Book Review: Given To the Earth by Mindy McGinnis

Given To the Earth (Given Duet, #2)Given To the Earth by Mindy McGinnis

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Given to the Earth is a continuation of the events in Given to the Earth. I’ll refrain from describing the plot in this review because I’m not sure I can do so without spoilers or copying too much for the blurb.

On the sentence level, the writing was lovely. I never had trouble picturing anything, and felt every time the writer stopped to describe something in detail, it was relevant and layered with meaning. However, that wasn’t enough for me to be drawn in the book like I expected to be.

As much as I loved the cast of the Given Duet, I had a hard time getting into Given to the Earth. I wanted to spend more time with the characters and to find out what happened to them, but the short chapters quickly jumping from one character to the next made it hard for to settle into a rhythm and engage with the story.

I also found I had a hard time keeping track of who was narrating when and found myself flipping back to the beginning of chapters (at least with the first half of the book) to remind myself who was narrating. I always knew when Khosa or Dara was narrating, but there were a few instances where I thought I was reading Vincent but after a couple paragraphs, realized it was Donil when he said Vincent’s name or thought about his sister, Dara.

However, when I was a little over half-way through the book, that problem stopped. I found the rhythm of each characters voice and the rapid fire switching from one narrator to the next became a good thing because I wanted to know how everyone’s narratives fit together and how a string of good and bad decisions were going to play out in the end. I was engaged with the narrative that couldn’t fall asleep and got up to finish the book.

As I got closer to the end, I realized that this book was doing something that I love and hate: showing how dozens of decisions each characters make turn into mistakes because of their timing and a lack of communication, bring the characters so close to what could’ve been a peaceful or happy ending (for most of them) only to have it completely turned over by one thing that they overlooked.

There were a few surprises along the way, mostly, the narrative ended exactly how I knew it would and hoped it wouldn’t. It became too familiar. There were a few moments where I was thinking things like “ok I guess ___ had to ___ in order for ___ and ___ to have a happy ending” but after a good night’s sleep and reflection on how this compared to the book I read before it, I realized it didn’t have to end that way. The author could’ve broken the trope and come up with a more creative ending were more people live happily with each other. I know this is vague, but being any more specific would mean spoilers, which I don’t want to include.

Given to the Earth may not be the best sequel I’ve ever read, but if you read Given to the Sea and enjoyed it, this is still worth reading. It’s well written and well paced once you get into the rhythm of the narrators and their voices. And if you’re okay with teary traditional endings to fantasy novels with almost Arthurian love triangles, them maybe you won’t have the same problem with this that I did.

View all my reviews

Cover Matters Part 2: Making A Book’s Cover Art

In my experiences with small, independent publishers, making a cover is a collaboration between the author and/or editor and artist.

With NineStar Press, I experienced the cover making process as an author for one book. With B Cubed Press, I was the cover artist for three books: two multi-author anthologies and one sing-author poetry collection.

Getting a Feel for the Book

In order to start designing, the artist needs to know a few things about the book.

At NineStar Press, the process started me with (the author) filling out an information form. I included my blurb and pitches for the book, which served a double purpose. They gave the artist a feel for the story, and they was also for their publisher to use on their website and on retailer sites.

The second part of the form was specifically for the cover artist. I was asked to describe the book’s physical setting and the time period it was set in (if it wasn’t a secondary world). I was asked to use three adjectives to describe the mood or tone of the book. Another set of questions focused on the main characters – their physical appearance, age, gender and orientation. The form asked if there were any significant symbols or images repeated throughout the book. All of these helped the artist come up with a concept that would accurately reflect the book and it’s characters.

But that wasn’t all. The form also allowed me to include links to three covers I liked and had a section at the end where I could write about additional characters or describe a concept I had in mind. Surprisingly, I didn’t have a specific idea of how I wanted the cover to look, but I did know what I didn’t want: lightening. My novel isn’t the only Power Surge and I wanted it to stand out among other search engine results. Since most of the other books bearing that title featured some kind of lightening, it was important that my book didn’t have lightening on the cover.

With B Cubed Press the process the process was less structured. They needed a new cover artist for their Alternative Theology anthology, so I used the description on the call for submissions to draft a cover to propose. After committing to that cover, I was asked to do one for After the Orange and a poetry collection.

With After the Orange, I did read the blurb that had accompanied the submission call to get started, but Bob Brown, the founder of B Cubed Press, sent me an email describing the tone of the anthology and sent me an image he wanted to use on the cover.

For the poetry collection, the author sent me a selection of photographs to choose from, a detailed description of the collection’s tone, and the title poem.

While one process was very structured and the other more open and free-flowing, at this stage, the cover artist’s job was to familiarize them with the book and the authors desire for the cover.

Drafts and Revisions

After reviewing the information provided about the book, the artist sends a draft cover.  This wasn’t a polished product; it was more of a mock up to see if the artist is on the right track.

When I saw the first draft of my cover for Power Surge, I loved the color theme, the background, and the font, but the model just didn’t look right. She was too feminine, more like one of the minor characters than the main character, and looked more like someone in their mid-twenties than a high school senior. I replied saying so.

Later that day, I got a second version with a different model. This one had the right tom-boy appearance, but they looked even more mature than the first model. I sent some photos that I hoped would give the artist a better idea of what I was looking for, but they weren’t able to use those for legal reasons. While studying the draft, I saw a watermark. The pub don’t buy the photos until they know are going to use them – so I went on the sight they buy their photos from and found images I thought would be a better representation of my character. I sent those links, and the artist chose one of those. I may have overstepped my place a little there, but something had been miscommunicated in my info form, and I needed to make the artist had got the character right.

PowerSurge-f500This time, when I saw the cover, it was almost perfect. Initially I asked for two more changes, but I was told one would make the cover to busy. I trusted the cover artist with that decision, and the other, a minor adjustment to proportions, was an easy change.

In the end, the model on the cover had the look I pictured for my character. The hair color was wrong, but they had a hat on, so it worked out. Erin, the main character in Power Surge, never wears a hat in the book, but neither does my favorite fiction wizard.

Power Surge (Evanstar Chronicles)

This back and forth process happened when I made covers for B Cubed Press, although I lost count of how many times I went back and forth. It wasn’t because the editors were picky but because I was a newer, less experienced artist.

Screen Shot 2018-08-27 at 3.29.17 PM.png

With After the Orange, it took several attempts to get the tone right. Towards the end of the process, when the authors got a sneak peak of the cover, a few suggested the cover was too subdued and needed more cover to make it stand out on the shelves. I made more changes, and when I finally sent that version back, it was just what they were looking for. Afterwards, I had to fine tune the font size and layout to make sure it would all fit properly and not get cut off.

Althernative Theology KindleWith Alternative Theology, I had a better grasp on the theme, but my original idea of having a stained glass background made the cover too busy, especially when trying to fit a snowflake on the cover. It’s part of B Cubed Press’ brand, especially where their “Alternative” titles are concerned. After a few back and forth with a more tame, purple background, we found something we were all happy with.

The poetry collection was the most straight forward. My first cover looked a little too much like a mystery novel, but I got the concept right on my next try, and from there, it was fine tuning the font, placement of the title, and layout of the back cover.

Once the covers were approved by editors and authors, they were ready to share with t

he world.

Final Thoughts

The processes at NineStar Press and B Cubed Press were similar at their core, but different on the surface. Since I’ve only worked with two publishers, I can’t comment on whether or not this is how it works other places. If you’ve worked with different publishers, feel free to comment on how your experiences were similar or different.

Book Review: ECHO Campaign

ECHO Campaign (The Isolation Series #2)ECHO Campaign by Taylor Brooke

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

ECHO Campaign is the second installment in the Isolation Series. A twisty plot, beautiful prose, and a ton of tension made this book fly by.

In the first book, Omen Operation, the characters were on the run. In Echo Campaign, they’re caught, adapting to life in and plotting to get out of a secret training facility. I felt like I was trapped in the facility with characters, but no matter how things got for the characters, even in the darkest pages of this book, there was beauty lurking in the heartbreak and shadows.

Every character is oozing with emotion. Every interaction was loaded with tension.

I am usually good a predicting plots and twists, but I kept finding myself surprised thinking, “I didn’t see that coming.”

Aside from explosive rage, I have little in common with these characters. For example: I kept thinking things like “how can people touch each other so much? Does anyone have that much sex?” I didn’t see myself much in this book, but I’m kind of an anomaly anyways. I seldom relate to characters in books. I still enjoy them. If I’m reading a well written book like this, it doesn’t matter if I see myself in the characters or not. The writing transports me into their mind. The details connect me to the characters and make me root for them.

The one flaw that jumped out at me was the size of the cast. I kept mixing up who some of the characters were. Brooklyn and Gabriel were always clear. While Porter and Dawson had different backgrounds, sometimes I’d forget which name belonged to which backstore though I remembered quick enough after a sentence or two with a name in it. The other omens blurred together when I read. Maybe they wouldn’t have if I had read slower.

There was too much suspense to read slower.

Haven’t read Omen Operation yet? Make sure you do before diving into ECHO Campaign!

Book Review: Ignite the Stars

I received a copy Ignite the Stars from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This one is longer than some of my other reviews, but this book, with its strengths and flaws, is important and needs more words.

When I looked at the other reviews on Goodreads, one of the first ones quoted someone saying “Think Throne of Glass in Space,” but that reviewer didn’t see it as a positive comp.  I enjoyed Throne of Glass, and I can see the parallels: violent teenage assassin is “forced” to work for the enemy, but I think Poison Study would be a better comp. Ignite the Stars  has more in common with Poison Study’s slow build and quiet depth than with the fast paced cycle training, gowns, and violence that was Throne of Glass.

Despite a few flaws, I’m giving this book five stars.

Ia Cocha, an allegedly feared outlaw, is captured in the first chapter, and everyone is shocked she is a teenage girl. I didn’t get why Ia’s gender was a big deal, especially in a future world were men and women seemed to stand on almost equal footing. And as a frequent reader of YA fantasy where almost every badass is a 17-year-old girl, I really couldn’t suspend disbelief and believe it surprised people.

Gender thing aside, the opening still wasn’t my favorite. The writer tried, but even with Ia hiding out on a ship full of refugees, I wasn’t invested. I almost thought she was just taking advantages of the “refs” though I think the author wanted me to believe her intentions were good.

The first three chapters, each from a  different character’s point of view, were slow in their own way, painting characters as tropes more than individuals: teen assassin who may or  may not have a heart, inteligent minority girl pretending to be average, and damaged flyboy son of a general doing everything but what his father wants.

Thankfully, the characters grew out of their tropes as the story builds. Ia studies in the Starfleet academy and starts to see her enemies as people, even friends. The reader gets to see behind her violent, arrogant facade. Brinn lets the reader through her tightly held mask, and Knives’ past and family history wasn’t as cliche as I expected. It was almost like the narration started distant, but as the characters started to open up to each other, the narration got closer and the characters also opened up to the reader.

When the book picked up, it wasn’t because the action picked up but because I got to know the characters better. Most of the story happens in the flight academy, and is more about the characters than space battles and fist fights.

Readers have to wait until the last 20% or so of the book for the big battles, but they are definitely worth the wait. The plot-twist’s reveal is well set up and worth the wait too, though there were a few missing pieces that made it hard to believe the new enemy’s motive. I can’t comment more on this without spoilers.

To me, the most important aspect of this book wasn’t necessarily how well executed the plot of characters were, but how on top of everything else, it delves into social justice with a timely exploration of colonialism, refugees, and prejudice.

Throughout most of the book, Brinn died her hair to hide the fact that her mother was Tawney, a group of displaced people who were hated by those in the places they tried to settle. Sometimes, I felt like I was being told too much about Brinn’s efforts to fit in and wanted to see them in action a little more, but the overt, heavy handed telling did ensure that I got the point.

The political events around the refugee issues maybe have been in the background, but they were loud, and later, revealed to be more significant to the plot than I originally expected.

At times, I felt like I was being shouted at. The book was saying “this is what happens when people are prejudice, this is what happens when governments colonize, this is what it feels like to be the victim of it.” I got a little annoyed at times, but I think that was a sign it was working. Because in the real world, there are refugees displaced by wars that are the product of foreign intervention. There are people blinded by privilege (sometimes completely unaware of their privilege) who hate those refugees and want them gone. Sometimes, people like me, crappy allies at best, silently complicit at worst, forget that even if we make a few social media posts speaking out against the hate, but don’t get off our butts and do something, we are part of the problem. We’re part of a system that oppresses.

My annoyance wasn’t because the message was too heavy handed or poorly executed. It was because it reminded me of my own guilt.

When this book comes out, buy it and read it. Pre-order it now so you don’t forget. Good science fiction doesn’t explore technological advances and outer space. It examines social issues and how they evolve in the future. Ignite the Stars is good science fiction.

A Baby Shower I’m Not Dreading

Baby Showers are at the top of the list of torturous, anxiety-triggering social obligations I can’t always get out of. However, for the first time maybe ever, I’m actually looking forward to one.

What is different about this one?

Two things:

  1. The parents chose not to find out and reveal the baby’s sex.
  2. It’s a co-ed event.

Very few people understand why I hate showers so much. Women who don’t like showers or who have social anxiety think they understand. They don’t. Social anxiety is definitely part of it, but not more than it is part of things like house warning, weddings, funerals, and birthday parties.

The last time I walked into a baby shower, I literally felt like an alien. I may have been born with a female body, but I have never felt like a woman inside. Online, I call myself non-binary or gender-fluid, but I almost never talk about this with people in the face to face world. Anxiety silences me nine out of ten times I could broach the subject with family and friends.

I’m not going out of my way to hide it. I just can’t talk about it out-loud.

I never feel like i belong at ladies-only events.

Thankfully, this shower isn’t one.

However, there is another reason I’m looking forward to this one: No one knows what the baby’s sex is.

At all the past shower’s I’ve attended, the has mother known, so before the baby is even born, people are forcing gendered stereotypes on them.Girls are pretty,princesses, clad in pink and flowers. Boys are handsome princes, ladies men before they can walk, wearing blue, clothing decorated with tools and trucks. The kid wasn’t even born and was already being told that girls are pretty and fragile like flowers where boys are tough and practical.

It will be refreshing to see what people gush over when they can’t lump the yet-to-be-born child into the girl or boy piles.

This time, when I was shopping, I didn’t feel like I was being subversive or grumpy for going out of my way to find gender neutral baby clothes, or for just buying diapers without even looking at the registry.

I still bought diapers, because babies poop a lot. Every new parent needs diapers.

However, I actually had fun looking at baby clothes. As I scrolled through  Star Trek, Deadpool, Game of Thrones, Doctor Who, and Harry Potter themed onesies, I laughed. I smiled. I had fun thinking of how the parents would react to opening a shirt inspired by their favorite characters. I was shopping for things the parent’s liked without worrying about gender stereotypes.

Let’s face it, no matter what sex babies are born, they all go boldly with maxim effort in their diapers.

Whether you have a boy or girl, poop is coming!
 

Note: This post is just my opinion about baby showers. I am not saying everyone has to agree with me or hide their baby’s gender. I am not in any way commenting on how people should raise their children.

 

 

 

Cover Matters: Part 1

I love the saying “don’t judge a book by its cover” because so many things are not what they appear. A restaurant with a run down front may have the best food in town. A person’s physical gender may not reflect whom they are inside. A great book might he hiding behind the worst cover art ever.

Books are judged by their covers.

If I am browsing books, whether it is in a store or online, without knowing what I’m looking for, the cover is what will make me slow down and read the blurb. I’ve always known covers are important, but it wasn’t until I was knee deep in the world of indie publishing that I realized just how vital a good cover is.

 

Screen Shot 2018-08-11 at 6.32.56 PM.png
A screen shot of cover’s on NineStar Press’ home page on Aug, 11, 2018. The day I wrote this post, not the day I first found the website. 

Covers matter: I’ve judge whole publishers by them.

 

After deciding to start querying my novel, Power Surge, to small publishers, there were many other factors that went in to picking which publishers to query, but cover art was a big one. Did the covers catch my attention? Did they all look the same? Were they more than just some font slapped over a photo? Did they relate to the content described in the books blurb?

Almost two years ago, NineStar press requested one of my manuscripts through #DVpit. The first thing I saw when I opened their website were covers for their new releases and for books that were coming soon. I liked what I saw: lots of color and unique font. It only took a quick glance to decipher which books were romance, fantasy or science fiction. Had I landed on a page filled with awful covers, I might not have gone on to do more research, submit my book, get revise and resubmit, shelve that book, send them something completely different, and have it accepted.

Covers matter: They keep me motivated.

Copy of Like Birds.jpg
Like Birds was my first NaNoWriMo win. I’ve revised the cover as many times as the book. Currently, the book is shelved. 

 

The first time I officially participated in NaNoWriMo and created a profile for my project, I was surprised to see a place to upload a cover. Why would a book that hasn’t been written need one? Not wanting to leave it blank, I threw something together, and then I understood. The cover wasn’t fancy or professional, but it was a concrete image – a mock up of what a story could be if I got it out of my head and onto a page.

Now, when I write a first, I stop and make a cover at the first sign of being stuck. When I revise the draft, I make a cover to reflect revisions. Sometime, if I have an idea for a book but am not ready to start, I make a cover for it. At first, my covers were terrible, but they got better, especially when I forked out the money for a Photoshop subscription.

Covers matter: They pay.

Every awesome book cover is made by someone. If the person who they made it for has any scruples, then said artist is getting paid for their work.

For me, cover art started out as pure hobby, but as of right now, I’ve gotten paid to make three of them. It started earlier this summer when Bob Brown posted on the B Cubed Press Projects page that he needed someone to make cover art for Alternative Theologies.

Theology A ModernI was very excited about the anthology. The story I was writing for it wasn’t coming along very well. I drafted a cover for it, emailed it to Bob, and after a discussion about possible revisions, I was “hired.”

It was a long process, at least as time consuming as writing a story, if not more so since more than a couple things had changed in Photoshop since I got out of photography. And while I was pretty good at designing e-book covers, setting the guides and formatting covers for print was a different story. But I did it.

In the end, my story got rejected, but my design is on the cover of a book that is #1 in specific categories on amazon. How much of it is the cover and how much the amazing collection of stories? I can’t say. I like to think it is a little bit of both.

Covers matter: My book has one that I didn’t make.PowerSurge-f500

AS much as I enjoy making covers for my works in-progress, I did not have the opportunity to make my own cover for power surge. That is a good thing.

Of all the books I wrote, I never came up with a concept I liked for power surge, but Natasha Snow, the brilliant person who does the covers for NineStar Press, came up with something much better than I could have.

The only flaw was that she didn’t have access to an image of a model with both the right hair color and body type as the main character in Power Surge. After looking through images NineStar had access to, I suggested model wearing a hat.

When I saw them on the cover, I knew I made the right decision.

Erin never wears a hat in the book.

Harry Dresden never wears hats either, but he wears one on every cover of the Dresden Files.

Covers matter: They make me smile!

Check back in a few days for a post about the process of making covers both from my experiences as an author and cover artist.

 

 

 

 

 

 

COVER REVEAL: Power Surge by Sara Codair

Power Surge finally has a cover! When I get caught up with my revisions for my next novel, I’ll blog about the experience working with NineStar Press’ talented cover artist, Natasha Snow, not just from the perspective of an author but of someone who has also done cover art for a small publisher.

For now, head over to Small Queer, Big Opinions for a sneak peak!

The banner for the blog post isn’t the cover. You have to scroll down to see the actual cover.

via COVER REVEAL: Power Surge by Sara Codair