to do, marketing, and probably every other topic under the sun that an indie author could want to know about.
The information is laid out in an easy to follow manner with each section of the book being devoted to a certain topic, and while the authors say there may be some back-tracking and double covering of topics, I didn’t notice. The tone is conversational and most importantly common-sensical. Platt and Truant pull from their own experiences as indie authors as well as those of their friends and fellow authors to illustrate how to an author can make it in the industry by achieving certain manageable goals. The book certainly isn’t a get-rich-quick scheme or a sensationalized how-to-make-millions-with-a-shitty-but-marketable-book book. Truant and Platt don’t play that way, and they remind the reader of that.
Write. Publish. Repeat. relies on an author understanding a few finer points: be adaptable, work hard, and be yourself without being an asshole because no body likes those.
People who should read this book: Indie authors of any range (new, moderately successful, successful, thinking of possibly maybe publishing) and traditionally published authors who need to learn how to market their book professionally or would like to know about more publishing options or would simply like to build their brand. I’m thinking especially of authors published by small presses.
People who shouldn’t read this book: people who want fame and fortune with one book, people who aren’t in it for the long haul, quitters, whiners, literati types, and people who can’t deal with occasional profanity.
Write. Publish. Repeat. is an indie author staple. The advice within in it is straight-forward, doable, and for the most part, painless. If you’re even thinking about going indie, read it.

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Book Review: Writing Short Stories to Promote Your Novels

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Title: Writing Short Stories to Promote Your Novel by Rayne Hall

Genre: Writing, non-fiction

Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

TL;DR: A good resource for how short stories can boost sales that comes with exercises for idea generation.


As with most of Rayne Hall’s works on Amazon, Writing Short Stories to Promote Your Novel is meant to help authors who already know how to write and are just trying to hone their skills and learn some new techniques.

Writing Short Stories provides the reader with an exercise where they can generate ideas for short stories that can tie into their existing series or books. Following Hall’s method, the reader can figure out how to tie short stories into their existing works by creating works of a similar flavor using side characters. I don’t want to go too in depth because the book is short and the exercises in it are much more useful than my paraphrasing.

In the future, I’m hoping to apply this to my teaching (if I ever get to teach creative writing), and I’m planning on writing some short stories over the summer using Hall’s method. It’s simple, straight-forward and uses something similar to the pomodoro method, which I’m all for. Hall also provides ways to publish these short stories in a way than can benefit the author and give them the most exposure.

The only thing I didn’t like about Writing Short Stories to Promote Your Novels was that she included a lot of her short stories in the back of the book. It seemed more like free publicity than a way to help the reader. Also, Hall suggests the stories generated should be about 2,000 words long, but I don’t think word count is really an issue in the long-run.

If you’re interested in purchasing Writing Short Stories to Promote Your Novels, it’s on sale this week for 99 cents on Amazon.

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Book Review: “The 13th Hex” by Jordan L. Hawk

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Title: “The 13th Hex” (Hexworld 0.5) by Jordan L. Hawk

Genre: Paranormal/arcane fantasy

Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

TL;DR: A great short story that introduces a new world featuring witches, familiars, hexes, and of course, Teddy Roosevelt.

The official blurb:

Romance. Magic.
Murder.

Dominic Kopecky dreamed of becoming a member of New York’s Metropolitan Witch Police—a dream dashed when he failed the test for magical aptitude. Now he spends his days drawing the hexes the MWP relies on for their investigations.

But when a murder by patent hex brings crow familiar Rook to his desk, Dominic can’t resist the chance to experience magic. And as the heat grows between Dominic and Rook, so does the danger. Because the case has been declared closed—and someone is willing to kill to keep it that way.

The 13th Hex is the prequel short story to the all-new Hexworld series. If you like shifters, magic, and romance, you’ll love Jordan L. Hawk’s world of witch policemen and the familiars they bond with.


I’m a total glutton for Jordan L. Hawk’s work, and when I saw that she was creating a new series centering around 19th century New York City, I was beyond excited. If “The 13th Hex” is any indication of the rest of the series, I’ll pre-order every single installment.

The story centers around Dominic Kopecky, a hexman working at the New York Metropolitan Witch Police. His job is a tedious one, copying, analyzing, and perfecting hexes that the police use, but Dominic is the best in the business, which brings Rook into his world. Rook is a familiar without a witch, investigating murders caused by a faulty hex. While the police have closed the case, Rook suspects there’s something more. What ensues is a very enjoyable short mystery with a hint of steam.

Jordan L. Hawk instantly makes me fall in love with her characters. Dominic is the typical quiet office worker with his nose to the grindstone. While this wasn’t the job he wanted, he does it to the best of his ability, and the brief moments of hope in Dominic’s thoughts totally endeared him to me. Rook is all sensuality and action, but what I loved about her familiars is that they have characteristics of their animal forms without shoving it down the reader’s throat. Rook’s laugh is described as cawing while Cicero, the cat familiar, has a languid air to him while reverting to cat-like disdain at the sight of water.

“The 13th Hex” is a short story, so I’ll keep the review brief. The world Hawk is setting up is steeped in history and wrapped in sigils, magical creatures, and murder mysteries. The downside to “The 13th Hex” is that it’s so short. I really wanted a longer work because I loved Rook and Dominic’s dynamic and it made the pace incredibly fast. A few thousand more words may have satisfied me more.

Overall, “The 13th Hex” is a fantastic short story to introduce a new series, and I can’t wait for Hexbreaker.

You can buy “The 13th Hex” here for $0.99.

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Book Review: The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

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Title: The Raven Boys (The Raven Cycle Book #1) by Maggie Stiefvater

Genre: Paranormal adventure

Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

**Spoilers in this review should be minimal**

TL;DR: I LOVED this book. If you like well-rounded characters, an atmospheric setting, and a paranormal streak that crosses the globe, this book is for you.

Oh my god. I devoured the second half of this book, and immediately, dug out the second book, The Dream Thieves.

The Raven Boys centers around four boys in Henrietta, Virginia, who attend the local private school, Aglionby Academy, and their new friend, Blue, who is the daughter of a psych. Gansey, Adam, Ronan, Noah, and Blue become entangled with Henrietta’s local history and paranormal legacy as they search for ley lines, lines of energy that crisscross the globe, connecting sites of historical and magical importance. Gansey is searching for one thing, the resting place of the legendary Welsh king Glendower. Legend says that if you wake the kind, he will grant you favor, and Gansey knows a few people who could use some favor. Blue has always been mildly envious of her mother and her friends’ psychic abilities, but Blue has an ability of her own, amplifying energy, and she may be the key to helping the Raven Boys find Glendower.

What I loved about The Raven Boys was the characterizations, not just of the characters but of the setting as a whole. Everything, from the Virginia landscape to Gansey’s dilapidated car, has a soul, and these characterizations add a whole new level of detail and beauty to Stiefvater’s story. The settings are atmospheric and lend themselves to firmly integrating yourself within the book. Even the magical elements later in the book fall perfectly into the realm of reality because they are so believable and so in tune with the rest of the world.

Maggie Stiefvater’s characters shine brightly in a novel where they could easily be lost or flattened beneath the heavy mythos and mystery of the story. Each of the Raven Boys is very distinct, each with their own flaws, complexities, and reasons to love them. We have Gansey the driven adventure-seeker who wants nothing more than to search the earth to find Glendower. His life is complicated by trying to manage his wayward friends, Ronan and Adam, and not insult people by simply being Richard Gansey III (can you smell the old money?). Adam is a scholarship boy from a bad home. He tries to be all things, a research companion to Gansey, an independent man, an A student, but he flounders under the weight of his violent home life in the local trailer park. Ronan is the opposite of Adam, a fighter, a trouble-maker, a boy with all the money in the world and nearly nothing that makes him happy. Noah, is… well, he’s Noah. Then, there’s Blue. She’s a sensible free-spirit who wears homemade clothes and was born with the ability to amplify the energy of those around her, which is infinitely useful when you live with a bunch of psychics.

The story itself is a wonderfully complex paranormal mystery that spans four books. We begin the story at a graveyard that sits on a ley line on the one night of the year when psychics can see those who will die that year march toward the otherworld. From there, we discover how the ley lines connect with the mysterious Welsh king, Glendower, and the mysteries surrounding Henrietta. Despite all of the pieces that make up the mystery, Stiefvater makes it easy to digest and quickly draws the reader in to make them as obsessed with discovering Glendower as Gansey. It’s as intricate as The DaVinci Code but with a hundred times better characterization and atmosphere.

Am I looking forward to the second book? Hell, yes. The book may be labeled as young adult but the only thing juvenile about it is the age of the main characters. The Raven Boys is a story rich with history and texture with characters as complex as any book taught in a college classroom.

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Book Review: The Curious Tale of Gabrielle

**The Curious Tale of Gabrielle by Zachary Paul Chopchinski was given to me for free in exchange for an honest review.**

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The Curious Tale of Gabrielle follows a young girl on her birthday as she is thrust into a mysterious world of time-travel and disorientation. Gabrielle is still mourning the death of her father the day of her thirteenth birthday when she ventures into town with a piece of his silver, bent on returning with a gift from a mysterious shop in town. Upon entering the shop, she finds herself in a cabinet of curiosities with a strange bracelet and even stranger woman, Alexandra, at the heart of it. Alexandra is a kindly old woman who instantly takes to Gabrielle and invites her to spend the afternoon with her in her collection of objects, all of which have a story to tell. Soon, Gabrielle finds the objects there are not what they seem and neither is the world she lives in. Will she make through her adventures in one piece? What does Alexandra and the bracelet have to do with the strange happenings?

Where to begin? The Curious Tale of Gabrielle is filled with swashbuckling action and mystery. I don’t want to give too much away, but Gabrielle soon finds herself thrust into the chaos of battle, and if you like Medieval-fantasy, this is definitely for you. I loved the shifting magic of Alexandra’s cabinet of curiosities and how Chopchinski dealt with her character and arc. Alexandra is a bright spot in the novel. All at once mentor, conspirator, and grandmother. She thrusts young Gabrielle into the mystery but not without first setting her down for some tea, cookies, and advice.

What tripped me up while reading the story was simply overwriting. Chopchinski often repeats himself while creating long descriptions or traveling into Gabrielle’s thoughts. At times, I found myself skimming because his ruminations and repetitions were causing the tension to sag. In contrast to the overwriting, important areas of development were glossed over. During the Medieval time-traveling section, I felt lost due to a lack of detail. Characters edged toward caricatures without solid characterizations to make them more rounded and the background often felt more high-fantasy than historical.

Overall, The Curious Tale of Gabrielle was very unique story that combines history with time-travel, tragedy, and adolescent self-discovery. If you want an adventure, Chopchinski’s story is a great place to find it. To purchase The Curious Tale of Gabrielle, click right here.


The Curious Tale of Gabrielle by Zachary Paul Chopchinski

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A young Gabrielle is driven by her will to explore and see new things. She cannot stop or rest until all within her reach has been experienced and explored. Driven by an astounding will and lack of common fear, she finds herself able to face things most adults might fall before. Yet has there been a journey that has been meant specifically for her all along? Is there a path that has been created just for her to travel?

Follow Gabrielle as she ventures through the lives of many with the experience of only her own. What will happen as she discovers the lives—and tragedies—of the souls who choose her to see their story? It’s a journey through history, life, and love unlike anything that could be imagined—except perhaps by a young girl.

Amazon link.


Zachary Paul Chopchinski

Zachary is 27 and lives in Florida with his lovely wife, Layla. The two of them share a home with their 4 fur-children.

Zachary received an Associates degree in Criminal Justice and a Bachelor’s degree in Criminology from the University of Southern Maine. Zachary had two short stories published by Ohio State University when he was in elementary school, and a poem published when he was in high school. Zachary has always had two passions in his life, criminal justice and writing. After spending nearly 5 years working in security, Zachary decided it was time to give his other passion a chance.

Zachary is very much a family man and when he is not deep in writing, he can be found spending time with his family, playing video games or contemplating his next story idea.

Website

Goodreads

 

 

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Free eBook!

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I just thought I would let everyone know that The Earl of Brass will be free on Thursday, September 18th and Friday, September 19th!  The book has rather good ratings on Goodreads and Amazon.  The blurb is as follows:

When Eilian Sorrell, a promising archaeologist and the eldest son of the Earl of Dorset, loses his arm in a dirigible crash, he fears he will face a bleak future among London’s aristocracy. On a quest for normalcy, Lord Sorrell commissions a prosthetic arm but finds the craftsman is not what he seems.
After the death of her brother, Hadley Fenice takes over his prosthesis business but knows it will be an uphill battle as women are discouraged from doing man’s work. In return for building Lord Sorrell an automaton arm, he offers her a chance at freedom by following him to the Negev Desert under the guise of a man.
But what lies beneath the desert is more precious than potshards or bones. As they venture deeper, they discover a society where the path of life is not governed by gain but by passion. When imperialistic invaders come in search of a new colony to pillage, Eilian and Hadley are forced to defend their fleeting glimpse of paradise.

Please check it out and tell your friends!

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The Importance of Being an Earnest Reviewer

five stars

Ah, book reviews.  The all too important yet dreaded rituals all authors dread.  Will they love it?  Will they hate it?  Will the reviewer absolute eviscerate me for seemingly no reason?

The thought of reviews for any author can be daunting, but to an indie author, reviews are one of the most important aspects of marketing our writing.  Currently, I am an unknown, a bit of krill in a ocean of whales and sharks.  Reviews are what often convince readers to take a chance on a newbie author, especially if they are more in depth than “OMG! IT WAS THE BEST BOOK EVER!”  Yes, I can convince my mom and ten of my friends to write puffy five star reviews, but does that do anything for me and what does that say about me as a writer? Continue reading

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The Earl of Brass is IndieReader Approved!

IR Approved Sticker 2I awoke today to the most glorious news: The Earl of Brass was given a 4.5 star rating from The IndieReader, which means it has been given the distinction of being IndieReader Approved!  You can check out the review here.

 

Since 8:30 this morning, I have been doing my happy dance and texting, messaging, and bugging anyone who would listen that my novel made the list of approved books.  For an indie author, this is quite a big deal.  The IndieReader is one of the larger, more prestigious book reviewers for Indie and self-published books, and their reviews allow readers to find the gems in indie fiction as well as give indie authors the credit they deserve.  For a self-published author, marketing and getting your book recognition is an uphill battle.  Often reviews like Kirkus, are rather pricy for the average indie writer, but the IndieReader offers a moderate price with a thorough, balanced review.  Being IndieReader Approved is nothing to sneeze at.  Plenty of books they review do not reach the 4 to 5 star level, and the reviewers aren’t afraid to say the book is in need or editing or is lacking in certain areas. 

 

The Earl of Brass is my first literary child, and I definitely feel like a proud parent today.  Here is a sniplet of the review that made me particularly happy and I think captured the spirit of the novel:

The novel proceeds in a satisfying series of complications as Lord Sorrell and Ms. Fenice work together as archaeologists. The plot takes some unexpected turns and, while not overburdened with action, the events are well-paced and follow logical choices of the characters. The depictions of everyone, from London socialite to field laborer, showed distinct personalities which made THE EARL OF BRASS a humorous and delightful book to read.

Thank you, Claire L. Deming for reviewing my book (no, I do not know any of the reviewers, but her name is listed at the bottom).  I am honored and ecstatic that my debut novel is now on the IndieReader Approved list. 

 

Once again, the rest of the review can be found here.

The Earl of Brass can be purchased here:

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