Tag: four-stars

New Today! In the Shadow of the Dragon King

My author friend J. Keller Ford releases her debut novel today. Dragon fans and fans of young adult adventure won’t want to miss In the Shadow of the Dragon King.

Ms. Ford and I are more than writing acquaintances. More than Facebook friends. I’ve actually spoken to her on the telephone about her beta comments on my still-to-find-a-publisher young adult fantasy novel.

She’s seen my own criticism on an early draft of the sequel to this debut novel. Surprise, surprise, she even found it helpful.

So when she needed people to read and review this book before it released, I was happy to do it. As long as she still let me purchase an autographed copy from her (and she did! I have it!).

The electronic ARC arrived post-haste. I couldn’t wait to read it.

My Summary

IN THE SHADOW OF THE DRAGON KING eBook Cover 2700x1800In the magic, medieval land of Fallhallow, Eric wants to get noticed. Isn’t he more than a squire? When the dragon king attacks, all of Eric’s dreams and plans get a quick makeover. His knight disappears, accused of treasonous acts. Eric will find the Paladin and save the kingdom.

Then people will notice him. Finally.

In Tennessee, David and his best friend Charlotte are enjoying the last days of summer vacation. Until several strange visits reveal news David can’t believe. A magical creature whisks him and Charlotte off to a world of dragons, nights, sorcerers and sorceresses.

Apparently, David has some great destiny in this place. If he doesn’t accept his role and learn the basics of magic, the darker forces might destroy him – and all of Fallhallow.

It’s a story of friendship and faith. The characters struggle to grow up and give up on beliefs that no longer hold true. A coming of age tale for readers of our generation to connect with in the same way I connected with To Kill a Mockingbird.

My Review

David and Charlotte have a unique relationship which drew me in right away. I couldn’t relate to his circumstances (rich orphan) but she seemed down-to-earth and quite relatable.

What do you do when your best friend is the opposite sex? What if one of you wants to move beyond the friend zone? Do you risk the friendship in hopes the romance will last? I counseled my sons to steer away from converting friendships to romances until they were adults (or at least ready for a serious and perhaps permanent relationship).

This is an authentic problem many teenagers face. It will help readers love David and Charlotte as much as I do.

As for squire Eric, he rubs me the wrong way. Still. Even after he grew up some in the story.

First of all, he’s supposed to be older than the other two, but he acts more immature on many levels. Which didn’t make sense to me since he was in a land where childhood is forfeited early. His actions from the start seemed like something a younger kid would fall into.

Secondly, he acted like a sidekick with his best friend, rather than taking a leadership role. And he wonders why the knights have no confidence in him? Later, he seemed like a spoiled child, and I didn’t see how that would ever be a default reaction. His blacksmith father didn’t seem like the type to permit such behavior. A knight wouldn’t desire it from his squire.

Later, he runs amok without thought to anyone’s feelings but his own. Rather than trying to seek out people he knows and loves, he determines to find this mystical Paladin, who might be able to save the kingdom from the dragon king. There’s just nothing there for me to admire – but at least half of the story is from his perspective.

It was one of those books when I was dreading returning to a certain narrator.

I enjoyed the story. There was magic and mystery and action galore. Ford introduces some fascinating species in her world, and I’m looking forward to meeting more of them. The ice dragon with feathers is my favorite so far.

The magic system seemed shallow. While the rest of this setting seemed complete, the magical portions failed to compel, interest or convince me.

Why? It didn’t take much practice for David to master the spells introduced to him by a sorceress. Was there a drain from using the magic? Not that I noticed. Hopefully, we’ll learn more about how magic works in Fallhallow in the next book.

Check out the blog tour, including opportunities to win prizes, by clicking on the tour button.Chapter-by-Chapter-blog-tour-button

My Recommendation

I give the novel 4.2 out of five stars.

The plot and characters were compelling, but not universally so. Some of the events seemed a little “convenient” for rescuing the characters rather than being organic to the story itself.

Anyone who enjoys adventure stories similar to Percy Jackson will find this novel entertaining. The dialogue and interaction between David and Charlotte rival what you’d find between Percy and Anabeth in the early Percy Jackson books.

If you’ve been waiting for a good dragon tale, you’ll definitely want to latch on to this book. The nemesis dragon king is terrifying and overwhelming, bitter and fierce. My mouth went dry every time he entered a scene. And did I mention the smaller dragon with feathers? I love him to death.

In the Shadow of the Dragon King will transport you to a magical realm and pump you full of adrenaline for the trip.

Get your copy here:  Google Play | BAM | Chapters | Amazon | B&N | Kobo | TBD | iBooks

Now, I’m off to read my autographed copy. See you in Fallhallow!

When You Want to Read Three Books at Once

The worst part of the vacation I recently took was that my Amazon book order didn’t show up before I left. Instead, three books I’d been slavering over arrived on my doorstep while I was gone.

When I got home, I stared into one of my favorite gifts-a box of books-and my eyes glazed over.

I wanted to read all of them. All three were the newest release in series I enjoyed.

How is a girl supposed to choose?

I decided based on how recently I’d read the first book in the series. It had been less than two months for one of these three books.

So I picked up The Skylighter by Becky Wallace.

The Skylighter

Love this world and these characters. Wallace ended the first book with our characters in peril and so this novel starts at a sprint and rarely slows for breathers.

I enjoyed the growing romance between Rafi and Johanna because it spotlighted their individual character and priorities. The sad truth that love is rarely convenient and often a nuisance was fun to consider.

My favorite character from book one was Leao, the immortal who was played by Legolas (ie Orlando Bloom) in my mind. His unique powers as a full mage were explored (and exploited) in this novel. There were moments I wanted to throw the book against the wall because things weren’t easy for Leao, or his love interest Pira.

A few twists are in store for readers. I don’t like to spoil anything. I will say that the “ultimate” bad guy didn’t impress me much. I never understood his true motivations, so he seemed more like a caricature than anything else.

I didn’t fully accept the “change” in Vibora late in the novel. After she had been built up so convincingly as completely evil in the first book, it was difficult for me to accept the change. Wallace did lay groundwork and make it an evolving switch, but it still didn’t sit well with me.

One part of the story I didn’t anticipate was the portion from Dom’s viewpoint. It was vital to the tension and pace and overall understanding of the story. I liked him, but felt his character arc peaked too quickly. Many of the things that happened in his portion of the story were predictable to the point of heavy sighs and almost eye rolling.

People I liked were killed. The bad guys lose in the end. These two things can be mutually exclusive, but I’m more willing to accept the first when the second is the payoff.

All in all, this was a satisfying sequel to The Storyspinner (which is the best book I’ve read in 2016). I give it 4.8 out of five stars.

A Daring Sacrifice

The second book I picked from this stack of three “I can’t wait to read” novels was A Daring Sacrifice by Jody Hedlund. This is a sequel – sort of – to An Uncertain Choice, which I read last year.

Here we have Juliana, a female Robin Hood, robbing a man we were introduced to as an amazing knight. Her backstory is interesting and convincing, although this novel could have been longer to explore that more.

Collin has inherited his father’s massive estate which borders the estate where Juliana was born and raised as a noble for the first ten years of her life. He has a spoiled sister and very little interest in being tied to an estate. He’s enjoyed his adventures with The Noblest Knight.

Collin immediately sees through Juliana’s disguise as a man when she robs him. He follows her with his unbeatable tracking skills and takes her back to his estate.

If Juliana hadn’t been gravely injured, I wouldn’t have accepted her staying with him for nearly a week. Of course, he does pay her in gold and jewels. I found this somewhat belittling, but Juliana accepted it as a way to provide for her band of peasants in hiding.

The politics behind Juliana’s forced hiding were hardly touched upon. The romance was enjoyable without knowing all these details, but the broader story suffered because of these omissions.

Collin was the one of the three knights I chose in the first book, so it was nice to see him find true love. It isn’t an easy path. It’s complicated by cruel and greedy men, a spoiled lady and a headstrong woman.

This novel earns four out of five stars from me. It’s fairly short, a quick read, but perfect for fans of the Robin Hood trope. As the first book ended with a hint about the danger of the second, this one ends with a preview of the danger awaiting Sir Bennet in the next book.

Calamity

This is the final book in Brandon Sanderson’s The Reckoners series. And just because I read it last doesn’t mean I was anticipating it any less than the other two books.

Sanderson impressed me with his Mistborn trilogy and has become my favorite fantasy author for adult books. He’s been exploring the young adult fantasy genre, as well, and this series is proof that he’s a man of many talents.

Calamity is the name of the so-called meteor that appeared a decade ago and transformed some humans into super-humans. Notice I didn’t say super heroes. In fact, nearly one hundred percent of the time, the powers drove these people to do heartless and despicable things. In fact, this abuse of power has transformed the United States into the Fractured States.

David Charleston watched one of these Epics kill his father. From that time, he made a study of every epic to learn how to destroy them. In the first book, Steelheart, he was recruited by The Reckoners, a rogue group whose goal was to dethrone the Epics, in order to help them carry out a plan to kill Steelheart, the Epic who murdered his father and held all of Newcago (yes, Chicago in our world) hostage.

While David mourned the loss of his father, he channeled that grief into hatred for Epics. Until he realizes the girl he loves is one. And the man he works with and respects.

This final installment of the series deals with David’s plan to save his friend Prof, whose powers have subverted him to become the evil overlord of Atlanta, Limelight. And carry out a plan to destroy Calamity, which is at the heart of the problem. After all, if there was no Calamity, there would be no powers. Or at least the powers wouldn’t turn people to darkness.

I still haven’t decided if I can buy into the fact that Calamity is actually an Epic himself. I don’t want to give too much of the story away, so I won’t explore my doubts in this review. However, it seems highly unlikely that the way Calamity came onto the scene would have ever been accepted as “a meteor” or some other anamaly. But this is what the author wants us to believe.

David spends too much time revisiting his past with his father, which is something that was lost beneath the plans of the day in the second book. In the end, this also seemed contrived to me because of the way the story wraps up.

I’ll be the first to admit that the idea of paralell dimensions and random superhuman powers is beyond my realm of comprehension. Still, I expect the explanation of these things to follow a form of logic that I CAN understand. My brain is still working over the nuances of this story to see if Sanderson did that.

I may have to re-read the entire series before I decide.

These conundrums didn’t keep me from enjoying the story. It was well-planned with a suitable number of twists, turns and cliff dives. The pages kept turning, and I wasn’t ready for it to end when I got to the last page.

I was a little disappointed that we didn’t get to be inside Megan’s head in this book. She had become one of my favorite parts of this series, and has plenty of ghosts of her own to battle. Instead, her ability to subdue the darkness is trivialized, which it shouldn’t have been. But since the novel was all written from David’s perspective, we couldn’t really grasp the battle. And Megan isn’t the type to bleed emotions all over the place.

I will say the aspect that Sanderson might have considered his biggest surprise, really didn’t shock me too much. However, I couldn’t comprehend the underlying logic of the villain. And the purpose of his visit to Earth wasn’t satisfactorily explained.

This is still a four-star story. Whenever you blend all these fantasy elements, some of them won’t measure up in the mind of readers. I’m sure the young adult and new adult readers, the target audience for this series, will be quicker to take all of this at face value.

And since I’m talking about re-reading the entire series, you know I’m not disappointed I read it the first time.

What about you? Have you ever picked up or recieved in the mail a number of books (or something else) and faced the dilemma of deciding which one to read first (where to begin)? Do you have a fantastic decision-making strategy to share?

What’s the point of a book review? And why you should leave one

Image from walkingtogetherministries.com

Reviewing books can be work, especially if you didn’t enjoy any aspect of the story. For authors, reviews build credibility or detract from it, depending on the contents, of course.

It’s no secret that this blog is about building my author platform. In fact, every aspect of my online presence feeds into that goal. Whether I’m on Goodreads, Twitter or Facebook, I’m spreading the wealth of my personality.

What to include in a review

I’ve read one line reviews that said “I loved the book and read it in one sitting.” That’s almost as helpful as “Don’t waste your time with this one. The author doesn’t know how to write.”

A review must include something to make it useful. Reviews are for both readers and authors. Readers want to know if the book is worth picking up, and authors want to know what resonated with their audience and what they might need to improve for the next book.

These one-liners don’t offer aid to either camp.

Readers want to know about:

  • The story. You don’t have to give anything away, but you can say whether it had conflict and held your interest
  • The characters. Did you like them or not? Did you feel like you knew them or not?
  • The audience. If a young adult novel appealed to an adult reader, that’s something to include. If a young adult novel seemed too graphic for that age group, let readers know.

Authors want to hear about:

  • Their plot – was it original? Did it hook you? Did it build to a sufficient resolution?
  • Their characters – could you relate to them? Did you hear individual voices? Did you feel their emotions?
  • Their writing – sometimes a style doesn’t appeal to you and that’s okay to mention as long as you give a reason. If there were catchy turns of phrases or original metaphors, the author wants you to include that detail.

I don’t know about most people, but whether or not I’m the author, I don’t care to see things about:

  • How many typos or grammar errors are in the book
  • Opinions that aren’t substantiated with a reason or two. “It was boring” should be “It didn’t hold my interest because the main character spent too much time moping around, internalizing. I kept waiting for something to happen.”
  • Mean-spirited comments of any nature. If you don’t agree with the theme of the book, that’s okay to say, but say it nicely. “Read like propaganda” isn’t as helpful as “I felt like the author was preaching their anti-government beliefs at me and it pushed me out of the story.”

Why you should leave a review

I think it’s appropriate to leave a review as often as you can. Most of my reviews aren’t more than five or six sentences. This can be helpful if you include information about the important elements mentioned above.

If you loved a book, leave a review. Make sure you include reasons why it affected you. “I couldn’t put it down” doesn’t make me want to pick it up.

If you were disappointed in one element of the story, but you enjoyed it as a whole, it’s important for the author that you leave a review. If you mention the area you felt the story was weak, the author has constructive criticism to use to improve future stories.

It’s essential to leave a review so other people receive guidance when they’re searching for something to read. You help other readers with every thorough review you write.

Authors want reviews because it shows their audience that the book is being read. Even if there are a few low reviews, if the average is four stars or above, people will pick it up.

When not to review

If you can’t think of anything positive to say about the book, don’t write a review.

I’ve heard people say you should never give less than four-star reviews. This is especially true of writers. That author will remember your low review and pay you back in kind once your book is published.

This seems shallow to me. If I’m so worried about getting a bad review that I don’t give honest feedback, who am I helping? No one, and I could be hurting myself. People know about me by checking out my bookshelves at Goodreads.

If you can’t give sound reasoning why a book fell flat for you, don’t leave a review.

I have given one two-star review and several three-star reviews. I gave my reasoning behind both of these (or didn’t do more than rate the book). I’m pretty sure my three-star review of a Salvatore book isn’t going to set the man on a path of vengeance.

I hope when I mentioned weak character motivation or a slow-moving plot, the reviews resonated with the author, and they make changes if more people say similar things.

Sometimes, a book just doesn’t connect with me and millions of others love it. Reading preference is as subjective a choosing an ice cream flavor.

What do you think? Are there other things that should be included in a review? Perhaps you disagree about my reasoning regarding not leaving a review. Let’s discuss it.