Book Review: Snapshot by Brandon Sanderson

Book Review: Snapshot by Brandon Sanderson
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Cover image used for review purposes under fair use.

Character:  Davis and Chaz are interesting enough characters. Chaz isn’t likable at all, but that’s what makes him compelling. I found myself reading the book more just to find out what he wouldn’t do with the power he had. Davis is the more compelling and interesting character (he’s the main character after all). I found his arc sad. He’s a man trying to prove himself in every way, but the path he’s chosen isn’t one that will prove what matters most. What disappointed me about this was the end. Sure, the plot twist was as surprising as any Sanderson novel, but what I gained on the satisfaction of a clever plot twist, I lost in association with a character.

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Photo by Nazrilof. Image taken from Mr. Sanderson’s website. 

Description: Here Sanderson does something clever that kept me turning pages. There’s a detail thought the book that just drives a reader crazy trying to imagine all the way to the end. It’s a pleasant little mystery just for the reader, and I would have burned through the book just to find out the answer to that riddle.

Thanks for reading,

Matt

Interview with Michael G. Manning

Interview with Michael G. Manning
15326549_1179426122094499_6318367043184922848_nI recently had the honor to correspond via social media and email with Michael G. Manning, author of the December Book Cover of the Month, Betrayer’s Bane. I’ve already posted the review for that, and you can check that out here. I’ve also interviewed Amalia Chitulescu, which you can read here. I’ve mentioned how much I enjoyed Bane, and I actually just finished the first book in the Embers of Illeniel trilogy before posting this blog.  I’ll post my review for The Mountains Rise (the Audible version), in time (there are other reviews scheduled to post first, and I try to respect the order in which I read books). I’m a huge fan of the series so far, and I can’t wait to finish it.  That makes me all the happier I had a chance to interview Mr. Manning.
Without further ado, here we go:

You have quite a few projects out there, and I understand some (if not all) of them are related. Can you explain how Embers of Illeniel fits in with other projects you have out and other projects you have coming? 

 

My first series, was Mageborn, starting with ‘The Blacksmith’s Son’ and finishing with ‘The Final Redemption.’  It was five books in all, and during the course of it I frequently referred back to hidden memories that were trapped in the main character’s mind.  So, once I had finished it, I felt a strong need to go back and write the story of what had been haunting Mordecai throughout those books.

So my original series was Mageborn, with Embers of Illeniel being a prequel set two thousand years before it.  I also have a sequel series, ‘Champions of the Dawning Dragons.’  It takes up where Mageborn left off, following the children that were born during that series.

At the moment I have finished Mageborn, and Embers of Illeniel, and the last book of the sequel series, Demonhome, is due out later this year.  I have a stand-alone book also, ‘Thomas,’ that is based on an old roleplaying game campaign I was in.

5215279What was the inspiration for the series?
I was bored. I went on a Kindle binge and read eighteen books in a single week and found myself without anything interesting to read.  So, I sat down and made a mental list of the things I was looking for in my hypothetical perfect book.  When I had finished the list, I realized that I had already read everything remotely similar, so I just said to hell with it and started writing.
Betrayer’s Bane was the best book I’ve read so far in 2017.  What do you think are the things that made that book so great? 
Pain and suffering.  One of my biggest complaints about books, movies, and TV shows, is that very often everything is sugar-coated.  There’s almost always a happy ending, and it’s rare for anyone of importance to the story to die.  Since I already knew this was going to be a dark story, I decided to go all out, though at times I wondered if I had gone too far.
Tyrion is such a compelling character. How did you come up with him? What made you decide to write a series focused on him with that series? I understand (at least I THINK) Ileniel happens generations before the Mageborn series. Is that true? If so, what made you decide to go so far back in the world you’ve built?

Again, there were numerous veiled references to this story in my first series, so it felt almost compulsory for me to come back and write it.

I think Tyrion himself is so interesting because he starts out as a perfectly ordinary young man, perhaps even kinder and gentler than most, but his experiences gradually warp and shape him into the monster he eventually becomes.  It’s like watching a train wreck in slow motion, it’s horrible, but you just can’t look away.
How did you feel when you finished that series?
Relieved.  I don’t think readers always realize that all the same emotions they experience while reading a book affect the author as well.  The main difference is that it takes us weeks and months to get them all down, so we suffer the same trauma in an extended drawn out sort of way.  That’s fine when it’s a light-hearted novel, but when it is something like this—well it can be agonizing.  Day after day you’re forced to repeatedly live out the same pain.  I thought I might lose my mind before finishing it.
Bane was the first book I’ve read from you, and it has me going crazy trying to see what happens after the epilogue. For those like me, what book can I jump to to find out?
51eWo3W81OLYou should start with ‘The Blacksmith’s Son,’ and then follow it through the entire Mageborn series.  Once that’s done you can read ‘Thornbear,’ which is the first of the sequels.
As you know, I discovered Betrayer’s Bane when I selected it as my Book Cover of the Day. It went on to become the December Book Cover of the Month. First, congrats to both you and Amalia for winning.  I’ve spoken about what I think makes the cover stand out on my blog, but I’d like to know your thoughts about what made the cover work for you. Why do you think that cover stands out?

Well, the cover represents a particularly traumatic scene in the book, the death of one of the more lovable characters, although it’s done with a bit of artistic license.  I think that’s what makes it a great cover.  It perfectly captures the raw emotion that I tried to embody throughout the story.

What did you think about the cover when Amalia showed it to you?

I’ve never been disappointed with her work, so naturally I was pleased.  Not only does she have great artistic sense, but she always arranges the less obvious elements perfectly as well as picking fonts that fit the theme.

Can you walk me through the process of creating the cover from your point of view? What did you ask Amalia for? What was she like to work with? What was your goal for the cover?

904677_568318963202210_169616517_oI’ve been working with her for a couple of years now, but in each case I merely describe the scene I think would fit best on the cover.  She takes it from there, and usually within a few weeks she has something to show me.  Thus far I’ve never had to request a major change after that point, just minor refinements.  She has excellent taste.  As always, my only goal for the cover is to evoke a feeling in the viewer, something that will entice them to examine the contents.

Bane was, as I said, a great book. It was so good I went back and bought book 1 of Elleniel (audio version). If there are any new readers out there, where would you recommend they start reading your work?

My preferred reading order would be the order I wrote them in, starting with the Mageborn series.  After that I’d alternate the prequels and sequels, starting with the first of the prequels, ‘The Mountains Rise.’  I switched back and forth between the prequel and sequel series, so there are hints about each in the other.  I know that sounds confusing, but if you look at the publishing dates just follow them chronologically.

Even if you don’t, you can’t go wrong just reading each series on its own.

What’s your newest released project? Please tell us about it.
51setgNvqYL._SY346The latest thing I did was release a short novel called, ‘Thomas.’  It’s actually something I wrote before I started publishing, but I never took the time to finish it.  After Betrayer’s Bane I needed something light to cleanse my palate and wash away the evil that had sunk into my bones.  It’s a great book that has nothing to do with any of my other work, being based on a roleplaying game I was in with some friends.

The main character is a boy named Thomas (funny how that works).  He starts as an orphan and the mystery of the tale revolves around his origin, although most of the story itself doesn’t directly relate to that.  I think anyone that enjoys fantasy would like it, even though the main character is a cleric, which is uncommon in the genre.

What are you working on next? 
Currently I’m working on ‘Demonhome,’ the last book in my sequel series.  It follows Matthew, the son of the protagonist in Mageborn, as he travels to another dimension to try and find his missing father.  I’ve hinted at it before, but there will be some science fiction elements introduced there that I think will be fascinating.
I thank you again for all of your time. You’ve created a fascinating series that I highly recommend to any fans of action fantasy. (Disclaimer, this is a dark story.)
END INTERVIEW
I’ve purchased the Audible version of The Silent Tempest, which will allow me to complete this trilogy, and I can promise I’m moving straight on to Mageborn. I’m very high on this series and this author at the moment. I hope a few of you try him out.
Thanks for reading,
Matt

A 5-Star Review for Caught

A 5-Star Review for Caught

caught-front-coverI came home from work yesterday to a wonderful surprise. I have a new 5-Star review for Caught on Goodreads. I’m always grateful for reviews of any type. Feedback is how authors get better. That said, when those reviews are positive and with a bunch of starts, well, that makes my day!  Check out the review here to see what one reader thought of the new book!

Book Review: Betrayer’s Bane by Michael G. Manning

Book Review: Betrayer’s Bane by Michael G. Manning

Character:  I’ve spoken about sympathy a few times, and I always made it a point to mention there is a distinction between sympathy and likability. Tyrion, and most of this cast, are horrible. The only thing more horrid than their actions is what was done to place them in this path. I had an advantage here that I don’t think other readers had. I read this book first. Now I’m eagerly reading the first book in the series simply to find out how Tyrion came to be the way he is and act the way he acts.  He’s a brilliant character with devastating flaws that are all born of circumstances he couldn’t control. Readers will rip through the pages to find out if he can at least control himself.

Description: I’m pretty forgiving with description. If anyone argued that it was a bit hard to see some of the characters, I probably wouldn’t punch him, but the placement of the descriptive phrases allows my imagination to take over, which is preferable to me than painting a scene with words.

Thanks for reading,

Matt

99 cent Dragon’s Blood!

99 cent Dragon’s Blood!
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All images provided by the author with his permission.

You remember Anaerfell? It was one of the great covers in February’s Book Cover of the Month (made it to the final four)!

Well if you were looking for an excuse to pick it up (I already did), here’s one.

Joshua Robertson, the book’s author and a guy I’ve had the chance to sit on panels with and grow to truly respect, is selling the electronic version of Anaerfell: The Blood of the Dragons (see…headline makes sense now doesn’t it?) for just 99 cents in preparation for his new release June 7.

Blood and Bile is coming your way, and Joshua wanted to celebrate by making it next to impossible to avoid buying a copy of his work.

 

While Anaerfell is a bit farther down my TBR list than I’d like, I’m glad to have met him and excited to get to his book. If any of you are hankering for something to read, I wouldn’t pass up this deal. I’ve spent 99 cents on plenty of stuff, and this seems like a much bigger value than 32 ounces of soda.

So check it out. Even if you’re like me, and you just plop it in the TBR rotation, you’ll be even more glad you saved money.

Thanks for reading

Matt

Announcing the April Book Cover of the Month!

Announcing the April Book Cover of the Month!

The April Book Cover of the Month bracket has just wrapped up. Every author and designer should be stoked. This was the second-most voted on bracket in the history of this young competition. It had a total of 4,281 votes.

The April Book Cover of the Month is…

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This image is used under fair use doctrine for the purpose of bringing awareness and assisting the notoriety of this book.

Singular by Zack Hubert! If you’re curious about how I felt about the book, check out the Facebook post that I posted when this book first landed on the bracket, here.

Let’s look at the stats!

This book averaged about 78 votes a round, but it had some of the stiffest competition possible.  Hubert always seemed to get the number of votes he needed, which includes a dominant win in the finals.

We’re on a streak of first-time authors here. Singular is Hubert’s first novel as well.  Here’s the Amazon blurb.

Amazon:

(START BLURB)

Milo Bell is not an ordinary teenager.

While the rest of the students at Bright Futures #127 spend a majority of their time in the virtual world of their SeeSees, Milo spends every waking moment with his eccentric grandfather playing with the vintage computers which fill his house.

That is, every computer except for the mysterious machine with the name “LISA” scrawled on its side. An artifact from his days as an Artificial Intelligence researcher, Milo is afraid that his grandfather might be hiding something or be in some kind of trouble.

Milo’s worst fear is realized when his grandfather suddenly disappears, and he finds the unusual computer in his own bedroom. Milo begins to learn its deadly secret when it’s snatched from his hands, leading him on the most dangerous quest of his life.

Peril turns to disaster as the world begins to crumble around him. With few friends and powerful enemies, can Milo unlock the secrets of the machine before time runs out?

(END BLURB)

APRIL_Cover_Collage FinalI’ve purchased the book and added it to my TBR. (For those who are new to the deal, I buy the Book Cover of the Month to read and review in the future. I bought Manning’s cover, Howard’s cover, Deyo’s cover, and Steen Jones’s cover, and they are also on my TBR. In fact, my review for Betrayer’s Bane, Manning’s cover, is going to appear on this blog on Wednesday. I’m also happy to announce Mr. Manning was kind enough to grant me an interview, which you should all see on Saturday.

Here’s Ms. Hubert’s Twitter page. Head on over and follow him to see what he’s up to.

The artist for this cover is Gabe Rodriquez.  I’ll reach out to him and see if he’d like to have an interview.  I have his twitter handle (@gaber008 if you’d like to follow him as well). We’ll see if we can get an interview done for him.

The May bracket is shaping up and will launch on June 1. One more time, that will be a different sort of bracket. Instead of people voting one time per round, voters will vote all the way through the bracket. We’ll see how that goes, and I’ll ask you all your thoughts when that month wraps up.

I will continue to identify and select covers for each day from Amazon’s New Release section for fantasy and science fiction. If you follow and like my Facebook page, you can see what covers will make the bracket.

Thanks for reading

Matt

A Sojourn in Captivity Update: How I Use Beta Reader Feedback

A Sojourn in Captivity Update: How I Use Beta Reader Feedback
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As always, all stock images are from Pixabay.

Last weekend I received the feedback from my wonderful beta readers.  Before I do anything else, I’d like to thank them.  My deepest gratitude goes to:

Elizabeth Drake, Jenn Moss, C.L. Schneider, (The rest I’ll use first names only as they’re private citizens.) Ashley,  and Alora. You all are amazing people and very busy, and it means so much to me that you took time out of your schedules and lives to provide this humble indie author some insight into the book.  I didn’t imagine we’d have room for any sort of “acknowledgements” page, but eventually, I’ll be giving shoutouts to you and the alphas and editors.  But today is for you wonderful betas because it gave me the idea for this blog.

The story writing and editing process is as unique as the author creating the story. I thought it’d be interesting for me to share with you what I look for from and in a beta reader.

What I ask of them:
I’ll do another post at some point on what I look for in an alpha reader, but the short version is I’m more demanding of them because I need my alphas to make sure I don’t look like a moron. My betas are there for me to be test readers. So what I did is send them my character analysis sheets and ask a few questions.

mixing-1584267_960_720The character analysis sheet is just a term I made up to sound smart.  All I do is ask the readers to rank the character, description, dialogue, world building, and exposition for me on a scale of 1 to then.  I expand the “character” sliders to include sympathy, proactivity, competence, and power. This is how I review books; this is how I evaluate books, so this is how I like to receive feedback.

Then I ask what I feel the most important questions any author can ask the reader:
What do you think of the story as a whole?
What do you think about the main character (in this case Elele) at the beginning of the story?
What do you think of the main character at the end?
Would you want to read another story in which this character (and others) appear?

Then I invite the reader to add any thoughts they find relevant.

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One of these days I’m going to have a more accurate rendering of Elele, but until then, you’ll keep seeing this very rough concept sketch. 

So I sent the book out to betas and gave them a few weeks (I try to let them have two days to read a single chapter or segment) to read the story. When I got the feedback, the first thing I did was thank them for their time.  This is critical authors. These folks are reading your work, the least you can do is let them know what it means to have them offer their time.

Then I opened up a document and typed whatever comments they gave me. For those who quite frankly went the extra mile and sent back the document with notes in the copy, I saved those files to a folder.

I’d be very interested to see what others do via the comments below, but here’s what I do:

Respect everything they say. You’re going to hear feedback. You won’t like all of it. Heck, you might not like any of it. I turn my ego in before I open a document.

While everything each beta says is valuable, what I look for is overlap.  What do they all love? What do they all hate? What do they all think? What trends do I see.  This is why I tend to want between 10 and 20 betas. The bigger the sample size, the more likely you’ll have enough opinions to really help you sort things out.

I’ll peel back the onion a bit here. The number one bit of feedback I got from every single beta is, “The story starts too slowly. There’s too much information to swallow.” Or something to that effect.  Here’s how feedback works in the photojournalism field. One person’s opinion is just one persons opinion, but if everybody who says anything says the same thing, that’s truth.  They all wanted to start closer to the action. (And when I review Conflict and Suspense, I’ll talk about that a lot more).

So when the majority of the betas say the same thing, I trust that majority. But what do you do when there isn’t one?

horizontal-2071304_960_720Well, I sort of take the liberty to trust my own feelings. If it’s a mixed bag, I understand that people are going to like some things and hate others.

I put the bigger weight on the betas who fall within my target audience. They’re the ones who I care most about because they’re the ones I want to buy this story. Some of the beta readers I have here provided critical information, but they’re more secondary alphas than actual betas. I trust their options more in matters of style and craft.

So an example might be if one of my style and craft beta readers thinks the dialogue isn’t working, I trust that, because they’re experts. I do this even if my “main audience” betas gave my dialogue 10s. This works because if I improve the writing of the dialogue, the “main audience” betas are only going to like it more.  I give those main audience more weight in terms of how they feel about the character and the plot.

An example might be YA themes. I’m not actually a fan of teen or YA books.  I can appreciate them and respect them, but I don’t like some of the storytelling elements in those genres. So if one of my friends asks me to read a YA book, I read it, but I’m not going to tell them I don’t like this character of that character if I can tell it’s a genre bias. But if I sent a YA book to a 19-year-old, and she hates the character, then I’m real scared.

So that’s it.  I look for overlap (what are they all saying or agreeing on). Then I give tie breakers depending on why I asked that person to beta read.

Armed with my feedback, I create a “revision plan” document in which I plan on going over each segment several times (one time per issue I annotate in my plan). Then I go over it again (another several times) for each document the betas sent me via the actual copy of the story.

Once I finish this draft, it’s off to my editor for a copy-edit, and then I send it out.  How do you use beta feedback?

I want to say one more time how grateful I am to those beta readers who helped me out. I may not apply all of your changes, but everything you said was heard and noted. You’ve made me a better writer, and I can’t thank you enough for that.

Thank you for reading,

Matt