Posted on April 9th 2021 ⋄ By Sara Cleveland ⋄ Category:
Today’s review is for The Frost Eater by Carol Beth Anderson. Spoiler (for the review, not the book) I absolutely loved this book. I feel like the last few reviews are making a liar out of me when I say I don’t give out five teaspoon reviews often.
About the Author
Carol Beth Anderson lives in Texas with her husband, two kids, a dog and a bunch of fish. She has some hobbies I can definitely appreciate, such as making sourdough bread and knitting. Like many of the other authors I’ve feature on the blog she is extremely active on Twitter. And now TikTok, apparently, haha. You can find her on Twitter here.
The book is available in eBook and Paperback from Amazon, as well as in audio from Audible. The eBook is $2.99 or free with Kindle Unlimited. The paperback is $15.99 USD, which is what I paid.
The paperback is roughly 385 pages of actual story (there’s a sneak peek of book 2 at the end I’m not counting). It’s a pretty large trim size book, so there’s a lot there.
External design first. I really like the cover on this book. I do think it’s maybe a little busy for my tastes, but it is genre appropriate and the text is easy to read. I might have clicked on this on Amazon. However, I got sucked in by snippets and tweets about the 3rd book of the series, so that’s hard to say. I give the cover 4 teaspoons.
Interior design. The book is nicely formatted. I did not notice any issues. The scenes are well delineated in both print and eBook. All around a professional looking interior. There’s really nothing special, no extra charm or fluff. 4 teasppons.
Average for design is 4 teaspoons.
Click here to read the blurb.
I find the premise of this interesting. Two young people from very different backgrounds form an uneasy partnership to find a third missing teenager. It has a quest-y sort of aspect to it and fits some tropes. Searching for a lost love, for example. However, just reading the blurb it doesn’t feel like an overly rehashed story.
Anderson’s characters are wonderfully imperfect creations. Krey is an arrogant hot-head, but underneath that beats a heart of gold. Nora is naive and more than a little socially awkward, but she genuinely cares for her friends and her people. Ovrun, who has no special gifts or station, is arguably the best of them all.
I really appreciated how Nora and Ovrun actually had practical reasons to deny their budding relationship, rather than just a vague “duty” sort of argument you often see in monarch type fantasy books.
The genuine friendship and affection that develops between the main trio is very well written. It develops over time and in a believable manner. There’s a slow opening up as Krey learns to trust Nora.
5 teaspoons for characters.
There is a lot of plot here. I was starting to get suspicious of the direction it was eventually going to go pretty quickly, but Anderson really kept me second-guessing my own instincts. Everything is well paced. I was never bored. Once the story really got going I had a hard time putting the book down to do other things. Nothing stood out to me as being a crutch or out of place.
5 teaspoons for plot.
There is so much to unpack in the world-building here. From the magic system, to the history, to the biology.
It’s not really explained outright how humans came to be on the planet the story takes place on (after all, it’s in the past and a lot of records are toast), but to me it felt like the hints pointed to space travel, perhaps? Definitely a sci-fi flavor. There are of course plenty of alien speices that are now perfectly normal to the humans living on the planet that drive home how this is not Earth.
However, something apocalyptic happened that knocked out half the population and the tech. That event is referred to as “The Day.” Definitely gives the book a sort of post-apocalyptic vibe, although many generations have passed. The little snippets of Nora’s ancestor’s memoir really bring what it was like to live right after “The Day” into perspective and deepen this aspect of the worldbuilding.
The fallout from “The Day” results in some interesting things besides death and mayhem, including the onset of magical abilities in the humans who survived. I really enjoyed the magic system. The only other magic system I’ve read about that is even remotely similar was from Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn series. This combined with dragons really amped up the fantasy vibe.
Anyway, I could go on and on about all the cool details in the worldbuilding, but I might end up giving away spoilers. 5 teaspoons.
I really enjoyed Anderson’s overall style and tone. The prose is engaging and the dialogue is both dynamic and believable. It really suits the genre without feeling forced on overly juvenile, which is something I’ve noticed in some “YA” books.
This is a new section for me. The Frost Eater is the first book I’ve reviewed on the blog to actually have an audio edition available at the time of reviewing.
I listened to portions of the book in audio, alternating between listening and reading the paperback copy. The sections I listened to were really well done. Anderson is an excellent narrator, and I didn’t notice any real difference from professional audio production. Maybe an audio snob would, but this casual listener did not.
The Frost Eater is hands down the best YA book I have read in a long time. Maybe ever. Someone give this woman a movie deal and then don’t botch the adaptation, please.
Although the genre is slightly different, this really put me in the mind of YA bombshells like Divergent and Hunger Games. I think it’s that partly post-apocalyptic flavor. Yet, it had that fantasy/sci-fi edge that I personally really crave.
All in all, excellent book. I’m really looking forward to diving into the next two in the trilogy.
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Posted on March 22nd 2021 ⋄ By Sara Cleveland ⋄ Category:
Today I am reviewing The Shield Road by Dewi Hargreaves. This one is a bit different from my usual reviews for a few reasons. The first is because I am working from a digital ARC. The second is because The Shield Road is not a traditional novel. Rather, it is a collection of interwoven short stories. This caused me some mental gymnastics with my categories, but we’ll get on to that in a minute.
Full disclosure, I did receive this ARC for free with the expectation that I would review it. This however does not impact my opinions in any way, shape, or form. My thoughts, as always, are my own.
About the Author
Dewi Hargreaves is a UK-based fantasy author and illustrator of absolutely stunning maps (yes, I’m editorializing and fan-girl-ing just a little bit. I love maps, leave me alone). Check out the amazing map he made of the world in The Shield Road.
As with most books I’ve reviewed lately, I wound up reading The Shield Road through my interactions with the author on Twitter. You can find him here.
About the Book
I don’t have the absolute final print version in front of me, but the PDF was about 154 pages to give you an idea.
It will be available in paperback and Kindle from Amazon and ebook from Kobo at the end of March.
I can only speak to the digital version at this time, but I really like the cover on this one. It’s simple, clean and fitting to the genre. I love the blue-on-blue monochrome. The lettering is well contrasted and very legible. Five teaspoons.
This review is a little unusual in the sense that I don’t have a physical book, nor a final ebook. I’m reviewing from a PDF ARC. Now, the formatting of that ARC is beautifully done, but since it’s not the final book I am not going to count my rating for the interior towards the final rating. Still, it’s great.
So for design I give the book 5 teaspoons based on the exterior.
The Shield Road begins as a collection of interwoven short stories. Each character begins with their own goals and their own mission, introduced independently. At first, it’s really difficult to see how they will all come together, but still very intriguing. Although this is not stated outright, I took the Shield Road to not be the literal road the characters are following so much as a metaphor for the life they are leading and the adventure awaiting them.
Of the few short story collections I’ve read, none have really had this idea of forming a larger plot. Usually, you see something more like a collection of short fairytale retellings or even unrelated stories. I quite like the idea of weaving together a larger tale from independent stories. In a way, reading The Shield Road is not really all that different from reading a normal novel, but I could totally see reading any one of these in a fantasy lit magazine and enjoying it by itself.
Premise is 5 teaspoons.
The one downside to the format of this book is perhaps that there’s just so many named characters, and we don’t get to hang out with any one of them for very long at first. Still, Hargeaves manages to pack great pieces of characterization into each and every story. Each individual feels real and fleshed out in their moment. Then, as the stories come together, we start to focus in more on specific characters, such as the Bladekin and the Princess.
The single character with the most depth in my opinion is Talfrin, the Bladekin. Most of the later stories focus on him and the characters who join him in the main conflict of the series. The inner turmoil that Talfrin feels is palpable, and the changes in his character as he’s impacted by certain forces are slow and devious.
Characters gets 5 teaspoons.
What’s interesting about this book is because it is a grouping of short stories there’s really a plethora of plots I could discuss. There’s also a common thread weaving through them that is fascinating. As I read each story, I found myself wondering how its individual puzzle piece would fit into the overall picture. I was not disappointed.
I give plot on both the individual story level and overall 5 teaspoons.
I don’t know how Hargreaves crams so much worldbuilding into each individual story. The art of showing “just enough” is difficult when writing a novel, but in my opinion it is even more difficult in a short story. Each of Hargreave’s stories has enough worldbuilding to be enjoyable and understood as its own unit. And yet, together they create a sprawling landscape. Masterfully done. 5 teaspoons.
I am absolutely in love with Hargreaves’s prose. It’s just… chef’s kiss. Despite the tight format of the short stories, there’s so much evocative detail. I think the best way to describe it would be to say that there is a very “literary” quality to it. Once again, 5 teaspoons.
I very rarely give out 5 star reviews on Amazon or Goodreads. Part of the reason for this is because to me “meets expectations” is 3 stars. That means I found the story entertaining and the author hit the bare minimum for character and plot. A 4 is a book I genuinely enjoyed. A 5 is “blew my socks off.” To date, I have given only one 5 teaspoon review on the blog, although I also came very close with M.A. Vice’s Birthright.
So, a 5 teaspoon review is a very high bar to clear. Hargeaves cleared it with room to spare with The Shield Road. He pulled off what can be a very tricky format with grace and aplomb. I was fascinated right up until the very end of the book. And although the conclusion was satisfying, I was still left craving more. I really hope we get to see more of the rich world he has created in future works.
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Posted on March 19th 2021 ⋄ By Sara Cleveland ⋄ Category:
This is the first in a series of short stories I will be sharing to the blog collectively known as “Salerian Shorts.” These stories take place in the world of the Penelope’s Dragon series. Some will focus on the the characters from the series. Others, such as this one, will expand on the myths and legends that shape the world. This story is the first I am going to share, but it is also titled “The First.” I hope you enjoy!
© Sara Cleveland 2021
Water dripped from the hem of Marta’s cloak. She’d done it this time. She’d let her anger goad her into foolishly getting herself caught in a summer storm. Now she had no choice but to huddle in this cave and wait for the season’s temper tantrum to run its course. She threw back the hood, and more water splattered the damp stone and dirt at her feet. She ran her fingers through hair that was already as soaked through. Marta hated wet hair, especially when she couldn’t comb it by the fire and dry it into neat waves. Now it would be a frizzy snarl.
Damn her temper. And damn Gerald for stoking it.
Heaving a sigh, Marta removed the cloak entirely before the rest of her clothing went from damp to sopping. She tossed it back into the cave, away from the deluge of water coming down just inches from where she stood. Then she sat, back to the wall, staring through the sheeting rain towards the lake, which had become all but invisible.
It was incredibly dull, waiting out a summer storm by herself, and Marta soon found herself nodding off, lulled by the gentle whoosh, whoosh. She was almost asleep when she felt more than heard the sickening crunch of something striking the ground outside.
Marta leapt to her feet, her hand going to the knife at her belt. It was just a small blade for eating, hardly even worth mentioning in a fight. Yet it was the only weapon her stupid ass had brought with her when she’d marched out of the cottage in a huff.
She squinted, trying to see what was out there that could have made that noise. Had that boulder been there before? She didn’t think it had.
“Don’t be stupid, Marta,” she muttered. “Don’t go out there and draw attention to yourself.”
But what if whatever was out there didn’t like the rain any more than she did? What if it was searching for a place to get dry? A place like this cave? She’d be trapped, with the monster between her and the only exit. And Marta knew this was the only exit. She and Gerald had explored every inch of their father’s holdings as children, and she knew the cave systems in these cliffs as well as the rooms of her own cottage.
Shaking the water and now mud from her cloak, Marta threw it about her shoulders and pulled the hood up. With her sad little knife in a death grip, she eased her way out of the cave and into the downpour.
The dark shape lay motionless not two yards from the mouth of the cave. Curiosity began to overtake Marta’s fear and common sense. She crept closer to it.
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Posted on March 15th 2021 ⋄ By Sara Cleveland ⋄ Category:
This review is going to be a bit different from my usual posts because today I am actually reviewing two for one. Today’s review is for The Marked Princess and The Searching Songbird, books 1 and 2 of The Shendri Series by E.P. Stavs. And the reason I decided to do this is because book 3 of the series The Unclaimed Wolf comes out tomorrow, March 16th. So I want to encourage everyone to pick up all three on launch day!
I’m going to do my best to keep this review spoiler free (which is really hard when you’re reviewing the sequel at the same time).
Originally, I was going to post my review of The Shield Road by Dewi Hargreaves today, but since that’s coming out at the end of the month, I decided to do The Shendri Series first. So stay tuned for that next week!
As usual, I am not being compensated in anyway for this review. I purchased both books on my own. My opinions are, as always, my own.
About the Author
So, these books are another Twitter find for me. They came highly recommended by one of the other author’s whose book I featured recently. You can find that review here. I have not interacted with E.P. as much, but what interactions I have had were lovely, and I can recommend her as a great follow on Twitter.
From her author bio, I can tell you that E.P. currently lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and two daughters. She is originally from New York. And apparently she is also a coffee fiend like yours truly.
Check out more of her bio here.
About the Book(s)
The Marked Princess weighs in at 200 pages in print, while The Searching Songbird comes in at 217. Both books are available in print and Kindle eBook. If you have Kindle Unlimited you can read them both for free, or you can pick them up for $2.99 a piece. The paperbacks are $12.99.
I was rushing to get this review out, so I did not get a chance to ask the author about whether or not there are plans for audio editions. I will provide an update on that when I can.
Exterior first. I love the covers on these. I love the beautiful simplicity. They also really feel like they belong together in the same series. My only complaint would perhaps be that I don’t know that they really convey the genre well. Since this was a (highly recommended) Twitter find I can’t say for sure if I would have scrolled past them or not. So I’m going to give cover design for both books four teaspoons.
Interior Design. Both books are formatted consistently, which I appreciate in a series. In the print editions the chapter headings are nice, and fit the vibe. The font choice is nice and legible. The use of italics for inner thoughts is consistent. The only real formatting issue I noticed was the occasional widows and orphans in the print editions, particularly in The Searching Songbird.
One minor thing that drives me a little crazy personally (and this is going to sound so nitpicky) is that book 1 is printed on cream paper and book 2 is printed on white.
Now. There is a map included in both books— and you all know how I feel about a good map. This one is alright. I don’t know if the style of it quite fits. I would have really liked to see something more hand-drawn in appearance.
All in all, I give the interior for both books 4 teaspoons.
That brings us to 4 teaspoons overall for design.
The overall premise of the series is that the female protagonists are descended from ancient warrior women who fought a demi-god and prevented him from taking over the world. Each girl has inherited the warrior spirit and powers of her ancestor.
All in all, the building blocks that Stavs uses are pretty standard YA Fantasy tropes. In addition to a “chosen few” we also have tropes such as “the rebellious princess,” “enemies to lovers” and “childhood friends to lovers” just to name a few.
That being said, the execution of these tropes is very well done, as we will discuss further when we get to worldbuilding and plot.
Premise gets 4 teaspoons.
Since these are YA Fantasy Romance, I’m going to focus specifically on the couples in this section. This may be minorly spoilery for The Marked Princess since early on there is an indication of a triangle. I don’t think it’s enough of a spoiler to really hurt the enjoyment of the book, but proceed with this section at your own caution.
Josselyn is the “Marked Princess” of Eldour. In some ways I think she had the shallowest arc of any of the main characters. Most of her character growth is centered on figuring out her feelings for Alex and Edmund. Her dialogue was great, though.
Alex is like Josselyn in the sense that much of his character arc is concerned with learning to fight for the things that he wants. In this case, what he wants is Josselyn. The change in him is honestly, somewhat abrupt, but believable given the circumstances. Still, I did not find him as interesting as some of the other characters. To be honest, I was borderline Team Edmund at one point.
Lily had a great character arc, probably the best in the series so far. Much of The Singing Songbird was about Lily coming into her own as a woman and discovering her own inner strength. I found her to be believable and well written. If had one complaint at all about Lily, I would say she forgives perhaps a touch too easily.
Draven is of course Lily’s love interest and would-be kidnapper. I found him to be a delightful counterpart to Lily. The dialogue between the two of them was quite snappy and fun. His change of heart as he gets to know her is well-written and does not feel abrupt or out-of-the-blue.
And as a bonus, there’s Edmund. Poor Edmund just keeps getting the short end of the stick. Although Joss’s childhood friend got relatively little screen time in either book, he was a charming character and I’m looking forward to seeing more of him. I suspect there’s much hidden beneath his playful exterior.
Overall, each character definitely had their own distinct voice. Reading about the leading ladies especially really felt like reading about two distinct personalities. I didn’t feel like Lily and Draven rehashed anything we already experienced with Joss and Alex (always a danger with serial romances).
At the end of the day, I found the main characters in The Searching Songbird to be much more interesting and well-developed than The Marked Princess. For this category, The Singing Songbird takes a full 5 teaspoons, leaving its predecessor in the dust with 4.
The worldbuilding starts off strong in The Marked Princess and only gets stronger in The Searching Songbird. The cities they visit– particularly in the second installment– feel like real places. When the characters talk about other countries and cities, it really feels like they’re talking about real places they have seen or read about.
I’m also pleased with how the author treated the subject of discrimination and the “Kalo” who seem to be somewhat analogous with the Romani peoples in our world. She has characters correcting other characters when they use a pejorative (at least, in the second book), and distinctly shows the Kalo people in a generally positive light. That said, if you find the word gypsy to be offensive, this may not be the book for you.
I give worldbuilding a solid 4 teaspoons.
This is a category where my ratings are once again going to diverge. I’ll start with The Marked Princess (ya know, since it’s first).
Overall, I found the plot of The Marked Princess to be predictable. There really weren’t a lot of surprises. Even so, it was a fun, well-paced romp that hit all the right notes and came to a satisfying conclusion. Plot for book 1 gets 3 teaspoons.
Now, The Searching Songbird on the other hand… you got me, E.P. I’m normally pretty good at predicting the direction things are going to go (although not as good as my mother, never watch a movie with her you haven’t seen) but I was a bit surprised in the end. I was delighted by resolution of the book’s main storyline, as it sets up plenty of new conflict for the upcoming books. Plot for book 2 gets 5 teaspoons.
I really adore E.P.’s writing style. Both her prose and her dialogue are snappy and fun. Her characters are generally well-written and delightful. Both books are well paced. If I had any complaints, it would be that I could occasionally do with just a bit more description. Still, I have to give E.P. Stavs 5 teaspoons for pure enjoyability in both installments.
The Marked Princess comes out to a final score of 4 teaspoons. Although immensely enjoyable, it is — in my opinion — a far weaker installment than its successor. There was much that I found predictable or standard for the genre. I would have liked to be surprised a little more often.
I have a whole discussion about why I don’t give out 5 teaspoons very often in next week’s review (that I actually wrote before this one) so I won’t get into that here. Nonetheless, The Searching Songbird is a rare, solid 5 teaspoons for me. Not only did it continue with the fun, snappy style of its predecessor, but it brought new depth and maturity to the table. Stronger, more interesting characters and a plot that manages to surprise lift it up to the next level.
Bring on book 3.
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Posted on February 5th 2018 ⋄ By Sara Cleveland ⋄ Category:
I finally fixed Courting the Dragon’s plot problem.
I threw away the plot.
Alright, the main plot points are still the same. The blurb that’s already posted on this website is still wholly and perfectly valid. But I threw out that stupid outline that’s been suffocating me from day one.
Didn’t I just say that outlining is important for sequels like two or three blog posts ago? Yes, yes I did. And I stick by that statement. But that only works if you wrote a good outline in the first place. I’m here to tell you, this one was garbage.
If you follow me on Twitter you’re probably aware that I took a machete to my more-than-half-finished draft a while back and I’ve been building it back up. Most of what I axed at the time was related the to the villain I hated oh-so-much and the utterly failed attempt at using him as a pseudo love interest. That didn’t work out for all kinds of reasons, primarily because Penelope wasn’t having it (I don’t blame her) and I just couldn’t make the guy likable.
But that still left me with a heap of things I didn’t like, and a whole big section that feels like a Regency Romance novel that makes me want to beat my head against a wall. It isn’t anything against the genre. I’ve read quite a few that I enjoy (a bunch of things by Johanna Lindsey come to mind). The problem is that writing in that way made my female characters feel very vapid to me, and it’s really the antithesis of the personas I built for Penny and Tiffany in Saving the Dragon. I have no idea how other authors manage to write strong female characters in such a setting. More power to them, honestly. If you have any tips to leave in the comments I’m all ears.
So, for the time being, that section I’m unhappy with is still technically part of the draft. I expect it to bleed red in the first round of hard revisions. Like, big red X’s and all new scenes scribbled on the back and in the margins. There’s a plot point in there I somehow need to keep, and I have a few ideas about how to do it dancing in my head. BUT. That is a problem for future me. I’ve promised myself no more big cuts before the last line of the first(ish) draft has been written.
So, what did I do about the plot?
I went back to who my characters are.
Penelope isn’t someone who waits around for someone else to come up with a solution. To quote her in one of her new scenes: “Have you ever known me to sit in a tower and wait for rescue?” And yet, I had her doing exactly that for a substantial part of the very early draft. Some of the things I had her doing were so appalling out of character that it made it impossible to do anything with her.
Don’t even get me started on what Salarath was up to. Let me just say, sulking is not a good look on him.
Getting reacquainted with my heroes put a few things in sharp perspective for me, and made doing a few more surgical removals (prior to the no-more-big-cuts-vow) a simple matter. I graphed on some new scenes to replace what I’d sliced away, and suddenly some things fell into place nicely, because Penny and her dragon were acting like themselves again. Whew.
From that point, I decided to take a road somewhere between the complete and utter pantsing that I did for Saving and the tightly constrained outline I initially did for Courting. My characters were at point A, but I knew they needed to get to B, C, and D before I could even think about writing the finale. So, I noted B, C, and D, and then just let the characters take me to them.
Do I have a few crap transition scenes that are totally going under the knife in first revisions later this month? Abso-frickin’-lutely.
Am I a thousand times happier than I was with this draft a month ago? You have no idea.
When I finished my first round of big tear-outs, I’d taken the draft down from over 50k to ~43k words. I’m now coming up on 70k again (probably more by the time this post actually goes live). At this rate, Courting may very well end up being almost twice as long as its predecessor. I ain’t mad about that. I don’t think everyone who has been looking forward to this book will be either.
I think it may be time to accept that I’m not a traditional outliner. I do need to take notes like nobody’s business because I will forget the neat little plot twists I had in store. Or I’ll forget some detail about my magic system I had intended to work in. Or whatever. I had all kinds of things planned for book three, but I didn’t write them down, so now I’m having to try and remember what they were. I’ve now started my notes file for book three now precisely because of this. But it’s just that, notes. It seems that a more free-form approach of just random bullet points in a Google doc works best for me.
The truth is, with only one completed long-form work under my belt, I’m still learning what exactly my process is. But I think that the moral of this story is you are NOT married to an outline (unless of course, you signed a contract stating that you are and you owe it to some big publishing house, then I’m both sorry for you and extremely jealous). If your outline isn’t working for you, throw it away. Start over. Get back in touch with who your characters are and the story they are trying to tell. Then write a new outline if you’re someone who needs the structure. Or don’t if you’re really a total pantser. But don’t stick with an outline you’ve come hate.
General Progress Update
I’m now very confident about getting the first(ish) draft of Courting finished this month. I had hoped to be done around the last weekend of January, but doing the editing on my first video book review turned out to be waaaay more time consuming than I anticipated, partly because I was trying to learn new software. To complicate things further, I’m now dealing with some hand and wrist issues that I’m hoping aren’t a big red flag for worse things yet to come. So that is slowing down my progress a bit from the rapid movement I was making before. Still, being well into revisions by the middle of February remains realistic, despite my hand and wrist pain. Fortunately, I revise on a printed draft, so that will give my left hand a nice break.
With that confidence about finishing the draft, I am now also ready to say that I am targeting a summer 2018 release for Courting the Dragon. I do have an exact date in mind, but I’m not quite ready to share it since these pain issues are cropping up and *cramping* my style (get it? get it?). As I get into revisions and get the second(ish) draft out to beta readers it will become more obvious whether or not that date is feasible. Start looking for an official launch announcement around March.
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