Submit Your Questions for Reader Request Week 2015

Last year I tried to do one of these and had every intention of following through with it.  Unfortunately, I ran it around the time I learned my boss’ diagnosis changed from ‘cancer-like and completely curable’ to ‘actual cancer and oh yeah, it’s terminal’.  So not only was I in a state of emotional chaos I had to suddenly take on a lot more responsibility at work than I had ever expected.  Therefore, I did one reader request post and nothing after that.

This year I actually want to do this and I want to do it properly.  I will be answering most if not all of the questions you guys pose me and I will follow through on this commitment this time, unforeseen circumstances permitting.  So let’s get to it!

If you have a question for me about blogging, time management, reviewing, author drama, completely off-topic fun stuff and/or personal stuff to a certain point, ask it in the comments below!  Or, if you’d rather stay anonymous, drop me an email or use my contact page and I won’t link to your site or any social media profiles in my actual post.

Thank you guys so much for this opportunity and I hope you gain some insights into whatever it is you’re curious about, whether it’s me personally or my blog.

My Least Favourite Book Tropes: Part Three

In parts one and two of this series I described some of the tropes that most annoy me and I’m going to continue in that griping tradition for part three.  It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these so I’m ready to start ranting!  The usual caveat applies: tropes are not necessarily clichés.  They’re just devices used by authors to tell a story but that doesn’t mean they don’t occasionally stray into the world of cliché.  Some of them annoy me but you, as a reader, may very well love these ones.  It all depends on the person.

Adults are Useless

1.  Adults Are Useless

This is very prominent in YA and in Children’s Fiction because the protagonists in these books are not adults.  So of course they see adults as hindering their progress on whatever mission they’re on rather than what the adults are actually doing: worrying about them.  Sometimes adults deliberately obstruct children’s or teen’s activities and it’s usually in the name of safety.  Other times they’re just being jerks, as every child or teen has found out at some point.

In some ways the trope makes sense—children and teens are more impressionable and more likely to adapt to events going on around them.  For example, if a child is telling an adult that there’s magic and lots of horrible things are happening because of it, then the adult is probably going to be useless and deny the whole thing.  It’s annoying but it’s at least believable.  When this trope is annoying is when all adults are useless, not just some.  That’s just unrealistic and a total caricature.  That’s somewhat expected in children’s fiction but when you’re reading YA it’s just patronizing, even if you are a teenager. Continue reading

Lazy Sundays: The Walking Dead Finale

Spoilers ahead!

Since I don’t analyze TV shows/movies as in-depth as I do books here are just some of my general thoughts on the finale tonight:

1.  I was convinced Glenn or Daryl were going to die for pretty much the entire episode.  I’m not sure why but knowing that Glenn is dead in the comics always makes me nervous when he’s in any sort of peril.

2.  Morgan’s back!  And he’s not crazy!  He’s oddly zen and I really hope that in Season 6 they go a bit into his backstory and we find out how he went from the total crazy person he was in ‘Clear’ to one of the more sane people in the finale ‘Conquer’.  Now that would be a story.

3.  I kind of want Michonne to take over Alexandria.  She’s got far more sense than Rick or Deanna.  Rick’s riding the crazy train right now and Deanna is probably going to get there after losing her husband and son in such a short period of time.  I don’t mean that Rick is as crazy as he was in the prison but he really does need to tone things down before he goes full Shane.

4.  Go Carol!

5.  Who are the Wolves?  And what’s their endgame?  They seem pretty messed up and I think they’ll be a major plot point in Season 6 but at the same time Scott Gimple has said that while people were the main threat in previous seasons, they won’t be in Season 6.  (That was in the letter Chris Hardwick read aloud on Talking Dead.)

Did you guys watch the finale?  Thoughts?

Reader Request Week 2015 #1: Reviewing Free Books

Emily Guido asked me:

I have a question about Author Drama. For one, I’m an Author, so any help I can get, I would love the advice. What I am dying to know is that if you have a book that you are reading for the pleasure of it, do you, for any reason, review it? Sometimes, the reviews I get are from people who pick up my book on a “Free” download time on Amazon. They say, I didn’t mean to read this book, but… yadda, yadda, yadda.

I do the same also. I pick up free books and even though I was never asked to review, I feel compelled to review them. Sometimes the Author gets upset if my review is not pleasing to them. It puts me in an uncomfortable area.

First off, I think the rules are a little bit different for author-reviewers because you have to deal with your fellow authors but I’ll talk about my experience with the problem.

To answer the question, yes.  Sometimes I download free books off of Amazon and review them.  Usually it’s because I really did enjoy the book and found it surprisingly good so I want to let my readers know about it.  I think that’s part of why authors put their books out for free on sites like Amazon: they think readers will accidentally stumble across them, like them and review them, thereby generating more publicity for their book so they are more likely to pay for subsequent novels.  That explanation makes the most sense to me and it’s one of the more common reasons authors tend to cite for putting their work out there for free.

But what happens when you don’t like a book?

Well, this depends largely on a) your personality and style of blogging and b) the book and author.

To start with a) I’d have to say that if you have a policy of reviewing most of the books you read like I do, feel free to leave a review.  However, this leads to the second part of the problem: the book and the author.  My general policy is that if the author puts one of those “please give me a review” blurbs either in the front or back of their book then it’s perfectly fine to leave a negative review.  If they’re asking for feedback, one-star reviews are feedback and if it’s your honest opinion there’s nothing wrong with writing one.

But if the author does not have an appeal for reviews or some such thing, I’d leave it up to your discretion.  Do you feel comfortable leaving a negative review if it’s not asked for?  I personally do in most situations (there are obviously exceptions) but if you’re not 100% comfortable with that, then don’t.  As I said, there’s nothing wrong with leaving a review, positive or negative, as long as it really is your honest opinion.  Some people feel differently.  Basically, it depends on you.  There is no easy answer to it.

To address the last point in Emily’s question, if the author throws a hissy fit over a negative review, that’s their problem and not yours.  They put their work out there to be read and judged by the public; they should expect to get less than flattering reviews at some point.  Again, as long as it’s your honest opinion about the book and you’re not author bashing, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it.

So basically?  There is no easy answer.  It really depends on what you’re comfortable with.

Discussion: Author Drama

It’s sort of known that in the book blogging community, at one time or another you are going to have author drama.  You can be the nicest, sweetest, most agreeable person ever and an author is pretty much guaranteed to attack you for one perceived slight or another.  It’s unfortunately inevitable, particularly if you’re like me and accept books from self-published authors, who are disproportionately responsible for author drama.  You can read of my experience with one such person here.

What I want to know is this: Have you, as a book blogger ever experienced author drama?  What happened?  Or, if you’re an author that does book reviews, have you ever been attacked by a fellow author?  Or, somewhat worse, if you’re an author that doesn’t review books have you ever been attacked by another author for a different reason?

Don’t name names here if you’re not comfortable doing so but I’d appreciate it if everyone would share their experiences.  The majority of author-blogger interactions are perfectly fine and even friendly but sometimes bad eggs crop up.  It’s unfortunately part of reviewing books online and I in no way mean to insinuate that only authors initiate drama; plenty of book reviewers do the exact same thing.

A Note on LinkedIn Requests

Today I’ve been feeling under the weather again so I wanted to address a little thing that I’ve really failed at for the whole three years I’ve been blogging: LinkedIn.

Lately I’ve been getting several requests to connect with various people on LinkedIn, some of whom I know, some I don’t.  They’ve been from authors and publishers, editors and illustrators and they all have one thing in common: my amazement at the fact I received them.  It’s flattering.  It really is flattering to know that some people would like to connect on a more professionally-oriented network.

But at this time I will not be accepting any invites onto LinkedIn.  I currently do not have a profile and do not wish to have one.  If at some point in the future I do get one it will be connected to my actual career and not my admittedly awesome and time-consuming hobby.  So while it’s flattering that some of you want to connect with me on LinkedIn, I won’t be accepting any invites in the future either.  It’s absolutely nothing personal and I didn’t mean to ignore your requests but none of the invitations I’ve received in my email link to a polite refusal button of some sort.

Sorry for not clarifying that sooner.

The Figaro Murders by Laura Lebow

The Figaro Murders by Laura Lebow(Cover picture courtesy of NetGalley.)

In 1786 Vienna, Lorenzo Da Ponte is the court librettist for the Italian Theatre during the height of the enlightened reign of Emperor Joseph II. This exalted position doesn’t mean he’s particularly well paid, or even out of reach of the endless intrigues of the opera world. In fact, far from it.

One morning, Da Ponte stops off at his barber, only to find the man being taken away to debtor’s prison. Da Ponte impetuously agrees to carry a message to his barber’s fiancée and try to help her set him free, even though he’s facing pressures of his own. He’s got one week to finish the libretto for The Marriage of Figaro for Mozart before the opera is premiered for the Emperor himself.

Da Ponte visits the house where the barber’s fiancée works—the home of a nobleman, high in the Vienna’s diplomatic circles—and then returns to his own apartments, only to be dragged from his rooms in the middle of the night. It seems the young protégé of the diplomat was killed right about the time Da Ponte was visiting, and he happens to be their main suspect. Now he’s given a choice—go undercover into the household and uncover the murderer, or be hanged for the crime himself.

Brilliantly recreating the cultural world of late 18th century Vienna, the epicenter of the Enlightenment, Lebow brings to life some of the most famous figures of music, theatre, and politics.

[Full disclosure: I requested and received a free ebook in exchange for an honest review.]

First off, if you’ve watched the actual opera The Marriage of Figaro you will appreciate this book much, much more.  It’s not necessary for understanding it or even appreciating it but you will appreciate it on a much deeper level if you have seen the opera.

Why?  That’s because we have a murder mystery set in Vienna with what are essentially the characters of the opera.  We have ourselves a lecherous count, a desperate love-seeking countess, her grumpy former guardian, a girl-obsessed young nobleman working as a page, a maid and a barber.  That, my friends, reads very much like the list of characters in the actual opera.  But if you have seen the opera, don’t worry.  The murderer is definitely not who you think it is and not for the reasons you think.  Knowing something about the characters and general plot doesn’t reveal the culprit too early, believe me.  Really, Laura Lebow basing her characters off of actual characters in the opera was brilliant in that respect because if you’ve seen the opera you think you’ll know who did it but it’s really a sort of red herring.  It just adds a whole other layer to the book and I did enjoy it.

Lorenzo Da Ponte himself is nothing like I pictured but I never actually knew much about the historical figure so that’s not really saying much.  He’s a largely toothless lady-killer, a relatively impoverished man working as the court poet and sort of official librettist at the court of one of the more enlightened European monarchs, Joseph II.  He was good friends with Mozart and is of course a bitter rival of Salieri and his librettist.  Essentially, in the beginning he’s not all that remarkable but things change quickly when he’s accused of murdering young Florian.  Then the secret service equivalent of the day swoops in and forces him to go undercover in the household as a poetry teacher to discover who really murdered the young prince.  Why would they send a poet in to do a spy’s work?  Well, things aren’t all that simple in Vienna of the day and some main players keep their cards very close to the chest.  Despite his indignation at the whole situation, Lorenzo does rise to the occasion quite well and discovers that not everything is as it seems in that household.

Laura Lebow’s writing was excellent.  She brings to life 18th century Vienna so well that you really do feel like you’re there along with Lorenzo.  Her characters are well fleshed-out anyway but it’s her brilliant writing that really makes them come alive.  While you may or may not be able to predict who killed Florian near the end, I personally was quite surprised (not that that’s really saying much as I don’t read many mystery novels.)  Even if you are able to predict the outcome, I think you’ll enjoy the book because Lebow writes suspense quite well.  Throughout the book there’s this aura of tension that gets slowly ratcheted up as the novel progresses.  Sometimes it’s almost unbearable and you just have to keep reading to find out what happens next.  Really, you can’t ask for more in a historical murder mystery: actual history brought to life and plenty of mystery and suspense.

The book ended quite realistically and I was actually surprised to learn that The Marriage of Figaro was not what Da Ponte was most known for in his day because it’s a staple of opera houses everywhere.  No, he was known for some obscure little opera that is practically never performed today.  But after he solved the mystery and the opera premiered fairly successfully, he and Mozart are going on a little road trip to write one of the darker, more terrifying operas I’ve ever seen: Don Giovanni.  It was definitely a satisfying ending with that little promise of an awesome sequel coming up because I do love Don Giovanni as well.  The Figaro Murders doesn’t come out until March 31, but I already can’t wait for the next book.

I give this book 5/5 stars.

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As a side note, if you are interested in actually watching Le nozze di Figaro, the best version I’ve found is from James Levine’s 40th anniversary at the Met.  Unfortunately, it’s no longer available although you can watch clips on YouTube here (the first three videos were deleted for whatever reason but you can get the gist of the first scene from the rest of it).  It’s hard to ruin either of the Figaro operas, so as long as you stay away from the Mozart Festival one with Anna Netrebko you’ll be fine.  The cast was great in that one (particularly Netrebko herself), but the production was total and utter crap and the choreographer and/or director were clearly on something.

Scent of the Soul by Julie Doherty

Scent of the Soul by Julie Doherty(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)

In twelfth century Scotland, it took a half-Gael with a Viking name to restore the clans to their rightful lands. Once an exile, Somerled the Mighty now dominates the west. He’s making alliances, expanding his territory, and proposing marriage to the Manx princess.

It’s a bad time to fall for Breagha, a torc-wearing slave with a supernatural sense of smell.

Somerled resists the intense attraction to a woman who offers no political gain, and he won’t have a mistress making demands on him while he’s negotiating a marriage his people need. Besides, Breagha belongs to a rival king, one whose fresh alliance Somerled can’t afford to lose.

It’s when Breagha vanishes that Somerled realizes just how much he needs her. He abandons his marriage plans to search for her, unprepared for the evil lurking in the shadowy recesses of Ireland—a lustful demon who will stop at nothing to keep Breagha for himself.

[Full disclosure: I received a free ebook in conjunction with the blog tour in exchange for an honest review.]

Scent of the Soul is a little jarring at first because 12th century Scotland is not a setting that I and probably many other people are familiar with.  Still, Julie Doherty does a good job of orienting readers and quickly captures the essence of the time.  You may find yourself with your head spinning as you try to keep all of the names straight but they’re repeated often so that you get a bit of a history of each person or place.  By the end of the book you’ll be a pro, trust me on this.  Doherty’s world-building just sucks you into her story so quickly that you can’t help but orient yourself quickly.  You’ll need to, in order to truly appreciate all that Somerled and Breagha go through.

Somerled is a warlord of sorts who went from penniless exile to mighty king, with many other kings/petty princes/warlords bowing down to him and paying him tribute.  We meet him as he’s older and looking for a political marriage to cement all that he has gained, but the sort of inferiority complex he developed as a penniless exile dogs him.  In particular around women.  So when one of his nominal allies captures a ship with only one sailor who survived and a woman with four dogs, he’s more than ready to give Fergus his wish and grant him ownership of the woman and the dogs.  Until he sees her and she sees him, that is.  Breagha is not just an incredible woman because of her supernatural sense of smell (among other talents).  She goes through so much in the course of this book that it’s really a testament to the strength of her character that while she doesn’t exactly forgive, she doesn’t hold grudges like many people would given the circumstances.

Thankfully, the beginning of Scent of the Soul isn’t too much excitement at once.  Of course we get glimpses of the massacre with the strange shadow men and of Semjaza, the book’s villain, but it’s just glimpses as we try to orient ourselves with Somerled’s situation.  After that, the pacing most definitely increases for reasons that I can’t quite fully get into without spoiling some of the cool plot points.  Julie Doherty doesn’t really let up with the tension after she introduces it and you’ll most definitely find yourself flipping through page after page to learn what happens next.  It’s pretty relentless, particularly toward the end.

My only real criticism of this book is that sometimes the time switches can be absolutely jarring, particularly toward the end.  There’s a particular scene where Somerled finds something and then it suddenly switches to Somerled happy with Breagha.  I get that sometimes a time switch like that can be great but it felt like it wasn’t made clear that Somerled had found something; his part of the story just dropped off the edge of a cliff at that point.  Maybe it was the fact my review copy was very poorly formatted so I have no clue whether or not there was a clear page break or other symbol.  That’s more than possible but I must admit that even with the clear point of view shifts, sometimes Julie Doherty doesn’t exactly pick the best time to do it and it’s really jarring.  Not exciting jarring, but just jarring and it leaves you frantically reading to try to orient yourself again.

So in short this book has awesome characters, a lot of tension and some pretty awesome world-building.  Sometimes the point of view switches are jarring and confusing but the story itself is still coherent and fairly easy to follow.  If the blurb has intrigued you, go on and pick up Scent of the Soul.  I certainly enjoyed it.

I give this book 4/5 stars.

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