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Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Something Real | Heather Demetrios

Something Real is a novel about Bonnie (AKA Chloe) Baker, a star of the reality show “Baker’s Dozen”. Her family—including her 12 siblings—are all displayed for the entire world to see, and judge. Bonnie does not handle the situation well and struggles to create a normal life for herself. For a more complete summary, you can go here.

I picked up this book because I was in love with Demetrios’s latest book, I’ll Meet You There. One thing that I’ve noticed is that she is really great at dealing with difficult topics without making the whole book depressing. It seems like the last chunk of books that I’ve read have all been really dark and depressing. I was really looking for a novel that I could speed through and still feel warm at the end of it. This book definitely delivered! It deals with topics such as abuse, homosexuality, suicide, and divorce without feeling too…heavy. She also isn’t making light of the topics either. It really is a perfect balance. 

Something Real is a commentary on today’s reality shows and how it affects the stars. It reminds me of shows like “Jon and Kate Plus 8” and “18 Kids and Counting”. Viewers at home watch them as entertainment, but how is all the camera time impacting those children? It’s interesting because this book came out before all of the scandals from “18 Kids and Counting” came out…

I also think that it is very appropriate that Demetrios mentions the book 1984 several times. That book is all about Big Brother watching, which is the main theme of this book. I actually kept thinking about the TV show “Big Brother” and how people act differently when cameras are on them. It’s one thing when you have set recording times, but when the world can see your life streamed 24/7—wow—talk about lack of privacy. I know I wouldn’t deal well with that at all. 

I found some of the siblings in the book to be just there, which I guess is sort of the point. When you have thirteen children, you don’t really have time to learn much about all of them. I did really love the sibling connection between Bonnie and Benny. Even though Benny is twins with Lexie, I think that Bonnie and Benny have the twin connection. It is nice to see a set of siblings that are actually really close and are more like best friends. 

I would recommend this to anyone—especially if you hate, or love to hate, reality TV. If you are interested in buying the book, you can buy it here. After you have read it, leave a comment and let me know what you think! 

 *****   5/5 Stars

If you like books like this, you should also check out these books:

I'll Meet You There

Paper Towns

Where'd You Go, Bernadette?

Friday, June 26, 2015

Self-Publishing in the Modern Day

This is a guest post by Karen A. Wyle.

I self-published my first novel in October 2011, less than four years ago. At that time, the publishing landscape was already well into a radical transformation -- and these last few years have seen that transformation accelerate. The biggest changes in publishing itself came in the first decade of this century. What's picked up since then is public and industry recognition of those changes.

Not long ago, self-publishing and "vanity publishing" were synonymous. Vanity presses would publish books for a hefty fee, providing hundreds of books that authors had no practical way to sell. The likely result: a garage or barn full of books that no one outside the author's immediate circle would ever see, let alone read.

The transformation began, actually, at the end of the 20th century, with the launch of Amazon as (initially) an online bookstore. Then, in 2000, a few authors started BookSurge as a way to publish their and other authors' work while allowing authors to maintain control, copyrights, and profits. In 2005, Amazon acquired BookSurge and renamed it CreateSpace. Suddenly authors had a way to publish paperbacks that would immediately be offered on Amazon. The costs of doing so could be limited to a few dollars for "proof" copies, though authors could spend much more to hire assistance for tasks they didn't feel competent to complete for themselves.

Fast-forward a bit to 2007, and Amazon revealed its first Kindle ereaders. With Kindles came Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), a portal for authors to provide ebooks that Amazon would sell. Smashwords, a competitor that let authors publish in a wider range of ebook formats, started up the following year. In 2009, following some adverse publicity about the royalties Amazon was paying its ebook authors, KDP started providing a 70% royalty option for books in a certain price range (along with a few other requirements). That was far more than any traditional publisher had ever dreamed of paying. By around 2011, if not before, Smashwords was distributing books to other online retailers like the Nook Store and Kobobooks. For ebooks, there wasn't even the minimal cost of a proof copy, though authors faced the same choice between hiring help and going it alone.

As both ebooks and self-publishing started to take off, traditional publishers tried to figure out what the heck to do about the ongoing revolution. One unfortunate aspect of that response: more unfavorable contracts for their own authors. Advances and promotional budgets shrank. Fine print, sometimes hidden in odd places in the contracts, grabbed more and more rights for longer periods of time, and made it harder for authors to reclaim publication rights for their own use. The economic uncertainty in the industry may have contributed to more staff moving from one firm to another, which meant an increase in "orphaned" books, books left with no one in the company to back them and ensure they received the best in cover art, editing, and promotion.

At the same time, the mechanics of self-publishing got easier. CreateSpace's, KDP's, and Smashwords' submission software became less finicky, easier for an author to navigate without hired assistance. And of course, self-published authors -- now often calling themselves "indie" authors, a label that used to mean authors published by small innovative presses -- gained in experience and confidence.

Readers began to see that many indie authors wrote terrific books. And well-known authors who had been traditionally published for decades began to realize that they had choices --  and that authors who made use of those choices were not necessarily pathetic also-rans.

My own experience provides a pair of anecdotes that illustrate this change.

In January of 2012, a few months after I published my novel Twin-Bred, I contacted one of my favorite authors. Her first novel had influenced me in many ways, and its themes overlapped substantially with those of Twin-Bred. In appreciation, I offered to send her a paperback copy of Twin-Bred. I made clear that the offer came with no strings attached, although I also admitted my pleasant fantasy that she would enjoy the book and tell others as much. Her polite reply: that she saw no publisher listed, and that she did not accept copies of "unpublished manuscripts."

Just over two years later, in February 2014, I contacted her again, after reading an interview which suggested her knowledge of self-publishing had increased. I reminded her of our earlier exchange, mentioned my impression that her understanding of my offer might have changed, and added the sequel to the offered gift. Her reply: she had always regretted failing to send her first novel to a mentor of hers, and would be honored to accept my books.

And now for the bad news.

So many books are self-published these days, and their quality varies so much, that it's very difficult for authors to connect with potential readers. There's a great deal of advice online about how to do so, much of it excellent, but one can follow it all and still have minimal sales. Overcoming these obstacles to discovery involves perseverance and talent, but also a good deal of luck.

With the various ways that authors may give away free ebooks, it's become harder to get readers to pay for them. Even the price of a latte seems too much for many readers with innumerable free books awaiting them. The best hope: hooking readers with the free first book in a series, then asking them to pay some small amount for the rest. But often, even readers who praise that first book will turn aside from its sequel in search of more freebies.

And there are still vanity presses out there, making their money off authors who don't understand their alternatives, selling publishing "packages" for much more than authors could pay for the separate components of those packages.

What next? Who knows? But I, for one, am very glad to live in this transformed publishing landscape, for all its challenges. I may be a tadpole in a very large pond, but I'm paddling away. I have control of my content and its presentation. Most important, I have readers -- and while I may hope for more of them, to have readers is enough.

Karen A. Wyle was born a Connecticut Yankee, but moved every few years throughout her childhood and adolescence.  After college in California, law school in Massachusetts, and a mercifully short stint in a large San Francisco law firm, she moved to Los Angeles, where she met her now-husband, who hates L.A.  They eventually settled in Bloomington, Indiana, home of Indiana University. They have two wildly creative daughters, and a sweet but neurotic dog.

Wyle's voice is the product of almost five decades of reading both literary and genre fiction.  It is no doubt also influenced, although she hopes not fatally tainted, by her years of law practice.  Her personal history has led her to focus on often-intertwined themes of family, communication, unintended consequences, and the persistence of unfinished business.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

If You Wrong Us | Dawn Klehr

If You Wrong Us is a dark young adult novel about two teens that are brought together after Johnny loses his mother and Becca loses her twin sister in the same car crash. They plot revenge once they discover that the crash was no accident. For a more complete summary, you can go here.

This novel reminded me of Gone Girl combined with Life By Committee. It has a manipulative female lead that will do anything to get what she wants. It has a very dark and twisted story line, just like Gone Girl, but I think it failed in comparison. It also has the online community element as in Life By Committee, where people are willing to confess their deepest secrets to their internet peers. 

This book had a very interesting concept, and I understand that it was supposed to be mysterious and shocking, but I ended up feeling confused by the book. The voices of the main characters sounded so similar that I had to keep going back to see which perspective I was reading—which is pretty unusual when it is male and female perspectives. I read an advanced ebook copy of this book, so the formatting was strange, which I hope they fix for the final book. But I think there was a third perspective in there. It’s a bad sign when it is that unclear…I also don’t really understand what happened in the book. Becca lies to the reader and slowly reveals the truth, but it is never really clear what the true details are. 

This was a quick book, and it was interesting, but it defiantly left something to be desired. I would still recommend it, just expect an okay book. If you are interested in buying the book, you can buy it here. (It will be released  October 8, 2015). After you have read it, leave a comment and let me know what you think! 

 ***  3/5 Stars

*Disclaimer: I received an ARC of this book for free from Netgalley. This did not impact my review in any way*

If you like books like this, you should also check out these books:

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Sisters of Shiloh | Kathy & Becky Hepinstall

Sisters of Shiloh is the story of two sisters who join the Civil War disguised as men. Libby joins to avenge her husband’s death. Josephine joins to protect Libby. For a more complete summary, you can go here.

I’ll be honest, I usually try to avoid anything related to history. I’ve never been interested in it, and I’ve never been really good at understanding it either. I started reading this book because it was my book club’s selection. I don’t like to know anything about a book before I read it. I did see the cover, which looks very pretty and delicate. I was definitely not expecting it to be a war story. To be fair, it was a historical romance, but it was still pretty gory. With that said, I actually got really into this book. 

I felt really connected to the older sister, Josephine. I just felt like I was rooting for her the whole time. I wanted her to have love, independence, and happiness, which she always seemed to put aside to help her younger sister. There is a love story thrown in here, but the core is about sisterhood. 

I really gained a lot of respect for the book and the authors after talking to them. They put so much time and research into every little detail. It is amazing that almost everything in this book—all the events and little details—actually happened. The specific characters were the only thing made up. I felt really fascinated by the whole story, and I actually learned a lot about the Civil War without feeling like I was reading a textbook. But throwing a love story in there definitely helped keep my interest! 

I would recommend this book to anyone that loves romance stories or historical fiction—or anything in between! If you are interested in buying the book, you can buy it here. After you have read it, leave a comment and let me know what you think! 

 ****   4/5 Stars

Also, check out my Q & A with Kathy and Becky!

If you like books like this, you should also check out these books:

Q & A With Authors Kathy & Becky Hepinstall

I had the pleasure of interviewing the sister authors Kathy and Becky Hepinstall about their book Sisters of Shiloh. Becky was there in person and Kathy joined us via Skype. They are so hilarious and down-to-earth! I truly enjoyed getting to know them and I hope this interview conveys the dynamic they have as sisters and writing partners. Their love for each other is very apparent, but they also bicker like true sisters. Becky is funny and an amazing story teller. Kathy is sarcastic and brilliant. I hope you enjoy getting to know them a little bit more through this interview. 

Tell me about the process of getting Sisters of Shiloh published. 

Becky: It took twelve years after the book was written to get published. Kathy wrote several books on her own before this book, including The House of Gentle Men, written fifteen years ago. She is also a copy writer in the advertising industry and has done work for companies such as Coke, Nike, and the Olympics. After her third book, Kathy asked me to join her. I was reluctant at first, but I was a history buff and she let me pick the topic. I was interested in the stories of the real women who dressed as men in the Civil War and why they would do that. There were actually hundreds of these of occurrences. 

What was the publishing process like?

Becky: Twelve years ago when we first wrote the book, no one was interested in Civil War stories. After a while, Kathy came to me and asked if she could take parts of Sisters of Shiloh and use it to make a different book, since nothing was ever going to come of it. This became Blue Asylum which was published in 2012. Later on, Sisters of Shiloh was brought back up, but it was only half a story at that point. Kathy actually sent the first hundred pages to her agent, and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt ended up buying the book based off of those pages.

Who is who as sisters?

Kathy: Well, Josephine start off as the younger sister, but the publisher decided to switch it. I see myself as Josephine because she is the big sister taking care of the younger sister. 

Becky: And Kathy never liked any of my boyfriends anyways. 

Kathy: They were all so skanky. But really we see both of ourselves in both of the characters. 

Tell me about the process of writing as partners.

Kathy: The only thing we really argued about was whether or not to kill off Wesley. I really wanted to. 

Becky: We would outline the events and brainstorm together. We would outline the scenes and then fill it in with the history. Kathy did most of the writing and I did the historical research. The original version of the story actually had the sisters as much younger, but it caused a lot of confusion. It was unclear if it was supposed to be young adult or historical romance. 

Kathy: It’s weird that you can just change a couple of scenes and then the work can be sellable. The problem is that you don’t know which chapter that is. There’s just a lot of rewriting. Arden was originally supposed to be just Libby’s love, not her husband. It was a balance. We didn’t want them so old that it wasn’t realistic for the time period. 

How did you do the research?

Becky: We had to do tons of research and had to be extremely accurate. The characters weren’t real, but the regiment and all of the details and nuances actually happened. Therefore, history had to drive the narrative. Twelve years ago the Internet was not something you could use as a reliable source for research like this, so we really only used it to contact local experts about various topics. The rest we had to do the old fashioned way, by looking through archives and stomping through historic sites. 

Kathy: By we, she means her. I napped. 

Becky: She really can nap anywhere. We went to battlefields. I was so excited to show Kathy things, but I’d look around and she’d be asleep under a tree.

How did you write the gory scenes?

Kathy: It was such a bloody war. We really had to tone it back a lot. Everyone was for the war, but they had no idea the toll that it would take. We really got hardened to the gore during all of our research. 

Becky: We were surprised that some readers were really disturbed by the blood. There was so much new technology, but it was still archaically brutal during the war. We didn’t need to exaggerate at all beaus all the details were already there and actually occurred in real life. 

How did Josephine and Wesley find each other again at the end of the book?

Kathy: Well Becky and I were just tired, so… haha. Well it was just a hard thread to close since it was really the sisters’ story. Libby choosing Josephine over Arden was the true end, so we kind of made the rest of the endings abrupt. But it would have been a long journey for Wesley to get back to Josephine. 

Becky: The editors really encourage you to make it cinematic and cut from scene to scene. They need it to move along. 

Kathy: Are you really blaming the editors?

Becky: Well we wanted the ending to be hopefully, but realistic. 

You play around with the idea of homosexuality in two different scenarios. What was your thought process behind that?

Kathy:  Of course there have always been homosexuals and the Civil War era was no different, but it was not discussed openly.

What happened to women who were found out?

Becky: Some were sent home, some were accused as spies, and some were sent to prison. Some women joined with their husbands, so they could keep up the act much longer. One woman was actually allowed to keep serving even after she was found out. Mostly, commanding officers were mad that they were duped by these women. 

Will there be a movie version?

Becky: Write to your congressmen or whoever to make it happen! Haha!

Who would you cast in it?

Kathy: Jennifer Lawrence as Libby. She has a certain spark to her, and she can also play it dirty. 

Becky: We need an actress who’s willing to try to look and act like a man. It was much easier to pull off a woman dressing as a man in Victorian era. Basically, if someone was wearing pants, they were a man. It was simple. It would be intriguing to try and cast the movie because there are different mindsets about femininity now. 

Kathy: I actually have to get going. Bring some water to us here in California!

You two seem to get along really well. 

Becky: We were actually really nice today. We were at a panel once and were were arguing about which sister was which in the book. Kathy said that the older sister is smart and brave while the younger sister is bratty. And I said that the older sister is boring. Then Kathy said that the older sister has shiny hair and an impressive rack! I then said that the older sister hasn’t had a bunch of children so maybe she should just shut up. Another author came up to use afterwards and said, “Well since you opened up this can of worms, I think that there is no disparity between your racks.” I shouted that that was the nicest thing that anyone has ever said to me!!

What is next for you two?

Becky: There are a lot of little things trickling in. The official book tour is now over. We do lots of Skype tours and book clubs.  Kathy has a new book coming out under her married name, Kathy Parks, called The Lifeboat Clique. It will be Harper Collins’ push book next spring, so we are hopeful it will do well. I am very proud of her. We will start a new book together after this summer so I can spend time with my kids. I am a wife and mother of four children, so I was just happy to write the book twelve years ago with Kathy. And I really just love history.

How was Arden’s character developed?

Becky: He wasn’t always an ass. He became more of a jerk in the final rewrite. We wanted to push the line without making Arden too unlikable. He still had a little bit of sweetness. Because he and Libby have so much history, it is difficult for her to see him as anything other than the boy she fell in love with as a young girl, and she doesn’t realize that she starts to lose herself in him. 

Do you get an attachment to your characters?

Becky: Sure, especially since there are so many little aspects of each other and people we know in the characters. Eleanor (the old lady on the farm) is one of my favorites, because she is so much like our cute and sassy Mom. 

How is your book doing?

Becky: Well it’s hard to tell since it’s only been out three months, but we’re hopeful that word will start to spread more - so tell your friends! 

Where can readers learn more about you?

Becky: They can go to the Sisters of Shiloh page on Facebook, or check out the page from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt at

Is there anything else that I didn’t ask that you would like to include?

Becky: It was so great to meet you!

Check out my review of their book Sisters of Shiloh.

Monday, June 15, 2015

The Shore | Sara Taylor

The Shore is a series of short stories about people living on an island off of Virginia. They are all loosely connected only because they share the same family tree and themes of abuse, alcohol, and sorrow. For a more complete summary, you can go here.

The first chapter was so amazing. It was so vivid and creepy that it actually gave me the chills—which has never happened to me before while reading a book. After that chapter, I had really high hopes for the rest of the book, which was unfortunately squandered. 

All of the stories are tied together by a family tree, which is provided for the reader in the front of the book. But there were way too many characters to keep track of. Sometimes the main character of the chapter wasn’t even part of the family tree. And other times you don’t even learn their name until near the end of the chapter. I wasted a lot of time looking at the family tree trying to make sense of it all. I would have rather had them be all unrelated, because trying to piece everything together took away from the stories. If they were just stories all taking place on the same island, I think I would have been able to let go of trying to understand who everyone was. 

Also, the stories span hundreds of years (into the past and future). The stories were sad, but they also could have been realistic—until you get to the future. It was only like twenty years from now, but yet people have three legs and weird defects. It turned a little too scifi for me to consider it realistic fiction anymore. I kept also trying to look back at the family tree to figure out how old everyone was based on the current year—which also required me to figure out who exactly I was reading about, bringing me back to my first complaint.

Another thing that I didn’t like, was that it jumped around from first to second to third person. It would have been better to stick with just one—plus I never like reading books in second person anyway. 

This book had such great potential. The writing was vivid and beautiful. Some of the stories were depressing and too real. But other stories didn’t seem to fit or add to the book. I did like the exploration into generational suffering. The family tree started out with horrible events, and therefore it kept getting passed down the line. Some family members were able to escape their horrible pasts, but some just kept teaching sorrow to their kids. 

If you are interested in buying the book, you can buy it here. After you have read it, leave a comment and let me know what you think! 

 ***   3/5 Stars

Disclaimer: I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

If you like books like this, you should also check out these books:

Sunday, June 14, 2015

The Language of Flowers | Vanessa Diffenbaugh

The Language of Flowers is a story about a girl, Victoria, who grew up in the foster care system. She has always pushed away any relationships before they can form and has a dark view on life. And yet, she has a beautiful gift for communicating via flowers that helps many others. For a more complete summary, you can go here.

This book is so raw and real. I had a hard time reading it because I could feel the pain in it. So many times I wanted to scream at Victoria, “No! Stop! You’ll ruin everything!” She constantly feels unworthy of love and takes it away from herself and others. When she starts to get a glimpse of happiness, she runs the other way. It is so heart breaking because she never got to feel love in her childhood, which has impacted her whole life. The words are so vivid that the story felt like a true diary of someone in so much emotional pain. This is not a happy summer read, but it opened my eyes up to a lot and provided me with many incredible emotions. I could feel my heart racing while reading this, which is very powerful. 

The only reason why I didn’t give this book five stars, is that some parts started to drag on and go really slow. But overall, it was amazing. I’m having a hard time putting into words what this book made me feel. My opinion is that any book that makes you feel something strong, whether good or bad feelings, is remarkable. 

I also really enjoyed learning about the meanings behind flowers. I knew that flowers had meanings, but I never really thought about the messages that they can send to other people, and how they can get misconstrued. I guess you can compare that to any other nonverbal communication—it is easy to misinterpret. The back of the book actually has a dictionary of the meanings of many different flowers. 

If you are interested in buying the book, you can buy it here. After you have read it, leave a comment and let me know what you think! 

 ****   4/5 Stars

If you like books like this, you should also check out these books:

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Q & A With Author Lauren Oliver

What are your ambitions for your writing career? What would your career look like in an ideal world?

I would like to continue writing for multiple age groups in multiple genres. I'd also love a movie at some point! 

Which writers inspire you?

The list grows longer every day….

Give us an insight into how you create your main characters.

They just start talking to me in my head. It sounds a little crazy, I know! 

Which actors/actresses would you like to see playing the lead characters from “Panic"?

I'm TERRIBLE at fancasting. I literally don't know who anyone is. There's a great website though, called IfList, where fans can submit their dream casts.

How much research do you do before writing a book?

It really depends on the book. Before I Fall was based largely on my own experiences, so it didn't really need any research, but something historical like my new series Curiosity House took a significant amount!

Do you aim for a set amount of words/pages per day?

Yes, I'm a big fan of the daily word count.

How can readers discover more about you and you work?

Twitter: @OliverBooks

Check out my review of Lauren’s book Panic.