Tag: Amazon

Seven Things I Learned from Publishing in Kindle Worlds

Every story and book I’ve published has taught me something about the publishing industry. Since Amazon gets a lot of flak about taking advantage of authors, I wanted to share what I’ve learned from publishing in Kindle Worlds.
First off, Kindle Worlds are considered fan fiction. I’m not a fan of this genre or this label.
Furthermore, I’m not a huge fan of the original First Street Church novellas written by Melissa Storm. I am a HUGE admirer of Melissa because she believes in supporting authors with every resource at her disposal.


I’ve mentioned before that I don’t read romance. Okay, that’s false now that I’ve dedicated myself to publishing three romance novellas this year and getting my first romance novel into print.

My first choice for reading material is not romance. And if I pick up a romance, I prefer romantic suspense. Sure, the romance is important but it isn’t the sole focus of the story.
So what the heck am I doing writing in a genre I don’t prefer to read?

I’ve been asking myself this question at least once a week since the dawn of my contract with Kindle Direct Publishing.

Now, on to what I’ve learned from this experience:

  1. The timeline of publishing may be shorter than with traditional publishers, but it isn’t quick and easy. Let me add: I have only contracted for a bonus with the first book released in November. This is an incentive from KDP to get authors involved in these universes they “own.”
  2. There is even LESS communication with KDP than with any other publisher I’ve worked with. Even the small house that took two years to print the anthology I was involved it had a specific editor who replied to my emails in a timely manner. Not so much with the KDP representative.
  3. It’s better to get support from other authors when you’re uploading your first book. The cover portion of the upload is confusing (set up so you will design your cover right there), and I was glad that there were multiple authors in the FSC Facebook group who could walk me through it.
  4. You won’t sell a ton of books. Even authors with huge followings who mailed their large lists of subscribers found they didn’t sell the expected number of copies. Which seems strange since Amazon promoted the heck out of these books on release day.
  5. The influx of cross-over readers takes time. In fact, I didn’t see a huge rise in subscribers to my Facebook page (we ran a promotion) or my email list when the book released.
  6. Staying the course with multiple avenues of exposure is still necessary. Once I finally got my spot in the Sweet Grove Sentinel (newsletter for the Kindle World), I netted 53 new subscribers in one weekend. Wow!
  7. Quantity is as important as quality. I believe the more titles I publish in this world will grow my following. Since there are so many books and authors in the First Street Church universe, the readers can’t be expected to buy ever one of them. At least not within the first few months.

    In the end, I don’t feel I’ve wasted my time and effort writing for Kindle Worlds. Yes, they own all these stories—forever—but I could take the characters to a different location if I wanted to publish outside of the First Street Church universe.

    Do you have any questions about this form of publishing?

What’s “Bestseller” Really Mean?

Many writers have the goal of having a best-selling book. After all, that would be the ultimate sign of writing success, right?

Or maybe not.

There are different definitions for “best-selling” on different platforms. Many lists exist that determine what sells the best: USA Today, New York Times, and Amazon are the ones most often referred to in author biographies.
If a book is a bestseller, that means its sales must be watched and compared to other books. That’s why the list it bestseller list it appears on matters in actual significance.

Amazon

Amazon is unique among these three lists in that it is an actual book distributor.
Therefore, the sales of these books aren’t tracked anywhere but on Amazon’s site. And while Amazon is certainly a large book distributor, it isn’t the only outlet for book sales.
Another thing about Amazon is that it has hundreds (maybe even thousands) of sub-categories for its books. This is great if you’re looking for a book about starting a monkey ranch, but it can also be misleading in the case of a “best-seller” tag.
What do I mean?
I’ve seen books in very specific categories sell one copy and since they were the only book sold in that category that day, the book gets the orange “best-seller” banner from Amazon.
The author begins to claim they are a best-selling author (because they are) but what does that really mean?
Shouldn’t a best-selling author have hundred, thousands or millions of books out in readers hands? Certainly if I made dozens of crochet cases for tablets and only sold one of them (which is actually true), can I claim this is the best-selling product I’ve ever made?
After all, it’s the ONLY thing I’ve crocheted that I’ve ever sold. So in one sense, the statement is true.
But it’s misleading.
Fair warning: someone who is an Amazon Best-selling Author may not have actually sold a ton of books. (Caveat: Amazon does have a list of best-selling books that includes ALL the books. The day I wrote this, most of the books in the top ten on that list were also on one or both of the other lists. The number one book was also number one on BOTH of the other lists.)
Since learning this, I give much less credence to that label when it’s claimed by authors. It sounds impressive and prestigious, but it doesn’t always mean a book sold tons of copies.

USA Today

This is a list I’ve seen many of my indie author friends strive to make. And many of them have attained the status.
So, how do you make this list? Is it more prestigious than Amazon’s list?
This is a weekly list (as opposed to one that’s updated hourly like Amazon’s) that ranks titles selling well in both print and electronic formats. The sales numbers are collected from a variety of outlets: bookstore chains (like Barnes & Noble), independent bookstores, mass merchandisers (think WalMart or Target) and online retailers (including Amazon). See the complete list of sellers and the actual definition at USA Today’s site.

The list does NOT subdivide out according to category. This means the list will include nonfiction, romance, fantasy and memoir, along with any other genre that sold in substantial quantity.


For example, the week I wrote this (January 12), the number one seller was in current affairs, number two and three in genre fiction, number four in business and number five in youth.
A couple of my author friends hit the #89 slot with a boxed set including twenty-six fantasy/science-fiction novellas. They marketed hard in order to hit this list so they authors would be able to claim the status as “USA Today Best-selling Author.”

As amazing as this title is, in this case, I don’t think it means as much as it does for those authors who hit the list with a stand-alone title. Before everyone batters me in the comments, let me explain.

I pre-ordered the collection (and pre-orders are important if you want a book to hit a top spot because all those sales count on the day the book releases). I did so to read one specific story by an author I adore.
Eventually, I did finish a few of the other stories, but there were plenty that didn’t fit my reading preferences. And some of the writing wasn’t all that great (in my opinion). But every one of those twenty-six authors is now a best-selling author. Even if NO ONE reads the story they contributed to the collection.
This is the reason I say attaining the bestseller label in this way might not mean much. So, again, I don’t pay that close of attention to author’s who claim this title. (Sorry, that makes me sound like a book snob, which I’m not. I hardly ever go to the bestseller list for book recommendations.)

New York Times

The New York Times publishes “authoritatively ranked lists of books sold in the United states, sorted by format and genre.”
As you can see, this means the books are ranked in genre (so all the self-help books will compete against other self-help books) and format. This means that the numbers of hardback, paperback and digital formats aren’t considered together.
That makes this list more concise than USA Today’s but not as narrow as Amazon’s. Which means it is more difficult to leverage yourself onto the list.

These are the weekly best sellers lists:

  • Fiction combined print & e-book fiction, hardcover fiction, paperback trade fiction
  • Nonfiction combined print & e-Book nonfiction, hardcover, paperpace, advice, how-to & miscellaneous
  • Children’s Middle Grade Hardcover, Picture books, series, Young Adult hardcover (meaning the paperback and e-Book sales don’t even count for authors making this list.)

To compare this with USA Today, on January 12, the number one book in combined print & ebook fiction was #2 on USA Today’s list. The number 2 book in this category was only #23 on the USA Today list, while number three was also in that slot on USA Today. The book at number four was ranked #8 by USA Today.
In case you’re wondering, the book in the top slot on USA Today was number one in both combined and hardcover nonfiction on The New York Times list.
Since it is obviously more difficult to make this list, does that mean it’s more prestigious? I wouldn’t say that, but then I’m not someone who follows these lists.
I will say that my best-selling author goal is linked to The New York Times, though. And I don’t plan to “leverage” sales to make this list. I want to get there organically.
Will that make it more meaningful? To me, yes, but who knows if the average reader will even care?
After all, is Sharon Hughson, multi-genre author any different than Sharon Hughson, NYT Best-selling author? In my mind, I’m the same person, writing in the same style, either way.
Is one of these seen as more prestigious or more famous or more salable? I guess that depends on if the reader cares about such things.
Me? If I like your writing, I don’t care if no one else has ever heard of you. I will buy and read your books. I will give them four or five-star ratings on Amazon and Goodreads, and I’ll recommend them to every reader I know.

What’s your opinion about the title of best-selling author? What makes a “bestseller” in your mind?

Three Reasons I Avoid Writing Book Reviews

I read tons of books. And I enjoy reading them. Even if I don’t end up liking the book all that much, reading has the potential to make me a better writer of stories.
And even though I track all my books on Goodreads, I’ve stopped writing reviews for many of the books I read. At times, I don’t even give them a rating.
And, no, this isn’t just because I didn’t finish them. I don’t even add those ones to my “READ” shelf. I have a special shelf for them: “Abandoned.” And it used to be a lonely place, but not so much any more.
If you don’t finish a book, you have no business reviewing it. Or giving it a rating. I’m sorry, folks, but you shouldn’t even say why you couldn’t get through it.
Reviews are for finishers. Why? Because the story could have turned around. Maybe it was a slow starter. Plenty of books that went on to become blockbuster movies were a drag to begin reading. Nope, I’m not naming names here, but I’m sure you know who you are *winks*
Many of the books I read are advance copies meant for the sole purpose of garnering a review on release day. And sometimes I’ll bet the authors who asked this “favor” from me wish they wouldn’t have.
Because if you’ve read my reviews, you know I can be harsh. Some people have commented that my four-star reviews sound like they’re for two-star books.

I’m honest with my criticism.

I’ll be the first to announce that reading preference is all subjective. A reader’s idea of what makes a book wonderful is also subjective…to the criteria their enjoyment is based upon.

My criteria are few:

  1. A well-structured story (that isn’t predictable)
  2. Characters I can relate to and root for
  3. An obvious story problem with a clear resolution
  4. A dynamic main character (meaning this person CHANGES over the course of the story)

Sure, if you can make me laugh AND cry, you’ll get bonus points, but that won’t keep me from overlooking a lack of any of the above items.

In recent months, the number of books I’ve finished reading but haven’t written reviews for has increased. Here are the reasons for that:

ONE: SOMETHING IN THE STORY AWOKE MY BIASES

Yes, I just admitted I have biases. I’m sorry folks, but everyone does. Even if you consider yourself the most accepting and non-judgmental person on the planet, you have biases.
It’s impossible not to form them. If you disagree with this, let’s have a reasonable discussion about it in the comment section. (But don’t be surprised if I call out your biases when they appear in your commentary…because they will.)
For example, a recent book by an author whose stories I adore didn’t earn a review from me. The story line endorsed something that I am opposed to.
However, her writing was fine. The story met the other qualifications for being great. But I knew I wouldn’t be able to write an honest review without mentioning this thing that burrowed under my skin like a ravenous scarab.
So, I rated the book but didn’t write a review.
And I didn’t mention the reason anywhere.
In fact, I’m still not really telling anyone which book it was or what the THING was.

TWO: THE AUTHOR IS MY FRIEND

Okay, this is a tough one to admit. I’d love to say that I’m only friends with authors whose work I love and adore.
Alas, no.
Sometimes they are writing too far on the edge and I can’t buy into their fantasy world. They haven’t done the work to make me suspend my disbelief.
If I truly dislike the story or find the writing subpar, I might not even give a rating to the book.
In either case, I always contact the author directly if I’m giving anything less than four stars to their book. Because…I don’t want my “negative” review to affect their sales.
I’m an author, too. I might have been a reader first, but the business part of me understands that my opinion could sway people. And they might have enjoyed the story.
Who am I to keep people from reading something they might enjoy? Especially if the fact they bought it would help a friend of mine further their writing dream?
But…I’m not going to fib either. I’m not going to claim something is amazing when I growled about it.

THREE: THERE’S NOTHING REMARKABLE TO SAY

This is the one that I’ve decided is most prevalent for me (even though I’ve listed it third). Sometimes, I really like the book. It made me smile, laugh or tear up.

But when I finish, there’s nothing that stands out about it.

You can be sure it won’t get FIVE STARS in this case. But if I’m feeling warm and fuzzy, I’ll probably give it four stars. After all, all that means is that “I liked it” (on Amazon) and “I really liked it” (on Goodreads).
But if there’s nothing to SAY, why would I write a review?
If I give it a rating but not a review, you can most likely put it in this category. Unless the rating is three stars or less. And I really try NOT to give anything less than three stars.
Do you write book reviews? If not, why not? If so, what are your criteria?

Wonder Woman: The Pure Hero

Wonder Woman is topping the movie charts and breaking records, but better yet, she’s winning the hearts of a new generation of girls and boys. And she deserves their admiration because she is a hero with pure motives.
I’ve mentioned that I’m NOT a comic book reader. My eyes get too distracted by what’s going on to read everything in order. I tried (with Peanuts and Archie) but my brain is wired for words and a single picture (maybe, if it isn’t too distracting).
The things I say about Wonder Woman in this blog post are one-hundred percent from the cinematic DC universe. I have no idea what her superpowers were in the comics or where she came from.
Maybe she doesn’t resemble the Gal (Gadot) millions loved on the big screen. If not, that’s sad. Those filmmakers made a pretty decent story.
                        >Rambling over<
Wonder Woman is a hero with a pure heart and pristine motivation. As much as I love Captain America, he does have a prejudice that colors his thinking.

What’s not to love about this guy?

Our Gal Wonder Woman does not.

Backstory Baggage

Most fictional characters have a backstory that shapes who they are and what they want. And for the average Joe or Jane Fiction, that’s important.
But those things act like a chain on a superhero.


For example, Superman has a savior complex because his father had high expectations for him to “carry on” their extinct alien race.
Captain America despises the Nazis and Hydra and all the evil they represent and perpetuate in the world. This means he must stop them at any cost. It was the sole reason he was given Stark’s serum in the first place.
We could continue through some of the (mostly Marvel) comic book heroes I’m familiar with, but I think the point has been made.
Diana Prince has none of this backstory baggage. She was raised to believe that her race was created for a single purpose: to protect humanity from destroying itself.


She doesn’t cop a savior-complex or become a crusader. Instead, she walks on the battlefield and changes the things she has power to change. One little step at a time.

Personal Issues

Everyone has personal issues: secret or well-known. Making those have high stakes is what good fiction is all about.
But a superhero with personal issues can cause big problems.
Most of the time, if the issues are too big, the hero turns to the dark side (thinking of Mr. Freeze here) and becomes enemy number one for the good guys.
Why are these such a problem for heroes? Because they have the power to take matters into their hands and SOLVE that issue with resounding finality.
Spiderman is going to stop all the criminals because he didn’t stop the murder of his uncle. Batman is going to clean up Gotham because it’s what his murdered parents would want.
But dispelling their own ghosts isn’t a pure motive for superheroes. Their great power gives them great responsibility. And the responsibility is to those weaker than them.
Our Gal Wonder Woman faces her personal issues—being misinformed or misled—before she tries to save the world. Because the uncertainty Ares gave her by exposing her to his brand of “truth” paralyzed her.
She could have blown up everyone around her in order to get a little peace and think things over. Instead, she took in the truths around her, weighed them with what she’d seen firsthand and what she’d learned as a child, and took a stand.

Relationship Hangups

Even though I was a little disappointed that Diana and Steve Trevor didn’t get a little “happy for now” time together, his death freed her from one of the biggest snares for superheroes. They have relationship hangups that keep them from going after the greater good.
I’ve said Captain America doesn’t have these, but others say his friendship with Bucky Barnes (the Winter Soldier) is his relationship Achilles heel. Pick your side. It doesn’t matter now because I’ve found my new “best superhero.”
Superman has to save Lois Lane rather than the world. Professor X won’t end Magneto because of their friendship. Spiderman and Iron Man are manipulated when the bad guys take their lady loves hostage.
Wonder Woman wanted to save Steve, but it was too late for him. Would she have done it? Not at the price of letting Ares go free.
She was raised to be a warrior in a culture of warriors. They trusted each other, watched each other’s back, but every warrior understands that there is an ultimate price. By putting on the uniform, you accept that risk. (Which is why I think Steve Rogers could have a relationship with Agent Sharon Carter because she can take care of herself and is willing to accept the risk if she can’t.)
Steve made his own choice, and Diana respected his choice. Even though it broke her heart.
Her motivation for protecting humanity? Duty maybe. Revenge, not at all. In her own words: love.

If you want to see how another viewer saw God’s view of women depicted in the film, click on over and check out this post by Marilette Sanchez titled “WONDER WOMAN might be the most accurate on-screen depiction of biblical womanhood.” 
Do you think Wonder Woman is the pure hero? Are there other things that keep superheroes from having pure hearts and just motives?

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What’s this Kindle Worlds Thing?

I’ve never been a huge fan of fan fiction. I like to come up with my own story, thanks so much. But when I was invited to write in an author’s soon-to-be-formed Kindle World, I suddenly had a different thought.

Or twelve. You know me, I rarely think about only one thing at a time. And one thought leads to another and before you know it COOKIES!

Now, back to this Kindle Worlds thing.

Amazon Gets Bigger

I first noticed Kindle Worlds when an author I like (paranormal romance) released a new book in “The Runes Universe.”

Now, I’ve also read a couple books from The Runes series, and I found them good, but a little too shallow and predictable for me. They are young adult paranormal romances, after all, and they are a huge hit with the teenage girls they’re written for.

But I haven’t been a teenage girl for a few years. (Stop rolling your eyes, Darrin!)

What Amazon has done is ask some indie authors (don’t ask me how they decide but I’m guessing it has something to do with sales) to turn their fictional worlds into a place where anyone can contribute stories. The original characters can be used by these new authors, but they should not be the major players.

Furthermore, this universe is suddenly a sandbox that only Amazon (specifically Kindle Direct Publishing) has rights to play in. If you submit a story into the universe, you relinquish rights to it forever.

Most authors just shuddered. But I’m not worried about this at all. I’ll still own the characters, and if I fall in love with them, I only have to move them to a different setting and I can write about them for eternity.

The benefits of publishing in these Kindle Worlds during a targeted release blitz:

  1. A $250 bonus (to help offset cover design and editing costs-paid AFTER publishing)
  2. Amazon’s marketing power during the release
  3. Mention in the back of other books in the release linking you to the readers of many authors

For someone who hates to market, this really called to me.

Not Really Fan Fiction

This is how dictionary.com defines fan fiction:

a fictional account written by a fan of a show, movie, book, or video game to explore themes and ideas that will not or cannot be explored via the originating medium; also written fan fiction , also called fanfic

And I have to admit, I’m not necessarily a huge fan of the series of books that is the springboard for the Kindle World I’m planning to write for. That’s the biggest reason I don’t see this as fan fiction.

After all, all that happens is I put my characters into the town of Sweet Grove, Texas. The books need to be a sweet romance and since the world is called “First Street Church Romances,”  they’re probably going to explore inspirational themes or have Christian worldviews.

All of which is what I want to do anyway.

Am I deluding myself? Will people see this as fanfic?

Weighing the Pros and Cons

As always when I’m presented with a new writing opportunity, I pulled out my notebook and began scrawling out my thoughts.

Here’s an excerpt: “These are novellas-20,000 to 40,000 words-of sweet romance with some Christian influence. This could be a way to build my brand IF I’m going to write mostly inspirational romances after this.”

And with the power of Amazon behind each launch, I’ll pick up new readers. There will be people who buy everything they see, thinking it’s going to be a series they love.

Plus the author who originally invented Sweet Grove is a marketing professional, and she intends to push all the books with her considerable platform and influence.

When 100 writers jumped in with both feet at the idea, you know it’s a good one.

My lists were incredibly short:

Pros: inspirational; wide market range; connection at Amazon; free promo from Melissa Storm

Cons: romance; edit & cover costs; another distraction from “real” writing

But why isn’t this “real” writing? I have some sort of chip on my shoulder about inspirational romances which makes no sense. For a decade or more, that is ALL that I read.

Only now, I’m back to reading mostly fantasy. Romances are too predictable to me, so I don’t enjoy reading them as much anymore.

But there are millions of people who DO enjoy reading them. And they would read the ones I wrote because Amazon would make sure they knew about them.

So, what do you think I should do? Is it worth my time and effort to publish in a Kindle World?

Like reading this? You’re a click away from getting Hero Delivery,  a bulletin with deals and new releases from Sharon Hughson.
Maybe you like romance or see my other books. I’m sure there’s something worth reading on my page.
Already read one or more of my books? Please leave an honest review on your favorite site. A review is the same as the author discovering a gold nugget in the bottom of her washing machine.

Get anything you want – in the mail

Thanks to Amazon and other online vendors, a person never needs to leave their house to be supplied with anything they want. Everything they want—as long as they have a credit card limit high enough—will come to them in the mail.

Or be delivered by another parcel service.

The other day, the UPS man rang the bell at my door. I can see the porch from my office, and I noticed he wasn’t ringing and running like he usually does. Interesting.

When I opened the door, he held out the little electronic keypad thing-a-ma-jig they use these days.

“I need your signature today,” he says.

“I don’t even know what’s in the package.” I said this before I saw it was addressed to my husband. I hadn’t ordered anything I needed to sign for.

“It contains alcohol,” he informs me. Alcohol? We don’t even drink alcohol?

Or is there something my husband isn’t telling me???

“Signature required by law.”

Well who I am to break the law?

by_law

After he verified my name (since no one can sign those digital do-dads with any legibility), he handed me the package.

After checking that the box was from Alex in Laguna, California. And it was indeed addressed to my husband, I sent a text to The Man at work.

He didn’t know what it was either. Even after I sent him a picture of the label.

Things I Get all the Time

I get packages on a pretty regular basis. Mostly because it’s so easy to order anything I want and have it delivered.

Why leave the sanctuary of my home to purchase items if they will come to me? For just a few dollars more.

Amazon supplies me with:amazon-package

  • Books
  • Home decor
  • Gifts
  • Furniture
  • Shoes
  • And pretty much anything I can imagine.

But I also have become adept at clothes shopping. Who wants to go to the mall by themselves? Not me.

Why try on clothes in a cramped changing room when you can do it in the comfort of your own bedroom?

Right. Return fees.

It’s pretty amazing how many companies run specials that include free returns.

Of course, when I’m ordering my bras from Victoria’s Secret, I know the style and size I like. There’s not much risk of having to return them. Unless they are damaged.

It’s not that I don’t like shopping. I on’t want to go by myself. And why fight the crowds on the weekend when all my friends are finally off work and available to hit the stores with me?

Services I’m Trying Out

Recently, I’ve become part of the crowd that uses repeat delivery services.

I began this years ago with Gevalia coffee. Delicious stuff. In fact, I should probably look into starting that up again. I canceled it before we moved because I had a year’s worth of coffee stockpiled in my freezer.

Last year, my insurance finally came up with a mail-order prescription service that wasn’t a pain in the patooty. They ship me a 90-day supply of my daily medications automatically and charge my co-pay to my credit card.

So I get three months of meds for what I used to pay each month at the drugstore.

Save money? I’m in. Added convenience? I’m doubly pleased with myself.

auto_delivery

What other things is the delivery man setting on my porch on a regular schedule? Well:

  • Cat food (from PetCo delivered every six weeks)
  • Shakeology -my healthy breakfast-delivered every two months

And I recently signed up for Stitch Fix. This is a service that sends you five clothing items (you choose the frequency). You keep only what you want. They send you an addressed, postage-paid envelope for the returns.

Yes there’s a fee for the delivery even if you keep nothing.

But nothing is free in this world.

I’m looking forward to having my own personal stylist and seeing what sort of outfits she/he puts together for me each month. Actually, I signed up for an every two month delivery for this, too.

The end of the story

Oh, the package that started this story? You want to know what it was and who it was from?

Well no good gossip here.

It was a bottle of wine with the option of signing up for a wine-of-the-month club. (See? Here’s another thing you can get via mail.)

The sender happened to be one of the owners of a company who did work for us recently. They were thanking us for our business.

We could have used a Home Depot gift card rather than the wine. But what do you expect from a guy who lives in California?

What sort of things have you gotten in the mail (or in a package delivered to your door)?

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What Would Wonder Woman Do is actually a book

You can learn all sorts of things typing something as simple as a phrase into the Google searchbar. That’s what a did last week while struggling to come up with another post for my Wonder Woman Does Thursday feature.

I simply typed “What would Wonder Woman do” into the search bar. (I was happy to see my original blog introducing this series on the first page of suggestions.) And I found out not only is there a book with this title, but also a Facebook personal blog.

Wow.

Perhaps I should have done the search BEFORE I claimed the catch phrase for a series on my blog.

What if it was trademarked?

Anyhow, you can check out the Facebook blog here.

Read on to learn about the book: WHAT WOULD WONDER WOMAN DO? AN AMAZON’S GUIDE TO THE WORKING WORLD

Doesn't it look like a fun read?
Doesn’t it look like a fun read?

Here’s the description from Amazon: Beyond saving the planet, let’s not forget that Wonder Woman also holds down a full-time job. In this hilarious and empowering handbook, the most popular female comic book character unveils her secrets for being a super hero in the office and finding your inner Wonder Woman. Ace a job interview, combat a tyrannical supervisor, move up the corporate ladder, handle office romance, and more. Pairing original comic book art with wry text, this colorful hardcover is perfect for the working girl looking to unleash her inner superpowers onto the daily grind.

Reviews suggest this is a perfect gift for someone who loves Wonder Woman. Or even as a gag gift for someone at your office.

Feel free to add it to my wish list. I’d be happy to have a few chuckles along with Wonder Woman.

And who knows, it might even give me more blog ideas.

What is the strangest thing you discovered while doing a Google search?

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The Storyspinner

Magical realms call to me. You know it. You’ve seen what I like to read – and write. It’s no surprise that Becky Wallace’s The Storyspinner has been on my Goodreads to be read list for many months.

In fact, each time I see the cover and read the blurb, I want to open the book. This is why I’m thankful for Amazon wish lists (note to self: add that to your 365 days of gratitude list).

I added the book to my wish list. One of my children purchased the book for me at Christmas. Of course, the pile of books I hauled in that day (which doesn’t include the electronic versions) will take a few months to devour.

(On a side note: I love the title to this book. As a spinner of stories, it set my imagination on fire. Kudos to the author for writing a story worthy of such a compelling title.)

I should have started with The Storyspinner. It is an epic fantasy (even by the definition given be fantasy faction) and I loved it anyway.

Yes, you read that right.

Usually, epic fantasy doesn’t float my book boat. There are too many characters that I don’t like, but I have to be in their heads for the sake of the story sprawl. The author generally kills off the ones I do like (yes, George R.R. Martin, I’m looking at you). And there’s too much description bogging down the pace.

Why am I giving five stars to this book that is the first in a new young adult epic fantasy series then?

The Blurb

StorySpinner CoverIn a world where dukes plot their way to the throne, a Performer’s life can get tricky. And in Johanna Von Arlo’s case, it can be fatal. Expelled from her troupe after her father’s death, Johanna is forced to work for the handsome Lord Rafael DeSilva. Too bad they don’t get along. But while Johanna’s father’s death was deemed an accident, the Keepers aren’t so sure.

The Keepers, a race of people with magical abilities, are on a quest to find the princess—the same princess who is supposed to be dead and whose throne the dukes are fighting over. But they aren’t the only ones looking for her. And in the wake of their search, murdered girls keep turning up—girls who look exactly like the princess, and exactly like Johanna.

With dukes, Keepers, and a killer all after the princess, Johanna finds herself caught up in political machinations for the throne, threats on her life, and an unexpected romance that could change everything.

My Review

This book has the main ingredients any fantasy novel needs to grab my interest: an interesting magical system and a strong heroine (or hero, preferably both).

The books starts off with only a few pages from Johanna’s normal world. We get to meet her father and see inside her idyllic family life. By the end of the prologue, all that changes.

I’m intrigued by The Keepers. The small glimpse we get inside their government makes me think of wizards only more political. The magic they wield is elemental magic, but accessed in a unique way. In fact, much about the magic was left to my imagination (which I prefer), but it will be interesting to learn more about its origin and adaptation as the series continues.

There is romance – two of them even. I’m usually not a fan of the “hate each other at first sight” trope, however, Wallace uses it effectively. The first meeting between Rafael and Johanna can’t help but create some animosity. It took me longer to understand and accept Rafi’s negative responses, but in retrospect I see this as well-written by the author.

Action piles on top of action. There are sword fights, magical fights, and tension on every page.

If you like the bard character in medieval literature, you’ll enjoy this story since that’s Johanna’s performing strength. Although some stereotypical Gypsy performer elements were present, there was a new element infused into it that made those characters more than that.

I’m interested to see where the author will go with the idea of The Keepers being considered deities among some of the people. I like that the “good guys” are appalled by this idea, while the “bad guys” use that reverence. They twist it into fear and use it to enslave people.

Johanna didn’t act like a typical teenager. She’s older and thrust into a position of responsibility, which explains part of it. Most of the time I forgot I was reading about a sixteen-year-old.

Still, all the characters were well-drawn and pulled me further into the story. I enjoyed jumping between the different perspectives, not finding any of them tedious to read.

My Recommendation

There are a few thematic elements and scenes of violence that might be difficult for younger readers. I would suggest this book for mature teens only (I won’t put an age because some are more mature at thirteen than others at eighteen).

This novel is perfect for a fantasy lover (like myself), someone who enjoys action and adventure and even those who like historical fiction. Yes, this is set in a different world, but it has many elements associated with the medieval time frame. Apparently, that’s a requisite for epic fantasy (see this post).

The romantic elements are present but not overwhelming. The adult romance toes the line of becoming too descriptive, but it isn’t a book that needs disclaimers about sex.

Upon finishing, I raced to Amazon to purchase the sequel. Sadly, it isn’t available until March 22.

And, yes, it’s on my Amazon wish list.

Because sometimes those wishes are granted.

Rick Riordan brings The Sword of Summer to life

Rick Riordan writes middle grade and young adult adventure books in a way that makes me drool (as I’m rapidly turning pages to discover what happens next). His newest series, Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard, delivers nothing less.

When a book begins with the main character’s death, you know something interesting has got to happen next. Otherwise, the story would be over. Epic fail.

Will he be resurrected? I know it isn’t all a dream because Riordan is too skilled to fall into that trap. Is it all going to happen in the afterlife?

All in all, it earns a solid 4.5 stars from me. Yes, I am surprised that it didn’t make five stars -it’s the amazing Rick Riordan-but I’ll explain my reasons during this review.

My Summary

Magnus Chase (if you recognize the surname here from another series, you’re not wrong) has been living on the streets since his mother’s murder. Apparently, this is a relatively safe thing for a boy to do in Boston. Or maybe just because two other homeless guys are watching out for him.

The story opens with his relatives looking for him. What? He had relatives and they just let him live on the streets? You’ll understand the reasoning before too long.

Magnus has an important destiny in the scheme of the Norse doomsday, Ragnarok. This brings a fire giant, slinging meteors, into downtown Boston. There’s a showdown. Magnus goes over the bridge and wakes up in Valhalla.

If you’re not current with your Norse mythology, never fear. Riordan does a great job weaving the information you need to understand what’s happening into the story.

Magnus makes a few friends. Gets his Valkyrie fired. Is the subject of a dire prophecy. Dies a few more times in practice battles. And sneaks away from Valhalla to embark on a quest to regain the Sword of Summer and stop the end of the Nine Worlds from happening.

My Review

Magnus is an engaging character with an interesting background. Meeting him on the streets made me consider the ugly fact that there are plenty of homeless children living in similar situations. For real. Hopefully, none of them are being hunted by fire giants.

Even though Riordan explains the familial situation, I still have a hard time accepting that Magnus would have been abandoned. His family is searching for him now, but why didn’t they do it two years ago? Why are they assuming he’s still alive? And when we find out WHO he’s related to, it seems even more unlikely (although we don’t really know the time relationship between this story and the two series featuring Percy Jackson).

I admired Magnus for holding onto his sense of humor (since that is how many of us cope with difficult situations). His flippancy was a nice change from the constant sarcasm Percy Jackson uses. In other ways, though, they are similar: reluctant heroes who don’t know their fathers.

I wasn’t put off by the contradictory depictions of Odin, Loki and Thor shown here (and I’m a huge Avengers fan). It’s a different universe, folks. Of course they are going to be different. Only a lazy author would make them carbon copies of something he’d seen in the movies.

The biggest issue I had with accepting this story world is a single question: where are the Greek and Roman gods?

Case in point: Magnus must go out and barter with a sea goddess. They only mention her husband the sea god in passing, but it isn’t Poseidon. How many deities are willing to share their realms with other deities? Shouldn’t there be a scuffle about territory?

There’s no attempt to answer this burning question. It’s like those individuals don’t exist. But we know they do. The presence of Annabeth Chase brings their existence front and center. Maybe this is when they’re all amassing in Greece to face down the giants and Gaia. And yet…wouldn’t their absence be cause for even more turmoil in their domains?

Don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed the book. I just wish Riordan would have set it in a different universe. He could have used our contemporary world and made that work fine. But by bringing Annabeth into the story (even in a minor way), he reminded me that there is plenty of turmoil in this world already, but it isn’t even alluded to by the Norse deities or the human world.

My Recommendation

If you love Riordan’s writing (like I do), you won’t be disappointed. He delivers another page-turner with non-stock characters.

If you’ve read all his other books (like I have, with the exception of the Red Pyramid series), parts of this book will bring a sense of deja vu. Haven’t we been here before? And yet, how could that be true when we’re entering the Norse mythology of Nine Worlds?

You will laugh. You might even tear up. If you want a fast-paced book with likable characters and as much humor as action, this is a book you’ll want to read.

If you have read this book, what were your thoughts? Do you think I’m overreacting about questioning where the Greek and Roman (and perhaps Egyptian) deities are hiding?

The Vanished Knight by M. Gerrick – 3.8 of 5 Stars

In the interest of promoting independently published authors, I often agree to review new releases. In the case of The Vanished Knight by M. Gerrick, I agreed to review the first book in her series The War of Six Crowns in exchange for a free eBook copy.

For those of you new to book publishing in the Amazon paradigm, the goal is to build chatter about your existing titles so that when a new title is released, people are excited to snap it up. I admire the indie authors who willingly put themselves out there with minimal support because they believe in the story they have to tell.

I read this book between July 6th and 9th but waited to post the review on my blog until today. Why? Because today, the second book in the series, The Heir’s Choice, releases on Kindle today. Get your copy by clicking here.

Story Summary

The Vanished Knight CoverCallan, orphaned at the age of eleven, is a foster child with a strange entity living within her. (Don’t get too intrigued by this entity because we learn NOTHING about its origin or real purpose in this book.) She also is plagued by strange dreams of knights and murder.

She lands into a new foster home, where her wealthy “brother” is less than pleased to have a new sister. Apparently, he had a sister who died (but there are mere hints about how and when) and his parents should have sought his permission before trying to replace her with this mousy girl.

They head off to an elite boarding school that is situated near a supposedly haunted castle. Callan likes to blend in, hide in plain sight, in order to cope with new situations. Unfortunately, several things happen the first day of school to prevent that.

In what should have been a pleasure trip, Callan falls into the hands of kidnappers from an alternate world. She is rescued by a boy from school, who apparently is a knight in the other realm.

Soon she discovers that her family might not be as dead as she always believed. This world is on the edge of war (as the title of the series suggests), and Callan appears to be caught between two powerful races who despise and distrust one another.

My Review

Does my summary end abruptly? So does the book. This is one of the reasons I give this book a 3.8 out of five stars on my rating scale.

The author created a winning character with Callan. The girl is compelling and sympathetic. Although she seems too passive at first, readers quickly realize the reasoning for this. Just enough of her history is given to us to help us understand her while yearning to find out more.

The three male characters aren’t nearly as compelling. Although Darrion comes across like a jerk, his strong personality fits his station and background. Due to the sparks that fly between him and Callan, I imagine there will be a romance between the two of them in later books.

Of course, Gawain already fancies himself in love with Callan. His easy-going personality makes him quite likable, but he’s not as well-rounded as he should be if he’s going to be a major player in the story.

The foster brother, James, is my least favorite character in the story (even above Callan’s kidnapper and the unhelpful museum curator). He has zero redeeming qualities. When bad things happen to him, I feel no sympathy. He’s simply a spoiled rich kid who feel entitled to whatever he wants (and that is not relatable to me or any of the young adults I know).

Apparently, he will play an important role in future stories because the sample chapter of the second book features him. His part in this story was minor, and his journey into the alternate world didn’t feel like natural story progression (another strike against this book and why it didn’t quite earn four stars).

Too much time is spent in our world since the actual “story” takes place in Nordaine. Even the title speaks to events happening in this other reality. Most of the events at the boarding school, which took up chapters, could have fit easily into two or three scenes. I did like the arrival scene, but most of the other byplay didn’t add to the depth of story or characters.

What was the problem in this story? Callan has an entity (still a mystery at the end of the book) that keeps her from developing close relationships, but she wants those. In the end, she discovers she might have family alive and well in the alternate world. I’ve read the book, contemplated what it was “really” about, and I’m still coming up blank (thus the lowered rating).

The beginning was confusing, jumping between three perspectives, dreams and reality, this world and that world. I feel like some young adult readers would have closed the book before things started happening.

All this book offers are more questions. Who are Callan’s parents? Why did someone want to kidnap her? What is the entity? Why does the book promise me a vanished knight when that is an underlying issue but not the heart of Callan’s story?

Because this is Callan’s story. Sure, it might also be a little bit of Darrion’s story, but that felt like an introduction to the magical otherworld more than something important. It hints that James has a story, but most readers will be happy when very little time is spent with the rich brat.

In short, this is one of those first books that irritates me. It doesn’t have it’s own story. It is nothing more than set-up for the rest of the series. It says, “Here are the characters. This is what’s going on that’s about to change everything. And we’ll get to that in the next installment.”

A Recommendation

I clicked over to pre-order the second book as soon as I finished this novel. Do you need more of a recommendation than that?

My biggest recommendation is to WAIT to read this until the second book is available. Lucky for you, that’s today. Your appetite will just be whetted for this universe Gerrick creates and this novel will end.

Overall, I believe this book will entertain lovers of all fantasy genres. I had a hard time putting it down after the first three of four confusing chapters. The medieval setting of the alternate universe will captivate those who love historical fiction from that era.

Love knights? You’ll meet some good and bad ones here. Think elves are out of this world? Right again. But they belong to the alternate reality created by Gerrick in this novel.

The scope isn’t quite epic because the cast isn’t too huge to keep straight. Maybe this is why I enjoyed the book (even though this review may give a conflicted recounting).

Pick up your copy of this book and it’s sequel today.