Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Open My Eyes is going on tour!

I'm very excited to announce that Open My Eyes will be going on a virtual book blog tour this June! A great big thanks to Fiction Addiction Book Tours for organising the tour. Details are below.

I'd love you to swing by and say hello. The bloggers lined up are some of the best there is. And there's a giveaway too!

Open My Eyes is going on tour!
Open My Eyes Tour Banner
DateTour Information
9th JuneHave Book Will Read
10th JuneMe, Bookshelf and I
 Curling up with a Good Book
11th JuneChicklit Club Connect
16th JuneTracy Riva Books and Reviews
17th JuneBooks are my life
The giveaway on tour is an ecopy of Set Me Free, ecopy of Open My Eyes and £15/$25 Amazon Gift Card.  You will be able to enter on tour hosts posts so don’t forget to check them out.
We hope you’ll join in the fun!

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Writing reviews for ebooks: a beginner's guide.

Even if you've only read a handful of ebooks, once you've reached the end, you've no doubt noticed authors often ask for reviews. Some readers embrace the invitation, while others just close the book and move on to the next.  If you've ever hesitated as you close the book, and wondered if you should take up that invitation, here's a reason why.

Let me begin by clarifying that first and foremost, I am a reader. I have been a reader much longer than I've been a writer… decades longer, in fact.  And as a reader I am relatively new to the world of ebooks and digital publishing, as many of us still are.  It is a world that has drawn me in and got me hooked.  I am feverishly devouring books at a rate I haven't done since I worked in a library, and I'm spending less money than ever on them.

Unlike a bookshop, where you can walk in and caress each book, have your eye caught by a gorgeous cover and an intriguing blurb on the back, or open them up and have that new book smell tantalize your olfactory, ebookstores are less tactile and a much more disembodied experience.  At first, it's hard to have a sense of how big a 300 page book is when you're used to making that assessment by holding it in your hands. And when you're sitting alone at your computer in the wee hours of the morning, there's no one to ask, 'is this good?' 

But let's face it – there's often no one available to answer that question even if you are in a physical bookstore.  Which is why they have a tendency to pre-empt the question and litter the store with staff recommendations.  And that is exactly what online reviews are – they are the recommendations of other readers intended to answer that eternal question - 'is this good?'

There are millions, nay squillions, of books available through online bookstores.  And for us readers, this is a marvellous thing.  Did I mention I'm reading more but spending less than ever?  Ebooks are much cheaper than physical books and an astute reader could make the most of 99c sales or free promotions and reduce their reading budget even further. Still, as they say, time is money, and even if it's free, you still want to know if it's worth your time.
And that is what reviews do – they tell you, more than the blurb on the website will, whether or not this is your kind of book.

You don't have to leave reviews, it is merely something nice to do.  It's nice for other readers and nice for the author of the book you've just read because it helps him or her reach a broader audience. We could all use a few more niceties in our lives, couldn't we?  What goes around comes around and all that.
So now we've covered why you should leave a review, here's a few basic tips to help you write one.  It's much easier than you think.  It's not a school assignment and you're not doing a book report.  You don't need to write a 500 word essay.  All you need to do is focus on the things that appealed to you most about the book and comment on those. 

I am a big fan of the short and sweet review and generally I comment on three key aspects:

1.      The characters.  I love a character-driven story, so this is the most important thing for me.  When you are writing your review, ask yourself if you liked the characters, and why?  Was it because you like a damsel in distress, or was the female lead strong and determined?  Was the male lead an arrogant git who changed his ways with the help of a good woman, or was he the guy-next-door?  If you're keen, you can also comment on the supporting characters, did you like them too?

2.       The story, not the plot.  There are a range of common 'tropes' authors tend to fall back on, particularly when writing romance and/or love stories.  Examples include a reunion with a childhood friend/previous lover, the 'I-should-hate-you-but-I'm-really-attracted-to-you story', or the 'everyone-can-see-it-but-them' story.  Some readers have a preference for certain tropes, others like to pick and choose according to their mood.  You don't need to know what the tropes are summarize a storyline in one sentence, and an avid reader will recognise them readily enough.  A short and sweet summary of the interaction between the two main characters will suffice.

3.       The language and writing style.  This is easy.  Was the book an easy read, a page-turner?  Or something to savour and immerse yourself in over a period of weeks.  Again, as readers sometimes we want to mix it up, depending on our mood and what else is going on in our lives. 

Here's an example for you – my recent review of The Bad Girl's Club, but Kathryn O'Halloran.  You can see in this one that I didn't cover all of the aspects above – I didn't comment on the language and writing style. (So I will add now, that Kathryn is a master at the craft of writing. She's such a pleasure to read!)

"I loved this book. First and foremost, this is a story about female friendships, and it's beautiful.  Kathryn O'Halloran excels at characterisation, and in the Bad Girl's Club, creates three very different but equally loveable female protagonists. This isn't a book for nice girls though, these are modern, flawed women who sometimes do foolish or thoughtless things.  But the way they work through their mistakes makes them so easy to relate to and adore."

Of course, you're always welcome to cover more than the three aspects addressed above, and you'll most likely find that some books draw more out of you than others.  Some you will gush about and you'll want everyone you know to go on the journey you've just been on.  Others will enjoyable enough, but you probably won't mention them to your friends.  Still as a reader, I sometimes need these books, and the reviews other readers leave always help me choose them.

You've probably noticed that my suggestions above focus on what you liked about the book.  But what if you didn't like it? The nice thing to do in these cases is to choose not to leave a review.  Silence speaks volumes and all that.  But it is possible to provide constructive criticism, and if I put my author hat on for a moment, I've got to say, it's very useful.  If you want to write a critical review, you can still use the tips above – why didn't you like the characters, maybe you just don't like that trope, maybe you were hoping for a page-turner rather than something slow.  Said in a kind and positive way, critical reviews can still help people find books they like.  One review I received for Set Me Free was scathing about the raw language and sex – which some readers actually look for.  Admittedly, this isn't an example of a 'nice' critical review and the reviewer may given me 1 star, but it probably did as much for Set Me Free as a 5 star one. 

And now I'm curious, have you ever read any left-of-centre reviews that made you buy the book?  And if you already leave reviews, do you follow a formula that you'd be willing to share?

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

#ChickLitLove promo - Galentine's Day!

On Day 4 of the #ChickLitLove Valentine's Day promotion, we are celebrating Galentine's Day!

For the uninitiated, Galentine's Day is the creation of Leslie Knope, Amy Poehler's character in the awesome TV series Parks and Recreation.  Every February 13, Leslie takes her best gal pals to brunch to celebrate their friendship and let them know how much she appreciates them.  I adore Leslie and I adore this concept.  Our women friends are so very, very important in our lives.

In celebration of Galentine's Day, I am stepping away from Set Me Free for a moment, and into my next book, Open My Eyes, which will be the second chapter in the Evans Family trilogy.  The scene below is not in Open My Eyes, I have put it together just for today.  It does however, provide a bit of a sneak peak, introducing you to a couple of the new characters.  I hope you enjoy it!


'You should make them a little smaller,' Annie advised Emily, as the innards of Emily's last roll burst through the rice paper and landed on her plate; a mush of noodles, tofu, cucumber, carrot and mint.
Emily glanced from the perfectly neat, tight roll in Annie's hand to her perfectly neat hair, coiled into a chignon, and chose not to comment.  Without even looking in Charlotte's direction, she knew her sister was nodding in agreement.  Charlotte had been telling her the same thing for as long as she could remember.
Emily looked at Bridget instead, and found her feverishly stuffing random bits of salad into her mouth.  For the most shit-together woman she knew, Bridge was the messiest eater.  Something had to give, Emily supposed. 
She dipped another sheet of rice paper into the bowl of steaming water on the table, then reassembled a slightly smaller roll, and ate it quickly.
Wiping her hands on her napkin, she surveyed her dearest friends.  Annie, the best friend she didn't know she'd been looking for until she found her; Bridget, her smart-mouthed mentor, and Charlotte, her incredibly patient and supportive sister.  She couldn't thank them enough for everything they did for her, for everything they put up with from her, but at least today was one way of showing them how much she treasured them.
'So,' she said, crumpling her napkin and resting it on the table.  'We're here today to celebrate Galentine's Day, which is about celebrating the women in your life, thanking them and showing them how much you love them.'
'Cheers to that,' said Bridget.  She lifted her wine glass full of water and the others followed suite.
Emily cleared her throat and continued.  'I've never really had cause to celebrate Galentine's Day before, because apart from Charlotte,' she looked at her sister, 'who knows how much I appreciate her, I've never really had any close female friends.  I can't believe how lucky I've been to find not one,' she tipped her glass towards Annie, 'but two,' she nodded to Bridget, 'amazing women to call my friends.  And despite all the shit I am dealing with at the moment, you've stuck around, and you still hang out with me.' 
'Oh come on, Em,' said Annie, leaning back into her chair.  'You're awesome.  Of course we've stuck around.'
'And that's not a compliment Annie hands out lightly,' said Charlotte.  'We love you, Em,' she added, then led another round of cheers.
Emily reached under the table for the bag at her feet.  'In the tradition of Galentine's Day, I've made you all a present.'
'What?' her friends shrieked in unison.  'You didn't tell us anything about presents!'
'I know, I know.'  She grinned.  'You're supposed to handmake your girlfriends a gift for Galentine's Day, but I didn't want you making presents.  You three are the busiest people I know.  How could I possibly say thank you, and expect you to fit craft into your lives at the same time.'
'I don't do craft.  I would have bought something,' said Bridget.  She wagged her finger at Emily.  'Tsk tsk.  You should have told us.'
'Look, it's not anything big, just some sketches I did for you,' said Emily.  She handed over their presents one by one.  As they unwrapped them, she explained.  'They are all variations of a theme.  I've drawn you as the superheros you most remind me of.'
Charlotte was first to pull hers out of the wrapping paper.  'Wonder Woman,' she said. 
Annie giggled.  'Nice one.'
'Charlotte,' Emily said to her sister.  'You are Wonder Woman to me.  You're capable of anything and everything and you're always turning up in your invisible jet when I need you most.'
Ignoring the tears welling in Charlotte's eyes, Emily turned to Annie, who was studying her sketch.  'Annie,' she said, 'you're my Black Widow.  Elusive, and mysterious.  Mostly you keep to yourself because you don't really like people.  But the ones you do like, you stand by them one hundred percent.  If anyone tried to cross them, you'd strike.'
Head down, Annie nodded and blinked.
'Bridge,' said Emily, turning to Ben's sister-in-law.  'You're my Hit Girl.  You're just plain crazy and you don't take shit from anyone.  You're teaching me to do the same.'
'Yes!' said Bridget, fist-pumping the air.  'I love it! Thanks, Emily.'
Before Emily could say anything more, Charlotte, Annie and Bridget were out of their chairs, enveloping her in a group hug.  And just for a moment, as she let herself be soothed by the strength of their arms, Emily believed everything would be okay.  Galentine's Day was awesome.

#ChickLitLove Valentines Day promo: Fast facts about Craig Carmichael

The next stop in the #ChickLitLove Valentine's Day tour is some fast facts about our leading men.

Craig Carmichael reveals a few things about himself below:

Celebrity you've been told you look like: James McAvoy

What you wear to bed: Boxers

Favourite body part of the opposite sex: Hips.  I love the sway of hips.  It's hypnotic.  Pun intended.

How many people you've said "I love you" to: My Nana, my friend Cassie.  I've never had the time to fall in love, so I've never said it to someone who was more than a friend.

Relationship deal-breaker:  I'm not sure 'cause I haven't been in a serious one.  But I guess cheating would break the deal.

Your first kiss - How old were you? Did you instigate it?:  I was twelve and yes, I did instigate it.  I dared her to meet me behind the sports shed after school and she did.
Do you have any tattoos or piercings? If so, describe: None.  Clean skin.

Favourite alcoholic drink: Beer.  Preferably Mexican.

Describe your dream girl:  Smart and confident.  Someone who's comfortable in her own skin and ambitious enough to have a career she's pursuing.  I'm ambitious myself and I want someone who understands what drives me.

Naughty food you like to indulge in: Coffee.  I drink too much coffee.

Monday, 10 February 2014

#ChickLitLove Valentines Day promotion!

Interview with Charlotte Evans from Set Me Free. 

As part of the #ChickLitLove Valentines Day promotion, many of your favourite (or soon to be favourite) heroines are answering the gruelling questions put together by the #ChickLitLove team.  Well, maybe they're not so gruelling, but some are bound to produce some embarrassing answers.  

Charlotte responds below:

1) What three qualities do you find most attractive in a partner?
Honesty, integrity and co-ordination.  I want a man who values the truth, who is not afraid to admit he might be wrong and that he doesn't know the answer.  I don't expect him to have all the answers, I just expect him to be trustworthy.  And co-ordinated.  I need a man who can dance.

2) What’s your idea of romance?
I don't really buy into the whole traditional romance thing – red roses, candlelight dinners and all that.  If someone wants to seduce me, they've got to be creative.  Take me for a midnight stroll, or surprise me with something that means something to me.  Show me that you've bothered to get to know me, and you don't just assume I'm like other girls.

3) Who's your favorite on-screen couple (Film or TV)?
Oh, that would have to be Jan Morrow (Doris Day) and Brad Allen (Rock Hudson) in the 1959 movie Pillow Talk.  True, Brad is deceptive, but he sure learns his lesson.  But mostly, I just love it for the 50s fashion and d├ęcor.

4) What's been your most embarrassing moment in regards to the opposite sex?
I don't like to talk about it much, but when I was younger and stupider, I did have a one-night stand in a South East Asian backpacker hostel.  It was a low point, but we all do stupid things, don't we? The important thing is that we learn from our mistakes.  I sure did learn from that one.

5) How have you coped with break-ups in the past?
I get out of town.  Always.  I'm usually the one that ends them, but I always take off overseas to put some distance between us.  It's so much easier to ignore their calls with an ocean between you. 

6) Which hot actor would you want to be stranded on a deserted island with and why?
Can I go back in time while I'm at it?  I'd like Gregory Peck please.  In his younger days, of course.  Mostly because I can only think of him as Atticus Finch.  And why wouldn't you want to be stranded on a deserted island with Atticus Finch? 

That's it from Charlotte for now. Please drop by again on Wednesday to see what Craig has to say!

Thursday, 30 January 2014

2014 reading challenge update.

So…The Great Gatsby, take 2.

I can't argue that it's not well written, that it doesn't explore meaningful social issues and the vulnerability of our humanity.  I have to admit my more mature self appreciated this a little more on the second reading.
But…I still just can't get past those so thoroughly unlikeable characters.  Yes, I know what the book is saying about wealth and privilege, but what I would have given for just one moment where just one character was worthy of sympathy.  I am a character driven reader.  I want to root for someone when I read a story, even if it's not the central character. 

From now on, if someone asks me what I think of The Great Gatsby, my intellectual answer will be that I recognise it deserves its status as a classic, but it doesn't really appeal to me.  My low-brow answer will be something about the acting and directing talents of Leo and Baz.

Next up on the reading list is A Catcher in the Rye.  My jaw is already clenched.

After that I need suggestions…got any?

Friday, 17 January 2014

My 2014 Reading Challenge begins...

I was in my early twenties when I read The Great Gatsby, and, quite frankly, I hated it with a passion.  

At the time, I was still young enough to be committed to finishing every book I started, so I pushed my way through to the end, and then kept in on my bookshelf for years, because, even though I hated it, it was a classic and it made look well read.

When Baz Luhrman's cinematic version was released in 2013, it wasn't the story that had me hunting it down, rather it was Baz's wife, Catherine Martin, for her set design and costumes.  She didn't disappoint.

But in watching the film, I also found something unexpected.  Baz had managed to make me feel sympathetic towards characters I'd previously loathed.  I've been wondering why.  Am I am simply more mature now and have a better understanding of the complexities of adult relationships?  Was it Baz, or Leonardo DiCaprio and Tobey Maguire?

The easiest way to answer these questions is to simply dust off my old copy and re-read it. 

And this had me thinking some more.  Are there other books I hated as a youngster that I ought to give a second chance?

And so my 2014 reading challenge has been set.  I am going to spend this year digging out those classics I had to force myself to finish and give them another go.
I'm starting with The Great Gatsby, and then I'll dig out A Catcher in the Rye and try to find something redeemable in that brat Holden Caulfield.

After that, I'm looking for suggestions.  What are the books you simply don't get?  Which ones did you struggle through or give up on?  Let me know and I'll add them to my challenge.
Greetings friends and welcome to my official blog!