Best of Kindle Unlimited: Annette Marie

Annette Marie’s work is predominately urban fantasy meant for young adults.  Her characters are “older” than a standard young adult character often between seventeen and twenty.  Her story lines do not happen in a school or within a typical teen framework, instead they focus on emotional beats and key road divergence style story plots that characterize young adult literature.

Marie’s urban fantasies cover two differing genres.  One where magic/gods/demons has always existed with humanity.  It changes very little in the day to day modern world because mortals can rarely experience and hold a memory of these powers and the powers themselves do not like urban development.  

In another, these powers reveal themselves when humanity threatened their safety and took over our realm to protect us from our own destructive nature.  The man vs magic struggle is strong in this series.

“Red Winter” is Marie’s best series by miles, though the first three books in “Steel & Stone” make a close second.  If there weren’t another three books in “Steel & Stone” full of a downward descent, this section would be a debate over which series is the best.  

Instead, Annette Marie’s career is a fascinating case study regarding writing priorities.  She’s an imaginative talentedwriter with a thriving fan base.  She’s made her career testing out various stories and creating more when her readers responded to her writing.  

I had mixed feelings in including Annette Marie.  While I love some of her work, I also dislike or was disappointedalmost as much of it as I enjoyed.  I came into this article expecting to discuss writers’ fatigue (a classic Stephen King fault) or discussing how writers’ shouldn’t keep stories going past their natural end point.  

BUT further research on Marie’s writing career highlights that she may have different goals than I do in creating her stories.  It seems she’s trying to create a fan base and doesn’t mind stretching what’s popular in her writing to build that base.  Her motives may extend beyond always telling the story she wants to tell to telling a story people want to read.  What obligation do writers have to respond to their audience’s desires?  Does it impede good story telling or does it create creative story narratives readers want?  

Take Aways from Annette Marie’s Success:

1.  Be responsive and interactive with your audience.  Annette Marie and all writers can only succeed if others are interested in their stories.  When you find something that speaks to your audience hold on to it.

2.  An older protagonist in young adult literature works.  The story beats that identify a work as young adult transcend the age of one’s main characters.

3.  “Magic is secret” does not have to be the default setting for urban fantasy AND readers don’t want or need large exposition drops to integrate magic into a modern world.

Looking for other great Kindle Unlimited Series? Check out our earlier write up on Amy A. BartolSara C. Roethle,  T. A. White, Charlie N. Holmberg, Meg Elison, and Susan Ee.

Wondering why Kindle Unlimited?  Check out my post: 7 Reasons I read Kindle Unlimited

For further discussion on reviews try our “Would you Rather…” post that asks writers to pick between two different kinds of negative reviews.  Or try Do Critical Reviews hurt me as a Writer?

Or consider 9 Things that Make a Book Good (For Me)7 Steps I take Before Posting a Bad Review

Best of Kindle Unlimited: Susan Ee

While most Kindle Unlimited authors are independent authors, there are a lot of wonderful traditionally published writers too. Susan Ee is another example of an author publishing through one of Amazon’s publishers and working with the Kindle Unlimited system to create a maximum audience.

Susan Ee’s work is marketed to young adults but the horror elements combined with griping story beats entertain all ages.  The story told in the Angelfall series isn’t unique.  I’ve read variations.  The beats didn’t surprise me as they may have surprised the younger audience.  But Ee creates full fledged characters readers can invest in.  Even if we know the story, we don’t know how these characters will handle it, and that’s what will keep adult readers engaged.

Take Aways from Susan Ee’s Success:

1.  Dark horror and the grotesque is for young adults too.  Ee’s books do not hold back in exploring the darkness in humanity.  She pushes body horror and explores all the ways people can be used.  Neither the “good guys” nor the “bad guys” flinch from acting in inhuman ways.  If “Angelfall” was a show or a movie series, I don’t know how it could get around an R rating.

2.  Creating relatable personalities and rounded characters is more than good writing, it will broadens a novel’s appeal.  Don’t shy away from differently abled characters either.  Much of the story’s conflicts come from the characters’ physical and mental disabilities and how that impacts them.  

3.  This a great example of a book series with a strong first book but better follow-ups.  Ee never faltered in her vision for “Angelfall” (or is she did, it doesn’t show in the final products).  Writer’s fatigue or a series decline in quality is not a constant fact of life!  The direction, pacing, and sense of stakes remains strong in each of Ee’s books.  

Looking for other great Kindle Unlimited Series? Check out our earlier write up on Amy A. BartolSara C. Roethle,  T. A. White, Charlie N. Holmberg, and Meg Elison.

Wondering why Kindle Unlimited?  Check out my post: 7 Reasons I read Kindle Unlimited

For further discussion on reviews try our “Would you Rather…” post that asks writers to pick between two different kinds of negative reviews.  Or try Do Critical Reviews hurt me as a Writer?

Or consider 9 Things that Make a Book Good (For Me)7 Steps I take Before Posting a Bad Review

Best of Kindle Unlimited: Meg Elison

While most Kindle Unlimited authors are independent authors, there are a lot of wonderful traditionally published writers too. Meg Elison is one author offering her work through Kindle Unlimited and winning the game.  

Elison is an essayist whose debut novel The Book of the Unnamed Midwife is a Philip K. Dick award winner.  In terms of quality, it’s hard to aspire for more within the science fiction genre.  Her stories are griping, emotional, and intellectual.  I love the questions her works pose and the journey her stories take me on.  Her presence on Kindle Unlimited helps to elevate the whole platform.  

Take Aways from Meg Elison’s Success:

1.  The female perspective and discussion of traditionally female centered issues have an audience.  While I’d argue “women’s’ issues” ARE human issues and everyone should listen and discuss them as they affect every man and woman, Elison does a beautiful job portraying that point within her fictional world.  She posits what would happen if women and children were rare commodities.  She explores several manners of extremism and different responses.

2.  LGTQ+ or GRSM (gender, romantic, and sexual minorities) as I prefer to group (it’s more inclusive and less letters to get there) and other controversial issues can be highly palatable and enjoyable in fiction.  Elison uses a fictional vehicle to explore core issues of identity and expression.  Self expression isn’t a minority issue, it’s a human one and this kind of exploration is compelling to a larger reading audience than a writer may assume.

3.  Don’t flinch from controversial subjects period.  Elison’s politics are all over her books and the view point creates a more interesting compelling narrative (even when one doesn’t agree with her take).  Perhaps the controversy even helps selling books?  I don’t know if Elison succeeds in spite of or because of the controversy in her books, but I know writers can take her success as a sign they don’t have to self censor to find a market.  We should write fearlessly and explore any theme we find compelling without angst.

4.  Play with different lengths and styles of writing.  Elison has a background as an essayist, if she’d stuck to that format she wouldn’t have an award-winning novel and a widely read series.  And who knows how much her essayist background helped form her style/craft to where she could pull together a thoughtful, griping, and lean manuscript.

5. Whatever you write and whatever your goals are, pursue them with a single minded passion.  When reading Elison’s book, it’s clear she cares about all the subjects she introduces to her manuscripts.  She’s invested in her writing and making her point and readers can see that level of commitment and will respond  

Looking for other great Kindle Unlimited Series? Check out our earlier write up on Amy A. BartolSara C. Roethle,  T. A. White, or Charlie N. Holmberg.

Wondering why Kindle Unlimited?  Check out my post: 7 Reasons I read Kindle Unlimited

For further discussion on reviews try our “Would you Rather…” post that asks writers to pick between two different kinds of negative reviews.  Or try Do Critical Reviews hurt me as a Writer?

Or consider 9 Things that Make a Book Good (For Me)7 Steps I take Before Posting a Bad Review

Best of Kindle Unlimited: Charlie N. Holmberg

Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet cover from Goodreads.com

While most Kindle Unlimited authors are independent authors, there are a lot of wonderful traditionally published writers too. Charlie N. Holmberg is one author offering her work through Kindle Unlimited and winning the game.  

I found Holmberg through Followed by Frost a take on the Ice Queen fairy tale that borrows elements of the original fairy tale while creating a new story.  Her lyric descriptive writing and the characters she explores through her writing drew me in.  

Later that year I read Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet and thought to myself “this style is a lot. it reminds me of Followed by Frost.”  Turns out Charlie N. Holmberg wrote both.  Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet is my favorite of all of her works to date.  It takes the fun elements and themes in Followed by Frost and brings them to their largest showcase.  There are several fairy tale character references.  Marie explores some same territory Smitha did, though the characters approach the themes from two different personalities.  At the core of all the action is an emotional and ethically based.  

This year I’ve returned to Holmberg’s work and read Smoke and Summons and Myths and Mortals.  Her writing continues to grow and evolve in ways I appreciate.  These worlds hold the same completing characters but the live in a unique imaginary world that’s well thought out.  Holmberg fleshes out the world and magical system in a way that feels seemless and effortless to readers (though the writer in me knows how hard it is not to shove in an exposition dump).  Myth and Mortals ends with a cliff hanger I did not appreciate, but I enjoyed the whole so much, I’m looking forward to Siege and Sacrifice

Holmberg is a fantasy writer to keep an eye on and I’m not the only one who appreciates everything her stories offer.  Disney picked up the rights to Paper Magicians.

Unlike other pics for my Kindle Unlimited Series, Holmberg has her share of attention and some may ask why I highlight her.  Truly, I enjoy her work and perspective.  I see a lot of what I’d like to do in what she’s doing and I think our writing goals are similar.  It’s hard not to look at someone succeeding in a way I want to and not mention her.

Take Aways from Charlie N. Holmberg’s Success:

1.  Pretty and descriptive elements of a work can be a successful stylistic choice.  Often readers and writer discuss how today’s market is over-saturated and we need to jump into the action right away.  This suggests short prose that lack a singing quality, but Holmberg balances movement and description.  Write out the description for the first draft and look to the second draft to balance pacing.  The market doesn’t require brusque hops from action to action for success.

2.  Traditionally “feminine” characteristics and emotional story lines work in fantasy writing.  When readers/writers think “fantasy” genre we often think an epic scale battle and escapism.  Holmberg’s works create personal emotional investment and often lack an epic “world in peril” element.  The characters’ worlds are at risk, but the universe will be fine if these characters die or fail.  There’s a market for emotional small scale fantasy, there may even be a demand for it.

3.  Everything doesn’t have to be “sexy” or sexual in someway to create tension.  Something I love regarding Homberg’s works is the way she can build tension without ever resorting to sexual tension.  Yes some of her characters fall in love and face the traditional “do they love me back” dilemma but it’s never overblown.  The characters set this controversy aside when mortal peril intervenes.  They confront attraction when it keeps them from meeting their goals and they either embrace a relationship or move past rejection.  Relationships in her books feel real, organic, and warm, not an element existing to drag out the plot.

4.  Using fairy tale references in a work appears to either be popular or to help bolster a works attention or not hinder the work’s ability to reach a large audience.  As a writer who uses a lot of myth and legend in my writing, this encourages me.

5. Take your time and perfect your story.  Holmberg is very open regarding how many stories she queried before getting traction with “Paper Magicians.”  The first or second book you write might not be the one, if you publish traditionally.  For indie authors it’s more a message of “don’t be disappointed if your debut novel doesn’t break records.”  

6. Have a posse of like-minded writers to bounce ideas off of. Holmberg is part of a Deep Magic e-zine that looks to create “clean fantasy.”  Working together with other writers to keep your themes out in the public eye will help find like audience and also is a great service to other writers in the same genre.  If you’re an Alabaman local, might I suggest our North Alabama Writers’ Group Meeting?

Looking for other great Kindle Unlimited Series? Check out our earlier write up on Amy A. BartolSara C. Roethle, or T. A. White.

Wondering why Kindle Unlimited?  Check out my post: 7 Reasons I read Kindle Unlimited

For further discussion on reviews try our “Would you Rather…” post that asks writers to pick between two different kinds of negative reviews.  Or try Do Critical Reviews hurt me as a Writer?

Or consider 9 Things that Make a Book Good (For Me)7 Steps I take Before Posting a Bad Review

Preparing For the Leap

My writing is intensely personal.  Sometimes I want to explore a theme or idea.  Sometimes I’m writing through an emotion (usually panic).  Sometimes I write for control.  Always, my writing process is 100% about me.  


But my writing is not so self centered.  After the first explosion of words, I read.  If there’s value, I edit and revise the work to best stress what’s good.  For example: I wrote Nimgauana’s Undertaking because I was afraid after the election of Donald Trump.  I kept revising and working on the story because I enjoyed the message of hope in the face of cruelty.  

 Blood Moon also shares post election desperation.  This short work rocks because it features a female character owning her own persona.  In “Blood Moon” I hope others get a taste of the emotional state living next door to darkness and danger may provoke.

Many things inspired Follow Me: Tattered Veils.  It central action comes from a dream.  While ruminating over the dream, thinking of the full possibilities of that dream if played out, I saw how much I missed writing, and I realized how miserable I was in a job stealing over 60 hours a week from me.  I wrote Follow Me to take back my identity and to find my joy again.  Imagine my surprise when I shared parts of it and realized I wasn’t the only one who thought it was good.  My book could be so much more than my escape and that made me want things for it.  I think loving something like this and wanting others to see what I love in it, has to be deeply personal.


But Follow Me: Tattered Veils is about to live in two worlds.  On one side lie my hours of work, my emotions, my intentions, my joy and heartache.  On the other side, are the readers and they won’t have any relation to me or my book except for a cover (someone else designs) and a back of the book description.  


It’s like my book is all grown up and going on blind dates. 


This isn’t a plea for readers to be kind to my book.  Part of what’s exciting about releasing a published work is hearing feedback on something that’s lived alone in my head for so long.  It’s more an essay on how a book can mean something specific to its authorand readers can and should get something different when they read it.  To me, this is a cool phenomenon I don’t think we explore enough.  


Both readers and writers shut down the conversation by arguing who has the “right” to assign meaning to a work. Readers will tell a writer “if you meant X you should have been more clear.” and writers retort with “I wrote the thing, I know it’s meaning.”


Let’s end the debate on who has a right to interpret the book.  We’re both correct.  


As the writer, I created Follow Me: Tattered Veils and I could do a chapter by chapter review of what each line means and why it’s there.  I could tell you about all the other options I considered and why I discarded them.  While those kinds of conversations are interesting, they are not the definitive end all be all to what Follow Me: Tattered Veils could mean.  

How do I know this? 

As a reader, I’ve created essays on meanings of other people’s books.  I’ve gone chapter by chapter, line by line sighting how they built point x or built in a secondary plot y.  People bring their own viewpoint and life experience with them to any piece of fiction.  This combined with the words an author provided makes its own truth.  


And I can’t wait for Follow Me: Tattered Veils to go on that second journey.  We’ve traveled together for so long, but our paths are about to diverge.  While I work on my next story, I’ll look at a parallel road and see “Follow Me: Tattered Veils” traveling with new companions, and experiencing unknown response.  It creates a butterfly feeling in me that’s not quite joy or fear.  


What do you think?  Does an author release their “right” to the end all be all interpretation when they release their work?  How you you see reader feedback, is it meant for reader and writer to build something together, is it meant only for other readers, is it something else all together? Published authors/creators: what is your relationship with your readers/viewers? Does their interpretation of you work affect what you do next or how you approach other projects? Does it change how you feel about your own work?

 Do your feelings on the viewer’s rights/abilities to interpret creative work change based on the media (painting, sculpture, movie)?  Does who the person is affect their right to create meaning from a story?

#BeBold Sharing Critical Content

image from openclipart.org from J4p4n

“I think it would be therapeutic for me to write a post for our blog where I tear the shit out of movie x.” Zach said.  

I smiled and nodded, happy he planned to contribute to our NAWG blog.  

“But would a negative post benefit our blog in the long run?”  I wondered.  

Another group member and I resolved we would keep our blog a positive constructive place.  Then again, Zach is our resident curmudgeon, if anyone can get away with a grouchy post, it’s him.

As I‘ve been viewing more content, I keep coming back to wondering if critical content is part of a healthy blogging habit.  And if “negative” or “rant” content has a place, what’s the correct ratio to add it into a blog?  Should ever blog or blogger share all opinions whether negative or positive?  Am I as positive as. I portray, or is that a persona shown for approval?   Even in some of my perky posts, on the edges lingers this acknowledgement of themes I don’t like.  

Today there will be no dodging the question.  Should we blog critical, negative, snarky, or tea spilling posts?

The Concerns

-Being seen as petty/mean/opinionated/loud/aggressive/bossy

-Being seen as a person who views writing as a competition and your review as a way to tear down the competition

-Risk of hurting the feelings of another human being

-Burning through the community’s goodwill for you

-Bringing you own work forward for scrutiny as you’ve scrutinized others

-Making an error or oversight in your analysis could cause you being on the end of critical content.  Or you may see your own oversight, go to adjust your post and learn you’ve created an audience not open to evolving opinions.

-Negative attention is still attention and if a book/technique is damaging, you may choose not to mention them at all so you don’t accidentally drive sales to something you don’t support

-Closing venues for conversation and becoming a place to come bash an idea

-Crossing the line and getting personal in an attack (and this is NEVER) good.  

-Depending on what you don’t like, risking the chance you’ll stand in the company of other opinions you find offensive or wrong

The Pros

-People love drama/controversy.  There is a reason videos and posts labeled “spilling the tea” or “throwing shade” rank so high and it’s because everyone loves to watch a fight.  

-As Zach said, rants are therapeutic

-Sometimes critical or negative reviews are a person’s truth and I believe authenticity is more important than being nice. 

-Others can misinterpret silence as approval and I don’t want to support something I didn’t like.

-Bringing critical opinions forward presents a whole and balanced person.  Not someone full of eternal praise

-A negative element of an otherwise good work should be called out.  A person can love something that isn’t perfect and acknowledging flaws is part of a full discussion

-The things I didn’t like may help a crowd of people who like those elements find a new favorite.  What I didn’t like might be something you love about a book

The Outcome 

This conversation is more personal than the other #bebold articles because I present as a positive person.  Get to know me better and I’ll spin out into a rant on X or Y and I like to think it’s funny.  People laugh, whether from the shock of me going from sunshine to dark in a blink of an eye or because I have a strong delivery, is hard to tell.  The thing is, I like to read a room before sharing, and you can’t read a room in the internet.

Unlike the “silence is approval school” I’m from the “if you have nothingnice to say, then say nothing” school.  I’m sensitive to even small gestures of disapproval in others and worry over their reactions if they find out I don’t enjoy their favorite show.  In the past, I’ve compromised under the guise of kindness.  I post all reviews to Goodreads but don’t make blogs from bad books.  Recently I’d considered writing a bottom 5 books of 2018 and dismissed the idea.  Three of the books were from a single author and it struck me as excessively mean spirited to single out an author this way.  

 I’m dipping my toes into critical reviews while blogging.  First, I wrote a post on why I stopped reading Daily Science Fiction.  It’s not mean, but it expresses that I didn’t like the site or most of the stories on offer.  My 2018 book year in review shares both positive and negative thoughts on books.  Even then, most of my critical feedback revolves around non-fiction books that present bad/dangerous science.  I feel like giving them lower scores is a public service.  Do your research world!

  I wrote a critical review on a writing class I took.  There I spoke out because I’d paid money for the class.  If it had been free, there would be no post. The posts gathered the low end of average views.  

Currently I’m brainstorming a series of posts called “Writing Cliches” where I discuss overused techniques in genres and why they bother me/what else you can do.  I think it will be snarky fun with a goal of helping writers avoid played out scenarios and offering other ways to move the story. 

Should you write a critical post?  I don’t really know.  

  I love reading critical posts where the writer explores what worked, where they suggest how idea x could come across better, or where they pitch a “better” story.  Occasionally, I even enjoy a certain level of mean snark.  That said, I’m not comfortable with the format.  Even as I enjoy consuming some of this style of content, I prefer to create the helpful, glass half full kinds of posts.  More than the other posts discussed in this #BeBold series, I suggest moderation.  A few critical posts go a long way after all.  

Looking for more like this? Try the other #BeBold posts “Posting Metrics” and “Sharing Fiction for Free

My 5 Favorite Reads of 2018

2018 was a wonderful reading year. I beat my goal of 36 books by about 10. 17 of these books were nonfiction and not eligible to make this list. Out of 30 books, these are the top five fiction reads. Starting from least favorite to most treasured read.  For an in-depth look at my 2018 reading check out Books Read in 2018.

image from Goodreads.com

5. Traitorborn–  Has everything I like about “Hunger Games” in it but tells the story in a fresh, compelling way.  My favorite aspect of this series is that there are not “good” characters (at least from my perspective).  Most of the characters, our hero included, have a piece of the solution for their dystopian society and they are also holding on to part of the problem.  It’s refreshing to have a complex group of characters I can empathize with some times and despise other times.  Where so much conversations happening around me are polarizing, it’s nice to read a book that reaches for full open conversation and understanding, without surrendering one’s agency.   For more on this series check out my Kindle Unlimited post.

Image from Goodreads.com


4. Dragon Ridden– Don’t let the cover fool you, this was just fun and well written.  There isn’t any messaging in it, it’s just an immersive fantasy read and sometimes that’s enough.  Pure escapism, a well-developed fantasy world distinct from earth, and a cast of well-rounded characters.  It’s enough. For more on this series check out my Kindle Unlimited post.

image from Goodreads.com


3. End of Days– Dark, thoughtful work with a great balance of action and tense “waiting”.  Left me wondering about the conclusion all the way to the end and it leaves just the right amount open ambiguity to make me think about it for days afterward but still find satisfaction with the close given to us.  I’m sorry “Traitorborn” is on its second book while “End of Days” is a complete series because I think if I could compare the conclusions of both books, it may flip their positions on this list.  Still both books are wonderful.  Sold to young adults but they hold positives for all age groups.  

image from Goodreads.com


2. Card of Chaos–  Complex, excellent execution, everything I look for in the retelling of classic fairytale/folklore.  It begins with humor and ends in affection.  I like how the author draws the reader in and connects us with this strange if familiar world.  Loved the beautiful scenes, the deep philosophy and the language.  It may be my second favorite book of the year, but it’s my first recommendation to others.

image from Goodreads.com


1. The Book of Etta– Enjoyed every second.  I know this is a polarizing book because it explores gender roles, what gender is, and whether sex and gender can be two separate things.  The beauty of this book: it can explore the internal struggle being genderqueer/trans/gay/bi ect  often brings and ignore all the political bullshit that’s happening in our own world.  Here we can enjoy a human vs self moment.  We can see all the factors in the book which exacerbate the struggle and rail against them without hating our own culture.  Sometimes the call to action in a book can cut short a person’s thoughtful introspection, but The Book of Etta lacks this baggage and I’m beyond grateful.  Where the first book took a premise, I didn’t feel was true but expounded on it in a way that pushed me to read on, Etta felt right from the first words.  I knew Etta, I’d been Etta, and I sometimes still am Etta.  I knew Flora and have been her too.  Heck, there was a part of me that felt like I’d been Alma before and that I knew her.  The beauty of this book is that it allowed me to feel and it allowed me to celebrate so many aspects of who I am as a person.  Everyone will have a different time reading it.  But, it’s the jewel of my 2018 reading list.  


Happy New Year!  What were your five favorite reads of 2018?  Was your reading list similar?  Do you have any recommendations for me?  What are your reading goals for 2019?   

Best of “Kindle Unlimited” Sara C. Roethle “Tree of Ages” Series

image from Goodreads.com

 

It has been a while since starting one of these recommend blogs.  In reviewing the others, it seems I always pick up a book with hesitation.  Tree of Ages is no different.  While I was fascinated with the idea a tree becomes human (I have a love for plant stories and non-traditional sentience), I was worried it would be one of those “chosen one with amnesia stories.”  We’d find out it wasn’t a tree becoming human but a human who became a tree and then returned human for— reasons.  It’s a fantasy trope.

And Tree of Ages is about a human-ish character who became a tree returning to her original form with amnesia.  So, if what I feared is true, why did I enjoy the series?  First, because tree girl insists for the first third of the story arc she IS a tree and if she is not a tree, she prefers being a tree.  It explores all the tree sentience vs human sentience desired, plus readers get to hear about tree superiority.  I enjoy stories where human forms are not the default “best” choice.  Through fantasy speculation of this variety, I think we invite conversations about different levels of humanity, and observing what may be just different instead of better or worse.  It also creates compassion and likeness to the rest of nature.

Tree of Ages has a HUGE ensemble cast and all of them are developed with story arcs.  There are fifteen characters I can think of just off the top of my head who connect with readers.  Granted Sara C. Roethle has five books to make these connections, but she starts strong in book one with eight characters and she keeps adding.

I appreciated that the story in these pages was about characters.  Yes, a bunch of action happens around the characters, but the action never drives the story, the characters decisions/desires/weaknesses move the plot forward.  It’s refreshing to have a solid sense of place, history, and change while also allowing the characters to use personality to move forward.  

Is the series perfect?  No.  I have conflicted feelings on how gay and bi characters were represented.  Kudos to Roethle for including diversity of gender and sexuality.  I loved how women were portrayed, but there are flaws in her portrayals of gay and bi characters.  All of her gay/bi characters start off or remain villains.  The one bi character is first portrayed as a lesbian and she falls in love with a male character as she “lightens” and becomes more of a good guy.  I don‘t know this was intentional, but I recoiled from that effect. 

 A gay sailor dies in pain from poison in the swamps and he dies cursing the protagonist.  This is sad because his death did not reflect his life.  While we, the readers, had minimal interaction, it was clear he had longstanding relationships with two of the cast and he was developing a friendship with Finn, our lead.  The bitterness he displayed in death didn‘t match his tone in life.  

Aed’s daughter (whose name I can’t recall) appears to be a lesbian (she uses sexuality on both genders but her attraction seems to be fore women), and she is the antagonist for most the series.  Even when she‘s not the antagonist, we have sympathy for her without ever liking her.  She has a superiority complex and manipulates family and lovers in ways I find abusive.  

Belinda, is the lesbian lover of Aed’s daughter and part of her guard.  Her arc feels glossed over and rushed in the book, like Roethle couldn‘t figure out her motivations or place within the story.  She becomes Finn‘s friend with ease, but she never connects with the crew on any side of the skirmish.  She has the opportunity to form lasting relationships with five of the characters and never does, which leaves her an odd and floating in space character.  

I’d overlook some of these messed up relationships but the straight counter parts are more healthy.  There‘s the ever present annoying love triangle and there is a lot of unhealthy baggage with it.  So much, I thought the characters would end up in a threesome (and note to writers, just add the threesome if that‘s what you want, don’t dance around it with a love triangle where everyone respects each other and is friends afterward).  Having deep relationships with both people at the same time feels a little like exploiting each person since it lacks an open conversation, but each relationship makes sense and appears to have the right give and take.  There‘s a marriage where the development seemed abrupt but over all healthy.  The bi character‘s straight relationship is healing for her (which portrays straight relationships as a positive WHILE implying that gay relationships result from trauma so double bad).  Even the villainous pair end up in what appears to be a loving straight relationship.

Overall, I recommend the series.  It’s a series where the goals change as characters learn more and evolve, but where readers are always rooting for their favorites.  I like that no one person’s destiny seems carved in stone and the cast changes rolls as the novels progress.  I wish the inclusion of gay/bisexual characters was handled more mindfully, but there‘s so much unique going on in the series, I can still recommend it as a whole work.

Take Aways from Sara C. Roethle’s Success:

1. Women have a place in high fantasy and you do not have to make them special or otherwise justify their presence.  Let male and female characters exist as they are without an exposition dump. (this applies to any “minority” character in any genre) 

2. While a strong sense of place and world building is necessary to creating memorable and lasting fantasy environments, it does not have to drive the plot.  Set the story, let it present options, but don‘t fight if your characters pick a third path the setting doesn‘t seem to offer.

3. Make your story about the character relationships.  It’s not “wishy washy” for characters to change their minds, become heroes/villains in their own right, or to decide something they never would consider 100 pages back.  So long as the change develops during those 100 pages it becomes a compelling full study of the decision along with the results that come from making certain choices. Write a complete story with a beginning, middle, and an ending.  Be confident in your characters and larger world building.  People will read more because they like what you wrote not because you left them on a cliffhanger.

4. Relationships can develop without a lot of angst or sexual tension.  While there are problems with how Roethle portrays relationships like some of the people who end up together show what I consider friendship without the push to romance (this is bad because it perpetuates the idea that close relationships=sexual elements and that’s NOT true in real life or in fiction), she does a wonderful job creating loyalty and tenderness in her characters. As someone who skips sex scenes and rolls my eyes when there’s too much “attraction” build up in a story, I appreciated that she chose to skip it.

Looking for other great Kindle Unlimited Series? Check out our earlier write up on T.A. White  or  Amy A. Bartol.

Wondering why Kindle Unlimited?  Check out my post: 7 Reasons I read Kindle Unlimited

What do I want in a book?  Here’s 9 elements I enjoy.

For further discussion on reviews try our “Would you Rather…” post that asks writers to pick between two different kinds of negative reviews. Or try Do Critical Reviews hurt me as a Writer? Or consider “9 Things that Make a Book Good (For Me), or “7 Steps I take Before Writing a Bad Review.”

6 Reasons I Stopped Reading Daily Science Fiction

image from open clipart.org by j4p4n

Long time readers of the North Alabama Writers’ Group blog may know I started a monthly series called “The Best of Daily Science Fiction”. For this series, I read every story Daily Science Fiction published each month and featured the works I enjoyed.  I stopped the series after Feb even though I read all the stories through April.  I stopped posting the series because:

1. Creating a post with so many links and references was a hassle.  It takes a long time to write, edit, and find a photo for most posts.  What takes 20 minutes to write ends up taking an hour and a half to get set up for publication.  These Daily Science Fiction posts took FAR longer because I would research the authors of stories I featured and link to other works/sites where readers could find them.  The feedback I got wasn’t worth the time.  

2. I didn’t enjoy reading Daily Science Fiction.  It pains me to type this, but the truth is: most of the stories Daily Science Fiction aren’t fun, interesting, or unique.  And I want to like Daily Science Fiction, but I can’t. 

 3. Reading the stories there and trying to pick “good ones” was lowering my standards.  While I compiled stories for March’s post, I included anything that “was a story” even if I thought that story was cliche.  Reviewing the stories to post spiralled me into a depression.  Where were my standards?  Since when has “almost having a conclusion” good enough?  I would never accept something so sloppy in my work or in the work of my fellows.  Why was I recommending work that didn‘t inspire emotion or new thoughts?  To fill out a blog post, no I wouldn‘t do it.

4. Daily Science Fiction has a terrible website.  It‘s slow and often crashes.  This is annoying when one is trying to comb through it for cross links.  It’s also pretty frustrating when I would try to rate the stories only to have the site continually crash.  I suspected the site craps out intentionally if you‘re giving a low score to a story most people seem to like.  This conspiracy theory is probably not true, but it‘s hard to keep pleasant thoughts for a site that refused to load consistently.  It is a professional paid market, get some web support!  

5. I hate the layout of Daily Science Fiction’s website.  I would try to search for ALL the stories from authors I enjoyed or from authors I was “on the fence” to read more, and the search engine was super clunky.  Also Daily Science Fiction lets repeat published authors write very different bios for each story they submit so I often had to read through as many stories as possible, read the story AND the author bio again looking for hints.  They should just have a directory with the most up-to-date bio of each published author in alphabetical order and include links to any publications they‘ve ever had within Daily Science Fiction.  This is website networking 101.  If the goal of your publication is to offer short scifi work to readers and feature writers others might otherwise never read, make it easier for readers to find more from these writers!

6. The website is ugly.  This is petty and not worth mentioning when a site is easy to navigate, but Daily Science Fiction isn’t well laid out.  Being on a site that crashes often, takes a while to load, and doesn‘t search well, gives a person a long time to see how unpleasant the whole experience is.  The over all aesthetic quality matters a lot more.  Guess what, Daily Science Fiction isn‘t winning any awards in color scheme or intuitive navigation.  

Tell me about your experiences.  What turns you off to a website?  What do you look for in a flash or in recurring newsletters?  Do you read Daily Science fiction and if so, what’s your experience as a reader?  Have you published through Daily Science Fiction and what was that experience like?

7 Steps I take Before Posting a Bad Review

image from openclipart.org by johnny_automatic


1. Wait a few days.  Sometimes the initial rage a book gives me fades.  Cooler heads prevail and some stuff that made me angry was subjective and not a reason to slam a book. 


2. Reread the summary.  Did the summary match what I read?  Sometimes I expect things from a book it didn’t deliver.  Was that me or was it the summary that made my perceptions not line up with reality? 


3. Check the genre.  I am looking for fantasy reads, preferably Urban Fantasy for an adult audience.  I spend a lot of time settling for Young Adult, Paranormal Romance and so on.  Sometimes what I hated is a genre standard, and I try not to hate on a book because it’s a romance with fantasy elements and I wanted the reverse.  


4. Look at what else the author published.  A book catalog sometimes puts a book in perspective and allows me to be kinder.


5.  Read another book by that author.  Sometimes I need to live in that writer’s style for over one book before I relate to what he or she is doing.


6. Read other people’s reviews.  Did someone else enjoy something I missed?  Was this book just not meant for me?  Others perspectives can help. 


7. I focus on what I liked about the book.  What kept me reading?  If I finished the work there must be some redeemable qualities, what drove me forward and is that more powerful than what annoyed me?


Tell me about your process.  Do you refrain from commenting on bad work?  Do you dive into a bad review without pause?  Do you try to be balanced or lean in to your personal views?  Tell me anything related book reviews or what you love/hate in books.

 

Looking for more posts about the reviews process?  Check out my personal blog where I wonder: “Does writing a bad review hurt me as a writer?”  Or read more with the North Alabama Writers’ Group with “Would You Rather?” a question on which kind of negative feedback you’d prefer to see.

If you’re looking for positive reviews try my Kindle Unlimited series.  So far I recommend the Secondborn Series and the Dragon Ridden Series.  Let me know if you have other thoughts or suggestions.  And as always, feel free to check out my Goodreads profile to see all the good and bad reviews.