Tuesday, September 8, 2015

What an #SFR #author did on her holidays #amreading

This summer holiday I decided that I needed to take a complete break from the internet. I was tired of marketing, tired of publishing, tired of the online dramas and cat-fights and stuff. I was burnt out and just plain exhausted by it all. Although the closure of my main publisher back in May wasn't as bad as it could have been - thanks to the owner going out of his way to make it easier, so that I had most of my titles back up at retailers within a month -  it was still a hard blow coming on the end of a chaotic year.

I got myself back on track, closed my blog for renovation (while considering leaving it permanently closed), and focused on setting up seven weeks worth of blog posts here, on Tumblr, my regular monthly post at Romancing the Genres, and a batch of tweets that would post to my fanpage and to the Brigade page to keep everything ticking over in my absence.

As time went on, I began to wonder if I wanted to come back at all, and if I really wanted to keep on publishing. I'd stopped writing. I'd promised my sequel to Keir so I was committed to that, and I have one last book with a publisher until June 2016. That would be a convenient place to quit and take everything down. So the seven week holiday was apparently also going to be time to mull over what exactly I would do after my return, if return I did. Yeah, I was feeling that low.

In the meantime, my TBR pile had just kept on growing and growing and growing over the years...damn that Amazon 1-Click and all those freebies...to the point where I had some 300 ebooks and a dozen print books, many of them as old as two or three years since purchase. That's...pretty bad. Considering part of the reason I started writing was because of my love of books, I certainly hadn't been reading anywhere near as much as I used to.

So, with my monsters off school for those seven weeks, I decided to devote the time to them and to my reading list. If you want to see what I read, you can check out my Goodreads profile, or see my recent reviews at Critique de Book (more are upcoming over the next few weeks, and I hope to keep it up to date now).

First things first. My basic review policy is this: I only want to talk about the books I love, not waste time on the books I didn't, or on books that were just okay. Over the summer I read several books that were beautifully - even perfectly - written in technical terms, but that just didn't wow me. I read some that were good, but other things meant I couldn't give them the above three stars rating that's my minimum. It doesn't necessarily mean they were bad books. It just meant they weren't for me, or some flaw meant I'd have focused more on what I didn't like than what I did. Not always the author's fault (where poor editing or lazy writing aren't the issue) - we all have our preferences and differing tastes or tolerance levels.

I also don't write reviews for books that only made the 3* rating (in my opinion): I rate them on GR and leave it at that (I use GR to keep a record of what I've read most of all). I only spend time on writing reviews for books I rate as 4 or 5*, and the books that get them are the only ones I want to talk about. In my entire life as a reader I have only ever written one negative review, and that's because I'd committed to reviewing it for a particular site. On a personal level, I prefer not to do negative reviews because they make me sad, and I really don't want to spend precious time writing them. I've already wasted valuable time reading them. So many books, so little time...

So, here's the list of books I did review. Once the review is scheduled at Critique de Book, I post it to Goodreads, Amazon, B&N, ARe, and wherever else possible (such as the publisher's own retail site for example):

  • Even Villains Have Interns by Liana Brooks 5* (Love this series! I'd already read a rough draft pre-release, but went back to the full version.)
  • Iron Admiral: Conspiracy by Greta van der Rol 4* (classic space adventure)
  • Ignition Point by Kate Corcino 5* (more stunning post apoc shorts)
  • Girl from Above: Betrayal by Pippa DaCosta 4* (gritty space opera, but beware the cliffhanger ending).
  • Inherit the Stars by Laurie A Green 5* (classic SciFi romance)
  • Queen of Nowhere by Jaine Fenn (stunning space opera with some cyberpunk, and the last Hidden Empire book - boo hoo!)
  • To Even Have Dreams by CE Kilgore 5* (I love Corinne's space opera series!)
  • According to Plan by CE Kilgore 4.5*
  • The Path to the Sun by Jaine Fenn 5* (alternative pre-WWII historical short, free from the author's site)
  • A Mirror to Life by Jaine Fenn 5* (thought provoking SF short free from the author's website)
  • The Trouble with Pixies by Gayle Ramage 4* (humorous UF short set in Edinburgh)
  • Queen of Starlight by Jessa Slade 4* (beautifully lyrical SFR, but the sex scenes felt out of place)
  • Deep Deception by Cathy Pegau 4* (f/f SFR - Cathy has got me hooked on them!)
  • Rulebreaker by Cathy Pegau 5* (more f/f SFR)
  • The Ships of Aleph by Jaine Fenn 4* (A sci-fantasy novella set in her Hidden Empire universe)
  • Blood Siren by Michael Formichelli 4* (A Dune-esque epic type SF, but shinier)
  • Girl from Above: Escape by Pippa DaCosta 4* (more gritty space opera)
  • Whispers from Exile (Corwint Central Agent Files #2) by CE Kilgore 4* (more and multiple mixed gender/human alien mecha SciFi romances, but lost a star because of too many conflicting POVs)
  • Tracing the Stars (Corwint #3) 3.5* & Breathe Into Existence (Corwint #4) 5*
Some of these were legal freebies or 99 cent sales - as an FYI I have  then gone on to buy the next or other books by some of the authors, notably CE Kilgore's. You will notice from some of the titles alone that these are not all purely SFR, to prove I do read other genres occasionally. :P But SFR is my main area of preference. I am not, however, a strictly romance reader. I came to SFR from SF, and I'm afraid non-speculative romance just doesn't do it for me at all, though I have tried a few contemporary or historical romances. Just not my bag.

A few things came up during my reading that bugged me. One, although I love SFR/SF most of all, I can't get into contemporary/near future Earth settings. They bore me. They aren't...science-fiction-y enough to satisfy that aspect of me. The only exceptions to this that I can recall are Misa Buckley's Tin Cat (which had a suitably SF geeky type setting) and Liana Brooks's Heroes and Villains series - both entertaining enough to overcome my dislike for contemp settings. There may be a few others on my book list. Oh, an exception to that is urban fantasy - for some reason, the contemporary settings don't even figure in my perceptions when reading those. I have no idea why.

Another was that, although I've written a couple of YA stories, I'm not a huge fan of reading them, or a fan of NA either. This is not a condemnation of anyone who reads them (gee, I'm never going to hate on someone for their reading choices - I see enough of that kind of stupidity on social media as it is). Just confirmation that it's apparently not for me. Maybe I shouldn't be writing YA either if I don't like reading it... While there are exceptions on my reading list (Fatal by TA Brock for one, although the high school setting did grate on me a bit), on the whole I much prefer to read adult, though I live in hope that I will find some more YA books I'll enjoy.

Also, I discovered that a book can be technically perfect in all ways and yet fall totally flat for me, while a book full of interesting characters, settings and emotional impact, though flawed, will totally win me over. I don't believe the fault lies with the books or the authors. It seems I have a very definite type when it comes to books I love, though they might be quite broad in their genre, trope, writing style etc. Much to my disappointment there were a couple of books that I hoped/expected to be wow-ed by...and I wasn't. The books weren't 'bad'. They were clearly just a bad match for me.

But one thing that came up during my reading that really did irk me was what I think of as book padding: where instead of actual story, the book is padded out with front and back matter. This happened to me twice. Both were shorts. Both were well written. But both had way too much back matter which, if I'd bought them, would have got them one starred for cheating me of story (they were legal freebies). As both were free, I simply left them unrated. In the first, 30% of the work was back matter. In the second, an over-the-top 42% was back matter.

Now, I totally understand using back matter to promote other works by the same author, and to give the reader bonus info. But in my opinion, there's a limit. If I pick up a 50 page work and 20 pages aren't actual story? I feel cheated. It's like buying a chocolate bar to find out two fifths are granola because the manufacturer is using it to advertise its new cereals. 2-5 pages in a short story, maybe up to 10 in a novel seems okay to me as non-story additions, but 42% of a short? Even as a freebie, I feel like I got ripped off. (BTW, this doesn't included added material such as glossaries, explanations of terms, cultures, maps, etc in the book that contribute to or help explain the story. I'm talking about an over abundance of About the author, excerpts etc).

Of course, I'm not a typical reader AND I'm an author. So maybe I have this wrong. Maybe I should be putting 10-20 pages of back matter into my 20-40 page shorts. Maybe that's where I'm making a mistake. After all, bonus material seems to sell DVDs well enough...

So, dear readers, what do you think? How much extra stuff do you want in a book, and what do you want to see? Or do you just want the book and nothing more?

If you want to know more about the books I reviewed, you can visit my Goodreads bookshelf HERE  or follow the reviews on Critique de Book HERE - right now I have weekly reviews set up until December, and I hope to keep this more up to date.


Exciting news! Currently under the working title of Revived, my next and longer length Venus Ascendant story (set in the same universe as Terms & Conditions Apply) is a finalist in The Rebecca contest run by LERA. Woot! This is a really big deal for me. Firstly, because this is my third year in the contest and the first time I've finaled. Secondly, it's my slightly 'heavier on the SciFi' SFR and something I really wanted to do. It's also the story that I wrote 17K of on my smartphone because I was away on holiday! Lol. Even if the finals are as far as it goes, I'm especially chuffed to see my more science-y story make it this far. I had great fun researching tech for this, as well as what happens to a corpse in vacuum. ^_^ This does mean I can't release Revived before November due to the contest rules, but since I hope to give you Keir's Fall (also long overdue) at that point so I'm hopeful you'll forgive me for yet another delay in the Venus Ascendant universe. Ahem...

Back to blogging! I re-opened my own personal blog HERE after a FOUR MONTH closure. It's had a bit of a revamp- a de-clutter, redone sidebars (thanks to technical help from Laurel Kriegler), and a shiny new banner (thanks to Dani Fine). I'd love to know what you think! To celebrate, I'm doing a couple of free days on Amazon for my futuristic urban fantasy short - No Angel - on the 11th & 12th of September.
A Futuristic UF Short
Goodreads | Available from...
BristolCon is fast approaching! If you're a Brigade member who wants to send swag, now is probably your last chance. And if you happen to be a Brigader going to BristolCon, I'd love to see you! I'll be in the dealers hall with fellow Brit Brigader Misa Buckley, and I know my name twinsie Pippa DaCosta will be stopping by. Subject to possible change, but I'll be part of the discussion panel on reboots at 7pm in Room 2, so please stop by to offer moral support, laugh at my pitiful attempt at my first panel, or at least stand by to throw me some chocolate afterwards. Misa will be running a workshop for aspiring authors, moderating the How Green is our future? panel, and part of the panel for Faster than Light (subject to final confirmation). Please check out her schedule HERE.

Print release! Or maybe not. When Dark Falls, my superhero novella formerly with Breathless Press (and originally scheduled for print release in June, which sadly didn't happen) was supposed to be available in paperback. But I only received the proof to review yesterday, so now the race is on to have it for BristolCon! I hope to re-release Tethered and Restless In Peaceville in print with their shiny new covers as funds allow - sadly formatting and ordering proofs takes money, and the ebook sales have to finance it. WDF only made print this year because it was my only longer work that I didn't have print of - my other two novellas were briefly available in print via Breathless Press and I'd ordered in author copies for a convention before my publisher's closure. These will have the old BP covers.

Birthday! On the 3rd of August, I turned 44. Because I have always had a thing for the number four (don't ask - I don't have any logical reason for it), hitting 44 made me ridiculously happy. On a sadder note, my mum passed away at age 43, so that's been on my mind for the past year. It's also made me very conscious that I've been gifted time she didn't have, and that it would be a damn shame to waste it.

This is Pippa Jay, signing off...


  1. Holy Lego Man, that's a ton of reviews- and you have them up to December? I'm impressed and appreciate the entries!

    1. Thanks Eileen. TBH, I was so far behind, and this is less than a tenth of the books on my Kindle. And I don't write long reviews. So one per week will take me up to the first week of December, and I'm aiming to read and review a book a fortnight at least to catch up. I think I'm still buying/downloading them faster than I'm reading them. >_<

  2. Congrats on finaling with Venus Ascendant!!

    >I discovered that a book can be technically perfect in all ways and yet fall totally flat for me, while a book full of interesting characters, settings and emotional impact, though flawed, will totally win me over.

    This! That is sometimes my experience as well.

    I'd rather read a book that tackles fresh concepts/off the beaten path themes, plots, and/or characters and maybe has a few imperfections (which could also be a subjective thing) than a story that has good writing (in a technical sense) but is boring, takes too much of a safe path, or features regressive tropes. And the strange thing is that with some of the more polished books I *know* the writing is competent and all the mechanics are there and perhaps even the worldbuilding was obviously built with care, and yet the story still fails to engage.

    I gravitate a lot towards stories that take risks in some way. I appreciate it when stories go for broke even if the execution doesn't always work perfectly (for me). And sometimes it comes down to the chemistry between me and the author's voice. It's one of those things that you know it when you find it!

    1. Thanks Heather!

      >It's one of those things that you know it when you find it!
      Yes, that! It's very difficult for me to define what kind of book I like other than that. I either have to love the characters and care what happens to them, there has to be something quirky or off the wall about the story, and/or I just have to love how the author tells it.


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