Review: A Feast of Crows

A Feast for Crows, Book 4 in A Song of Ice and Fire, by George RR Marin

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 2 stars

This one was definitely my least favourite so far in the series. The explanation at the end made sense, that there were simply too many characters, and too much going on, to be able to fit it all in one book. But not seeing most of the characters that I actually liked in the series for a whole book was… aggravating. I missed Bran, Jon, Dany, The Onion Knight (although we did get to hear about him briefly – which really made me angry), Tyrion… and I really didn’t care about following the other Lannisters, or any of the Dorne stuff, which effectively had no impact on the story whatsoever.

And that’s how I felt about this book in general. I could have lived without knowing most of it. Cersei is extremely annoying. Even Jaime’s last scene, as good as his response was, did not make up for a whole book of following those two as the primary characters.

Arya and Sam had no agency in the story. I wasn’t sure why I was supposed to care about what they were doing. While the Iron Born started out as an interesting arc, they just sort of got dropped part way through the book, being relegated to everyone just saying how much trouble they’re causing.

And this is a problem I’ve been having with the series in general… when there’s interesting conflict afoot, it’s glossed over. The first time I had this feeling was back when we were with Catelyn’s POV and her son was off fighting Jaime’s forces, and she could hear it happening. I like a good fight scene, and they’re generally lacking/avoided in these books.

For the first time in the series, I’m starting to find Sansa’s character interesting. She’s finally grown beyond a starry-eyed, whiny princess. And Littlefinger is always interesting to see. I really don’t trust him at all, but the way he manipulates circumstances is intriguing.

Brienne… I think about her arc and just throw my hands up in the air. So much nothing. Wandering aimlessly. She killed a few bad guys, who I think I was supposed to remember, but there are so many characters that I don’t actually remember them or care that she’s killed them.

If I hadn’t bought all five books in one boxed set, I probably wouldn’t even bother reading the 5th one. But I have it, and I hope that seeing most of my favourites back again will rekindle my enjoyment of the series. If not, I’ll just forget the rest of the books and start watching the show. See if it makes for better TV than reading experience.

Review: A Storm of Swords, by GRRM

A Storm of Swords, Book 3 in A Song of Ice and Fire, by George RR Martin

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 4 stars

Four weddings is too many weddings for one book. 

Granted, interesting things that completely changed the trajectory of the story happened at a couple of them, and important relationships were created that paid off later in the book at the last one, but I just found myself weary of it by the time the third wedding came along. I glossed over so many details, because I just didn’t care about 77 courses. The payoff at the end was amazing, but the lead up was as dry as you get, with lists of food for each course. 

Other than that, I loved the intrigue throughout. There were times I audibly gasped, laughed, and cheered throughout the story because I care about so many of the characters, even as I loathe others. There were some wonderful surprises at the end of the book, so even though this book at times felt long, it was worth the read. Because GRRM kills major characters along the way, the tension any time one of your favourite characters is in danger really gripped me. 

It’s no wonder there have been avid fans of this series, right from the start. As I crack open book 4, I am both excited to see where the story goes, but also frustrated with myself for starting this series before it’s finished, because I know I’ll soon be in good company with a host of fans who can’t wait to see what happens next. I suppose I’ll have to start watching the show at that point, to get some kind of closure (even though I hear many fans didn’t like the conclusion, but that’s life… we don’t always get what we want, and this series has been setting that up again and again!).

Dungeons & Dragons on Discord!

I think I have officially thrown in the towel on board game design. With work days being longer than they were in Guelph, and not having my Guelph game design friends here in Saskatoon, I just don’t feel up to it anymore.

And I’ve found a really great group of people to play Dungeons and Dragons with, so we get together 1-2 times per month. I’ve been playing a gnomish wizard and enjoying the experience quite a bit! I don’t normally play spell casters, but had a fun idea for a cowardly wizard who only wants to have a store to sell magical items that he makes. He’s grown more brazen as he gains power, but still prefers it if other people do the heavy lifting. That said, one of the players called him the MVP of one of our previous games because he dished out serious amounts of pain with a lot of burning hands spells!

But I miss DMing. Our DM here in Saskatoon is good, but his game is pretty old-school. It’s been 100% dungeon crawls up to 4th level, and we got rail-roaded into staying there longer than we would have liked.

So I got to thinking that I want to run something as well. As often happens, it started with a map…

Kingdom of the Sun

Nothing fancy, just a small slice of a world, as is my usual way of starting out. When I thought about actually running the game, I got an idea for a split campaign… starting players out with level 15 heroes of the realm who are investigating something peculiar. The Forest of Woes sounded like a nice place to start, and I began generating ideas for NPCs in the Lordship of Invenny, and a kernel of a quest popped in my brain.

Here we are, a few weeks later, and this map is just one of several. The entire first adventure for the level 15 characters is planned out, and I’m happy with how it came along. The plan is that they’ll play one session as the heroes to learn about the setting and back story, and then think about what they want to do to create their own level 1 characters who will start off far to the north of this location. I’ve even got some ideas of how that second session will start out, but it will be much more free form. I prefer it when the players help me discover the world, rather than having a campaign on rails that they need to follow.

I popped the idea online, with the added idea that Patrons who support me at $3/month would get a guaranteed spot at the virtual table. I didn’t get any bites on that, but that’s okay. I’m just looking forward to DMing again! But if anyone ever does decide to back me, the funds will go back into my book writing.

There’s some debate about the DM-for-hire model, but I figure people used to pay $5 every two weeks to sit at my table when I ran a game in Guelph, so $3/month for a game wouldn’t be too much of an ask. Could be some people will decide to donate later, but even if no one does, I’m feeling energized and happy, forging another world in my universe! I’m going to ask the players if they’d be okay with recording the session as a podcast, so you might just be hearing about this some more later!

Review: Born a Crime

Born a Crime, by Trevor Noah

Genre: Non-fiction, Memoire

Rating: 5 stars

This might just be the best non-fiction book I’ve ever read. I’m about the same age as Trevor Noah, but never knew anything about apartheid, growing up in Canada. It ended before I became aware of politics, and it must have been too recent to learn about in history classes. I had heard of Nelson Mandela, of course, but didn’t know much beyond his name.

This book gave me a real understanding of life, on the ground. Trevor’s experiences are harrowing, and it’s amazing he’s a) still with us, and b) a comedian. Given the difficulties he faced, it’s amazing to me that he maintained his sense of humour through it all… it’s all too easy to see how others who lived through those times did not fare so well.

The book bounces around a bit through time. It will feel like you’ve moved on, and then the next chapter goes back to revisit something important. And each time, you’ve learned something from a previous chapter that helps you understand something in the later ones. It’s amazing the way the story unfolds.

Having seen Trevor Noah on TV for a while now, it’s easy to hear his voice in my mind while I’m reading through it. You can feel the incredulity in his voice as he describes some of the situations he lived through.

I encourage everyone to check out this book.

Review: Clash of Kings, by GRRM

Clash of Kings, by George RR Martin

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 4.5 stars

After the events of the first book, I like how GRRM played with my expectations by shocking me when characters DIDN’T die. I was full of righteous fury when I heard about some deaths, and then to find out that events hadn’t gone the way everyone thought, I felt a great sense of relief.

And that’s how this book goes. There are so many battles, with the seven kingdoms being torn apart from within, and there are hints of serious outside threats coming along in the near future, too.

I think my only complaint (and the reason for 0.5 stars being knocked off) is that a lot of the battles, and even some that are vital to the story, are merely alluded to. We hear about them after the fact, as characters recount what happened, but I really wanted the chance to see what happened first hand. Sure, the book is already huge, and I can’t think of anything that could have been cut, but seeing the battle at the river beyond Tyrion’s PoV would have been great.

That said, I’m excited to see what happens next!

Beta Readers

I have completed three passes on A Queen’s Edict, and now feel comfortable having beta readers take a look at it, before sending the manuscript out for editing. The story currently stands at 100,000 words, and I would like feedback in a month, if possible.

If you are interested in reading it, please get in touch with me ASAP. I already have one beta reader lined up, but could use feedback from another one or two people.

When reading, I would ask you to keep track of things that worked for you, and things that didn’t. Don’t worry, I’m under no delusions that it’s a perfect story, and this is the best time to find things that need tweaking, before it heads off to the editor. Honesty is the best policy, so I’m not looking for someone who will read it and just say, “It’s great!”

If it had a movie rating, I’d probably say it’s PG-13, same as my other books. Some violence, sexual stuff is alluded to and not shown, LGBTQ+ themes. You don’t have to have read my first series to jump into this one. It’s 400 years in the future, so almost everything’s fresh.

You can either get in touch with me through social media (MeWe…I’m no longer on Facebook or Twitter), or with a comment on this post (unless I have to close it due to spam bots, like all my other posts).

Review: Tow-Truck Pluck

Tow-Truck Pluck, by Annie Schmidt

Genre: Children’s

Rating: 5-stars

I don’t normally leave reviews on kids’ books, but I really, really like this one. We received it as a gift a few years ago when my daughter was little, and she loved it. I just read through it with my son, and he loved it, too!

It’s the story of a boy with a tow-truck who goes around solving people’s problems (and sometimes getting into some of his own!). There are many sections to the story, each a few pages long, sometimes with some cliffhangers that’ll have your kids begging for “just one more section!”

There’s a great mix of characters that Pluck interacts with, from Dolly the pigeon, to the Stampers, Zaza the cockroach to the Tootenlisp (a magical sort of shell). It’s great fun, and I look forward to reading it with my kids again and again!

Review: Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones (Book 1 A Song of Ice and Fire), by GRRM

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 5 stars

People are often shocked to hear that I haven’t read these books or seen the show. “But you write fantasy!” they say, voices laden with judgement. After not enjoying Wheel of Time (I got to book 4 and stopped) and worrying about the slow pace that GRRM writes, I figured there was no rush. The idea of starting an epic series with an older author who’s in no rush to finish his saga just wasn’t appealing to me.

“So what made you change your mind?” you ask.

Well, a Boxing Day sale, if I’m honest. The e-book was available through Amazon for a steal, so I thought, “Eh, might as well give it a shot.”

I’m glad I did.

This is not a story for the faint of heart. Truly terrible things happen throughout the course of the novel, often unexpected and sudden. The dialogue is strong, and characters come alive on the pages, each with their own unique personalities. The cast is large, but they’re introduced in such a way that I didn’t have any problem keeping track of the major characters… even most of the minor ones. After quitting WoT when the cast ballooned beyond my ability to care about, I thought the same would happen here, but it didn’t. Maybe it’s because the story started out with a host of characters, so I grow to enjoy them all at the same time, instead of feeling like I’m not getting to see the characters that I had grown to enjoy over the first couple WoT books, only to see less and less of them as more “distractions” were thrown into the mix. I don’t know, but this series handled the large cast expertly.

But my favourite part of the story is the tension. You never know who’s going to make it or not, because important characters die. It ups the ante every time there’s a conflict, because you never know who’s going to make it out alive.

Now, I had one of the major deaths spoiled for me ages ago, but even still, the way it happened was alarming, and my hatred of Joffrey is without equal. That kid had better die a terrible, awful death at some point, because if any of the characters in this book deserve it, he does.

And I have hope that justice will be served in the end. After the crowning of the dragon, I have high expectations that the truly vile people in these books will meet the most terrible ends.

I think I’ll need to pick up book 2 very soon.

Review: Monsters, by Steve Turnbull

Monsters, by Steve Turnbull
Genre: Near-Future Urban Fantasy
Rating: 4 stars

This is one of the longest books I’ve read in a while, and although it has a hefty word count, it never felt long. There were a lot of characters, but not so many that I couldn’t keep track of them. The pacing is excellent, with each character getting a short scene before moving on to the next. 

The evolution of the main character, Chloe Dark, was interesting to see unfold. Her motivations were clear and realistic, given the fantastic situation she found herself plunged into. 

It’s only too easy to see the world falling into this dark future, if the human race experienced a fracturing where some people mutated into “freaks.” 

The only part I had trouble with – and I understand the motivation – is that the ending was weak, leaving a lot of questions unanswered, and leaving it feeling like there definitely needs to be more. But it wasn’t as bad as when authors just end a book with no sense of climax, assuming you’ll continue reading. Usually with a first book in series, I prefer a clean ending, but in this case I enjoyed the first book enough that I’ll be looking for the sequel anyway. 

Amazon Ads

With three novels out, and the next one getting closer, I figured it was time to start advertising the fact that these books exist.

I’ve heard good things about Amazon Ads, so figured I’d start there. How it works is, you determine how much you’re willing to spend per day, and how many days. You select a “bid” for your ad to show up. If your ad shows up on a page with lower priced ads, you don’t necessarily pay the full bid price. If someone clicks your ad, you pay.

Attempt #1

Not knowing anything about advertising, I went with a $5 daily limit, and a bid price of 15 cents. Amazon recommended 13 cents, so I figured I’d try slightly higher.

Over the next few days the ad made “200 impressions” – not entirely sure how it’s measured if someone looked at the ad. Maybe they just stopped scrolling on the page while my ad was visible. Who knows? Anyway, I received 1 click, and paid 6 cents.

Attempt #2

I added a couple words to the ad: Action & Adventure! The ads are limited for number of characters, so I wanted to draw attention to the theme of the book straight away. I kept the same daily limit of $5, but upped the bid to 20 cents to see if it made a difference in how often it would be seen.

I was surprised that the ad only had 145 impressions, but realized it might have been because fewer people were shopping the week after all the Black Friday/Cyber Monday deals. Also, no clicks meant I didn’t spend any money on it, so no harm done.

Attempt #3

I tried something completely different this time. I dropped the brief blurb and put in star rankings along with snippets of reviews left on Amazon. I did a combination of 5- and 4-star ratings, since A Noble’s Quest is rated 4 stars. Didn’t want to overdo it with all 5-star reviews.

Unfortunately, the ad was refused! Since the snippets I used were fragments (again, not a lot of space) they didn’t like that.

Attempt #4

Christmas is coming soon, so I thought I’d go for that angle. I’ve had some success at conventions selling to people who have a family member who enjoys fantasy, so why not point out there’s a new series out there? I also liked the “Christmas is coming!” line, because it calls back to Game of Thrones’ “Winter is coming.” I upped the bid again to 25 cents, hoping that might get more impressions.

Advertising success was found and there was much rejoicing! I got a click, and that person not only bought A Noble’s Quest, but hunted down the rest of the trilogy to get all three books in paperback! Best 15 cents I ever spent in my life!

Attempt #5

I took one more swing at the Christmas angle, hoping for some last minute shoppers. I increased the bid to 30 cents, and it didn’t change much.

There were 195 impressions, and 2 clicks that cost 15 cents total, with no sales. But that’s okay. With the outstanding month I’ve had, it’s all good!

Conclusion

There are services out there that cost a lot of money for questionable returns. From Book Bub, which costs hundreds of dollars, to less expensive mailing list builders that hemorrhage people over time. I tried a mailing list builder for $40+ early this year, and although I jumped from 152 subscribers to 563, that number has dropped to less than 472 now. I also don’t see an increase in sales above what I used to get when I announce new releases through the mailing list. The only thing it seems to help with is when I have free promotions, so I won’t be doing mailing list builders anymore. If people are actually interested in me as an author, they can hunt down my mailing list on this website.

Amazon’s system of paying per click seems pretty amazing in comparison. With four clicks over four ad campaigns, I sold three books. I don’t expect to continue seeing those sorts of rates, but even if I get a lot of clicks with no sales for a while, those three sales have made it worthwhile for a long, long time.

I’m going to try increasing my daily limit, since I’ve never gotten anywhere close to $5/day, and see if that increases the number of impressions, which have remained fairly stable over time, even with the increase in bidding price.

If you’re struggling with being seen, and bring in enough for a coffee or two per month like I was, I suggest trying Amazon Ads. It’s low risk, and if you get some bites, it pays for itself very quickly. Keep in mind, this was for my paperback books, which give a slightly higher return. Not sure I would try this with e-books, since A Noble’s Quest is priced fairly low, and I’m not ready to do sales of the full Empire’s Foundation trilogy, since it’s a bargain at under $10 for all three books in one e-book, and I don’t have anything else for people to bounce to after that. Maybe once I have a second series out, I could see myself promoting the omnibus version, but for now I’ll continue advertising book 1.