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A wholesome folk tale for the entire family!

As a wholesome Beauty and the Beast retelling, Second Kingdom by Rebecca Reddell earned 4.5 virtuous stars from me (rounded up)!

Second Kingdom

My Tease…

The First Kingdom is dying. Flowers no longer bloom. Black eclipses the sun. Soil oozes with sludge. Diminishing crops threaten starvation. And “the sickness” plagues more and more townspeople.

Seventeen-year-old Roz knows who’s to blame for the curse tormenting her kingdom: the elusive and evil Beast. With pale blueish skin and fanged teeth, the Beast lives in the castle seen in the distance, ominously positioned between the First and Second Kingdoms—the only surviving realms after the last world war.

Alongside the children and young adults of First Kingdom, Roz has been training for the last ten years to destroy the Beast. If Roz and her fellow fighters kill him, most believe the curse will be broken.

The Beast (King Ezra), however, isn’t so sure his death will have the desired result, though he suspects that sacrifice is indeed part of the antidote. At least, Queen Ada of the Second Kingdom (known as the witch queen) eluded to this when she turned the handsome king into a horrid beast after he tried to wage war against her kingdom.

On the day Roz and the First Kingdom’s band of young-fighters storm Beast’s castle, something goes terribly wrong. If only Roz could remember how she ended up locked in one of the castle’s bedchambers with a concussion.

Will she survive her captivity? Can the curse be broken to save her kingdom? Is King Ezra as beastly as he looks?

Thoughts…

ROSES ARE RED:

Vibe: Second Kingdom generates the same inviting feel as the animated Disney classics that I love: Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, The Lion King, and Cinderella. A parent could read this story to their elementary-aged child and a middle schooler could read it themselves. Adults will enjoy it, too! There is something delightful and entertaining for everyone.

Personally, I didn’t consider Second Kingdom as a Young Adult novel. These days, YA tends to be edgy in language and content, similar to a PG-13 movie. In contrast, this book has the innocence and politeness that makes it ageless. The worst curse-word is “Dang it” and the deadliest weapon is a butter knife. (If I considered Second Kingdom as a YA, I would’ve rated it lower. For me, the genre is “Mythology and Folk Tales” for all ages.)

Banter: I loved the snarky and flirty exchanges between Beast and Roz. I also enjoyed conversations between Beast and his butler Buford. This banter was my favorite part of Second Kingdom since the basic plot of Beauty and the Beast is already a hit with me.

Easy Reading: This book is a quick, touching read! A family treasure, for sure! I can imagine reading this book aloud to the kids on a road trip. Everyone would enjoy 🙂

Theme: Second Kingdom is a story of finding love, learning to sacrifice, and not judging a book by its cover.

VIOLETS ARE BLUE:

Unnecessary details: Every now and then, too much time was spent on information that didn’t drive the plot forward or is universally known…like whether to ice or heat a shoulder injury or how to make a salad, for example. This temporarily wilted tension.

Repetition: There was a bit of repetition of concepts both in dialogue and narrative, though this might work perfectly for a younger reader.

ALL IN ALL, ENJOYMENT THROUGH AND THROUGH:

Second Kingdom is a wholesome folk tale for the entire family! (Writing innocent characters is refreshing!) This Beauty and the Beast retelling earned 4.5 sweet rosy-blooms from me!!!

Note: The cover is lovely!!!

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Reflections and Goals

A YEAR IN REVIEW, A YEAR AHEAD

In light of how 2020 is unfolding, 2019 was a breeze!

While living in the midst of last year, however, I felt the challenge of trying to meet my goals while responding to the needs of my aging parents and in-laws. Consequently, I juggled more balls than usual and occasionally dropped one or two. Okay, maybe five…or ten…or twenty!

In the end, I accomplished my priorities (which is always family!) and most of my goals! YAY 😊!!!

Ball Juggling

This annual report was one of the expectations I let drop into the heap for a little while. Now that The Turning Point is in the hands of BETA readers, I can bounce this report back into play and check it off my to-do list.

Below are compilations from a few categories (Reading, Writing, Marketing, and Sales) that I monitor every year. Annual comparisons help me gauge if I’m heading in the right direction. Stats can also indicate important trends.

READING:

Reading and writing go hand in hand. Although I spend the bulk of my workdays writing, I try to sustain my passion for reading by opening a book every night. Besides the entertainment factor, I learn so much about craft from other authors.

I participate as a reader/reviewer on Goodreads. Here are some stats for 2019:

#1, 2019 Goodreads Stats

My review of The Girl in Red by Christina Henry received 130 likes! Here’s a link if you are interested: Ash’s Review of The Girl in Red

#2, Reading Formats 2019

#3, Reading Genre of Books in 2019

Favorite Fiction Novel in 2019: Dracul by Dacre Stoker and J.D. Barker

Reading Goals for 2020:

• Reach or exceed my Goodreads reading goal of 15 books
• Increase my Goodreads community of friends to 650
• Become more active in the Reading Groups to which I belong
• Increase engagement in the reviews I post

WRITING:

Improving craft is a process that never ends! I’m a lifelong learner and getting better is what drives me.

#4, Writing Stats

Ratings are one indicator of an author’s level of craft. Here are the stats for The One and Only (Book #1) followed by The Tether (Book#2):

#5, GR Ratings for T1AO 2019

*Data captured on 4/2020

#6, GR Raings for TT 2019

*Data captured on 4/2020

Writing Goals for 2020:

• Complete and publish the third installment of The ELI Chronicles (The Turning Point)
• Start Book #1 of a new series!
• Complete 2 tutorials
• Participate in 3 critiques
• Increase Goodreads “Author Followers” to 125
• Continue to share the importance of reviews with readers

MARKETING:

Marketing takes time away from writing, but without consistent efforts over the long-term, readers may not come across my books! As a self-publisher, promoting my author’s brand is huge.

I’ve marketed my books in a variety of ways. Here are some stats:

#7, Marketing 2019

Electronic platforms, such as social media, extend an author’s “reach” (by having books visible to potential readers/purchasers).

#8, Social Media

Marketing Goals for 2020:

• Try to stimulate book club interest
• Participate in author opportunities via Goodreads
• Sustain a comprehensive approach to marketing my books, including catalog listings
• Improve website traffic

SALES:

If an author is writing as a profession (a job), sales matter! Here are tables which show where most of my sales are occurring!

#9, Sales for T1AO 2019

#10, Sales TT 2019

#11, Formats Sold in 2019

Sales Goals for 2020:

  • Continue advertising with Amazon to achieve book visibility with potential buyers.
  • Continue to increase sales at Ingram through catalog listings and contacts with local libraries and bookstores.
  • Work with local bookstores to market my books while promoting their business.

If anything, I hope these statistics illustrate the many aspects of being an author! Like any profession, we have to multi-task to make progress on all fronts.

I’d love to answer any questions you might have or to simply read your comments!

As always, your support means so much to me!

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Five Deliciously Tasty Stars

I’ve had the privilege of reading the ARC for VAMPIRE NIGHT, which has earned 5-deliciously tasty stars! (The book’s release on Amazon is anticipated in April 2020.)

Five red stars

Pups

If you enjoyed the camaraderie of the Night’s Watch on the Game of Thrones; the horror of GOT’s White Walkers and their Night King; and the clever humor of A Knight’s Tale (the 2001 movie with Heath Ledger), you’ll love VAMPIRE NIGHT by David N. Humphrey.

MY TEASE…

The planet of Umbria has two sides—one basked in perpetual sunlight and the other blanketed in eternal darkness. Both sides had coexisted peacefully until the necromancer Kalibar, driven by revenge, started killing the living to raise the dead in order to build an army of zombies and vampires.

The only barrier that’s been separating the light side of Umbria from the dark is The Wall.

But not for long…

Earth could steer clear of Umbria’s troubles, if only there wasn’t a travel portal connecting the two planets. What’s to stop Kalibar and his army from making the leap?

That’s why a group of religious leaders, each serving different belief systems, have joined together to travel to Umbria, determined to defeat the all-powerful Kalibar. The warriors are Roqual the Sentinel Monk, Phoebe the Druid, Eleanor the Paladin, and Wilton the Cleric. Joining them—unwillingly—is Shade, a vampire.

Mercenary Valguard wants nothing to do with the conflict or the mission. Then again, the gifted fighter—in possession of a powerful sorcerer’s teleport ring that he knows little about—doesn’t always get what he wants. This time is no exception.

To complicate their mission on Umbria, the dark side of the planet is laden with more monsters than just the undead. Add to that, some members of the team carry sinister secrets with them.

Will the team survive their own demons? Will Kalibar even be found before it’s too late? Will Umbria and Earth be saved or overtaken by evil?

BLOODY GOOD:

Plot:

A unique cast of characters must travel to a wild and scary frontier to defeat an ominous threat in order to save Earth. Talk about a huge hook for me! I was all-in and stayed engaged in the quest the entire time 🙂 !

Cast of Characters:

I love the mix of characters! Each has a different religious belief and personality, as well as wields a different weapon. But all have come together for a common mission. (At least, at the onset!) Valguard, Phoebe, and Shade are my favorites, though each character plays an important role and brings a unique talent/gift to the table.

Humor:

Amid the tension and excitement, I found myself chuckling at the subtly infused humor. Like when Eleanor the Paladin thinks: “That was the great thing about raising the dead, you never had to dig a bloody grave.”

Wisdom:

Every now and then the author interjects some wisdom (though not heavy handed) about the need for religious tolerance and the realization that power can corrupt. As an example of the latter, Valguard says, “People in charge forget they are to look after their people and not just look after themselves.” I enjoyed reading the tasty tidbits of wisdom!

Writing:

Visually, I could picture the story vividly playing in my mind.

Here’s a sample: “The cracked and broken stone floor was uneven with fissures allowing smoky red light to shine up into the room from the tumbling lava underneath.”

I can see VAMPIRE NIGHT as an action-packed movie! I’d buy the first ticket 🙂

Horror:

“As body parts built up on the floor, guards stepped on the wretched corpses, cracking ribs and bones, bursting dirty lung sacks with the footwork of the sword melee.”

Or how about…“…moldy heads cracking open on the stones like decayed goose eggs, covering their boots with putrid brain mush.”

That’s visual!!!

Bottomline: VAMPIRE NIGHT has something for almost every kind of reader: horror, action adventure, fantasy, science fiction, and dark fantasy! I highly recommend this 5-star read! Look for it on Amazon next month (April 2020)!

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A Great Catch!

Angler's Companion

I gave LINSENBIGLER ANGLER’S COMPANION five colorful flies!

5 Stars

Fishing is something I enjoy. I’ve even reeled in a nice-sized bass, once or twice. But I would never call myself an angler. Nor have I ever fly fished.

So why did I purchase and read this book? Because I love the Boone Linsenbigler action/adventure book series. When the cocktail companion was published, I bought it, too. (Who doesn’t want to mix libations like the cocktail icon Boone?) Naturally, with this newest release on fly fishing, I was curious about what the unpretentious hero (Boone) had to say about his favorite pastime.

The angler’s companion was another great catch!

I was amazed at the photographs of the different fish found in fresh and saltwater, as well as the type of flies that lure them in. In addition, I loved the stories weaved into each section, such as…

“My very first fish on a fly rod was a squirrel.”

(The story had me laughing.)

Overall, I gained an appreciation for fly fishing, which seems to combine an exceptional understanding of fish and their feeding habits with the angler’s artistry of motion (achieved with his/her rod). I also found the different types of flies, also works of art, so cool and mind boggling.

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An Action/Adventure Dystopian

His Name was Zach

3 and a half stars

My “tease” for HIS NAME WAS ZACH…

Two years ago, an infection swept across civilization, turning humans into flesh-eating zombies.

Good thing Sergeant Zach Davidson has had plenty of experience desperately fighting to survive. After all, the decorated Marine was once the squad leader of his platoon in Afghanistan. So when he encountered an orphaned teenager at the onset of The Crisis, Abby naturally became his adopted “squad.” And he vowed to protect her as if she were his own daughter.

Zach and Abby are living in an abandoned cottage in the woods, attempting to create a new normal. But when armed bandits approach their refuge, they escape and are on the run again. Wanting to head toward the Mississippi River in search of a community of friendly survivors, they cross paths with humans that are everything but. Not only that, Zach battles flashbacks from the war.

Will the pair survive and find what they’re looking for, if a safe haven even exists? Will the living turn out to be as savage as the undead?

Thoughts…

This story included several positive hooks and only a few light sinkers.

POSITIVE HOOKS

• I love the plot of an ex-Marine learning to be a father and traversing dangerous territory in an attempt to find a new, safe frontier for him and his “daughter.” It is an instant hook!

• Zach’s flashbacks of combat are vivid and intense, reminding us that even when our service men and women return home, physical and emotional scars can still haunt them. (My opinion: support for our vets needs to continue beyond the battlefield!) The author is a former Marine and his expertise and authenticity stand out in his writing. Also, I want to thank the author for his service!

• I really appreciated how the story began. It was instantly about survival instead of backstory regarding the original outbreak. Well done 🙂 !

• The author utilized some unique writing-style choices. Although they do not reflect my style preferences, I do appreciate the risks he took!

LIGHT SINKERS

• I’m not a fan of the third-person omniscient point of view—the God-like narrator who knows all and sees all. I prefer third-person close or first-person, so this “light sinker” is really just a style preference. Not to mention, this POV is rarely used today, so its application was bold. For me, though, this POV lends itself to telling versus showing.

• The story swings to and from extremes, like from the innocent sweetness of a bird’s thoughts—“Why, it was humans! Two of them! The bird did not see many humans these days, so to see two of them together was a rare treat.”—to the mouth-opening shock of attempted rape and cannibalism—“After I take what I want from your daughter, we’re going to bring her into the garage and cut her up into tiny pieces while she’s still alive. Then, I’m gonna eat her!” I was like….Whaaat? The author’s storytelling definitely had me swinging from emotional extremes!

• Breaking from an omniscient POV to the author’s actual voice didn’t work for me in this book, though it is a unique technique. For example, the author wrote before the last 20% of the book: “My dear reader, I wish that I could follow that paragraph with ‘The End’ and be done with it. Nothing would please me more than to leave you here and pretend that nothing further of note happened in the lives of our protagonists.”

Overall, if you are looking for an action/adventure dystopian with military intrigue, written in a unique style, this is the perfect book. Prepare to be shocked around every corner and in every chapter!

HIS NAME WAS ZACH earned 3.5 stars from me!

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Showcased as a Top Reviewer’s Favorite

Miranda Reads is the #1 Best Reviewer on Goodreads. She has recently started a BookTuber segment (on YouTube) called “Lit Life with Miranda Reads!” In her second presentation, she highlights the first round of her favorite self-published authors. And I’m one of them! Wait…let me say that again: I’M. ONE. OF. THEM! Sorry for the text shouting, but that’s how excited I am!!! What an amazing honor to be included 🙂 ! Thank you so much, Miranda!!!

I hope you’ll check out her video!

A Gripping “Whodunit”

Among the Shadows

This “police procedural” mystery earned 5 shiny badges from me!

badges

My “tease” for AMONG THE SHADOWS…

Distinguishing friend from foe is challenging “among the shadows,” especially when those at greatest risk from a cop-killer share in their own infamous history.

That’s the predicament Detective Sergeant John Bryon of the Portland Police Department finds himself in.

Someone is murdering former members of the department’s elite 1980’s Special Reaction Team—the team responsible for a botched arrest-attempt that left one police detective dead, three of the four bad-guys killed, the fourth robber on the loose, and the stolen 1.4 million never to be found.

A teenager at the time, Byron suffered the cost of the blunder first-hand. His father was one of the SRT detectives involved in the arrest attempt and he committed suicide shortly after the debacle.

Now, when ex-SRT members start dying, the 30-year-old cold case heats up to a boiling point, with Bryon as the lead detective. And the more he starts to stir the pot, the more obscure the shadows get.

Will Byron shed light on the case before more detectives die? Or will he be the next victim?

My thoughts…

This story immersed me in the world of investigative police work, and I loved it! I wanted to solve the case as much as Detective Sergeant Bryon did. A gripping read, I didn’t want to put the book down 🙂 !

There is an authenticity to the dialogue that I really appreciated. Description was also excellent. Here’s an example:

“The black livery-service hearse was parked in the driveway, its rear door open like something waiting to be fed.”

Byron’s character was someone I rooted for throughout the book. My heart ached for him as he relived the death/suicide of his father. This and his commitment to justice—at all costs—connected me to him.

Loved this book! I highly recommend AMONG THE SHADOWS!

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A Must-Read Middle Grade Novel

EVERLASTING NORA

This middle-grade novel earned 5 everlasting stars from me 🙂 !

5 Stars

My “tease” for EVERLASTING NORA…

The dead are more dependable than the living. Twelve-year-old Nora should know. She lives among them both.

Over a year ago, Nora’s father was killed in an apartment fire that destroyed everything she depended on: family, security, regular meals, and friendships. No longer able to attend public school, Nora lives with her mother in the cemetery mausoleum housing her father’s tomb.

Filled with shame and growing hopelessness over her desperate circumstances, Nora buries her emotions, hoping to become invisible in a city which has left her behind. But when her mother disappears after a night of gambling, Nora has no choice but to venture out into the streets, well beyond the cemetery’s gates where she sells everlasting daisies.

With danger lurking around every corner, fellow squatter Jojo joins Nora in her search for her mother. Will the two survive their quest? Will her mother be found alive? Will Nora ever learn to trust and depend on others again or will she fall deeper into the clutches of despair?

Thoughts…

This story was tension-filled and often heart-wrenching. I couldn’t put it down. With every page, I longed for sweet and determined Nora to find her mother and regain hope.

Remember the idiom: Stop and smell the roses? Replace roses with everlasting daisies and you’ve referenced one of the important lessons of this book. The story reminded me to never take even the simplest necessities or pleasures for granted, even in times of hardship.

I also think EVERLASTING NORA is a sobering reminder that every child living with and in hardship has a story. Empathy and support, not judgment, can help a child restore hopes and dreams.

EVERLASTING NORA inspires compassion. A must-read, in my opinion, for middle-schoolers and adults!

P.S. I also absolutely love the cover 🙂 !

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Falls Short of a Timeless Classic

The Howling

THE HOWLING by Gary Brandner earned 3.5 hair-raising stars from me, yet, falls short of a classic.

3 and a half stars

Karyn Beatty is about to celebrate her first-year wedding anniversary with husband Roy. They are living in Los Angeles within a safe and quiet condominium community. Both she and Roy have jobs they love, a dog they cherish. And to make their anniversary extra-special, she plans to tell him she is pregnant. Yes, Karyn’s adult life is developing perfectly.

Until…

She is raped that very day by the condominium’s maintenance man and her future and dreams go from bright to bleak.

To help Karyn, her therapist recommends leaving the city and finding solitude and rest in the country. Roy finds a home to rent, two miles from the dying town of Drago—nestled in the valley of the Tehachapi Mountains. The area is so isolated that the only phone is in town and coming from the city, Karyn doesn’t drive.

Karyn’s nightmare is about to mushroom (as if it isn’t already terrible enough). Because every night, she hears howling. And the howls keep getting closer. Roy doesn’t share in her worries. And the few people living in Drago aren’t talking.

Vulnerable and more alone than ever, will Karyn figure out what strange creature is howling in the woods? Will she survive her mysterious getaway as it closes in around her?

Happy Howlings:

• The story has some very nice atmospheric moments. For example: “Branches seemed to whip out and clutch at her. Behind her, moving silently through the trees, something followed.” Add the mountains, cold air, moonlight, and occasional mist, and the tension nicely ramps up!

• The final battle is awesome, nail-biting, and fast-paced. Loved it 🙂 !

Grumpy Growlings:

• You know how some books are timeless classics? Okay, THE HOWLING is not one of them! It was published in 1977 and reflects the norms of the time, which isn’t the author’s fault. However, THANK GOODNESS times have changed!!! Because in THE HOWLING, what do you do after a woman gets raped? Isolate her and give her pills to ease the pain. Ugh! In addition, from a literary aspect, I did not appreciate reading the details of the rape. Even though authors are urged to “show, don’t tell,” I don’t think that holds true with rape, UNLESS the rapist is integral to the story, which here, he is not (he is never mentioned again).

• Roy Beatty is the WORST HUSBAND/PARTNER EVER. There, I said it and feel better 🙂 ! The poor guy isn’t getting satisfied because his raped wife, who had a miscarriage from the violence, isn’t putting out. And when she does (for his sake), she clearly isn’t into it. So of course, he has to do something about that. This is how he rationalizes his cheating: “Even so, if sex were better for him and Karyn, it would never have happened.” Today, that’s called blaming the victim. He also adds: “Feeling guilty would do no one any good. He had never claimed to be a saint.” Well, alrighty then.

• ANIMAL LOVERS BEWARE: In their isolated mountain home, the Beatty’s let their dog Lady outside at night. And then they forget she’s outside and they go to bed. REALLY? They didn’t notice Lady was missing until she wasn’t begging for breakfast. Sorry, that was never a norm in the 1970s. That’s just negligence. Jeez. And we, the readers, can easily guess how that worked out in a book full of ravenous werewolves.

I am trying to be understanding that the author was writing in a different time. A lot has changed in 40 years. And I get that some characters in stories simply aren’t likable at any level. Guess I wanted to latch onto at least one character and that really didn’t happen, though the book did have some Happy Howling moments, especially during the final scene!

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A Little Red Riding Hood Retelling

THE GIRL IN RED

THE GIRL IN RED by Christina Henry earned 5 howling-great stars from me!

Five red stars

Twenty-year-old Cordelia, nicknamed Red, is a horror junkie. She knows every reason in the book why naïve people die during an apocalypse. That’s why she became a prepper. She has always known “Something Would Happen” and she has no intentions of being naïve or…dying.

So at the first signs of “The Cough,” Red finetunes her survival plan, convincing her family it is the only way to outsmart and outrun “The Crisis.” The plan is simple: avoid the government’s quarantine camps and trek off-road to Grandma’s cabin in the woods, some 300-miles away.

Despite all of Red’s preparations, she underestimates one variable that has no regard for her astute plans: danger. Turns out, danger is hiding in the most unexpected places.

In an upside-down world full of “wolves,” will Red, her handy axe, and her family ever make it to Grandma’s? Alive?

BULLSEYES:

axeThe author is brilliantly masterful at conveying Red’s voice—the protagonist and narrator of this story. Red is fierce, stubborn, endearing, opinionated, and flawed by her own extremes. I LOVED this character and rooted for her every step of the way!

axe

 

The writing is exceptional. Enough said 🙂 !

 

axeTHE GIRL IN RED starts as an action & adventure apocalypse and breaks loose into horror! I wasn’t expecting this, but in retrospect, that’s exactly what the fairytale of Little Red Riding Hood does (minus the apocalypse)!

 

axe

The book’s cover is spectacular.

 

DROPS (the axe drops from the target and doesn’t score):

axeThe story toggles between events “Before” and “After.” Since the entire book’s span is only around three months, I didn’t feel this strategy added to the tension. The out-of-order events made me work harder as a reader, which I typically don’t mind if I’m rewarded with a bump in tension.

axeThe back cover copy makes it clear that men are a top-level enemy. “There are worse threats in the woods than the things that stalk their prey at night. Sometimes there are men. Men with dark desires, weak wills, and evil intents. Men in uniform…” At times, I thought this message went too, too far in the book.

axeNot every question raised in the story was answered. Does this mean a sequel is in the making? I hope so!

 

axeBased on the cover, I literally thought real wolves with red eyes would be involved! However, the artwork of the wolf is a metaphor. Too bad, because I thought a scene with a wolf predator would have been a great addition.

 

All in all, this Little Red Riding Hood retelling was an exciting journey of survival. And since the story hits on many important bullseyes, it scores as one of my favorite books read in 2019!

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