Book Review: Six of Crows by Leah Bardugo

Six of Crows (Six of Crows, #1)Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

(Possible spoilers) There seem to be a quite a lot of popular books that other people love that I just…don’t. I don’t know why, because I’m not purposely trying to be contrary. Six of Crows is one of them. I wasn’t even sure what this was about before I picked it up, and when I finally read the description I was like, okay, heist, cool, not my typical but okay. I should add that when I start any book, they automatically begin with 5 stars. It’s up to the book (or, er, my reaction to it) to keep it at five stars. I loved certain things about this one, but ultimately it lost some stars because of the negatives. First, what I didn’t like:

-Too many points-of-view kept me from really connecting to anyone for a long time. I didn’t personally feel the voices were distinctive enough, and Jesper and Waylen ended up lacking to me. Their voices were underdeveloped, their backstories, even their relationship. I think it would have been stronger if she’d focused on even just 4 points-of-view. I wasn’t invested in the story until a good 40% into the book, and I kept putting it down without being excited to pick it back up. Whether that was due to the general feeling of disconnect or something else, it just wasn’t that interesting to me for awhile.

-Kaz. I just cannot with him. I get why people think he’s so hot and brooding…kind of? But no. The eyeball thing killed any chance I had to love him. I get that he was tortured, and once I read his backstory I did feel bad for him, but he was too sadistic, cold, and his only motivation for *most* of the book seemed to be getting loads of money? So, like, I can’t. Honestly he reminded me of Heathcliff a bit, and I just can’t with him either.

-The violence overall, the killing, the fighting, just not my cup of tea, but of course, that’s going to vary for everyone.

-The sexual tension with NO reward. Three separate couples, all with either slow-burn or enemies to lovers tropes and NOT ONE COUPLE HOOKS UP AT THE END? Like, was there even any kissing? I honestly don’t recall any.

-Also I did not buy that this was a YA book. Sure, no kissing or sex, or swearing (but extreme violence is a yes?) but the characters were not teenagers to me. Many reviewers agree, stating they saw Kaz at least in his late 20s/early 30s. Agree with that entirely.

Now, critical party over. What I loved and liked:

-Nina and Matthias. Just swoon a million times over. Their backstory, their witty banter, the tension between them, the conflict, the resolution, all of it. They were the clearest characters to me, and perhaps that’s why I connected so hard, but I also just think their storylines were the best. Honestly, if the whole book had been from their pov only with their relationship taking center stage (and the heist backstage) it would have easily been a 5 star read. I get what other people are saying, that this isn’t a romance novel and romance doesn’t always have to be the main course, but I can’t help my poor, romantic heart. Love is what makes the story for me. I’m totally going to go off and try to find some Nina/Matthias fanfic to gush over now.

-The strategy and planning, while heavy in some parts, was well thought-out, exciting and action-packed.

-The dialogue was snappy and funny. I think the characters related so well to each other.

-The author can paint a scene well, and it wasn’t a badly-written story (though I caught a lot of filtering), and I will read more of her work. I’m actually really excited to read The Language of Thorns!

So, overall it was a solid 3 star read for me. Lovers of action, adventure, and danger will love it. Lovers of well, lovers, may be a bit let-down at times.

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Author Branding

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This blog post is geared toward writers/authors, but please feel free to read if branding & design talk floats your boat 😉

In all seriousness, I have a lot to say, and I *think* (hope) that it’s fairly useful for writers trying to find their way around the overwhelming task of creating a brand. What is a brand, and why is this all so important? I’m by NO means an expert, but I’ve learned a lot in the last six months.

Simply put, a brand is what your audience (readers) can expect from you. It’s not just your books, or stories, it’s what’s in them, it’s what makes you, YOU. Steven King’s author brand is easy to recognize. You know you’ll get scary, right? What about Jennifer Weiner? Her brand has feminist appeal, plenty of snark, and some heart. Name any well-known author and you can probably see where this is going. Think of musicians, artists, etc. We know what to expect because we recognize their brand.

(Graphic from Pinterest)

There’s a lot of great information online from smarter people than I on the subject. There are people who work on branding for a living. But what I can tell you as someone who has focused on her branding (and refocused after I got it wrong) is that there’s several important steps to consider, and you can’t rush it.

Okay, so brand = what your audience expects from you as a product (your books/writing), right? Think about that further with just one more example.

Nike brand = athletic apparel, sports, work-out, healthy living, kicking ass. Their logo, the infamous swoosh, is beyond simple. Yet you see it, you recognize immediately who it is from.

This isn’t just about smooshing all your branding into one simple symbol, however. It’s about how we use each element of our brand design to create a package that is intriguing, consistent, and genuinely us. Or you, or whatever.

Let me back up for just a minute. I promise to be quick. My first book was published, and my publisher chose a cover (which I liked very much):

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After that I then self-published a few short stories. My covers looked like this all together:

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You can see if you look at them all together that nothing really went. Yes, they all had my name. And perhaps a certain whimsy (for some) but that was really it.

Then, a few months ago I decided I better make a logo and business cards finally. I had been learning bits here and there about branding, and I knew I needed to get something set. I was dreading it because as much as I do enjoy creative design, art, etc., it was SO overwhelming narrowing down what I wanted. I went with something that I thought fit my “brand” of work- writing that is emotionally-charged, lyrical, simple-whimsical, and overall feminine in style.

Now that might still be confusing, but you know when you pick up one of my books you’re probably not going to get sparse, stark language, much violence, horror, or fast-action scenes. You will probably get slightly poetic descriptions, hopeful endings (in general), character-driven stories that often use flowers, nature, beauty, and a hint of magic (for most). Now, my branding is probably harder than some other authors because I write cross-genre. I have to create consistent branding between my poetry, my fantasy (both YA and adult), and my Women’s Fiction (one novel, and a short story collection). I totally lean toward fantasy writing, because it’s where my passion lies, but I can’t say ALL my stories contain elements of magic, so I have to do my best. It’s even more of a challenge when you consider my audience. I might have fans of my Women’s Fiction who HATE poetry. Every time I post a poem on social media, I risk them unliking my page (and therefore losing valuable marketing and visibility), for one example.

Anywho, it’s harder to create consistent branding in that case, but not impossible.

I read a fantastically helpful article about branding covers, and I want you all to go read it right now. Go ahead. Please.

Okay, now that you have, is it making more sense? After reading that I looked at all my covers, and was like ruh-roh. It looked like books/stories from four different authors! Truth be told, I’m still working on updating covers. But, after tweaking font, images, and other details, so far…

Can you see where the covers I am set with (so far) are all looking more cohesive? And do you catch the hint of whimsy, magic, femininity, lyricism in them? It’s okay that the colors vary because the most important thing here to me is the style & feel. 

I wasn’t done yet, however (still am not) because I still had my logo to contend with. As beautiful as it was, really, and as much time as I spent on it—I literally placed those floral elements piece by freaking piece—it wasn’t quite ME. I could go off on a whole tangent here about knowing yourself, and even at 34 I’m still figuring out my style and who I am, but I’ll just say not to rush it. Really decide when you’re looking at something if you just find it beautiful OR if it really represents you. It could be clothes, or home décor, or design, or anything else. Is it something you admire or something that truly speaks to you?

I went from this

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to a much cleaner, simpler this

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I’m so much happier with it. It feels like a breath of fresh air. My logo and branding is starting to really reflect who I am. I’m using this to make all kinds of decisions in my life and home, even. My wardrobe is a mostly-neutral set of black, gray, white, cream, with a hint of blush or lavender. It’s what I’m comfortable in. My home is eclectic but I’m finding much more peace in more minimalistic décor. I like things to be pretty, but not fussy. Feminine but not fluffy. Simple but not stark. Check out

My Author Brand Aesthetic Board

And my Instagram feed is reflecting this all, too:

And it’s definitely not accidental. I’ve worked really hard to be consistent, and the result is something that makes me happy every time I see it. It’s me, it’s my brand, it’s my work, my hopes, all rolled together.

Some of you may not be published authors yet, or you haven’t started really figuring out your brand. You may not have book covers to design, or Instagram feeds to curate. You may think this is too much work, and that I have no clue what I’m talking about. Eek. But the sooner you can get comfortable with your brand I promise the easier it will be. Who are YOU? What kind of work do you want to create? What do you want just the sight of your logo to say to future readers?

Simple ways to start:

  1. Think of 3 keywords that describe your writing. If you have trouble with this ask beta readers, friends, critique partners, etc. I polled people on my author Facebook page awhile back. There were several keywords that were repeated. This helped me focus in on what my readers see. But you also have to keep in mind what you want. Perhaps you only write cozy mysteries but you want to venture into erotic romance. You’ll need to design around the future of your work.
  2. Look at other branding boards. Seriously, just hop on Pinterest, search “brand design” and see how well people pull all the elements together. Save the ones that speak to you. Are you drawn toward funky, colorful branding? Soft, floral? Bold, simple? You’ll start to see a pattern of what draws you in.
  3. Pick a color palette you love. Not just colors you love, but a palette that works well together, and is soothing to you. That doesn’t mean bold colors are out, by any means! But pick colors that feel good to you deep down. If you wouldn’t wear them, or decorate your home in them, then you probably don’t’ really love them. Choose no more than six colors. Mine? Charcoal gray, soft white, muted sage, lavender-gray, blush pink, black.
  4. Look at logo designs. Again, save some that inspire you. What kind of fonts do you like? What don’t you like? What shapes are you drawn to? What elements?
  5. Check out your favorite authors books. Do their covers have anything in common? What is it about them that you like?
  6. Save images, photos, greeting cards, scraps of fabric, or anything else to a mood board for inspiration. If your brand is truly reflective of you as a writer, then the mood board doesn’t just exist as a way to design your brand, but as an inspiration for your work! If you like, do this digitally on Pinterest.
  7. Seek professional help, if you have the means. I did not, so I made my own.
  8. If you make your own logo, cards, etc. there are several great resources. I purchased images from Creative Market, got free ones from Pixaby, and then used Canva to create my logo for no cost. I paid for some of my book images, but others were free stock photos. I used Zazzle to make cards.
  9. Try to expand your branding design to beyond just business cards, logos, or book covers. Don’t neglect your website, your social media headers, your author headshot, bookmarks, and even giveaway packaging. Even the way you wrap books to ship them to lucky readers who win your books should reflect your design. I haven’t yet, but I plan to purchase birch-paper wrapping paper, and lavender-gray ribbon to wrap mine in. See how that just fits right in? 🙂 
  10. Finally, take your time. It can be easy to rush into it, because yes it’s kind of fun. But I spent HOURS working on my busy floral logo, printing 200 business cards, and making headers, only to find it wasn’t ME. So first, get to know who you are, take time with yourself, and your desires.

That was really long, but I hope informative! Please comment below and let me know where you are at with branding. I’d love to hear from you.

Thanks!

Amanda 

Book Review: The Gravity Between Us by Kristen Zimmer 

The Gravity Between UsThe Gravity Between Us by Kristen Zimmer

Where does friendship stop and love begin?

At just 19, Kendall Bettencourt is Hollywood’s hottest young starlet with the world at her feet – but behind the glamour and designer dresses is a girl who longs for normal.

Payton Taylor is Kendall’s best friend since childhood, and the one person who reminds her of who she really is – her refuge from the craziness of celebrity life. 

With her career taking off, Kendall moves Payton to LA to help keep her sane. But Payton is hiding a secret that could make everything ten times worse. Because to her, Kendall is more than a best friend – she is the only girl that she has ever loved. 

Just as they need each other more than ever, they’ll have to answer the question of where friendship stops and love begins? And find out whether the feelings they have can survive the mounting pressure of fame…
3 of 5 stars

This was a really easy read, and it had lots of potential. I wanted to love it more than I did.

The good parts were Kendall & Payton’s relationship as friends. I felt they cared about each other. The underlying sexual and romantic tension also felt real most of the time. I also thought the conflict of what society/Hollywood would think made it stronger than just “will she/won’t she” because there was something bigger coming between them.

That said, I had to downgrade because of the bi-negativity other reviewers mentioned, the multiple times “retard” was used ::cringes:: and that the two points-of-view just sounded way too much like one person. It was a good read if you are looking for something light.

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Black Friday Sale 

Hey there! I have two ebooks on sale for Black Friday/Cyber Monday. If you want to buy yourself a little something, or give to a reader in your life, both Like Waves and Déjà You Kindle ebooks are on sale for just .99! 

As always, thank you for your support! And if you haven’t already liked my Facebook page please do. I’m *so close* to 1,000 likes and I plan to do a giveaway when I reach it! 

Have a great weekend 😄

Cover Reveal: Our Wild Magic 

Ta-dah! I’m so happy to finally share the cover for my upcoming book. 😍

Our Wild Magic is a four-part collection of poetry. Wicked explores the parts of ourselves we’d rather keep hidden; Wild, the untamed and forbidden; Charmed, the needs and wishes we have; Ever After brings us into the sweet spot between real life and magic.

These poems explore what is good and bad within, what we desire and need, and how magic & myth have touched those of us who still trust in fairytales even through our all-too-real daily life. It is a spell book in and of itself, for those of you who still believe– in love, in magic, in the beauty that grows wild, in hearts that sometimes let themselves be tamed. 💖

I’m still adding content, and pushing my poetry to be as strong as I can make it. I don’t want to rush. A release date has not been set yet, but tentative schedule is spring of 2018. Please do let me know what you think of the cover (ampersandbookcovers on etsy) and my description. Yay for more poetry books!

Background from pic collage 😉

I’ll be back this week with book reviews and an update on queries. Have a great day!

Character Illustration: Aya 

I recieved the sweetest character illustration of Aya Haven from Witch Lessons by nataliaillustrations on Instagram. It is absolutely perfect. I can’t explain how cool it is as a writer to see my character come to life! 

To read my Instagram post, click here

Have a great week! 

Book Review: Song of the Current by Sarah Tolcser

Song of the Current (Song of the Current #1)Song of the Current by Sarah Tolcser

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Song of the Current is a book I bought this summer in a local bookstore, and I loved the description. River gods, girl captain, intrigue? Yes, please! Despite my best intentions I just could not get into intially. I started it, read a few pages here or there, and then set it aside until last week. Then I decided I may as well read it. I’m glad I did. Though there’s a lot of sailing lingo which may put some people off, the story does pick up and get really fun. I liked Caroline (Caro) the main character well enough, and I loved that she was sassy and independent, plus she doesn’t take crap from anyone. But there were times I wasn’t that sympathetic to her and I wanted a bit more softness. I don’t want to reveal spoilers, but I’ll say I liked her interactions with a certain somebody. I think the story really got started more when she got off her wherry and onto land, only to steal another boat instead. I liked the general feel of the book, and I will probably read it again.

 I wasn’t sure what to rate this. In all honesty I’d probably say 3.5 stars because I think my emotional response was a little meh in parts and I wasn’t as connected as I should be, but I’m going to round it to 4. It’s a good story, with some fun characters, and a twist at the end I wasn’t expecting. I just wanted a tiny bit more.

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Fan Art!

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Hi guys! So I’m geekily excited to share my first fan art from a friend (and reader) Jamie McLachlan.  I randomly drew one of her characters last week after a looong drawing hiatus, and she was so sweet to draw one of my characters in return! She recently helped edit With Lessons (still out with literary agents woohoo!) and this is how she imagined Thalia, the love interest of one of my protagonists Aya. Isn’t it good? I love the eyes– so intense– just like Thalia!

Don’t forget, too, if you follow me on Instagram and want to create any of your own fan art for me, use the hashtag #amandalinsmeiergiveaway to enter to win a sgned copy of one of my books. There’s more details in my giveaway post. Ends in a few days so get on that 🙂 I’ll be back later with a book review, and more this week.

Have a great Sunday.

 

 

Updating Stories Pt. 1

Hi guys!

I’ve been busy working on my new poetry manuscript, as well as Weightless, but in between those I’ve been re-reading some of my older work, and decided to go ahead and make some updates to improve the stories in general because I have grown as a writer, and I can see where I can fix things now that I’ve had time to improve my craft.  Its mostly small things (like, WHY am filtering so much, or this dialogue could be improved) but a few bigger issues.

The first book I have updated (so far just ebook) is Beach Glass & Other Broken Things. I tweaked the title story, because after pondering it for the last few months I decided I wasn’t the best person to tell Cody’s story as a trans girl. Though I had a sensitivity reader, and I haven’t gotten any negative feedback, somehow in hindsight, it felt icky for me to presume I would know what Cody is going through. Part of being a writer is putting yourself in others’ shoes, but also knowing what is your story to tell and what isn’t. After publishing, it just didn’t sit right with me. This is not about being “politically correct”; it is about not wanting to hurt anyone. I want to be considerate of young people who may be reading this story, who may be struggling with gender-identity, sexuality, or anything else. Though I was glad to strive for diversity in my story, it’s one thing to include a transgender character, and another to use their struggle as a plot point. It’s an important story to tell, but now I know it’s not mine.

I’ve changed a couple other little things, and the ebook is back up and on SALE! Please get a copy for just .99 while the sale lasts through the week.