Tag: reviews

A Review of TRUTH

My small publishers always want MORE people to read and review their titles. They also offer the opportunity for their authors to read any book for free in exchange for an honest review. By now, they know my truthful reviews aren’t generally worth five stars.

I volunteered to read an advance copy of TRUTH by Avery Woods because the blurb was appealing.

A few weeks before the release, the author emailed me to thank me for promising to review the book. I emailed her back to say that the review would be for three stars and that I would wait to post it if she wanted.

She told me to post it right away. I loved her confidence, and I think you’ll find that as you read her story.

The Blurb

Sometimes you shouldn’t ask questions you aren’t prepared to hear the answers to…

Cori Winters life seems to be going according to the plan. While completing her PhD in Chemistry, Cori is offered a Research Fellowship, by one of the most accomplished Chemists in the Country. In addition, Cori has finally agreed to marry her long term boyfriend, Erik.

Abandoned at a young age, Cori has been told growing up that her biological mother has been MIA due to a severe illness. After a visit with her father, Cori discovers her dad sending a large amount of cash to an unknown woman. Cori decides to take matters into her own hands where she finally seek answers regarding her mother. However, sometimes secrets are better kept hidden…

After a childhood incident ruined any shot of Jesse having a relationship with his parents, he is finally glad to be living on his own, where he isn’t constantly reminded of what happened. That is, until his seventeen-year old step sister, Bethany, confides in him that she’s pregnant. Jesse vows to help Bethany, but what is the right choice to make when she wants to keep her pregnancy a secret? The truth is bound to come out….

Cori and Jesse grow closer, when Cori’s fiancée attends a wedding in Italy. Cori and Jesse relate to one another, when each confides secrets of their own. However, when each reveal their secrets, will the other be able to handle the truth?

My Review

Cori and Jesse didn’t engage me. I didn’t buy their motivations.

This is a common complaint for me in romance novels. Many authors believe they’re telling the story of the romance, but if I don’t connect with the desires of the characters, the story–no  matter how incredible–falls flat.

Much of this was the story of Cori discovering she didn’t truly love the man she was with and that she wanted to find out the truth about her mother, who she assumed was dead. I will give Kudos to Ms. Woods for adding a twist to the “true heritage” for Cori. It wasn’t your average, “mom died when I was young” or “given up for adoption” background.

Jesse’s story with his sister didn’t compel me in the least. Yes, it’s a common issue and the author handled it gracefully. But I felt like the events were relayed to the reader. How did Jesse feel? Why did he feel that way? What made him bond with Bethany so much?

And when we discovered Jesse’s wound, the opportunity for deep connection with him had already been lost. A powerful backstory didn’t engage me because Jesse never felt anything. Or I should say I was never invited to experience anything along with him.

The actual romance between these two felt rushed. My favorite romances are friends who become lovers, and that’s one of the reasons I picked this book up to read. But even their friendship developing happened before the story began and I was expected to believe they were friends when all I really saw was Jesse’s crush and Cori’s distance (because her boyfriend was the jealous sort).

The story earns three out of five stars from me.

My Recommendation

Romance readers will likely enjoy this story. I expected more character development based on the blurb and then I didn’t truly connect with the characters.

Readers who like the slow reveal of an unexpected secret might find more here than they bargained for. While the story and characters didn’t engage me, it wasn’t because of poor writing.

You can grab a copy of this book from the publisher, Amazon, Amazon UK, B & N, Bookstrand, Kobo and Smashwords. Ms. Woods would appreciate if you would leave your own review at the retailer of purchase and Goodreads.

Three Reasons I Avoid Writing Book Reviews

I read tons of books. And I enjoy reading them. Even if I don’t end up liking the book all that much, reading has the potential to make me a better writer of stories.
And even though I track all my books on Goodreads, I’ve stopped writing reviews for many of the books I read. At times, I don’t even give them a rating.
And, no, this isn’t just because I didn’t finish them. I don’t even add those ones to my “READ” shelf. I have a special shelf for them: “Abandoned.” And it used to be a lonely place, but not so much any more.
If you don’t finish a book, you have no business reviewing it. Or giving it a rating. I’m sorry, folks, but you shouldn’t even say why you couldn’t get through it.
Reviews are for finishers. Why? Because the story could have turned around. Maybe it was a slow starter. Plenty of books that went on to become blockbuster movies were a drag to begin reading. Nope, I’m not naming names here, but I’m sure you know who you are *winks*
Many of the books I read are advance copies meant for the sole purpose of garnering a review on release day. And sometimes I’ll bet the authors who asked this “favor” from me wish they wouldn’t have.
Because if you’ve read my reviews, you know I can be harsh. Some people have commented that my four-star reviews sound like they’re for two-star books.

I’m honest with my criticism.

I’ll be the first to announce that reading preference is all subjective. A reader’s idea of what makes a book wonderful is also subjective…to the criteria their enjoyment is based upon.

My criteria are few:

  1. A well-structured story (that isn’t predictable)
  2. Characters I can relate to and root for
  3. An obvious story problem with a clear resolution
  4. A dynamic main character (meaning this person CHANGES over the course of the story)

Sure, if you can make me laugh AND cry, you’ll get bonus points, but that won’t keep me from overlooking a lack of any of the above items.

In recent months, the number of books I’ve finished reading but haven’t written reviews for has increased. Here are the reasons for that:

ONE: SOMETHING IN THE STORY AWOKE MY BIASES

Yes, I just admitted I have biases. I’m sorry folks, but everyone does. Even if you consider yourself the most accepting and non-judgmental person on the planet, you have biases.
It’s impossible not to form them. If you disagree with this, let’s have a reasonable discussion about it in the comment section. (But don’t be surprised if I call out your biases when they appear in your commentary…because they will.)
For example, a recent book by an author whose stories I adore didn’t earn a review from me. The story line endorsed something that I am opposed to.
However, her writing was fine. The story met the other qualifications for being great. But I knew I wouldn’t be able to write an honest review without mentioning this thing that burrowed under my skin like a ravenous scarab.
So, I rated the book but didn’t write a review.
And I didn’t mention the reason anywhere.
In fact, I’m still not really telling anyone which book it was or what the THING was.

TWO: THE AUTHOR IS MY FRIEND

Okay, this is a tough one to admit. I’d love to say that I’m only friends with authors whose work I love and adore.
Alas, no.
Sometimes they are writing too far on the edge and I can’t buy into their fantasy world. They haven’t done the work to make me suspend my disbelief.
If I truly dislike the story or find the writing subpar, I might not even give a rating to the book.
In either case, I always contact the author directly if I’m giving anything less than four stars to their book. Because…I don’t want my “negative” review to affect their sales.
I’m an author, too. I might have been a reader first, but the business part of me understands that my opinion could sway people. And they might have enjoyed the story.
Who am I to keep people from reading something they might enjoy? Especially if the fact they bought it would help a friend of mine further their writing dream?
But…I’m not going to fib either. I’m not going to claim something is amazing when I growled about it.

THREE: THERE’S NOTHING REMARKABLE TO SAY

This is the one that I’ve decided is most prevalent for me (even though I’ve listed it third). Sometimes, I really like the book. It made me smile, laugh or tear up.

But when I finish, there’s nothing that stands out about it.

You can be sure it won’t get FIVE STARS in this case. But if I’m feeling warm and fuzzy, I’ll probably give it four stars. After all, all that means is that “I liked it” (on Amazon) and “I really liked it” (on Goodreads).
But if there’s nothing to SAY, why would I write a review?
If I give it a rating but not a review, you can most likely put it in this category. Unless the rating is three stars or less. And I really try NOT to give anything less than three stars.
Do you write book reviews? If not, why not? If so, what are your criteria?

Putting Yourself Out There

One of the hardest things about being an author is putting myself out there. It goes against every self-protective gene in my body. Not to mention coughing up a big loogey on my mother’s manners curriculum.

Today, I’m over on a fellow author’s blog. She’s someone I admire. I have fan-girled over her books on this blog.

I love the colors of this cover
I love the colors of this cover

Because of that, she’s asked me to read the next book in her young adult science fiction series and it’s a pulse-pounder. I’ve also been privy to a book she’s begun marketing that’s written for adults.

I’m happy to give her partial credit for my acceptance in the anthology she’s helping me promote today. She read the first chapter and shredded it.

When I sent her the rewritten scene, she praised it. Talk about making a writer feel pretty good.

“An amazing author in this genre thinks this is great.” *dancing around the room*

But I’m getting off the topic. There’s two ways that putting myself out there is most difficult.

Putting Stories from my Heart in Harm’s Way

Some of the stories I write are turned out in days for a specific reason. Although there is an element of “me” in them, my heart isn’t fully vested.

A novel that has taken months to write, rewrite, revise and edit? There’s a huge investment of my heart, soul and mind on those pages.

And then the agent rejects them.

The publisher criticizes the story line.

Readers rip on the characters in a review.

Or worse…people read it and then *crickets*

And I don’t want to ask, “What did you think of my book?”

Because if they aren’t bubbling over about it, the words that will answer that inquiry will wound me. Even if they’re spoken kindly.

Bragging about my Books so People Buy Them

Isn't she lovely? And on sale until the end of the year.
Isn’t she lovely? And on sale until the end of the year.

Okay, I don’t think I really ever brag about my books.

But I do post links on social media so people can buy them. I run ads. I carry boxes in my car.

I’m eager to make a sale.

And not for the money.

But so I can return to the position mentioned under number one. Because I want my story to burrow into the hearts and minds of readers.

If I had a dozen real fans (meaning they aren’t related to me and probably have never met me in person), I would hyperventilate. A dozen?

That’s how pathetic I am. Because all the big indie book marketers know you need 1000 readers to have a “successful” book.

And your inner circle of dedicated fans should be at least 100 so they will make your next book release amazing. After all, hitting high rankings on Amazon is what it’s all about, right?

Wrong.

And that’s why putting myself out there still feels like walking naked on the stage at high school graduation (not that I KNOW how that feels).

Cold. Embarrassing. Terrifying.

So, if you can give Jennifer a little love today by clicking through and leaving a comment on her blog, that would be like dropping a robe over my shoulders.

If you shared this post with your group of friends on Facebook or Google, this writer couldn’t get more fully clothed.

Have you ever put yourself out there? What was hardest about it?

If this post appealed to you, you might like Hero Delivery. It’s a bulletin with deals and specials from Sharon Hughson. It can be on the way to your inbox in a few clicks.
Check out Finding Focus and my other books. You’re sure to find something worth reading.
Already read one of more? Please leave an honest review on your favorite site. That’s like the author discovering a gold nugget in the bottom of her washing machine.

	

Captain America: Is it all about the Bromance?

Opinion_Cover

Captain America is the ultimate super hero. I’ve said this before. In detail (you can read about it here).

That’s why I was a little offended when some people claimed Cap was dumping on the world in order to save Bucky.

It was bad enough when they claimed Cap didn’t have a real reason for neglecting the treaty. You know, the Sokovia initiative that 117 countries in the UN had agreed would govern future missions of the Avengers.

These naysayers assassinated Captain Rogers’ character because he turned on his “team.” All because protecting Bucky was more important than anything. Cap forfeited his good name and reputation all in the name of bromance.

I disagree. Cap wanted to help Bucky, sure, but it’s all about freedom with Captain Rogers. It always has been. Ever since we met him before World War 2. Back before he was an “enhanced” human.

I blame the storytellers for this misunderstanding – or misrepresentation, depending on if you’re #TeamCap or #TeamIronMan. They didn’t do the best job laying down out the cause and effect bread crumbs.

Why did Iron Man, a guy who flouted authority at every turn, suddenly change his mind? Why did the team captain, a known rule-follower, stop following the status quo?

Motives

Iron Man’s change of heart was linked to his encounter with the grieving mother in the basement of MIT.

Thousands of people died in the combined alien attacks the Avengers defended against. Why did this one boy’s story suddenly make Stark rethink his attitude about accountability?

Bring in the end of his relationship with Pepper. He says himself that signing this treaty is his last ditch effort to win her back. Because he can’t stop putting the suit on. And that has nothing to do with saving the world and everything to do with self-redemption. He said as much to the woman at MIT.

He tried to use the boy’s death to motivate the other Avengers to sign the treaty. This was no different than General Ross’ replay of the destruction caused by their former battles.

Cap_IronMan_CivilWar

Even before Iron Man and the General come calling, Cap is watching the news. He was appalled at the destruction in Nigeria (a mistake). However, he realizes the goal and purpose of the team is bigger than that.

Is Cap calloused about the collateral damage? I don’t think so. He understands the principle of commanding soldiers in every offensive. Innocents will die, but you can limit the number of casualties by eliminating the mastermind criminals.

“You can’t bring them back.”

The biggest contributor to Cap’s change of heart toward the “new rules” proposed by the government is Agent Carter’s death. Specifically her words about compromise resonate with Cap. “Compromise where you can. Where you can’t, plant yourself like a tree.”

Cap couldn’t compromise on using his abilities to protect the masses. This isn’t news to anyone who’s been following the franchise. In the first Avengers movie, he told Director Fury something similar.

Captain America’s done being used by politicians to further their agendas. He wasn’t sad to see S.H.I.E.L.D. fall. They had too much control and wanted even more. Their presence was infringing on the right to freedom and justice for Joe American.

The irony: in choosing not to sign this UN proposal he falls into the machinations of the evil mastermind central to Captain America: Civil War.

Manipulations

There’s no doubt that Cap was distracted by the thought of helping Bucky. We saw this in the beginning when the virus-stealing terrorist mentioned his name.

That fact is how the vengeance-seeking villain manipulated the situation. He had “studied” the team, and especially Cap, for a year. He knew Bucky was his “weakness.”

And he used that to move the Avengers around the chessboard of his evil plot.

Emmo manipulated the system to force Cap’s hand. Cap had to choose “follow the new law” (which he never agreed to do) or follow his principles. Would he let the authorities gun down an unconvicted man? (Face it. We all knew Bucky had to be innocent since he was in Bucharest while the UN was bombed in Vienna.)

Cap felt it was his duty to bring Bucky in because he would have the best chance of doing so without collateral damage (and isn’t that was the muckety-mucks were supposedly screaming about?). He went to Bucky’s apartment with the intention of taking him to the authorities.

Image from Marvel-movies
Image from Marvel-movies

Would he have protected a perfect stranger with the same vigor? I would say yes. Because that is who he is. He’s the defender of the weak, protector of freedom and upholder of justice. Even though the filmmakers have tried to paint him in a different light in this movie.

Another reason Emmo chose to frame Bucky was because he needed the information about the other winter soldiers. The fact that he knew Cap would feel compelled to protect him, even if it meant going against the rest of the team, was an additional bonus.

The logic behind Emmo’s knowledge is another shortfall in this film. How did he know about the Starks’ murder ahead of time? The video footage was an essential part of guaranteeing a fight between Tony and Steve.

On my second viewing of the movie, I did catch how Emmo ordered breakfast from Russia. This insured that room service would discover the dead psychiatrist thus alerting the Avengers that everything had been a set up.

But the power-jealous authorities won’t see it that way. And that’s why Captain America had to step outside the law to deal with this villain.

Is my infatuation with Cap blinding me to this bromance-inspired revolt? I don’t think so.

What do you think? Were the motives for Tony and Cap realistic? Do you think Cap would have signed the treaty if Bucky wasn’t in danger?

Stolen Empire Series

The Stolen Empire series by Sherry D. Ficklin is classified as Teen and Young Adult historical romance. I picked up the first book free (and it is still available free on eBook) many months ago.

Even though I enjoyed the first book (see Goodreads review here), it didn’t really compel me to continue on with the series.

I’m not a huge fan of historical fiction. The fact the first book does not have a happy ending (sorry, not trying to spoil anything for you here) didn’t help things.

In fact, the series doesn’t have a happy ending.

If you’re familiar with Russian history at all, this shouldn’t surprise you.

If you’ve heard of Catherine the Great, empress of Russia, you might be shaking your finger at me saying, “Why would you expect a happy ending from that story?”

Why indeed.

Queen of Someday

QueenofSomedayThe first book opens with Sophie fending off an attack on her carriage. It’s traveling across the barren, snow-covered Russian landscape. Not unguarded, but the guards were surprised by the attack.

From this first scene, I loved this ferocious girl who knew how to protect herself. I also knew to expect more threats against her life. The German princess traveling to Russia wasn’t heading to a safe haven.

This story shows her interactions with the empress Elizabeth, the heir apparent, Peter and a number of courtesans. Sophie struggles to learn the language and proper etiquette. She befriends one of her ladies’ in waiting and attempts to fall in love with her intended groom, Peter.

Instead, she falls for one of his best friends.

We know the relationship is doomed. Still, we press through more attempts on her life, hoping they will find a way to be together.

This book ends with her taking the name Catherine at her induction into the Russian Orthodox Church. She is going to leave foolish Sophie behind and become indomitable Catherine.

The star-crossed lover theme is well-played. Tension is high throughout the book. It was difficult to put down.

However, it wasn’t a happy story. No matter how well-written and engaging, I find it impossible to give five stars to anything that doesn’t leave me feeling better when I finish it.

Queen of Tomorrow

Queen of TomorrowThe second two books I read recently when the three titles were offered by the publisher in a boxed set for a buck. You know me and my passion for buck books.

This picks up a year after the first book and reads like an adult novel. I’m surprised that this series has been successfully marketed to teenagers. The library journal specifies it is for ninth grade and above, but I found much of the content – especially in the third book – more appropriate for an adult audience.

Also, Catherine is married with a lover, facing no situations that a relatable to a teenager in our era. Not that the story is bad, because I think this might have been the best of the three books, but it just felt wrong in the YA genre.

In this story, we see the politics of the times enter into Catherine’s life as she struggles to cement her place in the ruling hierarchy by producing an heir. Will she choose to side with Prussia, her former homeland, or truly sell out to the Russian populace, who desperately need a ruler to care for them?

It holds court intrigue and manipulations on every level. Again, a page-turner. The end will get your eyebrows raised.

I was glad to be able to continue reading the saga in the final book of the trilogy.

Queen of Always

QueenofAlwaysThis finishes Catherine’s journey from the unloved wife of the crazy Peter, Emperor of Russia (for a short time) to Empress.

Having read the first two books, the reader comes to expect death threats and attempts on Catherine’s life. And wonders – at least I did – why no one is trying to kill crazy Peter. Why are they happy to let him rule?

Because a careless puppet is easier to control than a strong-willed queen.

The romantic element in this final book pushes beyond what I would consider acceptable for anyone under eighteen. It toes the line between spicy and erotic, with the implications leaving little to the imagination. Or maybe inciting the imagination beyond the realm acceptable for unmarried, possibly sexually inexperienced teenagers.

Again, there is no true happy ending. Even though Catherine accomplishes what she sets out to do: secure the throne of Russia for her son.

What I enjoyed most about this series is the evolution from the idealistic girl into the realistic woman. Although I disagreed with many most of her choices, they made sense and built reasonably upon each other.

It is hard not to see her as a hardened murderess by the end of the book. After all the pain she’s suffered, she had to adapt to survive.

Would I have been able to choose differently and ascend to the same heights? Perhaps. But the author couldn’t rewrite history (although she freely admits that the time-lines in the book aren’t accurate to real life, even if the historical events are correct.)

In the end, it made me thankful NOT to be a queen or in a place where I had the power to make life-and-death decisions for everyone around me. I wanted to hug my sons and whisper how much I love them, and give thanks for the caring (not-at-all-psychotic) husband I’m have.

Sometimes, reading makes you appreciate the life you have all the more.

Thank you Ms. Ficklin for writing such a series as this, making me grateful to be the queen of nothing but my little house on the corner.

Lands of Ash: Epic Fantasy

If you like epic fantasy, you should consider Lands of Ash by H.L. Burke. It is an epic story with an intriguing world.

I “met” this author at a Christian indie author release party. I was excited to read her newest book since fantasy with a Christian bent can be hard to find.

When I agreed to review her book, she sent me an advanced reviewer’s copy. I immediately set about reading it while running on the treadmill (the best way to pass the miles).

Summary

Book one is about the war between humans and the fire elementals, who have been burning their forests and cities for decades. Most of the story centers on two brothers who are determined to stop the elementals – or die trying.

Book two follows a boy who occasionally narrated scenes in the first book. His sister was born the day the elemental war ended and she is the portal keeper. This brings all sorts of unsavory types out of the wood work, and he ends up seeking refuge in Haven, the settlement of the brothers from book one.

Book three follows the story after they’ve all returned to Haven. Many new voices begin narrating scenes, but the action is so constant that the changes aren’t noticeable or distracting.

In my opinion, adding scenes from the fire elemental lord’s perspective stole tension from the story and gave away too much information. There would have been more suspense if the author would have allowed the reader to learn about those plans at the same time the characters did.

Review

It was awesome to read fantasy with a Christian worldview. I loved the elements of forgiveness and redemption woven throughout the book, and especially in the third part. The Christian allegory is clear while not being intrusive.

Unfortunately, this book started out very slow. In the way of epic fantasy, we bobbed between narrators and I struggled to connect with the all-male cast. The foreshadowing wasn’t subtle and I called all the early “twists.”

The premise was excellent. The world well-conceived and revealed. The cast of characters – mostly shallow. With the exception of Ketyl and Brode, most of the point of view characters didn’t get enough screen time for me to get inside their head.

Sometime after the midpoint of the story, I was finally vested in the story. Things were moving along. We’d finally gotten out of the set up and background and into the STORY. This means, the author started the story too early.

Another problem I had with the book was that it was actually three books in one. Each told a different person’s story, but all of them had more than a single narrator. Most of the time, I wondered, “Whose story is this? Why do I care?”

According to the blurb, this should have been Pet and Brode’s story. The first book was mostly Ketyl’s story, and he remained a prominent point of view character. The second book seemed to be Brode’s story, and I can’t reveal who I believe the third book followed because I don’t want to spoil anything. This layout kept me disengaged.

My biggest issue with this story is the “turn to the dark side” of two characters. We know I’m not a fan of the dark side. But we need antagonists to add conflict to our story. I will say the motivation was present for the turns; they didn’t appear out of thin air.

One of the traitors is a minor character. His turn involves something as small as leading people to their camp and scaring someone. His special abilities make him susceptible to the “voices.” Afterward, he feels so guilty about his betrayal, he begs for banishment or death.

The other character is a major player. His motivations are authentic, but his actions kicked me out of the story in a second. His betrayal involved murder. And he didn’t feel remorseful. Here is someone we considered heroic and he isn’t even second-guessing his sudden compulsion to murder a CLOSE friend?

Recommendation

If you’re looking for fantasy that is more than just magic and epic battles, you will enjoy this book.

I suggest reading each book independently of the others, maybe even taking a breather between them. Don’t read the blurb. It sets your expectations in the wrong place (or it did for me).

Prepare yourself for a story of set-up. Feel free to skip over Brode’s scenes in book one and return to read them before you start book two. I found they distracted me from the flow of the story of Ketyl and Karvir versus the fire elementals.

This book is suitable for readers twelve and over. The violence isn’t graphic, so younger readers won’t be traumatized by the death portrayed here (there’s a war).

Eye of the Soul

Fantasy novels entice me. As you know, I’ve learned that novels of epic scope aren’t really my cup of coffee. Novels with an epic premise or story? That would be Eye of the Soul by Terri Rochenski.

I was introduced to the writing of Rochenski through an anthology I bought to support one of my writer friends. You can check it out here. Since that time, I’ve been following the publisher, J. Taylor Publishing, on Facebook.

When they posted that the first book in a series would be FREE to celebrate the release of the second book in the series, you know what happened. I clicked the link. Amazon offered its wonderful “Buy now with 1-click” option and another book added itself to the ever-expanding queue.

Not every book in that queue will be read by me. Several I snagged for FREE weren’t worth the price I paid for them.

Not so with Eye of the Soul.

The Blurb

Copied from Goodreads:

“Escape.

That should be Hyla’s first thought as her people are chained and imprisoned for no imaginable reason. Instead, Hyla finds herself traveling through a land void of Natives, with human soldiers pillaging in desperate pursuit of her, and in search of the mystical Pool of Souls—home to the one man who can save her people.

Or so she believes.

Led by her faith in the deity Fadir, Hyla is met along her journey by Jadon—a human male and fierce King’s warrior, and his childhood best friend Conlin—one of the few Natives aware of his Fadir-given Talents. Protected by Jadon, guided by Conlin, and with an unfailing belief in the purpose of her pilgrimage, Hyla carries on.

Like her, though, another searches for the Pool, and should he gain access first, everyone she loves, and everything she knows, could be lost.

Forever.”

My Review

The novel opens with the capture of Natives by an ambitious High Priest. The Natives appear as elves in my mind – fair skin, pointed ears, (supposed) mystical abilities. I liked that Rochenski uses a different name for them, leaving her plenty of space to conform them to the story she’s telling.

Hyla, a nineteen-year-old orphan, is away collecting roots and herbs for the healers when the attack comes. Right away, we see she is fearful, which makes the reader wonder why. That backstory is sprinkled in at all the right moments.

Through a number of narrators, the story unfolds. A High Priest with a vendetta against the deity of the Natives emerges as the villain. We want to hate him; his despicable misuse of power and authority begs it. Yet, we see he has a secret past – a motivation not unlike that of Mr. Freeze (of Batman fame).

Jadon and Conlin enter the story as childhood friends who share the spotlight as the male heroes in the story. They are like night and day, but their camaraderie and realistic interactions pull the reader further in to this fictional realm.

Hyla’s Talent (mystical power) is the only one that isn’t dormant as the story opens. And she resents it because it shows her the true intentions behind every word and deed. It’s a curse, and she doesn’t understand why the king and others want to use it. How can it help win a war?

In a dream, she is called to the Pool of Souls. When the High Priest discovers its location, he sends his own combined group of soldiers and gifted (but unawakened – so he believes) Natives.

Conflict unfolds and the course is clear. Who will make it to the Pool? What does the Pool actually do? Will Hyla accept her calling? And, will she choose Conlin or Jadon?

The characters are well-formed and realistic.  Although the motivations of some of them are unclear or questionable, most of them acted and reacted consistently. Intrigue surrounds the powers of a few “non-Native” people in the story: where did their powers come from? Why do humans have these “gifts”?

The problem is straight-forward and the plot un-convoluted. We know the goals of the characters and, except where they are keeping a secret, we understand what motivates them. This is by no means a simple story, it is just easy to follow. Rather than shrouding information, the author shares it – to the end that it creates more questions and adds tension.

My Recommendation

This story gets a solid 4.5 out of 5 stars from me. It took me awhile to decide I liked Hyla – needed to understand what made her so mistrustful. Although Jadon is likeable, he seems rather stereotypical. If it weren’t for his friendship and interaction with Conlin, I might have written him off as an egotistical, womanizing jerk.

Give these characters the chance to grow on you, and you won’t be disappointed. Nothing about the story line or premise (racial discrimination, anti-religion and revolutionary tendencies) disappoints.

This is the first book in a series. I’m delighted to meet these characters again. I’m also thrilled that Rochenski handled the story in the proper way: one problem for this book is tackled and resolved, while the larger series problem is clear but still hangs overhead at the end of the book.

The epilogue introduces a new twist and creates immediate anxiety because it pushes one of the heroes into the line of fire. This is a great way to encourage readers to put down book one with the left hand and pick up book two with the right. It was added to my Amazon wish list with a single click, and you’ll see it on my Goodreads “TBR” list, as well.

If you like magic, sword fighting and quests, this is a book you’ll want to read. Whether you’re looking for a great story or a deep story, Eye of the Soul grants your wish.

Have you read this book? What did you think?

Beta Reader Bliss – Or Not

betareaderblissIf you’re serious about becoming a published author, you can’t be afraid to share your writing with others. It’s inevitable that some of them will hate it. You know some of them will love it (and I’m not just talking your mom and best friend).

Some people use alpha readers. These people would see the rewritten first draft before it is edited. I’m not a fan of having all the picky things about my writing dinged. I want people to read like a reader and tell me what worked and what didn’t.

This is what beta readers do. I gave mine a huge checklist. Some of them followed it closely and others just marked the text and commented with questions or impressions they had. Both methods gave me valuable insight.

This marked my maiden voyage into the realm of beta reading, so everything felt somewhat surreal. Since most of my betas were also first-timers (at beta reading), I wanted to offer some guidance.

How I found my Beta Readers

Two of my beta readers are people I know. People who read the fantasy genre and know what they like, what works and what makes a good story.

My youngest reader was a former student. I interviewed him personally after he read the book. He had honest feedback and didn’t just “love” the book because his teacher wrote it. His was my first input and it made me break out the sandpaper so the other feedback wouldn’t hurt as much (hopefully).

A book group I meet with six times per year also took the book (a pre-beta version) and read it to offer their feedback. Since I consider them friends, I wasn’t really considering them beta readers, but I will consider their feedback. The first thing they helped me do was change the order of the opening scenes, making a stronger beginning.

The other four readers I found through WANATribe. This is a social media network for artists, and I have found tons of insight and inspiration by interacting with people here. One of the readers I found here was a professional YA author, one a writer with years of editing and PR writing and the final two: beginners like me. I figured that would offer me a diverse sampling of feedback.

Why I love my Beta Readers

One of my beta readers sent me updates as she read the text. “It took me awhile to understand the setting but now that I’m into it, it’s moving right along.” Comments that let me know it was holding her interest.

At the end, when she sent me the marked up manuscript she asked, “When do I get to read the next book?” I had heard that before from a member of the book group who read it. A good sign.

Cuddly beta readers - have claws!
Cuddly beta readers – have claws!

These people told me the truth. Seriously. One of the readers had something akin to a “don’t shoot the messenger” warning attached with his remarks. Troubled spots were noted and marked. Thanks to the sandpaper I spoke about earlier, I hardly even felt the jabs. After all, this was a story they slaughtered, not me.

Only a few areas found common dislike among nearly all the readers. These things will garner my full attention when the next round of revisions begin. Other things mimicked my own worries. Many good ideas for changing the areas that didn’t work also came to light. This is the sort of truth I needed.

All this honesty means I have more rewriting and revision to do before I’m ready to move on to the polishing phase. Not the news I was hoping for – certainly. On the other hand, precisely the reason I wanted beta readers in the first place. The outcome for my novel: positive.

Most of these betas volunteered to read the new manuscript or other work from me. In the end, that means they didn’t hate my writing or my writing style, which is good news.

Bottom line: this beta reading experience encourages me on my path to publication. I will use beta readers for my future projects and recommend the same for all of my fellow writers (who might be reading this).

If you are a young adult who loves to read fantasy, please use the contact form on my home page to send me your information if you would like to read the polished version of Daughter of Water. Of course, I will want honest feedback. I promise not to make it look like English homework.

Any other experienced beta readers out there? What do you like the most about the beta reading process? Writers: what sort of input do you want from beta readers?