Review: Light & Shadow Trilogy by Moira Katson

Series: Light and Shadow trilogy
Author: 
Moira Katson
Genre(s): Young Adult Fantasy
How To Purchase: Kindle | Paperback | Kobo

It has been only two generations since Arthur Warden seized the throne of Heddred from the Conradines, and now the crown rests on the head of Garad, sickly and weak. Shadows gather: legacies of the centuries-long rivalries for power, old betrayals, the endless plots of the courtiers, and the murmur of rebellion in the southern provinces …

Catwin, plucked from her life at the edge of the Kingdom, is thrust abruptly into the world of the Court when she is chosen by the Duke of Voltur to be a Shadow-spy, shield, and blade-to his niece, the Lady Miriel DeVere. The Duke’s ruthlessness is legendary, and he will stop at nothing to become the power behind the throne, using Miriel as a pawn to catch Garad’s heart.

But the Duke’s carefully-laid plans are only a piece of the intrigue of the court, and greater forces than Catwin can imagine are massed against her, determined to eliminate Miriel and impose a new order of their own. If Catwin and Miriel are to survive, they must learn quickly who to trust, and when to turn their skills against the very people who have trained them …

Shadowborn by Moira Katson

Book #1: Shadowborn
My rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Shadowforged by Moira Katson

Book #2: Shadowforged
My rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Shadow's End by Moira Katson

Book #3: Shadow’s End
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I was impressed by this series, the Light and Shadow trilogy, which was another one of my fabulous Bookbub bargains. (Er, by the way, since I talk about them so much, one might wonder if I’m affiliated, but I’m not. Though I’ve acquired enough $0.99 and free books from them, I should probably take out stock.)

This is both a fascinating character-driven and an interesting plot-driven story, wrapped in an engrossing fantasy world. Catwin, the main character, comes from a poor family, and until she’s noticed by the Duke of Voltur, she’s destined to amount to nothing but kitchen help. Instead, he sees potential in her and sets to training her to be his niece Miriel’s bodyguard and assassin–whether she wants to or not.

Her struggles with the atrocities she’s forced to commit are potent and heart-rending. The uneasy friendship that grows from initial hatred between the two girls is well-crafted. They dance around one another, neither sure if the other can be trusted, but having no choice but to rely on one another.

I’m not going to spoiler anything from the second and third books, but I loved how the story developed. The stakes continue to raise, as Miriel must do her uncle’s bidding and, well, Catwin must, also.

I rated the third book as four stars because I wasn’t impressed with the culmination of Catwin’s prophecy: As a baby, her mother refused to raise her because she foretold that her daughter would be betrayed. A lot of that back story made no sense, and when the betrayal comes, I can’t really understand why. It’s almost … or completely … a self-fulfilling prophecy, and I don’t really understand why the characters involved choose their actions.

Overall, I loved this series and I heartily recommend it. If you enjoy fantasy, either young adult or adult, you’ll enjoy the Light and Shadow trilogy. Ms. Katson is now on my list of “Authors I Must Read More of If Ever My TBR Pile Diminishes.”

Have you added my forthcoming release, Guarding Angel, to your Goodreads to-be-read list? You can also find me on Twitter and Pinterest.

Review: One Lucky Night by Various Authors

One Lucky Night by Various Authors

Title: One Lucky Night
Authors: Aria Kane, Grace Teague, Ana Blaze, Constance Phillips, Melinda Dozier
Genre(s): Adult Romance Short Story Collection
How To Purchase: Kindle (Forthcoming) | Paperback – Amazon (Forthcoming)

My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Note: I received a free copy of One Lucky Night in exchange for an honest review.

One night can change everything…

The crew at Boston’s Brazen Head Pub hasn’t been very lucky in love. Can a mysterious visitor inspire them to look past old hurts and misconceptions and give romance a chance? One Lucky Night is a collection of five sexy interwoven novelettes by Aria Kane, Grace Teague, Ana Blaze, Constance Phillips, and Melinda Dozier.

One Lucky Night is a compilation of five contemporary romance short stories / novellas, all by different authors. Every story, at least in part, takes place in a pub where the main characters either work or are regulars. And every story has the same mysterious stranger that appears briefly to talk to at least one of the characters.

I was swayed to read these stories by the mysterious stranger bit, but I was disappointed in its execution. He interacts with the main character, always talking about the fledgling romance but never enough to affect the outcome of the story. Every couple seems destined to be together, by their own histories and their own attraction to one another, so the stranger is simply a bystander, offering some advice or encouraging the conflicted person to move forward, take a chance, give in to love. He doesn’t play a large role, and we only learn a few tidbits about his life.

Other than that, the stories were typical contemporary romance. Hot guy, hot girl, kept apart by their own stubborn refusal to give into love until … tonight. Tonight, they all work through their baggage, and tonight, they all get lucky.

I don’t normally post favorite lines (although maybe I should–there are a few that have struck me in previous novels I’ve reviewed that I could have shared), but here is one that I liked. The female main character of one story was describing another male character, not her love interest, but another gal’s love interest. She said that he had “a jaw sturdy enough to ride side saddle on.” It’s an entertaining metaphor, but part of my infatuation with the line is that I can’t decide if it’s dirty or not. What do you guys think?

If you’re a fan of contemporary romance, you’ll probably like this compilation. I personally am not a romance fan–I had visions of intrigue when contemplating the role of the mysterious stranger–so you can’t really take my lack of enthusiasm as meaning anything. One Lucky Night is cute, has plenty of sex when the main characters finally give into their passion, and is a good read if you want to discover a new favorite romance writer.

Have you added my forthcoming release, Guarding Angel, to your Goodreads to-be-read list? You can also find me on Twitter and Pinterest.

Review: Somebody Tell Aunt Tillie She’s Dead by Christina Miller

Somebody Tell Aunt Tillie She's Dead by Christina Miller

Title: Somebody Tell Aunt Tillie She’s Dead
Author: Christina Miller
Genre(s): Adult Urban Fantasy
How To Purchase: Kindle

My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

A little magic can go a long way — to really screwing up a girl’s life!

Mara is having the worst month of her life. At least, that’s what her cards tell her and they’ve never been wrong. She’s evicted from her apartment, loses her job and is banned from Beverly Hills. So when the tarot cards predict her imminent demise, she uses a little magic to make her world right.

Suddenly, an aunt she’s never met dies, leaving Mara as her sole heir. But when Mara moves into her inherited home, she discovers Aunt Tillie never moved out. She’s still one pissed-off old lady, even post-mortem, and she blames Mara’s magical meddling for her death.

When Mara accidentally releases a demon and awakens the spirit of the most powerful witch in history, Tillie’s ready to kill her — literally. It’s the only way she can think of to save the girl from herself. The witch and the demon, however, have other plans for Mara’s body.

Another one of my Bookbub finds, Somebody Tell Aunt Tillie She’s Dead is not quite as good as I had hoped it would be. Written with an engaging voice, the story is interesting but meandering.

I’m going to get technical here for a moment. Novels have a certain structure, which you can learn in a novel-writing class or one of the thousands of books written on the subject. Certain things need to happen at approximately a certain percentage through the story, or it comes out feeling like the story is going on for way too long or is way too rushed. Unfortunately, this novel drags on in the beginning and then rushes through the ending.

All of Part One should have been chopped down to only a few chapters and much of the back story cut. Part Two has an abrupt shift halfway through it, the tone going from light and airy and goofy to somewhat dark and sinister. Then the ending, the big fight with the malevolent spirit that wants to take over Mara’s life, is packed into too few chapters. The result is that the book feels inconsistent and messy.

The good thing about it, though, is that I really enjoyed the main character Mara. Her voice was interesting, her perspective and knowledge of Pagan rituals, and her earnest discussion of the supernatural goings-on was endearing. Except for her fear of rodents, she was pretty brazen and unflinching in the face of all this trouble.

I can’t say the same for her best friend, Gus. I’m sure Ms. Miller was attempting to create a sassy, fun gay California man, but to me, he was a complete jerk. He insulted Mara’s weight, made fun of her lack of boyfriend, and when she was being evicted from her apartment in an unfair situation, never once offered to help her, instead picking on her throughout. I was pleased when Part One was over and I didn’t have to put up with his jackassery any more. Mara, honey, you deserve respect, and you can do so much better than being a hag to nasty old Gus.

If you’re looking for something different in the paranormal vein and don’t mind some of the foibles of a disjointed-feeling book, I would suggest Somebody Tell Aunt Tillie She’s Dead. The detail about witch accouterments and rituals is fascinating in and of itself–perhaps even worth wading through Gus’s terrible attitude.

Have you added my forthcoming release, Guarding Angel, to your Goodreads to-be-read list? You can also find me on Twitter and Pinterest.

Review: Self-Printed: The Sane Person’s Guide to Self-Publishing by Catherine Ryan Howard

Self-Printed by Catherine Ryan HowardTitle: Self-Printed: The Sane Person’s Guide to Self-Publishing (Second Edition)
Author: Catherine Ryan Howard – Twitter | Blog
Genre(s): Non-Fiction
How To Purchase: Links on Catherine’s blog

My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

The only self-publishing guide with a No Saying “Gatekeepers” rule, now fully revised and expanded

Do you think that no one has the right to stand between you and your published writer dreams? That the publishing industry is going down in flames and self-publishers are going to rise like a 99c phoenix from the ashes? That all literary agents are interested in doing is blogging sarcastically about the rhetorical question at the start of your query letter, that editors will just use your submitted manuscript for kindling and that you’ll be senile before you hear back from either of them? That once you’ve uploaded the book you finished yesterday afternoon to Amazon, it’ll be mere minutes before the money starts rolling in and you can quit your day job? Do you say things like “gatekeepers”, “The Big Six”, “E.L. James”, “legacy publishing” and “indie author” a lot? Are you self-publishing to “show them all”?

If you’ve answered yes to one or more of these questions then I do apologise, but this isn’t the book for you.

This book is for writers who consider self-publishing to be a good Plan B, or even a sideline to traditional publication. Who want to do it the cheapest and easiest way possible while still producing a quality product. Who understand that much like Starbucks outlets and Nespresso coffee machines, traditional and self-publishing can peacefully co-exist. Writers who know that they don’t have to sell a million copies of their book to start earning a living from their writing, but that they do have to work hard and treat it like a business. Who are blessed with common sense and live in the real world at least most of the time. Who find my jokes funny, at least occasionally.

If this sounds like you, then Self-Printed: The Sane Person’s Guide to Self-Publishing may be just the “How To…” guide you were looking for.

It will tell you everything you need to know in order to publish a Print On Demand paperback and e-book, and (crucially) sell them, without sounding like anti-Big Publishing propaganda produced by the Ministry of Truth.

Be warned: you are now entering a No Saying “Gatekeepers” Zone…

Remember what I’ve said about how I give out stars? I haven’t actually blogged about it, but it’s on my Review Policy. 5 stars means that something changed my life and gave me a different perspective. I reserve the elusive 5 stars for books like Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which I read when I was young and impressionable, or We Need to Talk About Kevin, which made me bawl when I wasn’t pregnant. I gave this book 5 stars. That means that if you want to self-publish, you have to read this book. I might make it required reading for everyone who submits to me. (No, I won’t, but I might start lecturing people with page numbers from this book.)

To be quite honest, I knew most of what was in this book already. This is the book I wish I’d read several months ago, rather than having to scrape together bits and pieces of information from a variety of sources and many, many blog posts. However, as this book so asserts, there’s a lot of bad information out there. Because I am terribly untrusting, six-months-ago-me wouldn’t have read the book because I didn’t want to waste money on something that may just be another “How I Won the Lotto of Publishing/Self-Publishing!” clone.

But believe me when I say this is the book that you need to read if you want some no-nonsense, hilariously delivered, intensely sane advice.

I have two dissenting opinions from Ms. Howard, which I will dispense in a moment, but I want to underline the fact that I agree with 98% of this book. To me, a lot of it is common sense, but as she notes, common sense doesn’t seem so common. (Was that her or Mark Twain? Or both? I don’t care, we’re all correct.)

First dissenting opinion: Get Your Own ISBN’s

Now, I will say that my opinion is different than hers because I get ISBN’s for free. I’ve explained this to people before, and they seem confused. By free, I mean, without cost. I mean, I could get one hundred ISBN’s, and they would cost me zero dollars. That is because I’m in Canada and I’m self-publishing as a Canadian “publisher.” (They see self-publishers/self-employed writers and publishing companies as the same thing.) If you’re in Canada and you want to get your free ISBN’s, signing up is a simple process. Just go here: The Canadian ISBN Service System.

That being said, I feel like having your own ISBN makes you seem more professional. Of course, I can afford to be professional since I get ISBN’s free. But this is one place I think a self-publisher should be consider carefully. Just as any entrepreneur or self-employed business person, we have to think like the patrons of the big companies and give ourselves maximum discovery potential. I think ISBN’s help accomplish that. My final caveat, in a section slathered in caveats, is that I haven’t researched this very much because of the whole free thing. So I suggest you do the same and create your own opinion.

Second dissenting opinion: Don’t use her chapter to format your eBook

I respect Ms. Howard, but her chapters on formatting your eBook made me cringe. It’s not difficult or frustrating. Not even a little bit. But I will forgive her because she hasn’t seen The Best Guide Ever Created:

Take Pride in your eBook Formatting by Guide Henkel (To which I also give 5 stars, for anyone interested.)

If you got at least a B- in Computer Science in high school, you should be able to figure it out. If you’re not technically saavy, well, go ahead and hire him. He knows what he’s talking about. But it’s not hard. It took me a few hours on a Saturday to figure out how to do it. And now I’m sure it will take a lot less time now that I’ve been through it once. (As in, half an hour to an hour … if that.)

In conclusion: Read this book

You will laugh. You will learn stuff. You will feel not so alone in this whole self-publishing journey. You’ll go forth into the world, confident and professional and convinced of the importance of a matching blog color scheme.

Have you added my forthcoming release, Guarding Angel, to your Goodreads to-be-read list? You can also find me on Twitter and Pinterest.

Review: Running into the Darkness by D. A. Bale

Running Into Darkness - DA BaleTitle: Running into the Darkness (The Deepest Darkness #1)
Author: D. A. Bale – Blog | Twitter
Genre(s): Adult Thriller
How To Purchase: Kindle | Barnes & Noble | Smashwords

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Note: I received a free copy of Running Into Darkness in exchange for an honest review.

“I never intended to kill the President. As a doctor, I swore an oath to protect life – not take it. But that was before…”

Second year resident, Dr. Samantha Bartlett, is swept from the frigid New York winter to once again confront the sting of death back home – and face those she left behind. But she’s not alone. A strange man she dubs Shades haunts her every step as she seeks answers to the inferno which claimed her grandmother, an eerie reminder of her parents’ deaths. The secrets Samantha uncovers forever changes her image of those she only thought she knew.

Confronted by Shades, Samantha joins a secret underworld known only as the Elite, where a web of power and control is woven deep within governments worldwide. Their sights are set on the power structure of the United States, and Samantha becomes the unlikely key to infiltrating the White House at its most intimate levels.

The quest for blood threatens to destroy Samantha. From the darkness there is no escape.

Running Into the Darkness is a thriller with medical advancements and tech that, as far as I’m aware, are just outside the range of what’s possible now. Then again, what do I know about what the most shady government divisions have? Probably some interesting stuff, just like the tech in the book. I guess it says something more about me than about the book to say that I wish there was a little more of that. But the story itself is about Samantha and her world getting turned upside down when her life starts to crumble around her.

I’ll get this out of way early on, since no review would be complete without mentioning the incest. For other reviewers, this was a complete turnoff. I can’t say that I liked it–I mean, ew–but it served a purpose. It showed how the main character Samantha was able to become another persona. It also opens up a question as to what constitutes incest. She never knew her father, so he wasn’t a “dad” to her. He was just another guy, one who’d done a lot of bad things, and one she wanted revenge on. I still can’t wrap my head around why the Elite would insist she go through with sleeping with him, but she is the perfect person to hate him enough to kill him.

While incest is a darker subject, I didn’t feel like the book was dark enough, especially for one with “Darkness” in the title. I didn’t quite feel Samantha’s angst with her. I understood it, but it wasn’t gritty enough for me. I saw it, from the outside, but I didn’t have much of an emotional reaction. I wasn’t there with her. I did like the book well enough, so maybe the sequel brings us into the depths of emotional despair.

If you’re looking for a thriller-like contemporary read with elements of sci-fi, you’ll like Running Into the Darkness. The sequel, Piercing the Darkness, is out, so if you hate waiting for the next installment, fear not, it’s available. The third and final book is releasing soon, so you hopefully won’t have to wait for long until it’s out.

Have you added my forthcoming release, Guarding Angel, to your Goodreads to-be-read list? You can also find me on Twitter and Pinterest.

Review: Futurity by Michael Bunker

Futurity by Michael BunkerTitle: Futurity
Author: Michael Bunker
Genre(s): Adult Science Fiction
How To Purchase: Kindle | Kobo

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Everyone wants to travel to the past. Not Malcolm. He wants to go into the future… and he’s just found out that Dr. Paulsen, Professor of Optics at Rochester-Finney University has figured out how to do it. Malcolm is a third year physics student and a gamer. He’s about to get more than he ever bargained for and he’s going to take you along for the ride.

I really liked Futurity, really, really a lot. It was something I’d been craving for awhile–a science fiction grounded in real science–so I was happy to find it in my pile of Bookbub bargains. There was so much of it to like: The only slightly fictional science unfolded amid an interesting plot and likable main character.

At times, protagonist Malcolm reminded me of myself, the young and eager physics student who wants to unlock all the mysteries of the universe. (Yes, I was all those things ten years ago, believe it or not.) At other times, his cheerful density–college age guys, so clueless when dealing with their girlfriends, *rolls eyes and smiles*–was frustrating but completely endearing.

I completely agreed with Malcolm’s interest in the future. When spending lazy nights talking over time travel with my physics friends, I’d look forward to the future, not the past, as many others do. The future is where the interesting stuff happens! The past is, well, the past. Before you ask, yes, Part II was my favorite Back to the Future movie. So I enjoyed the time spent on developing “the pinnacle of technology” that Malcolm travels to in the end.

While I enjoyed the culmination of the story, the heavy-handed morality lesson got under my skin. It’s been done … and done … and done … to compare our society of people disconnected by technology to the collapses of other empires. I would have liked to see the book end on a different note than “and so the world’s gonna end cause we don’t ‘see’ each other any more.'” I will, however, admit that it was done in a surprising and unique way.

I sat down and read this book in one session, which is something I don’t do much any more. It helps that it was short. The author himself notes that it evolved from a short story to a short novel. If you like science fiction and time travel stories, you’ll like Futurity. Just steel yourself for the lecture at the end.

Have you added my forthcoming release, Guarding Angel, to your Goodreads to-be-read list? You can also find me on Twitter and Pinterest.

Review: The Well of Being by Jean-Pierre Weill

The Well of Being: A Children's Book for AdultsTitle: The Well of Being: A Children’s Book for Adults
Author: Jean-Pierre Weill
Genre(s): Adult Non-Fiction Picture Book
How To Purchase: Amazon

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Note: I received a free copy of The Well of Being in exchange for an honest review.

The Well of Being: a children’s book for adults is an illustrated inquiry into the pursuit of happiness, and what it means to be radically alive in our daily moments. This adult picture book takes its reader on a quest for well‐being and self‐acceptance, following the story of a wondering everyman. The projective tale summons the reader’s inner child as a complimentary vehicle to drive the plot through bold reflection and earnest doubt. Assisted by cosmic perspective, the faceless protagonist sets out to retrieve the deep self-comfort and inner wellness lost along life’s way.

I like quirky and strange things. The Well of Being isn’t strange, but it is an off-the-beaten-path kind of book, one that defies a simple description.

The content is an exploration of a certain philosophical view, illustrated by watercolor paintings that are quiet and emotionally evocative. I reviewed the book on .pdf on my tablet, so it loses something that would be there when the reader holds a hard copy in his or her hands. The pictures are meant to being as thought-inspiring as the words, and I felt that the author/illustrator accomplished this goal.

At the very beginning, the book explains that this is “a teaching of Ramchal, the 18th Century Italian philosopher and mystic.” At the end, further information is given on symbology in the paintings and Ramchal’s teaching. But this is a primer, something to resonate with the soul, something to pique one’s interest in finding inner peace, an offering to learn more.

The only small complaint I have is that it is, as many religion-based books, male-centric. The “representation of you” is clearly a masculine figure, as it wears a suit and tie and top hat. At the end, the book claims that the figure is androgynous, representing “Everyman and also Everywoman.” If it weren’t for the specific note, I might not even mention it, but the pictures clearly don’t represent “Everywoman.” The philosophy itself, of course, is for everyone, and I wouldn’t dispute that at all.

The book is moving in a quiet way. For some, it might awaken a desire to explore one’s inner self. For others, it might seem silly and pointless. For still others, like myself, it reminded me that life is, indeed a spiritual pursuit, and that perhaps I can find solace from busyness by remembering that more often. If any of this review or the book description has interested you, I would suggest picking up a copy of The Well of Being: A Children’s Book for Adults. The art alone is beautiful, despite the hefty price-tag. Self-published illustrated books aren’t cheap to produce, and it was courageous of the author to produce it despite how expensive it is.

Have you added my forthcoming release, Guarding Angel, to your Goodreads to-be-read list? You can also find me on Twitter and Pinterest.