Happy Birthday to me!

Happy Birthday Desktop Background

Today I turned thirty something. And don’t ask me what that something is, because I frankly stopped counting somewhere around my 33rd birthday. I figure that my husband will remind me when I reach the big forty, until then it doesn’t matter.

I chose this day to look back at my previous thirty something birthdays (at least those that I remember), and I was amazed at how much my attitude towards that day changed over time.

When I was little, my birthday couldn’t come any faster. I looked forward to December. I had a calendar and I would mark off days, and the less days remained until the 29th, the more my excitement grew. Because I knew there would be a party, there would be friends, and games, and laughter, and cake, and gifts, and… Well, you see the picture.

Then came the high school days and my birthday guest list also became a political struggle: Maria can’t stand Anna, but I’m friends with both, so I can’t invite one and not the other. Oxana won’t come without her new boyfriend, but he is a total creep, so do I really want him at my special party? And I have an invitation for Nicholas, but will he accept it? Sure, we say hi to each other at school and he seems to like me enough, but I want him to more than just like me, and gods how will I ever be able to invite him if I get tongue tied and blushing like an idiot when I see him? So yeah, birthdays became less about the gifts and more about the people.

Then came my college and post college days when all the drama of high school fell away and I spent my birthdays with a small group of real friends.

Then we all built families and birthdays amongst friends became birthdays between families, and it wasn’t really about the birthday or the gifts anymore, but about an occasion to spend time with people I love.

I used to count my years. I knew exactly how old I was. Yeah, all that stopped when I hit 30. I don’t know what it is about this particular number, but it makes you stop and think, “Holly $%^t! Where did a third of my life go?” It’s a cathartic experience, I tell you. You were a teenager, then a twenty something, but still young and so full of promise, than bham! You’re thirty andyou’re supposed to be all settled down and responsible. And your parents start asking pointed questions like “So, are we going to have grandkids soon?” And you have to laugh nervously and say something like “we’re working on it,” or “maybe in a year or two,” and you feel guilty as heck because you just don’t want kids yet.

So yeah, my thirtieth was a pivotal birthday. After that, I just stopped counting. After all, who cares? I’ll just have fun with my friends and eat some cake. And no, it won’t have any candles on it!

So Happy thirty something Birthday to me!

Submission guidelines – read carefully if you want me to review your book.

guidelines

I do not charge for reviewing a book. I love reading and I love sharing my opinion about the books I read. This also means that I DO NOT PURCHACE BOOKS! If you want me to review your book, send me a free copy.

I give honest and thorough reviews. I rank my reviews on a 5 stars scale. If I loved the book, I won’t hesitate to give it a 5 star and explain exactly what I found so fabulous about it. But it also means that I won’t pull any punches if I don’t like your book, but I promise to give a thorough explanation of what didn’t work for me.

I also post my review on Amazon and Goodreads. If you want me to post my review on another site, please indicate that in your email.

My preferred book format is EPUB, but I can accept books in MOBI, PDF and DOC formats as well.

I mostly read fiction. I might be persuaded to review a non-fiction book, but it would be approached on case by case basis. I DO NOT read or review erotic fiction. I mostly read adult fiction. I DO NOT read Young Adult of Children books.

 Genres I read in:

  • Science fiction: both hard and soft, space operas welcome.
  • Fantasy: any genre, from high fantasy to urban or dark fantasy.
  • Horror: psychological horror only. I will not read the “splatter gore” genre.
  • Paranormal: I prefer paranormal mysteries.
  • Post-apocalyptic and dystopian: yes please, love those two genres.
  • Romance: not a big fan, but I can pick up a romance book IF it’s written in the above mentioned genres; IF the characters are interesting and the romance evolves organically (no love at first sight, please); and IF the romance is secondary to the plot itself.

If you want me to review your book, please send your review request to elorenalory@gmail.com and include a synopsis of your book, a link to your amazon or goodreads page, and some information about yourself. Please also indicate which format you would be able to send your book in.

I usually only reply if I decide to review your book. I will also send you an email with an estimated timeline as to when I can get to it. It all depends on my ever-growing pile of books awaiting reviews.

A Christmas carol, sort of.

Merry-Christmas-2014-text-8

I will be on vacation until January 2nd, so there will be no posts this Friday or next Monday. But before I jet out of here, I wanted to wish you all a Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year!

And I also want to leave you with a story.

We didn’t have Christmas when I grew up. After all, officially, there was no religion in the USSR, therefore there were no religious holidays. So there was no Christmas. Plus my parents are both atheists.

Okay, hold your horses and don’t start feeling sorry for me just yet. We still decorated a tree and we still found presents under it in the morning. Only it happened on January 1st instead of December 25th, and the presents were not from Santa Klaus, but from Grandfather Frost (Ded Moroz).

And he wasn’t the jolly good fellow that Santa is. Grandfather Frost is portrayed in most of the Russian fairy tales as a stern-looking old man in frost-covered robes and an ice staff. He could just as easily freeze you to death than grant you a gift if you encountered him in the forest. You had to treat him with respect and show him that you were a good person worthy of his gifts. Here he is on the picture below – with the ice staff and frost on his robes.

Grandfather frost

So for me, this time of the year will always be associated with celebrating the end of the old year with friends and family on December 31st. We would all cook dishes that we never eat during the rest of the year and set a big table in our living room. Mom would take out her finest china. We would put on our best clothes. Around 7-8 pm the guests would start to arrive. There would be laughter, and flowers, and everyone would also bring a special dish. The feast would start around 9 or 10 pm and it would be full of laughter and flowing champagne. Then we would all wait for the 12 strokes of midnight and make a wish for the New Year.

After that us kids were usually sent off to bed, but the adults tried to stay up until dawn. I know now that they were the one who put my gift under the tree, but when I was little, waking up in the morning and seeing frost on the windows was magical. I knew that Grandfather Frost had visited our home that night and that there would be a brightly wrapped present with my name on it under the tree. When I look back at those times now, I can’t help but feel a bit sad as well, because that sense of magic got lost as I grew older.

And I also associate this time of the year with the smell of oranges, because this was the only time we could by those in the USSR – right around New Year. Mom would buy a big bag and give me and my sister one a day in the two weeks leading to New Year. In my memory, they tasted particularly sweet, maybe because they were synonyms of the big feast to come…

So this is my not so Christmas story. What about you guys? What Christmas traditions do you and your families have? What do you hold dear and remember the most from those past Christmases when you were still a child and believed in magic? I want to hear from you!

Magic Bites (Kate Daniels #1) by Ilona Andrews.

Stars: 5 out of 5.

Did I mention that I love the “alsobought” section on the Amazon site? I discovered a lot of books I fell absolutely in love with through that. Magic Bites was one of them. I had just posted a review on one of October Daye’s books by Seanan McGuire, and I was browsing through that section for something similar to read when I saw Magic Bites by Ilona Andrews.

Well, I can say that I’m glad I bought it because I loved this book. It has several of the components that I look for in a paranormal romance series, and all of them are done just right. So you can say that Magic Bites was a feast for sore eyes.

First of all, the worldbuilding. I loved this world where magic and technology come in alternating waves. I also like that the author set her story a long time after those waves first started happening, so it’s not a post-apocalyptic  story at all. Society has adapted to the new world and takes the changes in stride: they have both electricity and magic lights which switch on automatically depending on the wave; every garage or stable in Atlanta has both cars and horses.

The different magical beings and factions are also well-integrated into the society. I mean, when a magical wave can strike at any time and last for days, nobody would be very surprised to see witches, necromancers or shifters in the streets anymore.

So even in the first book of a series, we are introduced into a complex world with several different layers, a past and even a distinctive mythology. And the introduction is done progressively, without the dreaded infodumps that usually make me skip ahead or just close the book and never pick it up again.

So just for that, I would have already been happy with Magic Bites. But the good surprises didn’t end there. Kate Daniels is a strong female protagonist how they all should be – strong, smart, not afraid to make tough decisions and used to relying only on herself. Yes, she can come across and stand-offish and over-confident sometimes, but I think it has more to do with her upbringing and backstory, which is hinted upon, but not entirely explained. Which is also good, because it makes me want to pick up the next book in the series to learn a bit more about her.

Kate is a loner. She had been brought up to think that she cannot trust anyone but herself and that getting attached to other people is a weakness. So she tries to act accordingly. But she was also brought up with an inane sense of justice, so she can’t help but intervene when she sees something as being wrong. Which has a tendency to land her in a world of trouble.

Since it’s a paranormal romance, I can’t write a review without mentioning the romantic interest as well. Those of you who had been following my blog for some time know that the romance has to be very well written and feel “natural” for me to like the book. So that’s another point in this book’s favor – the romantic component is there, there are hints, but I have a feeling that it will develop gradually through the course of several books.

I also liked the fact that the romance does not take the driver sit in the story. Both Kate and Curran feel attracted to each other, yes, but that attraction is in the background. I have read way too many novels where the romantic interest seems to exist only when the protagonist is around and has no life / goals / desires outside of that. I’m glad that Curran isn’t like that. You can feel that he has his own life, his responsibilities and passions that have nothing to do with Kate or the case they end up investigating together. In other words, he is a well-rounded character on his own.

So yes, I loved this book and I love this series. And I will strongly recommend it to anyone who is looking for an engaging story, wonderfully fleshed-out world and complex characters.

P.S. And I think that Kate’s first encounter with Curran is hilarious. I mean, “Here, kitty, kitty?”

Writing woes – the dreaded middle.

snoopy-writing

I have been diligently plugging away at the first draft of my new fantasy novel The Choices we make. I had started it as a NaNoWriMo 2014 project, but 50k words only took it to the middle of part 2, so I have been slowly adding words to it all December long. My goals is to finish it by January 15.

A week ago I have hit what I call the dreaded middle. It’s that state when you are already a long way away from the beginning of your story, where the idea was shiny and exciting and the characters spoke to you. But you are also equally away from the final resolution and those two wonderful words – THE END. You are in the middle, drudging through the mire of words with your final destination still miles away. That’s when I feel my motivation faltering.

When it happened for the first time while I was writing Of Broken Things, I panicked. I almost abandoned the story altogether. It felt like there was no point going on: my characters were flat and uninteresting, my story had plot holes so big you could fly a spaceship through, and I absolutely hated all the words I put on the page.

Good thing that I turned to the internet writing community before I tossed my unfinished draft out of the window. Because I discovered something both scary and reassuring. Yep, both at the same time.

Lack of Motivation
Lack of Motivation

I have discovered that everyone experiences something similar somewhere during their first draft. Not exactly at the same place in the draft as I am though. Some stress out about the beginning, while their story is not yet fully formed and the characters not yet defined. Others hit that mire closer to the end when the story is almost done and the thought of wrapping it up neatly because daunting.

It’s scary because it means that no matter how many books you write or how successful you are, there will still be days, weeks, or even months, when you will absolutely hate your draft. Even if it goes to become a best-seller, there would have been a period when you felt like putting words on the page was equivalent to shoveling crap. And then it will happen again with the first draft of the next book, and the next, and the next…

But it’s also reassuring because Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, of John Scalzi go through the same pains and doubts time after time. That means that the draft you feel like tearing into tiny scraps might not be as horrible as you think, that this feeling is probably inherent to the creative process. I don’t know about you, but discovering that even successful writers have those doubts motivates me to keep going.

I hit exactly the same roadblock in the middle of The Choices we make, but this time I knew it would happen, so I didn’t panic and I didn’t let it deter me from writing. So even when the fatigue sets in, when the motivation hits the lowest mark ever, and I can suddenly come up with a thousand things I can do instead of writing, I force myself to put my butt in the chair and my fingers on the keyboard. I put words on the page. Maybe 400, maybe 600, or 1000 on a good day. I don’t look back, I don’t re-read. I press on.

As a result, I’m one chapter away from finishing Part 2, and I’m glad to say that the fog is finally lifting! I left the dreaded middle behind. I can see the road to the finish line. I feel excited and motivated about my book again!

Finish what you start!
Finish what you start!

So here is a question for my fellow writers. Do you experience the same symptoms during your first draft? When does it occur? The beginning? The middle? Closer to the end? Or more than once during the creative process? I want to hear from you!

Cold Hillside by Nancy Baker

Stars: 5 out of 5.

With Cold Hillside Nancy Baker managed to step away from the fae stereotype plaguing most of recent fantasy and paranormal books who depict a romanticized version of the fair folk: beautiful, mysterious, and a good romantic interest for the protagonist. Nancy Baker depicts a whole other version of the fae, which is much closer to the original legends and could be summarized by one sentence:

 With them, there are no happy endings.

 Yes, they are beautiful, but so is a coral snake or a poisonous flower, and both will kill you without pity or remorse. They are mysterious and alien and immortal, yes. They also consider us mortals as toys. Fascinating sometimes, but easily broken and discarded. I like this depiction of the fae better, maybe because that’s how they were portrayed in the fairy tales I grew up with.

 But the fae are not the only reason I gave this book five stars. A book would be nothing without engaging characters and an interesting story, and Cold Hillside has both in heaps. Because while the fae are present in the book and have an important influence on the events, this story is about the mortal people.

 I loved the depiction of Lushan, this big city clinging to the cold side of a mountain and whose inhabitants still manage to thrive in these unforgiving conditions. You can see that a lot of work had gone into creating this cold and unforgiving world and the culture of the people who live in it. But it’s masterfully inserted into the story itself, so that it never feels like an info dump. Lushan reminded me a little of Tibet, while Deshiniva where Teresine is from, would be more like India.

 Speaking of Teresine and the other protagonist in this book, her great-grandniece Lilith, it’s rare that we get truly strong women as protagonists, so this book was an absolute treat! Way too often, I have come across “strong” heroines that constantly needed rescued by their male love interests. Or who were totally rude and lacking basic social skills.

 Both Teresine and Lilith are strong and self-sufficient women the way I like them: they don’t rely on others to deal with their problems; they don’t waste time on bemoaning the unfairness of their condition; they accept the consequences of the often dire situations they find themselves in and manage to adapt and survive, and even carve a little bit of happiness and inner peace in the process.

It was refreshing to see them struggle and sometimes fail, but always get back up and keep on fighting. And it was refreshing to see the fae depicted not as good or bad, but just totally different.

 And I won’t say another word about the story of Cold Hillside, because I want to avoid spoilers, and because the unraveling of the story is part of the delightful experience that is this book. But I would say that it’s definitely worth picking up for your holiday reads.

 P.S. This review is for the advanced copy of the book I received from NetGalley.

WIP roundup – What I have in the Pipeline for 2015.

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Since December seems to be flying by at Mach 3 speed and 2015 is almost upon us (already??? *panics*), I decided to roundup all my ongoing works in progress and decide what I want to accomplish in 2015. That way it will hold me accountable, but also let you know what (hopefully interesting) new things to expect from me next year.

When I look back at where I was in December 2013 compared to today, it’s easy to see the progress I have made. Last year, all I had to show up for my writing efforts was a half-finished first draft of my NaNoWriMo novel Of Broken Things.

I have been a busy little pen monkey since then. So here is the list of WIPs I have in the pipeline for 2015:

Mists of the Crossworlds (a novella)

Lori has the very rare ability to shift into the crossworlds, the strange plane that connects different words together. She guides merchant caravans for the Guild who has absolute monopoly on crossworld travel. But one day the mists start calling Lori’s name, and her best friend has gone missing. Lori is faced with a though choice:  will she hide from those voices in the safety of the Guild Tower, or will she dare step off the beaten path in order to save the person that matters to her the most?

Mists started as a short story that grew a little longer, than even longer, until it became a 20k words novella. The first draft is finally done (unless it decides to grow some more on me). From all my WIPs, this one is the closest to be finished. My plan is to rewrite / edit it this January, then find a professional editor and cover artist. The end result will be self-published around April 2015. I am in equal parts trilled and terrified by that prospect.

Of Dragons and Magic

The Eye of the Norns Cycle (collection of inter-related short stories)

As an Eye of the Norns, it’s Ryssa’s duty to right wrongs that would threaten the balance of the great Tapestry of the world. The problem is, she doesn’t choose the wrongs to right. She has to accept to be led by the Norns and has to discover the right way to resolve each problem. Her powers help in that, but are killing her in the process. And she can’t ever stop. And she doesn’t know if she is making a difference, of if her actions have a deeper meaning. But that won’t stop her from searching for one.

The first story of this cycle, A Small Detour, had been published in this anthology. But I felt that Ryssa’s story wasn’t finished with just one little short story. That’s when I had the idea for a collection of short stories relating Ryssa’s adventures and sorted in chronological order. The first draft of the second story, The Price of a Mistake, is finished and awaiting editing. The next two short stories are in the rough planning stages. My goal is to publish several volumes of 4-5 stories each. The goal is to publish the first volume around fall 2015. I don’t know yet how many volumes it will take to finish Ryssa’s story, so that’s a long term WIP.

Of Broken things (a science-fiction mystery novel).

When Aiden Stapleton, a successful private investigator, accepts to look into the murder of a seemingly ordinary college professor, he unwillingly crosses the paths of a government official eager to cover up traces of some shady research and a mysterious killer bound on revenge.  Now five seemingly unrelated professors around the country are dead, an illegal “snow” lab had been burned to the ground, there is a crater in the Arizona desert where a secret experimental complex was located, and Aiden’s life is in danger. And all of those seemingly unrelated events have something to do with Project Cassandra.

This is the first novel I ever finished. Right now it’s in the editing stage and I’m about halfway done with pass one. Since it’s my very first novel, there are A LOT of changes to make for this to be even remotely readable. So my goal for 2015 is to finish at least the first major edit and find beta readers for it. Long term goal – self-publication in 2016.

Blue blood on the page!
Blue blood on the page!

The Choices We Make (a fantasy novel).

It was supposed to be a routine escort mission for battle mage Sky and his partner: escort a runemaster, wait for him to poke at the wardstones for a few hours, then portal back. Only the mission turned out to be a death trap. Now his partner is dead, the runemaster has had his brain fried, and Sky owes a life debt to a half-blood. But Sky has no time to deal with his guilt and hurt, because breaches open everywhere in the Kingdom and people start disappearing. The Order of Battle Mages needs to discover what or who is behind this before their Kingdom plunges back into the horrors of the Half-Blood war from the ashes of which it had risen three hundred years ago. Sky and his new partner will be in the thick of the events, whether they want it or not.

This is the WIP I’m working on at the moment. The first draft is a little over halfway done. My plan is to finish it by January 15, 2015, then pick it up somewhere around May – June and start the editing process. No publication dates yet, but the goal is to shoot for 2017.

And then, of course, let’s not forget NaNoWriMo 2015, when I will probably start a brand new novel.

So these are my projects for next year. Looks like I will be very very busy, but it’s rather exciting! And I’m looking forward to launching into this whole self-publishing adventure as well.

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