Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The rise of indie books (in my budget) - exciting times for readers

I've always been a judge a book by its [cover/title/author] kind of gal. I walk into a book store and grab the first book I see with an attention-grabbing title, fantastic looking cover or emblazoned with one of the names from my known, dependable set of authors.

I've tried reading web fiction, but as awesome as some as it is - and believe me, there are a slew of amazing, talented writers on the web - I have no patience for reading online. I like to curl up on a couch and forget those floating bytes and bits that distract me on a daily basis.

In November 2010, I was given a Kindle.

By April 2011, the way I view books had changed dramatically.

In the beginning, I stayed with the big guys: George R. R Martin, Brandon Sanderson, Nail Gaimon... but eventually I noticed two things: one, many traditionally published authors were unavailable on the Kindle for my region (regional restrictions in a digital age - really?), and two, a majority of the books recommended to me by Amazon were a fraction of the price of the big guys.

I'm not saying price is the only factor in my decision to start buying more and more indie authors, though it certainly doesn't deter the cash-challenged. It's just sheer fun discovering new authors that don't make it to my mainstream book stores.  It's also a heck of a lot easier to find recommended new reads if you start moving in the indie circles too.

Don't believe me?

Purchasing my first Indie book, Susan Bischoff's Hush Money, a YA superhero novella, led me to try Kait Nolan's Forsaken by Shadow, which somehow led me to Amanda Hocking and Vicki Keire, which led me to JL Bryan, which led me to... you get the picture. (By the by, I do recommend that you try the samples from each of the above authors.)

The best part - every day there is a new discovery. Indie authors seem to be able to find the best of each other and pay this forward to us, the readers and willing slaves to awesomeness. I have so many samples of books I want to buy that I wonder how I'll ever read it all. In the first few months of 2011, I've doubled my annual amount of reading and book purchases.

There is a down-side, of course. Some books that have been released into the wilds were let go too early. I've purchased at least one book that became downright unreadable because of poor formatting and editing, and another book that could have benefited from some tightening of the plot and characterisation. But all in all, I've had some great luck in the indies I've read.

My strategy is not terribly complex or original:

  • Read recommendations from people whose opinion you value, for example, all of the authors linked to above also have goodreads accounts; it's a good way to keep your finger on the indie pulse in your favourite genres.
  • Download and read the kindle samples first - don't skip this part unless you really, really trust your recommender.
  • Follow indie authorities like the Indie Book Collective - also on twitter.
  • Keep track of the Amazon and Goodreads ratings - I don't read the nitty gritty of each review because of spoilers, but I try and stick to books that average above 3.5 stars.
  • Judge the book by its cover - well, this one is a more personal choice, but I've found that the books that have professional-looking covers are also more likely to have been well-edited on the inside too. I could be proven wrong in this point at any time, but I'll stick with it until I am.
  • Finally, if you've loved an indie book, say so! I've actually realised that I need to read a book twice before I can review it properly with my current methods, so while I figure out a better, faster way to spread the love, I do try and tweet/blog my book/author recs whenever I can. If you want to see some gorgeous covers, check out Phatpuppy Creations.
Up next: questions I want to ask indie authors.

Cover art belongs to their respective rights holders. For more details on either of these books, please see post for links.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Review: The Healing Wars 01. The Pain Merchants

The Healing Wars 01. The Pain MerchantsThe Healing Wars 01. The Pain Merchants by Janice Hardy

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Browsing through a packed table of sale books, my eye immediately landed on two words: Pain Merchants. As far as titles go, it's a great one to immediately classify genre and get a fantasy reader like me to grab it without reading the blurb. I wonder if I would have reacted the same way had I had read "The Shifter" on the spine instead. It's a moot question now. I saw. I grabbed. I enjoyed immensely.

The Pain Merchants is a first person tale from the point of view of Nya, an orphaned teenage girl with an extraordinary ability. Nya, of course, doesn't see this ability as particularly good. She is an anomaly in a world with a intriguing system of magic.

The world's magic system is centred on healing. Healers heal wounds and take the pain into themselves. They then transfer the pain into a stone called Pyruvium. This stone is then enchanted to inflict the pain on others during battle. It's a fairly neat symmetrical system, but of course, some chap has to spin that cycle to his own advantage.

Enter the unseen, but presumably nasty Duke. He's been invading and subduing other nations for his own nefarious purpose. I wonder if his title means that there is an unspoken and equally cruel King - the Duke is attacking these nations for *some* reason.

Nya's nation of Gevegian has been crippled by the war, and is now run by the Duke's own Baseeri. Healers and enchanters alike were taken and killed or died fighting. It is for this reason that Nya and her sister were tossed out onto the street to fend for themselves, despite coming from an aristocratic family of healers.

Nya's sister, Tali, is a healer and has been able to find purpose in the League of Healers. Nya can also heal, but she can't safely release the pain into a stone. She can only shift it into other people. She keeps this unusual ability a secret, but someone inevitably finds out. When the city has more pain than rocks or healers, this becomes a huge commodity to those same people.

While Nya has kept her ability a secret for her entire life, it doesn't mean that she is a fearful or morose character, like some characters in similar situations have been. Once her mind is made up, she will face insane odds to protect the ones she loves and those she feels responsible for. It's an admirable trait, and one I suspect is also a forgotten trait of the Gevegians themselves. Her friends and family certainly display this incredible bravery when pushed.

This book sets up a world that is a literal powder-keg with a character that can ignite it in strangely unexpected ways. I look forward to however this war may explode.

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