Upcoming Reviews: February 2020

Welcome to February 2020! This list was very delayed (I apologize) and not all of these books will have live tweet reviews. That said, you can expect a continuation of the Author Interview Series.

The February 2020 Books Are:

Trillium” By ML Holton (Full Review Coming Soon; Author Interview)

But I Am Here” by Pamela Bettencourt (Live Tweet Review Coming Soon; Full Review Coming Soon)

Worship Me” by Craig Stewart (Live Tweet Review Coming Soon; Full Review Coming Soon; Author Interview Coming Soon)

Wanting Peace” by Alaine Greyson (Live Tweet Review Coming Soon; Full Review Coming Soon)

The Schedule Moving Forward from today (14 February 2020):
Author Interviews will be posted on Fridays (with occasional skips)
Short Story Announcements every other Monday
Reviews on Wednesdays and on Fridays if there is not an Author Interview already scheduled until we are back on schedule.

Once we are back on schedule, I will to return to full reviews being posted on Wednesdays only.

If you are interested in submitting your book for future review, I am currently booked through end of July 2020 and am currently looking for books starting with August 2020. Check out the schedule of themed/open-themed months here. Due to this backlog, the calls on Twitter have been temporarily discontinued until further notice.

Requirements for submission:

  • Print Edition Must Be Available (preferably paperback)
  • Under $20 (USD) – I buy your book like everyone else!
  • Not Erotica or “The Serbian Film” Level Gore/Sex/Violence – for more details check here.

You can send me an e-mail with the subject line: Only a Hippopotamus Will Do (e-mails not including this subject will be ignored)

In this e-mail include:

  • a link to where I can purchase your book.
  • a brief introduction to yourself
  • a link to your Twitter and/or personal website (if applicable).

IF you are interested in sending me a copy of your book, please send me an e-mail with the subject line: The Buffalo Seem Fine to Me 

Author Interview Series 2020: Alyssa Marie Bethancourt

I first met Alyssa in 2011 while living in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. At the time I could not fathom the fantasy world living within her brain that I would read from the pages of MORNNOVIN 9 years later and it was not a primary topic of our conversation. Over first first few of those 9 years Alyssa’s life turned upside-down and inside-out as I watched an acquaintance go through what must have been one of the most difficult periods of her life. Like a phoenix, Alyssa rose up. In my opinion, she is living proof that the dream of publishing a book can come true even in the most difficult of circumstances with the support of a community and, most of all, if you believe in yourself.

You can visit Alyssa Bethancourt’s website here to keep up to date on her current projects and you can purchase your copy of MORNNOVIN here.

  1. What are a few of your favorite things? How did these influence your book?

“Elves, swords, trees, dogs, music, wordplay, water, and the freedom to be odd. I feel like, for the most part, my interest in these things is almost immediately evident to anyone who reads my writing. MORNNOVIN doesn’t have as many dogs in it as I would like, though. I could also say that indirectly, through the writing process, the book was shaped on a molecular level by my exposure (or lack of) to these things as the work progressed. And many scenes only came together because of the music I was listening to as I brought them to life.”

  1. Do you have any inside jokes with friends and/or family members that you like to sneak into your content?

“Eh, not really? There is exactly one inside joke in MORNNOVIN, but the only person who understood it has since made a dramatically terrible exit from my life. Perhaps a sign that I’d better write to please myself alone from now on. At the risk of sounding maudlin, writing is a solitary endeavor and I’ve always done it in spite of the people around me, (especially family,) not with or for them. I do have some support now in the form of a writing critique group and a wonderful spouse who is my biggest fan, but that’s a very recent development.” 

  1. What do you find is the hardest part of the writing process?

“To quote writer Dorothy Parker, “I hate writing. I love having written.” 

This probably sounds boring, but the hardest part of the writing process is literally just figuring out and writing down what happens. I mean, broad strokes are fine, but then you have to sit in front of the blank page and answer the question of how to show that taking place, scene after scene, for an entire novel. Elf princess saves the world from certain doom, but like, how? Where? What does she do? What are the scenes you have to write? She has to get from here to there, but how much of that do you talk about? Do you talk about the actual steps? (No, obviously not.) How much do you describe? How much do you cut away from because it’s unnecessary? Just thinking about this is giving me Book Three stress. lol”

  1. How long did it take you to write this book from the first idea to publication date?

“There are two answers to this question.

The short answer is that I scribbled down the first exploratory scenes sometime mid-2008, and I wrote the very last scene of the final chapter on December 16th, 2014. So 6-and-a half-ish years to write, then I took some time off before editing, edited for a year, queried for a while, and finally published last year in 2019. Eleven years. Damn.

The longer answer is that I started writing the very first stories about Loríen when I was ten years old, back in 1989. It didn’t take long for those stories to become a novel; I think I finished the very first version of proto-MORNNOVIN (it had a different name back then, but the broad strokes were the same) within a year or so. It was awful, naturally. On top of that, I lost my only copy. I’d rewritten it completely by the time I was sixteen. That version, too, was embarrassing, but by that point I was deeply committed to these characters and their struggles. I rewrote it again in my early twenties. That draft sat in a chest in my house for more than a decade until I gave it one final chance to be the sweeping epic I knew it could be, when I started working on the now-published rewrite in 2008. So… from first inception in 1989 to publication in 2019? That’s thirty years. I don’t know if that’s a wow or a yikes.”

  1. What advice do you have to other new authors?

“Oh, I think other people have already said just about everything that’s worth listening to on the subject of writing. I doubt I have anything to add other than listen to those guys, then do your own thing. But above all, you can’t be a writer if you don’t write, so write. On the subject of publishing? Like, being an author? Shit, I still don’t know anything there. The only advice I can really offer is to find your own path and try not to let the fear paralyze you.”

  1. Who do you think the biggest unexpected allies in writing a book are?

“All of the authors of all of the stories you’ve ever read in your life – and I include fanfiction authors in this. You can attend all the creative writing courses in the world, but until you’ve really absorbed a broad spectrum of what other storytellers have tried out in the wild, you can’t internalize the reality of what works and what doesn’t. And you should always be reading more, always trying to learn something new either about writing, or about people and the world, or about who you are as a writer/reader. Authors who say they never read are not to be trusted and certainly not to be taken seriously. There’s no reason to pretend you’re inventing the craft when every storyteller from the beginning of time is out there ready to be your guide through the darkness.”

  1. Who do you think the biggest unexpected enemies in writing a book are?

“That’s easy: 1. yourself, and 2. everyone else.”

  1. What was your biggest inspiration?

“Without question, J.R.R. Tolkien. I wanted to write my own fantasy stories from the very first time my mom read THE HOBBIT aloud to me, when I was a toddler.”

  1. If you could send a letter back in time to yourself when you were first starting to write this book, what would it say?

“Hm. I may be a fantasy author, but I’m also a sci-fi reader. I know better than to try to affect the timeline. The most I could safely say to Past Me would be something generic like, “Believe in your words and don’t give up,” because it’s been a hell of a rocky road getting here.”

  1. Why do you write? (Optional)

“Because I have to. Sharks have to keep swimming, and writers have to keep writing. 

Honestly? I just can’t imagine not writing. There have been several points in my life where I’ve melodramatically declared that I’m never writing again, and it never sticks. I could just as easily declare that I’m not going to eat anymore, or breathe, or have red blood cells. I don’t get to decide any of that. I’m a writer, and that’s just how it is. I write because I need to.”

January 2020: "Emma's Fury: The Last Winter" By Linda Rainier

Summary (Warning: Mild Spoilers):

In a modern world under the rule of Greek Gods, the Fury are the judges, jury, and executioners of justice for supernatural crimes in order to bring balance to the earth. The Fury, protected by their Gyges, follow orders passed down from the Mothers. Except, the Fury are dwindling – as their numbers decrease questions begin to arise, especially when one of those murdered is a Mother.

Emma and her Gyges, David, become caught up in a bizarre and terrifying mystery involving vampires, werewolves, fae, secret identities, Titan cults, and a plan that could end the world. In order to save each other and the power structures preventing the collapse of the unseen modern world, they must face their trauma, their emotions, and worst of all, the truth.

When every character has something to hide, come along on a dark supernatural adventure as we hope Emma and David can find a way to save the world.

Overall Response:

“Emma’s Fury: The Last Winter” is one of those books that captivated me from the first chapter. The descriptions engulf the reader in the scene, and the hand to hand combat scenes are some of the best I have ever read. If I was a better artist these fight scenes could so easily translate to a comic book format in the best possible way. For those that enjoy fiery scenes between villains that are the most extreme form of frenemy with benefits with each other with the added tension of knowing how wrong everything happening is – this is definitely the book for you.

Rainier succeeded in doing two things that made the book so much fun to read. First, She succeeded in keeping the reader a step ahead of the characters as they tried to solve a mystery while still providing plenty of twists and turns that took a reader off guard. Second, her characters have moods that change in very human-like ways corresponding to exhaustion levels and internal states. Moods are often missed by authors for the sake of consistency, and I do understand that it is difficult to balance a character’s voice with dynamic moods, but these characters have unique voices. Well developed characters are essential and I love it.

I often find myself identifying with Emma on a very personal level throughout the book and this is unusual for me as a reader, particularly with such an emotional character. I find myself wanting to do psychological analysis on many of the characters in similar ways that I have seen readers attempt to diagnose characters with a variety of disorders as outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – Fifth Edition. In order for the characters to be at the level a reader could do that an author has taken the time to truly develop each individual personality. I am not an expert on this and hope that someone who is will read this book because this is brilliant.

For those that enjoy what I will call, with the utmost love and respect intended, “Greek Mythology Lite” with a variety of supernatural lore thrown in this is a fantastic read. There were times I couldn’t put it down and in the end I was so excited that this is book one of a series because it means the story isn’t over. I cannot wait to dive back into Emma’s adventures and see where the aftermath of this book takes these characters as we continue to explore the modern underworld.

LGBTQA?

There are some hints and references to a variety of types of relationships that are inclusive, though as part of the story romance is very specifically excluded. This does not impact my recommendation that anyone interested in modern dark fantasy should read this book.

Grammar

There were a few minimal concerns that I brought up directly in an email to the author. These did not interrupt the reading experience.

Twilight Zone

Every book has at least one. In this case, I think it may have been me – “Emma pauses briefly as she becomes keenly aware of a distant yet familiar presence. It is akin to a fragrance that is unrecognizable as it dances along her skin.” This sentence really confused me, but at the same time I imagined a cartoon cat going into an extremely alarmed posture with electricity. I’m not sure how to interpret it and maybe it’s too trippy of a synesthetic experience for me to fully grasp.

Want to learn more about the Author?

You can buy the book here. I had the pleasure of interviewing Linda Rainier as the first installment of my 2020 Author Interview series. Please take a moment to read her responses to my questions on her writing process. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Author Interview Series 2020: Linda Rainier

I had the pleasure of meeting with Linda Rainier in December 2019 while visiting the Boston area. As my first time interviewing an author I was nervous. I have set questions for all authors to be interviewed for 2020 and I decided to experiment with one in person interview.

We met in a bustling cafe in Burlington MA where I had the enjoyment of sharing the company of a quick witted, funny, and one of the most genuinely kind hearted people I have ever met. While we began the conversation as strangers, I quickly felt at ease and by the end I wished this author was my friend. I did this interview before having ever read the book (“Emma’s Fury: The Last Winter”), and she did a great job not spoiling anything. It is with gratitude for this experience that I share the following interview.

Author Interview Questions

1.         What are a few of your favorite things? How did these influence Emma’s Fury?

“I have always enjoyed reading and the art of story-telling.  There is something truly pleasurable when you can become completely immersed in a story and a new world.  I’m also a huge fan of history and mythology.  There are a lot of elements of world mythology in Emma’s Fury.  There seems to be a commonality that connects people from all over the world through mythology and shared human experiences.  Although many of the characters are from different time periods and cultures they share a common bond through their humanity.”

2.         Do you have any inside jokes with friends and/or family members that you like to sneak into your content?

“Not necessarily inside jokes but I pulled aspects of their personalities for some of the characters.  David is a mixture of two people in my life while Mei Li and Tatiana represent two sides of other person’s personality.”

3.         What do you find is the hardest part of the writing process?

“I had no idea what to expect when I started the process.  I think the largest hurdles have been the logistics of self publishing such as meeting requirements for uploading the book in each format, purchasing formats and copyright laws.  Marketing has been a full-time commitment for the last year.  I’m a fairly shy person so I’ve had to move outside of my comfort zone for my dream.”

We went on to discuss more intricate details of the writing process and how this plays out.

“I need to be able to see the whole story from start to finish”

“I get an inspirational seam – I string this together in a cohesive flow of events and create an outline.” This outline that Rainier mentions, is critical. Outlines provide the ability to review segments of the story and look at cause and effect as well as how each part reaches a resolution. It also helps her find plot holes.

But she also shared that this is process has to be flexible. Scenes change and this will result in changes throughout the rest of the book and, as an example, the second and third books in her series were originally one book.

Another part of the process is thinking about the experience of the book from the perspective of the reader. This includes the structure of chapters and the amount of detail that is left after editing.

Chapters are handled by finding and creating natural breaks and pacing to keep a reader interested, but not overwhelmed. When I asked Rainier for recommendations on length, she mentioned that 3,000 – 3,500 words is a good chapter length.

In regards to the details left in a story, it’s reasonable to leave a lot up to a reader’s imagination. Reader’s need the experience of creating their own version of characters and setting and the details left, such as a chair, need to be in the room because someone is going to use them.

4.         How long did it take you to write Emma’s Fury from the first idea to publication date?

“I guess I had the basic idea rattling around for ten years or so, but I couldn’t figure out how to connect all the pieces. One day I was researching Greek mythology and came across the Erinyes and was intrigued.  Once I had an answer to those questions it took about a year and a half, almost two years to actually write the book.”

5.         What advice do you have to new authors?

“As cliché as it may sound– write the story that you want to read.  If you love the book then chances are someone else will too.  Also try not to be scared off by the prospect of negative reviews.  At the end of the day some people will love your work, some will be neutral to it and others will hate it.  Even bestsellers will have one star reviews but just remember that if one person enjoys your story then you have succeeded.”

I asked for Rainier to elaborate a bit more on her advice and we did break it down a bit more.

I sensed a bit of a disgruntled sigh as we talked about how she sees new authors wanting to be on Best Sellers lists. “A lot depends on an author’s ultimate goal, so new authors should ask themselves, ‘what do you consider success?’

Do you want people to read the book and enjoy it in the same way that you have read other peoples’ books and enjoyed them?

And in the end that is the goal – to create a book that someone would want to read because at the end of the day the reader’s money is as valuable as your money and you want to give them a product that you’re proud of.

But how does one do that? Rainier has some advice:

Be honest with yourself about the story you want to tell. This means being okay with a story that you want to write, that your parents may not want to read. Write your story regardless of what you think other people are going to say, and don’t rush the process because a reader can always tell.

Part of not rushing is incrementally growing your characters and bringing them along in the story. Remembering that the characters and the reader are on the same ride. That said, it’s important to slowly pull readers in and get them comfortable, then you traumatize them. We discussed examples of where this didn’t happen and it meant we discontinued reading the books entirely. The example I brought up was Terry Goodkind’s “Stone of Tears” (second book in the Sword of Truth series) in which he kills the character Sister Margaret in such a way that I ended up putting down the series and never finishing reading it. I’ve heard it’s good, but that particular interaction where a new character was killed off at the beginning of a book in a brutal way made me never finish reading the entire series.

But what about publishing?

Decide early on if you plan to self publish because it’s a lot of work. Learn about the process and start thinking about the image and marketing of the book as soon as possible, then start building the book’s image while you’re still writing it. It helps to do everything a little bit at a time. This includes learning about the process of picking ISBN numbers.

Linda Rainier went through Ingram Spark after querying over 45 agents. Most often she received no response instead of a rejection letter. She purchased her ISBN through Bowker, which allowed for her to have the ISBN direct through Library of Congress (US). Part of why Rainier chose Ingram Spark over Amazon was due to Amazon’s partial ownership of the ISBN.

6.         Who do you think the biggest unexpected allies in writing a book are?

“Twitter has been surprisingly supportive.  When I created my author account I didn’t have a lot of experience with the platform and honestly didn’t know if anything would come of it.  But really the Twitter platform is a great group of authors helping and encouraging others.”

7.         Who do you think the biggest unexpected enemies in writing a book are?

“There was a need to fight to maintain my vision for the story against pressure/suggestions from others around me. Also some social media platforms can be toxic under the guise of fostering grown within an author and they just don’t.”

8.         What was your biggest inspiration?

“There are so many but if I had to narrow it down it would be Shakespearian tragedies and Japanese Anime.  I love how they tap into some visceral human emotions.  Both are exceptional mediums for story-telling.”

9.         If you could send a letter back in time to yourself when you were first starting to write Emma’s Fury, what would it say?

“Don’t be afraid.  This process will only make you stronger and believe in the story you have to tell.  Also start researching ISBNs as soon as you can.”

10.      Why do you write? (Optional)

“Writing is a way for me to have a shared experience with others.  It is also a way to process my own emotions and to have my own voice.”

We ended up spending a lot of time discussing this particular question and there were some gems that almost sent tea out my nose and there were other moments so pure I wish I could encapsulate it as motivation.

“I don’t write to upset anyone or to be the next J.K. Rowling,” Rainier shared. “It is a way for me to connect with other people.”

“Reading has given me so much joy. It is a way for me to give that experience to other people and to have that connection with imagination.”

She also discussed the therapeutic benefits, such as when there are times in life that need an outlet. “It gives me a way to emotionally get out all of these emotions that I have.”

“Right when I was about to finish the book my mom died. Working on scenes later, I had to tap into these emotions of missing and longing to see my mom. It’s not saying that I had to experience everything that a character experiences, but it gives me a chance to experience and adjust to the trauma. It allows for processing. If it is at all therapeutic to me it is therapeutic to someone else. You allow yourself to process and heal by writing. It depends on the person. Some people just like to tell stories. When I was younger I used to just love telling story.”

If you haven’t already checked out my review of Emma’s Fury: The Last Winter, please take a moment to do so. I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to meet this amazing author and cannot wait to read the next installment of her series.

January 2020: "Guided By The Ghosts" by Sean Haughton

Plot Summary (Caution: Spoilers!)

George Stevenson is a ten-year-old boy like many others. He likes football (translation for Americans: Soccer) and Star Wars like every other kid his age, but he doesn’t have friends and has trouble connecting. Let’s be honest, the situation is worse than his parents know, and the way other children and the school have responded has not helped. George is miserable and isolated.
Then something extraordinary happens. George looks out his window late at night to see two ghosts the same age as him. These two ghosts also struggled in life, and in death, they learned a few things they can now pass along. Now, in one incredible philosophical and therapeutic journey, George has a chance to alter the trajectory of his life for the better.

My Overall Response:

Sean Haughton takes readers through this wholesome, heartwarming tale that takes advantage of parallel comparison and realistic dialogue that sounds like a precocious ten-year-old to show how the experiences George has changed his character for the better. The philosophical and therapeutic lessons provide benefit to a reader. Additional ambitious details add unique discussion points of historical and current relevance in the United Kingdom without allowing them to overpower the story.

The philosophical and therapeutic lessons I appreciated most in this story are:

Skepticism can be removed from Negativity. Be willing to question everything.

Spiritual awakening can be found in your own back yard – don’t automatically reject western philosophies.

Feel your emotions. They’re there. Accept them and give them space to exist.

The most ambitious details of the book were the memories of the ghosts. I believe that these allowed for some series of topics of discussion to be brought up. These details round the ghosts out and make them much more human and realistic. These details also immediately imply additional information about the ghosts’ lived experiences.

I appreciated the references to the religious tensions of the 1990s in the UK because it is so relevant to current affairs, albeit indirectly. For those interested in reading more, I recommend the extensive body of research on the “secularization of Britain” and a variety of factors (e.g., economy, education, immigration, Cold War, the rise of the European Union). I admit I am somewhat tortured that the author only barely touched on this, but at the same time, it meant that I spent an entire afternoon reading old research papers and educating myself. I can’t say I’m disappointed, and honestly, I think the amount of information provided is much more appropriate to a younger audience.

Overall, I love this delightfully wholesome story about a little boy from a loving home that needs some help learning how to process and deal with the outside world. I love that the ghosts aren’t evil, and if you’re looking for that kind of book, look somewhere else.

LGBTQA Friendly?

George is ten. It’s not unfriendly toward LGBTQA members of the population, and the internal struggles George’s character faces are shared by any “out-group” or individual that feels isolated. While LGBTQA presence is not directly mentioned, I think the topics in the book are valuable (given my personal experience).

Grammar:

Update: I have spoken with the author and these have since been corrected for future editions of the book.

For future editions, there are two consistent issues that do need to be addressed.

  1. The dialogue often has additional unnecessary punctuation marks. Example (pg. 27) “‘We can’t remember our names.”, the girl interjected.”  This is an easy fix because it’s consistently present.
  2. The word “corporeal” is used where I believe the author may have meant the word “incorporeal.” Example (pg. 62) “He felt like throwing up, but once again felt corporeal, as though his physical body no longer existed.” It’s a consistent issue through the book, so it should be easy to go back and address.

While there are other grammatical or punctuation issues that may be present, I will not address them here because they do not interrupt the reading experience.

Twilight Zone Moment:

Every book has at least one. The issue I am stuck on is how the ghosts can remember the names of other people but not their own names. This makes it a bit confusing as to why they remember specific details as opposed to others.

Want to know more about the author?
You can buy Guided by the Ghosts here. To read more about Sean Haughton you can visit his blog here, Twitter here, or Instagram here. You can view his other books here.