Monday, 25 May 2015

SP Book Review: Frostbitten

Frostbitten by Heather Beck

4 stars

Verdict: If you can get into it, you won’t want to put it down.

Great beauty hides dark secrets... 

Seventeen-year-old Anastasia Lockhart has never led an easy life, but when she starts getting into serious trouble, she’s sent to live with her grandparents in Cedar Falls. The small, picturesque town hasn’t changed since she visited four years ago, with one exception – the presence of a handsome, mysterious boy named Frost. Despite warnings from her grandparents and friends to stay away from Frost, Anastasia can’t deny their attraction, and the more time they spend together, the deeper in love they fall. Unfortunately, Frost has a secret that is beyond Anastasia’s wildest imagination, and she soon finds herself in the midst of a supernatural legend that has haunted Cedar Falls for years.

Can Anastasia and Frost’s love really overcome anything, or are their fates much darker?




~*~

The Rating Breakdown

Enjoyment: 3 Lots of brilliant sections. Uneven pace. 

Writing Style: 3 Exposition, passive voice etc.

Plot: 4 Excellent twists, but could shuffle things around to improve pace and flow. 

World & Concepts: 5 Clear, well-defined. 

Characters: 5 A good mix, well-defined, relatable. 

Finish: 5 Beautiful cover. No typos. 

Strengths: Excellent climax. 

Weakness: Writing style tells more than shows.

~*~

Anastasia is a good mix of relatable, strong, and likeable, with a slight rude streak but mostly a kind heart. Frost fulfils the typical mysterious, angry, protective love interest. They’re drawn to each other, but their love is forbidden... I think we both know what book this resembles.

It was the writing style that really got to me. Lots of exposition, and yet lots of missing details. So much of it could be improved just by showing rather than telling.

For example, the book starts by explaining why Anastasia's life is out of hand and she must live with her grandparents. It would have been so easy to start the book with Anastasia arrested for reckless behaviour, followed by an argument with her mother that results in sending her away. Readers would then get to see the Anastasia from beforehand, as well as actually meet the mother we hear so much about. Instead, we’re told it happened, and it’s just not the same.

I thought this a few times throughout the book, which is why I ended up reading it very s-l-o-w-l-y. I was enjoying it, yet I kept putting it down.

But I did keep picking it back up. What exactly was Frost up to? Why does Kate dislike him so much? How can Anastasia stop the villagers? It took me a while to get through the whole book, yet I couldn’t put it aside forever. I had to know what was going on.

Around three quarters of the way through, Anastasia and Frost run away together, and the book really kicks off. Countless twists, actions scenes, and emotionally fuelled revelations. The story grabbed me in its clutches where it previously had not.

It’s quite clear that this is book one of a series. There’s a slight hook at the end, but don’t worry, no cliff hanger. I’m not sure if I’ll read book 2, but book 1 was an enjoyable read overall.

Source: From author for a buddy read scheme.

Friday, 22 May 2015

What I learned from Nest Pitch 2015

Nest Pitch has taught me so much writing. Here are a few thing's I learned from polishing up my first 300 words and taking part in the Nest Pitch:

Your openings matters a lot. If your story kicks off in chapter two, or only grabs a reader's attention half way through chapter one, then you might be giving potential readers too much time to put the book down.

Show. If you're cramming ideas in to hook the reader, you might actually be burring them with information instead. See if you can leave some of the exposition aside and show it later.

Avoid vagueness. Your readers are blank slates, and they will only pull into the opening image what you give them. Specifics are what interests readers, and confusion is not the same as intrigue.

One idea per sentence. If the sentence starts to sound full or unclear, then writing it as two separate sentences could strengthen your writing.

Take a unique angle. Ask yourself, what makes your opening specific to your book? Is it like no other, avoiding clichés in both the writing and the scene choice?

Value strong writing over everything else. If your writing is strong, then you'll be engaging too.

Query contests are about much more than just writing. It's about connecting with other writers, cheering on your new friends, and knowing that all books are beautiful. ;)

Cheers for reading!

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Hidden Gem Awards: Meet the Winner

Introducing the winner of Scookie Review's Hidden Gem Awards, Jason P Crawford, and his supernatural novel, Chain of Prophecy!


How does it feel to win the Hidden Gem Awards?

Fantastic! I really didn’t think I had a chance at it when I got a good look at the competition. I watched the final countdown with my heart in my throat…for five days!


What inspired you to write Chains of Prophecy?

Like a lot of my books, I wrote Chains of Prophecy after being inspired by a role-playing game. Ars Magica is a magical-European-medieval period game, and in it God is an objective reality. My book doesn’t use the mechanics presented in Ars Magica, but several of the concepts are borrowed from the same origin.


What was the best part of writing it?

Chains of Prophecy was my first published novel but my second written. The best part of writing it was that I had the same fire of creativity, but more confidence in myself as a writer because I knew I could finish a book.


The hardest?

Patience. I wanted everyone to get my book NOW. I didn’t want to wait for editing and cover art and revisions. Lesson well learned. :)


What made you decide to self-publish?

See the answer to 4. J Seriously, I didn’t want to wait for six months to a year to get an agent, then however long it would take to get a publishing contract and for the books to hit the shelves. This way, I already have two published books on my schedule.


Take us through how you prepared your book for publishing.

A lot of my process here comes from reading On Writing by Stephen King.

After my first draft, I sat on it for thirty days, then went over it myself as if I had never seen it. Then I gave it to my primary reader, who chewed it apart for discontinuities, clichés, or unlikeable characters. We sat and edited the work together before I gave it to several beta readers. I took their feedback and discuss it with my primary reader and make necessary changes, then another several proofreading rounds to catch typos.

For the cover, my wife makes those. She decides on a theme for each series (The Samuel Buckland Chronicles are ethereal, whereas the Essentials is more photorealistic) and creates the cover herself. She’s very picky and always looking for errors in her own work.


Are you part of any writing communities – and do you bite?

I am! I’m on the Independent Author’s Network and a member of several groups on Goodreads, most especially the Fringe Fiction group. Fringe Fiction is dedicated to helping “hidden gem” authors and readers find one another, but it’s a promo-free zone designed to encourage discussion rather than push sales, which is wonderful.

In all interactions, I believe in respect and kindness. Being mean or condescending helps no one and hurts you


Are you happy with your decision to self-publish?

Extremely. I find the indie author community to be welcoming and full of talent. I’ve read so many fantastic indie books recently and have gotten so much support and encouragement.


Would you consider traditional publishing in the future?

Now that I have an established book list, possibly. . . It could increase my branding and exposure. But I’m not planning on querying, so it would have to fall into my lap for me to take it.


Can you give me a hint to where the Samuel Buckland series might be heading?

I released the second book, Bonds of Fate, on April 30th. A huge crisis hits Heaven, and Sam has to investigate the Host…but Heaven and Angelic society aren’t exactly what he thought they were. I’m working on the third book, tentatively titled Doom of Light, presently.


What is your favourite novel/author?

Neil Gaiman, hands down. Not only is his writing exceptional (and American Gods is my favourite novel), but he is a wonderful human being: down to earth, active in causes he believes in, and humble about himself.


What character from fiction would you say you are most like?

Interesting question. I wrote another novel, Seeking the Sun, and the main character is a young woman who Apollo becomes interested in. I specifically patterned her after myself, except as a female – the things I like, she likes; the attitudes and beliefs I have, she has. At least at the start of the book. ;)


What is your best piece of advice to aspiring authors?

BE PATIENT. You will not be an overnight success. Take your time and do things right, because poor quality and poor behaviour will weigh you down long after you’ve forgotten you did them.


~*~


Jason P. Crawford is as friendly as authors get. You can follow him via facebook, twitter, or his blog, or sign up to his fortnightly newsletter.  Don't forget to check out this list of sellers to get your hands on a copy of Chains of Prophecy

Saturday, 16 May 2015

Nest Pitch Results: The Clearing

Nest Pitch is over, and wow, I really wasn't expected the results. I'm ecstatic to announce that Team Sugar Rush cleared up the contest! 

Not only did I receive four agent requests, I got to meet loads of lovely, supportive authors. Can't wait to read all your books, guys.

If you'd like to read the opening 300 words of THE CLEARING, here's a link to the blog of my wonderful mentor, Louise Gornall, My whole manuscript is a lot stronger, thanks to her.

I've also worked on the cover using copy-right free images. I think I'm getting the hang of Paint.Net.



Despite danger lurking between the trees, the banished always run into the forest. Ruby doesn’t understand why. Until rebellious behaviour gets her sentenced. Now, Ruby is about to learn first-hand why the banished must run.

Sixteen-year-old Ruby is not supposed to question the way of her village life. She is expected to settle down with her best friend and focus on bearing children, all while respecting the whims of the local psychics. But Ruby is frustrated with living within the confines of ridiculous village rules, that is, until her increasing rebellious behaviour gets her sentenced. 

Now, Ruby finds herself amongst the banished and facing a forest that has swallowed up so many before her. No one has ever returned from the trees alive, but no one seems to fear them either. Why, when all Ruby knows of them is monsters and madness? With no choice in the matter, Ruby is going to discover what it is about the forest that entices the sentenced to brave its demons.


Thursday, 14 May 2015

Hidden Gem Awards: Round Up

The contest is over, and congratulations to the winner, Jason P. Crawford. I will be posting up an author interview about The Chains of Prophecy within the next month!

Here are my thoughts for the next contest. Feel free to comment below if you have any ideas, opinions, or musings.


A Few Alterations

So that the whole process is a little quicker, I will only select three top entries to read. This should make it much easier for me to post up the results within a few weeks, especially in case life gets unexpectedly busy again.

After I've selected my three finalists, I will read each of the books entirely. In this contest, I mentioned I might put the book down at some point, but I decided against this. I need to know the ending to be able to truly judge a book. With so few final contestants, it seems unfair of me not to give everyone an equal chance.


To Potential Contestants

There's still time to vote on the next genre. The top two genres were Fantasy and Sci-Fi, so place your votes now if you want a say on what the next topic should be.

It's easier for me to judge your books when they fall into one category, even though they were so different this time round!

The next competition is likely to take place later summer/early autumn. It depends on how much time I have, but I'll post up a warning here and on GoodReads.


Want me to review your self-pub/indie book?

I'm only going to be accepting review copies through my Hidden Gem Awards. You'll have to wait until your genre appears.


Cheers a bunch

Thank you for all the social media support, for the free copies of your fantastic novels, and for your enthusiasm over the whole process. It has made the competition enjoyable for me, and I hope you guys have had fun too.

Cheers!

Monday, 11 May 2015

Hidden Gem Awards: 1st Place

#1
The Chains of Prophecy
Jason P. Crawford


When Samuel Buckland discovers he's descended of a powerful bloodline, he must first battle with his lack of faith before he faces evil in the form of a vicious yet smooth-talking politician. 

This book takes no time in getting started, which is probably because Samuel is a character who likes to take action. Some of the side characters also act strangely at first, but it soon starts to fall into place as Samuel discovers that he must save a powerful yet helpless being.

I'm going to keep my wording vague to avoid spoiling the plot, but if you're a fan of contemporary fiction involving angels, powers, and villains, then you'll love Chains of Prophecy.

I’m a huge fan of angels and legacies, especially when the author adds in a few new spins like Crawford has. After learning that God and beliefs would play a part in the story, I was also thankful that this book handled beliefs in a way that isn't designed to be preachy. It's a story involving angels, demons, and faith - I think fans of Supernatural will love this book!

Like most heroes, Sam begins his journey rather reluctantly. He grows as a character throughout the book, both in his power and faith. I found him easy to relate to and root for.

The dual perspective was another thing I enjoyed about this hidden gem. I always like understanding two conflicting points of view. Later on, when a few twists were worked into the mixed, I enjoyed guessing how things would turn out. The last showdown was a fantastic way to end book 1.

The writing was strong and I could tell a lot of research went into making this. There were a few unconventional quirks in the writing that I thought didn’t work (including brackets), but not enough to make me put the book down!

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Hidden Gem Awards: 2nd Place

#2
Bloodline
Tara Ellis


A meteor shower is followed by an infectious disease, one that seems to changing everyone around Alex into emotionless aliens. Alex always knew her father’s death was suspicious, but now solving the clues he left behind for her seems to be the key to reversing the disease.

 The mystery behind the disease is well thought out. I loved the hieroglyphics sketched into the book – a nice touch, very unusual. The sketches pulled me into the puzzle left for Alex to solve, and it’s quite a clever quirk.

I also commend the author for the diversity of her characters. I'm a fan of anything Egyptian and was glad to see Alex's heritage being part of the story.

Alex is a sweetheart and her brother is intelligent and loving too. They make a good pair. On the other hand, I didn’t care much for ‘nice guy’ Chris because I just didn’t feel like I knew him very well. Maybe I’ll have to read book 2 to find out more about him.

This was a quick read with a great ending. I still couldn’t help but feel it could be edited down. At the very least, it needed a higher saturation of exciting bits around the build up, and a stronger atmospheric vibe when the scenery changed.

The book ends in a great place too – not quite a cliffhanger, but enough to make me want to read on. 

Saturday, 9 May 2015

Hidden Gem Awards: 3rd Place

#3
The Scary Girls
J.D. Kaplan



Trick needs a new band, preferably one where the lead singer doesn't make out with his girlfriend. That's when he meets the Scary Girls: three beautiful, mysterious, and talented musicians whom Trick instantly clicks with. He soon finds himself playing extraordinary music as well as bumping into otherworldly beings that have him questioning who, or what exactly, is he?

Mixing music with the supernatural, The Scary Girls was the most original book of all the entries. I could tell the writer must be an awesome musician as well as a talented writer.

I liked Trick a lot. There was something very relatable about all the characters - something real and raw, especially with Trick. He's a little uncomfortable in his skin, but rises to the moment, and comes across as very likeable, easy going, and very easy to follow as a main character. If you're tired of strong female leads, then this might be the book for you. 

I became really confused at the end. Great twists were mingled together with confusing reveals, and I’m not entirely sure if I understood all of it. There was also a lot of information to take in. While I enjoyed reading about aspects of the Fae which aren't so overdone in supernatural fiction, there were a lot of heavy exposition scenes.

Still, these are broken up with the odd bar room brawl girlfriend drama, and strange visits to another dream-world. I've never read anything else like it!

Friday, 8 May 2015

Hidden Gem Awards: 4th Place

#4
Broken Dolls
B.R. Kingsolver


Private Investigator R.B. Kendrick usually uses her telepathy to help nail cheating spouses. But when she's asked to investigate the disappearance of a missing girl, Kendrick uses her abilities to unravel a much more dangerous plot in the dark underbelly of the telepathic society.

I loved the creativity in this one. The feisty character’s main gift was telepathy, which allowed a brilliant spin on a private investigator story. My favourite part was how Kendrick can tell what nasty things a person has done by the stains on their soul. There were also lots of juicy plot twists and action scenes too – a lot to keep me reading onwards.

As much as I loved the concepts, explanations were often wordy and complicated, even when rereading. It all seemed to sound overly complicated for what it was, and new powers would pop up whenever needed rather than recycling old ideas to really knit the concepts together. I thought it would be better if the characters didn’t have so many gifts each – I can’t remember half of them, and I’m certain that not all were used.

Other than that, the writing was strong, and the bold and intelligent main character carried the mysterious kidnapping plot.

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Hidden Gem Awards: 5th Place

Ladies and gentlemen, readers and writers, it's about time I announced the results of the Hidden Gem Awards. Eleven supernatural themed books entered, all self-published. Five were selected from reading the opening alone, and now they are all read and reviewed.

I'll be posting one a day until we reach the winner to give each fantastic entry it's own time in the light. Here's the first runner up:

#5
A Time Apart
Rebecca Norrinne Caudill




Olivia moves to Ireland, feeling a down on her luck and looking to kick start her life back up, starting with a tour of William Macauley's castle. When William rejects her offer, he wasn't expecting such a feisty reply, but Olivia was even more surprised when she remembers just exactly who William is.

I knew a little of what was to come when I checked it was supernatural, but the twist was still a good one. The writing was quite clever, weaving in a few ideas that only really came together at that click moment. There were quite a few original spins on what has become a tired genre, and I'd definitely keep an eye out for future releases by authoress Caudill.

The pacing was just a bit too slow. I could see many ways to improve this, both structurally and by using writing tricks to strengthen the prose. The main problem was too much telling and exposition, not enough showing and action. 

I loved the voice a lot, but it took precedence over the pace most of the time. Still, Olivia is both feisty and insecure, which made her easy to relate to as well as fun to root for.