Saturday, July 30, 2011

Indie Book Review: Thaloc Has A Body

Anyone who read the review I did of Death Has A Name knows that I'm a Brodie Wade fan.  He's that perfectly adorable combination of vulnerable, unstable, wounded, and sweet that just makes you want to take him home, clean him up, and make sure he's safe and protected forever.  Basically, if you've got even the tiniest bit of Florence Nightingale in you, you're going to love Brodie.

So, I was immensely pleased to see him come back for Thaloc Has A Body.  In Thaloc Brodie's got a whole new set of mysteries to figure out.  Phil Dawson, his friend the police detective, is stumped.  People are getting killed.  Heaping piles of evidence point to the murderers, but it just doesn't feel right.  Those people are acting innocent and have no motives.  Then the final straw, one of the killers is a dead man.  Phil calls in Brodie, and the two of them start chasing down a killer who can look like anyone, leave hair, fingerprint, and clothing evidence, and is on a killing streak.  Meanwhile, The Truth, Brodie's link to the paranormal, has been pretty well behaved in the wake of Death Has A Body, but well behaved isn't the same thing as silent.  It's telling Brodie his wife and death, who are one in the same, are approaching.  

There were some issues I had with Death, lack of back story, rushed ending, slightly flat secondary characters, all of which I was hoping to see improve in the next book.  And in most of these issues Hanel delivered.  Thaloc takes care of the back story issues.  How did Brodie and Phil get together?  Why are they friends?  What kind of guy is Phil?  All answered beautifully.  Jamie Stanton, who was briefly introduced in Death comes back as well, and she's also nicely rounded out in this one.  Brodie, as always, is a glittering diamond of a character.  And, because the Truth is backing off a bit, we're getting to see what a functional Brodie, a man who's just starting to trust that maybe the world isn't going to explode around him in the next five minutes, looks like.  I like functional Brodie just as much as messed up Brodie.

Pacing is still pretty quick.  Hanel has taken the mantra "Do Not Bore The Reader" to heart.  There is no wasted time in this plot.  If something is happening in the story, it's important.  Pacing is also fast in the sense of how quickly characters developed.  Personally, I'd like to see the character development slow down a little.  But, I'm guessing the target audience for this book will be fine with things fast.

Once again, the ending seems a bit rushed.  Hanel writes a big climax and then sort of skimps on denouement.  There are two major bombs thrown at us at the end of the story and a little time to see Brodie deal with them would be nice. 

We get some romance in this installment which I enjoyed.  I like seeing Brodie happy.  And for most people happy involves more in the way of companionship than a cat.  Granted, I would have expected him to be a bit more shut off, but the romance wasn't totally out of left field.  It is (as I eluded to before) fast.  But not ridiculously fast, no one is declaring undying love on day two of the romance.  And, I'd like to give Jerry some serious points for this, from everything we can tell Brodie is a virgin, which fits his character perfectly.  There is nothing I find more off-putting than running into a socially awkward, emotionally wounded character who as soon as he gets into the bedroom turns into Mr. All-The-Right-Moves-Sex-God!

There was one note in this story that rang false to me.  Phil is the sort of character who's had a very, very bad time with religion in the past and it's left him hostile to the idea of God.  And he's so deeply uncomfortable with the idea of God that it threatens to wedge a rift between him and Brodie.  But he has a sort of no-atheists-in-foxholes moment toward the end of the book.  Now, I know some pretty hardcore atheists, some of whom have been in foxholes, and they tend to get annoyed at the portrayal of when the chips are down they start praying just like everyone else.  Given Phil's back story, and the way he reacted to Brodie and Jamie talking about God, his sudden prayer struck me as more Jerry making a point, than something Phil would genuinely do.

But as quibbles go, that's a pretty minor one.  Once again I fully enjoyed spending time with Brodie.  Once again I can't wait to see what's coming next for him.  The end of Thaloc left a lot of interesting possibilities for our leading man, and I'm looking forward to seeing where he goes.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

The Indie Book Review: Freedom's Sword

I like historical fiction.  I like military history.  I like Scotland.  So I was pretty sure I'd like Freedom's Sword, and as I turned off my kindle after reading the last word, I sat back, relaxed, and enjoyed my visit to the first Scottish War of Independence.

A little background: Scotland was once upon a time a completely free and independent entity from England.  But back in the 1200's a squabble between potential claimants to the throne ended up with Edward I deciding he was in charge.  This sparked the first Scottish War of Independence.  Most Americans are vaguely familiar with this because we've seen Braveheart.  Unlike Freedom's Sword, Braveheart played pretty fast and loose with the facts to make a romantic, compelling story.  Tomlin thought the truth was compelling enough, and from what I can tell stuck pretty closely to it.  Personally, I agree with her.

So, as the tale opens we meet Andrew Moray, brand new knight about to go off on his first battle.  It goes horribly, he's taken captive, and after months of torment in an English dungeon and a breath-taking escape, he returns to Scotland with a burning desire to reconquer his homeland.  From there we follow him as he rounds up a force of like minded men and retakes northern Scotland from the English.

It's a good story.  And I read most of it over the Forth of July weekend, so a tale of booting out the English seemed especially resonant.  Battle scenes are vibrant without being overblown.  Details of place are in enough depth to give an image of what is happening, but not so dense that you need to hack through them with a machete to find the plot.  Most of the secondary characters are well enough defined that you won't confuse them with each other.  The history is well researched and alive.  It's what moves the story along as opposed to being scenery. 

If I wanted anything from Freedom's Sword, it was actually more history on what exactly was happening and why.  I'm well versed on medieval history, weaponry, and tactics, so I was following along pretty well, but a bit more on how Edward I ended up in charge, why they were rebelling against him in the first place, how things were different under Toom Tabard, why Robert the Bruce was a natural claimant to the throne, and how the Scottish political system worked would have been useful.  With Tomlin's obvious love of the subject and deft writing, I would have been well pleased by another fifty pages of background.

There was one jarring aspect of Freedom's Sword.  For some reason it suddenly shifts point of view (POV) to Caitrina, Andrew's Lady.  And while I thought more or less everything involving Andrew was interesting, I rapidly lost interest when the story shifted to Caitrina.  (Fortunately it didn't happen too often.)  It's not that her story was badly written, nor was it boring per se; it just didn't have a lot to do with the rest of the plot.  There's nothing that happens from Caitrina's POV that couldn't be dealt with in a few lines of dialog with her talking to Andrew.  There's nothing added by hopping to her head.  She's so tangentially related to the plot that at one point twenty-seven chapters go by without a mention of her.  It almost feels like there was a plan to do a secondary story line of life on the home front, but somehow it didn't make it into the final story.   Personally I would have liked to have seen that sort of a storyline.  I think Tomlin could have done many fine things with it, but that will have to remain in the wish stage.

Beyond that my only other complaint was the lack of idea of when thing happen.  We get one date stamp in the beginning of the tale and another at the very end.  Some in between would have made it easier to keep track of what was going on. 

All in all I enjoyed Freedom's Sword quiet a bit, and look forward to seeing what else Tomlin will come up with. 

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Not Even Remotely Indie Book Review Strikes Back: Storm Front

I know, I know, I'm late to the party.  It's 2011 and I'm just getting to know Harry Dresden.  But, as they say, better late than never, and in this case, it's much better late.

I read for characters.  That and dialog are my things.  Give me a fantastic character with a great voice and I'll forgive a lot of writing sins.  So, as you can probably guess Harry Dresden was right up my alley, and Jim Butcher is a good enough writer there weren't many sins I needed to forgive.

Oh, and I should probably mention I'm a massive James Marsters fan, and he's the guy reading the audio version of the book I was listening to.  Even if I wasn't a raving Spike fan, I would have considered this an extremely well read audio book.  

Harry is a perfect combination of gallows humor, never-give-up tenacity, snarky-wit, and anti-authoritarian attitude.   Basically, he's almost exactly what I want in a leading man.  James Marsters does a fantastic job of bringing that to life.  It is a deeply satisfying combination. 

I love a well-thought-out, detailed system of magic.  And Jim wrote it for me.  Wrote it beautifully with hints of way more going on beyond the surface than is specifically told to us.  Wrote it with enough detail so that the mythos feels real and works.  And though I haven't read books 2-12 I'm quite hopeful that he's not done such a good job setting this up to then turn it on it's head and throw the laws out when they become inconvenient. 

As for those sins I mentioned earlier, really there was only one, too much going over the same turf again and again and again.  Quick example: Butcher wrote a scene where Harry's shield bracelet got slagged, he then had Harry tell me it was destroyed two, four, and seven pages later.  (I'm guessing on the pages since I was listening to the book, but you get my drift.)  I doubt Jim Butcher will ever read this, so I'll address this advice to other writers: if you show us something important happening, you do not then need to tell us it happened over and over.  Occasional reminders might be nice, once a large chunk of story has gone by.   Your reader is smart enough to remember details for more than five hundred words.

All in all, I was greatly pleased by this addition to my slowly growing collection of trad published books.  Fool Moon is definitely on my to be read list.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

To Tag or Not To Tag:

That is the question.
'Tis nobler to suffer the finger cramps of furious clicking
And the wasted time of promoting others
Or stand against the waves of popular wisdom
And proclaim a tag free strategy?

So, I'm very obviously not Shakespeare.  (On the off chance that being female, a novelist, and alive didn't already tip you off to that.)  But I do think I know something about tagging on Amazon and would like to pass it along.
For those of you out of the loop, tags are those little notes you can attach to any product on Amazon to make it easier to find.  Products usually have some tags already, and if you agree with them, you can click on them driving the tag numbers up, or you can add your own.

If you click on the box below, you'll get to my book.  Scroll down past the publisher info, blurb, and reviews, and you'll find the tags.  I've got over 200 votes on my most popular tags.  I got them by the fairly common technique among writers whereby we swap tags.  You tag mine, I'll tag yours, and we're all happy in the end.  I have spent, literally, over an entire day tagging other people's books so they would tag mine.

Now, Amazon has requested on the CreateSpace page that authors not swap tags.  That they do not approve of gaming the system.  I can understand that.  After all, the tags are supposed to be for the customers to help them find things other customers thought fit in certain categories.

I know this is bothering some writers, but I'm supremely non-plussed.  (And not just because I've already got a lot of tags.)  See, I've come to the conclusion that tags are not a wildly useful way to spend your promotional time.

Why?  Well, first off let's talk about what a tag isn't.  They aren't keywords.  They also aren't a way to boost your book higher on the main search page.  If you go to Amazon's main page, and type in a search term, the first zillion items are ones that have that term in the title.

If you refine your search by going to the advanced search options, you can search by keywords.  You cannot search by tags.  If you search by keyword, what pops up are books that have the keyword in question.   Having a lot of tags can help a bit here, but not in a direct way.  If the person doing the keyword search clicks on an item, and then scrolls all the way down to the bottom of the product page, items with similar tags will pop up. 

If you want to search by tag, you have to click on a product, scroll down to where the tags are, and then click on the search by tag feature.

So, we'll start off with the fact that tags are not the most easily accessible search tool on Amazon.  And, because of that, they are likely also not the most used search feature on Amazon.   People who know and regularly shop on Amazon may use them, but the casual user is unlikely to be finding your book by it's tags.

Then, there's also the fact that tagging takes time.  If you want a lot of tags, you've got to give a lot of tags.  Given how handy and easy to use tags are for the average person searching for your book, I'd say there are a lot of better ways to use your promotional time.  My 200+ tag votes took me at least thirty hours of tagging other people to get.   At this point in my career I've got the number one book for Justice, Fate, number two for True Love, and similarly high numbers for most of my other tags.  I'm not burning up the bestseller list, and having done a very quick audit of the other books at the tops of those categories with me, neither are they.

So, thirty hours spent dominating categories no one is searching... or thirty hours spent getting to know people online, reading books to review, tweeting, posting on the blog, or any other promotional opportunity?  I know for a fact people have bought my book because of time I spent engaging with them online and writing blog posts.  I don't know that anyone besides me has even seen my book based on it's tags, let along bought it.   And judging by the sales numbers of the other books at the tops of the tag heaps I checked, it's not helping them either.

I'm not saying tags are useless.  I am saying that if you've got any other way you can spend that time that might attract readers to you, do it instead.