Chrysalis: The Awakening by M L Lacy is an interesting combination of paranormal and contemporary romance. In her early thirties, Aubrey Marie – Bree – discovers that she is the Chosen One. The last Chosen One. She has a clan of vampires, werewolves and other supernaturals protecting her. Esmerelda the egomaniac sorceress is out to destroy Bree so that she can gain supremacy over the human race. Life hasn’t been easy for Bree, with so much being kept secret from her, mysterious accidents happening to her, and on top of all that, a disastrous marriage to an abusive man, Nick. Bree has been ‘mated’ to Stephen since her birth but her memories of him have been blocked for her benefit. Suddenly he’s in her life again and she can’t explain the peculiar attraction she feels to him, or why it seems that she knows him. Gradually, at a family reunion in Vegas, her recollection of the past comes back to her. Bree’s world is about to change – big time.

Lacy creates reality and fantasy settings and action equally well. She is a very readable author with a direct, easy style that gets to the point and keeps the story motoring along. She uses the concept of a chrysalis as being a stage of development in this book. Bree is developing, both as a woman relating to a man and as a magical being. She’s a strong, active character, very likeable. All the characters are complex and cleverly drawn. There’s an element of erotic romance entwined in with all the other action too. This book has everything and is an extremely accomplished debut novel.

I’ve taken the following data from this excellent report by Meaghan Gray, which is well worth reading in full. Here are the top 20 indie authors for June 2012:

1. C J Lyon, thrillers ‘with heart’ i.e. romance along the way

2. Bella Andre – sensual romance, erotica

3. Jamie McGuire – contemporary romance

4. Antoinette Stockenberg – romantic suspense

5. Marie Force – contemporary romance

6. Barbara Freethy – romantic suspense, contemporary romance

7. Huge Howey – science fiction

8. Kristen Ashley – romance

9. Colleen Hoover – various fiction, drama

10. Gemma Halliday – thriller

11. Stephanie Bond – humorous mysteries with touch of romance

12. Liliana Hart – humorous mystery with touch of romance

13. John Locke – thriller

14. Rebecca Forster – legal thriller

15. Bob Mayer – thrillers

16. Lisa Renee Jones – contemporary, sensual fiction

17. Jon F Merz – YA adventure

18. Judy Angelo – contemporary romance

19. Ruth Cardello – contemporary romance

20. Kathleen Brooks – romantic suspense

These guys are all selling 20,000 plus a month, up to over 90,000. We have 5 thriller writers, 12 with a romantic bent, 1 sci-fi, 1 YA and 1 general fiction. Fairly conclusive as to what sells I think. I have to say I’m extremely surprised that there’s no paranormal romance in these 20. They start appearing a little further down the top 100 list. That seems to be a red hot genre these days.

What emerges from indie lists like this is clearly what the low budget book buyer likes to read. There’s no pretentious literary fiction here. We’ve got solid stories with love and adventure – pleasurable escapism.

For comparison, I checked the top 20 bestsellers for paying (as opposed to free) books at Smashwords. We have a much wider range of genres including cookery, erotica, crafts (felting), paranormal, romance and sports. The only author from this list is Kristen Ashley who appears three times, which is very impressive. She’s clearly doing everything right and I’m about to buy a couple of her books and see if I can discover her secret! I suggest you do the same. A quick browse of her novels shows that on the whole they’re big – many are 130,000 words plus, up to over 200,000 words, which is quite unusual. We’re often told by publishers that 75,000 words is what most people want. Seems they don’t. Also, Kristen has a mix of series (Rock Chick) and standalones and covers quite a wide variety of themes. She’s a very flexible as well as extremely fast writer. And she goes for cool names for her characters. We have Knight, Grayson, Tor, Prentice, Ivey, Kane, Jet, February, Indy, Mara, Tyra, Cora (definitely a bit of a pattern with girls’ names ending in ‘ra’!) Also, she generously offers up to 50% samples on Smashwords. So – already we’ve picked up three tips on being successful; long books, cool character names and generous samples. Even if you feel you couldn’t write a romance novel to save your life, you can use those tips for whatever genre you do fall into.

Make it a weekly habit to pick an author from a bestselling list (e.g. Amazon, Smashwords, Barnes and Noble), preferably well up there, and read at least a sample of their work to see what you can glean from it. Go to their website, follow them on Twitter and see if there’s anything you can learn from them in terms of promotion. Compile your own notes and build up a database on successful authors and books. Learn from the indie leaders.

The First Apostle by Katherine Pym is gripping historical fiction. Set in Paris, it relates the story of journalist and pamphleteer Camille Desmoulins during the period of the French Revolution. He was an active and outspoken revolutionary, a close friend of Robespierre and other influential politicians. From verging on starvation and being forced to live on maggoty bread and wine more often than he’d like, as his fame as a controversial writer grew, so did his fortune. He was finally able to marry his beloved Lucile and enjoy domestic happiness with her and their son Henri for a short while. However, he walked a dangerous line. He made powerful enemies and eventually he ends up on the wrong side of a farcical trial. It was a risk he took by choosing his path. But his unpopularity leaves his wife at great risk too, and Camille would not have her harmed for the world.

This is a very exciting, atmospheric novel. The author’s enthusiasm for and interest in her topic shows in every word. She paints an intricate portrait of life in late eighteenth-century France. The problems, the prejudices, the joys, the horrors shine through. We meet every emotion from love to hate, from hop to despair and bump into a whole range of interesting characters. Some appeal, some repel but they’re all memorable. It’s an absorbing read and it’s hard to put down. The First Apostle leaves you feeling enriched and educated and is a book you won’t forget for a long time.

Demon Soul by Christine Ashworth isn’t run-of-the-mill paranormal. Ashworth has taken the genre and given it refreshingly original treatment. We have Rose Walters, who has made a bit of a mess of  her life so far and nearly died, being given a chance to come back so she can save Gabriel Caine. Gabriel and his brother Justin are suspicious of her at first as they can sense that she is more than human now. So is Gabriel. He and Justin are tribreds, a mixture of human, demon and fae. Throw in Gabriel’s ex, Satine, who has taken something he desperately needs back, and you have a very interesting story as Rose and Gabriel join forces to solve the very dangerous problem that faces him.

It’s a gritty story. Rose is no angel with a history of drug abuse. But she’s courageous and likeable and very determined. She learns what family love can be like and that’s very heartwarming. All the characters have depth that makes them fascinating. They’re all flawed which makes them all the more human and sympathetic. You get drawn into their conflicts and really care what happens to them. And it helps that some of them are rather sexy too! The plot is far from predictable in this battle of good versus evil. The book is confidently and persuasively written. It’s no problem to suspend your disbelief and accept the paranormal as completely normal. There are more books to come in this series which is seriously good news.

View from the Edge by Michael Kasenow is the sort of novel that smacks you in the face. It’s an immensely powerful book, yet the hero is a gentle, damaged academic, who adores his son, and just wants one adult in his life to love and respect him. The recollections of the childhood abuse Josh received from his father, while his mother did nothing to protect him, are painful in the extreme and still haunt him, day and night. And now his wife, Ashley, is treating him appallingly too, although somehow managing to be a good mother to their adored son. But she’s on a downward spiral. In parallel with Josh’s recovery from his accident which runs alongside the gradual breakdown of his “train wreck strewn with fears” of a marriage, is the attempt by Josh’s university department to obtain the Mount Sinai Artifacts which brings a lot of media attention their way. His students are indulging in some weird behaviour. Oh yes, and someone wants to kill him.

The book is populated by rounded, complicated, flawed characters. The hero/anti-hero Josh patiently sorts out petty and major problems at the university and is an attractive, likeable man. He copes but suffers. Such contradictions run throughout the book. The tone is angry and violent at times, but tender and humorous at others, even romantic. There’s despair but optimism, deception and betrayal but also love and loyalty. Kasenow shows great versatility in his writing and conjures up action and emotions that keep the reader hooked. It’s moving and shocking at the same time. It’s a must-read.

Pic from Elizabeth's site http://www.vampyrekisses.com/

Werewolf Descent by Elizabeth Jean Kolodziej is the second in the Last Witch series, following on from Vampyre Kisses. Faith, the last witch in the world, and Trent, her loving Irish vampire boyfriend, have moved to live near New York for peace and quiet after their last exciting adventure. But along comes Vincent, the psychic vampire. Instead of feeding on blood, he feeds on auras, on energy. This is a very original twist to the paranormal genre and one that works extremely well. Vincent is also after Faith’s heart, in the nice way, although that’s not nice for the loyal Trent. Faith is altogether too quick to find the newcomer attractive. It has to be said she’s not the most likeable character at times, although she’s always lively and fascinating. A love triangle develops. Elsewhere, werewolves are being kidnapped and their prince, Zou Tai, comes to ask for help. An alchemist is involved somewhere too. There is action of all sorts in this book.

This is a constantly snaking story, twisting and turning and never predictable. It is narrated by three different characters, Faith, Trent and Zou Tai. This works very well and lends interest to the story with the insights we gain into these three people and how they perceive each other. There are many fascinating characters in the book, Oran the cat being just one example. Another clever touch is the weaving in of Greek mythology with the paranormal. It’s an entertaining and confidently written book, and we’re left impatient to know what happens next.

Visit the author’s website at http://www.vampyrekisses.com/

Tides of Avarice by John Dahlgren is a quirky, swashbuckling read – an original combination of pirates, treasure maps and lemmings. Sylvester Lemmington is our hero, a timid, serious lemming who works as a translator for the head archivist at the library. The love interest is Viola, a pretty, feisty lemmingess who merrily leads Sylvester into trouble, along with his treasure map. Add a missing father, Jason, who took part in the last great lemming Exodus, from which mysteriously none returned, many years ago and a whole host more slightly off the wall characters, plus of course an original plot, and you have a very entertaining, enjoyable book in your hands. There is plenty of skulduggery going on, and not just from the pirates. The lemmings and other animals share all our human characteristics, including the less wholesome ones, so there is a layer of social commentary buried in the humour.

I read this with my ten year old – neither of us quite the intended YA audience – but it’s hard to say which of us enjoyed it more. I could pick up some of the humorous subtleties of the writing that he missed but he could clearly imagine every single scene going on in his own head. We were both hooked. Dahlgren, a Scandinavian by birth, has an incredible mastery of language and is a very, very clever, creative writer. The story twists and turns, with enough of the extreme and ridiculous to keep youngsters engrossed and adults chuckling. This book is a like a stiff, salty sea breeze blowing through a library, waking fiction up. It’s brilliant!

Redwine Hill

The Secrets at Primevil by Laura Stolmeier creates a dystopian universe of lost souls that young adults, and older readers, will adore. The idea behind the book is simple yet incredibly original and successful. On their sixteenth birthdays, practically every single teenager succumbs to a damaged gene and goes insane. They are then unceremoniously carted off by the corrupt collectors to, usually, the nearest asylum. Here the youngsters have to work or contribute in some way to earn favours and better treatment until they can hopefully be released. We follow the story of parentless Charlotte who is taken to the one of the infamous Redwine Hill asylums, the worst of the worst, where she befriends Serenity and Jared, the guard. Serenity vanishes and Charlotte is determined to get to the bottom of the mystery, no matter how dangerous that might prove to be.

Like the premise behind the book, Stolmeier’s style is deceptively simple. The language and ideas are ideally suited to a YA audience, but conceal complexity and deeper layers. The teenage characters, unlike the adults we meet who are mostly unattractive and untrustworthy, are appealing and show great resourcefulness and resilience in their struggles in the bottomless pit of anguish they inhabit. But it’s not all bad. Alongside the repression, distrust and corruption are loyalty, friendship and love. In a nice but non-sentimental touch, two little kittens, usually destined to be served up in the cafeteria, act as a reminder that where there’s life, there’s hope. This is compelling, exciting reading.

 

 

The Golden Lane Faja de Oro by Sam L Pfiester is quite simply historical fiction at its best. It’s interesting, informative and imaginative, but above all a thoroughly absorbing read as it brings history to life. It is the story of the 1910 Tampico oil boom, seen from every side. We have our earnest self-made geologist, Everette DeGolyer (De), who believes that oil will benefit everyone. There are the rich landowners like Lord Cowdray who will benefit financially to a huge extent from the discovery of oil, optimists like Jim the cowboy-turned-translator who simply hope to make a few bucks out of the boom, and there are also the natives of the area, who wonder if they will gain anything or will they just be exploited again. The oil discovery takes place against the background of De’s family life with the stoic Nell and on a larger, more drastic scale, the Mexican Revolution.

Pfiester clearly knows his stuff. He has used real people as his characters and his obvious interest in geology and the oil industry shines through every page. There are photos and diagrams that fit neatly into the story, and you pick up so many fascinating facts along the way, for example, about vanilla farming as well as plenty of snippets about oil production. There is an epilogue with biographies, a glossary and also appendices that include a copy of De’s original report on the oilfields of 1912 and a summary of how oil is formed; these are wonderful touches. This book is top quality, compelling reading for its excellently created characters, the author’s easy style and the fact that it’s a gripping story.

Matt Alcott by Michael Oborn is a gritty and breathless read. Matt would be all right if he could just keep off the booze. It’s already cost him his job as a journalist and his marriage, and now it might cost him his life. Someone is after the historical documents he stole when he worked as a historian for the Mormon Church in Salt Lake City. The information he has is devastating. Matt needs to stay sobre to keep his wits about him to firstly survive and secondly to write his revelatory book. He flees to, of all places, Resurrection Corner. In the One Hump Bar he meets James J, the barkeep who is a reformed alcoholic and encourages Matt to turn his life round. Cate is another incentive for doing so. Slowly his damning book is written as Matt gets a grip on himself.  But powerful, persistent people don’t want it published and Matt’s isn’t the only life in danger any more.

Oborn’s style is quirky, inventive and addictive. It’s almost stream of consciousness, at times almost minimalist, sometimes absurdist, but it’s the perfect vehicle for this novel and proves an efficient way of presenting the characters and the tangling strands of plot that carry us with them. Short sentences, short paragraphs, short chapters that jump from past to present as the action unfolds. The author doesn’t waste a word. There is a wide range of characters and emotions. There is the darkness of despair, spite and betrayal but also courage, loyalty, trust and love. This is an incredibly powerful, gripping novel.