Why I Almost Never Take Book Recommendations

After reading a mind-blowing book, what’s the next step? Some of us preorder/buy the sequel, others make fanart or fanfic, some of us hunt down the author’s backlist, but all of us—at some point or another—will recommend that book to someone else.

It’s only natural. After all, we just found this piece of printed perfection. Why wouldn’t we nod approvingly at strangers in bookstores, send fervent messages to friends, or even shout from the rooftops? The world must know of the awesomeness we have found!

The problem is, everyone is different. Not everyone is going to love the same books you love. Not everyone is going to love the books even a vast majority do.

And that’s OKAY.

I have been blessed with many bookish friends. With this has come many book recommendations. A lot of them have similar tastes to mine, but not one of us has the exact same tastes—we wouldn’t be individuals if we did.

Every so often, my friends recommend me one and I love it. Most of the time, though, I look into the book I’ve been recommended and decide, for whatever reason, it just doesn’t tickle my fancy. It can get harder, though, when four, five, six, or more friends start recommending the same book I just don’t want to read.

The thing is, time is short. Between writing, blogging, school, and life, I can only read a few dozen of the hundreds of books I’d like to read every year. I want to spend that time on books I genuinely want to read, not something I felt forced into.

And you know the one thing worse than not reading a book all your friends love? Hating a book all your friends love.

Believe me, it sucks. I’d much rather stick to books I think I’ll enjoy than caving to peer pressure and ending up the black sheep. Besides, if reading isn’t enjoyable, why bother with it?

“But how will you know unless you try it?” some might ask. In all fairness, I won’t. It doesn’t matter. I, like everyone else, has the right to read what I want whether that’s the biography of a 16th century banker or a paranormal romance novella (both were great, in case you wondered). People shouldn’t have to justify their tastes in what is supposed to be a harmless recreational activity.

However, even if I don’t particularly want to read a certain book, that doesn’t mean I’m not genuinely happy someone else enjoyed it. I am.

Nonetheless, I know myself better than anyone else, after all. If my search happens to lead me to the same books, awesome. If not, oh well.

Last year I gave myself permission to read what I wanted and it’s working out pretty well so far!

All the same, don’t let me discourage anyone from shouting out their favorite books. If you like it, flaunt it. Maybe you’ve found exactly what someone is looking for. Just remember that everyone is different and not to take it personally if you recommendations never make it to the top of your friends’ reading lists.

And try not to pressure people who haven’t read what you have! We don’t deserve the guilt!

Read and let read, that’s what I say.

Lesser-Known Writers I Love

As a regular reader of indie books, it’s not uncommon for me to fangirl over writers no one I know has ever heard of. Nonetheless, this week I’d like to brag about a few whom I especially adore. So read on for my fangirling and click on the names for their Goodreads bibliographies or websites (depending on what they have).

Enheduanna

It may be odd to start with an author I have never read. This lady was the daughter of the Akkadian king, Sargon I, and the first credited author in recorded history. Living several thousand years ago, I think of her every time I’m watching Downton Abbey and there’s a debate about whether women should be writers.

(Spoiler: They should. Men, too. Seriously, everyone.)

John Marco

I have written one fan letter in my life and it was to this guy. He is amazing. He is underrated. Specializing in military epic fantasy, I enjoy the way he explores both the human and strategic aspects of warfare against the backdrop of wildly imaginative worlds. DID I MENTION HE IS AMAZING?!?!?!

His Tyrants and Kings series dropped into my life right when I was going through some rough stuff later in my parents’ divorce. That trilogy really helped me. I mean, my life was miserable, but at least I didn’t have a semi-immortal druggie with uncomfortably likable assassins out to kill me and my family, right?

Lloyd Alexander

Who says Fantasy books have to be long to be epic? The Prydain Chronicles, based on Welsh mythology, are an imaginative, thrilling quintet and none of the books exceed 250 pages. Disney actually adapted the first book into an animated film, but it didn’t do so great. Nonetheless, the books are great, nay—AWESOME.

Kaitlyn Deann

I have had the honor to know this young lady personally through the magic of the interweb. Her debut novel was far better than my original effort, though we are about the same age. I am continually blown away by the depth and breadth of her stories and I am honored to know her.

Intisar Khanani

The very first eBook I read in entirety was Thorn by this resplendent, brilliant wordsmith. It was she who proved to me that diversity could be written well. Her stories are action-packed, whimsically inventive, but at the same time advocate a value for life that makes me want to hug her to bits.

If someone ever tries to say self-published books aren’t good, I shall pelt them with her entire bibliography.

Tad Williams

This guy’s Shadowmarch quadrilogy holds a special place for me. It was with me through those first few months after my dad filed for divorce. Mr. Williams is high on my list of “must meet someday” and I’m looking forward to reading his backlist.

(When I saw he also left a sparkly review for one of John Marco’s books, I went into Fangirl Overdrive.)

Gerald Morris

This gentleman wrote a series of twelve middle-grade novels, each tackling a different Arthurian myth. Have you ever heard of the dung-cart knight? The damsel and the dwarf? Sir Owain and the lioness? Neither had I, but The Squire’s Tales educated me in the most sarcastic, humorous, enjoyable way possible.

I read all twelve books out loud to my brothers and it was a wonderful family bonding experience. (Also with a special place in my heart.)

Who are some of your favorite less-known writers? Ones that no one—not even your bookish friends—has heard of? What’s your favorite thing about them? Tell me in the comments!

Seven Steps to Becoming an Epic Fantasy Mentor

Step One: Have a mysterious and tragic past.

You will vaguely allude to this past with a far-off look in your eye whenever the villain is mentioned, followed by a moment of pensive silence and/or moodiness for the remainder of the day.

Step Two: You must have a personal reason to hate the villain (whom the protagonist is obviously destined to kill).

You were lovers until he/she chose the path of evil. More likely, he/she murdered your spouse and/or offspring and/or someone else dear to you.

(This is doubly effective if you go with both ex-lovers and murder, though.)

Step Three: Live somewhere remote and hard to reach.

The only worthwhile mentors are inaccessible. If you must live in an urban environment, be the weird/creepy/dangerous person no one likes. Anything to prevent you having friends.

Step Four: Have a secret artifact that the villain will come seeking.

An artifact that has been lost for years and is only coincidentally located once the protagonist turns up.

Step Five: Silence is golden and so is miscommunication.

Never tell the protagonist everything outright. Let them discover the villain’s secrets (which you obviously know because of your past) through a series of (likely violent) misfortunes on their own.

Step Six: By contrast, micromanage the protagonist’s love life.

You must strongly encourage or overtly discourage any attraction the protagonist has to another character. Either way, you must never be neutral under any circumstances.

Step Seven: Sorry…but this is the part where you must die.

*cough* And now we get to the last one. No reneging. You will most likely be killed by the villain in a traumatic event that shall steel the hero’s resolve to destroy the villain. Hey, at least your death was worth it, right?

Review: Kingdom at Sea (The Kinsman Chronicles, Part #4) by Jill Williamson @Jill Williamson

Jill Williamson’s Fantasy Saga Continues!

In the second volume of Jill Williamson’s Kinsman Chronicles, a remnant has escaped the destruction of the Five Realms and now lives on several hundred ships adrift at sea. As a flock, they sail north into the unknown in hopes of finding land that might become their new home.

As the king’s illness worsens, Sâr Wilek takes authority over the expedition and struggles to rule the disjointed people, while assassination attempts, vicious serpents, and dark magic endanger his life.

One prophecy has come to pass, but another looms dauntingly in the future. Who is this Deliverer? And if the Magonians have him, what might that mean for the realm of Armania?

Blurb and cover from Goodreads

5 out of 5 stars

I stayed up late to finish this because sleep is for the weak and this book is AMAZING. (Though, it’s from Jill Williamson. I’m not sure what else I expected.) It’s supposed to be a novella, so I’ll keep it short, but count me a rejuvenated fangirl.

The plot:

Like the rest of this series, there are several perspectives we follow through the course of the book. I didn’t expect to be surprised as often as I was. Several times, I was predicting one outcome and got one very different. There

The characters:

I’ll try to limit this to a few lines each. It may be difficult. *clears throat* Here we go.

Wilek: I’ve mentioned before that he reminds me of my favorite character from my favorite film of all time—Prince Hector. He still does. He messes up, but takes responsibility. He tries to do the right thing, but half the time gets screwed over by his father and brother (Janek, not Trevn). I just want him to be safe and happy and LIVE, DAMN IT.

Charlon: I was glad to see more moral dilemmas with her in this one, more conflict. The interactions between her and Zeroah were especially fascinating and I enjoyed that development. Zeroah has also begun to grow on me—probably because she’s grown a (small, but still existent) backbone. (YES!)

Trevn: Ah, my spunky summer child. It’s hard not to love him. The author has admitted he’s her favorite and I see why. Idealist, hardworking, romantic at heart…my sweet baby. Written believably with flaws to match his perfections, he is perfect because of it.

Kalenek: The storyline of a guard who can’t fight has intrigued me from the start. I feel bad about him and Onika just because I don’t see how it can end well, but the relationship between him and Wilek is a bromance for the centuries. Watching Kal juggle his duties as Wilek’s shield, Mielle and Amala’s guardian, and his feelings for Onika was a deeply engaging and truly helped me integrate emotionally with his character.

Mielle: She didn’t get as much page time as in previous installments, but she was still around enough for me to say her and Trevn are an OTP to die for.

Miscellaneous others: Janek and King Echad can die at any point and I won’t be sad. Janek had two sentences where I thought I might reconsider my assessment, but no. The same goes for Rodegoth and Mreegan. Seriously, it can’t happen fast enough. Ulrik is an idiot who needs to be slapped like the foolish child he is, Qoatch should find someone who appreciates his loyalty, and Inolah is awesome. I ship Hinck and Pia and that Tennish High Queen should take a chill pill. Or several. And someone slap Amala, too, because she’s also an idiot child.

In short, this series is amazing and you can download part 1 for free for all major eBooks. It’s awesome. I highly recommend you READ IT as well as the companion trilogy, the first of which is also free. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have downloaded part 5 and have a date with my Kindle.

Find Kingdom at Sea on Goodreads

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Reading Bad Books in the Name of Representation

There is no inherent problem writing about a social/religious/relational/political issue in literature or—as I like to call it—activist fiction. Quite the opposite. I am a big believer in the power of art to influence society. Without the freedom of artists to call attention to issues big and small, there go most of history’s great revolutions.

That being said, there is a HUGE problem with BAD activist fiction and most of it is.

I’ve seen this happen in LGBTQ fiction, Christian fiction, and others.

I once encountered a story about a person becoming a Christian, but it was wholly bereft of character development and conflict. (FOR EXAMPLE: Christianity doesn’t magically cure mental illness. It does make the mental illness more manageable and has literally kept me alive, but no insta-cures!) Even when there was ABSOLUTELY NOTHING inaccurate in the theology presented, I can definitively say it was a horrible piece.

In another case, I read two lesbian romances in a writing workshop that were just as atrocious. One was about a woman who has an affair with an employee and the other was about a girl finally getting a commitment out of her girlfriend, both by the same author, both with the same problems.

The plots and climaxes were no where to be found, the other characters’ reactions to the couples’ relationships made NO SENSE, and plus some other little details just didn’t…add up.

And don’t get me started on all the women’s rights monologues that take up whole pages of certain Young Adult Fantasy novels. I mean, if you want to write feminist essays, write feminist essays, but don’t try to play them off as dialogue tossed in at random.

Why does this happen?

From what I’ve seen, people decide they want to write in an underrepresented niche, but don’t learn how to write first. They then surround themselves with people as passionate about the issue as they are which, while great, means these people are going to be a lot less likely to notice or point out problems. I’m also convinced that people supportive of the issue in general are less likely to point out problems because they don’t want to appear adversarial.

It gets to the point where people will focus on the representation and NOTHING ELSE when discussing certain books because, let’s face it, that’s the only redeemable quality. 

I am a feminist reader who wants to see more diversity in my books and also more Christianity, but you can be sure that the moment I see “feminist,” “Christian” or “diverse” in the blurb, I usually forego. Of course there are exceptions, but I’ve been burned too many times. I’m convinced half the time publishers are just filling diversity quotas.

I’ve read too many crappy stories in the name of representation.

I understand it takes time for genres and writers to find themselves and their voices, but life is too short to waste on bad books. Maybe in 5-10 years things will be better. The lesson for all the writers out there is to definitely use your writer-ly powers for good, but also learn story mechanics. PLEASE.

And, just as importantly, seek help from brutal (and I mean BRUTAL) editors.

Be sure to work on your craft as well as your cause.

But I assure you it can be done. To prove it, let me say good Christian fictiongood diverse fiction, and good feminist fiction do exist. Sometimes all at once. I have found these and more examples and they are amazing. You, see? It is possible!

BEAUTIFUL BOOKS ~ 2017 Writing Goals

Beautiful Books is a monthly feature hosted by Her Bookish Resplendence, Cait, over at Paper Fury. Click here to join in the link-up and don’t forget to check out Cait’s aesthetically divine bookstagram account! Now…on to the questions!

What were your writing achievements last year?

Not to pat myself on the back, but I did pretty darn well. I drafted three manuscripts and published three others. 😀 I’m feeling pretty good about myself.

What’s on your writerly “to-do list” for 2017?

Well, like I said in my “resolutions” post, I want to do a repeat. Draft three books, publish three books, and  then decide whether or not I want to query this other WIP. That last one has been quite the internal debate. Grr…

Tell us about your top-priority writing projects for this year!

Fanged Rebel (Haddie’s fourth adventure) is currently being drafted and Janir’s fourth book, The Temple of Tarkoth, are my priorities for this year. No more three year waits between books!

How do you hope to improve as a writer? Where do you see yourself at the end of 2017?

I see myself at the end of 2017 with only one year left of school, nine published books, and at least two more in the works for release in 2018. Exciting stuff! From a craft perspective, I want to explore character relationships and complexities more. That never gets old for me!

Describe your general editing process.

I generally have an idea of some things I will want changed while drafting, but I just plough through. After taking a break from the manuscript (anywhere from weeks to months), I do a few rereads and mark-ups in both electronic and finally print format. The last step is sending the manuscript to other writers whom I trust and adore who (lovingly) offer me brutal critiques.

On a scale of 1-10, how do you think this draft turned out?

For my NaNo project, Fireblight, I’d say 9 and 3/4. 😀  (Sorry, couldn’t resist.) I’m pretty proud of it.

What aspect of your draft needs the most work?

Fireblight started out as just a fun book to relieve stress, so there are some inconsistencies in world building and character relationships because, like I mentioned, I tend to edit as I go. That’s definitely what needs the most work, I’d say.

What do you like the most about your draft?

Again with Fireblight, I love how the characters took charge at certain points. I love how the whole story took an unexpected turn. I just love the adventure of this piece! It’s fairly unique compared to my usual stuff and tested me a bit. It’s a blast!

Also, DRAGONS!

What are your plans for this novel once you finish editing? More edits? Finding beta readers? Querying? Self-publishing? Hiding it in a dark hole forever?

Unless plans change, I plan to queue Fireblight as an indie release in two or three years. (My release schedule before that is booked. LOL. Get it? Booked?)

What’s your top piece of advice for those just finished writing a first draft?

Put it down for a week. A month. Four months. Then edit it before you do anything. PLEASE EDIT. We all write crap on the first go and exposure to raw, first drafts (including my own) isn’t something I’d wish on my worst enemy.

Review: Burning Shadows (Order of the Krigers, #2) by Jennifer Anne Davis @AuthorJennifer

The Order of the Krigers has risen.

Determined to destroy the Order, the vicious king, Morlet, scours the land searching for the twelve chosen ones. He burns entire villages hoping to crush the Krigers.

He has other plans for Kaia.

In order to end the curse, Kaia must conceive a child before the Krigers can kill Morlet. However, Kaia doesn’t know if the father is supposed to be her fiancé, Vidar, or his brother, the evil king. Determined to find the answer, she sets off to the other side of the mountains with Anders. Stifling her growing feelings for the assassin, Kaia unearths secrets that force her to reevaluate her cause. Can she sacrifice so much of herself to save the kingdom of Nelebek? Can she kill Morlet when she is starting to understand and even sympathize with him? And is there really any choice at all, especially when it comes to matters of the heart?

With newfound power, Kaia’s heart and mind are entwined with the realization that choices come with a price, passion can rival hatred, and an evil looms on the horizon, more sinister than she ever imagined.

Blurb and cover from Goodreads

4 out of 5 stars

The first book in this series was a bit of a disappointment for me after the author’s stellar True Reign and Reign of Secrets series, but we’re back, baby! The Rema/Allyssa books are still my favorite. Nonetheless, the author’s god-given genius is much more pronounced here. The first book in this series was published with Month 9 and this one is self-published (go indies!), another explanation for why this story felt more authentic, I think.

The plot:

We’re back to the less predictable  storyline style of the beloved True Reign series I keep mentioning. It was more difficult for me to predict what would happen and I liked that. I do wish there had been more focus on a clearer build/climax, but that damnable love triangle is (mostly) gone, thank God.

The characters:

I liked Kaia more in this one. A LOT more. She has autonomy and has started talking back to Vidar (YES). She also balances between the whole acceptance of her fate and maintaining ownership of her life. I was impressed with how that was handled and like I said, MUCH better than the previous book. In the last one, she lets that jerk Vidar pressure her into an engagement and it made me SO ANGRY. I WAS SALTY FOR MONTHS AND I’M STILL MAD AND…*deep breath* Everything’s better now. It’s okay. I’m okay.

Vidar and Morlet—the two immortal princes—are still both pieces of work in their own way. Morlet is the mass murderer driven by evil magic and Vidar is the control-freak, “Kaia must marry me because reasons” heir to the throne. Guess which one I like more? Yes—Morlet.

There was a great deal more explanation for Morlet’s actions. His mood swings and irrational behavior are suddenly quite understandable and I might even be liking him more than Anders *gasp*. Keyword there is “might” and it depends on what happens in book three.

On a minor note, I did like that Allyssa got another girl as a friend in this one. Bonus points for not making the warrior girl have all guy friends, definitely.

In summation, I was impressed with how much better the author did on her own versus with a publisher. I think most the little things that knocked this down from 5 stars—odd twists and circling in the story, one or two rocky transitions—were the results of leading the story back over to a plot truer to the original vision. Even with this issues, this is a definite recommended read from me.

Find Burning Shadows on Goodreads

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