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

Best of “Kindle Unlimited” T. A. White “Dragon Ridden Chronicles”



Cover from goodreads.com

 

I am always skeptical when I pick up a book.  There are too many deceiving summaries and too many bad books with high reviews.  To make matters worse, I’m someone who has to finish a book once it’s started.  Because there are so many unpleasant tropes in high fantasy, the books are often long and lack resolution.  I HAVE to see things to the end, so I avoid reading them, even though I like fantasy.  

Despite all my hesitation, Dragon Ridden drew me in and left me charmed.  The first book is a perfect story.  Tate is loud, sassy, and smart.  I love following her around.  Her best traits: intelligence and suspicion are also the traits that get her most in trouble.  She’s inquisitive, loyal, and never gives up.

The world T. A. White depicts is familiar but different.  In many aspects, it reminds me of a scifi/fantasy crossover like Anne McCaffrey‘s Dragonriders of Pern.  Humans exist, but it divorces them from the history and geography of our world.  Also, there are other species we associate as “magical” that these works frame as science born.  Ancient lost technology and knowledge pepper the Dragon Ridden series and speaks to the inner seeker in all readers.

Can I gush “girl power” for a moment and just say how amazing it feels to read a strong female lead who doesn’t ooze femininity?  Tate is what I’d consider a “brawler” type character.  She lets her mouth run away with her and finds herself in fights.  Tate can’t take two steps without finding herself in some kind of trouble.  I love there is no moment where we have to hear about how Tate is “not ladylike” or where she’s “not like other women”.  The others tease her for what a trouble magnet she is, but that’s who she is not what her gender prescribes.

I love she never uses her “feminine wiles” to get information, sneak into places, or gain allies.  I love she never looks at a dive bar and thinks “I have to be careful cause I’m a girl and men are drunk and rape-y in there”.  I love she expects equal treatment from captains, kings, negotiating delegations, and barkeeps and they treat her the same as her male compatriots.  And all this happens without us ever enduring a scene about Tate being “unusual” for a woman “more level headed” or whatever that sets her apart and lets her be one of the guys.  T. A. White just writes her in as an equal and lets us enjoy that without feeling compelled to justify it.

To be fair, there are few other female characters surrounding Tate.  Their lack implies something “special” about Tate (at least in the human side other races have powerful female players).  But it’s so refreshing that no male character addresses how “improper” Tate is that I don’t care if other human women are more “traditional”.  The closest anyone comes to telling Tate to “fem it up” is when she’s going to formal events, they shove her in a dress.  Truthfully, I could do without the “women clothes are uncomfortable and restrictive” bit but when that’s the most bullshit your character gets for being a woman in what seems like a male dominated world, I’m in.  Aspiring writers, do you want to know what you do when you’re writing a female character in a man’s world?  Do this, don’t address it, act like her presence is normal and accepted.  Don’t make her some special snowflake we have to keep addressing in the narrative, just make everyone accept her without blinking.

Beyond world building and character building, the plot pacing in these stories is perfect.  There are not parts in any of these books I skimmed, looking to pull through to something interesting.  Everything T. A. White includes feels important to the narrative and engaging to the reader.  She often has multiple mysteries and sub plots going on in a single story and she adds red herrings along with peppering character development in across the books. I read during my breaks at work, and this series became difficult to read during those times because I wanted to sit in the break room and keep reading.  It was one of those books I’d take home and read instead of coming home and writing as I’d planned.  

Even better than perfect pacing, each book comes to a conclusive ending.  While I tore through the series, it is because I wanted more delightful writing.  I couldn’t get enough of what T. A. White was doing, not because I NEEDED to know the ending.  For the record, the third book in the Dragon Ridden Chronicles has such a conclusive ending, I had to go online to see if there are plans for a fourth book.  Amazing news: T. A. White plans to write a 4th book!  

Take Aways from T. A. White’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. Sprinkle in world and character building across the series.  I need not know everything all at once.

3. Give characters nicknames if they are catchy and encapsulate an element of the character.  This is the one series where giving the same character multiple names didn’t confuse me, and it worked because we all call the character one name and that nickname is based on their attributes.

4. Mix fantasy and scifi elements together.  Tech and magic are not exclusive.  

5. 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.

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

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: Amy A. Bartol “Secondborn Series”

    

Cover Art from Goodreads

Along my reading, I picked up Amy A. Bartol’s Secondborn.  Even as someone who thrives on the drama of a YA post apocalypse world, I didn’t expect to like this book.  I’d just been burned by the likes of Death Thieves and The Hundredth Queen.  All three YA books trying to take advantage of my love of The Hunger Games and all three of books have 4 star reviews in Amazon and Goodreads.  When will these writers get that what made Hunger Games amazing wasn’t just the kids fighting in the arena?  So, curious despite myself, I picked up Secondborn expecting it to either disappoint or be a guilty pleasure.

Instead  Secondborn and it’s sequel Traitor Born were a joy read and touch on larger conversations we need to have in today’s world. Bartol focuses on the heart of what’s great in post apocalypse YA: the transformation of the main character and their perception of the world around them.  First, I appreciated Roselle as a savvy character who avoids the “ignorant for the sake of exposition” trope.  From the beginning, Roselle shows she is a smart character aware of differing undercurrents even if she’s not sure of how deep those waters flow.  Her thoughts and feelings change as she has new experiences and uncovers more schemes in the world around her.

Through Roselle the reader learns to empathize with many perspectives.  By the time I finished the second book, Traitor Born, I was no longer sure there was a “good side” or “bad side”.  It’s a rare risk for a writer to twist the bad characters into ones we might understand and to muddy the water so we despite the good characters.  I read plenty ambiguous characters or where one “side” transforms into not the villain/not the hero, but leaving a reader with no character to trust or side with is bold and exciting.  Even as I can’t “support” or “root” for any one outcome, I empathize with them.  I want relief for these characters, but it’s not to accomplish their goals.

Amid this shifting terrain, Roselle sinks, struggling with PTSD, and a series of complicated interpersonal relationships.  Her flashbacks, the way she falls to pieces in key moments and rises in others, and how she struggles with drugs feels authentic and relevant.  I thought I’d decided about who I wanted with Roselle as allies or friends, who Roselle should work with and who she should keep at arm’s length, but Traitorborn makes me question the decisions I made.  There’re dangerous edges on everyone and redeeming qualities.  I resented my favorite ally from the last book, forgot how evil/distasteful another character was because he has these moments of genuine connection, and I thought someone who was once a snake in the grass might become a true ally.

And I haven’t even gotten to the science fiction.  Unlike The Giver or The Hunger Games, that keep technology vague and only available to isolated pockets of society, Secondborn distributes the technology to everyone.  The gadgets themselves aren’t innovative, chips in webbing or right hands to track and grant access, hover vehicles and airships, robots who are servants/guards/trackers/medics, and a weapon that seems a cross between a light sabre and a plasma gun.  All ideas I’ve seen before right?  Bartol re-images these ideas to give a fresh unique society.  The world and the devices of it feel lived in and true.  Beyond the existing tech, Bartol continues to introduce upgrades and improvements to her tech.  It starts in one spot with these flaws and then a patch comes out.  The upgrades make her world feel more real and provide new challenges for her characters to overcome.

I’m glad I read the first two books (even if both endings are cliffhangers) and am looking forward to the third installment.  If you like a future society where teens and young adults have to fight for their lives, you will enjoy this series.  While a simple premise, the layers of nuance make it enjoyable and thought provoking to many age groups.

Take Aways From Bartol’s Success:

1. Don’t be afraid to market an idea another book/work made famous just BRING VALUE, don’t expect other’s success to sell a sub par work

2. Have complicated dynamic characters and don’t limit quantity.  Readers can keep up with you as long at each character has a personality-and embrace the baggage being in traumatic situations leaves these characters.  Let them have flashbacks, PTSD, aggressive or tearful reactions to simple daily events.

3. Don’t shy away from near future tech in your science fiction.  Embrace the evolution of these systems to make them feel real and dynamic within your world.

4. Female leads can be emotional and strong/combat oriented.  Roselle is a great balance of action/battle training and intelligent emotional thinking.

5. Have a kick-ass looking personal website.  Just look at Bartol’s website, the graphics and layout make me want to read her work more than her covers!  She’s inviting her readers’ imagination to tackle fan fiction for her characters, and through their fannish excitement, spread her work to new audiences.

Looking for more to read? Check out the next in this series: T. A. White’s “Dragon Ridden Series”  or Sara C. Roethle’s “Tree of Ages”

Wondering why Kindle Unlimited? Here’s 7 reasons I read this way.

Looking for more conversation on reviews? Try “Would you Rather…” or “Does Being Critical in 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.”