Review: ‘The Summer I Became a Nerd’ by Leah Rae Miller

The Summer I Became a Nerd

On the outside, seventeen-year-old Madelyne Summers looks like your typical blond cheerleader—perky, popular, and dating the star quarterback. But inside, Maddie spends more time agonizing over what will happen in the next issue of her favorite comic book than planning pep rallies with her squad. That she’s a nerd hiding in a popular girl’s body isn’t just unknown, it’s anti-known. And she needs to keep it that way.

Summer is the only time Maddie lets her real self out to play, but when she slips up and the adorkable guy behind the local comic shop’s counter uncovers her secret, she’s busted. Before she can shake a pom-pom, Maddie’s whisked into Logan’s world of comic conventions, live-action role-playing, and first-person-shooter video games. And she loves it. But the more she denies who she really is, the deeper her lies become … and the more she risks losing Logan forever.

I can’t remember how I stumbled across this book, but I know that I bought it for the title — because obviously! Maddie’s a different variety of geek/nerd than I am; I’ve only got a handful of comics and graphic novels, and those I got as an adult. Logan’s geek experience is a lot closer to mine.

Yes, I have LARPed. I’ve never thrown ping pong balls at anyone, though. :p

This explanation is my way of saying that some parts of Maddie’s experience getting to know Logan and his world are eerily familiar to me. But other parts of her world are very unfamiliar, mostly the “American teenager” thing. Maddie is pretty much pathological about keeping her secret identity as a geek, well, secret, basically because she’s worried about toppling from the top of the popularity tree. Maybe time has fuzzed my memories of high school; maybe in Australia it’s a different social structure; or maybe because I was never popular I never realised how much those girls had to work to stay there. But I found the whole thing a bit baffling. Maddie’s woes are definitely self-inflicted, and at times I lost patience with her because of it.

That being said, I quite liked her voice when she wasn’t having a pity party, and I definitely liked Logan and the fact he and his hilariously brash best friend, Dan, don’t put up with her trying to keep them in the role of dirty secret. Logan is a bit of a teenage dreamboat for the geek set; his parents own a comic book and he’s snagged himself a summer radio show at the local college. I also liked what we saw of Terra, Maddie’s country-music-loving best friend; she’s another one who doesn’t take Maddie’s crap lying down.

I enjoyed spotting the various nerdy references, some of which were made up for the story (I assume; see previous comment about not having read that many comics) but some of which were real-world references. The romance between Logan and Maddie is sweet. The plot is a tiny bit predictable, but The Summer I Became a Nerd was a fun read and easily digestible, with a very clear “be true to yourself” message.

Three-and-a-half stars

The Summer I Became a Nerd

 


Review: ‘Fame’ by Lauren K. McKellar

Fame

She’s supposed to cover the stories.
Not be one.

Madison Winters has life in the bag. Gorgeous fiancé? Check. Promotion to become editor of the country’s hottest fashion magazine? Check. Limited edition pair of Manolo Blahniks? Checkity-check. Catching her fiancé with his pants down isn’t something she expects. In the space of twenty-four hours, Madison loses it all—not even her shoes will be saved. Swapping sass + bide for sweatpants and Dior for the downward dog is going to be hell. The last thing Madison’s broken heart needs is a run-in with America’s newest playboy. Can she ever recover from this?

Tate Masters has it all—Hollywood’s latest golden boy has washboard abs, a killer smile, and a leading role in the next A-list movie. Until a secret from his past is splashed all over the headlines, and that ‘good boy’ image fast-tracks to the gutter. Now the media hunt is on, and they’re baying for Tate’s blood. One night of wild behaviour sees him wake up next to a gorgeous Aussie brunette—and she’s everything Tate’s afraid of.

Keeping secrets has never been this hard.

I’ve said before that Lauren McKellar is one of my very few one-click contemporary authors. She usually writes some young adult and some new adult, and I knew going into Fame that it wasn’t a tragedy like most of her other stories. What I didn’t realise was that this is adult contemporary. Adult-y adult. Now with more adult.

The chemistry — and, let’s be honest, the raw lust — between Madison and Tate sizzles off the page from the first time they meet. And the sex scenes (is that a spoiler?) are scorching. *fans self*

At first I wasn’t sure about Tate. He comes across as a cheat at the start of the book, and no amount of megawatt smiles and ripped muscles made up for that in my mind. Still, it’s not too long before we discover more about Tate — his reasons for doing the things he does — and soon I was swooning and wishing for a Tate in my life too.

It turns out McKellar does sex scenes as well as she does romance. The latter is her bread and butter. It’s not usually my favourite genre, but the relationship here, as embryonic as it is, is well executed. Tate and Madison discover in each other someone who will let them be real, not pushing them to do anything they don’t want to or judging them.

The other thing that’s worth mentioning is that the book is just downright funny.  Madison attracts the worst kinds of random luck, but at the same time her approach to handling things is kind of hilarious. While she naturally grieves for her failed relationship with Mike and the consequent struggle with who she is, she’s generally quite resilient and doesn’t take BS from anyone. Her disdain for the trappings of “wellness” (a word I rather dislike myself … mostly because it’s just ugly, tbh) had me giggling on more than one occasion. Her banter with not just Tate but her bestie Courtney was hilarious. And I can’t talk about the humour without mentioning Madison’s parents. They only appear in a handful of scenes, but her father — oh my god, what a scream!

The other touch I liked was the shout-out to How to Save a Life with the cameo of Jase, the tattooed bartender from that book. I wanted to give him a hug, like a long-lost friend.

If you’re looking for a sexy, feel-good story, then I can’t recommend Fame highly enough.

Fame

Five starscas


Review: ‘Winter’ by Marissa Meyer

Winter

Princess Winter is admired by the Lunar people for her grace and kindness, and despite the scars that mar her face, her beauty is said to be even more breathtaking than that of her stepmother, Queen Levana.

Winter despises her stepmother, and knows Levana won’t approve of her feelings for her childhood friend—the handsome palace guard, Jacin. But Winter isn’t as weak as Levana believes her to be and she’s been undermining her stepmother’s wishes for years. Together with the cyborg mechanic, Cinder, and her allies, Winter might even have the power to launch a revolution and win a war that’s been raging for far too long.

Can Cinder, Scarlet, Cress, and Winter defeat Levana and find their happily ever afters?

This series is the queen of fairy tale retellings. But not the evil queen.

Okay, maybe slightly evil.

If you haven’t read the rest of the series, then don’t start with Winter, which is the fourth and final (as far as I know) book in the Lunar Chronicles. Instead you want to start with Cinder, which I reviewed here. The entire series is a five-star read for me, so you should do it. Do it now!

Winter is a huge book, at over 800 pages. I noticed because after an afternoon of binge-reading I had a sore wrist, and — despite my best efforts — my copy was the worse for wear by the time I was done. Some of the pages even fell out! Aaah! I didn’t notice how big it was because of the pacing, though; the story ticked along nicely.

As always, the fairy tale references to Snow White were there but didn’t dictate the story. Most of those references related to the titular character, Winter, but occasionally they were used in reference to her cousin Cinder — for example, Levana’s order that someone bring her Cinder’s heart. The seven dwarfs are incredibly subtle, so subtle I missed it at first, but I think they refer to the number of other main characters (excluding Jaicin, who is the “prince”): Cinder, Kai, Scarlet, Wolf, Cress, Thorne and Iko.

As far as the characters go, my favourite relationship is Cinder and Kai’s, far and away.❤ My other favourite characters are Scarlet, for her sheer, brash defiance of everything and Iko, because Iko! Levana is suitably evil, although doesn’t really muster as much of a defence as I might have liked. But then, in a book with such a big ensemble cast, I’m okay with a little more tragedy-related feels than Winter has. (I’m a fan of Joss Whedon. Enough said.)

Still, if you want a sci-fi series with a fairy tale feel, some kissing and an actual, honest to goodness “they all lived happily ever after” (because it’s a fairy tale retelling and that’s obligatory), I highly recommend this entire series!

Lunar Chronicles

Five stars

 


So I’m on Instagram (and I’m kinda lonely)…

Aussie Owned and Read — where I am a co-blogger — just got itself onto Instagram (@aussie_owned_read), courtesy of the super-enthusiastic Sharon. I’d been thinking I should create myself an account for a while now, because something-something-social-media, and AOR’s involvement encouraged me to jump on the bandwagon.

You can find me @cassandrapage01. I’ve been off crook from work for most of the past week, feeling too unwell to write much of anything. But not too crook to take lots of pics, apparently.

What can you expect to find if you follow me over there?

Definitely some of this

And a little bit of this

This (obviously)…

My book babies

And occasionally, if you’re really unlucky, some of this…

Are you on Instagram? If you leave a comment with your handle, I’ll pop over and stalk say hi to you.


Review: ‘The Hero of Ages’ by Brandon Sanderson

The Hero of Ages

Tricked into releasing the evil spirit Ruin while attempting to close the Well of Ascension, new emperor Elend Venture and his wife, the assassin Vin, are now hard-pressed to save the world.This adventure brings the Mistborn epic fantasy trilogy to a dramatic and surprising climax as Sanderson’s saga offers complex characters and a compelling plot, asking hard questions about loyalty, faith and responsibility.

To all those people who told me Brandon Sanderson is a man who knows how to write a mind-boggling story: you were right and I owe you a coffee. I don’t think I’ve ever read a trilogy with such intricate world-building, with so many layers and plot twists, and bits of what turned out to be foreshadowing in the first book that are only explained in the third.

The amount of plotting Sanderson must do before he starts writing that first page truly blows my mind.

The Hero of Ages is the third book in the series, and it nicely wraps up the trilogy, giving me explanations for questions I hadn’t even realised I was asking — not really. For example, I remember thinking pretty early on in the series that it was strange that burning tin lets an allomancer see through the Mists. It turns out there’s a reason for that. There’s a reason for everything! There’s even a reason for Sazed’s frustrating naval-gazing and waffling on about dead religions (because, oh my god, I wanted to shake him so badly; those waffle-y bits are actually what made me love this book slightly less than the other two).

Given I’ve been fully immersed in this trilogy in the past month, I had enough depth and currency of understanding to see a lot of the plot twists coming this time around. However, I feel a bit like Vin and Elend must have, fighting an all-powerful god like Ruin: like I thought I knew what Sanderson was going to do, but he only let me feel that way so he could lull me into a false sense of security. Then BAM.

That last plot twist is a doozy. I have an epic book hangover, and a need to buy another Sanderson trilogy ASAP.

Four stars


What Hogwarts Houses Are My Characters?

Sorting Hat

I was asked on Facebook what Hogwarts Houses my characters would be; apparently this was a thing authors were doing back in 2014, and we all know how cutting edge I am! I’ve been chewing over the idea, because—like Harry, who could have just as easily been Slytherin as Gryffindor—most of my characters could fit into more than one house. Still, I’ve donned the Sorting Hat and done my best!

Isla’s Inheritance trilogy

Isla has elements of Hufflepuff and Gryffindor, and could easily go into either house. However, when we first meet her, she is definitely a Hufflepuff, so that’s where she would’ve been sorted when she started high school. Her loyalty in particular drives her to do some very courageous things, but she’s still more comfortable not charging into danger, given the choice.

Like Isla, Jack has elements of Gryffindor (his chivalry and courage, in particular). However, he is a Hufflepuff through and through. Patience and loyalty are two of his defining characteristics, and his desire for justice has gotten him into trouble in the past.

Sarah is a Gryffindor. Although she is musical, which could have qualified her for Ravenclaw, she is the most honest, determined and forthright of the characters in the trilogy. This causes Sarah to butt heads with Isla at times, when she gets frustrated with her cousin’s reluctance to be as honest as she probably should be.

Lucid Dreaming

Of these five characters, Melaina is the hardest for me to sort. She has traits valued by three of the four houses (she’d make a pretty poor Hufflepuff, all things considered). Still, I’d sort her into Gryffindor, given her tendency to leap into situations and think about the consequences later.

Brad is a Ravenclaw. He’s an educated, intellectual sort of person who is very good at thinking his way through a problem or puzzle to find a solution. That is why he struggles at first, when presented with information that doesn’t fit neatly into his worldview. But once he understands the new “rules” of Melaina’s world, he is able to think his way through them.

Are you a writer? Have you ever sorted your characters? It’s a fun little mental exercise that gets you to think about who they really are, beneath it all. (And special thanks to Belle for suggesting it.)


Notebook_coffeeIn case you missed it, on Thursday I was over at Aussie Owned and Read, talking about finding time in a busy life: time to write, blog, review and do the squillion other things I try to get done.

What I really need is a Time Turner…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Advertising Strategies: a Work-in-Progress

Maze

Source: Shutterstock

As of maybe six months ago, I’m a fully independent or self-published author, what is sometimes referred to as an “author-publisher“. I like that term, because it conveys the sense that self-publishing is more than just banging out words and then sending them out into the world, all naked and unprepared. There are things one needs to consider, things a publisher usually does. Two of those are editing and book design, and I’ve blogged about those before.

The other thing that a publisher does to a greater or lesser extent (at least, if you’re lucky and they are any good) is advertise your book. In the case of small or independent presses, you may have a small or non-existent presence in bricks-and-mortar stores, so you can’t rely on people stumbling across your work by accident. That’s where advertising comes in.

I’m still feeling my way through the morass, trying to find strategies that work for me and my books. I thought it might be helpful to others (and for my own future reference) to catalogue some of them here.

Book blitzes

These are generally organised to try and raise a bit of word-of-mouth attention when a book first comes out; kind bloggers share promotional content. Sometimes they result in a few adds to peoples’ Goodreads shelves, but I haven’t noticed a huge number of sales as a result. Maybe I’m just not doing them right! Certainly, I wouldn’t do a blog tour with customised posts, as I don’t think the time invested would be worth it. But I would do a book blitz for each of my future releases. Every book deserves a birthday party.😉

NetGalley listings

Publishers will usually list books on NetGalley, which is a site that allows reviewers to apply for free ebook copies of books in exchange for an honest review. It’s a lot of reviewers’ bread and butter. But it’s expensive to have a NetGalley account, so, for an independent author, it’s generally more cost-efficient to buy in on a co-op such as this one. I had a three-month co-op when Isla’s Inheritance and Isla’s Oath came out (I had each book up for about six weeks), and a one-month co-op for Lucid Dreaming. I got a bump in the number of reviews on sites like Goodreads, but, like a blitz, this is about word of mouth rather than direct sales.

Facebook advertising

I saw a tweet that described Facebook advertising as being as effective as setting your money on fire. The metaphor probably works better in countries where the money is made of paper, but still, it’s not too far off. I have tested a handful of ads and have seen no return. These days, the only thing I’d pay to advertise on Facebook would be occasional posts on my author page; Facebook throttles visibility of page posts so that not everyone who likes the page will see them. If you pay them money (the extortionists that they are), they will share the post more widely. In terms of impressions, this is quite effective … but I’d reserve it for significant updates, such as book releases.

Free book promotions

This has been my most recent effort, and also my most successful to date. Because it is my most recent, I’m going to go into a bit more detail, with some numbers. (This does feel a tiny bit like airing dirty laundry, but if you promise not to oggle my underthings I think we can all ignore that!)

I made the Isla’s Inheritance ebook permafree (ie I have no plans to set a price for it again), and advertised it via the “Buy a Series Post” option at Freebooksy. They have a significant market reach and people loooove free stuff. When I previously advertised a sale of my erotica novella (*cough*), I had a ton of downloads, so I knew it worked.

In the first two weeks after the promo ran, I had almost 5000 downloads on Amazon and a handful at the other sites. Isla’s Inheritance made it to #2 on Amazon US for free Paranormal & Urban Fantasy (as I write this, it’s sitting at 233).

Isla's Inheritance free ranking

There haven’t been a huge number of reviews as a result, but there have been consistent sales on books two and three in the series. I didn’t expect that people who downloaded the book would buy the sequels so quickly, but on the first day of the promo I had four sales of Isla’s Oath and one of Melpomene’s Daughter — suggesting that there were at least four people who read it straight away and liked it enough to keep reading. (If you were one of those people: thank you!)

Within the first two weeks, the promotion had paid for itself with sales on the other books. It’s the first time a promotion has done that for me, so I’m pretty pumped.

There are a few caveats, however. The first is that obviously I didn’t make a penny off those 5000 copies of Isla’s Inheritance; this means that, in order for me to even break even on the trilogy, sales on the other two books have to cover not only their own production costs but those of the first books as well. For this reason, I wouldn’t personally make a book permafree that didn’t have sequels available — because, while I don’t expect to be rolling around in piles of money, I’d at least like to imagine I might recoup my expenses at some point.😉

The other caveat is that there hasn’t been much, if any, cross-pollination to my other book, Lucid Dreaming. I expect that if people finish the trilogy and enjoy it, and they decide that they’d like to see what my adult (rather than young adult) book is like, that might happen … but it will be slower.

What next?

Now that the sales bump from the Freebooksy promotion has more or less worn off, I’ve decided my next experiment will be with Goodreads advertising. I read a really interesting blog post by Lindsay Buroker on how she made it work for her, and I’m keen to give it a try. Goodreads has a big advantage over Facebook in that at least we know the people on there are readers to start with.

Wish me luck!

If you’re an author-publisher, have you tried different forms of advertising? What has worked for you? What hasn’t?  I’d love to hear about it!


Isla1_Front_smlDo you also like free things?

The Isla’s Inheritance ebook is available free from the following retailers:

Amazon US | Amazon UK | Amazon Australia

Barnes & Noble

iBooks

Kobo

Smashwords


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