Review: From Blood and Ash

This book has a solid 4.5 star rating with over 24K reviews on Amazon and I was so, so excited to finally pick it up. I’ve seen so many great things, ‘best love story’ even, that I was sure I’d found a new favorite book…

From page one, I was let down.

I just couldn’t. I put it down at page four.

A few days later I started it again. This time, I forced myself to continue reading. So many voices in my head were telling me it was supposed to be one of the greatest reads of my life. I think I got about 20%. Maybe not quite. Every page was a struggle.

First of all, the writing style… it was so clunky. I could never fall into a flow, constantly kicked out to slow down my reading to interpret sentence structure. I wanted to send it back so it could go through another round of edits.

Sure, the world seemed cool. The problems seemed problematic. The MC was in a place to dive-in and leave her mark and get some things set right, damn the man! But I just couldn’t stick with it long enough to see if that happened.
The main character—I don’t even remember her name—just no. I have not liked MC’s before and it isn’t necessarily a deal breaker for the book. I think a lot of MC’s we’re not even supposed to like. This one though, I think we are supposed to like. We are supposed to geel sorry for her and be so curious about her traumatic past. But it all seemed so forced. Something about her seemed—inconsistent?
I hated the opening scene. I hated the forced nature of it, like it was saying ‘look, I’m not afraid to be sleazy. I know you like that.’ And I can like sleazy. Erotica is one of my most-read genres (don’t tell my mom). But I hate things being force fed and that’s how I felt this was. Maybe it would have made more sense if I’d stuck around to find out what happened, but I have too many books on my TBR…

A part of me wants to go back and see if maybe I was just in a mood of some kind. But the rest of me will just put this one in that column of ‘didn’t do it for me.’

What books did others love that you just couldn’t stand?

From Blood and Ash

By Jennifer L Armentrout

A Maiden…

Chosen from birth to usher in a new era, Poppy’s life has never been her own. The life of the Maiden is solitary. Never to be touched. Never to be looked upon. Never to be spoken to. Never to experience pleasure. Waiting for the day of her Ascension, she would rather be with the guards, fighting back the evil that took her family, than preparing to be found worthy by the gods. But the choice has never been hers.

A Duty…

The entire kingdom’s future rests on Poppy’s shoulders, something she’s not even quite sure she wants for herself. Because a Maiden has a heart. And a soul. And longing. And when Hawke, a golden-eyed guard honor bound to ensure her Ascension, enters her life, destiny and duty become tangled with desire and need. He incites her anger, makes her question everything she believes in, and tempts her with the forbidden.

A Kingdom…

Forsaken by the gods and feared by mortals, a fallen kingdom is rising once more, determined to take back what they believe is theirs through violence and vengeance. And as the shadow of those cursed draws closer, the line between what is forbidden and what is right becomes blurred. Poppy is not only on the verge of losing her heart and being found unworthy by the gods, but also her life when every blood-soaked thread that holds her world together begins to unravel.

Get Your Books Here!

Maybe you don’t know, I’ve been working on rebranding my Fool’s Path series into the RISHI’S WISH series. Book 1: KILLING GAME came out a few weeks ago, with book 2: We Are Forever scheduled to release September 17th. But now I’m thinking-why not just release them all, right now?!

What do you think?

First dibs go to my street team. If you’re one of my ARC readers, get ready 🙂

If you’re excited about new books to read, get a Travel Pass to be the first to hear about it. Travel pass holders tap right into my parallel worlds so there’s not lag on receiving information. Don’t know what I’m talking about? Click here.

Happy Reading 🙂

Sharing: How To Reduce Decision Fatigue

It’s crazy how long things might sit before I get to it. This email sat in my inbox for almost a year before I actually clicked on it. I guess this was the time I needed to read this article. Maybe it will help you as well 🙂

Click the link, or read the full article below.

How to Reduce Decision Fatigue
by Daniel Parsons

Everyone wants “it all,” but you often find that the few people who have everything they want actually filter a lot of seemingly important activities out of their lives. According to Psychology Today, this is because the average person is constantly making decisions – possibly up to 35,000 a day – and each one negatively impacts our focus and willpower. Therefore, when top performers minimise the number of trivial decisions they make per day, they retain more mental energy, which allows them to excel in their chosen fields.

On this topic, Eminem admits that he does practically nothing else when working on an album, and that tactic has made him one of the most accomplished rappers alive. Late Apple CEO Steve Jobs reportedly wore the same turtleneck every day to free up his decision-making power, a habit he attributed to his success as the head of a global company. Showing a similar mentality, Bruce Lee once said, “The successful warrior is the average man with laser-like focus.”

On a fundamental level, we all understand the power of simplicity. Think about the most common advice bestselling authors give on podcasts: writing a new book is the best way to market your last one; produce lots of content in one genre; advertising is easier when you have a bigger backlist. The message there is clear. Those who write lots of books in one genre tend to experience success.

So why do we continue to distract ourselves learning social media tricks, genre hopping and watching Netflix? Why do we make so many needless decisions and leave ourselves mentally frazzled? Understanding this particular ailment of the human condition might be a little ambitious for one blog post. What we can do, though, is treat the symptoms. Read on for tips that will help you reduce your decision fatigue and optimise your productivity.

Prioritize One Thing

In a meta way, your first priority should be to identify your priority work. What activity will have the greatest impact on your author business? It’s probably writing, of course, but you need to be more specific if you want to make a goal air-tight against excuses. If you have lots of unfinished manuscripts then settle on one book and don’t work on another project until it’s finished. If you have several incomplete series, consider writing more instalments in whichever one generates the most income. No multitasking or project-switching. Only then will you see your results advance at lightspeed.

Your one thing doesn’t have to be writing. That’s just a common factor that will benefit most authors. If you’re already prolific then learning how to advertise profitably might deliver you the greatest results, at least in the short term. For an author with 15 books and a stable stream of royalties, mastering Facebook, Amazon or BookBub ads could double book sales overnight, even without a new release. Whichever ads platform you choose to learn, committing to one at a time is the key to mastery. Not only does a singular focus make you less likely to be overwhelmed by decision fatigue but having only one brand of ads running at once will make it easier to track cause and effect, which will make you a better marketer.

Disconnect from the Internet

Everything is online: all the information and all the entertainment. And it only takes a momentary lapse in concentration to slide from book research to cat videos. Not only does this impulsive behaviour eat into your time but it also drains your capacity to think clearly. Every click and scroll contributes to your expanding brain fog. Websites and apps are essentially display cases of brightly coloured buttons, images, GIFs and videos. Browsing just one page can force your brain make dozens of choices:

Should I like that post?

Should I enter my email address?

Should I Google the lifespan of a platypus? (It’s 17 years.)

This approachable, all-knowing vampire will suck you dry. What’s worse, each unnecessary decision you make saps you of a little more willpower. This means that every second you’re online you become more susceptible to the temptations of passive browsing, you make more low-quality decisions and you become more likely to abandon your writing altogether because it requires too much brainpower.

Science indicates that once this spiral is set in motion, it becomes increasingly difficult to escape. Willpower is not enough. That’s why avoiding the internet altogether during your dedicated work hours (preferably in the morning) will drastically improve your energy retention and allow you to keep making wise decisions later into the day. Once you’ve achieved everything on your to-do list, you can swipe, browse, like and share as much as you want, confident that a good night’s sleep will fully replenish your willpower for the next morning.

Eradicate Lifestyle Decisions

Earlier in this post we touched on Apple’s late CEO, Steve Jobs, and how he habitually wore the same black turtleneck and jeans every day. Look into it and you will find that Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg follows a similar regimen. So did Barack Obama during his time at the oval office. The reason isn’t laziness. Actually, it’s the opposite. They all realised that, by stripping unnecessary decisions from their lives, like which clothes to wear, they became more able to make effective billion-dollar decisions.

This habit isn’t exclusively for the one percent, ether. It doesn’t require cash, a private jet or superhuman strength. Anyone can pre-plan what clothes they wear all week, what to cook and when to exercise. In fact, doing so will make you more likely to get ready quicker, eat healthily and train consistently when everything is already organised and sticking to your plan becomes the path of least resistance.

Keeping your laptop stationed at the same workspace every day will have a similar effect, reinforcing your writing habit by minimising the effects of decision fatigue. Try it: find and eradicate as many unnecessary choices from your day as you can. It will make you more likely to start work and more able to stay in the flow state once you have begun.

Take Proper Breaks

Self-development “gurus” talk a lot about structuring your work blocks but they rarely address how you can benefit from structuring your breaks. That might seem counterintuitive at first glance. “I thought the point of a break was to forget about structure and relax,” you might say. And, in part, it is. But if you don’t consider setting some rules and limits, your breaks can easily become the Achilles heel of your productivity plan, and I don’t just mean when you let them run for longer than intended. Long or short, a poorly-executed break can actually have a detrimental effect on the time you do spend working.

Think about it this way: how do you take a break? Do you close your laptop, push it aside and immediately start browsing the internet on your phone? Don’t worry, we all do it occasionally. While passive browsing might feel relaxing because it soothes our internet addition, as we have already learned, the internet is an energy vampire. Thus, it doesn’t count as a proper break.

A better option would be to do something that doesn’t involve a screen. Perhaps sit quietly in the garden or brew a cup of tea. Fold laundry. Stroll around the block. Just be sure to keep a tight rein on how long your breaks last or that short relief period can easily turn into more than an hour. Set a timer if you need to. Think of it as a reverse-Pomodoro, a way to concentrate on true relaxation for a specific block of time.

Get Moving

Speaking of strolling, according to studies conducted at Harvard Medical School, walking once a day will boost your mental capacity in the short term, such as before a test or creative writing session. In addition, it also slows your brain’s decline over a span of decades, therefore enabling you to stay sharp for longer.

For writers, walking has two standout benefits. Firstly, a walk (without your phone) forces you to step away from screens and reduces the temptation to trawl the internet during a break. Secondly, it stimulates subconscious thought. Have you ever noticed that eureka moments often arrive when you’re jogging or traipsing around a shopping mall? That’s because aerobic activities, much like sleep, encourage you to enter a meditative state. In doing so, your subconscious mind starts to wander and process ideas you’ve accumulated throughout the day. What this means is that exercise will both distance you from distractions and help you overcome story issues that might have been halting your progress.

Using just one of these strategies can enhance your energy levels during a writing session. A combination of them has the power to supercharge your productivity, discipline and stamina, meaning you will be able to write better, faster, and for longer than ever before.

That’s right- it’s our favorite day!

No, not Friday (though I know many of us are excited about that), it’s RELEASE DAY!!

That’s right, there is a new book for you to cozy up with around the pool or at the beach or in your favorite, quiet corner.

Killing Game

All she wants to do is live. But she finds living isn’t enough. Control. That’s what’s important.

Desiree doesn’t want to remember the terrible event that gave her super strength and speed. Whatever it was left her friends dead. She’s accepted she won’t remember. She’s content with moving forward, living a life of quiet isolation.

But how often do we get what we want?

Ambushed on the silent streets of her hometown, Dee is pushed into a world as impossible as it is unbelievable. Ancient feuds and impossible histories clash, with her at their center. If not for Hamal’s timely assistance, the first attempt on her life might have been the last. But even Hamal, who grew up in this strange world, can’t anticipate what’s coming.

Forced to put her faith in a stranger, Dee trains to protect herself from immortal foes. Foes even legend holds no trace. A race long written out of history. Some are with her, some against her. Little does she know one is the creator of her future—a Rishi whose wish started it all.

If you’re a book reviewer, and would like a review copy, let me know! Contact me, or leave me a comment 🙂

Happy Reading 🙂

Books and Why We Love Them

I am the annoying friend who asks why. Especially why you might like, or not like something. And never say something is weird because I will dig deep to understand that word’s use. My lifemate really is not a fan of my confusion surrounding humans’ basic quick-to-judge reactions. He often thinks I’m being rude, especially when it’s him facing the brunt of my childlike question. I think he thinks I’m calling him out or some-such-thing we have yet to understand about each other. But I swear, I am not trying to be a dick. I genuinely want to know. I want you to dig deep and figure out for yourself why you think you think a thing, and then explain it to me.

This topic comes up often, this question of why a story is loved or hated, why a character is followed through pages of adventure, or not. At least, it comes up a lot in the conversations within my own mind. I struggle defending my opinions to myself. I struggle to answer why a book gets 5 stars, 3 stars, or no stars. Every review I write, I wonder. I especially wonder it when I’ve fallen against the grain; when I dislike a book everyone else loves, or when I love a book most dislike. I know I’ve never adequately answered it, even to myself, but in this post, I will attempt it.

Let’s Talk Characters

My upcoming release, KILLING GAME, is Urban Fantasy, so I’m going to start with characters set in this type of world. The first example that comes to mind is Rachel Morgan, from Kim Harrison‘s The Hollows Series.

Rachel is a great character because she’s a little bit of a spaz, a little bit not-quite-sure-how to deal with her life, but always trying and always sticking up for the little guy (literally and figuratively, in her case). She’s confident, without being arrogant. She’s always a little lost but isn’t afraid to get dirty anyway. She’s funny, without being an ass. Her backstory isn’t filled with pseudo-mystery and fantastical hype, but there’s enough to give her some grit.

So, let’s break this down a little. Why am I a fan of Rachel Morgan?

Rachel is not perfect. She’s not godlike. She does push forward even when she doesn’t know exactly what she’s doing. She acts like a real person, in that her personal interactions are filled with missteps that are totally relatable to anyone whose ever had to interact with anyone. Roommate struggles, boyfriend miscommunications, friendship battles, etc.

Let’s compare with a character in a similar universe I’m not a fan of: Lily O’Conner from Yasmine Galenorn’s Lily Bound series.

Why didn’t I appreciate Lily?

In Lily’s world, everything seemed so scripted. Nothing happens organically. Her past makes no sense for her present. Things come together too randomly to follow some natural flow of storytelling. Especially, the dialogue was stiff and lazy.

Lily is, by far, a way ‘cooler’ character on paper, but Rachel comes alive; seems real. I guess that leads us towards the start of an answer: Story isn’t enough. Character isn’t enough. The whole thing needs to com together.

But that doesn’t really tell us much. It’s kind of like: DUH. Alright then, let’s continue trying to figure this out…

Children of Blood and Bone is another example where a great character wasn’t enough to keep me in it. I skimmed through the second half of the first book, confident the second book would open up a better aspect of the story. Instead, I found I couldn’t even get through book two, so infuriated was I with the main character. I actually went to the last page to see if it was worth getting to the end. It wasn’t. I put the book down, and have thought on what it is that made me so dislike this much adored story.

I’m not sure I can even explain my annoyance. When I sat down to think on it, to pull the fine points of my dislike to bare, there was little reason for my dislike. Zélie’s anger is justified. It’s even rational, from a certain point of view, but to read it over and over and over, after the previous book was filled with it… I just couldn’t. Even as I ‘understood,’ I didn’t care. Even as I could see why the story progressed this way, it seemed almost gregarious.

My own main character, Desiree, goes through a similar journey with her anger. I hope she’s not as infuriating to read as Zelie. Desiree is not as in your face about it. I tried not to draw her period of rage out too long, while also not glossing over it. I want you to feel her pain, but not get sick of her whining. I want to show character development, but without it seeming too fast.

There’s the line, isn’t it? For me, the hate-fueled reactions were too much, while others understood better , so enjoyed the story. This line is exactly why my favorite book is another’s least favorite. While this may help us understand why we like different books, it doesn’t help explain why we like them in the first place. Or maybe it does, and I’m too thick to catch the nuances…

Favorite Books

What makes my favorite books, my favorites?

While Rachel Morgan was a great character, The Hollows Series wasn’t one of my favorites. I didn’t like the progression of the story, wishing it had gone in a different direction. Still, I read all the books. I liked all the books. But they overall, I was left disappointed.

What books make my favorite list?

  • Kingkiller Chronicles, Patrick Rothfuss
  • Children of Dune, Frank Herbert
  • In Her Name Series, especially Empire and Confederation, Micheal Hicks
  • Terra Ignota Series, Ada Palmer
  • Epic Saga, especially Book 3: Hero, Lee Stephen
  • Blood Song, Anthony Ryan

What’s the common denominator among them?

I think it’s the underlying sense of being taught how to be great.

In the Kingkiller Chronicles, which includes The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man’s Fear, Kvothe might be seen as unlikable, which is kind of why I liked him, and his story. To know his fall is coming somewhere along the way, to know that his arrogant nature pays an ultimate price, to hope a redeeming event is transpiring even as we learn of his past, keeps us in the pages, alerts us right away that every smaller story amongst the larger one is meant to show us something specific about what Kvothe learned and how he grew, and maybe even how/why he ends up in the crap position he’s in.

Are these books character driven? Or story?

Dune can be argued as having minimal character development. The characters are real and deep and interesting because of the events surrounding them; the decisions, with their vast cultural implications that transcend time and space, that they make. Events and decision that ask: How much is something worth; Is what happens now more important than what happens later; and especially how all those things change a culture, and thus individuals.

Paul sees his loves death, knows the exact moment of it, but rather than stop it and set off a worse chain of events, he lives each moment with her as more precious. I love this. And this is the easiest of decisions Paul, and then his son, Leto, are required to made.

And what of Paul’s mother, Jessica, or his father, Leto, who see the trap, who know the dangers in the trappings of their lives, but move with them anyway lest they be forced to fight other, unwinnable battles? These questions go on and on throughout the Dune saga, and explain why I love them still.

Terra Ignota uses characters as icons to explain basic social and political tenets. While fantastic and fun in their own rights, the story is minimally about character. There is no person in that story that can’t be replaced and still have the story unfold as it would. The characters are personas used to explain greater political and social situations, and how the dance of them might explode.

It looks like my favorite books are all about mass. Mass of subtext, of underlying dialectics on social and political constructs. Especially about individuals with some power or foresight they must use for a greater goal, rather than personal gain.

To Listen is to Hear

I think I have an answer then. But the only way to be sure is to revisit my favorite books and really pay attention to how I feel, and hope to figure out why.

I love all kinds of books. I love a good sports romance as much as a classic Sci-Fi, but the stories that really get in my head, well, that’s the question I wanted answered.

To continue to bring light to this topic, I’ve begun a little experiment that involves revisiting these favorites of mine. I’m listening to the audio versions, while also re-reading them. I’m savoring the pages, listening to the feelings that swirl and rise to see if some empirical data comes forth from the emotional swirl.

I was never big on listening to books. If I sit and listen, I tend to fall asleep. If I’m sitting to listen, I’d rather just read. Only when I started working in a warehouse, where I was able to wear headphones all day, did I start. Now, I listen to a few books a week. It’s enabled me to visit books I might never have picked up. The library is my go-to for audio books, and there have been quite a few recommendations that have been great reads (listens).

What that has to do with the rest, is that I found a few books I just could not listen to. Since I listen while working, there are times when my attention is forced away from the book and on the task at hand, so I tend to miss things here and there. Sometimes, that is just not okay. Sometimes I find I’m into chapter 5 with no idea of what’s going on. This left me with the question of how different reading is from listening; how the experience of the story might differ. This transitioned nicely into figuring out why I love the books I do. Now, I can listen to my favorites and see what difference there might be in listening, while also revisiting beloved pages.

Just Getting Started

I’m just getting started. So far, I’ve listened to In the Name of the Wind and can say I loved the first of The Kingkiller Chronicles just as much this time as when I read it. It looks like I’ll be moving on to Heretics of Dune next. Good thing I recently re-read Dune and Children of Dune so I won’t be missing anything (you’d understand the joke in that statement if you knew how many times I’ve read the first four books).

Stay tuned for updates on my findings about books and why we over them, and if maybe we can love them more (or less) by changing the medium in which we absorb them.

Until then, happy reading 🙂