Raven Thrall

Posted on May 13th 2019 ⋄ By Sara Cleveland ⋄ Category: Reviews

Confession: I was supposed to post this AGES ago along with a video to my YouTube channel. I wanted to wait until the video was edited, but unfortunately, I believe that all of the footage for the video is probably long gone (although I am looking for it). Still, I feel that I owe the author posting this. So, here is my review of Raven Thrall. I have not edited it, and the below still reflects my feelings at the time of reading the book.


Today we are going to be talking about Raven Thrall, which is the first in a new series by J. Elizabeth Vincent.

First things first, I just want to let you all know that I did receive an advanced review copy of this book many months ago for the purpose of doing a review… and then I went on hiatus. So it is with many, many apologies to the author that I am belatedly getting around to posting this video.

As I said, I did receive an advanced review copy of this book for the purpose of doing a review. I did not buy it with my own money. However, that does not influence my review positively or negatively and I am receiving no other compensation.

About the Author

I actually came across J. Elizabeth Vincent on a discussion board on Goodreads. She does appear to be quite active on Goodreads, so if you want to interact with her that may be a good place to start. She also has an active blog with a newsletter, which I will link below.

Like me, J. Elizabeth got serious about writing around the age of 14. In 2016 she won second place for fiction on the Blue Ridge Writers Golden Nib contest. The shortstory was titled “Transgression” and published in Skyline in 2017 if you’re interested in reading it.

Raven Thrall is J. Elizabeth’s debut novel.

Book Details

Raven Thrall is available in both ebook and print. It is available through Kindle Unlimited, which I believe makes it a KDP Select, so I do not think you’ll be finding it from other purveyors of ebooks at this time.

The print edition weighs in at 452 pages. The only language available at this time is English. I am not away of any plans for translation.

But, I am aware of plans for something else! According to the author’s website, an audiobook edition of Raven Thrall is underway. I just want to say congrats to J. Elizabeth. My audiobook just came out last week, and it is just the most exciting thing in the world to hear a narrator bring your characters to life. So super excited about that.

Raven Thrall is the first is a series, which is Legends of the Ceo San. The second book, Revelation of the Dragon, is currently in progress. A prequel novella titled Healer’s Sacrifice is expected to drop sometime this summer.

Spoiler, I’m looking forward to reading both of these.

Category Ratings

Design 3 teaspoons of tea leaves

The cover on this one is just kind of “meh” for me. I don’t think it would have drawn me in during one of my Kindle scroll fests. It is well done and professional looking, but I personally do not find the design very eye-catching.

The inside of the ebook is well formatted. Chapter and scene breaks are well delineated and there’s a good, working table of contents. There are no egregious formatting issues to distract the reader. There’s also no real embellishment to the ebook, either. I can’t speak for the print version, unfortunately.

What does take design up a notch is the great map at the beginning. I’m a sucker for a great map.

All in all, I give the book four teaspoons for design.

Premise 3 teaspoons of tea leaves

Like most of my reviews, I had categories in which I waffeled on what score to give. For Raven Thrall premise was one of those areas. In the end I am going with three teaspoons and here’s why.

There’s really nothing groundbreaking in the premise for Raven Thrall. It’s fairly standard things we’ve seen in many fantasies before it and will see in many fantasies after it.

And I feel the need to disclaimer this, because it got me into some hot water with another author’s fans, this is not in and of itself a bad thing. It just won’t earn you more than three teaspoons in this category. It’s still a strong premise for a strong story. I just isn’t earthshattering.

Raven Thrall has:

  • A young woman who is not quite who she thinks she is
  • Shapeshifting people
  • An oppressive evil king
  • A “chosen people” situation

These are all elements for a great story, but they are also elements that we have seen together many, many times before.

Characters 4 teaspoons of tea leaves

J. Elizabeth gives us a reasonably sized cast to wrap our heads around in Raven Thrall. None of the characters feel throwaway. I feel like if I followed one of them around outside of the main body of the story I would find that they all live their own rich lives independent of the main character’s struggle.

Speaking of our main character. The heroine of the tale is a young named Mariah who escaped the clutches of an evil king as a child. When we first meet Mariah after the prologue, she seems at peace with her life of exile despite the bitter resentment she carries towards her mother. She is content with her inability to change shape the way other Ceo San do. In fact, she refuses to believe that she is a Ceo San. Just a freak.

So right off the bat, Mariah sort of lives some dualities. Being more, but not sure if she wants to be more. Loving her parents, but at the same time hating her mother. Loving her wings, but hating them. You get the idea.

Mariah is all about self-preservation, and that includes preserving her status quo. She struggles with her mentor’s lessons designed to break her out of that status quo and claim the full abilities of a Ceo San. So when she is presented with the opportunity to help Xae rescue his family, Mariah is more than a little reluctant.

It really is a great character arc. By the end of the story, Mariah’s sense of self and her beliefs about the past have radically shifted, but it all seems like a natural progression of who she is.

Worldbuilding 4 teaspoons of tea leaves

The world of Raven Thrall is well defined and consistent.

As I said earlier, the map at the beginning of the ebook is great. The author also seems to have a good idea in her head of distance and proportion for her world. Everything seems consistent as the character’s travel, which is important for a questing/journey sort of plotline.

Finally, the rules of the magic system – which so far really just seems to cover Ceo Sans’ shapechanging abilities – are well thought out. As readers, we’re given a pretty good understanding of what they can and cannot do fairly earlier, and the author sticks to that throughout.

Consistency is big for me. Your world can be totally bonkers, but so long as it is consistently bonkers, I can get into it. Raven Thrall’s world is far from bonkers, but it is beautifully consistent. I hope to see that continue in the next volume.

Plot 3 teaspoons of tea leaves

Like the premise, the plot really isn’t anything earthshattering. Mariah meets Xae and they go on a quest together to rescue his family. Along the way, Mariah discovers just what she is really made of. Again, it’s pretty standard fantasy fare.

Having said that, the execution is well done, and we do get a few interesting twists along the way. I thought the pacing was good.

Three teaspoons.

Writing 4 teaspoons of tea leaves

I really enjoyed J. Elizabeth’s writing style. I enjoyed the pacing, word choice, and the overall feel of the prose.

Final Thoughts 4 teaspoons of tea leaves

My final score for Raven Thrall is a four teaspoons. I really did enjoy this book and look forward to reading the volumes that follow. I’m excited to see what direction J. Elizabeth takes the story. The scope of Raven Thrall was fairly narrow with the goal of rescuing Xae’s family, but now Mariah’s whole destiny has been opened up. I expect we’ll see things developer on a grander scale, and I can’t wait to see how J. Elizabeth handles it.

That’s it for Raven Thrall. Next Hot Tea & Tall Tales will be two weeks from today. We will be discussing Riding a Black Horse by Dan Arman. Hope to see you then.


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There is nothing new under the sun

Posted on June 25th 2018 ⋄ By Sara Cleveland ⋄ Category: Reviews, Writing

Note: I wrote this back in February but never posted it. I have left it unaltered, so in my time in the following it is still February. Better late than never.

I’ve been thinking about a complaint against one of my review videos that just came out. It wasn’t on one of my own posts or the video itself, so you probably won’t be able to find it. In any case, in the commenter’s mind, my review missed the mark because I hadn’t given enough attention to the originality of the book in question. The thing is, I’ve seen most of the elements used in that story somewhere before. Every book is going to recycle something. Usually many somethings. What makes a book shine, what makes it good, is when it reuses the expected in an unexpected way. 

Every book of any quality is a unique compilation of elements. But those elements, those same building blocks, have probably been used and reused a million times. If you don’t believe me, go watch or read my (very positive) review of That Time I Broke Time by Sarah Emily Lelonek where I lay out examples of other books with the same core premise. That premise is that the heroine discovers she isn’t who she thinks and has special powers. Usually, all hell breaks loose around the time of such discoveries.

So, let’s look at the book that’s actually in dispute, which is Franc Ingram’s Heirs of Eternity.

I’ve seen the whole re-incarnated until you get it right thing in Heirs of Eternity and Katherine Kerr’s Devverry books. At first blush, these books are nothing alike, but the core premise that these characters will keep coming back and play out the same drama as different people and only one of them knows it/really understands why is the same. The execution is completely and totally different, but they use the same building block.

Then there’s the main plot thread. It has a lot in common with classics like Lord of the Rings. That’s why I said in my review that it was a pretty standard high-adventure plot. I can sum it up in one sentence: the main character must go to a particular place to do this particular thing to stop this particular evil (usually at the risk of the world ending) and he/she collects some friends along the way.

If I dig deep enough in my stack, I can probably also find a few books where the gods or god-like creatures made an oopsie and set some terrible evil loose on the world in a manner not dissimilar from the Twelve when they created the Ultras.

This is not a bad thing. I repeat this is not a bad thing.

As I said with That Time I Broke Time, tropes and story arcs are reused because they’re good. They’re a formula that our brains recognize and appreciate.

My own books are full of tropes. I like to joke that when writing Saving the Dragon I wanted to see how many tropes I could squeeze into one book. Just touching on the obvious ones, I have the rebellious princess/noblewoman trope (see Disney’s Brave for another popular example) and the shapeshifting character trope. I could go for days with examples of dragon-shifters alone. A quick glance at a list of paranormal and/or romance novels and you’ll probably find a few pretty quick. Actually, someone just fairly recently published one with the exact same title as mine. Talk about unoriginal.

I can’t think of a book or movie off-hand that follows a similar arc to my first one, but I am sure one exists (if you know it, please tell me in the comments. I’m dying to read/watch it). My second book plays with the arranged marriage trope. My third planned book of the same series will follow a questing plot #NotASpoiler. I’ll bet when I say “questing plot” all sorts of stories come to your mind. And I’d like to think that I put my own personal spin on the tropes and character archetypes I’m using. I manage to make myself laugh, at any rate. Then again, what do I know? Maybe my stories are a colossal snoozefest and you all are too nice to tell me so.

In any case, this is why I didn’t choose to focus on Heirs of Eternity’s originality. I thought there was something much more important to focus on, and that is what I think Franc does best: writing beautifully rendered characters. So, to the commenter who thought I  missed the mark, I say to you: I stand by my stance that the strength of Heirs of Eternity does not lie in the plot, the wide cast, or the worldbuilding, but rather in the exceptionalcharacter creation that Franc displayed in writing Oleana. WhoOleana is drove her on that go-to-this-place-to-do-this-thing-to-stop-this-evil-style journey. Her strength didn’t let her give up even when her weakness begged her to. Her inner turmoil was far more interesting and soul-rending than what was going on outside of her. She gave everything, all that she was, to see her mission through to the end. Thatwas the story. And I hope to see so much more of such talented character building from Franc in the next one.

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Hot Tea & Tall Tales – 3- Soul Mates: An Unforgettable Summer

Posted on February 4th 2018 ⋄ By Sara Cleveland ⋄ Category: Reviews

Hello everyone! It’s the Sunday before Valentine’s Day, so this week we’re doing a romance novel. This week’s review is of Soul Mates: An Unforgettable Summer by Rose Withering.

You can view the review video here.

About the Author

Rose is the municipal liason for the Akron regional group for National Novel Writing Month. She and her husband and active participants in the yearly challenge. They live in Northeast Ohio with their two cats, Athos and Achilles. You can find Rose on Facebook.


The book is available from Amazon. The ebook edition is 99 cents, and the paperback is $12.99. The Kindle edition is estimated at about 241 pages.

Design 2 teaspoons of tea leaves

Soul Mates Cover I like the cover. It isn’t a knock-you-down WOW cover, but it looks like the sort of cover I would expect for a sweet (read: no smutt) romance novel. The script font for the word “Soul” is a nice touch. I’m not crazy about the other font (the random slanted letters are weird to me), but there is a nice balance to it. The colors seem to be a bit washed out, but that’s not a big deal. I don’t see issues with consistency between the cover and the contents of the book. So, if this section were just the cover alone we’d be looking at 3, maybe 4 teaspoons.

But, we are not just looking at the cover. Things take a bit of left turn once you crack open the book.

To put it bluntly, the ebook formatting is a mess. It’s missing page breaks. There are line breaks in random places. The header for the Acknowledgements lost its styling somewhere along the way. At times the formatting problems were so distracting I actually had trouble concentrating on the story.


I spoke with the author about it, suspecting there may have been issues with the file that was uploaded. These issues may be resolved by the time this review is live.

The other thing on the inside that gets me is the treehouse picture just inside the cover. I actually really enjoy pictures and art in books I read. But rather than a gorgeous sketch of the house that Eddie lovingly designed, we get what looks like a stock clip-art image of a kid’s tree fort. Rather than adding to the romance of the book, this really distracts from it.

Two teaspoons.

Premise 3 teaspoons of tea leaves

The book description on Amazon is extremely brief. It reads more like a split second elevator pitch than a full book blurb, and really doesn’t give any insight to what sort of story the reader should expect.

My best attempt at summing up the premise would be this: a teenage ranch hand falls in love with the long-lost granddaughter of the woman who owns the ranch his family has worked on for three generations. Over the course of the summer, he works to protect her from her conniving uncle and prove his love. And there’s a treehouse.

There’s some nugget of interesting in this idea. At first blush there’s definitely some room for intrigue and action. So, despite the lack of clarity up front on the premise, it’s not a bad one. Three teaspoons.

Characters 2 teaspoons of tea leaves

Edward Goldman aka Eddie, is our main protagonist. Eddie is supposedly sixteen (and later eighteen), but it feels more like he’s twelve. Despite his attempts to “man-up” so to speak, Eddie really just comes off as childish.

Another major character is Nicole. She is the granddaughter of the ranch owner, Ms. Anne Morgan. I can’t quite figure Nicole out. At first, she acts convinced that everyone is lying to her and insists that the antagonist is her father. Then later she talks about her parents like she knew all along he wasn’t. She does have a pretty badass moment where she torches the bad guy’s house. It was definitely one of the more intense scenes in the book.

The main antagonist of the story is Anne’s son, Judd. He’s a nasty SOB, just like his father. Somebody really should have just shot the rat bastard early in the book and put us all out of his misery. In summary, he kidnapped his niece and tortured her for years, planning to eventually use her to get his mother’s ranch. Or something. Most of his time on camera in the first half is spent trying to shoot Eddie. Why Judd is the way he is doesn’t get explored much. His motivation is muddy at best.

These are just the main characters. There’s a whole host of side characters in the form of Eddie’s family. Honestly, I think the story would have fared better if the cast had been trimmed down significantly. All these names and their relation to the hero of the story are just noise. Uncle Eric is an extraneous character. He didn’t need to be there. Anything he might have done, Uncle Buck could have done. Billy seemed to be used to give Eddie a chance for exposition, and that also feels throw-away. I’m also not sure why Anne needed five sons. Two or three in opposition to each other would have been enough. Robert and Clint could have been combined into one character, as could Chester and Wade.

Characters get two teaspoons.

Worldbuilding 1 teaspoon of tea leaves

Seeing as this story is, presumably, set in the real world the act of worldbuilding lies more in grounding the reader in a time and place. Soul Mates fails at this is a big way for me.

When and where on Earth does this story take place? Apparently, the action is split between 1996 and 1998. This wasn’t immediately apparent to me since the “December 1998” heading from the Prologue was crammed onto the page before with the title, copyright, dedication, and acknowledgments. I was halfway through the book before I figured out what year it was. All I knew was that it was sometime after Henry Ford popularized the assembly line because there were several trucks.

The town’s name is Duncan, but where Duncan is, I’m not sure. It seems to have some laws that don’t feel quite reasonable in a modern era. Castle laws and stand-your-ground laws (statutes that allow you to shoot home invaders or someone who is attacking you) are still fairly common in the U.S., but they certainly are stricter than what this story depicts.

It seems like guns in general are a bit misrepresented in the story. The second scene where Judd tries and fails to shoot Eddie feels wildly inaccurate. And this is coming from someone who has actually shot a gun. Several of them, in fact. I don’t know the exact statistics, but unless Judd takes really crappy care of his gun and ammo that many misfires seem highly unlikely. Also, seems like Eddie sure recovered from not one, but two gun wounds awful fast.

Then there’s the shotgun. At one point in the story, Eddie claims to have a deadly aim with a shotgun. Having “deadly aim” with a shotgun made me chuckle. Part of the point of a shotgun (particularly in self-defense) is that you don’t really need to have great aim because the “shot” scatters. You just need to point the gun in mostly the right direction. This is why Joe Biden rather famously (and this was seen as somewhat of a gaffe as I recall) suggested double-barrel 12-gauge shotguns for home defense. At any rate, it would have made more sense for Eddie to take a rifle to the treehouse with him, especially since he took bullets and not shotgun shells.

If this seems nitpicky, it’s because things like this can jar a reader and make them doubt the feasibility of the rest of the story. The book blurb touts the story as being unbelievable, and these worldbuilding miscues make it that for all the wrong reasons.

Worldbuilding gets one teaspoon.

Plot  1 teaspoon of tea leaves

Okay, so it got off to a rocky start, but that premise was good, so how did that play out in the plot? All the best romances stories, in my opinion, have a great overarching plot and conflict that serve as the backdrop for the romance. The love story is an organic outcome of the circumstances facing the main characters.

That didn’t happen in Soul Mates. Eddie just falls in love with Nicole for absolutely no apparent reason at first sight right after she’s been beaten bloody and nearly to death. I guess I could see some protector instincts kicking in, but love? Seems a stretch. He then devotes himself to her, again for no apparent reason, and proceeds to spend several pages pining over her after she (initially) resoundingly rejects him. Nicole at least seems to have the sense to get to know someone before declaring undying love.

Things get even weirder after the two-year time jump back to 1998.

Then there’s Judd. Why on earth does Judd have so much clout? Why wouldn’t they ask for a trial in a neutral location if it’s known that the local judge is friendly to Judd? Both the federal and state courts in the US have procedures for this kind of thing. Where’s the District Attorney when all this is going down? Is it really the DA that Judd has in his pocket? How does a man that lives in a trash heap afford that kind of respect?

It feels like the story wants to be an old western in a mining town, but with the modern convenience of farm trucks. The story makes one leap in logic to the next. I found it very hard to follow. I’m still trying to figure out why the treehouse was safer than the ranch house, other than maybe Judd wouldn’t look there? I don’t know.

One teaspoon for the plot.

Writing  2 teaspoons of tea leaves

There was some good and some bad here. There are moments of evocative imagery such as “In the summer, the trees would be laden with fruit and they would scent the air with a sweet fragrance; but now, the trees were bare and the only smell that filled the air was the stench of manure from cows in the pasture.”

There were definitely a few miscues. I honestly spent probably the first eight chapters trying to figure out what was going on in this story. The prologue seemed to be trying to make use of a framing technique that shows a bit of the future, then jumps back in time for the start of chapter one. I do enjoy this framing technique, but the book doesn’t indicate that time jump well. I think the story would have been stronger either without that prologue. It didn’t really add anything for the reader, in my opinion. I’m not normally a fan of exposition-y prologues, but I think even that would have been better, considering the struggle I had figuring out who was who and what the heck they had to do with the ranch.

The first part of the story that mostly told from Eddie’s first-person point of view also seems like a miss to me. I feel like this was not the best choice of narrating voice for this story. It’s not that a romance can’t be told from a young man’s first-person perspective, it’s just that there’s so much information that the reader might have benefited from that would have better been explained outside of Eddie’s head and his maturity level does not add to the believability of the story as a romance.

Overall 2 teaspoons of tea leaves

I have to give Soul Mates: An Unforgettable Summer an overall rating of two teaspoons.

I really, really wanted to like this book. Partly because I wanted to have a glowing romance recommendation for Valentine’s Day, and partly because I do consider Rose a friend. But I just couldn’t. There were too many things for me to overlook, even when taking the struggle of independent publishing into account. I think Rose has a lot of potential, and I look forward to reading her work again in the future. I think she has so much room to grow and blossom.

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Hot Tea & Tall Tales – 2
Heirs of Eternity

Posted on February 3rd 2018 ⋄ By Sara Cleveland ⋄ Category: Reviews


This week’s review is of Heirs of Eternity, by Franc Ingram. This is the first of two books in the Euphoria Duology. The second book, Kings of Euphoria, was released earlier this month. A full review of it is upcoming in this video/blog series.

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 and Facebook friends. This does not influence my opinions on the book, and I am receiving no compensation for this review, except maybe some free press. I say that assuming I’ll get linked from her blog. You will link me, won’t you, Franc? Pretty please?

About the Author

Franc is a local author from North East Ohio. She like good food, white wine, and has a dog named Mya. You can find her on Facebook, Goodreads, and her blog.

Book Details

First, how does this book only have two reviews on Amazon? I know more than two people have read this book. Only one review of the paperback on Barnes & Noble at this time of this writing.

Heirs of Eternity is available for sale in paperback ($10.90) on both Amazon and BN.com. It is available as an ebook for Kindle ($2.99, which is what I paid).

Amazon estimates the length of this book at 282 pages for the Kindle edition. The print edition weighs in at 279 pages.


Design  3 teaspoons of tea leaves

I want to preface this section by saying that putting together an indie book is hard. Everything is done by the author or at the author’s expense. And unless you really love that sort of thing, typesetting and layout a print book is a chore. I’ve done it myself. It’s even worse when you don’t have the right software. So keep that in mind.

I have mixed feelings about this cover. The art has this dreamy quality that is enticing, but to be honest, I don’t think it fits the story. This book is jam-packed with action and monsters and heroes and cool SciFi stuff that borders on magic… But that just does not come across on this cover for me. Now, what it does have going for it, for those of you who watched/read my last review and know my pet peeve, is that it leaves the characters completely up to the readers’ imaginations.

It’s like, I don’t hate it, but I don’t think it’s strong or eye-catching for its genre. I think if I didn’t know Franc and know the book was out there, I probably would not have found this in the vast, vast world that is Amazon’s Kindle Store.

The interior design of the book isn’t great. It’s left aligned. The headings are nothing special, just bolded. It’s kind of like reading somebody’s term paper from a design standpoint. It doesn’t take away from your ability to read the book, but it doesn’t add anything either.

What I DO like about the interior is the spacer used between scene shifts within a chapter. The cool little pop of binary makes my nerd heart sing. For the enquiring minds that want to know, the little 100101 sequence seems to come out to a % in ASCII.

Premise4 teaspoons of tea leaves

The story has a cool sci-fi fantasy premise. The science is kind of so far gone that it enters the realm of magic. To the average person who doesn’t understand, what the heirs can do really does seems like magic. The Masters of Earth, Skies, and Animals all have these powers that stem from being part supercomputer. I really the like idea behind the Heirs and the three kings with Oleana as their mentor. Where I struggle a bit is with the “ultras” the first generation hybrids mentioned in the blurb. Something about them just rubs me wrong, so that keeps premise from five teaspoons for me.

Characters 4 teaspoons of tea leaves

This story is extremely character driven. Oleana is a such a flawed character. And beautifully so. She’s a strong, but broken character, and that’s really what sells the story for me. She’s bearing the weight of the memory of their failures alone, and the memory of watching the other heirs die, repeatedly, just beats on her psyche. She struggles against addiction and the need to complete the job she’s been given.

Lorn, Lysander, and Leith are the other heirs. They didn’t come off as strong in this book for me, but I think book two is where they’re really going to come in to their own. I will be doing a review of it.

The other major character I want to talk about is the main villain, Cornelius. I’m sorry, Franc. That name just makes me chuckle so much, because all I can think about is the fairyprince from Warner Bros 1994 animated film, Thumelina. He’s supposed to be this big, bad ice-demi-god kind of thing, and all I see in my head is autumn fairyprince. To be fair, I’m probably the only person who makes that association, but it’s just hilarious to me. That aside, Cornelius doesn’t have much of a character arc. He’s a pretty typical maniacal all around bad guy who is drunk on power and wants to keep that power for himself. He sees the Heirs as a serious threat to that power.

So that’s the big conflicts of the story, Oleana against herself and Oleana against Cornelius. The two of them are diametrically opposed to one another.

There’s a lot of other characters in the book. The cast is quite wide. But we would be here all day if I tried to get into them all.

Worldbuilding 4 teaspoons of tea leaves

Once again, being scif-fi, worldbuilding is so important to the story. And the world is huge. Franc built a lot of world! It’s got different cultures, and you can see it in the places that the main characters travel to, and when they encounter the Failsea warriors. It’s a culturally rich book, which I enjoy. Again, the Ultras just kind of bug me, and that keeps it from being a perfect five for me. All in all, it’s a strong world, and I look forward to seeing it develop further in the second book.

Plot 4 teaspoons of tea leaves

It does have a twist at the end I didn’t see coming, so that was nice. It’s a pretty typical high-action adventure type plot with a journey. The plot really isn’t anything special, but events develop logically and it’s well paced.

Writing 5 teaspoons of tea leaves

The writing in this book is strong. It’s descriptive and emotive where it needs to be. Oleana’s struggles are well portrayed.

Final Thoughts – Overall 4 teaspoons of tea leaves

It was a strong story. I recommend it for fans of the sci-fi/fantasy genre. If you’re looking for hard sci-fi, probably not the book for you. I think if a second edition was released with a little more professional polish, the book would hit a solid five teaspoons for me.

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

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


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.


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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