Hot Tea & Tall Tales – 2
Heirs of Eternity

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

Introduction

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.

Ratings

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

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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