Alex Craft Series Reread and Notes

In preparation for the supposed February 2nd release date of the very, very long awaited book 4, Grave Visions, in the Alex Craft series by Kalayna Price, I took the time to reread the first three books in the series.  I say supposed because the last book in the series to date was released in 2012.  4 years is a really long time to wait for a book and I’m kind of half expecting this to be yanked before it actually releases.  Not for any real reason but that I’m just so excited about his release and can’t believe it is actually finally happening.

Grave Witch – Book 1 Grave Dance – Book 2 Grave Memory – Book 3 Grave Visions- Book 4

If I had to rate the series as a whole, based on the first three books, I’d say this squeaks in around a 4.5.  I don’t use a ½ point rating, but I’m using it here more to indicate that it is just missing a 5 star rating from me.  Honestly, I love this series.  The world and the characters are all pretty vivid and amazing.  But there are just a couple of aspects to the overall story line that I’m just not a huge fan of and that is just enough to keep me from giving these my highest rating.

The world this series is set in is based on a modern society where magic and Fae are real.  The main character, Alex, is a grave witch who deals mostly with shades and ghosts and can see and interact with them on a level that other grave witches normally can’t because she can interact with and see different planes of existence.  There are lots of Fae, other witches with different specialties and soul collectors as some of the other more important characters.  How that is all built and written is done in a really excellent way and are the best parts of this series.

The parts that I’m just not a huge fan of are the romantic parts.  That is because that entire thread in this series has Alex bouncing back and forth between a soul collector that she calls Death and a Fae in the control of the Winter Queen, Falin.  Neither are relationships that she should be in or is even really allowed to have.  I’m not a huge fan of impossible relationships that are really pretty hopeless, but I’m even less of a fan of the triangle theme.  It makes the character in the middle seem really flaky and fickle.  Considering I really love most everything else about Alex’s character, that is frustrating.

Outside of the relationship issues, though, there are tons of great things going on with Alex fighting soul sucking Fae, a crazy witch and soul collector that are in love and a body jumping monster from the depths of the land of the dead.  All that while learning more about her history and becoming more than she ever thought she was, and doing her best not to piss of the Fae royalty.  It make for some awesome storytelling.

Each book does have a single large story arc that is resolved by the end of the book as well as larger ones that spread across the series, never really leaving the reader hanging.  Well, with the exception of book 3.  That one left something of a cliffhanger on the larger relationship story arc.  So not a good place to end a book when there is a 4 year gap between releases.

I do really love this series, even with the not so great relationship story issues.  I’m hoping like crazy that book 4 clears some of that up as it will make it even more frustrating if this is a never ending kind of a back and forth.  That kind of thing can kill a series.  I’m also hoping that whatever happened to force the gap in releases isn’t something that is a regular occurrence.

Thoughts on Reading and Writing: What Are Your Favorites and Why

This post has been pestering me for a while, but I’ve struggled to get it written because there are just so many different things to say and ways to say it that its hard to narrow it down below a novel level.  I initially thought this would be more about authors’ writing styles and creation processes or about character building and development or what makes a great writer stand out from just a good writer, but you have to note all of those things and more to really get to the meat of the subject.

Almost all of my reading material comes from the library, usually Kindle or ePub versions and only a very few am I willing to spend money on from my limited book buying budget.  Those are books written by authors that have proven time and time again to be exactly what I love and crave in a great story.  If I bought every book I wanted to read, I’d read myself right into the poorhouse, so I only buy what I know I’m going to love.

I have found that I like a pretty large variety of subjects and genres (all within the fiction realm) when it comes to reading, but I rarely love anything to the point where I know I’m going to read it over and over again.  It takes an extremely special and unique combination set of things to push any book near that coveted Favorite rating for me.  I will give a book a 5 star/Excellent rating, but it still won’t make it onto my Favorites list but even that is a pretty rare occurrence.

If you look at that list, I have quite a few, but in comparison to the total number of books I’ve read over the years, it is an extremely small percentage.  What there is is almost exclusively books that fall into the Fantasy genre.  I really do love a great book that involves the impossible, magic and shifters and worlds that are not the one we live in.  Where people are capable of things that we can only dream about. There are a crap ton of books out there that have all those things in their stories, but the ones that are truly awesome are the ones that are capable of making all that impossible real.

I’ve read a handful of interview questions or FAQs from a variety of different authors over the years and I noticed something that seems to be a common thread among my all time favorite authors that doesn’t appear to be there for authors that don’t make that list.  That is that their characters are real to them.  They have lives.  They have opinions.  They have discussions with the author.  They will have an all out hissy fit if the author tries to push them in a direction the character doesn’t want to go.  They are, in essence, real.  In just about any other group of the population, if someone said that they have voices talking in their heads they’d end up medicated and in a hospital somewhere.

At one point, I kind of thought that was some serious crazy talk until I was forced to understand it after making several custom pieces for clients that, while not quite so out and out words and conversations with me, had some seriously strong opinions as to what they were going to be.  I finally, really, truly got it at that point because those ended up being not only some of my favorite pieces, but some of my best.

I’ve compared authors to artists before and that is what they are, their medium is the written word instead of paint or clay or metal or some other physical, tangible medium.  Like musicians use notes and instruments, writers use words to paint their pictures and the most talented ones pull you so thoroughly into their pictures that you are living them right beside the characters.  It isn’t just characters, though.  Those are vivid, vibrant, deeply layered and complex beings that you know exist even if they really don’t.  The worlds they live in are just as rich and cultivated that, as a reader, there is very little need to truly imagine it because it has been painted is such detail it is hard to miss.  When I read a book, that is what I want.  I want the full experience.  I want all of my senses engaged, not just my eyes and my imagination.

It has been something of an unofficial goal this year to find at least one new author to add to my Favorites list.  I have yet to find one because there are so very few that seem to write to that level that I’m looking for.  So many authors write for quantity rather than quality and there are so very many that are cookie cutter or formula writers that it is amazing there are any decent books at all.  They aren’t awful writers at all, don’t get me wrong.  They just are the bare effort, riding on previous success writers that aren’t willing to put in the extra needed to make something great.  They are okay with just being okay.

I can’t begin to tell you how many books I’ve read that were so obviously in that cookie cutter/formula crowd.  The first book or two by an author you read, you may not notice and it is easy to think that you might have found something good, but then you read a few more and realize how wrong you are.  At one point, I actually watched my percentage mark as I read and found that the author I was reading literally had points where certain things had to happen in their story.  20% would have the first sexual event, 50% would have say some major drama point, 80% would have the big misunderstanding/breakup/separation and 90% would have the miraculous make-up and lets live happily ever after before the end of the book.  The only real differences would be the basic specifics like names, places personalities and scenario details.  It was like reading some plug and play book.  Ever since then (and after having something similar happen several more times), I’ve become leery of reading what I call bulk authors.  Again comparing to other types of art, it is like seeing mass produced costume jewelry sitting next to a custom, handmade piece.  You are going to notice a difference.

While I get hugely frustrated that my favorite authors don’t produce at a higher rater, I’m also extremely glad that they don’t because that means I’m still going to get awesome when they do put something new out.  It usually takes time to produce something amazing.  Look at pregnancy and gourmet cooking and gemstones like diamonds, they don’t come quick and easy.  Like fast food and quick meals, as a reader I’ll read those mass produced authors because I like to read and sometimes something that isn’t quite so full and rich is called for, but that doesn’t mean those will ever be read more than once or earn a spot on the Favorites list.  I will keep looking as I do want a broader range of authors I wait rather impatiently for new material, the ones I’m willing to spend my very limited buying budget on.  The rest, I’ll see you at the library during those long waits.

Peeves: Lacking Author Websites

Since I make the effort to link back to both the author’s main website and a direct link to the book when I’m writing a review, I see a whole lot of websites and, shockingly, a lot that are just not well designed at all.

As an artist, aesthetics are something that I tend to notice. It may not stick out as much to me if the site is nice and clean (which is really the goal, you want visitors to remember you for your content not the layout or design), but it sticks out like a sore thumb if the design looks bad or is difficult to navigate.  It is also pretty bad in my opinion if the site isn’t kept up to date with the newest releases or, even worse, a website doesn’t exist at all.

There are so many options available to create a decent looking website so I don’t think there is much of an excuse to not have at least something.  You don’t even have to be particularly computer literate to create one, nor does it even really have to cost you as there are tons of free options out there.  I’m not talking Twitter or Facebook either as you don’t have options there to provide easy to access book lists for published works.

Navigation is a huge peeve of mine.  No website should be difficult to find your way around.  Simple, easy to use and find, logical menus should be a priority on any site.  Not one person that goes to an author’s website wants to spend hours clicking every single link on their page to get the information they went there for in the first place.

From a design standpoint, since it is an author website, the focus should be on the author and their works not on flashy eye catching graphics and tons of wild fonts.  That is kind of another peeve of mine anyway, but I feel it is unprofessional and amateurish to have a whole bunch of stuff that is really unrelated and detracts from the focus of the website.  This is a technique that seems to pop up more on what I’d guess were self designed sites where the creative talent needs to remain with the writing rather than the graphics.  Again, with so many options out there, there is no excuse to have a super low quality design that makes the author look fly by night rather than professional and accomplished.  The image you portray with your website reflects on you and your abilities as it is part how you present yourself to the world as an author.  If your website is cheesy then I’m going to question the quality of your writing.

This is a huge point for me.  The majority of the time I visit an author’s website, I want to know what books they have written, if the book I’m looking at reading is part of a series and if so, where it falls in the reading order.  It drives me bat shit crazy when this is missing or worse, not clear.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve picked up a book thinking it is the first in the series based on what I’ve seen on the author’s website only to find out it isn’t because they have some whacked out way of listing their books.

There are a couple of simple solutions to a book list and reading order, so I have never been able to understand why this is so difficult.  Easiest is to list the books in reading order first to last, top to bottom or left to right and grouped by series (if there is one) or genre if you write in several areas.  Basic, right?  It should be so basic it doesn’t even warrant a mention, but you’d be amazed.  Another is to simply put the order number somewhere in your listing.  Ideally it would be both a reading order list that has the number listed as sometimes there are novellas in there and noting a .5 or something to the order makes that pretty clear.

I honestly hate it when an author only lists books in published order, especially when they write multiple series.  I don’t want to have to run through two dozen books to find the one book I’m looking for.  It is even harder when they don’t bother even noting the series a book is in when putting that list together.  Sometimes offering up a couple of different lists and orders works best when there are lots of series or interconnected series as different people are looking for different things.

Having a poorly designed, hard to navigate site that isn’t kept up to date can lose an author readers.  I have actually not picked up a book after going to an author site and not been able to determine important information like series order.  The same goes for sites that aren’t kept up to date.  Yes it is a little bit of work, especially if you publish quite a few books, but it is an essential selling tool that is not being utilized if you don’t take that little bit of time.

It doesn’t matter if you have one book or 20 to your name.  Having a website is really important.  Making it comfortable for your readers is just as important since they are the ones that count.

Thoughts on Reading and Writing: Male vs. Female Authors

Most everyone has preferences when it comes to reading.  Those may be the genres and subgenres they lean towards, paperback/hardcover vs. ebook, specific authors or even writing styles.  Another big preference potential is male or female authors.

Male and female authors very often write from differing or even contrasting world views.  As I mentioned in a previous post on perspectives, readers bring their life experiences into what they read.  Authors do the same thing when writing a book.  Since men and women have very different struggles and obstacles in their lives, their base level life experiences are going to be different, so how they approach the stories and characters they create are also going to be different.

It has been my experience that, as a woman, I struggle to connect with books that are written by male authors.  I can absolutely enjoy them and appreciate the artistry that is behind those stories, but I have yet to find a male author that inspires me to be watching impatiently for their next book release.

I have found that books written by male authors (though I must say that my sampling is on the narrow end and really only range in a few genres) tend to focus more on action than emotion.  The big, exciting parts of those books fall heavily into that range.  When there is an emotional context, it is often times harder to actually grasp the emotion the author is trying to impart because it comes from a different perspective than mine.  It is also more of a punctuation to different points of their stories rather than a threaded part of the cohesive whole.

A female author tends to have that emotional thread underlying and permeating everything.  When a reader sees a character developing, that character’s thoughts, actions and personality is woven in along with their feelings about themselves and everyone around them.  This applies to male and female characters.

Male and female authors usually portray their male and female characters differently.  What a woman sees as important or appealing aspects to her male and female characters is often going to be different than what a man sees for those same characters.  While both tend to either overtly or subtly objectify the opposite sex in their characters, women are more likely to emphasize non-physical or imperfect physical traits in their characters.  I think that they are also more willing to place both women and men on equal or at least balanced footing.

Author Kim Harrison posted similar thoughts on male vs. female author character representation on her FB page.

There will always be exceptions to every rule, but in the broader spectrum, these generalities tend to run true from what I’ve noticed.  I can admit that I’m biased here as I prefer a female author and often will skip even reading the blurbs of books that are obviously written by male authors.  I know that I have a better chance of connecting to how the female authors have written their stories and portrayed their characters as they are coming from a similar world view and life experience.  This absolutely is not always the case, but it is often enough to allow that to impact my reading choices.

That doesn’t mean that I am a staunch male author hater.  I will read something if it looks appealing.  I am always on the search for new favorite authors to add to my collection.  I just haven’t found one that gets to me yet.


Thoughts on Reading and Writing: Perceptions

It is easy as a reader to think that when you open that book, you are starting with this blank space that the book fills completely.  That the book will succeed or fail entirely on its own merits.  That is great in theory, but theory and reality rarely ever travel along the same path.  In this, the theory breaks because while the book may be a blank slate, the reader is not.

We each bring our own issues, experience and history onto that slate before we ever even glance at the cover.  Our own well covered slate has us beginning to form thoughts and expectations on that first glance before the spine is even cracked.  It is impossible to not let our slate color the slate of the book.

Our slates help us to form opinions and perceptions about what we are reading.  It is what helps us to like characters, plot elements, settings, everything that make up that book.  It is also what can make us dislike all those same things if they don’t fit into our personal version of the perceptions we form.

A book may connect on a seriously deep emotional level with a reader that has a personal experience that resonates with the subject in the book.  While that same book may be incredibly unemotional to a reader that their own history doesn’t give them the background to create any kind of a bridge between them and the book  to help them empathize.  The second reader may still be able to enjoy the book, but they just won’t be able to connect in the same way or on such an emotional level.

As  reader, I try to keep in mind what my own slate has written on it and attempt to understand how a person with a different history may view a story that I’m struggling to connect with.  There are times when my imagination just isn’t good enough to stretch that far, but sometimes, I can get a different perspective on a story and understand it on a different level.

I find it fascinating to look at how differing perceptions form peoples opinions with regards to books.  There are times when I’m floored after I’ve read a book that I thought was stunningly written only to then go read how other people have reviewed that book and find out that they completely hated it.  A lot of times, if the review is well articulated, I can totally understand how someone might feel that way.  I many not agree, but I can understand it.  Other times, I’m on the opposite end of that concept when I’ve found a book I really didn’t like that is heavily praised.

Understanding how my perceptions influence my opinion has also helped me learn to articulate what or why I like or dislike certain aspects of the books I’ve read.  It still isn’t always easy, not by a long shot, but it does help.  Eh… sometimes.

Cainsville Series Overview

Kelley Armstrong‘s latest book in the Cainsville series, Deceptions, was released earlier this week.  I again wanted to make sure I had a refresher read to make sure I didn’t end up missing anything in the new book, so I took the time to read the previous two books.  So glad I did, because I’d kind of forgotten how complex this story line actually is.

These books are all intricately connected and cannot be read as stand alone.  They absolutely have to be read in order or you are going to be seriously lost.  The general, larger story line, focuses on the main female character Olivia (Eden) and that she is the daughter of serial killers who was adopted after her parents arrest when she was two.  She didn’t find that fact out out until the point where the book starts (when she is 25).  Once she finds out, she spends her time dealing with the fallout when that becomes public knowledge, delving into her history and digging into the facts surrounding her birth parents crimes with the help of Gideon, an ethically questionable lawyer.

This series is packed full of side plots, dramas, details, intrigue and conspiracy throughout this series that makes this the kind of read where you really need to be aware and paying attention or you may end up missing something.  The first book gives quite a few hints as to what direction the series is going to go with hints of fae and celtic mythology showing up in Olivia’s background.  That takes a minor role starting out, but you know it is going to become a larger one later on down the line.  Everything is always tied back to the very unusual and isolated small town, Cainsville.

The unique approach to the paranormal in this book is probably one of the things that lands this series solidly on my favorites list.  It is contemporary, but with the aspects that put this into that paranormal genre beautifully worked in.  With the first book, you get those hints but then it twists off into a totally unexpected direction.  Each book seems to delve deeper into the paranormal side as more bits and pieces of Olivia’s history and origins are uncovered.

If you are a fan of Ms. Armstrong’s Otherworld series, this has a very different feel to it than those stories.  Since there is so much to these and they are so tightly woven together with lots of the side plots left open by the end of the books (without any ugly cliffhangers), the focus stays on the main characters instead of different characters and their stories being the focus of individual books.  I love how we get a smattering of reading from the different characters’ perspectives (and not just the main characters, but some of the side characters as well), but we aren’t constantly flip flopping.

Both the character development and world building in this series is beautifully done.  The characters are richly expressed and easily connected with.  The world is subtle, but that makes it so much easier to believe in it without stretching the imagination too far.

I highly recommend this series to anyone who hasn’t picked it up yet.

Peeves: Unlabeled Genres

There isn’t much that is more frustrating when reading a book, and about a 1/3 of the way into it, you realize the book isn’t what you expected because it was missing genre labels.  This is something that has happened quite a lot recently, though, after a tiny bit of research, I think I have to lay this particular peeve squarely on my library’s shoulders.

My library tends to omit genre labels on an awful lot of their books.  At first, I thought that was because for some reason, the publishers or those marketing the books left those labels off in an effort to gain a larger readership as some labels will keep someone from picking the book up in the first place.  But after looking at a few specific books that were missing labels at the library, Amazon had them notated correctly, so it probably isn’t anyone’s fault but the library.  The three biggest labels they tend to leave off are Young Adult, LGBT and Christian.

The LGBT label missing is frustrating because that is a genre I read and I may miss a book that I might want to read because that label isn’t there.  Honestly, if someone isn’t going to pick up a book with the LGBT tag, then they are probably the type that is going to be pretty ticked to get into the book and realize what the subject actually is.  Leaving it off is just as likely to keep readers away from it as they are to bring them in.

Both the missing labels for Young Adult and Christian tick me off because I’m just not interested in either of those genres.  The only YA books that I enjoy are those by authors that I already love, and even then it is a stretch, so I generally don’t want to pick up a YA book unless I’ve specifically looked for it.  The Christian books are much the same, but more so because I honestly don’t enjoy any book preaching to me, no matter the subject.  Since there is a specific genre for this, it should be labeled as such.  And yes, my library does have this as one of their labels, they just don’t always use it.  Same as all the others.

It gets frustrating when I feel like I’ve wasted time reading a part of a book that I picked up based on the information I had from both the genre labels and the blurbs only to find out it so wasn’t what I was expecting.  It isn’t often that I will finish books that weren’t properly labeled.  Even the times that I’ve forced myself to plow through them, I normally don’t even like what I’ve read by the time I’ve finished.

I like it even less that I now feel like I need to look up a book in multiple places to ensure that what I think the book is, actually is.  Maybe by taking the time to do this I’ll read less books that I don’t like and more that I do.

Peeves: Undeveloped/Unsupported Dialog

This is one that seems to have been bombarding me quite a bit lately, because apparently a lot of authors, even some that are generally well rated, do this.

What I mean by undeveloped or unsupported dialog is when you have characters having a conversation, but the only thing that conversation contains is the text involved in the dialog.  There is little to nothing that is added to that to help the reader connect with what is being said.  Little to no actions by the characters, almost no scene continuation or descriptions, and very little thoughts or emotions expressed by the characters during the dialog segment.

Yes, readers connect to the words written on the page, but part of being able to do that is by allowing them to feel immersed in the scene.  When you throw only the words the characters are speaking at them without adding color, texture, emotion or dimension to those words, they kind of feel like they are just floating out there unanchored.  You can kind of compare it to having a conversation on the internet.  It is really easy to mistake what a person is saying without any real context to back it up.  You can take it the wrong way or add your own emotional emphasis to the conversation that may not actually be there and that gives it a whole other meaning.

In books, readers need that extra information to connect better to the characters and what is actually meant and going on.  Often, if an author didn’t support their conversations, it is easy to feel that the characters lack emotion or that the emotion the writer is trying to convey isn’t genuine.  Sometimes a reader can totally miss out on subtle clues that the author is trying to impart as well.

An example of a bad conversation set up I read set the scene of the two main characters sitting down on a couch with drinks to talk.  After that little detail of what was going on outside of the conversation, there were about 3 pages of nothing but talking.  Not once was there a pause in the dialog to note that either character took a drink, shifted positions on the couch, neither touched the other character in any way (it was something of a romantic scene, or was supposed to be, there should have been small caresses and touches here and there).  There also weren’t any thoughts mentioned from either character’s perspective as to how they were taking the conversation, not even mentions of facial expression changes, something as simple as smiles or frowns or how something was said.  Because it was missing all of those things, what should have been a kind of deep and important conversation came across as dry and lackluster and I felt like I’d missed something.

There are so many places in a typical written conversation to add depth and context to a scene.  In a lot of cases, it doesn’t even need a whole lot, but just enough to give the conversation a fuller feel.  Without those things, it is so much harder for readers to connect to characters in an emotional sense.  Absolutely, dialog is integral to a good book.  But because we do not get to actually see the characters in front of us like we do in a movie, we cannot see the body language and the environment, the emotional impact the words are having on the participants.  We need to be told about those things by the author.  The ones that don’t take the time to even put bits of that into their conversations are lazy in my opinion.

For me, if the dialog is presented without those critical supporting features, it can nearly kill a book no matter how well the author writes everything else.  I can think of a few authors that tend to write this way and, even though I often like their books, those books tend to get pushed to the bottom of my To Read list until I’ve already read the better books on that list.  It is surprising to me how many professionally published authors just don’t do really good dialog.  If they would take that little bit of extra effort, those books could easily go from good to excellent.

Updated Ratings

After having written several reviews now, I realized that my previous rating system just didn’t quite cut it.  Apparently it is one thing to think, internally, that there aren’t that many slots to categorize books, but another entirely to be able to clearly define those slots when writing about them.  There are way more gray areas than I’d believed.  Because of that, I’ve decided to adjust my ratings to a more standardized form that, hopefully, will make it a bit more clear.

My previous rating scale and reasoning can be found here.  The new one isn’t a whole lot different, but it gives a bit more wiggle room that I felt I needed and didn’t have with some of my previous reviews.  I won’t go back and change any existing reviews, but all new reviews will follow the new system.




A 5 star rating is reserved for my absolute favorites.  I will absolutely be willing to spend the money to buy this book.  This type of book is one that I will read multiple times, has such great content that I find myself so absorbed in the story that I’m incredibly disappointed when the book is over because I want more.  The books that receive a 5 star review will be few and far in between because there just aren’t that many books that speak to me on that level.




4 star books are really good; excellent story/characters/world, but just miss the mark of falling into the favorites category.  There is a good chance that I might read it again if I didn’t have something more interesting in my To Read list.  It would definitely be something I’d recommend to others if asked.




3 star books are good, but not great.  I enjoyed it, didn’t feel like it was a waste of time, but more than likely won’t take the time to read it again.  They may have mostly decent writing, but often one major aspect seems weak or not well thought out or fully developed.  I might read other books by the same author or in the series when I’m looking for something to read, but don’t have something more anticipated or interesting on my list.  A lot of the time they are the type that seem like a replay of every other storyline out there.  Cookie cutter writers eventually fall into this category, no matter how much I may have liked the first book or so.  There are only so many times you can read the same story with only slightly different characters/scenarios before it gets really old.




2 star books are books that I didn’t particularly like. They are usually books that just weren’t for me, now matter how well written they may have been.  Sometimes quality of writing alone will drop a book down to the 2 level, even if the story concept was good.  There are only so many flaws a story can have before a reader loses interest.




1 star ratings are not ratings that I hand out often.  These are those that I seriously question every single person involved in the process because that book was BAD.  Bad story, horrid characters, no way was there any editing involved, or any combination of those things.  An awful lot of times, these are the books that I may get a few chapters into and cannot force myself to attempt to plow through another sentence and are absolute and total garbage.  I really hate using the last term for these books as I don’t like to slam anyone, but there really just isn’t a nice way of saying it when a book is actually that bad.

The House War, The Sacred Hunt and The Sun Sword Series Notes

Author: Michelle West
Series: The House War, The Sacred Hunt, and The Sun Sword

I have FINALLY gotten around to finishing all the re-reading I wanted to get in before I started on the latest book in this series.  I thought that before I actually wrote up the review for it, I needed to post a little about the series itself, which is actually listed as three separate series, though I’m not sure why as they are all pretty intimately connected.

The order that these books need to be read in also does not follow from series to series.  They overlap.  If you are not familiar with them, I recommend reading them in the order listed below:
The Hidden City – The House War
City of Night – The House War
Hunter’s Oath – The Sacred Hunt
Hunter’s Death – The Sacred Hunt*
House Name – The House War*
The Broken Crown – The Sun Sword
The Uncrowned King – The Sun Sword
The Shining Court – The Sun Sword
Sea of Sorrows – The Sun Sword
The Riven Shield – The Sun Sword
The Sun Sword – The Sun Sword
Skirmish – The House War
Battle – The House War
Oracle – The House War

The first note to the series that must be made is that Hunter’s Death and House Name are pretty much the same book.  I will admit that these were not the books that I took the time to re-read on this go round as I’ve already read the first several books in the series several times and felt that with the short time I had, I was okay to skip those.  Because of that I cannot say definitively, at this time, that they are exactly the same books (hey, it has been a while).  They are substantially enough the same that you could easily get away with only reading one.  The events in the last couple of books in the Sun Sword series happen at the same time as Skirmish and Battle from the House War Series.

These books are not the kinds of books that you can pick up one of the later books and not be totally lost.  You absolutely have to read them in order to be able to follow the story.  The entire storyline is incredibly intense and packed full of various different characters and places and political and personal interactions.  While each individual series has central characters, which are numerous, many of those characters are critical across the entire story line of all three series.  You could probably read the Sacred Hunt Series or the Sun Sword series alone, but if you want to read the House War series, you need to read them all in order to not miss out on something.

If you stop and think of what kind of mind can create the level of writing that is in these books, you just might break your brain.  Incredibly detailed world, phenomenally developed characters, intricately wrought and complex situations, relationships and political intrigues.  It is just so much to take in and absorb.  I actually described it to my husband as though you were reading about all of the residents in a small town, with all the details and personalities of each of those people and their interactions and relationships, except in a completely fantastical world filled with humans, magic, immortals, gods, and demons.  While this is a pretty dumbed down description, it is still pretty accurate.

In a way it is funny, because I’m not sure I would like a series like this written by any other author.  I don’t typically like reading books that are quite that intricately detailed and full while having to keep so close track of what is going on in a story, nor am I a huge fan of books that are that wed to the entire series that I would feel at a complete loss if I started in the middle somewhere.  In the case of these books, though, it is done so expertly that I cannot help but love every bit of it.  It is absolutely one of those “suck me in and devour me” kinds of series.


Key Essentials to a Great Romance Novel

A great romance novel is something that tugs at the heartstrings, yanks on the readers emotions and draws them into the story.  It is an escape and, in some cases, a hope that honestly great romances do happen.  There are several things that a story needs to have to become a truly great romance novel, essentials that really help connect a reader to the story emotionally.  Those essentials are some of the primary aspects that make a real romantic relationship work.

Yes, authors often use secrets and the withholding of information as a way to create tension and drama.  As long as you give a strong reason why that honesty isn’t happening, then it can work.  It can also work if it is one of the struggles the characters are dealing with and trying to do better at.  If it is not present just because, as a whim or because the character is ignorant, oblivious or just completely insecure, you had better do a really good job writing a story that makes those issues work or the integrity of your characters can fall apart and end up seeming stupid or week.

Trust ties in closely with honesty.  If your characters can’t be honest with each other, then the trust is going to be really hard to work with.  Absolutely, trust should be earned.  When you don’t take the time to build and develop that in the relationship, then it doesn’t come across as believable.  The characters are either blindly trusting, which can make them seem painfully naive, or they just never trust at all.  When you have a character that is so completely unwilling to build that trust or is unbending in their distrust of their romantic partner, no matter the actions or honesty the other has displayed, then that makes your character seem harsh, cold, uncaring or even something of fool.

What is good for the goose is good for the gander.  All parties in the romantic relationship should have the same rights and expectations of behavior, otherwise there is a huge double standard allowed and things can get really ugly.  If one part of the romantic couple gets upset about the behavior of the other, don’t have that one turn around and do the exact same thing and not allow the same kind of fallout to be addressed or dealt with.  All parties should have to compromise and develop or the relationship isn’t balanced and won’t appear very realistic.  You cannot have only one person expected to or be making all the changes or taking the difficult steps or having to deal with the difficult decisions.  That just isn’t that realistic.  Even though we are buying into the fantasy of the story, it still needs to feel possible.

Any good story is going to have some conflict, even in a really lighthearted story.  You cannot expect it to all be rainbows and rose petals and utterly, completely perfect.  On the other hand, the flawed characters, have to have growth as well.  In their situations, their personalities, even how they view the world around them or their belief in how relationships should work.  If you get to the end of the book and the characters are still the same as they started, then part of the point of the story got missed.  That goes for all characters, that whole equality/balance/compromise thing.

If the issues and conflicts within the relationship are the exact same ones throughout the entire book with zero progress toward improvement or change, the reader is going to get frustrated really quickly.  In a real relationship, if one or another of those in that relationship continue to keep making the same mistakes over and over, or continue to hurt their partner over and over again, eventually that relationship is going to break.  If it doesn’t, it isn’t a healthy relationship and that kind of defeats the purpose of a good romance.  You also cannot have it be the same throughout the entire book to only have the characters have a miraculous epiphany in the last chapter and all those problems are magically resolved.  It does take a bit of time to deal with and go through those changes.

Strong Characters
Make them flawed.  Make them imperfect.  Allow them to make mistakes, even big ones.  Allow them to feel insecure.  Allow them to be a little broken. Give them great personality.  Allow them to have emotions.  Just don’t make them so much of any one of those things that they are unlikable or that their attitudes and behaviors are just painfully unappealing.

If your character is confident in who they are on page 50, do not make them suddenly, for no reason, feel differently on page 120.  Don’t have your characters hate each other in the beginning, then have absolutely nothing change at all but they suddenly have the hots for each other.  Have motivations and reasons for the personalities you create and make sure they work together.  Back up any changes with specific and clear reasons.  It doesn’t work for someone to be a total badass, but is unable to function without someone holding their hand or cries at the drop of a hat.  A character can be conflicted, that is fine.  Don’t make them seem like they have multiple personalities, unless you are actually writing a multiple personality character.

There are always exceptions.  Different scenarios can allow for these aspects to not necessarily all be prominent in a story or allow for exceptions, but you have to have some hint of them.  Either that or have a great reason to allow for those exceptions to make a story work well.  Sure, you can produce an okay or even a good romantic story without some of those aspects, but chances are you aren’t going to be able to pull off that really great one without them on some levels.  The biggest thing that is going to make the difference between okay and great is believability.  You don’t want your reader laughing at your characters like they are that bad horror movie actor that does that obviously stupid thing that everyone knows is going to get them killed (because, come on!  Everyone knows you don’t look under the bed).

Besides providing entertainment, romantic stories can also often be a launching platform for how expectations begin to form in younger generations.  It is something of a peeve of mine for a romance novel to set an extremely bad example of what is okay in a relationship.  No, not all romance stories showcase healthy relationships.  The ones that are well written make sure it is pretty clear that the story is about a relationship that isn’t healthy.  Others that aren’t so well written can send the wrong message altogether, allowing impressionable or inexperienced readers to get the idea that some incredibly unhealthy, even harmful behaviors, attitudes and actions are actually okay.  Not much will drop a book onto my Don’t Like list faster than books that don’t make it clear that certain behaviors are unhealthy or worse, promote those ideas and behaviors.

Safe sex falls into that category.  I’ve mentioned it before.  There is zero excuse for an author to not include safe sex practices in their writing, with a very, very few exceptions like authentic representation of a time period and the rare time when a story warrants it.  Most authors are good about making it clear when an unsafe sex situation has occurred that the characters should have been safe/made better choices, but not all authors do this.  I personally respect the author and characters a lot more when they take the time to be responsible.

Oh, and for me?  A real romance has a happy ending.  That can be approached from a lot of different ways.  It doesn’t always mean a traditional Cinderella, happily ever after.  As long as, in the end, the characters are happier in themselves and/or their relationships or better off overall then it qualifies.



Peeves: Cover Art

They say that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but we totally do.  The cover of a book is a reader’s very first impression of the book.  It gives the reader a first taste of what may be inside those pages and an indication of the writer’s style and personality.  As an author, I would think that you’d want your cover to be either interesting enough to grab a reader’s attention and draw them in or, at the very least, be generic enough to not matter.  Either approach will work.

In a lot of  cases, the cover isn’t going to make or break a book.  BUT… if your cover is done in such a way that it strikes a bad first impression, you are going to have a very hard time getting a reader, especially a reader that is new to you as an author, to actually get past whatever it is about the cover that bugs them enough to pick up that book and take a chance on reading it.  There are several things that bug me when it comes to cover art on books, enough so that I will often not even bother to read what the book is about and completely pass it up unless I’m just desperate for something to read.  A lot of times, I still won’t even look at it no matter how desperate I am.

Copycatting:  When a cover is, or contains, the exact same or very closely the same photo/image/design of another cover by another author.  This is something that I’ve noticed an awful lot recently and it annoys the crap out of me.  Not always so much that I won’t read a book because of it, but enough that I struggle to view the authors as more serious or professional.

I usually don’t always notice until I’ve read one book and then later see another book by a totally different author with a nearly identical image or a design that is so close, I think it is another book by the first author.  A lot of authors will use a similar design style throughout a series and that helps the reader to quickly identify it as being in that same series.  When you run across a situation where that isn’t the case, it feels deceptive and unoriginal.  I have no idea why this is so prevalent at the moment, but I am wondering if those books are being produced by the same publisher, one that isn’t willing to invest in unique cover art for their different authors, or if they fall more in line with self published works where the author has to provide their own cover art and they are getting images from free or low cost image services.

If you cannot get a full design work up with unique graphic images and/or photos for whatever reason, be it cost or lack of creativity, I would much rather see a generic design with a little color and just a title and author.  If you aren’t creative enough to show an original cover image, then how am I as a reader to believe that the story inside is going to be any more special or interesting than that cover, or even better, worth my time?

Cartooning:  Cartoon/childlike drawings.  This is definitely a peeve of mine.  If you are a mature, professional author writing mature stories for adults, why are you putting out books with covers on them that make them look like children’s’ books?  I will admit that not all covers that have cartoonish images on the cover come across as childlike, but most of them do.

I don’t read kids books unless it is something for my kids for some reason.  I also very rarely read a young adult book unless it is by an author that I already love their adult books.  This is because those just aren’t the kinds of books I usually want to read.  If your book cover appears that your book belongs in those genres, I’m not even going to take the time to read what the book is supposed to be about let alone take the time to read the book itself.

Cheap/Poor Computer Graphic:  Images or designs that look like my high school-er put together in his first graphic design class.  Sadly, in a lot of these cases, my high school-er could have done a better job.  Seriously, if it is going to look like completely amateur work, there is no way I am ever going to look past that cover.  Never.  Why even bother with a cover if that is what you are going to put on there?

Back to the point about a generic cover.  You will get a crap ton more looks and interest if you have even a very simple, basic, clean cover with zero images over something that is bad.  The goal is to generate interest, not turn it away.  I have a feeling (though I haven’t taken the time to research this for any kind of actual evidence), that books with covers like that are very poor cousins within the self published realm.  Even if it isn’t, that is the impression that those covers give.  I seriously doubt a publisher with a very good reputation is going to put out a book with a cover that isn’t at least partially well thought out, let alone so utterly terrible that it does the opposite of the job it is supposed to do which is get a reader wanting more of what it sees.

A book cover, when it has anything other than that simple, generic design, is suppose to tease and tantalize its readers into wanting to pick it up and explore what is beyond that cover.  It is supposed to draw you in, not cause you to go running and screaming in the opposite direction.

How I Rate Books

There are several things that I believe will either make or break a book with tiny variations along the way being the only difference between a good book and one that is awesome.  Or… along the other spectrum, awful.

I categorize books based mainly on whether or not I’d be willing to spend the money on the book, or as is most often the case as I read the majority of books from the library, if it is worth re-reading (which that list has become incredibly narrow as of late). This type of book is one that I will read multiple times, has such great content that I find myself so absorbed in the story that I’m so disappointed when the book is over because I want more.  These are the books that are in my all time favorites list.  There is a big divide between this level and the next because there just aren’t many at all that will land in the top.

The next level is where a book is really good; excellent story/characters/world, but isn’t quite unique or special enough for me to want to take the time out of reading new material to want to read it again.  It would definitely be something I’d recommend to others if asked.

Editing is something of a peeve of mine and can actually make the difference between a good/mid-level book and a great book.  For me, if the story is excellent and I’m reading along and there is a glaring editing mistake, it trips me up.  I have to stop, usually re-read to try and figure out what was actually meant before I can move on.  This disrupts the flow of a book and bugs me to no end.  I don’t always know if those great books are just exceptionally well edited or if the story is just so amazing my mind skims over whatever mistakes are there, but the times it is noticeable can really effect where I place a book on my good/bad scale.

There will always be that mid-level book that is okay, but to me seems like a replay of every other storyline out there.  It may have mostly decent writing, but often one major aspect seems weak or not well thought out or fully developed.  I wouldn’t consider them a waste of time, but are right there on the border.  Cookie cutter writers eventually fall into this category, no matter how much I may have liked the first book or so.  There are only so many times you can read the same story with only slightly different characters/scenarios before it gets really old.  This level also covers books that just weren’t for me, now matter how well written they may have been.

The last group of books are those that I seriously question every single person involved in the process because that book was BAD.  Bad story, horrid characters, no way was there any editing involved, or any combination of those things.  An awful lot of times, these are the books that I may get a few chapters into and cannot force myself to attempt to plow through another sentence and are absolute and total garbage.

It may seem that there is a huge gap between those last two, but there really isn’t.  Most books that I’m not a huge fan of will fall in that second to last group.  Just because I don’t necessarily like or enjoy it doesn’t make it a bad book.

I guess if I had to put a label or name on those levels, they would be Excellent/Favorite, Really Good, Mediocre/Didn’t Like, Garbage.  Though I really hate using the last term for that label as I don’t like to slam anyone, but there really just isn’t a nice way of saying it when a book is actually that bad.