Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Going Wide With The Warrior and The Holy Man

Picture For the last six months, I've been doing an experiment with having some books exclusive on Amazon, in the Select program for indie authors. The perks of going exclusively with Amazon are that you can have your choice between running a "Countdown" sale or free giveaway days on your book, and also your book is put into the Kindle Unlimited subscription program. The idea behind these is getting more exposure for your work.

I found the results of the experiment, for me, underwhelming. I did have some successful free giveaways, getting copies of those two books into several hundred readers' hands. But the long-term benefits are uncertain, and the days when a free giveaway on Amazon would give a long-lasting rankings and visibility boost seem to be long gone. As for Kindle Unlimited, some authors have seen their incomes soar with the program, others have seen drastic drops. The deal with Kindle Unlimited, as far as how authors get paid, is that an equal share is paid out of a monthly pool of money for each borrow, with a short story that would normally cost 99 cents to buy and a 500,000 word epic priced at $9.99 getting the same amount. When I put those two books into Kindle Unlimited, the share was around $2 per borrow. Which wasn't a whole lot less than I would get on a sale of those books, priced at $2.99 and $3.99. However, within a few months, the per-borrow share dropped drastically, to under $1.40. This meant that on borrows of my $3.99 book, I was making about half of what I would make on a sale. That's a pretty big reduction, unless you're getting tons of borrows (and exposure), which this book wasn't. So I came to the decision that the benefits of being in Kindle Unlimited (and the corresponding drop in payment) weren't worth giving up the wider exposure of being on other sales platforms.

The upshot of all this is that The Warrior and the Holy Man, which came out of Select a few days ago, is now available at iTunes, Kobo, Smashwords, DriveThruFiction, and OmniLit, and it'll be coming soon to Barnes & Noble (it's been submitted; just waiting for the people there to do whatever it is they do to make it go live). Beneath the Canyons finishes its 90-day term in Select early next week, and will be going wide as well. The release of Bad Hunting has been delayed because I lost about a month of work time between the run-up to Thanksgiving and the start of the new year, but it works out because it should be coming out a couple weeks after Beneath the Canyons goes wide and will be available on all my current sales channels, hopefully giving both books a nice visibility boost.

I'm also looking into adding some new channels, including Google Play (tricky because they do a lot of discounting, which Amazon then price-matches, even to the point of making a book free when you don't want it to be free), and setting up direct sales from my site. Also tricky because of the wild and wacky world of sales taxes and VAT, but there are some shopping cart sites I'm looking into that handle the tax stuff. Right now, getting Bad Hunting ready for release and getting back on track on my writing schedule is the first priority, but I hope to be able to get these expanded sales channels set up before too long.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Author Spotlight: J.R. Boles

J.R. Boles
1. Tell us a little about yourself.
I’m a mom, writer, and attorney. I spend every free second reading or writing. My three-year-old daughter knows our local librarians by name. We spend a fair amount of time reading in our house, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I grew up reading Mercedes Lackey and J.R.R. Tolkein, dreaming away in the infinite worlds that were opened up to me in books.

2. When did you start writing, and why?

I started writing in high school because I just couldn’t help it. I would get bored, and because I have no artistic ability instead of doodles I would write out little character bios. I earned a creative writing degree from the University of Missouri-Kansas City, and it was there that I started writing in earnest.

3. What do you write, and why? What do you enjoy about what you write?

Fantasy, paranormal, and dystopian novels tend to be the projects that really ignite my imagination. I love the world building and character development that goes with them. The day dreaming that begins the writing process is my favorite part.

4. What is your latest book or series? Any forthcoming books?

Currently, I’m working on the sequel to Bringer of Light. I wrote the first half as part of NaNoWriMo last year, and I’m close to having a complete first draft. I also have a dystopian novel that I wrote for NaNoWriMo in 2013 with a Choctaw main character that I can’t wait to finish later this year. I’ve also got an urban fantasy novel that I’m excited to write with my writing partner, Sara Kincaid, based in Kansas City.

5. "Welcome To My Worlds": Tell us a little about the world of your latest book or series.

The world in Bringer of Light is one on the brink of all out war. The dark mage Mercer is descended from a race that once dominated the world, and he is bent on reclaiming what he views as his birthright. The kingdom of Arten borders Mercer’s territory and has spent generations beating back his advancing forces. In Arten, they view magic itself as the enemy to ensure that all magic users are reported and either executed or banished. It would be too dangerous for them to have one of Mercer’s recruits able to climb too high in their army. In other nations, Mercer’s attacks are far more insidious, but more on that later (spoilers).

Bringer of Light
6. Introduce us to some of your characters. What do you like about them?
The two characters with main point of view are Lynden Trenadin and Jonathen Oren. Lynden is a Queen’s Champion, an elite warrior chosen to fight beside the queen in Arten. She is the catalyst character for the whole series. I dreamed her up first and everything else evolved from there. She values friendship and honesty, and the important moments for her are those spent around a campfire drinking tea and swapping stories. She’s driven, but she would never leave a friend behind. I love that she thinks of her friends as family and would stand by them unconditionally.

Jonathen Oren is a captain in the queen’s army. He is Lynden’s oldest friend. They spent their childhood learning to be warriors like their fathers as they ran around the campfires of various campaigns. He’s always thinking about the greater good. Jonathen is the guy everyone turns to in a moment of crisis. He will always have your back.

7. A fun fact you would like your readers to know about you or your book.

I wrote a big portion of Bringer of Light when I was in class during law school. It looked like I was diligently taking notes on Contract Law when really I’d just reached a part of the story that I couldn’t stop. Thank goodness I didn’t get called on during those moments.

8. Blog/site link, and where your book is available.

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads

Pick up your copy of Bringer of Light today:
Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Bringer of Light:For generations, the kingdom of Arten has stood alone against the ancient dark mage Mercer, a man no longer bound by time. But when King Wern is kidnapped, Queen Arin will risk everything to get him back.
Lynden Trenadin is chosen to join the ranks of the elite Queen's Champions both for her prowess as a warrior and her remarkable resemblance to the queen. She has spent her life battling at Arten's borders, but now she must defend the queen with her life as they journey to their enemy's castle. When the tide of battle goes against them, Lynden unleashes a magical power she didn't know she possessed. Even though she saved hundreds of warriors, Lynden is forced to flee in shame for her use of forbidden magic.
Now on the run, Lynden must raise a rebellion to free her country from the tyranny of the enemy she thought she'd destroyed. A band of loyalists and an enclave of ancient mages aid her in her efforts, but with a dark mage bent on her destruction, Lynden must discover a way to harness her new magic before it is too late.

About the Author:
J.R. Boles is a fantasy and fiction writer currently hanging her hat in the Heartland with her husband where they spend their free time chasing after their fearless daughter. She is a graduate of the University of Missouri-Kansas City with a degree in English and American University Washington College of Law.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Scenes from Daughter of the Wildings

Low Sonoran desert, south of Phoenix from I-10. Photo: K. Halland, 2015. Creative Commons: Attribution, non-commercial
The physical world of Daughter of the Wildings was inspired by the landscapes of the western U.S., where I was born and raised and still live. From the surroundings I grew up in and live in, to scenes viewed from the car on family road trips, it's all familiar to me. I do my best to paint these landscapes in words in my books, but sometimes you can't show everything with words. There's a reason for the saying, A picture is worth a thousand words. So for those of you who aren't as familiar with these scenes, or if you are and still want a visualization, I've posted a collection of photos of landscapes and scenery that helped inspire Daughter of the Wildings on my main site. (Too many photos to easily copy over!)

Friday, January 16, 2015

Reading A-Z Round-up: A-G

To try to clear out the backlog of books on my Kindle a little, I decided to read one book for each letter from A to Z. So far I've made it through G (I'm currently reading H). Here's what I've read so far, with a few thoughts and links to the books/reviews on Goodreads.

First: please note, again, I am not a book reviewer and this is not a book review blog. I don't accept review requests (with very rare exceptions). I'm just an author who also likes to read, sharing things I've enjoyed reading.

The rules for my own personal challenge: The books have to already be on my Kindle (unless I get to a letter where I only have samples, then I can buy one of those books). If I don't finish reading the book, it doesn't count. Indie authors preferred.
Across a Moonlit Sea
Across A Moonlit Sea, Marsh Canham

Across a Moonlit Sea is old-school, over-the-top, swashbuckling, bodice-ripping (Isabeau goes through at least two or three shirts and Dante loses one or two as well) romance set in the age of gold-laden Spanish ships sailing from the New World and English privateers seeking their fortunes. Attacked by a Spanish fleet and betrayed by his partner, privateer Simon Dante and his crew are stranded at sea when they're rescued by a small merchant ship, captained by the colorful Captain Spence and his daughter Isabeau (Beau), who would rather steer a ship and draw maps than wear a dress. Exciting battles at sea and loads of steamy (but not overly graphic) romance ensue. (My review)

Bailin', Linton Robinson

Bailin' was really funny. How funny, you ask? I was sitting in the dentist chair, reading this on my Kindle while waiting for Lady Pain, er, the hygienist to come in and get to work, and laughing out loud instead of crying like I usually do. (I have very sensitive teeth. Really.)

So, we have Cole Haskins, a smooth-talking modern-day gunslinger who would rather live an easy life of holding up banks and armored cars than get a, you know, JOB, and his lover/getaway driver, former truck stop princess Bunny Beaumont, the brains in the outfit. Then we have the world's most inept drug smugglers, two-man motorcycle gang Flathead and Bogart (there are no brains in this outfit, except that Bogart has kind of an idiot savant genius for cobbling together dangerously fast vehicles that are unsafe at any speed, and Flathead at least has the self-preservation instinct to want to stay off of them). Then there's Alvin Hunstetter, the nervously larcenous city treasurer who makes off with the stadium fund and skips bail. Add in a good, honest bounty hunter (when the most upstanding citizen in the story is a bounty hunter, that kind of gives you an idea of what you're dealing with here), an insanely homicidal ninja bounty hunter, and some crooked city officials, throw them all together in an action-packed chase along the Texas-Mexico border, top off with a slyly humorous narrative voice, and you've got a wildly entertaining read that's impossible to put down. (My review)

Crimson, Warren Fahy

Big, sprawling, whimsical epic fantasy about a young prince, Trevin, who ascends to the throne after being told by his dying father that the color crimson and what he loves most will be his doom. The way Trevin chooses to deal with this prophecy seems to bring on the doom anyway and only the courage of an intrepid group of sailors and the love and devotion of his queen can save him and their world. (My review)

Darkmage, M.L. Spencer

I'm not really sure what to say about Darkmage. Epic fantasy, though very dark, in an interesting magical world, pretty well written. But I had a problem accepting the basic premise, that in a world where all life and civilization is threatened by an all-powerful Enemy, those best able to fight this enemy, the mages, would place themselves under a physically binding vow of non-violence - and what's more, the people threatened by the enemy would expect the mages to abide by this vow and, furthermore, would refuse to lift a finger in their own defense other than sending ragtag bands of convicts up to the front to serve as cannon fodder in holding the enemy off a little longer. The books explores one mage's decision to break that vow and fight.

Even though I had trouble with the premise, I can still say that if you're interested in a philosophical exploration of the question of whether vows of non-violence are worth it, and are up for reading a very long and dark but exciting fantasy, give Darkmage a try.

An Exercise in Futility
An Exercise in Futility, Steve Thomas

I enjoyed Steve Thomas's very funny Klondaeg books (reviewed here) and decided to give some of his other works a try. An Exercise in Futility is very different, serious, almost tragic (though not without a note of hope at the end). When the nomadic Gurdur tribes are threatened with conquest by the ruthless Empire to the south, young Ezekiel longs to join in the battle. Instead, his magical gifts dictate he go away for training to fight in a different way. His gift turns out to be for necromancy, which has obvious uses in war. But while any garden-variety necromancer can raise an army of the undead, it takes an extraordinary one to think of using his powers on himself - and on an entire culture. I liked An Exercise in Futility as much as the Klondaeg books, and have added more of Steve Thomas's work to my (ever-growing, despite my best efforts) reading list. (My review)

Flash Gold, Lindsay Buroker

Lindsay Buroker's Emperor's Edge series (and the Encrypted series that goes along with it) are favorites of mine. Flash Gold is the first book in a different series, set in an alternate steampunk/fantasy version of the Yukon Gold Rush. Kali is determined to win a dogsled race with her dogless sled and use the money to get away to someplace warmer and safer. The mysterious Cedar hires himself on as her bodyguard and "musher", which turns out to be a good thing when it seems like every villainous character in the west is after Kali and her secrets. Loved this, and I'm looking forward to reading more books in the series. It would also make a good addition to my Western With A Twist book collection.

Ghost Aria and Ghost Dagger, Jonathan Moeller

"G" is two stories set in the wonderful Ghost series, featuring Caina, the young assassin with a dark and terrible past and the ability to sense the sorcery that is causing so much trouble in her world. In Ghost Aria, Caina investigates a mysterious murder that takes place at the opera house where she works undercover as an assistant to the reigning diva. In Ghost Dagger, a tragic curse in a nobleman's house takes Caina on a nightmarish journey through her dreams. Mystery, danger, and magic abound in both stories. I highly recommend the Ghost series, and I'm also planning to check out Jonathan Moeller's many other series.

Now I'm on "H"; once I've read another handful of books I'll do another round-up.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Author Spotlight: Brandy Isaacs

Brandy Isaacs
1. Tell us a little about yourself.
Call me Ishmael…wait—no, I mean—I’m Brandy Isaacs.  I’m originally from Lexington, KY but I am now living in the Chicago-land area.  As much as I wish I could spend all my time writing, I have to pay the bills and work full-time in development for a non-profit and I also teach writing courses on the side.

2. When did you start writing, and why?

The first real thing I remember writing was a story about a lost kitten who finds a home.  I was probably about 12-ish and my mom helped me find a publisher to send the story to.  I’m sure it was terrible but she supported me.  Years later, as in I was probably 16 or so, I received a letter from the publisher thanking me for submitting the story but it, basically, wasn’t their cup of tea.  I was touched that someone was nice enough to respond.

I think I have always been a writer—academically or creatively and I’m pretty sure it all started because of a love of reading.  I was a reader before I could read.  My mom read to me until I could read on my own—I have her to thank for everything that followed.

Devil Inside
3. What do you write, and why? What do you enjoy about what you write?
I, so far, write paranormal fiction.  Because, that’s what I love to read.  I have two degrees in Literature and my favorite type has always been the dark, the macabre, the fantastic.  Even in movies and TV shows that’s what I gravitate towards.  I think I love it so much because not only is it exciting to me—but it can mean so much more than the words on the page.  Sometimes a zombie is just a zombie—but sometimes it’s not.

4. What is your latest book or series? Any forthcoming books?

Currently, I am working on a book called Don’t Let Them Find You.  I am pretty close to being done with the first draft.

Ride to the Devil
5. "Welcome To My Worlds": Tell us a little about the world of your latest book or series.
I wanted very much for the world of Don’t Let Them Find You to be our world—with a twist.  I wanted Sydney and Xander to be ordinary people reacting to extraordinary events.  I can’t tell you much about the book without spoilers…but Sydney wakes up next to Lake Michigan with no memory and the words “don’t let them find you” written (by herself apparently) on her arm.  Thus begins her struggle to stay alive and hide from unknown enemies.

6. Introduce us to some of your characters. What do you like about them?

Harley (from The Devil Series) is the superhero, my attempt to create a Jean Gray or Black Widow.  She’s impulsive, tough and all around badass.

Talia (from That Which Is Lost) is a troubled woman trying to find strength she didn’t know she had.

Sydney (from Don’t Let Them Find You) is an ordinary woman sucked into circumstances she didn’t ask for, just trying to keep herself and her friends alive.

As the Devil's Painted
7. A fun fact you would like your readers to know about you or your book.
This question turned out to be harder than I expected…Any time I’m writing I’m either being a cliche at a coffee shop with my latte and music focused on my laptop hoping no one is reading over my shoulder (stuff can get pretty steamy sometimes) or I’m at home writing with my cat and my book fighting for attention.

8. Blog/site link, and where your book is available.

Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads | Amazon

My books are available on Amazon.

I love talking about my writing, books, characters, or anything anyone wants to ask me about.  Feel free to reach out anytime!

    Thank you all!

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Author Spotlight: J. Lawrence

Introducing fantasy author J. Lawrence:

1. Tell us a little about yourself:
Married over single. Dogs over cats. Pick-up truck over sports-car. Reading over TV. Cards over Chess. Risk over Monopoly. Coffee over tea. Deep philosophical, political, or even religious discussion will always get me over small talk. Fall over any season. Night over day. Beer over wine, unless it’s Moscato, and then all bets are off.

2. When did you start writing, and why?
I had been having nightmares and stark realistic visions for years. Day or night. Relaxed or busy. I could be in the middle of anything and suddenly would be transported to another place called Arth. Riding behind the eyes of hundreds of people, I experienced all they did. I loved, fought, and died. Wives? I’ve had hundreds. I have taken a thousand last breaths. I knew it wasn’t normal. Yet, the episodes felt so real, the personalities I inhabited so fully engrossing that I’m not sure I would have stopped it all even if I knew how. Obviously, I feared that I was going mad. It was all impossible after all. Then, I was surfing the Web one night and saw something that convinced me that it was all real. I started writing The Sagas of Di’Ghon shortly thereafter.

3. What do you write, and why? What do you enjoy about what you write?
Technically, what I write is classified as fantasy. I don’t see it that way. I see myself as a scribe relaying a story that must be told. I do enjoy writing. Some of the people in my head have become old friends. I could see myself tearing off the heel of crusty bread and washing it down with ale with many of them. There are others though that I couldn’t imagine being in their presence for more than instant without succumbing to the urge to put them out of their misery. It is a balance of sorts but to be honest, when I write about the darker characters I feel little pieces of my soul darkening.

4. What is your latest book or series? Any forthcoming books?
My series is called The Sagas of Di’Ghon. The title of book one is Inborn. Book two is called Ramphyr. I am currently working on Dra’Ghon, which will be the completion to the first trilogy of The Sagas of Di’Ghon. Side note: My youngest daughter is twelve and my books are far too dark for her precious mind. Since she is the only full-fledged bookwyrm I have managed to create, I have succumbed to the desire to write something she can read and have begun working on a YA Dystopian. It is real fiction and not at all a product of Arth’s pulling me away. We are making it up and writing it together and I must say that I am enjoying the process immensely.

5. "Welcome To My Worlds": Tell us a little about the world of your latest book or series.
Arth is a brutal place. The Anwar Region is a vast frozen mountainous wilderness that ruled by Feudal lords and clanheads. Ontar Hold is no exception. It is the frigid ancestral home to an ancient family with a dark secret, one that will soon be exposed.

6. Introduce us to some of your characters. What do you like about them?
Thaniel is a slave in Ontar Hold. He doesn’t have a bad job really. As a messenger he has the run of the Hold. He’s shy and more than a bit awkward around girls, especially Elycia, who he’s had his eyes on for a while. In fact, all he really wants is for her to be his Kiss at the Festival of the Caller. He finally gets her to wear his blossom in her hair but then something goes terribly wrong. What happens next changes his life, as well as that of his friends, forever. What I like most about Thaniel is his how fast he makes up his mind to do something. It doesn’t always work out the best for him, but that’s purely immaterial. The shy boy has more balls than the supply locker of the New York Yankees.

Keriim is a decorated warrior, one of the vaunted First of Ontar, the personal protectors of Lisella Ontar. He is desired, powerful, and women love him. He’s also a serial killer. There isn’t anything I like about this sick bastard. I’s shove a screwdriver in his eye.

Elycia doesn’t want to be Keriim’s next victim. I hope she makes it. I really do. She is a good girl, even if a bit broken by being dumped into slavery by her no-good father.

7. A fun fact you would like your readers to know about you or your book.
I read a fair amount. Some authors name their chapters. Some don’t. If they are named, it is usually some slick wrap up phrase. I am neither smart nor talented enough for that. But I don’t want everyone to know that... so, I name every chapter. I just take something from the end of the chapter that catches my eye and use that. Some have told me that they enjoy trying to guess how in the world the chapter will end up there. Good luck!

Where to find J. Lawrence:Goodreads | Facebook
| Twitter | Amazon
Inborn (Sagas of Di'Ghon Book 1):
The Code Sings.
The Caller has Returned.
The Blood of Ontar Will Rise Again.

Every action has consequences. Some change everything for the good. Others can get you killed. The worst kind can get people you love killed instead. 

Thaniel never meant to hurt anyone. But he wasn't the type to do nothing while the innocent got hurt. So when he saw the terror in his girl's eyes and a soldier chasing her, he couldn't just stand there. 

Thaniel wasn't looking for enemies. As a slave, he wasn't trying to attract the attention of the Ontar either. He definitely never meant to awaken any kind of lurking Inborn magic. Especially not the kind that can be used to Call monsters down out of the sky. 

But he did... 

As the whirlwind of consequence gains intensity and the people he loves the most are swept into the tumult, it's up to Thaniel to find a way to save his loved ones. Join Thaniel and friends as he discovers that monsters are not just born... 

Sometimes, they are Inborn.

Inborn is available at Amazon

Ramphyr (Sagas of Di'Ghon Book 2): THE CODE WILLS. 

Lars Telazno told Thaniel that wielding the Jen’Ghon before he’d been trained could be disastrous. He’d even warned him that he could hurt the people he loved. 

Thaniel was born headstrong... 

Join Thaniel and his friends, as he learns that the chains forged in the crucible of regret weigh the most—and that monsters don’t die that easily, especially when... 

They are Ramphyr.

Ramphyr is available at Amazon

Thursday, January 8, 2015

2014 Wrap-Up, 2015 Look Ahead

blank bookphoto by typofi Once again in December I seriously overestimated my ability to get things done when life was busy and I was exhausted. But lots of fun was had, and lots of yummy food was made and eaten. The edits on Bad Hunting are still ongoing; I'm still really hoping for a January release but it might scootch into February. I also got another Estelend novel, The Healing Tree (bad working title) planned out; writing will commence once life settles down and gets back to normal. Tales of Azara and The Source-Fixer are complete and awaiting revision.

Looking back on 2014 as a whole: I only released two books, Sarya's Song and Beneath the Canyons. I've done some experimenting with various kinds of marketing and distribution, with mixed results. My health scare at the beginning of the year set me back, and the Daughter of the Wildings revisions ended up being a lot more work than I anticipated. But I kept going, and at least I got those two books out and also wrote Tales of Azara and The Source-Fixer.

Looking ahead to this year, I expect to have at least five books out, the rest of the Daughter of the Wildings series. I hope. It would be great to also get Tales of Azara out, and some more short fiction. The Healing Tree is next in line to get written, and I'm working on some short fiction ideas and also have plans for a sequel to Urdaisunia in the works.

In the past year, there've been a lot of shakeups in the indie author scene, and I'm mulling over some different ways to approach this crazy business of writing and self-publishing. Looking at some more distribution options, figuring out how to make Amazon exclusivity and Kindle Unlimited work for me instead of against me, becoming less dependent on Facebook, concentrating my marketing on more effective approaches instead of just random self-promotion in any old place where authors don't get chased away for mentioning their books, experimenting with pricing and packaging. I'm coming up with some interesting ideas; stay tuned!

On the reading front, I'm now at G on my A-Z challenge. It's going faster now that I'm choosing shorter books! Coming up soon I'll do a more detailed post, listing the books I've read so far and giving links to the reviews, or at least my thoughts on them.

It's late and I'm brain-fried and we've got a couple more busy days coming up, then everything should get back to normal. *knock on wood*

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Book Review: The Grind

Still working up to write the look back/look ahead post (I left my brain somewhere back between Christmas and New Year's and haven't found it yet), so here's another book review, that I actually wrote in November and never posted. (As a reminder, I'm not a book review blogger, and I almost never accept review requests. The following review is a rare exception, for reasons which will become clear.)
The Grind, by Nikki M. Pill
* * * * * (5 stars)
I read and reviewed The Tease, book 1 in the Darling Killer Trilogy, last summer and enjoyed it very much, so I was thrilled and honored when the author contacted me and asked if I would review an ARC of book 2, The Grind. I'm happy to say that once again, I very much enjoyed this book.

Anna Zendel is a disgraced therapist and a burlesque dancer who is being stalked by a serial killer. At the end of The Tease, it looked like the killer had been caught - but then another character drops a line of dialogue that turns everything around and makes you realize, no, the killer wasn't caught at all. In The Grind, Anna is trying to move on from the events in book 1. She's facing an ethics hearing to determine whether or not she will be allowed to continue practicing her profession and trying to put her burlesque troupe back together. The last thing she needs is for the killer to reappear, making demands along with the killings, and for one of her new troupe members to turn out to be psycho.

The story is suspenseful and engrossing, and at times heartbreaking, balanced out with Anna's dry humor - sometimes the only thing that's keeping her sane. I enjoyed getting to know her hippie father, whose mantras bear an uncanny resemblance to Beatles songs, and chewing my nails in delicious anxiety as I watched the character who may have revealed him/herself as the killer in the last book insinuate her/himself more closely into Anna's life. The members of her burlesque troupe (hers, because she's taken over as the director), both returning from book 1 and new in this book, are a colorful and likeable bunch, and the descriptions of their acts are entertaining. The story arc is masterfully constructed; I saw the suspect character playing more of a role in Anna's life, and started to doubt my instincts about that character, then at the end, after a claustrophobic and truly scary showdown against another villain, that character drops another line that's like a punch to the gut and I realized how close to disaster Anna really is. The last part of The Grind was another one of those where I stayed up way too late to see how it all turned out.

My only problem with the book is similar to the one I had with The Tease, the somewhat heavy-handed delivery of a social message. But that part is brief and soon left behind, and we return to the engaging story of Anna's attempts to deal with rabid reporters, suspicious police, psycho troupe members, her upcoming ethics hearing, tragic losses, and her growing feelings for someone whom she's afraid to love because she doesn't want him to get hurt, all while hoping to stay alive long enough to catch the real killer. It's a breathless, entertaining, well-written ride, and I am eagerly looking forward to the next book.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Book Review: The Plains of Kallanash

Working on the monthly (and New Year's) look back/look ahead post; in the meantime, here's a book for you to check out:
The Plains of Kallanash
The Plains of Kallanash, by Pauline M. Ross

* * * * (4 stars)

The Plains of Kallanash takes us into a world where magic once existed but was lost in a great Catastrophe. The Plains at the heart of the world are now peopled by a civilization ruled by a mysterious, powerful, and omnipresent religion, which enforces a highly stratified social order governed by strict rules and customs. Group marriage is the norm among the nobility, or Karningholders, and the men of the Plains are engaged in a never-ending but carefully-regulated war against rampaging barbarians beyond their borders. 

Quiet and gentle Mia, her sister-wife Tella, and their co-husbands Jonnor and Hurst enjoy a comfortable, stable life despite Mia's feelings of unrequited love for Jonnor, who has taken Tella as his primary wife, and Hurst's for Mia; as the junior partners in the marriage, they are forbidden to consummate their relationship without permission from the senior husband. When first one and then the other of the senior couple die under mysterious circumstances, Mia begins to ask too many questions, and finds herself banished into a world she never imagined. When Hurst undertakes to discover the truth, the lies on which their civilization is based are gradually revealed, bringing Hurst and others to the unavoidable conclusion that everything they know has to be overturned.

This is a very long book, with a lot going on. It starts out at a good pace, developing the complex relationships between the characters and the original, and cruel and chilling, society they live in (among other things, when a member of the nobility dies, his or her Companions, something between an adopted sibling and a servant, are put to death alongside them). The mystery deepens with the deaths in Mia's household until the shocking revelations that come in the wake of her own punishment. From there, the pacing and conflict sometimes sags, though we do get to see some fascinating glimpses of the Plains' ancient magical history. Hurst's discovery of the truth culminates in a cleverly-plotted rebellion, which brings in more surprising revelations about the world. The climax of the book seems incomplete, a little too easy and comfortable, and some key events are told at a distance. I would have liked to be more in the thick of things as they were worked out, and for the protagonists to experience more tension and hardship in the process. After the climax, most of the story threads are tied up nicely, with just a few left dangling for future stories set in the same world.

The romantic aspect takes an unexpected turn, as Mia finds herself torn between two lovers (cue cheesy 70s pop song, or rather, don't). The unconventional solution proves satisfactory to all involved; however, I'm somewhat more conventional and straightlaced in my romance preferences and was a little taken aback. The book contains some mildly graphic sex scenes, including some menage-y bits.

The writing style is clear, smooth, and literate. The author doesn't over-explain the strange customs and other alien aspects of her world, but does give the reader enough clues to have a comfortable grasp of what's going on.

On the whole, The Plains of Kallanash is an enjoyable epic fantasy in a highly original setting combining echoes of an ancient magical past with surprisingly advanced technology such as skyships, with a mysterious history, likeable, engaging characters, and an unconventional romance. Recommended for fantasy readers who want something a little different.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Science Fiction and Fantasy Mad January Sale!

Today, January 1, don't miss the Science Fiction and Fantasy Mad January Sale! Lots of great fantasy and sf books are on sale for only 99 cents, including Urdaisunia. If you haven't yet read this tale of war and rebellion, honor and betrayal, love against all odds, and gods behaving badly, now's your chance to get it for a special low price. You can read about some of the books featured in the sale on the sponsoring blog, Patty Jansen's Must Use Bigger Elephants.

If you're looking for some ebook bargains in other genres, the Stocking Your E-Reader Sale is still ongoing through Jan. 2. Browse the books and enter the giveaway for a new Kindle reader and an Amazon gift card!