Readers' Favorite

July 14, 2012

Photo Challenge Day 14: Building

Photo a Day Challenge is hosted by Fat Mum Slim

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Must Read: A Discovery of Witches

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
paperback, 592 pages
Published December 2011 by Penguin
ISBN13: 9780143119685
Read July 2012
Goodreads, IndieBound, Amazon

A Discovery of Witches was a must read for summer. When it was pitched to me a few months back, I was so excited about the book. I even told the publicist that I don't really like fantasy but this book sounded fantastic. And I can tell you that it is indeed FANTASTIC!

It wasn't really fantasy. Sure there were witches, vampires, and daemons, but there was much more of a science fiction feel to it. It was similar to Gene Doucette's Immortal in that sense. I also found elements that reminded me of Twilight, Harry Potter, Charmed, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I should probably note that I'm relatively new to this genre and my references are all popular culture. My comparison is only in terms of themes and story elements, not necessarily writing style or technique.

Diana is a scientific historian and a witch. She is researching alchemy and the point where magic was replaced by scientific reasoning. She also happens to come from an extremely powerful line of witches, but wants to deny any and all aspect of that in her own life. For her, magic has only lead to loneliness and tragedy. Therefore, she is naive to many of the issues involving non-humans or creatures as they are referred as - vampire, witches, and daemons. Sure, she has an elementary knowledge, but not not for the finer points. 

Matthew is biochemist who happens to also be a vampire. There is more to him than meets the eye, but I don't want to give away too much. He is searching for the origin of life for creatures. I like the vampire lore Harkness develops. It seemed she took some of the legendry aspects and intertwined it with more modern approaches. Her vampires are beautiful, can go out in the sun (they don't sparkle, but there is some type of aura about them - I imagined kind of like in movies when a spotlight is shown on a character during the "I love him" scene), the sleep though not often, they even eat a bit. The most interesting twist to vampires for me at least was that they still have a pulse - lends more for the scientific than fantasy explanation. She did keep the draining of blood and drinking the vampire's blood to me made into a vampire. 

I liked the developing relationship between Diana and Matthew. Matthew is definitely a leading man, but Diana is no shrinking violet. If you are a foodie, then you will love that on almost every page there is a description of food or beverage. I had to put the book down at one point because it was getting close to dinner time, but it wasn't ready. I was starving and the descriptions were making me hungrier.

You probably already know this (because I mentioned it in this post) that this series has been picked up to be made into movies. I'm excited to see it on the big screen, but also a little weary. I don't want them to mess it up. I really hope they keep the house - it was my favorite character!

Your turn: If you've read the book, what are you most looking forward to seeing in the movie? If you haven't read A Discovery of Witches, do you like for your witches, vampires, daemons, etc to be purely fantasy or like me, prefer a more science fiction element?

If you didn't know, the sequel Shadow of Night came out this past Tuesday. I haven't gotten a copy, yet, so please don't spoil anything for me.

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July 13, 2012

Photo Challenge Day 13: Open

Photo a Day Challenge is hosted by Fat Mum Slim

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Friday Fun with William j. Barry & giveaway

Hi! It's FRIDAY!!! Are you glad? Well, this may be one of the few Fridays anyone dreads - Friday the 13th. Since Friday the 13th is usually associated with scary things I thought who better to bring a little fun to this day than an author who writes books with ghosts for characters. There's even a chance to win one of his books - Sebastian and the Afterlife (book 1) or Agents of the Reaper (book 2).

Happy Friday the 13th!
Yes it’s that creepy, unlucky day again; a day when some people might take a little extra care, nervous that bad things have more chance to befall them. There are a number of theories about the origin of the superstition, but however it started, it’s surely ingrained in our culture now. By the way, the fear of Friday the 13th is called friggatriskaidekaphobia or paraskevidekatriaphobia (good luck fitting either of those names on a prescription bottle).

Personally, I enjoy when the day rolls around; I think its stigma is amusing. It’s a day when I can pretend things are spooky for no reason. Of course as a child I grew up in a time that barely survived the majority of the ‘Friday the 13th’ slasher film franchise. I always thought the day was supposed to be about bad luck, not a psychotic killer; but then again, I guess all of the people Jason chased around were pretty unlucky. I thought some of those films were fun, and some of them were just terrible.

Nowadays when Friday the 13th rolls around, on occasion I might sketch someone a simple cartoony Jason holding his machete. Sometimes it’s nice to be silly and have fun with something that could potentially be scary. I guess I have a habit of doing that. I write a middle-grades paranormal book series called ‘Sebastian and the Afterlife’. The books all deal with death and moving on, but in a way that removes a lot of the fear about the situation; the stories are more of an adventure.

Sometimes I think it can be healthy to deal with things that scare us in that manner. Living every day in fear is not much of a life. Bad things may happen, but hopefully we can enjoy ourselves until then. So I say again – Happy Friday the 13th! Enjoy it; they only come around once in a while.

To celebrate the day I wanted to give away an e-book copy of my first novel, Sebastian and the Afterlife (if you already own it, you could get the sequel, Agents of the Reaper, instead). Hum… how should we decide who gets it? I’ve got it!

Okay, back to those Friday the 13th movies: If you were being chased by that machete wielding Jason character, name something you could hit him on the head with so that you could get away. (It can really be anything… the more creative/amusing, the better). My favorite answer will get an e-copy of my novel in whatever format you like. Comment below with your answer and a way to contact you, I’ll decide on Sunday night! It's open internationally so everyone is welcome to play.

Your Pal,
William j Barry
Sebastian and the Afterlife website

Sebastian awakes to find himself in a mystical realm somewhere between the living and the dead. Unspeakable dangers lurk in this realm. The Grim Reaper and his loyal agents work to maintain the law, as the threat of soul pirates (the wicked harvesters of spirit energy) has been on the rise. The infamous leader of the pirates, Axis Red, has a treacherous plan to take over the realm and set himself as the supreme authority.

While Sebastian and his new-found friends learn to cope with the wonders and perils of this strange spirit realm, Sebastian finds himself longing for his lost love Sarah, who is still alive in the mortal world. Some things are forbidden; some lines cannot be crossed. What will Sebastian risk to be close to her again? Join them on the journey of a lifetime and beyond. From
 Find Sebastian and the Afterlife at Goodreads, IndieBound, Amazon

Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there, wondering, fearing, doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before. ~Edgar Allan Poe

Sebastian, a seventeen-year-old boy in the spirit realm, is now training to be an agent of the Grim Reaper. He and his friend Onyx will need all of their new training and special powers as the soul pirates threaten the realm once again. Brocku has obtained the Oblivion Gate, and Axis Red begins to execute a plan more devious than ever.

Sebastian’s lingering concerns for Sarah and his troubled sister Kristen are put on hold when he is thrown into a perilous situation. A special team of agents must join together for a mission that even they might not survive.

At the same time, Sebastian’s friends are busier than ever. Onyx is still searching for a way to express her feelings for Sebastian. Jack is battling through his brother’s surreal dreams to reach him, and Patricia receives a new job in the realm.

In the battle between good and evil, just because you can face your fears doesn’t mean you can overcome them. Join Sebastian and his friends, as their adventure becomes darker and more dangerous than ever! From
Find Agents of the Reaper at Goodreads, Amazon

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July 12, 2012

Photo Challenge Day 12: Texture

Photo a Day Challenge is hosted by Fat Mum Slim

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Tips on Thursday: Negative Reviews

negative (Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)
We all learned as children if you can't say something nice don't say anything at all. While we should not be malicious, there is value in providing a well constructed negative review. I should note that I decide my Tips topics in advance and it is just serendipitous that this post fell this week given what happened earlier this week. (If you don't know what I'm talking about, then let me just tell you ignorance is bliss).

As book bloggers, we pledge to our readers to provide honest reviews. At the same time, most bloggers I know agonize over not being able to give every book they read a glowing 5 STAR rating. I think negative reviews is one of the most talked about topics among book bloggers (the only topic that comes up more is the pet peeves of review requests). Book bloggers are passionate readers and love nothing more than to promote authors. But not every book is for every person.

Because we are a diverse group of readers, negative reviews can help readers decide if a book is for them or not. Often times, negative reviews are much more informative than positive reviews. Because reviewers are not out to destroy the author's career, they often painstakingly provide details as to what didn't work for them. They also try to highlight the good stuff as well. I know I try to point out positive aspects of every book I review.This effort often leads to a more balanced review since the blogger isn't just gushing about how wonderful the book is.

Readers who regularly follow a blogger learn the blogger's taste and know how it lines up with their own reading taste. A negative review may lead to someone else buying it. Just because I'm not a huge fan of paranormal romance doesn't mean my readers aren't. When I write a review of a book that I didn't really like, I try to keep in mind what might appeal to others.

A few comments for authors: Bloggers aren't writing their review for you, but for the readers. Bloggers feel a responsibility to provide an informative post so that readers can decide for themselves to read the book or not. A review is one person's opinion and everyone is entitled to their opinion. Also few bloggers are influential enough to impact sales significantly. A negative review or two amongst several glowing reviews can lend credibility to your book so embrace the good and the bad. If a negative review leaves you scratching your head and you must have answers, DO NOT attack the reviewer (you'll damage your reputation more so than any negative review could) and do not question their opinion in a public forum (Twitter, Facebook, comment sections). If you sent your book to the blogger then you already have their email address, use it. I've had an author contact me even though I got his book from Netgalley to address my concerns (his book got a great review I just pointed out a couple of problems). When you do contact the blogger, be respectful and polite. Do NOT use inflammatory or confrontational words. You are an author, you can choose your words wisely.

A word for bloggers: If you must give a negative review (and I strongly believe they are an important part of our free market society), be respectful. Do NOT lash out at the author or make the review personal - it is about the book. Give examples, when possible, of the problems you had with the book. At the same time don't belabor the point - support your opinion and then move on. Step back from your emotions, be objective and ask yourself who would enjoy the book, what worked well in the story.

Finally for both authors and book bloggers - remember we are in a public forum and what we say and how we act can reflect on the community as a whole. Book blogging, much like self and indie published authors, is still trying to find its footing in the publishing industry. A lot of positive steps have occurred but if we start fighting amongst ourselves then ground will be lost. Be mature. Be professional.
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July 11, 2012

Photo Challenge Day 11: Letter

Photo a Day Challenge is hosted by Fat Mum Slim
 See all my Photo a Day pictures at Pinterest

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Lorena Knapp: Regional Reading (guest post)

Today, I'm happy to introduce you to Lorena Knapp. She's currently working on her first novel. Lorena is a medivac helicopter pilot flying in Alaska. She spends her time waiting to be dispatched for a flight reading and writing. She’d love to take you for a flight but unfortunately, you’d be having a very bad day. You can follow her progress at and @bigstatebiglife

Regional Reading
I was born and raised in Alaska. My day job is flying a medivac helicopter so I get to view Alaska’s awe-inspiring landscape on a daily basis. Even with all my familiarity with the state, I still love reading regional literature. Why?

Regional literature gives us an opportunity to better understand ourselves. We get a glimpse at our way of being but also a glimpse at the contrast between our unique subculture from those of other parts of the world.

Regional literature also allows us to go beyond generalizations. Are we as Alaskan’s stubbornly independent? Sure, but we’re more than that. We’re gracious and helpful and friendly. We’re curious and attune to our natural surroundings.

Sure, we’ve got our fair share of big name “Outsiders” that attempt to write what Alaska is all about even though they’ve only lived here for brief periods of time. Occasionally we have some authors that haven’t lived here long or recently that give us an insightful look at ourselves. David Vann (Legend of a Suicide, Caribou Island) does this very well.

My favorite go-to picks are the authors who still live in Alaska and the ones that weave their setting into the story, rather than forcing it upon the reader in an, “I’m going to teach you about this place,” kind of way. These books have a great story and the place, albeit integral, doesn’t dominate.

Eowyn Ivey’s, The Snow Child is a perfect example. It tells the story of Jack and Mabel, two homesteaders in the early 1920’s as they work the land and long for the child they never had.

For mystery lovers, Mike Doogan and Dana Stabenow are great. I’d love to be as bad-ass as Stabenow’s detective Kate Shugak.

Even non-fiction can tell a story about a place without directly focusing on it. Nick Jans (The Last Light Breaking) and Heather Lende (If You Lived Here, I’d Know Your Name and Take Good Care of the Garden and the Dogs) do this well. Heather writes about small town life in Haines, Alaska. She is an obituary writer, which sounds totally morbid, but Heather brings humanization and joy to death and grieving.
Ned Rozell (Walking My Dog, Jane), gives us words to explain to our friends and family from the Lower 48 why Alaska captivates us.

Even better is that with Alaska’s small population, these authors are approachable and it isn’t uncommon to see them at local events. I even shared a teary moment with Heather Lende about my Dad’s passing in a bathroom in Homer. This summer, if I'm not outside enjoying Alaska, I'll be reading about it. 

Your turn: What are some regional titles from your area that give a glimpse at life in your part of the world?

July 10, 2012

Photo Challenge Day 10: Favorite Color

Photo a Day Challenge is hosted by Fat Mum Slim.

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Once Upon a Read-a-thon Updates & Challenges

The Once Upon a Read-a-thon started on Monday and I decided to just make one post to catalog my updates and challenges I participate in. I will update this post Tuesday evening and Wednesday evening, so if you want to know how I'm doing and what challenges I did bookmark this post. Here's my goal in case you missed it on Sunday:

Goal: To read 1 book or at least read 1 hour each day (since I work during the day, I thought I'd keep the goal simple).


Day 1: Started Fourteen by C. M. Smith. It is a book I bought last summer and hadn't found time to read it. It is 174 pages and today I read 37 pages in 1 hour.

Day 2:  Read pages 38 - 119 of Fourteen by C. M. Smith. Thanks to internet outage I read for 1 hour and 40 minutes.

Day 3: Finished Fourteen by C. M. Smith. Started Life, Sex, & Hannah (Vol 1, Spring Season). Read 27% of it. I read for at least an hour today. I was snatching minutes here and there so not sure really how long.


Day 1: Between the Pages hosted a character trivia game. I've only read one the books that is part of the game so I didn't participate. IB Book Blogging hosted the other mini challenge with two questions about covers.

Question 1: What is your favorite cover that has been revealed this summer and why? Post a link or picture of the cover if you want.

Question 2: Do you rely on the cover to help you choose whether you want to read a book or not?

I try not to judge a book by its cover, but it is human nature to judge based on what we see. I know when I'm at charity book sales (where it is only costing me a quarter a book), that I often pick up a book because I liked the cover. But I also know that a great cover is only part of what makes a book great. For books I'm pitched to review or browsing at the bookstore, the cover can be a deciding factor for books I'm on the fence about after reading the summary.

Day 2: Today's mini-challenges were hosted by Kindle Fever and Stiletto Storytime.

I've decided to Stiletto Storytime's challenge of naming your favorite author from another country. In high school, I loved European authors - Dickens, the Brontes (Charlotte more so than Emily), and Flaubert. For more modern authors, who doesn't love J. K. Rowling? This question make me wonder if I'm reading fewer international authors lately because I was having a hard time thinking of a name. I think some of it is I don't really know where the authors are from. I just finished A Discover of Witches by Deborah Harkness - she's lived in the UK and the book was pretty British. I'm looking forward to the sequel which released today.

Day 3: The Reader Bee and Magnet 4 Books hosted today's mini-challenges. The Reader Bee wanted to know our most anticipated book of 2012. For me, I can't wait for the release of the fourth book in The Gateway Chronicles Series: The Enchanted by K. B. Hoyle. It's a great series and my niece won't stop bugging me about when the next one is coming out (which won't end when the next book comes out because there are 2 more books to come).

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July 9, 2012

Photo Challenge Day 9: Big

Photo a Day Challenge is hosted by Fat Mum Slim

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Blown Away: Downburst (Giveaway)

Downburst  (The Windstorm Series #1) by Katie Robison
Published January 2012 by Quill Books
ISBN13: 9780985046514
Read June 2012
Goodreads, IndieBound, Amazon

I was totally blown away by Downburst. I loved it! And can't wait for the next book in the series. This book kept me on my toes as the first person narration only allowed limited glimpses at what was going on. 

Kit is a runaway who survives by being a messenger for a forgery artist. She finds herself again on the run when the forgery ring is busted by cops. She has no money, no id, and no idea what she's going to do. I wasn't sure of the time period - either it is modern day in a crime ridden area or it is a bit of a dystopian society. While hiding out in the train yard, Kit spies her last drop, Aura, who happens to have an uncanny resemblance to herself. The fate of this girl isn't any better than Kit's as her throat is slit. Grabbing the girl's wallet, she unwittingly gets wrapped up in the life of Aura. 

When she arrived at the camp (by dubious means), I was not sure if it was a terrorist training cell or a Hunger Games-like survival boot camp. Robison does a wonderful job of revealing just enough information to keep the story moving forward, but plenty of red herrings or misdirections to keep the story exciting and the reader guessing.

You know something isn't quite right in this camp, at the same time you begin piecing together that it isn't all bad. Surely the threats of skinning spies alive is just a joke, right? For Kit's sake you hope so.

Kit gave off a vibe that reminded me of Katniss Everdeen. She is resourceful, has great survival instincts, and a hint of something special. The Native American legends and lore that are woven throughout the story are intriguing. And the cliffhanger at the end had me shouting "When is the next one?" (I emailed Katie and she said she's working on the next book - Katie, if you are reading this, please hurry!)

It is hidden gems like Downburst that makes me love reviewing independent and small press published books. I don't know why more people aren't talking about this book. Go read it!

If I haven't convinced you yet, watch the trailer:

You can also read Katie's guest post from February (it is the top viewed guest post on my blog). And visit Katie's website for updates on the sequel:

And, now you could win a copy of Downburst. Katie is offering an ebook copy to one lucky winner. It's open internationally!

a Rafflecopter giveaway
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