Author Interview - Karen Cantwell (Indie in Summer)

It's time for another fabulous author interview!  My guest today has a bright and witty personality, topped only by her talent as a writer.  Her debut work Take the Monkeys and Run was a quarter-finalist for Amazon's Breakthrough novel award and it's sequel Citizen Insane has leapfrogged up my TBR list.  Please join me in welcoming Karen Cantwell!

*applause, applause*

Tell us a little bit about yourself, how did you get started as an author?

I'd like to say it started with a delightful (if I do say so myself) book I wrote in the sixth grade called The Adventures of Frog and Mr. Toad. However, any success I hoped to achieve in publishing THAT masterpiece ended when I discovered a little novel titled, The Wind in the Willows. Gee, I thought I was being SO original! Well, my mother thought it was good (thank goodness for mothers), so she encouraged me to keep at it. In high school, I wrote for the yearbook, and in college I studied literature and wrote screenplays. Then came real life, jobs, and kids. I finally hit the ol' keyboard more recently, determined to write and complete a novel. That novel is, Take the Monkeys and Run.

You have a great talent for writing from the perspective of a wife and mother. Are you a family woman?

Oh yes! I'm married and have four amazing kids. No, really. I mean it -- They're AMAZING.

Barbara Marr was a wonderful protagonist and she encounters some crazy circumstances from witnessing suspicious activity at a house in her neighborhood to a yard full of monkeys (just to name a few!) How much of your own personality is mirrored in your character? Do you think you would react the way Barb does in similar circumstances?

My relationship with Barbara Marr is . . . interesting. She has curly hair like me, but that was an accident. She was supposed to have straight, dirty blonde hair. She didn't care for it. So, many people think Barbara Marr IS me. This isn't entirely true. Many of her thoughts are thoughts I have had, but I would say that these are the universal sorts of thoughts many women and mothers my age have had as well. I put Barb into chaotic scenarios, because let's face it, the everyday life of a mother often lacks the adventure we crave. THEN I watch her react. Barb never reacts the way I would -- that's because she's not a royal chicken when the rubber meets the road like I am! Nope, I'm a freaky foul through and through. Ultimately, Barbara Marr is the heroine I dream of being.

The mystery in your book was really well done with multiple layers that kept me guessing - and laughing - throughout the story! Was it hard to balance the suspense of a murder mystery with your humor and wit?

YIKES! Yes, it's the hardest part of writing these books. I write humor, because I think there's enough sadness on TV and in the world today, and I'd rather give people a chance to escape from that. BUT, it's hard to inject humor into a story about murder and keep it believable enough to entice the reader to continue reading instead of throwing the book out the window! I feel like I'm walking a very thin tightrope when I write these Barbara Marr mysteries.

How did the different aspects of the mystery develop as you constructed your ideas for this story? With all the classic elements - motive, suspects, clues, red herrings, suspense, and intrigue - where did you begin and how did the novel come together?

I started with an idea for WHODUNNIT (the end), then went back to the beginning and wrote my way there. I knew I wanted monkeys and a long-vacant house in the tale. The rest came as I wrote. When I got to the end, the WHODUNNIT had changed enough, that I had to write a few more drafts before it was cohesive enough to say THE END. I'm not sure I could write another Barbara Marr novel that way now though. Many of those characters in her life, sprung from my twisted imagination, but now they exist, so writing future stories for her, I find I have to plan more - outline.

I noticed that Take the Monkeys and Run is one of many books you authored. Will you share a bit about your other works? Do you have a favorite among the pieces you've written?

Thank you for asking! (You ask wonderful interview questions, by the way!) I released a Barbara Marr short story collection in November of 2010 titled The Chronicles of Marr-nia. One of the stories in that collection is a between-the-novels short, "Missing Impossible" - it takes place between Take the Monkeys and Run and the second novel, Citizen Insane (just released). There are also three other family life stories in that collection. I also co-authored a fun chick-lit, Foxy's Tale, with women's fiction author, LB Gschwandtner which we released just this year.

I've also had a historical mystery, "The Recollections of Rosabelle Raines," published in the anthology, Chesapeake Crimes: They Had it Comin'. I'm very proud of that story.

I will say, that the piece that holds the most special place in my heart is a short story titled, "Taming the Hulk" - one of the family life shorts found in The Chronicles of Marr-nia. It's funny and touching at the same time, and mothers often tell me that it actually made them cry.

What would you say are the biggest perks to being an indie author? What are the greatest challenges?

The biggest perk is the freedom. I choose my own titles and covers. I publish when I want to, not when it's convenient for a publishing company. I have instant access to my sales numbers. I'm paid on a timely basis. It's all great stuff. I love every minute of it.

The challenges are that I must promote on my own. Finding an audience is much trickier when your access to the greater purchasing population is limited.

I first checked out your writing because of a recommendation from author J.C. Phelps! In the spirit of paying it forward, who is/are your favorite indie author(s)?

Oh! JC is great, isn't she???? She's amazing, so of course, she's on my list! Also, I love LC Evans, Michael Wallace, Debbi Mack, Maria Schneider, Barbara Silkstone, LB Gschwandtner, Michael Crane (gee, I have a thing for Michaels, don't I?), Cathy Wiley (I'm just reading her mystery, Dead to Writes, right now, and it's wonderful - she's a very good writer), and Misha Crews. There are more I'm sure, that I'm probably missing, but these are all authors that I have read and absolutely LOVED their writing.

What projects are you currently working on?

Well, I just finished and published the second Barbara Marr novel, Citizen Insane, so I'm going to get right to work on the third - Silenced by the Yams. I would also like to write another between-the-novels short story, as well as finish a middle-grade novel I started some time ago, called My Cupcake Summer, about a rather dramatic young girl who thinks her problems are the worst in the world, until she meets another young girl who is suffering a serious illness. Not only does she realize her problems may not be so bad, but she learns to reach inside the caring part of herself, and find a way to help her new friend.

Where can we find out more about you and your work?

I love for people to stop by my website - !

Thanks so much for being part of Indie in Summer!

Thank YOU, Lisa! This was such fun, and I truly appreciate the opportunity to blabber on about my passion for writing. :)

Take the Monkeys and Run (Indie In Summer)

As Indie in Summer continues this week, I'm pleased to feature a book I read recently that is not only one of my new favorite independent works, but is one of the most fun mystery novels I've read in years.  At $2.99* for the Kindle eBook, I was hooked by the title and price tag alone, but a great bargain is just one of many things this fabulous work has going for it!

Barbara Marr is an average wife, mother, and movie aficionado, but when her husband moves out her solid foundation is shaken. A sleepless night leads to observing the abandoned house in her neighborhood, and when a moving truck arrives at the suspicious house in the middle of the night - followed by monkeys populating her backyard the next day - Barb is determined to figure out what's going on. Her amateur sleuthing soon turns up a grisly scene, and talk of the mafia is buzzing around her block. Barb could be suffering from an overactive imagination, but she's not ready to give up easily. Add in a police officer who looks like Brad Pitt, Barb's private investigator ex-boyfriend, and her walk-out husband who keeps walking back in and the mysteries pile up as high as the laughter.

Take the Monkeys and Run is a smart and witty book that is as charming as it is suspenseful. The plot twists and turns are delightfully unpredictable and layered with a great blend of intrigue and comedy. Barbara Marr was a freshly unique protagonist, too. She is an everyday woman yet there is nothing vanilla about her character or her life. Facing extraordinary circumstances, she summons both courage and brain power while demonstrating the strength of her heart as well as her sense of humor.

Karen Cantwell excels at creating a fun and engaging novel with this work. The characters were well-developed, the story well-told, and even though the plot wraps up nicely, I left the book eager for more. Cantwell is definitely an author to keep an eye on and if her future works are as entertaining as Take the Monkeys and Run, a long and successful writing career is surely in her future!
I love books that cross genres and this one was a great blend of comedy, mystery, family, and cozy romance.  It's a book that will appeal to a wide range of audiences and if you're looking for a great eBook bargain or a starter to indie fiction - Take the Monkeys and Run is a great recommendation.  Along with seeking out more Barbara Marr stories in the future, I'm pleased to announce my interview with Karen Cantwell that will be appearing later this week!

*I bought the Kindle copy for $2.99 but it looks like it's currently on Amazon for $0.99 - Go buy it!!


First there was the hardcover.
Then there was the paperback.

Now there is ...the flipback?

Originally launched in the Netherlands, UK publisher Hodder & Stoughton will soon be releasing the new format of ultra-lightweight books known as flipbacks.  The landscape oriented books are designed to be small and portable and easily held in one hand while reading.  The "reading revolution" is also being touted as "a full length novel in little more than the size of an iPhone" and "something that doesn't need recharging" which would imply that the new style is trying to appeal to those who value the jet setting advantages of eReaders but the tactile nature of paper books.  As of now there are no plans for flipbooks hitting shelves in the US, but I'm curious about what the blogging world thinks about them.  Do flipbooks appeal to you?  Would you snatch one up versus other versions of your latest TBR work?

Merchant - Plus a Progeny Giveaway! (Indie in Summer)

I know I don't normally read and review short stories, but earlier this year I came across a fantastic fantasy novel and when I learned that the author was expanding the world of the book through a series of short story prequels, I jumped at the chance to read them!

In Progeny: The Children of the White Lions author R.T. Kaelin created the world of Terrene, a richly detailed land populated with a host of heroes and villains ripe for adventuring. However, the history and culture of the landscape in Progeny - as expansive as it was - hinted at the tip of an iceberg. Readers were keen to point out that there seemed much more to the world; and the short story collection Merchant is the first episode in The Terrene Chronicles to provide readers with a glimpse beneath Progeny's surface.

Merchant is a collection of three stories ("Market", "Festival", and "Journey") which relate the early experiences of the hero Nundle Babblebrook. In Progeny the witty halfling is introduced as a merchant turned magic user and Merchant is the engaging tale of his history. As in Kaelin's full length work, the setting shines, the secondary characters are full of charm, and Nundle himself is a delight.

Equally enjoyable as a prequel or postscript to Progeny, this companion piece could be appreciated by fans of Kaelin's writing or those sampling it for the first time. Humorously nicknamed "The Nundle Bundle" (on the author's website), Merchant is a great addition to the ever expanding world of R.T. Kaelin's Terrene.
And as a special treat for Indie in Summer, R.T. Kaelin has generously offered to sponsor a giveaway of a Progeny Prize Pack - including a paperback copy of the book and a deluxe bookmark! The giveaway is open to mailing addresses in the US and Canada INTERNATIONALLY and you can gain up to TEN entries per person.  Here's how:

1. Leave a comment on this post. (Be sure to include a way to contact you!)

2. Leave a comment on R.T. Kaelin's guest post.
3. Leave a comment on my review of Progeny.
4. Leave a comment on my interview with R.T. Kaelin.
5-6. Follow R.T. Kaelin on Twitter. (Worth two entries!)
7-10. Check out The Terrene Chronicles - Merchant, Family, or Rivals - and send an email to HerBookSelf at gmail dot com with which story/stories you read and your thoughts.  The stories are available for free on R.T. Kaelin's website or are downloadable for $.99 per bundle for your eReader of choice.  One extra entry will be added for each story pack that you email me about as well as a bonus fourth entry if you remark about all of them!

This contest is open from now until July 7th.  Winner will be notified by email and have three days to respond with a valid mailing address (US & Canada).  If no response, a new winner will be chosen.  Best of luck!

UPDATE 6/24/11 - Contest is now open internationally!  Same entry rules as above, be sure to indicate a way to contact you if you win!

Why I do Whatever it is that I do (Top Ten Tuesday)

We all get stressed every once in a while, right?  The "To Do" list begins to resemble a short story (or maybe even a novel) and we start wishing for more hours in the day.  There's household chores, work duties, family commitments and there never seems enough time to do it all... let alone write out a blog post, or two, or five.  So why blog?  Why spend time that could be devoted to other things in life writing out thoughts, feelings, and ideas to spin out into cyberspace never even knowing if anyone in the universe will read them?  And better - or maybe worse - why a book blog?  Now not only do we place upon ourselves the undue burden of writing, but now we must also read.  And write reviews.  And read enough that we have meaningful commentary to provide on a regular basis.

What level of insanity is that?!??

That question brings me to this week's Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Things To Love About Book Blogging.  Or as I have posted it, what is it about this craft that keeps me hooked despite the busyness of everyday life?  It's a question I ask myself fairly often when I feel like this blog is just taking up my time.  Why do I blog, and why a book blog?  The lovely folks over at The Broke and The Bookish are celebrating their one year blogiversary - Happy One Year and Here's to Many Many More - and I'm pleased to join in their festivities by sharing with you my top ten reasons for being a book blogger.

1. Books.  Stating the obvious, right?  "I love book blogging because I love books."  It doesn't get more basic than that, but it also doesn't get any more important.  I love to read and it's often hard to find people around me that read as much and as diversely as I do.  However, in the book blogging community bibliophiles abound and I've never had trouble finding people who share my expansive and eclectic tastes!

2. Writing about books.  I love to write.  I've dabbled in composing novels but all my writing has always been for the fun of writing.  it's hard for me to describe the passion I possess for putting words on paper (..err.. computer screen?)  I like reflecting on any number of thoughts but especially when it comes to sharing books, I really enjoy writing about what I read.  I've never had any great talent in music or art, but writing is my outlet of expression.  It's my means to create something new and original every time I approach a pen (...errr... keyboard) and I love it.

3. Comments.  I honestly believe I would keep this blog up and running even if I never had a single hit on it, but there is something euphoric about receiving comments.  I know I write mostly for me, but I do a little (okay, a big) happy dance every time someone leaves a comment!  I keep telling myself that I'm really not in this for validation from others, but at the same time, the whole pursuit is more enjoyable as a conversation rather than a monologue.  I like to be challenged, affirmed, contradicted, congratulated, and second-guessed.

4. Discovering new (or old) works.  Book blogging has expanded my reading horizons.  I would venture that this item is going to appear on many, many lists today so I won't over-expand here, but I do want to say thank you to everyone who has recommended a book to me in the past.  Whether it's an author or publicist seeing that my tastes match their current stock of ARCs or a fellow blogger chiming in with "if you like x, you have to read y", I love recommendations.

5. Discussing bookish topics.  As much as I enjoy writing book reviews, some of my favorite blog-based conversations have developed when a book review turned into a thematic discussion of something literary that transcended the original work that brought it to my mind.  Three such examples were books in the digital age (The Book by M. Clifford); alterations to classic literature (The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain); and the stereotyping of genres for genders (A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin).

6. Connecting with other bloggers.  I suppose this goes hand-in-hand with number three, but if writing my own bookish posts is two scoops of ice cream, reading great posts by others is the hot fudge, whipped cream, and cherry on top! 

7. Memes.  Not all of them, mind you, but there are a few that have been so immeasurably fun to post that I can't help but join the pro-meme bandwagon.  Along with Top Ten Tuesdays (from The Broke and The Bookish) and Fairy Tale Fridays (from Tif Talks Books), I've started a few features of my own including A Weekend to ReCOVER, Series in September, and Indie in Summer and it's been really fun to have others comment on and link up to them.

8. Authors.  There would be no book blogs without books and there would be no books without authors.  Another fabulous thing about becoming a book blogger is the platform it has given me to interact with authors.  I've always felt that great books inspire dialog and conversation and I'm immensely grateful for the opportunities I have had to carry out those dialogs with authors and catch a glimpse of the people and personalities behind the pages.  Here's a link to the ever-growing list of authors I've had the pleasure of interacting with on this blog. 

9. Giveaways.  Is it crazy-selfish of me to list this one?  Seriously I like hosting them as much as I like entering them, but I'd be lying if I failed to mention FREE BOOKS as a reason why I really do love being a book blogger!! And for those new to Her Book Self, check back later this week for a giveaway of R.T. Kaelin's Progeny: The Children of the White Lions!  (A few details were announced yesterday...)

10. YOU!  Okay, strip away all the generic stuff about me loving comments and loving to connect with other bloggers - it's all true, but really, from the bottom of my heart, you are a reason I love being a book blogger.  Now even if you're saying to yourself, "Self, I don't even know this lisa person."  That's okay.  You're reading this, and that's awesome!  I do write for myself, but trust me when I say I'm very glad you're reading.
"I speak to these people, and I speak to you because I cannot help it. It gives me strength, almost unbelievable strength, to know that you are there... How blessed are we to have each other? I am alive and you are alive so we must fill the air with our words. I will fill today, tomorrow, every day until I am taken back to God. I will tell stories to people who listen and to people who don't want to listen, to people who seek me out and to those who run."
-Dave Eggers, What is the What
Once again, Happy Blogiversary to The Broke and The Bookish!  I think I speak for many bloggers when I thank you for your wonderful blog and the way you infuse community into the book blogging world.  I have found many a wonderful blog through your site and I am always cheered when I hear of people stumbling onto Her Book Self through you!  Looking forward to reading all the other great entries in this fun edition of Top Ten Tuesday!

Writing a "Good Book" (Indie in Summer)

Tomorrow is the summer solstice and though the rainy, dreary weather I've been seeing out my window seems to promise that spring is in full swing, June 21st does mark the first day of summer, so it is with great pleasure that I'm kicking off Indie in Summer - my new feature spotlighting independent authors!  To start things off, I'm pleased to present a guest post by R.T. Kaelin, author of the epic fantasy Progeny. Along with this great post, stay tuned this week for my review of Merchant - the first in a series of short story bundles that serve as prequel material for Progeny - as well as details to come about a Progeny giveaway!  AND - for those in or near Ohio, R.T. Kaelin will also be at Origins in Columbus, OH from June 23-26!

Writing a “Good Book”
R.T. Kaelin

What makes a ‘good book’?

Go ahead, take a moment and try to come up with your answer. I will wait for you here.


Still here? Seriously, think about it. I won’t go anywhere.


Done? Good, welcome back.

Now, if you have an answer, that is great. Hold onto it for a little while. If you were unable to come up with an idea, no worries, I promise that at the end of this article, I will reveal the correct answer. You might wonder how – with such a subjective question – could there be a ‘correct’ answer? Maybe not. Nevertheless, I think there is one that is as correct as any other is.

Now, if you asked a thousand different people that exact question, you might get a thousand different answers. As I am not any of those people, I cannot guess as to what their response might be. So, along with some help from a few esteemed authors, let me tell you what my convoluted answer is and why I have done my damnedest to write what I consider a ‘good book.’

“A good book has no ending.”
-R.D. Cumming

Rare is the author who can create a story that is timeless. It is a tall mountain to try to climb.

Even the most enduring tales of all time, at their heart, are nothing more than a deep examination of the human condition on one level or another. Genre, plot, setting, style, theme all take a backseat to the characters and their journey.

Authors like J.R.R. Tolkien, Ernest Hemingway, Charles Dickens, C.S. Lewis, Jane Austen, Ken Follett, and others of their ilk all have or had the inspired ability to both grasp and elucidate what stokes the furnace within an individual and examine how that fire either gently toasts or violently chars the people they touch in their life. The characters they create have stories we wish we could continue to follow even when the book stops.

However, we cannot all hope to be as succinct and surgically precise as these great writers who have created uniquely fantastic characters while weaving a grand tale for them to traipse through. Some of us must simply strive for a good read, crafting something that makes the reader excited, hopeful or anxious as they turn that next page.

With every bit of fiction I put out, I want the reader to be looking forward to discovering the next phase of the tale. Regardless of time, place, or reality, I endeavor to guide the reader along a path that, when the story/book ends, the reader’s immediate response is a disappointed and frustrated, “Damn…but I want to know what happens next…”

“You know you've read a good book when you turn the last page and feel a little as if you have lost a friend.” 
-Paul Sweeney

Now, I could see how you might read my last words and think to yourself, “That’s sort of a sick, vindictive approach for an author to take.” In a sense, you might be right. But, please, try to understand things from my point of view. When I write something, rarely is it for my sole consumption. The words I write are meant to be read by you. I want to make a connection with you; draw you in and make you feel invested in the story. You should love or hate the characters. You should root for or against them. You should demand to know what happens and be happy or mad as events play out. Ultimately, you should care.

When I write, I strive for stories that leave the reader longing for more when the last word on the last page is consumed. I do this for the purely selfish reason that I want that reader to come back the next time I publish something. Without readers, an author is a madman having a conversation with a brick wall.

When you close a book, I want you to be satisfied, but a little sad the tale is over. I want you to feel like you have just said farewell to a good friend whom you will not see for a long time.


Imagine how excited you will be when the next work comes out. It will be like a grand reunion.

“A good book should leave you... slightly exhausted at the end.”
-William Styron

I like to read and write books that require the reader to invest themselves in the tale. Novels that can be read on a lazy, Sunday afternoon are not my cup of tea.

I like – no, I love – books that demand my attention. I adore stories that draw me in and force me to connect the dots. I worship authors that leave little, hidden nuggets for me to find as I read. I long for novels that make me immediately want to read the book again, only moments after completing the first pass, just so I can catch the little intricacies that I missed.

When I write, I leave those same bread crumbs I savor for my readers. Some are readily apparent, others…well, wait a book or two in the series for the ‘ah-hah!’ moment. I promise, it is coming. Really.

Every author worth his or her salt wants to write a ‘good book.’ I certainly set out on my journey as a writer to do so. Hopefully, I have succeeded.

However, the ultimate judgment as to if I have achieved my goal is not up to me. That is your job.

Now, for that ‘correct’ answer to the opening question: Do you want to know what makes a ‘good book’?
“'Tis the good reader that makes the good book.” 
-Ralph Waldo Emerson

I think that is as good an answer as any.

Good days ahead.

And good memories behind!
(So goes the greeting and response in Terrene.)

For those who want to check out more of R.T. Kaelin's writing (and for those who love epic fantasy) be sure to check out his website!  As I hinted at above, coming this week will be a review of Merchant (the first short story bundle from The Terrene Chronicels) as well as a giveaway of Progeny!  One paperback copy will be up for grabs (US or Canada only) with up to ten entries per person.  I won't reveal all the ways to enter just yet, but two of them do include leaving a meaningful comment on this post (include an email address) and following R.T. Kaelin on Twitter.  Good luck and check back later this week for more details!

Dragons and Swords and Shields... oh my? (A Weekend to ReCOVER)

It's time for a mini-update on my Song of Ice and Fire Challenge.  What was supposed to be one book a month has been dastardly delayed due to the simple fact that I forgot just how long these books are!  We're talking grandiose chunksters.  But I love them.  Really.  Every literary trip to Westeros pulls me more deeply into the world and the expansive landscape is truly amazing!  Plus, as a reread, I'm stunned by Martin's brilliant use of foreshadowing in the series.  There are plenty of scenes that have a significantly increased impact the second time around.

Back to my challenge.  It's mid-to-late-June so I should technically be mostly finished or at least starting A Feast For Crows.  Unfortunately, I've only just begun the substitute barbell that is A Storm of Swords.  Yet, I'm still super excited for next month's release of A Dance With Dragons!  With just under a month to go, I thought it would be fun to peek into the world of marketing and share some of the changing cover images for this awesome book!  Those that follow GRRM's livejournal will know that he posted these images back in March, but I thought they would make a good discussion point for A Weekend to ReCOVER.

The first is the original cover announced back in 2006, the middle was the updated cover circa 2009, and the left is the current cover that will supposedly grace the book when it reaches the eager hands of readers in a few short weeks!  There are aspects of all three covers that I appreciate.  I'm a bit partial to the one on the right, only because it matches with the copies of the first four that I own, but the shield image on the right is really interesting as well.  I'm not sure I understand why the middle has a sword and nothing particularly dragon-ish, but this is a book that could be released with the most generic of covers and I would still be exceptionally excited about reading it. 

Do you have a favorite among the covers for A Dance With Dragons?  Which one best catches your eye?

A Weekend to ReCOVER is a meme hosted by Her Book Self dedicated to discussing book jackets and cover art.  Feel free to leave your comments and thoughts here or chime in with a post of your own on this book or any interesting attention-grabbing cover(s) that you want to discuss.  Leave me a link and I'll be sure to stop over and see what bookish art you're spying this week!

We Give Books

My friend Ellen recently introduced me to a really awesome website called We Give Books.  I checked it out and decided - this is one of those things I can't not blog about!!  Yeah, double negative, I know, but it fits.  This is a really awesome organization and I'm remarkably surprised how many people don't know of it's existence.  Basically, you go online, read a children's book and they donate a book to charity!  Read a book, Give a book.  It really is that simple!

Now, I should mention that I don't currently have children, but I still love to read children's books.  Why?  Well, partly it is the opportunities to share my love of reading with nieces and nephews, sometimes it's me reminiscing about works I loved when I was small, and occasionally it's just pure curiosity about new and creative stories for young people.  And illustrations.  I'm a sucker for great illustrations!

There are some awesome charities being served by this project so if you have a few minutes, why not check out your favorite - or find a new favorite - children's book online?  Feel free to stop back and comment to let me know what book(s) you chose!

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is an urban fantasy alternate version of US history in which the sixteenth president of the United States embarked upon a hidden career as a slayer of bloodsucking fiends. Seth Grahame-Smith - creator of the instant cult-classic Pride and Prejudice and Zombies - returns to his form of incorporating humorous yet violent warfare against the undead into an otherwise well-known story. In this case, the book still represents a fairly accurate biography of Lincoln, granted the addition of vampires as a primary cause of the US civil war keeps the book in the fiction section, despite Grahame-Smith's prologue relating why the book is true and should be taken seriously.

I suppose I would have enjoyed this work more had it not tried for the pretense of conspiracy theory. I was highly entertained by Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and was expecting a similar lighthearted spirit to this book. The opening of the story, in which Abe as a young boy discovers that the same axe he splits logs with can be used to decapitate vamps, maintained the classic-meets-paranormal feel. However, once the book progressed and Lincoln's political career began, the mash-up did not work as well. As much as I enjoy suspension of disbelief in alternate history, to suppose that Lincoln supported the abolishing of slavery to remove a vampire food source rather than because it was an abhorrent institution didn't sit well with me.

There was still plenty in this book that was entertaining, and the Photoshopped images were well done and captioned perfectly. For fans of Seth Grahame-Smith and those who want a based-in-truth but quite twisted biography of Lincoln, it is a worthwhile read, but I still find myself wishing it hadn't taken itself quite so seriously. Rather than paint a darker portrait of not-so-honest Abe I think the book could have succeeded even more by creating an exaggerated hero out of the sixteenth president.

Indie in Summer

Coming Soon...

I wanted to throw out a little teaser for a feature I'll be running over the next few months.  Partly because I'm really proud of the badge I designed (isn't it cuuuuute?) and partly because I want to gauge how other readers/bloggers feel about independent authors and/or small press works.  Obviously, I fall pretty firmly in the pro-indie category.  Anyone who's poked around this blog knows that I read a lot, and I read a lot of different types of books.  I think I've gotten pretty good at telling good writing from not-so-good writing.  I know what I like as far as storytelling goes.  So why do I need a publisher to stand as a gateway between me and a writer?  If I sample a book, can't my own tastes, preferences and editorial eye tell me if I like the work or not?  So why not read indie?  Wait, wait, wait - let me guess what you're going to say!

"But lisa, indie authors don't edit their work well!"
On this point I'll admit that some independently published books are in sore need of an editor.  I recall one book with hideous typos that became so laughable, I couldn't put down the book because I was incredibly amused at how awful the editing was.  A character named "Nathaniel" was even misspelled as "National" - who doesn't catch these things?  But trust me, that's the exception to the rule.  Yes, there is the occasional, "Did your copy editor even graduate grammar school?" novel, but for the majority of indie works the editing is clean and superbly done.  Yes, there's the occasional minor typo, but I've come across just as many errors in final copies of traditionally published books.  (Not to mention ARCs - I have a new pet peeve of readers that devour ARCs but use "poor editing" as an excuse not to even attempt reading indie works.)

"But lisa, I want a publisher to vet out good work from bad."
It seems a little arrogant to insist that the mark of a good writer is a publisher's stamp of approval.  Think for just one moment about the last really bad book you read.  The one that made you cringe and sigh and think, "I could've come up with a better ending than that!"  Chances are that novel you're shaking your head about is not an indie work.  It may even be one that garnered critical acclaim that left you wondering what all the fuss was about.  Publishers don't make works well written simply by the act of publishing them.  Talented writers make works well written, and with six billion people on this planet, I'm going to venture a guess that many more of them have talent as writers and storytellers than will ever see their name on a NYT Bestseller list.

"But lisa, if indie authors can write so well, why aren't they picked up by traditional publishers?"
Some of them are.  I use the term "indie author" rather liberally and would even go so far as to put Christopher Paolini and Lisa Genova in that category as both Eragon and Still Alice were published independently before being picked up by large presses.  Some authors have published their work traditionally and then gone the indie route when their works went out of print.  But maybe those are exceptions to the typical indie author experience.  Not everyone can get an agent.  Not everyone can make the right connections.  Not everyone can get their foot in the door to get their manuscript in the right hands.  We sadly live in a world that's more about who you know than what you know.  I don't want to be the kind of reader that rejects a work just because it's not what a publisher was looking for at the time. 

"But lisa, there are soooo many indie authors out there.  Even if I wanted to read them, I wouldn't know where to begin!"
That's where I come in!  Well, not just me, but fellow bloggers!  The more people that get involved reading and reviewing indie works, the easier it is to discover what you're looking for and which books and authors you'll most likely enjoy!  The same way supermarkets offer samples to let you taste a product before you buy it (the only way on the planet I was able to convince my carnivore of a husband that he might actually enjoy black bean veggie burgers), most indie authors offer sample chapters of their work online.  Try before you buy and you just might surprise yourself.  If you read a chapter and don't really like the writing style or aren't connecting with a character, move along to something else. Books come in all types, shapes, and sizes because readers do as well.  

So where do you fall on the indie author spectrum?  Love them?  Refuse them?  Never tried them? Better yet... why?  I'd love to start some dialog on this topic!  Do you have a reason to seek out independent works that I haven't yet mentioned?  Do you have an objection to indie publishing that I haven't addressed?   

I realize this feature may end up alienating some readers from my blog.  Hopefully, even if you're anti-indie you'll stick around and keep reading my usual posts and maybe even check out my reviews of indie works this summer.  I'll be hosting some interviews, guest posts and fabulous giveaways as well so stay tuned for what I hope will be a super fun feature!  If any other bloggers want to join in and spotlight their own favorite independent author or work, feel free to borrow the badge above and be sure to drop me a link in the comments!

The Goddess Test

Kate Winters has had her teenage life on hold - missing a year of school and barely socializing - due to her mother's cancer. When her mom's greatest wish is to retreat to the small town of Eden, Michigan where she grew up, Kate begrudgingly agrees to the move and tries to settle in at a new school. Making a few friends but more concerned with her mom's declining health, Kate doesn't exactly fit in but when she crosses path with Henry - who eventually reveals that he is really Hades, god of the dead - Kate is given the opportunity to step up into the path of Persephone. Chosen to live with Henry for six months, Kate must undergo a series of tests to determine if she is worthy of the role she has been asked to fill. The reward is immortality, but no mortal has survived the test yet.

Aimee Carter takes on a clever premise with this novel. I liked Kat's character and her relationship with her mother was both realistic and heartwarming. Her dutiful love and anguish over the illness was well painted and Kate maintained a degree of character strength throughout the book that I appreciated. Carter also took some interesting twists and turns with the traditional Greek mythology. In some ways the updated version was unique and it was blended into Western religion as an interesting twist. However, I wish that there had been a little more substance to the mythology and the characters - especially the gods - could have been more strongly tied into the figures on which they were based. Especially at the end, many of the gods seemed to be haphazardly introduced with little basis or character development other than that it seemed convenient to include them. Also, the tests that Kate is challenged by were hardly tests at all. I suppose with the setup that every girl before Kate died trying to reach her position, I was expecting trials more akin to the labors of Hercules. It was clever that Kate did not know what the tests were before she had to complete them, but all-in-all I think there could have been more action and intrigue surrounding her endeavors.

There are definitely novels that do a better job adapting ancient traditions to present time, but in terms of a girl-meets-boy high school novel with a mythological twist, The Goddess Test was a decent book. The ending sets up nicely for a sequel and leaves off with a promising cliffhanger. Hopefully future stories in the series will bring more adventure for Kate and lend more character development and deeper insight into several of the gods introduced in this one.

I know Aimee Carter's book has gotten mixed reviews, being praised and panned throughout the blogosphere.  Have you read The Goddess Test?  Are you planning to?

I received this book for review as an eBook through LibraryThing's Early Reviewers program, via NetGalley.  The badge at left is from the wonderful blogger Mad Scientist over at  Steampunkery & Book Reviews.  This badge denotes any review I'm posting that I read as a digital book.  Clicking on the image will take you to my "eBook" label to check out all the books that I've read in Kindle format!


Usually when I think of a book being described as "epic", that book is a lengthy piece of fantasy or a nonfictional history tome. However, I think "epic" is great word to describe Juliet by Anne Fortier.

The main story is set in modern day with heroine Julie Jacobs discovering secrets about her ancestors after the death of her dear Aunt Rose. Julie learns that her real name is Guilietta Tolomei and several generations ago a relative bearing the same name was a real star-crossed lover whose life became legend and eventually inspired Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet.

Set in Siena, Italy - rather than Verona - Julie's story alternates with that of the Guilietta Tolomei in the 1340's. The history and culture of this story-within-the-story are brought to life in beautiful detail. The tale that is unraveled is presented as historical fact, bearing only faint resemblance to the popular play it evolved into.

As Julie unravels clues to her family's ancient past, she finds that the parts of the story Shakespeare got right may have huge implications for her future. Along with a "plague" that seems to have cursed her family for several generations, Julie wonders if she is destined to fall for a Romeo of her own. She can only hope that this time the tale will have a happier ending.

I really enjoyed this story and found the rich landscape of Italy to be enchanting in both the present and past portions of the book. Though there were a few spells when the narrative seemed to drag, for the most part I found the story intriguing and enjoyable. Fortier did a great job of creating a precursor to Romeo and Juliet and tying it nicely to a modern story. Even with such well-known, frequently reinvented source material, Fortier managed to take a new spin on Shakespeare, and Juliet is a book to be enjoyed by fans of the bard as well as those looking for a freshly original work.

Clockwork Angel

I love Steampunk.  The crazy scientist and dreamy romantic sides of me collide in this historical meets techno genre and I'm always intrigued when authors venture into it as the stories that I've read so far are inventive, creative, and unique.  When I first heard Cassandra Clare was writing a steampunk prequel series to her Mortal Instruments saga, my attention was caught.  Keep in mind, I haven't actually read the Mortal Instruments series (feel free to persuade me to do so in the comments section) but I've heard pretty positive things about it.

Back on topic, meet Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare - Book One of the Infernal Devices Series.  First off, I love the title of this work.  I read it and I find myself immediately thinking, "Ooh an angel... made of clockwork?  Is it good or evil?  Who made it?"  And the series name is even more gripping, "What are these Devices? And why are they Infernal?  Is the Clockwork Angel one of them?"

(Oddly enough most of these questions are not answered in this book, though I suppose there's the possibility for revelations in the upcoming entries in the series.  Yes, it's very much a "Book One" - don't expect the story to be concluded when you reach the back cover.) 

I also really love the cover of this book.  The London scene and the gentleman tipping his hat set the backdrop beautifully and the glowing tattoos and the sparkly angel add the steampunk flair.  If there's one thing Clare and her publicity department have mastered it's how to hook a reader before they reach the frontispiece.  I know we all say that you shouldn't judge a book by it's cover but that adage applies to humanity much more than to literature.  I'll be the first to argue that plenty of good books have been graced with less than stellar cover art, but I've also yet to meet a bibliophile who won't confess to at least a few cases of book lust based on a drool-worthy book jacket.

Now on to the story:  Theresa "Tessa" Gray is a seemingly normal sixteen year old girl summoned to England to find her brother.  Immediately off the boat in a slightly alternate version of Queen Victoria's realm, Tessa is whisked away by two women known as The Dark Sisters and along with discovering a darker side of London - with witches, warlocks, vampires, and demons - Tessa learns that she herself belongs to this odd sect of Downworlders.  Possessing a unique and powerful talent Tessa draws the attention of a malicious figure known as the Magister and soon aligns herself with the Shadowhunters, a group of warriors known as Nephilim dedicated to battling demons and keeping chaos from reigning over London.  Still determined to find her brother and learn more about her strange ability, Tessa seeks sanctuary at the Institute, the Shadowhunters' base of operations, and becomes ensconced in their world and fascinated by two friends - James and Will - each with their own secrets.

This book took me a while to get into which is odd since the action begins from page one.  I felt that the pacing and intrigue of the story were much more gripping once Tessa arrived at the Institute though the dialog became humorous and enjoyable as soon as Will entered the story.  For the most part, I never connected with Tessa as a heroine.  I felt that she was a bit too passive about her circumstances - this could be attributed to a character trait of the era, yet her behavior towards the male characters in the story never reflected that level of period decorum.  In fact, the only quality in Tessa that I really found myself connecting  or relating to was her love of books.  It was the secondary characters that really saved this novel for me as I found myself really interested in Charlotte, the director of the Institute, as well as James and Will (though I could have enjoyed the book equally or more without the love triangle).  The steampunk side of things was well played, but I do wish it had been expanded even further.  And I still want to know more about the titular clockwork angel. 

As much as I want to protest that I didn't love this book, I do find that I'm eagerly anticipating the second in the series.  The writing was solid and the story catchy enough that I definitely find myself pondering the question of what comes next.  Clockwork Prince is due to be released in December of this year and I look forward to the next episode of this saga. 

I read this book as part of the Tales to Tomes Online Book Club hosted by Tif Talks Books.  If you've read Clockwork Angel and want to join in the discussion, check out the links to our GoodReads discussion group and Twitter feed at Tif's site.  (I can be found on GoodReads here but I don't think I have the first clue of how to be succinct enough for Twitter.)  There's also a Tales To Tomes link up where you can share in other reviews of Clockwork Angel and feel free to vote for future group reads and jump in for June's discussion of Lauren Oliver's Delirium

"Literature adds to reality"

"Literature adds to reality, it does not simply describe it. It enriches the necessary competencies that daily life requires and provides; and in this respect, it irrigates the deserts that our lives have already become."
~ C. S. Lewis