Thursday 27 July 2017

A Court of Mist And Fury, by Sarah J. Maas (Book Review)

My Review (3 / 5 Stars)

Tricky, reviewing this book. There were lots of ups and downs for me.

From the first paragraph, I got the impression that this wasn't going to be as good as the first one. It starts out with Feyre vomiting in the toilet. My first thought was, "Oh, they've got indoor plumbing in this world? That's strange."

And indeed it was strange, but I got past it. It's a fantasy world, yes, but that doesn't mean it has to conform to the default medieval style of most fantasy worlds...

At least, I thought I'd gotten past it... but I still cringed every time somebody opened a tap. To help it feel a bit more fantasy-like, the room these toilets, sinks, and baths are in is called the "bathing room", but I think if it's going to look like a modern bathroom, just call it a bathroom.

Then there's what our heroine was doing in the toilet in that first paragraph: vomiting. Yes, there's lots of vomiting happening in this book, as well as "vomiting my/his/her guts out". It just doesn't seem like a word/phrase that would be used in the time period in which this book appears to be set.

The characters wear sweaters, too. Did they have sweaters back then? Tunics, yes. Woolen overshirts, yes. But sweaters? I think not.

There are other examples, but okay, enough hating on the language. I believe I mentioned that in my review for the last book in the series, too. It's not right, it destroys the verisimilitude, and it rips me out of the world every time I see it. Enough said. Moving on.

There's a lot more introspection in this book than in the first one, and it doesn't really paint a consistent picture of who Feyre is. Sometimes she seems like a spoilt child, other times she comes across as a tough-as-nails warrior, only to be the spoilt child again a scene or two later. There's character growth, but for no apparent reason, there's also regression.

The first book was clearly young-adult. One thing this series has going for it is the growth and general maturation of the characters from book to book. In the previous installment, Feyre was very much a child. In this one, she's well and truly an adult, and the things she goes through and the decisions she has to make reflect that. Kudos to the author for achieving that.

Having said all of the above, the overall story is still something I enjoyed, as a fantasy fan. Enough to want to pick up the next book in the series. Which I most certainly will be doing.

About the Book

Feyre survived Amarantha's clutches to return to the Spring Court—but at a steep cost. Though she now has the powers of the High Fae, her heart remains human, and it can't forget the terrible deeds she performed to save Tamlin's people.

Nor has Feyre forgotten her bargain with Rhysand, High Lord of the feared Night Court. As Feyre navigates its dark web of politics, passion, and dazzling power, a greater evil looms—and she might be key to stopping it. But only if she can harness her harrowing gifts, heal her fractured soul, and decide how she wishes to shape her future—and the future of a world torn apart.


Click here to purchase the e-book from your favourite online store.

If you prefer paperbacks, and you happen to be in South Africa, it's available on Loot for (at the time of this writing) R151.

Tuesday 25 July 2017

Internet Down

I'm on leave from my day job, and was hoping to write you a nice long post this week. Murphy's Law kicked in.

My Internet has been offline since early Sunday morning, and I'm on my mobile data (a metered connection) typing this today.

Apparently, it's due to some construction work that was taking place at our telephone exchange about two kilometres away; it seems that the other company broke a cable, and it's going to take up to a week to fix.

Oh well, good ol' Murphy, eh? My sincerest apologies, everyone. I'll make it up to you next week, I promise!

Tuesday 18 July 2017

Cinder by Marissa Meyer (Book Review)

I really enjoyed this.

As science fiction goes, the world is truly compelling. On the one hand, it's post-apocalyptic, but on the other, it's a bit of a utopia.

World War IV happened a long time ago, and almost destroyed the world. That's the apocalypse part. What came out of that war was a treaty that saw all the countries of the world consolidated into less than ten, mostly based around continents, so you have the African Union, Europe, the Americas, and something called The Commonwealth.

This story is set in New Beijing, a massive city-state that's part of The Commonwealth. Technology has progressed to the point where humans can be cybernetically enhanced, everyone flies around in hovers, and intelligent androids, able to show emotion, are commonplace.

Now for the bad news. There's this worldwide plague, you see, with no cure, and a 100% mortality rate. If you contract it, you die. Within days. Scientists all over the world are racing against time to find a cure, while every day thousands of people are dying. It's a losing battle.

Enter Cinder, a teenage cyborg who runs a small mechanic's shop, repairing androids, portscreens (pretty much tablet PCs), and other miscellaneous electronics. She has an evil stepmother and stepsister, and a prince invites her to a ball.

This story is VERY loosely based on the Cinderella fairy-tale, but if you didn't know that, and I hadn't pointed it out to you, you might miss it. The fairy tale served as inspiration for the author, but that's where it ends. It ends up going in an entirely different direction.

There's some romance here, but not very much (less than I expected, anyway), and you're sure to enjoy it even if you're not a fan of love stories.

The one thing that bugs me is that this book is billed as Young Adult. I think the only thing that technically makes it YA is the age of the protagonist. But it doesn't take place in a high school or anything, nor do any of the characters face typical teenager-type problems, nor do they behave like teenagers would be expected to behave.

No, this is quite clearly an adult book, and it deals with some pretty adult themes. Having said that, I should point out that it's a WHOLESOME adult book. There's not a single swear word to be found, nor even any blasphemy. Which is refreshing, because blasphemy is often what stops me from giving a book 5-stars.

Editing-wise, there's the odd typo here and there, but it's very well polished, and none of them detracted in any way from the story.

If you like science fiction, and you like a good family-friendly read, I don't doubt for one minute that you'll enjoy this book!

(My rating: 5 / 5 Stars)

Click here to see all the places where the book is available.

Tuesday 11 July 2017

How I (More Than) Doubled My Newsletter Subscribers on Instafreebie

I'd been hearing lots of things over the years about Instafreebie, as a tool for authors to use to boost their mailing list, but all I knew about it was that it came with a monthly fee. I didn't think I'd be able to afford it, and didn't really have the time.

In June 2017, however, I embarked on a drive to get more e-mail subscribers, so I thought "What the hell?" and signed up for Instafreebie's free plan.

Their free plan doesn't allow you to collect e-mail addresses, so I just put up my perma-free book (Billy's Zombie), to see what happens.

Within a week, with zero marketing on my part, that book had garnered 40 free downloads. What a shame I didn't have access to any of those e-mail addresses.

I signed up for the 30-day trial of their paid service (which normally costs $20 a month), set up Mailchimp integration, and offered a free copy of my first short story, A Petition to Magic. The rest is history.

Okay, so how many subscribers are we talking here?

A lot of the time, when authors talk about growing their mailing lists, these are authors who already had thousands (or tens of thousands) of subscribers, and their advice has limited application to the rest of us.

Well, I'm not one of those authors, so in the interest of full disclosure, I'm going to share my exact figures with you.

At the end of May 2017, before I started any of this, I sent out my monthly e-mail newsletter to 50 subscribers. Early in June, I signed up for Instafreebie, and didn't do any marketing of my giveaways for the whole month. I sent out my June newsletter to 67 subscribers. 17 subscribers from Instafreebie in just less than a month. With zero marketing.

When it all blew up

I started looking around for ways to promote my giveaway, and everybody said that to really start seeing benefit, I needed to participate in group giveaways with other authors.

Instafreebie has a "Forum" section, where authors post giveaways, and invite other authors to participate by sharing links to blog posts. In return, the host author includes the other authors' books.

That sounded like a good plan, but I couldn't find any group giveaways that were suitable for my target audience (readers of multi-genre short stories). So, like any enterprising author would do, I started my own.

On 7 June 2017, I posted on the Instafreebie Forum, asking if anyone was interested in doing short story giveaways, in any genre. The giveaway would "officially" run from 27 June 2017 (the day my June newsletter was scheduled to go out), and end on 7 July - the day my 30-day trial with Instafreebie was set to expire.

The deal was, that I would write a blog post, where I'd share the giveaway links to all the participating books. I'd e-mail a link to that post to all my subscribers, and share it on my social media channels. All the other participating authors would do the same.

The results

I got ten authors to participate in my giveaway, wrote the blog post (you can see it here), and sent it out. Then I posted the link to that post to the forum, and asked everyone to share it wherever they could.

Two days later, my list had swelled to 77 subscribers. But of course, I wanted more.

I e-mailed Instafreebie to ask if they'd be willing to promote my giveaway to their mailing list of several thousand subscribers. They said yes!

Instafreebie's e-mail went out on Friday, 30 June 2017, and during the course of that weekend, I got so many subscribers that I was actually afraid I'd exceed the 2 000 subscriber limit of my Mailchimp Forever Free plan!

As at 11 July 2017, I now have 141 subscribers on my e-mail list. That's more than double the number I had when I sent out my June newsletter, and almost three times the number I had at the end of May.

What's more, that blog post has now been viewed over 2 500 times, and I've earned around R25 (~$1.87) in Google Adsense income from people viewing and clicking on the third-party ads. That's nothing to sneeze at, for a little author like me.

Don't some people unsubscribe as soon as you mail them?

Well, I was warned that that might happen. I have a long automation process set up in Mailchimp, and I must admit I've seen a few Instafreebie subscribers unsubscribe as soon as they get their first mail. Not many, though: maybe 15% of them.

Instafreebie tells me that A Petition to Magic has been claimed 89 times, and my list has grown by 74 since starting the group giveaway. So I lost 15 subscribers. You do the maths.

I obviously still need to find out how many subscribers I lose when I send out my July newsletter at the end of the month, but it looks promising!

In conclusion, Instafreebie works. And works well. Even for those of us with tiny lists. But in order to take full advantage of it, you need a Mailchimp account, and you need things to send to your subscribers. If you're an author with a mailing list, and you're looking to grow it, give Instafreebie a try. You also need to participate in the community, though. Take part in group giveaways, like I did, and don't forget to pop Instafreebie a mail to ask them to help promote for you.

Get $30 in Mailchimp Credit

If you don't yet have a Mailchimp account, click here to sign-up. If you subsequently become a paying customer, you'll get $30 in credit, but only if you use that link.

Tuesday 4 July 2017

The Annual Smashwords Summer/Winter Sale is On

It may be the middle of winter here in the Southern Hemisphere (and freezing cold, I might add), but it's the opposite in the North. Just last week, I saw some of my British friends complaining on Facebook about a heatwave.

Each year, Smashwords celebrates these polar opposites by making thousands of books available in their Summer/Winter sale, which is now in its ninth year.

Please support them by checking out the catalogue of all books on sale, which is open from 1 July and runs right up until the end of the month.

They have loads of books on sale, from 25% all the way to 100% off. Click here, or the banner above, to see the catalogue.