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On Reviewing Books

Amazon Review Meme by Alethea Kontis

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School Library Journal Loves HERO

It’s odd for a major review like this to appear so long after the book’s release…but better late than never! Also, I wholeheartedly support comparisons to the TV show Once Upon a Time.

Some of us little people should benefit from The Giant Hammer of Disney, right?

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Hero, October 1, 2013KONTIS, Alethea. Hero. Bk. 2. 304p. (Woodcutter Sisters Series). Houghton Harcourt. 2013. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780544056770. LC 2013003895.

Gr 6 Up–This sequel to Enchanted (Houghton Harcourt, 2012) follows a different sister in the Woodcutter family. Saturday seems to have no magical talents of her own, but instead relies on an enchanted sword given to her as a gift. Shortly after the novel begins, her “cousin-brother,” Trix, runs away from home when he receives bad news about his biological mother. Saturday vows to bring him back. The heroine and her mother set sail with Thursday, the pirate sister. While onboard, Saturday is captured by an enormous bird and taken to a cave on the highest mountaintop where an evil witch resides. There, the teen meets Peregrine of Starburn, who was cursed and forced to pretend to be the witch’s daughter, and his companion Betwixt, a chimera. Saturday, Peregrine, and Betwixt undertake a fast-paced adventure to keep the witch from casting a spell that will open a portal to the demon realm and destroy their world. Fans of the television show Once Upon a Time will definitely enjoy this fractured fairy tale that references many well-known stories.

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Today’s Blog Offerings

HERO landed in bookstores today, and exploded all over the intarwebs in a big way!

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At the Waterworld Mermaids, I blog about my spectacular, almost supernatural ability to pull off things at the Last Minute. Includes a few stats on Beloved, the first draft of which I finished last night around 11pm. (Click here to read and enter to win the Blog Tour Basket!)

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Over at Mary Robinette Kowal‘s blog, I talk about “My Favorite Bit” of HERO and its Shakespearean origins. I absolutely LOVE this essay. It’s possibly my favorite entry of the tour. (Click here to read!)

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The gorgeous Ms. Book Queen has posted her own review of HERO today, in conjunction with a chance to win a signed copy of Enchanted. (Click here to read and enter!)

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HERO is Justine Magazine‘s Most Fun Fairy Tale for Teen Read Week! Click here to read some really fun Spark Girl reviews!

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Another fabulous review at Library of a Book Witch…by someone who *gets* the old-school fairy tale references!

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A really fun interview with MOI over at Tressa’s Wishful Endings! I talk about damsels in distress and my all-time favorite fairy tales.

Hero Birthday!

 

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Jenna Does HERO (with giveaway!)

Jenna over at Jenna Does Books has posted a really great review of HERO:

Hero, October 1, 2013JENNA’S REVIEW

My favorite fairy tale writer, Alethea Kontis, pulls off another slam dunk with HERO, the second of her stories about the Woodcutter sisters. HERO is a gender-bending, swash-buckling tale about Saturday, the second youngest sister to Sunday, whom we previously met in Enchanted. While Sunday was a whimsical girl with an art for words, Saturday is a strong and willful girl with plenty of heart (plus some added snark). Her story proved to be just as enthralling as the first!

Alethea has a knack for reminding readers why many of us love fairy tales to begin with. In this entry we are once again given a delightful story with some obvious (and some not-so-obvious) nods to classic tales, such as The Sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel, Rumpelstiltskin and more. It was so much fun picking out the various references. Just like Enchanted, HERO is built upon these familiar stories, but her overlying story and characters are entirely of her own creation. You never think “Wait, this is just a retelling of Cinderella!” or “I feel like I’ve heard this before…” because Alethea’s story and characters are wholly unique and distinguishable – not to mention they have so much more personality.

CLICK HERE to read more of Jenna’s spectacular review…and then enter to win your very own collector’s edition ARC of HERO!

(Giveaway ends September 30th.)

Thank you, Jenna. You are my Hero!

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KIRKUS Loves Hero!

Hero, October 1, 2013HERO
Author: Alethea Kontis

Review Issue Date: September 1, 2013
Online Publish Date: August 14, 2013
Publisher:Harcourt
Pages: 304
Price ( Hardcover ): $17.99
Publication Date: October 1, 2013
ISBN ( Hardcover ): 978-0-544-05677-0
Category: Fiction

The cover is terribly wrong—again—but Kontis’ return to the Woodcutter family is still mightily entertaining.

This story focuses on Saturday Woodcutter, whose sister Sunday from Enchanted (2012) is now queen. Saturday is a big, strong girl who has not figured out her magic, except that the ax she was given as an infant has turned into a sword that strengthens and heals. Tossing away a magic mirror endangers her whole family, especially her changeling brother, Trix, and she goes off to find and save him. She’s mistaken for her lost brother, Jack Woodcutter, by a blind witch whose eyes he stole and who imprisons Saturday. The witch also keeps captive a man named Peregrine, magicked by the witch’s daughter into taking her place. Peregrine does his best to keep busy and sane, while dressing as a woman and trying to both serve and outwit the witch. Peregrine and Saturday are a wonderful couple, as they spar, miss signals and exchange roles, aided by Betwixt, a chimera also held by the witch. There is hardly a fairy-tale or gender trope that Kontis doesn’t turn on its head, and readers don’t need to know about Hercules cleaning out the Augean Stables to find Saturday’s impossible task of cleaning the witch’s bird’s nest both hilarious and revolting.

Whether Kontis tells the tales of other Woodcutter children or not, readers will await her next with joyful anticipation. (Fantasy. 11-18)

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Princess Alethea’s Magical Elixir

My new (and final) review column is up at IGMS.

It’s been a wonderful four years of reviewing — thank you all so much for reading!

Title: Darkbeast
Author: Morgan Keyes
EAN: 9781442442054

I had the pleasure of interviewing Morgan Keyes in July during my yearly Month of Author & Artists. In doing the requisite digging for her bio, picture, and most recent book, I stumbled across the cover for Darkbeast and knew I had to have it for review. Happily, Morgan and her publisher complied with my pleading request.

From the first chapter, Darkbeast reminded me of the high fantasy novels by Tamora Pierce and Mercedes Lackey. Duodecia is a rich world full of gods and tithemen and original magic. Keara’s story is far simpler . . . though it seems to be less coming-of-age than it is the avoidance of growing up…  (Read more)

Title: A Confusion of Princes
Author: Garth Nix
EAN: 9780060096946

I’m a fantasy girl. My father read to me at bedtime from infanthood, so the stories that molded me were born of Muppets and Goops and fairies. I love delving into science fiction, but it requires more of a commitment. In fantasy, magic works based on the price paid. In science fiction, there are entire worlds of economies and social structures the reader must understand while simultaneously enjoying the journey of the main character.

I adore Garth Nix, so I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt when I picked up A Confusion of Princes. Right off the bat, it’s got “Confusion” in the title, and boy, does it deliver. I did not start at page one of this book and barrel all the way to the end — I was forced to read much slower to understand this world, and I’m very glad I did.  (Read more)

 

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Princess Alethea’s Magical Elixir

New book reviews are up at IGMS!

Title: Home from the Sea
Author: Mercedes Lackey
EAN: 9780756407278

I adore Mercedes Lackey – By the Sword is one of my all-time favorites, as is her beautiful collaboration with Andre Norton: The Ship Who Searched. I keep the Bardic Voices books on hand at all times for my re-reading enjoyment. They are all in hardcover, and the dust jacket for The Lark and The Wren is very worn.

However, I haven’t read a Lackey novel in quite some time. I never warmed to her seemingly never-ending Valdemar series, much to my disappointment. But I was in the mood for some really good, fun, fantasy, and Home from the Sea had just arrived on my doorstep, so I thought, why not? (Read more)

 

Title: Thieftaker
Author: D. B. Jackson
EAN: 9780765327611

First and foremost, I would like to thank D.B. Jackson for being one of the most patient and wonderful souls in the universe. I fought long and hard to get Thieftaker into my TBR pile – I’ve wanted to read this novel for years, since the first time he mentioned this labor of love full of magic and Revolutionary New England to me. Once in hand, I carried the ARC everywhere with me for weeks before going on book tour, trying to find time to sneak a page in and failing miserably, and then right before I left on my 21-day non-stop whirlwind, I promptly lost it somewhere in my very small apartment. <sigh> I saw Jackson on my way to Nashville and he lent me his own, personal copy of the ARC when I admitted my untimely absentmindedness. (I found the book as soon as I got home, of course.)

Happily for everyone, Thieftaker did not disappoint, and I’m very glad I was forced to wait for a less tumultuous time in which to lose myself in the wilds of its lush description. (Read more)

 

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On Reviews

Recently on Twitter (I seem to be on Twitter a lot while I’m writing fiction–it’s quick and easy) a bunch of us were discussing reviewers who blatantly ask for free books, and the value of such reviews.

Since then, I’ve been mulling over how to respond to these folks. Because according to some of my considerably more published friends, these requests will never stop.

I am a reviewer for a prominent online SF magazine. I am on the mailing lists of several publishing houses. To keep from overwhelming me with product, some publishing houses have let me know that I am free to ask for whatever I want, when necessary. From time to time, I have taken them up on this offer.

I am fully aware that what I provide for the authors I review is a free advertising service, as much as anything. But what about book bloggers? Those readers who are just really big fans of a particular author’s work, or of reading in general?

Book bloggers are valuable in that they spread the word. What I give with my review is a certain level of credibility. What book bloggers give with their input is reach — word of mouth to all their followers. Both of these things are incredibly important in this electronic age.

So where are these book bloggers? They’re online everywhere–throw a virtual rock and you’ll hit one. They have blogs and vlogs–sites and YouTube channels.

They’re on Goodreads. You know where they’re not? On Amazon.

Take this example: Enchanted on Amazon has 140 “likes” and 48 customer reviews. Enchanted on Goodreads has 1530 ratings and 385 reviews.

enchantedSeriously — who the heck is going to sift through 48 reviews, never mind 385? Even if I wanted to read them all, I just don’t have the time. So if a reader/reviewer contacts me with the promise of reviewing my book on Amazon and Goodreads (etc), what good is this really going to do? In my eyes: None. They will be review #386, and their friends will see it, if I’m lucky.

But they’ll have a free book — one that I had to purchase (at my discounted author rate) for them. For Enchanted, that’s about $9.00. Plus shipping to them (roughly $3.oo book rate domestic). Right now you can purchase a copy of Enchanted yourself on Amazon for $10.98. And if you play the Amazon game correctly (all us bibliophiles do), your shipping is free.

It actually COSTS ME AN EXTRA DOLLAR to send a reviewer a free copy of my book. On top of that I also lose the 10% royalty I would have made on that book…meaning that “free” book is an extra $2.70 out of my pocket compared to what you would pay on Amazon to get a copy yourself.

Quick recap:
Reader’s cost for Enchanted: $10.98 (and I make ~$1.70 in royalties).
My cost: ~$13.70

I should be sending reviewers $2.70 to buy the book themselves. And we’re talking about hardcovers here. Readers can get the Kindle/Nook versions for even cheaper than that.

“But that’s the cost of advertising!” you say. And you are right. But as it is my money coming out of my pocket, I get to decide where and to whom my advertising dollars go. The two things I look for? That’s right: Credibility and Reach.

Chances are good that if you are a blogger in a niche market (like my friend Soumi Roy in India, or my friend Precious in the Philippines) I’m going to jump at the chance to appear on your site.

I did not know Precious or Soumi before the publication of Enchanted. These ladies each contacted me on their own and inquired about reviews and interviews pre-publication date. Because of their professional and forward-thinking manner, I asked them to be part of my 2012 blog tour. In fact, I did the same with every blogger who contacted me pre-publication date–these folks became the basis for my tour. I was pleasantly surprised at the outcome, and will be happy to promote future books at their sites.

Enchanted has been on bookstore shelves for three months now, and I still get requests for free books, in return for reviews. What do you think I’m going to say to those requests?

What would you say?

Now…book bloggers are all different. I say they have reach, but I they also have credibility because they have made the effort to go out, find the book, obtain it, read it, and then take time out of their life to review it (for better or worse).

If someone is asking me for a free book specifically in exchange for good reviews, isn’t that a bit unethical? Beyond that, doesn’t it belittle the reviews out there written by people who CARE?

Take this reviewer, for instance. He read one of my books, enjoyed it, and–despite limited computer skills–convinced someone to blog about it on his behalf. He loved my book so much that he said, “We could give it to someone else, and then tell everyone in the world to give it to someone else, after they read it.” I am flattered by such high praise.

I am also flattered by the fact that this particular reviewer is only four years old. You can read the rest of his review here. (Do — you’ll get a kick out of it!)

People all over the world are going to read my books. They are going to love them and hate them and writer about them–or not–in their own words.

I’m going to advertise my books to the best of my abilities upon their release, but I am not going to belittle a four year old’s sentiments by continuing to stuff the ballot box.

And this is what I’m going to tell those folks who ask.

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The Adventures of Supermermaid #1

Today is my blog day over at the Waterworld Mermaids, and I’m talking about my very first experience behind a table at a comic book convention–at HeroesCon just this past weekend!

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I am a comic book geek, dyed in the wool from the tender age when I could lift my first Archie Comics Digest. Casey and I loved Elfquest in middle school. I moved on to Arkham Asylum and the X-Men Phoenix Saga and John Byrne’s Next Men when I was a teen. In college, my boyfriend gave me a graphic novel by that guy Tori Amos was always writing into her songs–at my first Dragon*Con, Charles Vess drew the Sandman in silver paint pen inside my first edition hardcover of The Wake. It’s one of my most prized possessions.

I’ve been to comic book conventions before, spoken to artists and authors, found new things and scavenger hunted for signatures. But this past weekend at HeroesCon 2012 was my very first time BEHIND A TABLE…

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Want to read more? Click here!

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Princess Alethea’s Magical Elixir

New reviews are up at Intergalactic Medicine Show!

I’m off for the next two months while on book tour — in the meantime, my review column will be usurped by my dear friend and fellow Codexian Jamie Todd Rubin. I for one am really looking forward to his reviews–which have a decidedly more sci-fi flavor. I’m hoping that after the tour, Jamie will stick around to be a co-reviewer…

Title: The Vicious Deep
Author: Zoraida Córdova
EAN: 9781402265105

Zoraida Córdova is one of those impossible beautiful young women, the kind you keep glancing at to make sure she’s really still there, and not just a figment of your imagination. When she read from her debut novel The Vicious Deep at Lady Jane’s Salon this month, I expected from the title that the content would be dark and angry and thick. But the scene she began to read was in the startlingly light and honest voice of a handsome teenage lifeguard on Coney Island . . .who has just discovered that he’s a merman.

And Tristan Hart isn’t just any old merman – he’s the grandson of the Sea King, and heir to the throne. Tristan’s gorgeous, red-haired mother, Maia, was the Sea King’s eldest daughter who fell in love with a human and traded in her fins for a life on land. It’s hard to force Disney’s “The Little Mermaid” out of your mind when reading – it’s almost a continuing tale, as if Ariel and Eric had a son, and this is his story… (Read more)

 

Title: Wuftoom
Author: Mary G. Thompson
EAN: 9780547637242

Mary G. Thompson and I are book twins: our debut titles released on the exact same day (May 8, 2012) from the exact same publisher (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). We were also scheduled to appear on the same panel at Books of Wonder the weekend before our release date (along with David Macinnis Gill, Paolo Bacigalupi, Galaxy Craze, Kat Klimo, and Elizabeth Norris) to chat about young adult fantasy and science fiction. I thought it only fitting that I acquire her book from our publisher (which is a magical power book twinsies can perform before release dates) and read it.

I had no idea what I was getting into. But then, I had no idea what a Wuftoom was. Where Vicious Deep was deceptively delightful, Wuftoom brought the dark, in spades. (Read more)

 

 

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