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Review: Sorrow’s Knot by Erin Bow

[ 0 ] April 20, 2014

9780545578004_b0fd0Reviewed by Holly Madison

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I began reading Sorrow’s Knot, but I was instantly hooked by the unusual story line and flawless writing of Erin Bow.

The story combines fantasy with horror in a non-traditional way, maintaining a distinct Native American feel throughout the entire book. Perhaps it is because of the actual act of the characters tying knots, or maybe it is the unusual character names such as Otter, Cricket, and Willow that brings this feeling to mind – whatever it is, I love it.

The characters exist in a world that is intertwined with nature and the everyday workings of their tribe of people, each person taking on a distinct job that is necessary for the tribe to survive. The women rule the tribe and the “jobs” involve tying distinct magical knots that each serve different purposes. This sounds like a rather silly idea for a story, but once you read the book you will realize how completely this idea works. There are various jobs within the tribe, but the most important is the role of the Binders – those who tie knots to send the dead away from the world of the living. In addition to shuttling departed spirits from this world, Binders also have a great deal of power which is used to keep the evil spirits, known as the White Hand, at bay.

The main character in this story is Otter, and she is from a long line of powerful Binders. Otter possesses an unusually strong power, but her mother refuses to teach her the ways of the binder because she sees a darkness in her, claiming that the knots have turned on themselves. This leaves Otter alone with her power and no knowledge of how to harness it, so she has no choice but to try to figure out her path on her own, and thus begins the story.

Throughout the story, Otter is accompanied by her two best friends Cricket and Kestrel. These characters have their own flaws and strengths, and their relationship with each other and with Otter is incredibly powerful and, above all else, human. The characters did feel a bit separate from me as the reader… I feel like there is so much more I could know about each of the characters, and I am left with nothing more than an impression of each of them. If you are really into character-driven books, that might be a problem for you, but I felt that it was perfect for the type of book that this is. Some books suck you into the characters so deeply that the events going on outside of them are only a fraction the story. This book is the opposite – you get to see what the characters are doing but you are nothing more than an observer, and you only read what is relevant to the story. And it works for this book.

It is important to mention that this story is not as light as I imagined it would be – in fact, it is very dark. It tackles serious feeling and raw emotions that are tied in with death and grief, and there were several points in the book where I had to sit back and collect myself before continuing on, having been so touched by what I had just read. There is a lot of sorrow in this book.

In addition to the raw emotion tied in with sadness, there is horror in this book that is difficult to describe. I found myself covered in goose bumps several times when the White Hand comes into the picture – it is just incredibly eerie. I found the book delving into the full-blown horror genre more often than I thought it would, but it strengthened the book rather than hindering it.

I loved this book. It is fantasy and horror and folklore all at the same time, and the writing is exquisite and consistent.  I cannot think of a single thing I would change about it. As soon as I was finished with the book I began reading it again – it’s that good! This book will be a permanent resident on my favorites shelf. I can’t wait to see what Erin Bow does next!

Rating: ★★★★½ 

Holly has a Bachelors degree in Environmental Science and owns a small business with her husband selling fleece and hand-spun yarn. When she is not spinning yarn, she does freelance work as a graphic design artist and is highly involved in animal rescue.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Malena Public Relations. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

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Review: The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

[ 1 ] April 19, 2014

download (1)Reviewed by Jax Kepple

Despite the twee cover, The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry is a heart-wrenching story. In fact, the cover was the worse thing about this book, as it led the reader to believe the story was full of fluff when in reality, author Gabrielle Zevin was able to create this beautiful world with great, lively characters, and this marvelous bookshop all while dealing with abandonment, alcoholism, love, death, business, and most of all, family.

Island Books, the only bookstore on the fictional Alice Island off of Cape Cod, is owned by A.J. Fikry who mainly stocks literary fiction and turns his nose up at “postmodernism, post-apocalyptic settings, postmortem narrators or magic realism,” along with a litany of other stipulations. Amelia Loman is a book agent for a small press and is taken aback by Fikry’s limited propensities but persists in pushing a book that speaks to her about a man who married at age eighty-five.

Fikry,whose wife had died two years earlier, feels as though he has nothing to lose and goes on a bender. He wakes up to realize that he has been robbed of a very valuable book. Feeling as though he literally has nothing else to lose, he goes out for a run and leaves the door to the bookstore open. He comes back to find an abandoned baby and his life changes forever. The rest of the story follows Fikry’s life as it involves the baby – now his daughter – Maya, Amelia, his former sister-in-law Ismay and his friend the Police Chief Lambiase all on this beautiful New England island.

Zevin has a lot of plot packed into a small amount of pages, and is able to bring some surprising twists easily and effortlessly, especially the resolution to the stolen book story line. The beginning of each section is a small blurb about some of A.J.’s favorite books, and they are flawlessly written in A.J.s voice. In the end, the reason for A.J. to have written these blurbs becomes clear and it is excruciating, as Zevin was able to make a character that the reader falls in love with.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

Jax is in an accountant at a hedge fund. She resides in NYC with her husband.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Algonquin Books. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

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Review: A Month in India by David Mellonie

[ 1 ] April 18, 2014

A Month In India cover copyReviewed by Alysia George

If your wanderlust needs a kick start, you should be pleased to discover the gorgeous photographic book, A Month in India, by David Mellonie. As someone who has long desired to experience the wonder of India firsthand, this work of art has definitely had that effect upon me. Mellonie’s talents, as both the photographer and the author, work together perfectly to inspire the reader to want to have a deeper understanding of this beautiful country. As a westerner, India seems to be the epitome of exotic and mystical travel destinations, and this book reinforces that point of view.

A Month in India is a travel journal, a memoir, and a commentary of a terribly impoverished, yet incredibly stunning country. It chronicles Mellonie’s time spent there – 28 days, 28 photographs. Each vibrant photo is accompanied by prose, describing the scene and offering insightful observations relating to Mellonie’s experiences in India. Reading the essays and admiring the accompanying pictures of the people and sites of India, the rich diversity of the country becomes evident.

Being a lover of photo journals, I thoroughly enjoyed perusing every one of the more than 28 photographs included in A Month in India. The colors, the faces, the clothing, the scenes, both picturesque and sometimes sad in their glimpses of extreme poverty, drew me in. I studied them over and over, and every time I looked I found details I had missed previously. Although I read a digital copy, this is the type of book that would make a lovely, glossy coffee table masterpiece, to be read often and admired by guests.

While the pictures are outstanding, what makes this photographic book really stand out is the prose. I really appreciated reading what the author had to say about each photo. As a travel journal, it is unique. Often times I find one or the other, but to have both striking images and a story to go along with them is something special. Mellonie’s experiences visiting different, diverse areas of India are interesting to read about, and eye opening. A Month in India is something I would love to add to the collection of travel books on my bookshelf.

A Month in India is available through the iBookstore

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

Alysia lives in Metro Detroit with her husband and four children. She writes about family life, parenting issues, and other things of interest to her on her blog, Michigal.

Review copy was provided by David Mellonie. Compensation was received but in no way influenced the thoughts and opinions expressed in this review.

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Review: Raising John by Jennifer Lesher

[ 3 ] April 18, 2014

20650308Reviewed by Lindsay Yocum

Raising John was an interesting read. It follows a young boy, John, whose mother died tragically in a car accident when he was a baby. After his mother’s death, he was taken in and raised by his grandmother, Barbara. As John grew older, his questions regarding the past became more and more persistent, and his grandmother was torn between leaving the past behind her, and setting the record straight with her grandson.

The book takes us back and forth between past and present, and we really get to know John’s mother, Mary, fairly well. She was quick witted, highly intelligent, and had finally overcome issues with her abusive father that had hung over her for most of her adult life. The author takes us on a journey of a submissive wife and mother who often turned the other cheek. In a way, it makes your heart ache for Mary, because Barbara could never be like that when Mary really needed her to.

The book jumped back and forth between past and present to really give you the full picture of what happens. It’s what made a twist in the book difficult to imagine because it was so heartbreaking.

As John grew older, he began to question why he didn’t have a grandfather. Once he reached school age, the more he saw his peers with a father or grandfather the more he grew restless. He asked about meeting his grandfather daily. After all, it was only him and Barbara for his entire life. So when John’s grandfather, Robert, finally emerges, Barbara is challenged with protecting John in a way she could never protect her daughter.

Overall, I liked this book. It was well written and the story line always kept me wanting to know more. The main themes of the book dealt with overcoming the struggles of one’s past and the power of forgiveness. There were a couple twists that helped you understand the entire story, but there were some pieces in it that I felt were a little over the top. The dialogue between the characters in the book seemed unnatural at times, but it was easy to overlook that.

Rating: ★★½☆☆ 

Lindsay Yocum resides in California with her 5 year old firecracker daughter, Bear, and her hilarious husband. She spends her free time traveling, baking, ruining DIY crafts she finds on Pinterest, and running, when she isn’t nose deep in a book. 

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Virtual Author Book Tours. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

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Create Your Own Ebook With Smashwords

[ 1 ] April 17, 2014

SW_Vertical_ColorIf you’re in the 81% of Americans who dream of writing a novel, it’s time to make 2014 your year. Whether you prefer fantasy, sci-fi, mystery, or literary fiction, writing and self-publishing a novel is a great way to learn more about the writing process and to share your ideas with a larger audience. And who knows — your novel could be your path to a new life as a professional author; many writers, from Amanda Hocking to Cory Doctorow, rose to fame by self-publishing their works online.

Of course, finishing the novel is only half the battle. The other half is creating and promoting your ebook; that is, putting together the finished, edited work, adding attractive and compelling cover art, and doing the work required in getting the novel out to potential readers. Services like Amazon Kindle, the Apple iBookstore, Barnes and Noble, and Kobo have made the distribution process much easier, especially for self-published authors, but you still need to learn how to turn your Great American Novel into a functional ebook before anyone else will be able to read it.

Today we’re going to look at Smashwords, one of the most popular ebook programs. Its ease of use has made it the ideal method from which to publish your first ebook, even if you’ve never published a book before.

Here’s how to get started:

1. Read and implement the Smashwords Style Guide

If you’re new to the writing world, here’s the definition of a style guide: it’s a document that describes how to present a particular text for a specific group of readers.

The Smashwords Style Guide helps your text look as professional as possible by giving you a pre-defined set of style guidelines to help you understand how to present your novel’s text. It also tells you exactly how to format chapter titles, subheadings, and other important items — if these aren’t formatted in precisely the same way every time, they won’t look right in your finished ebook.

2. Format and upload your book

Once your text fulfills all of the style guide requirements, it’s time to format it in Microsoft Word and upload it to Smashwords. After that, Smashwords takes care of the rest, encoding your text into multiple formats to be read by many different types of e-readers.

3. Add cover art

Yes, people do judge a book by its cover! Take a look at this list of iconic book covers for inspiration, and remember that your cover will be the primary determinant of whether potential readers decide to read your book. Consider hiring a graphic designer if you need that extra boost of artistic talent.

At this point, your Smashwords book should be complete and available for purchase in stores like Amazon Kindle or Apple iBookstore. That means it’s time for the next phase of the project: promotion. Make sure all of your friends and followers know that you have a book published, and see if you can get your book reviewed on other blogs or podcasts. The more promotional work you do, the more people will read your book and the more your newfound fame will grow.

One final tip: watch out for spammers

Once you announce yourself to the world as a published author, be prepared to get all kinds of strange emails and Twitter follower requests. There are plenty of people who want to capitalize on your achievement, and not all of them are trustworthy. Make sure you have updated internet security software to filter out all of the spam links and fake direct messages you are likely to receive, and avoid signing up for any service that promises you readers or social media followers. Remember: if it sounds too good to be true, it absolutely is.

Do you have other tips for self-publishing authors? Have you published a book with Smashwords yourself? Let us know in the comments.

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Review: Hibernate by Elizabeth Eslami

[ 2 ] April 17, 2014

ESLAMI_-_HIBERNATE_COVER_JPGReviewed by Alisha Churbe

Hibernate is a collection of eleven rich short stories.  Each of these stories need a bit of time to marinate after they are read.  I tried to read two or even three in a single setting, but I found myself distracted by the story I had just read that it was too difficult to focus on a new story too quickly.  Short stories should very much stand on their own and demand singular attention.  Eslami has done a wonderful job of creating this emphasis, both in character and in the settings, in each of the stories that appear in this collection.

The title story, “Hibernators”, follows a young couple who are determined to embark upon new experiences.  They give up their ordinary life to head out on a new journey.  In “Victory Forge”, Eslami tells us a story of a boy who becomes a soldier and goes to war.  She shows how this boy changes throughout all the new experiences.  The story is narrated in second person, giving it the feeling of extreme distance and it felt like a secret you are not supposed to know.  The storyteller in “Yana Land,” is immediately intriguing when presented to the reader and narrator, “Maxwell Yana whispered a story in my head, his lips so close my ear began to thaw.” Eslami’s storyteller​s​ and narrators do a terrific job of grabbing us from the very beginning and holding on until the very end.  Each of the eleven stories have their own merits and will keep you reading in their own unique way.

Eslami’s storytelling is quirky, sometimes leaving large gaps in written word, leaving the reader to continue the narrative before the next part picks up.  Others use point of view placed at an unexpected angle or distance, distorting the known and the unknowns.  I enjoyed this style, it lent to the mysteriousness of the stories and was well intended, well executed.  Her stories can have dark undertones and subject matter, but there always seems to be a moment of clarity, redemption or hope that peeks through.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

Part-time fiction writer, Alisha Churbe lives in Portland, Oregon. In the rare instances when you can pry her away from books, Alisha can be found travelling in foreign countries, cooking, or hiking with her husband Michael and dog Euro.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by BookSparksPR. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

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