[Indie Book Review] Vampires hiding on the high seas

Indie Book Review: City of Promise by Dawn Prough

In the not-so-distant future, Misty works as a maintenance diver at Gideon, a city floating in the middle of the Atlantic, a haven for the undead. She’s good at her job; it helps that she doesn’t need to breathe. But during one night dive, she discovers a dead body, weighted and tangled in the nets. In a world where all vampires are one deportation away from execution, Misty wants nothing to do with corpses and criminal investigations. But then she meets Li, a man with a death wish, a dangerous past, and a connection to the body Misty found.

This book was a welcome addition eBook addition to my vampire-filled shelf. Prough does something different in her novel, City of Promise by moving her story and vampire heroine out of the urban fantasy setting into the 2063. From the delightful gritty details of the world (based on a real-world proposal of a city extension off Boston in the 1970s), to the (sometimes) over-the-top action, to the (scrappy) dialogue, the novel kept me tapping the screen for the next page. Continue reading

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Indie Book Review: Sleight of Hand by Mark Henwick

Sleight of Hand by Mark Henwick

An Amber Farrell Novel, Bite Back #1

“For Amber Farrell, post-military life as a PI has its ups and downs: She’s been hit by a truck. She’s being sued by a client. Denver’s newest drug lord just put out a contract on her. The sinister Athanate want her to come in for a friendly chat. And it’s only Tuesday.”

Now we’re talking. Occasionally, we get a pitch in our inbox that we just can’t resist. And Henwick’s urban fantasy novel blurb brought it home. It also left me quaking on my canary perch: Book, please, please, don’t go the vampire-werewolf-cookie-cutter plot route.

Good news! Continue reading

Indie Book Review: So many plots, so little time.

Children of Sun and Moon by Matt Larkin

 

(Book 1 of the Skyfall Trilogy)

For generations, the children of the moon have been at war with the children of the sun. So when the Lunar King sues for peace and offers his daughter, Ratna, to a marriage with the young Solar King, the two war-torn civilizations are faced with the prospect of peace–or imminent treachery.

Chandi, Ratna’s handmaiden and a powerful Moon warrior in her own right, is sent to protect her cousin and spy on the Solars. But the years go by and the Solars seem sincere in their peace efforts. But peace is a fragile thing, and when Chandi is asked to sacrifice everything–her new, reluctantly-accepted home, her blossoming romance with a Solar warrior, and her life–for her country, she finds herself forced to choose between her past and her future, her duty and her heart. Continue reading

[ Book Review ] Indie Series: Slippery Souls

Slippery Souls by Rachael H. Dixon

(Sunray Bay, #1)

This book was delightful, in the full, italicized sense of the word. It takes on a vivid, irreverent style (think Terry Pratchett) and melds it with some dark(ish) fantasy.

One moment, Libby is marching out of the grocery store, jug of milk in hand, set on breaking up with her slob of a boyfriend-soon-to-be-ex. The next, she is killed by a hit-and-run. When she wakes up, she’s in a beach house at Sunray Bay, a kind of afterlife, she assumes, since her also-dead-dog Rufus can now talk.

But not all is as it seems at the sunny beach town, and it certainly isn’t Heaven. Within an hour of her arrival, Libby is chased by the head of the local monster slayers, helps a (very hawt and rugged) rogue ex-operative, and finds herself at the top of the Mayor’s Most Wanted list. Continue reading

[ Pitch Slaps ] Weekend Picks

Part of the Pitch Slapped Series:

Blurbs can make or break the a book’s sales, especially if the reader hasn’t heard about the author before. A strong blurb is a must for query letters and getting the book read.

For this latest installment of Pitch Slaps, we’re going to do something different. We’ve talked about a lot of things that go wrong when an author writes a blurb. So instead, here is the cream of the blurbing crop from indie books recently submitted for review.

SECTOR C by Phoenix Sullivan

“Cloning Ice Age mammoths and saber-tooth cats for canned hunts seems like a good business venture — until it reintroduces the species-jumping pandemic that wiped out the megabeasts 10,000 years ago. Now history is about to repeat itself, with humans the next target for extinction.”

What works: In two sentences, the book blurb sets up the world (ours, futurist), genre (science fiction, speculative, medical thriller) and the conflict (extinction! corporation-style). It’s clear, concise, and clever.

What doesn’t: The truth of it is, I cut the rest of the blurb (not shown here), going from four paragraphs to the one (shown here).


The Phoenix and the Dream King’s Heart by James Monaghan

“The Phoenix is a cursed ship.

Exiled to the Darkland Expanse, on the fringes of the known galaxy, its captain and crew have spent the last decade struggling just to stay alive. In a galaxy full of cruel gods, terrifying monsters and treacherous allies, though, survival is far from an easy task.

When the King of Dreams offers them a bargain – retrieve his stolen heart in return for a key that may just get them home – Captain Asher Lee and his crew agree to launch a desperate mission across dimensions. When faced with an insane goddess and her army of quantum spiders, though, do they really have a chance?”

What works: This is an example of a blurb that does it all–dramatic tension, a hint at the plot, and a glimpse of the world. It adds an extra lure by promising to combine science fiction (space, dimensions…) with fantasy (gods, monsters…). And of course, who doesn’t like a story that has some treacherous frenemies?

Torn by Dean Murray

“Shape shifter Alec Graves has spent nearly a decade trying to keep his family from being drawn into open warfare with a larger pack. The new girl at school shouldn’t matter, but the more he gets to know her, the more mysterious she becomes. Worse, she seems to know things she shouldn’t about his shadowy world.

Is she an unfortunate victim or bait designed to draw him into a fatal misstep? If she’s a victim, then he’s running out of time to save her. If she’s bait, then his attraction to her will pull him into a fight that’ll cost him everything.”

What works: This blurb takes a different approach. It woos the reader with the very fact that it presents the traditional star-cross-lovers plotline with a dash of paranormal intrigue. There will be romance and there may be betrayal, it says, and in the YA PNR genre, what more can you ask for?

What doesn’t: As a reader, I would love to see what sets this book apart. There is safety in being generic in this genre, but give me a hint of something concrete.

___

Do you have a pitch or synopsis that you’d like to send to the sacrificial altar?  Email it our way with the subject “Pitch Article Submission” at canarypost@gmail.com. 

Read more slapped pitches here.

[ Small Chirp ] An Indie short story worth checking out

As a general rule, we at tCR do not review author requests for short stories. We are wing-deep in novels and rarely have time to spare to read even the shortest of one-shots. So it was pure serendipity that Tracy Marchini’s review request for The Engine Driver came through at the height of my work-place boredom. I clicked on the attached PDF before I’d even read the blurb. And I must say that I’m quite happy I did—partially because the blurb needs a little Pitch Slapped lovin’, but mostly because it was an absolutely delightful story.

The story follows Brig, a depressed teenager in a world where any negative emotions are attenuated by an internal playlist of music meant to adjust mood.  When her best friend is selected to be a Musician, someone who can actually craft music, Brig sees an opportunity to finally hear a song that she wants to listen to—rather than one that has been carefully selected to attenuate her constantly sad existence.

That explanation actually makes the plot sound about 800% more emo than the story actually was. The characters were engaging even while wading through the subplot of wanting to hear a love song played when standing near a boy. The fact that a 6,000 word story has a flipping subplot should be an indication that Marchini has a knack for story-telling. The Engine Driver had nice subtleties to it, enough to gloss over a couple of places where the narrative stumbled.

Since this is just a Small Chirp and not a review, there’s no official Canary rating, but an unofficial rating would put it solidly in a four happy canaries territory. I hope this is the first of many forays that Marchini takes into Brig’s life. I would happily read an entire novel set in the music-controlled world she lives in.

Read More Indie:

[ Pitch Slapped ] On How We Missed The Point Completely

Part of the Pitch Slapped Series:

Blurbs can make or break the a book’s sales, especially if the reader hasn’t heard about the author before. A strong blurb is a must for query letters and getting the book read, and in this article, the canaries try to slap a pitch into shape.

As a rule, the canaries don’t accept stand-alone short stories for reviews (anthologies only), but when Terra Harmony sent us an inquiry about her recent story, Gleaming White, we bent our rules a bit.

I’m going to start with the official blurb we got:

What did you think?

First, let’s talk about what I think the blurb did right. Harmony made the good call of writing a short blurb for a short piece. A novel would have demanded a bit more meat, but when the piece is only 13,000 words and not part of an anthology (rather unusual, by the way, in terms of marketing), short is good. Still, it has two main weaknesses: an unclear story arc and shifts in focus.

So here is my feathery reaction:

Right now, here’s the story I’m seeing:

  1. Sister is murdered.
  2. Heroine is angsty and suicidal.
  3. Murdering vampire is sexy.
  4. “Your blood is yummy.”
  5. “Pease kill me, Mr Hawt Vampire!
  6. ???????
  7. PROFI—err, I mean, Happily Ever After.

Content Issues:

The blurb begs all sorts of questions, the biggest of which is this: if she wants to die, what that Mr. Hawt Vampire have to do with anything? If she wants to take her life, who cares what he wants for lunch?

Nowadays, most readers expect some vague presence of a spine in their heroines. Sure, the macho, domineering (yet oh-so-sensitive) male is an all-time favorite, but the girl better at least pretend to take a stab at having some level of independence. If she wants to kill herself, why is he deciding her “fate”? Personally, I’m irritated at the implication that the guy is only interested in the girl for her physical attributes (“her taste”) and that the girl refuses to do a thing unless the man tells her she can.

This might not be the story at all, but the core issue is that it’s what the blurb makes me think the story’s about.

Which details matter?

Our recent poll showed that’s one of the top questions for authors.

1. Does Twin Sister’s Death play a real part of the story, or is it the token trauma along the lines of “Oh no, they burned up my village!”? Does the main plot relate directly to this death, or is it background noise?

By placing the death in the very first sentence, the reader is told that this is one of the most important elements of the plot.

2. Does she want to die or doesn’t she? Our heroine is facing three conflicts by the end of the story: dealing with her twin’s death, dealing with Mr. Vampire’s interest, and wanting to die.

The only way I see the current story working would be if it were a careful and intense study of the human psyche and the grieving process—and perhaps elements of Stockholm Syndrome and that power dynamic of victim and captor.

But…this isn’t Literary Fiction. The length and the genre (paranormal romance) suggests that the story follows a plot along the lines of a Romeo & Juliet–girl-meets-boy, girl-realizes-boy-isn’t-as-evil-as-she-thought, boy-and-girl-lovey-doveyness. In that case, a different angle would probably be a whole lot more appropriate (say, she is in despair and wants to die when Mr Vampire finds her, and he shows her that maybe the entire world isn’t such a dark place. But will she be able to deal with her feelings for a vampire when it was a vampire who killed her sister? Dun dun dun.)

3. Whose perspective are we following in the pitch? This is a big question, so let’s hear more about it in the following section:

Ambiguity of perspective: What is our point of view?

The Blurb:

  • They stole from her.
  • A man is seduced.
  • She wishes.
  • He must decide.

We go from they to him to her.

The story from they-point-of-view: “They kill, and now they need to deal with this illicit romance crap between vampire and food.”

The story from his-point-of-view: “He discovers a girl who tastes really good. He’d like to keep her, but she’s been badly hurt by her sister’s murder and wants to die.”

The story from her-point-of-view: “She’s lost her sister when the vampires killed her. Now another vampire has decided she’ll be his food supply. She wants to die, but he won’t let her.”

See how the story shifts each time? A good rule of thumb is to make sure that the POV of the pitch matches the POV of the story. Here I’ll go with the assumption that the story is written at least 60% from the heroine’s perspective (most romance is).

The problem, though, is that none of these are particularly romantic. Blame the story? Or blame the blurb? We’ll blame the blurb. Let’s see if we can spin it.

The Revised Blurb:

Conclusion:

Now we have a clear speaker, a little more detail, and less of weak-willed heroine. The main thrust of the plot is still a mystery ( a good thing for a short story) but there is enough mystery to at least pull the reader into the first paragraph.

The difficulty for the author here was in taking those few steps back away from the story and examining, ‘What is the pitch actually saying to the reader?’ This, more often than not, is one of the biggest challenges for the writer. Here, all the picky details that put me off in the initial version are brushed over. Once the reader takes the bait, it’ll be up to the story to make those details work.

Post Script From The Desk of CanaryTheFirst:

We had finished the article, and were bouncing around title ideas (“Look Who’s Talking”, “Seeing What’s Not There”…)  when it hit me. The vampires had stolen “the life of her twin sister” and now the heroine wants to “join” her sister. We were coming at it from the wrong angle.

So so wrong.

This isn’t about a murdered sister and a revenge-vs-romance plot! This is about the sisters reconciling (maybe) and the heroine wanting to be turned into a vampire.

Oh. Oh dear.

Suddenly, the line about “he must decide her fate” makes sense. And theothercanary felt more than a little deflated–suddenly, this seemed like a run-of-the-mill vampire story. So what this blurb is truly missing, is that something special that would set this story apart from the undead hoarde.

But only the author knows what that extra spark is.

Do you have a pitch or synopsis that you’d like to send to the sacrificial altar?  Email it our way with the subject “Pitch Article Submission” at canarypost@gmail.com. 

Read more slapped pitches here.