Review: ‘Out of the Shadows’ by Ashlee Nicole Bye

Nobody ever said death would be easy…

From the streets of Melbourne to the bowels of Westminster, the delicate balance between life and death that is so painstakingly maintained by the reapers of The Order of Dark and Light is being tested by the return of an ancient threat. Tensions are rising within the hidden world of The Shadowlands and if this threat is not contained war will be inevitable. And the destruction of the human world is bound to follow in its wake.

Amidst this tension, eighteen year-old Sachi Manning is struggling to cope with the grief and guilt that has plagued her ever since her best friend was murdered six months earlier—that is, until she spots him seemingly alive and well and being held at scythe point by a hooded figure who looks more like a GQ model than the Grim Reaper.

Sachi shouldn’t be able to see through the glamours that shield Shadowlanders from the human world, so the reaper in question wants some answers. And so begins the craziest couple of weeks of Sachi’s life as she is drawn into a world of mysteries, magic, monsters, and mayhem, encountering dragons, faeries, soul-sucking demons, not-so-grim reapers, and even the Horseman of Death.

With a mix of heart, humour and hair-raising action, Out of the Shadows is the adventure of an afterlifetime, perfect for fans of Cassandra Clare and Kresley Cole.

The first thing I should note is that I received a copy of this book free in exchange for an honest review. Those who’ve read my review policy know that I don’t normally agree to such requests, so when Ashlee approached me I quietly snuck away and read the first couple of chapters of the book on Amazon before committing to anything. Just in case. 😉

I’m glad I took the chance, though, because I loved Out of the Shadows. Sashi’s world is amazingly complex, full of supernatural creatures, competing factions and a complicated process for managing what happens to souls when they die. It’s mostly set in Melbourne, and I loved the Aussie touch (although the reapers, the main supernatural faction to which we’re exposed, can teleport, so there are scenes in New York, London and elsewhere — it’s a bit like Paula Weston’s Rephaim series in that regard).

Sashi, the main character, is Australian-born but with Japanese ancestry. She is tiny and fiery and quick with a joke. Her voice was one of my favourite things about this story — she had me giggling more than once at one observation or another. For example, it’s a bit of an urban fantasy trope that supernatural leading men are all ripped hotties. At one point, Sashi actually calls some of the lads out on it, asking if there’s a pill or something, subtly undercutting the trope while leaving the eye candy safely intact for our reading pleasure.

My other favourite character is the reaper Moss, again just because he is hilarious. He and Sashi quite often have movie quote exchanges, and every T-shirt he owns has a funny line on the front. Given my own T-shirt collection, I approved. (Oh, and Beelzebub, Prince of Hell, is hysterical too, in a “I suspect he’s unstable and might start killing folks at any moment” kind of way.)

I know I’ve talked a lot about the humour, because it was one of my favourite things about the book, but I should also mention that Out of the Shadows has its darker moments. There’s a supernatural conspiracy going on, one with a body count and a reach that I can only guess at from the first book. There are plot twists I didn’t see coming, and one exceptionally sad and shocking moment that was a dagger to the old feels.

I approve.

For those wondering about the quality of the writing itself (always a valid question for small press and self-published works), I can confirm that Ashlee writes beautifully. I did see a handful of places where I’d do something different with commas, but they are the sort of things that only a sharp copyeditor is likely to notice … and I’ve seen books published by traditional presses with similar mistakes.

The only reason this isn’t a five-star read for me is that occasionally I got a little overwhelmed by the number of different factions. I was able to track the characters fairly easily but, because I read this as an ebook, I couldn’t easily flick back to earlier to remind myself of the differences between all the different types of reaper, for example.

Still, the confusion was temporary and didn’t detract from my overall enjoyment of the story. I’m very keen to read the next instalment in the series.


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Ten examples of how the English language is trolling us

Regular readers of my blog will know that my full-time job is as an editor. You’d think that I’d be fully across all the various, ugly, beautiful permutations of English and its stupid-arse spelling.

You’d be wrong.

What brought this to my attention most recently is that in my latest manuscript I spelled “lightning” wrong. Like, every single time. My finger itches to put an e in there, but noooooooo, that would be the verb meaning to make something lighter. As in, “The lightning is lightening the sky.”

Because obviously.

Eyebrow Doctor

Now, to be fair, since I don’t work for the BOM, I don’t read about lightning in my job very much — so it isn’t something I’ve had trained out of me. But still, I did want to pull my hair out a little bit.

Here are some other examples of the ways that English is trolling us:

Alter / altar. One is the verb meaning “to change”; the other is a sacred table or platform at which religious offerings are made.

Baited / bated. One is describing something with bait (such as worms) attached. The other means “restrained” (with relation to breathing) — so the phrase “with bated breath” means with held breath, not with a mouthful of raw prawns. On behalf of all those romance heroines out there, I think we can say that’s a relief.

Blonde / blond. I gather this one is the fault of French, which has gendered adjectives. There, blonde is feminine and blond is masculine. In English, that’s sorta kinda true, but the application varies; my former publishing house’s convention was that “blond” was the adjective that describes hair colour and “a blonde” is a woman with blond hair.

Compliment / complement. The first is a nice thing someone says about you; the second has a bunch of meanings but generally relates to something that completes a thing or makes it perfect.

Climatic / climactic. One relates to weather; the other is the, er, climax of something. I have seen the wrong one used. Who knew weather could be so exciting?

Discreet / discrete. The first is wise, prudent or judicious; the second is detached or distinct. (I still have to look this one up every time.)

Exercise / exorcise. The first is physical activity and the second is to drive out an evil spirit — possibly in response to having seen me exercise! (Scary stuff.)

Grizzly / grisly. The first is something grey or a type of bear (but not a type of bare!). The second is something gruesome.

A sanction can be both authoritative permission and a provision of a law that enacts a penalty for disobedience — so two things that are OPPOSITE to one another. And in my dictionary, at least, as a verb it always means to approve or ratify something — so sentences such as “the UN sanctioned X country for breaching Resolution 1234” are actually saying that the UN approved the country’s actions rather than punishing it. Oh, UN, you so crazy.

Storey / story. One is a floor of a building; the other is a tale we tell ourselves. (This one’s not for US readers, who I gather use “story” for both…?)

So, all of that being the case, how do you avoid your writing being full of hilariously climaxing environments and buildings where each floor is a tale (but not a tail) of wonder (but not wander)? The answer is at once deceptively simple and also a lifelong job:

  • Read a lot
  • Own (and use) a current-edition dictionary of the specific English variant you’re using
  • Proofread your work (I noticed an incorrect “it’s” when I proofread this blog post — gah!)
  • Proofread it again (I did)
  • Have someone else proofread your work — copy editors are worth their weight (not wait) in gold
  • Make a list of words you know you get confused, and then double-check their usage whenever you see (not sea) them

What’s your favourite pair of words that are usually mixed up? Are they about meeting the principled principal? Having dessert in the desert? Eliciting illicit activity? I need (not knead) to know now!

Pleased Doctor


Writing prompts

Today I’m over at Aussie Owned and Read, talking about writing prompts – two-to-three-sentence ideas to get your imagination firing and your fingers flying over the keyboard. (Or your pen waggling, if that’s more your thing.) Please drop by , say hi, and join in the conversation! 🙂

Aussie Writers

As I blogged about a couple of months ago, I’m a big Pinterest user. I have almost 2000 pins, and Pinterest has started suggesting pins I might like based on my boards. I think it might also be based on what I’ve pinned recently, which can end up in a spiral of me pinning what they suggest, so they suggest more of it … but since most of that is either Doctor Who or Firefly, I don’t mind too much. 😉

Disclaimer: Loki belongs to the Marvel franchise and I make no claim to own him. Although, let's be honest, I would if I could. Disclaimer: Loki belongs to the Marvel franchise and I do not claim to own him. Although, let’s be honest, I would if I could.

One of my boards is on writing. Originally it was just funny writing quotes, including motivational posters, but recently I’ve expanded the definition to include the occasional inspirational quote.

But most of what Pinterest suggests for this particular board are actually writing prompts, which got me to…

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The Anatomy of a Grammar Nerd

So when Grammarly emailed me about something called the Anatomy of a Grammar nerd, I thought they’d be talking about how we have dictionaries for brains or pain receptors triggered by dangling modifiers. But no, apparently that was me being literal.

Who’d have thought?

Anyway. I’m a little too old to be a grammar nerd, apparently — although the age range might have more to do with the fact these stats were derived from Facebook users’ profiles, and maybe those who aren’t in the 18-24 age range tend to hide their year of birth. 😉

As for the Oxford comma, I’m agnostic on the issue. I don’t think it’s necessary to use them all the time, but I will use one when to do otherwise would cause confusion. As for semicolons, they are my favourite and my best.

How do you compare to the infographic?

Anatomy of a Grammar Nerd Infographic

Posted with permission from Grammarly


My mini writing retreat

This week I’ve been on a long-anticipated mini writing retreat. Only I didn’t stay in a house by the beach, or in a rainforest cabin, but in my own home. I took this week off work, which meant that because of the public holiday on Monday I had four days where my son was at school and I could write in peace and quiet.

Four days.

And it was basically the best week ever.

This is NOT where I stayed. (Source)

This is not where I stayed. Gorramit! It looks so warm. I bet you don’t need a blanket on your knees to be comfy there… (Source)

For a start, I got to drop the boy off for class every day. Usually he goes to before-school care because I work full time and, although he loves it, we’ve both really enjoyed me being able to walk him up to the playground where they do the morning “meet and greet”. We’ve gotten there early every day so I could get a carpark, and even though it’s been below freezing as often as not he’s enjoyed showing me around the place, playing games while I watch, and insisting I listen to the announcements every morning. (I think so I have to suffer as much as he does?)

Another awesome thing is that, the one time I was exhausted after a writing stint, I was able to have a nap before I picked him up. And I also got to read in peace and quiet.

But the best part was all the wording that happened. I wrote over 9000 words during the past four days (I’m hoping to sneak in another thousand on the weekend, because … round numbers.) Given I usually manage 2000 at best in a week, I’m over the moon about that. My current WIP has been in progress since October last year, so I’m mad keen to get it finished.

I’m not quite there. But I’m close. So close. I should be able to knock it off in the next few weeks.

And then there will be celebrating. Oh yes.

The only sad thing about all this, of course, is that I’m back at work next week, which means it’s back to my usual snail’s pace. So if someone could see their way clear to paying me to write full time, that’d be awesome! [INSERT PLEA FOR PEOPLE TO BUY AND/OR REVIEW MY BOOKS HERE KTHXBAI]

For those of you reading this who are writers, have you ever been on a writing retreat, genuine or otherwise? Was it as awesome as mine?

Before I finish, in case you missed it, last Tuesday I was at Aussie Owned and Read, talking about ellipses and semicolons. It was really interesting, I promise! Check it out.


Guest post: ‘How I Became a Writer’ by Lauren K. McKellar

Today’s guest post is by the fabulous Lauren K. McKellar, who is one of my favourite contemporary authors. If you think that’s a big call, go read one of her books and see for yourself! — Cass

Like many authors, I love books. I was that kid who’d read in the car on long holiday trips – hell, I’d read at the bus stop when I was two minutes early on the trip to school! For as long as I can remember I’ve loved to read, read, read!

The same could be said for writing. I wrote my first novel at age ten, and I filled up three 520-page exercise books with my hand-written story about a group of teenagers who were bullying my protagonist – and then she found out they were witches!

Since then, I’ve definitely progressed. Obviously I type primarily on a keyboard now, because who has time for handwriting and then transcribing? I stopped writing fiction for approximately ten years, and then returned to it about three years ago. I did NaNoWriMo, and boy, did I learn so much. I learnt how no first draft, second draft, third draft, hell, often no fourth draft is ever going to be good enough – you need to work to be good at this craft.

I learnt all about beta reading, and things such as good story and character arc, and the importance of growth. I drafted a few stories, and one was even picked up by a publisher, which was fabulous, but I think my big light-bulb moment came after reading a lot of NA books – think Tamara Webber, Colleen Hoover, Abbi Glines … it was like I suddenly found direction. I wanted to make people feel things when I put pen to paper. And that’s when I wrote The Problem With Crazy.

It has certainly gotten easier as time has gone on, although I’ll admit, writing a series was a little tricky for me and I found it to be somewhat difficult, especially since Eleven Weeks takes place at the same time as The Problem With Crazy. There was a lot of fact checking going on!

Now, I wouldn’t go back for anything! While I took some time off writing last year (to get married and change jobs) this year I am back in action, and have written two books in the last three months. Here’s hoping to many more over the course of the next eleven!

The Problem With Crazy

Eleven Weeks

About the Crazy in Love series

The Crazy in Love series consists of three titles: The Problem With Crazy, Eleven Weeks and The Problem With Heartache.

The Problem With Crazy

GoodreadsAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo Books

Eleven Weeks

AmazonBarnes & NobleKobo Books

About Lauren

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Lauren K. McKellar is an author and editor. Her debut novel, Finding Home, was released through Escape Publishing on October 1, 2013, and her second release, NA Contemporary Romance The Problem With Crazy, is self-published, and is available now. She loves books that evoke emotion, and hope hers make you feel.

Lauren lives by the beach in Australia with her husband and their two dogs. Most of the time, all three of them are well behaved.

Author Links

WebsiteGoodreadsTwitterFacebook


Plotting (and scheming): the bad guy

I’m halfway through drafting a historical fantasy inspired by Ancient Greece. I’ve had this idea in my head for two years — since before I wrote either Lucid Dreaming or Melpomene’s Daughter — and I’d dedicated a lot of daydreaming hours to it. I mean a lot. So I knew the story pretty well.

Or at least, I thought I did until this week, when I had a bit of a crisis.

I’ve done all the setup. My plot notes got me to where I’m at, and they just sort of … stopped. It was basically:

  • the characters do something cool
  • there’s a big battle with the bad guy
  • the end

IT WAS A PLOTTER’S NIGHTMARE.

I lamented this to a friend of mine. Peter is my alpha reader. He doesn’t provide advice on the “girly bits”. (I think they make him roll his eyes.) But what he does do is tell me when he thinks the villains aren’t being villainous enough, or when they don’t seem to have considered an obvious flaw in their bad guy plan.

Kissing book.When I was struggling with the length of Lucid Dreaming — it was on track to being around twenty thousand words too short — Peter was the one who said, “Well, if I were that bad guy in that situation, this is what I would do.” (So when that book comes out later this year, you know who to blame for one of the plot twists. Just btw.)

So if I’d have thought about it, I’d have realised what his answer would be to my whinge: take it back to the bad guy. What’s his story? What is he trying to do while the characters are trying to foil him? I hadn’t really considered it, because the bad guy in this story is a bound demon. He’s sort of … static. It’s not like he can wander around. But, even bound, he is driving some of the plot. I just had to figure out how. And what.

Sweet Dancing Buffy

I sat down on Friday and wrote out the backstory from the demon’s point of view. I brainstormed what the implications were as a result of that, and then detailed what he wanted to happen next. Of course, I already knew a lot of this, but writing seven pages of notes really clarified things for me.

As a result of all this villainous brainstorming, I came up with a new and exciting plot twist, and figured out what the “something cool” is that the characters need to do. I’ve got a road map. Of course, I still have to write it out and, characters being characters, we’ll no doubt take some detours. But at least I know roughly what the journey will be.

There’s nothing more frustrating to me as a reader than a book where the main characters have no agency, where they spend all their time being reactive. Maybe as a result of that, I’d gone too far the other way with this story; I knew I wanted my characters to be driving the plot, but I’d forgotten about the inevitable pushback that should come from the bad guy driving his own plot in the other direction.

Because although my good guys might not agree, it’s no fun when the bad guys are a total pushover. Amirite?

Evil duo Buffy