C.M. Martens’ Favorite Books

It definitely helps to know someone’s tastes when following recommendations, so I thought I’d put up some of my favorites. It was way harder than I thought to narrow this down. There are way more books on this page than I meant there to be…

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Top 10

In no particular order:

  1. The Name of the Wind (Book 1 of the Kingkiller Chronicles) by Patrick Rothfuss
  2. Dune by Frank Herbert
  3. Hero (book 3 of Epic Saga) by Lee Stephen
  4. Empire of Silence by Christopher Ruocchio
  5. Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
  6. Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
  7. Empire of the Vampire by Jay Kristoff
  8. Too Like the Lightning by Ada Palmer
  9. The Rage of Dragons by Evan Winter
  10. Blood Song (Book 1 of the Raven’s Shadow Series) by Anthony Ryan

Almost made the top list

  • House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski
  • Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
  • Evo Nation Series by K. J. Chapman
  • The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern
  • Echo Series by Kent Wayne
  • 14 by Peter Cline
  • In Her Name Series by Michael Hicks (especially book 5)
  • The Host by Stephanie Meyer
  • The Legion & the Lioness by Robert D. Armstrong
  • Heretics of Dune by Frank Herbert
  • The Lightbringer Series by Brent Weeks
  • The Giver by Lois Lowry
  • Battlefield Earth by L. Ron Hubbard
  • Hyperion by Dan Simmons
  • Wyvern by A. A. Attanasio
  • The Dragonian Series paired with the Moonbeam Series by Adrienne Woods
  • Stain by A.G. Howard
  • Red Rising by Pierce Brown
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Huge fan of:

  • Mercy Thompson Series by Patricia Briggs
  • First seven books in the Anita Blake Series by Laurell K. Hamilton
  • Anne Rice
  • Science Fiction
  • The Arthurian Saga by Mary Stewart
  • The Fever Series by Karen Marie Moning
  • The rest of the Dune books, including everything his son wrote
  • A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin (though I almost threw the last one)
  • Geodyssey by Piers Anthony
  • The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
  • Nighthawk by Marie Frances
  • Supernaturals: A Ghost Story by David Lynn Goleman
  • Xenogenesis Series by Octavia Butler
  • S. by J.J. Abrams
  • Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab
  • To Sleep in a Sea of Stars by Christopher Paolini

I’m not a fan of:

  • …Brandon Sanderson books. I typically find them dull, though the concepts are always fantastic. I think I’ve given 3 stars to every book of his I’ve read, except the first Mistborn book which was a 4 star. So, I guess it’s not that I’m not a fan, I just don’t love him like everyone else I know…
  • …Stephen King. Not even The Dark Tower Series. So many words for no reason, though I did enjoy Misery and Pet Cemetary.
  • …The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher. Sorry, Scott. I just don’t *shrug* Maybe because I’d already read Anita Blake and just couldn’t do another supernatural cop-mystery-who-done-it series? Maybe I’m just sexist when it comes to this kind of book…

Books I re-read over & over

  • Dune
  • Enemies by Tijan
  • Made of Steel Series by Ivy Smoak
  • Fever Series by Karen Marie Moning
  • Stain by A.G. Howard
  • The Burning Series by Evan Winter

Your Thoughts

I’d love to hear your comments on any of the above 🙂

My thoughts on Book Reviews

Book Reviews: How I Do It

A couple of years back, I started reviewing books but didn’t get very many posted, as I found it stressful. Most of the reading I do is from self-published, freshman, indie authors who rely on reviews to help get their books get read by a wider audience. Was my opinion worthy of influencing the career of a new author? Were my thoughts insightful enough to lead prospective readers down the right path?

I decided NO, and left reviews for others.

Yes, I tend to overthink things.

I’ve since decided to start this review thing again but feel the need to explain my point-of-view. Reading other reviews of those I’ve rated has left me feeling like maybe I’m on another planet. That is another reason I stopped posting my thoughts, but that’s just cowardly, so here goes another attempt…

First of all, I believe reviews are for readers. A review is to help someone decide whether or not they should spend their hard-earned money and invest their valuable time on a book. Reviews can truly be helpful for this. A review or two has helped me decide whether or not to buy a book. There’s even been a painfully negative review here and there that pushed me to read something when I felt the reviewer’s voice was overly harsh or seemed absurd to my point of view. This latter situation is why I stopped reviewing books myself, and, strangely enough, why I’ve decided to start reviewing again.

I think critiques and reviews are not the same thing.

I think many people believe negativity equates directly to intelligence – that finding the bad or interpreting something as inferior highlights a knowledge base above others. Inversely, if “we” like something “bad” it makes us stupid. I don’t like this. I must be too nice; not finding pleasure in saying anything that might hurt someone’s feelings. So much of it is in the approach; in the nature of the language used. I used to not post reviews under 3 stars. I stopped doing that, understanding after publishing my own books that the volume of rating matters as much as the level. Getting some 1 & 2 star reviews is healthy; a majority of them are a clue to reevaluate the writing. Still, I stay respectful and constructive, understanding throughout that my review expresses my opinion. My favorite book is someone else’s least favorite and thank god for that.

Many books I’ve really liked, despite feeling they could have been polished a bit before hitting the public eye, are worthy of reading. Depending on the kind of problems, that might mean I rate it 3 over 4 stars, though usually a 3 star comes from story problems. If I liked the book but thought it needed more development in some way, if I found myself skimming through large sections to get to the next part, the book will be 3 stars. If I forced myself to finish but couldn’t have cared less: 2 stars. 1 stars from me typically mean I DNF’d (did not finish).

5-star rating system

I continue to struggle with what to give 5-stars, versus 4-stars, versus 3. Part of me thinks a 5-star rating should be a rarity. 5-stars is the best, right? 5-stars means there’s very little, if any, room for improvement. 5-stars is for those favorite favorites.

Despite this argument with myself (still ongoing), I’ve started to toe the line. Inconsistenty equals problems. Reviews are to be helpful, not to prove my literary genius. This change of heart came after an author responded to a 3-star rating I gave alongside glowing comments. If reviews are to help convince others to read something I’m suggesting is worthy, maybe my star ratings should better reflect that.

Basically, after all this contemplation on how to best be fair to authors and their stories, I’ve decided on a compromise between my initial thoughts and my comparison of other reviewers. To reiterate, If I love a story, but genuinely think there should have been a little more development in a major case, it will get 4-stars. 5-stars go to those with very little missing. 3-stars will still signify a book worth reading but with some hiccups I couldn’t ignore.

–Goodreads’ 3 stars = ‘liked it’ while Amazon’s 3 stars = ‘it’s okay’. These are not the same thing to me. I think I tend to rate more in line with Goodreads, but because I think Amazon is more helpful to sales, I’ve been trying to gear my system to this.—

How, and Why, I Like A Story

Typically, why, and if, I like a book is based on emotion and gut. Even as I like “smart” stories and intelligently crafted characters, plots, and themes, my reviews are typically based off of my first response, emotional feelings rather than logical deductions and comparisons or deep study of nuance. If the book made me happy to read, I like it, even if I agree there may have been “better” ways the story might have been crafted, explained, structured, etc. In comparison to other reviews I’ve read, I’m definitely generous when it comes to structure, language usage, and engineering problems that most people are hung up on. One reason for this, I think, is that I read very fast, so tend to skim over “problems” that others, literally, trip over (like minor spelling and grammar errors). Secondly, I’m interested in the story. Crafting is difficult, and while I can see the argument that if you can’t craft or hire an editor, you shouldn’t publish, sometimes a story just wants to be told and we’re too impatient to figure out how to circumvent the world of capitalism needed to learn craftsmanship. If your story is engaging and real enough for me to slip down your rabbit hole, I’ll like your book, even if I can see where an editor, or a critical thinker, might have helped you immensely.

Lastly, spoilers are not necessary for a review. I’m not sure why that’s a thing. There is a book blurb for that. An essay is something that explains detailed points, critiques, argues, and analyzes. That’s not a review. The point is to explain why someone else should read the book without making it unnecessary for them to read it.

If you don’t like how I present my reviews, well, I have nothing to say about that. I like books. Books make me happy, and sometimes I like to tell people I liked a thing so maybe they’ll find the same joy. If you don’t like a thing that I liked, that’s okay. If there’s a How to Review like a Reviewer so You’ll No Longer be a Poser Reviewer memo, I’ll gladly take a look at that.

I’ll review your book! Email me a pdf with a release date (so I can give myself a deadline): cindy_martens@ymail.com

Happy Reading! 🙂

CMM

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Book Review: Verity

Book Review

Verity

By Colleen Hoover

psychological thriller, romantic suspense
3.5 stars

Lowen Ashleigh is a struggling writer on the brink of financial ruin when she accepts the job offer of a lifetime. Jeremy Crawford, husband of bestselling author Verity Crawford, has hired Lowen to complete the remaining books in a successful series his injured wife is unable to finish.

Lowen arrives at the Crawford home, ready to sort through years of Verity’s notes and outlines, hoping to find enough material to get her started. What Lowen doesn’t expect to uncover in the chaotic office is an unfinished autobiography Verity never intended for anyone to read. Page after page of bone-chilling admissions, including Verity’s recollection of the night her family was forever altered.

Lowen decides to keep the manuscript hidden from Jeremy, knowing its contents could devastate the already grieving father. But as Lowen’s feelings for Jeremy begin to intensify, she recognizes all the ways she could benefit if he were to read his wife’s words. After all, no matter how devoted Jeremy is to his injured wife, a truth this horrifying would make it impossible for him to continue loving her.

This was my first Colleen Hoover novel. I really think I fell into that over-hype-ruined-my-experience experience with this one. I’d heard so much about the ‘crazy twist,’ that I spent too much time trying to find it. I don’t really do that as I read. I don’t like to make reading a job; I just want to be caught up in the story and let it happen.

Still, right away, I was curious. I was eager to read. At 40%, I was in it; properly tense, flipping pages, excited to continue forward. By 65%, I was a little like, ‘okay, got it, can we move on to the next phase, please.‘ I may have done a little skimming at this point… This is where my rating fell off. When a book feels tedious to read, for any amount of time, stars fall.

When I reached the end, I was satisfied. I hate not knowing if my less-than-5-star-review had to do with this hyped-anticipation that forced me to read with an over-analytical eye. This is why I try not to watch movie previews anymore (ever since Terminator 2 when they ruined the big reveal by telling you ahead of time–I still haven’t gotten over that).

If you like psych thrillers mixed with romantic suspense, this is a good one. Just read it without trying to figure it all out ahead of time. Just let it come. Unless, of course, that’s your thing. If it is, It’s still worth the read.

Happy Reading 🙂

I’ve started a Facebook group to talk about books. If you have anything to say about this book or any others, come join. I am always looking for people to talk books with. Click here to join.

Book Review: Empire of Dragons

Book Review

Empire of Dragons, Cursed Empire: Book 1

By Rachel Schade

YA fantasy, royal/guard, enemies to…, betrayed, morally grey
5 Stars

One empire. An age-old hatred. Two girls risk everything—even their souls—for their people.

Revenge failed her…

After slaying the former empress, Lo vowed to never kill again. But when her path crosses with a mysterious thief, she begins to work as a vigilante—and to develop forbidden feelings—leaving her with an impossible choice.

Revenge fuels her…

Since her mother’s death, Jalie has been a hopeless prisoner in her own palace. Until a goddess grants her a brutal gift that could be the key to her freedom…if she can get past the soldier tasked with guarding her. As tension brews between them, he challenges everything she’s ever believed about her enemies.

There are two ways to get me to read a book. Say time-travel or say dragons. I dropped my entire TBR to read this dragon book, and I was not disappointed.

There is no “good” guy in Empire of Dragons, and I love it for that. The slow burn, forbidden royal/guard subplot was perfectly crafted, and the other–well, I had all the feels for the poor sod who just couldn’t undo past decisions. At least, that’s how I looked at it. While I didn’t necessarily like Lo, I appreciated her story, and her twitchy thief was the perfect compliment to her.

Excellent world-building, with just the right amount of magic to make it fun. I appreciated the direct god-sourced power and the tease of a possible conflict between said gods that may or may not be influencing events (this is just my reading too far between lines I have no business peering at. We’ll see if I’m even close or over-examing).

The conflict is real. It’s complicated. Each character is both right, and wrong, in their view of events, and the world. Each of them is stuck in the worldview of their own personal trauma. And isn’t that true of all of us? The only way I see this working out without everyone dying is for them to swallow their pride and look at everyone with the same compassion they expect for themselves. This is why I love fantasy. Looking at real issues–real, everyday events–just with dragons.

The next book in the series is one I’m genuinely looking forward to. Luckily, I only have a few more weeks to wait. If you love fierce female characters with angsty-forbidden love undertones, dragons, and systemic conflict, pick up Rachel Schade‘s Cursed Empire series.

Happy Reading 🙂

Review: From Blood and Ash

From Blood and Ash

By Jennifer L Armentrout

DNF

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.

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 about it, ‘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 on 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 MCs before and it isn’t necessarily a deal breaker for the book. I think a lot of MCs we’re not even supposed to like. This one though, I think we are supposed to like. We are supposed to feel 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?