Courting the Dragon – New Excerpt

Posted on January 30th 2018 ⋄ By Sara Cleveland ⋄ Category: Sneak Peeks

For those of you who have been waiting patiently (or impatiently in some cases), here is a new sneak-peek excerpt from book two, Courting the Dragon.

As a reminder, anything posted is a draft, and therefore could be modified in the final published version. Please remember that this is my work, and I worked hard on it. Do not copy without expressed, written permission.

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The ballroom was a masterpiece of marble and granite. The vaulted ceilings, two stories high, glowed with reflected candlelight and reverberated with music and laughter. Between the enormous columns that held the ceiling aloft, tall windows and doors of expensive glass ringed three sides of the expansive room. Most of the doors, which led out into a private section of the palace grounds’ extensive gardens, were thrown wide open to relieve the oppressive heat of so many bodies.

Penelope had tried to find a quiet section of the garden to hole up in, thinking the outdoors would likely be deserted when all the excitement was inside. Most of the ladies wanted to be on the dance floor under the golden lights where their fancy dresses would be on display. Most of the male dandies weren’t much better, she admitted to herself ruefully.

Alas, that was not the case. The garden was doing an amazingly brisk business this evening as couples slipped off to find some space to get more intimately acquainted. After stumbling upon her third partially dressed pair of the evening, Penelope made her way back to the ballroom. Better to suffer the presence of her suitors than to feel the urge to scoop her own eyeballs out with a soup spoon. Or so she thought. She hadn’t taken three steps through the doors before two young men were asking her to dance. She declined demurely, but they followed her anyhow. She’d spent the better part of the last hour trying to rid herself of the hangers-on but had succeeded only in gaining a third.

A fourth voice interrupted the young lordlings’ chatter.

“May I have this dance, Your Highness?”

All three of her suitors rounded on the interloper with expressions of indignation, but Penelope smiled gratefully at him and held out her hand.

“I would be delighted, Your Grace.”

Salarath, in his Stellan persona, swept Penelope onto the dance floor and safely away from the stunned gazes of her admirers.

“Thank you,” she murmured as soon as they were out of earshot. The music was a pleasant dance of moderate speed that allowed for discussion and didn’t require Salarath to hold her too close. Still, a shiver of pleasure ran up her spine when his warm hand rested on her back.

“You looked like you could use a little help.”

“They are troublesome,” she admitted. “Since they know they have Father’s blessing they’re quite bold.”

“Who can blame them?” He paused to spin her around, continuing once she was back within his embrace. “It’s not every day they have a chance at the most beautiful woman in the kingdom.”

“Careful,” Penelope warned, a little smile on her lips. “It wouldn’t do for the Wizard Lord Stellan, Duke of Steelbourgh to be caught making lecherous advances on his goddaughter.”

Salarath snorted. “Perhaps I should have come as Stefan.”

“Father really would have turned you out.”

Warning: This does contain some minor spoilers. If you don’t want any part of the story spoiled, do not read any further.

(more…)

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Hot Tea & Tall Tales – 1
That Time I Broke Time

Posted on January 28th 2018 ⋄ By Sara Cleveland ⋄ Category: Reviews

Introduction

This week’s review is of the That Time I Broke Time, a debut novel by indie author Sarah Emily Lelonek. It is listed as YA and SciFi/Fantasy. Currently, it is enrolled in Kindle Select. Enrollment in this program means that it is only available for purchase through Amazon’s Kindle Store, or through Kindle Unlimited. I do not have a Kindle Unlimited subscription, so I paid the reasonable purchase price of $3.99 (at the time of this posting).

View the video review, here.

Disclaimers & Disclosures

Full disclosure, I am personally acquainted with the author. We are in both in the AkroNaNoWrimo group for National Novel Writing Month. This does not influence my opinions on the book, and I am receiving no compensation for this review, except maybe some free press (like a blog link, or a Facebook post. Twitter is nice 😉 )

About the Author

Sarah Emily Lelonek is a new author from Akron, Ohio. She holds a B.A. in English from Kent State University and M.Ed. in Higher Education Administration from Tiffin University. She has a yorkie named Joey.

You can find her on

Book Details

That Time that I Broke Time is estimated at 165 pages by Amazon. The typical reading time, again according to Amazon, is 3 hours and 18 minutes. I did not clock myself as I did not read the book all in one sitting, but I am a quick reader and this estimate seems fair. At the time of this writing, the book has one 5 star Amazon review.

While the book is currently only available as a Kindle ebook, Sarah says that she plans to release it as a paperback this coming April. I will attempt to remember to update this post with the additional availability. It is currently only available in English, and I am not aware of any plans for translation at this time.

A sequel is planned for later this year. I will attempt to remember to update this post when that becomes available. Also, I will do a review.

Ratings

Design  4 teaspoons of tea leaves

First, I will say that cover really fits the target genres. It’s got all the things I would look for as a reader in SciFi/Fantasy cover, particularly with a bent towards the YA portion of the genre. Color. Action. It makes me want to read the book.

One thing about the cover bugs me though, and I find that this is a common occurrence for me not only with indie books but with many, many traditionally published novels. The picture of the main character on the cover does not (to my mind) line up with the written description. Early in the story, Ellie describes her hair as “long, chestnut brown hair” and later as a “dark mane.” The girl on the cover is blond! Blond!

Okay, so that’s really just a pet peeve of mine, and it doesn’t detract from the fact that the cover is well done and eye-catching.

Four teaspoons.

The “interior,” if you will, is pretty much what you would expect from an ebook that has been put together well. The chapters are clearly delineated with pleasant looking headers, and scene shifts are well indicated. I’ve definitely come across ebooks where the latter was not the case, and it gave me a form of mental whiplash.

No teaspoons lost there.

 

Premise 5 teaspoons of tea leaves

The blurb reads:

The future doesn’t freak out Ellie Evensten. Being a product of the 2100s, Ellie is accustomed to hovers, holos, and even time travel. Ellie knows all about time travel from her adopted parents, but they didn’t mention how the time travel gene mutates with every generation of new travelers.

Now at age eighteen, Ellie is starting college with her best friend and boyfriend. Life is almost perfect. That is until she finds herself dealing with a whole new reality: Ellie is actually her parent’s birth child. She can not only time travel, but also break and bend time on her own volition.

Ellie’s life does not become easier with her new abilities. When Ellie’s parents are abducted, she not only faces an evil organization set on controlling time travelers worldwide, but she must also learn to cope with her own emotions before she breaks time for good.

There’s a whole lot of interesting stuff to dig into here, but let’s get this out of the way first: the book follows a trope. Well, a blend of tropes.

The protagonist discovers (bonus points for on a significant birthday) that she isn’t who she thought due to some secret about their family or the circumstances of her birth. Oh, and now she has awesome powers, too!

This has been done. And done. And done.

“Yer a wizard, ‘Arry!”

Here’s just a few other examples, besides J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter:

  • Rand Al’Thor in Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time Series
  • Shea Ohmsford in Terry Brooks’ Sword of Shannara
  • Luke Skywalker, Leia Organa, and Anakin Skywalker (the whole dang family, really) in George Lucus’ Star Wars (the movies or the novelizations, take your pick).
  • Sookie Stackhouse in Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse novels aka True Blood for you HBO fans.
  • Percy Jackson in Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians series
  • Diana Bishop in Deborah Harkness’ A Discovery of Witches
  • Richard Cypher in Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth series.

I mean, I could go on for days. I didn’t even list all of the ones my friend helped me come up with when my brain got stuck.

But the reason it’s been done so many times is that. Heck, I even have an unfinished manuscript with the same trope! It’s a pretty good launchpad for all sorts of crazy adventures. Every story I just mentioned (aside from my unfinished one) is well beloved for totally different reasons, vastly different plots (although some do follow similar archetypes in other respects), in part because they all put their own twist on the trope.

In this case, the twist is that the protagonist is a carrier for time-traveling genetics that she had believed she could never have possessed, due to her parents faking her adoption. Points for originality, because I’ve read a lot of fantasy and sci-fi, and I can’t remember coming across that combination before. It’s an intriguing premise. The science behind the TT gene itself is glossed over (yay, suspension of disbelief!). And honestly, I’m glad the author chose not to just throw a bunch of physics babble in there and bullshit the reader through it. The main character didn’t know how it worked, admitted as much and we moved on.

But, while it’s not the hard and heavy footnote-laden steamroller that a Michael Crichton novel would be, That Time I Broke Time does it’s best to explore some of the big questions outside the protagonist’s own turmoil. In particular, the story tackles a big one: what would the governmental and societal reaction to such a power be?

So, the premise, in my opinion, is great. I give it five teaspoons. But now that leads us into the execution, and that is where many a grand premise goes to die. Bwahaha!

Okay, just kidding.

Characters 3 teaspoons of tea leaves

Main Protagonist – Eleanor “Ellie” Evensten 

At the beginning of the story, Ellie is… how do I put this? I find her just annoying and self-absorbed, but in that I-just-turned-18 sort of way. The good thing about this is that it gave Ellie plenty of room to grow as a person from the first sentence to the last. What Ellie has going for her is a good character arc. And because we are in her head the whole time, we really get to see the changes in her as the plot moves forward. She shows progress as a character through the story as she begins to look outside of herself.

Main Antagonist – Kyle 

Kyle starts out the story as Ellie’s boyfriend. Honestly, there doesn’t seem to be much to his character besides the fact that he’s a dick. I don’t even like having to say that word on camera, but it’s pretty much the best summary of his persona there is. However, Kyle doesn’t spend too much time on screen, and I find his flatness forgivable, especially since the real villain of the story is much more complex.

Ellie’s Family

I’m just going to lump all the Evenstens together here. Ellie’s family is supportive almost to the point of being irritating. I don’t think they actually reprimand her for a single thing the entire story, even when they probably should have. They’re very loving, doting parents, but again, they seem a bit flat as characters despite the absolutely freaking massive secret they’ve been keeping from their daughter. Grandpa, too. He seems to lack some depth for the badass he seems to be. I’m hoping for some more development of Gramps in the next installment.

Ellie’s Friends

The best friend (Nat), the childhood best friend (Taylor), and the new probably future bestie (Ying) to round it out. The friends where just interesting enough not to be complete paper-cutouts for me. I feel like you could replace a couple of them with totally different people and I don’t think it would have affected the story much, if at all. Moving on.

All in all, Ellie’s strong character arc is what saved this portion for me. Everybody else just felt a bit flat for one reason or another. Still, it feels like there’s some great potential in some of the side characters. I really hope they get a chance to shine in the future. Three teaspoons.

Worldbuilding 4 teaspoons of tea leaves

I teetered between 3 and 4 teaspoons for this section.

In any kind of fiction, but particularly speculative fiction, worldbuilding is paramount. You have to make enough of the world feel real that the reader can suspend their disbelief for the really crazy parts. That Time I Broke Time seems (most of the time) to find a nice balance between overt in-your-face acts of worldbuilding (hover cars, because future) and subtly (like the evolution in teen/college-age alcohol/drug culture). There was obviously a lot of thought put into several key aspects of the world in which Ellie lives. The society and governmental structures that have formed in this world are well thought-out and make sense (at least to me) given the technologies described. But then there are some things that just seem like they were popped in as either being throw-away, expected because of the future-world premise, or plot crutches, which we’ll talk about in the next section.

I think the thing that put the worldbuilding over the top for me and into the solid 4 teaspoons was the International Time Traveling Organization (ITTO) and its genuine nefariousness. It’s all the the terrible things that can go wrong with a governmental body with too much power and not enough oversight. The true evil in the story, the ITTO as a natural result of the TT gene is what makes this story for me. It answers the big “so what?” about time travel. We have humans with the super-ish ability to go back in time? So what? We have to regulate them! But where do we draw the lines? I’m so excited to see where this goes and how it develops in the sequel.

Plot 3 teaspoons of tea leaves

This is another section where I teetered on what score to give. I’m going with the 3 teaspoons, and here’s why.

On one hand, the story keeps moving. It’s well paced. It’s slower where it needs to be and faster where it needs to be. The action is good. There’s a good level of anticipation and suspense.

And yet.

Some things in this book were just too dang easy. The “modern” medicine really just felt like a crutch. There’s an entire scene based around it that I felt could have just been completely skipped. Like, completely, and nothing would have been lost from the story.

Some of the help the receive is also just, so convenient. I would have liked to see more trial and error, more struggle for the characters.

Writing 5 teaspoons of tea leaves

First, let me start by saying that Sarah is a talented writer. Her writing has a clear voice and presence. She does well with evoking all five of the senses. By the end of the first digital page, I had a strong sense that I was going to enjoy this book on pure style alone. And she didn’t disappoint.

I did notice a handful of editing mistakes, but honestly, they were minor enough that I didn’t even care. If I had not written down reminders and highlighted them all on my Kindle I probably would have forgotten all about them. I’ve seen far more egregious mistakes in professionally published books that went through only heaven knows how many rounds of editing, copying editing, and proofing. Heck, my own debut novel probably has worse editing mistakes. I’m too much of a coward to look at this point because there are so many print copies already out in the world.

Final Thoughts – Overall Rating 4 teaspoons of tea leaves

 

I liked this book. I’ll be honest, I originally didn’t think that I would. That Time I Broke Time was a fun read. It’s not overly lengthy, and can be enjoyed of an evening if you’re a quick reader. It’s well written and well put-together. Although it could have used some fortification in some areas, the plot was interesting, and the premise was stellar.

A note on the genre labeling, to those who are wondering if this book is appropriate for their teenagers. While this book is targeted to a YA audience (according to Amazon), if I were personally asked to label this book, I would call it New Adult (NA). Sarah does not shy away from the profanity. There were a few f-bombs within the first five or so chapters. The first chapters show some questionable behavior (drinking, substance use) before getting into some rather adult stuff.  If your child is less than 15 I would consider pre-screening the book first.


If you are an indie or small press author and are interested in being featured in my reviews, please contact me at reviews@sara-cleveland.com with a subject line of “Hot Tea & Tall Tales Inquiry.” The subject line helps with inbox rules so I see your email faster.

 

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My Book Review Format

Posted on January 24th 2018 ⋄ By Sara Cleveland ⋄ Category: News, Reviews

This week I am going to be starting something new on my very infant YouTube channel. I am going to be doing video book reviews from local (mostly Indie) authors. The reviews will be going up on a weekly to bi-weekly basis on Sundays. They will each be added to a specific playlist, and will all follow approximately the same format.

Format Overview

  1. Introduction and disclaimers
  2. About the Author
  3. Book Details
    • Length
    • Formats (Paperback, Ebook, Audio, etc)
    • Languages
    • Availability (Amazon, iTunes, B&N, etc)
    • Series information
  4. Ratings
    • Design
      • Exterior
      • Interior
    • Premise
    • Characters
    • Worldbuilding
    • Plot
    • Writing
  5.  Final Thoughts & Overall Rating

Ratings Breakdown

The Ratings section is broken into four categories (there may eventually be more, but we’ll see how I feel after a few reviews). The book will be given 1 to 5 teaspoons of tea leaves in each category, and then an overall score.

5 teaspoons of tea leavesand this book is a good, strong cup of tea

4 teaspoons of tea leaves and this book has a lot of flavor

3 teaspoons of tea leaves and this book isn’t my favorite, but it’ll do

2 teaspoons of tea leavesand this book is a weak cup of tea

1 teaspoon of tea leavesand this tea might as well be water

I decided against doing a star system, because, really, reviews are entirely subjective. I may love a book, and you may hate it. It really all comes down to what kind of story is your “cup of tea.” I  would also like to point out that in the unlikely (I hope) event of a book actually receiving 1 teaspoon, that does not make it the worst book I’ve ever read. I have intentionally read some of the worst-rated free books on Amazon, and attended “Readings in Terrible Fiction” at Anthrocon. I have seen the worst that there is, and we shall not speak of it.

Each book that I review by video will also get a follow-up blog-post that is a transcript of the video. All follow-up blog posts will be categorized as “Review” posts and tagged appropriately for the book being reviewed. An abbreviated version of the review with the overall score converted to stars will be posted to Goodreads, Amazon, B&N, etc as applicable. Links to the books will be included in both the YouTube description box, and the follow-up blog post. I will also try to include links to the authors on social media, their websites and/or their blogs.

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BIG ANNOUNCEMENT
Saving the Dragon is coming to Audiobook!

Posted on January 22nd 2018 ⋄ By Sara Cleveland ⋄ Category: Audiobook, News, Sneak Peeks

This post is a follow-up to the announcement made on Saturday.

This spring, Saving the Dragon will be available as an audiobook through Audible, Amazon and iTunes. The exact release date is still forthcoming, but it should be sometime in April. Sooo… be sure to watch the blog, Facebook, YouTube or Twitter for updates! Stayed tuned for release details, pricing, and maaaybe even a give-away 😉

Saving the Dragon Audiobook Cover

Saving the Dragon Audiobook Cover

As I explained in my initial announcement video, this is a first for me, and the narrator, Hilary Dickinson. I’m so pleased that she was able to bring the characters to life for this exciting release. I hope you all will enjoy her performance as much as I have. This project absolutely would not be happening without her, so I wanted to give everyone a proper introduction.

Hilary currently resides in Georgia with her two cats, one dog, and six very fat goldfish. “Each is special in their own way (even the fat goldfish),” she says, “and bring me tremendous happiness.” She spends her days working for the Veteran and Military Crisis Hotline. In her spare time, she is an avid gamer, reader and all-around sci-fi/fantasy junkie. She decided to try audiobook narrating on the insistence of a friend, who clearly has excellent acoustic tastes.

Listen to a sneak peek here (but please bear in mind that this is just an early sample, and not from the finished audiobook)

Here is the video announcement to YouTube on Saturday.

 

 

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Writing my sequel was also hard

Posted on January 21st 2018 ⋄ By Sara Cleveland ⋄ Category: Writing

I recently read a blog post from a friend in my NaNoWriMo group, Franc Ingram. For those of you who are unfamiliar, Franc is the author of the author of the Euphoria Duology. The second book, Kings of Euphoria, just went on sale this week. The blog post in question is titled “Writing a Sequel is Hard” and I’m here to tell you that truer words were never written. You may want to read her post first and then come back and read this one.

In any case, Franc’s post got me thinking about all the reasons why Courting the Dragon still isn’t on sale. Of course, there are the obvious things. My divorce certainly put large parts of my life on hold, my writing included. If you want all the nitty-gritty on that, check out the blog post I did about it a while back. Then there’s the fact that I basically disappeared into my day-job for six months and only recently came back up for air. I don’t recommend 10-hr days, especially not when you have a choice about it. Fortunately, I came to my senses and now go in and come home at reasonable hours.

But the simple truth is, like Franc says, writing a sequel is hard.

My problems and Franc’s problems aren’t the same, but that not really all that different, either.

Problem #1: I went into this thinking it would be easy because I already built the world.

No, it’s not easy because I already built the world. I’ve painted myself into all kinds of not-so-fun corners because I didn’t think my magic system through beyond the first book. Granted, it’s going to result in some interesting (I hope) magical solutions in book two, but… ugh. Until you’ve had to experience the frustration that is existing canon that fans expect you to adhere to, you don’t really understand how restrictive it can feel. Hopefully, in a few months, I’ll be able to write you a nice blog post explaining how it’s a great challenge that helps you grow as a writer. We’ll see.

Problem #2: I went into this thinking it would be easy because I’m using repeat characters.

No, no, and no. This goes back to the whole canon thing. Or really, being consistent. While characters should always grow and evolve, unless they’ve had a complete soul-overhaul, they’re still the same person at the end of the day. My characters keep wanting to be whiney shells of themselves, and not more mature versions of the people they were in book one. If you know you’re going to be writing a multi-book series with a character, considering thinking through their character arc all the way through to the end before you even start book one, chapter one.

Problem #3: I HATED MY VILLAIN!

And not in a good way. I despised this character so much, the only suitable ending for him was being stabbed to death with a butter-knife halfway through. That would make for a very short book, obviously, which is why I had to do something about it. Part of what’s kept Courting the Dragon from hitting online sellers near you, is that I had to rework huge chunks of the mostly finished manuscript. Why? Because I had to figure out how to work with the villain and not against him. Have I recaptured the fun it was to write the villain in my first story? No, not at all. Have I made the villain into the character the story needed him to be? I think so. You guys will have to tell me later this year.

Tips for a better sequel writing experience? 

Obviously, everyone is different, and your sequel writing experience may be vastly different from mine, or from Franc’s. Honestly, I hope it is. I hope you have a phenomenal time, and your plot and characters behave, and the world is sun and roses. Because I wouldn’t wish my current situation on my own worst enemy. But let’s be real, it’s probably going to suck in some different but equally terrible way. Let me know in the comments. In the meantime, here’s a list of 5 things that I am going to adhere to for my next sequel (book 3) and any future series:

  1. If you know you’re doing a series before you start, plot all the way through the series at least a little bit.
  2. Always think ahead. As you’re doing your pre-writing (and actual writing) for book one, give yourself a chance to think about how your decisions are going to impact those future books.
  3. Update your characters sheets/sketches/whatever as you go. Keep track of all the little evolutionary details of their character, even if it seems stupid.
  4. Keep all that worldbuilding/notetaking/etc that you’re now going to do in a place where you can find it easily. Everything from Saving is so scattered it makes keeping up with canon for Courting very frustrating.
  5. The second you hate where a character/plot device/etc is going, STOP. Don’t throw it away, but set it aside and try writing in a different direction. See which you like better. Don’t let it get to 50k where the sheer amount of things you have to change now is overwhelming. You are not married to that thing you don’t like. Period.

 

 

 

 

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