February 2021 Update

Posted on February 26th 2021 ⋄ By Sara Cleveland ⋄ Category: News, Writing

Let’s get non-writing updates out of the way first. We’ve been at a bit of a stand-still with the house reno just because it’s so. freaking. cold. Matt did get the carpet ripped out of the office and we slapped some paint on the walls, so it’s usable. With any luck, I’ll be including some photos in my March Update.

Here are the milestones I accomplished in February:

  • I re-released an updated version of Saving the Dragon. More details on that can be found here.
  • I also got involved with a fast-approaching anthology project. I wrote a whole post about that. You can find the pre-order here.
  • The first revision for Courting the Dragon is done. I am currently waiting on beta reader feedback.
  • I wrote an unusual amount of short fiction.

A big area of focus for me this past month has been figuring out what I want to do with the blog. As of now, I have a tentative content schedule planned for the next few months that will have me posting once a week on Mondays. I’m thinking of adding Fridays to the rotation.

Along with the blog content, I’m working to revive my stalled attempt at a YouTube channel. I recently posted a review of The Fires of Treason by Michele Quirke to the blog (I filmed a video, but due to technical difficulties have not been able to finish editing it). My goal is to keep that up as much as possible; one review per month. I will be reviewing indie/small press books only for the foreseeable future. Even if I cannot get a video out for some reason there will be one book review blog post each month.

I’ve started doing some preliminary writing for book 3. Mostly so far I just have notes about things I want to include and a brief sketch of the overall plot. It’s definitely a different sort of story than CtD, and I’m excited about telling it. I don’t currently have any sort of timeline in mind as to when it will be released.

That’s it for February!

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The Angry Woman’s Guide to Not-So-Snappy Comebacks

Posted on February 22nd 2021 ⋄ By Sara Cleveland ⋄ Category: Release Announcements

I’m super excited to say that one of my short stories and – shockingly enough – a poem are going to be included in an anthology to celebrate International Women’s Day 2021. The Angry Woman’s Guide to Not-So-Snappy Comebacks is available on Amazon for pre-order NOW and will be released on March 8, 2021. Also, check out the project’s Facebook Page. Proceeds from the anthology will benefit the girls’ coding club at my middle school alma mater.

From the blurb:

“Sometimes it just needs said, even if you never got to say it in the moment.”

“There’s something for everyone in this collection of 20 authors, coming from a variety of USA Today bestselling, award-winning, and rising star authors. From heart-breaking break ups, thick glass ceilings, and tremendously disappointing conversations comes the rise of an angry woman’s voice. These authors took a chance to say all the things that you never got to say in the heat of the moment.”

“These original stories and poems are packed with unforgettable one-liners, relatable situations, frustrating romances, and intense emotion that will leave you remembering why us women need to support and lift each other up.”

Here’s some links to check out my fellow contributors:

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Saving the Dragon Paperback Complications

Posted on February 15th 2021 ⋄ By Sara Cleveland ⋄ Category: News, Release Announcements

I’ve run into some minor complications with the paperback edition of Saving the Dragon. I gave the designers the wrong dimensions (I told them the dimensions of the old edition). I thought I could make it work, but alas, KDP is much pickier than the old CreateSpace. So it will be probably another week yet before the paperback goes back on sale. My apologies.

The good news is, I did give them the correct dimensions for Courting the Dragon. The cover reveal for that is coming up soon!

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February Story Blog Hop 2021

Posted on February 14th 2021 ⋄ By Sara Cleveland ⋄ Category: Short Story

Recognition

February 14th was always their day. The time between their dates seemed to get longer and longer every year, but he could always count on February 14th. A nice dinner, a few drinks. They’d talk until late into the night. She would tell him everything about everything: her work, her friends. Nothing was a secret.

It was cold, but he waited in their spot, like always. He wondered what she’d have in the picnic basket. What flowers would she bring this year?

Hours passed while he waited. He sat on the cold granite and looked to the sky where the pale winter sun was starting to sink below the dead tree-line. 

The moon was high in the sky when he heard the crunch of snow under boots. Two figures crossed the lawn. One stopped short, but the other walked right up to where he waited.

“I’m sorry I’m late,” she whispered. The plastic on the dozen roses she carried crinkled as she set it down before the headstone. She shivered and pulled her scarf tighter about her neck but reached out a bare finger to trace the letters of a name.

John Bishop. March 13, 1985 – February 14, 2016.

“John, you know I’ll always love you, but…” she glanced over her shoulder at the man waiting a respectful distance away. A sob caught in her throat, and it was a moment before she could continue. “I can’t keep on like this. I have to start living again. I’m sorry.”

John’s eyes stung. He reached for her, but she stepped away. In the moonlight, he could see the answering tears freezing to her cheeks. He was helpless to stop her as she rejoined her companion, who gathered her into an understanding embrace.

“You don’t need me anymore. I’m so glad.” A smile ghosted over John’s features. His heart was breaking, but hers was finally healing.

She turned for one last look at the headstone, offering one final wave good-bye. John waved back, even as he felt himself fade away. The last thing he saw was the recognition in her beautiful eyes.

Blog Hop Links

Check out these other great stories!

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The Fires of Treason

Posted on February 12th 2021 ⋄ By Sara Cleveland ⋄ Category: Reviews

*Note* This was supposed to be a blog post that accompanied a video review. Due to a series of very unfortunate events, I cannot post the video at this time. However, unlike the incident with Raven Thrall, I have not lost the footage. I just need a different computer set-up to redo the hours of editing I lost. However, I don’t think it’s fair to make the people waiting on this wait any longer. So, without further ado, here is my written review of The Fires of Treason (which is still written like it accompanies the video, because eventually, it will).


Today we are going to be talking about The Fires of Treason which is the first in a new series by Michele Quirke. I became aware of this book through Twitter. Michele is extremely active and engaging on that platform, and I ended up buying the eBook due to effective Twitter marketing (and to be a supportive member of the #WritingCommunity). Originally, I didn’t have any plans of doing a formal blog review, but it just sort of fell into place. I purchased both the eBook and the paperback with my own money, and I am in no way being compensated for this review. As always, my opinions are my own.

About the Author

Michele is an up and coming historical fiction author. She currently lives near Seattle, WA with her husband, son and their cat, Link. (This is all straight from the back of the book.)

She is also a very active personality on Twitter. She’s just great to interact with. I would highly suggest following her there. @MicheleQuirke

About the Book

 The Fires of Treason is currently available for Kindle and Paperback through Amazon. It is written in English. I am not aware of any plans for translation. Audio is not forthcoming at this time.

Amazon lists the length at 332 pages. That’s probably accurate from the front matter to the end of the story, but looking at the paperback it’s actually a bit longer with the back matter.

A Note on Genre

I really don’t know what genre to label this book. I spoke with Michele about this a little on Twitter. There was some debate in the lead up to publishing The Fires of Treason as to whether it should be considered “Historical Fiction”. In the end, she listed it as “Historical Fantasy” on Amazon due to the fictional nature of the kingdom of Caracalla.

Although Caracalla itself is fictional, it is placed in the real world during a very real-time period. More on that in the world-building section of this review. As an avid Fantasy reader, The Fires of Treason does not provide what I personally would be looking for in something labeled “Historical Fantasy.” There’s no real fantastical element to the characters, plot, or world-building.

When you strip away “Historical” from “Historical Fantasy” or “Historical Romance” you generally still have clear hallmarks of the other genres. In fact, you would usually say that those books are fantasy or romance and that historical is itself the sub-genre. Looking at The Fires of Treason, to me, it doesn’t have clear hallmarks of a particular fiction genre except for Historical.

Why am I getting bogged down in this? Because genre is a way through which readers find books they want to read. My concern with just leaving it at the listed genre is that by labeling this “historical fantasy” I will potentially be pushing the wrong readers to Michele’s book. I don’t want to do that. I want readers who will love her story to find it and leave her glowing reviews. I want readers who love fantasy to find books that will suit their tastes and leave those authors glowing reviews.

Sometimes bad reviews are just because the reader’s expectations weren’t met, not because the book is not good or having merit in its own right.

Having said that, I have it on good authority (aka following Michele’s tweets) that there may be some more “fantastical” elements in the sequel, so do with that information what you will.

Category Ratings

3 teaspoons of tea leaves

Design 

Let’s just get the most negative part of this review is over with right off the bat. My first impression of the cover was sort of ambivalent. After reading the book, I dislike it. I think it does Elizabeth’s personality a great injustice and makes her look old.

From a readability standpoint, I find the white font on the light gray backing makes the blurb difficult to read on the paperback.

My total rating for exterior design is Two Teaspoons.

The interior design is great. Nice scene delineation. Good, consistent formatting. And. The. MAP. I looooove me a good map. Did this book need a map? Ehhhhhh…. No, not really. But I am here for it nonetheless.

Interior design surpasses expectations (the map alone puts it over the top), Four Teaspoons.

This brings the average for Design to Three Teaspoons.

3 teaspoons of tea leaves

Premise 

In the video I would read the blurb at this point. You can read it here.

I have no real strong feelings about the premise. I didn’t buy the book because of the cover or the blurb or really anything to do with the book itself at all. I got sucked in by very effective Twitter marketing.

So I’m just going to give this section Three Teaspoons and move on.

4 teaspoons of tea leaves

Characters 

This is an area where the book really starts to shine. I have never read a book with so many annoying characters that pulled it off. And what do I mean by that? Let me explain.

At the center of this drama/journey is a pair of royal siblings, Elizabeth (Bess) and Gregory (Greg). Their relationship is a key focus throughout.

To start with, Greg is just straight-up insufferable at times (in a good way). He’s a well-meaning much older — not too much older, just enough — brother who is struggle to see his baby sister for the more mature young woman she is becoming. Michele writes this really well.

And then there’s Elizabeth. She’s, well… a typical, kind of bratty princess at the beginning. Of the two, I think Bess actually had the better character arc. By the end of the book, Bess has attained a level of maturity that she clearly did not possess in the beginning.

The great thing about these characters is how much room they had to grow as the story progressed. The banter between the siblings is excellent. The relationship is well written and believable.

And then there’s Clara. Of all the characters in the book, Clara is the one who feels the least necessary to me (watch, now that I said that she’ll have some big important role in the future). She was grating at best.

The rest of the cast makes up for her though.

All in all, I give the book Four Teaspoons for characters. Clara keeps it from being a solid five for me.

4 teaspoons of tea leaves

Worldbuilding 

This is another section where I think the author did really well. She clearly did her research. The story feels grounded in a time and place. Even though Caracalla itself is fictional, it still feels like real-world Europe. There’s no details that jar me out of the time and place, which can be a problem in historical fiction, especially if you read a lot of historical fiction set in roughly the same time period like I do.

Four Teaspoons.

3 teaspoons of tea leaves

Plot

I don’t really have a lot to say about the plot. To me this book wasn’t really heavily plot driven. It was much more about the characters and how they relate to each other and the world around them. It’s a pretty typical journey type plot.

However. There is an excellent twist at the end. And I’m not going to tell you what it is, because I don’t want to ruin the surprise. But that twist is just, mmm. Chef’s kiss.

I give the plot Three Teaspoons. Almost a four. It’s a 3.5 because that twist is just so good.

Writing 

This was another stand out category for me. I really enjoyed Michele’s writing. I find her style and vocabulary to be engaging. She’s an eloquent storyteller.

Five Teaspoons.

4 teaspoons of tea leaves

Final Thoughts 

My average rating for The Fires of Treason comes out to Four Teaspoons. It was a thoroughly enjoyable book with an excellent twist and excellent characters. I’m looking forward to seeing what comes next for Greg and Bess as they continue their journey.

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