Scott Marlowe
Scott Marlowe, fantasy author

Scott Marlowe

Author of the Alchemancer and Assassin Without a Name fantasy series

10 Ways Readers Can Help Authors

Indie writers like myself have a huge problem. That problem is obscurity.

We combat it via promotion. But there's only so much promotion one can do without coming across as bossy, spammy, or just plain desperate. Also, whenever a message is received from a person with a financial interest in the success of that message, then there are going to be skeptics. I don't blame them. No matter how great I may tell readers my books are, it means a lot more coming from an independent third party.

Independent third parties being, of course, readers.

Below are some ways readers can help all authors out, but especially indie authors. These methods are not entirely selfish as I think the reader/author relationship is a symbiotic one. By helping your favorite author and contributing to his or her success, you're increasing the possibility that he or she will continue writing the kind of books you enjoy. While making a living from writing isn't feasible for most of us, it helps a lot just knowing someone is out there reading our stuff.

Another point about indie authors: We satisfy a price niche the traditional publishers hereto have been reluctant to enter into. Readers will continue to pay $9.99 or more for traditional authors they know, but I think they're far more likely to try out someone new at the $2.99 price point than they are at some of the ridiculous prices the traditional publishers charge for eBooks (I make that comment as a reader myself). Also, for prolific readers, lower price points are much easier on the wallet. It's to readers' benefit that they support indie writers, especially those they like.

How Readers Can Help

1. Buy the book

Pretty simple, right? Buying the book puts a little money in the author's pocket and also helps move the title up in the retailer's rankings. Enough purchases will push the book up into the Top 100 lists, increase general exposure on the retailer's site, and, for Amazon, get the book into the "Customers Also Bought" lists.

2. Leave a review where you bought the book

Again, kind of a no-brainer. Reviews help fellow readers find great, new reads while also letting the author know he or she is doing something right or wrong. As long as they are genuine, they help no matter what.

3. Leave a review not only where you bought it but other places as well

This is one where some readers truly don't realize the impact. I've had reviewers tell me, "Oh, I forgot all about Smashwords", for example, where a review at Smashwords really helps move a title up because there are far fewer reviews out there than somewhere like Amazon.

If you bought a book at Amazon, by all means leave a review there. But why not also leave it at Smashwords, Goodreads, and maybe even Barnes & Noble? I have links to all of the retailers that carry my titles on my novels page, so it's easy to find the listings.

Last, why not post the review to your blog or web site?

4. "Like" the book at your favorite retailer

Retailers like Amazon have a "Like" button next to the title. Click it. I don't know how much it helps, but it makes an author feel good to know that someone made that little bit of extra effort to show their appreciation.

5. Spread the word on social media

Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook, maybe even Google+ (if anyone is using it). These are great places to give a shout-out to an author while letting your friends and followers know about their work.

6. Goodreads

Mention the book in one of Goodreads' forums, add it to a shelf, or nominate it for a poll. All good ways to help increase exposure.

7. Goodreads updates

As you're reading a book, give periodic updates that are more than just the page count. If you find a scene particular moving or interesting in some way, say so. These updates show up in your friends' streams and might intrigue them enough to add the book to their own 'to read' list.

8. Highlight your favorite quote or passage on your eReader

This highlights eventually appear inside the book or on the retailer's web site once enough people make the same selection. This is just another way to increase the surface area of exposure for an author.

9. If possible, "up" vote helpful reviews

This pushes the 'best' reviews to the top and, in theory, puts the least useful to the bottom.

10. Contact the author and tell him or her what you liked or didn't

This can be via their web site or somewhere like Goodreads. I like getting feedback from people, especially if it's via a personal email or message.

Conclusion

Hopefully as a reader you're already doing some of these things. Bottom line is that by helping an author whose work you like, you're helping to ensure that author can continue to produce content. This is especially helpful for indie writers like myself because we tend to reciprocate by selling our books for much cheaper prices than those of the traditional guys.

If you are already doing some of these things as I know of you are, then thank you. if you aren't, please keep some of these ideas in mind the next time you finish reading something you like.

Further Reading

Smashwords: All Function and No Form - Part 2

In Part 1 of this series I talked about some of the problems I think Smashwords has. In this post, I'd like to offer up some suggestions for ways they can improve.

Here goes.

1. Give the site a facelift

This one is obvious. I railed on the site enough last time. Mark Coker has indicated they're going to give the site some love this year, so we'll leave it at that.

2. Add moderated forums

Smashwords needs forums. Not like the Amazon forums, which run amuck with foul villainy, but forums like those on Fantasy Faction, Kindleboards, or Goodreads. Those forums are moderated by individuals who volunteer their time to keep the trolls from entering the castle. These forums could be a great place for readers to discuss books and for authors and readers to connect.

Attracting volunteers might be an issue. So, as an alternative, Smashwords could form a partnership with someone like Goodreads. Kobo already has formed a sort of partnership since it's possible to display Goodreads reviews and ratings on the Kobo web site. Smashwords could do something similar, pulling in Goodreads forum content.

3. Do more to help sell books

Smashwords falls flat in this area and Amazon… well, Amazon shines. Features of the Week, Deals of the Day, Fiction Hit of the Month. Whatever you want to call it, Amazon does a nice job of highlighting specific books for limited amounts of time. Smashwords should do the same. Except Smashwords, by its very nature, would highlight indie books and not those from the traditional publishers. This would be HUGE for people like me. There exists an absolute sea of titles on Smashwords and elsewhere, and rising above the "noise" is damn near impossible. Smashwords can and should do a lot to help promote individual titles.

4. Advertising

Why the heck not? Goodreads does it in a fairly unobtrusive manner. Why not Smashwords? Use a pay per click model so authors only pay when someone clicks on the ad and this might potentially be another revenue stream for Smashwords. Everyone likes more money (except that baby in the Capital One commercials). This is an untapped gold mine for both Smashwords and indie authors.

5. Improve the filtering

I talked enough about this last time. Suffice to say Smashwords should give us more options for filtering. First and foremost, break the price down more or let it be free-form.

Conclusion

That's it from me. I'm sure Coker is presented many ideas all the time. A lot of people like Smashwords (myself included). We all want to see it get better. I hope someone at Smashwords stumbles upon this post and takes some of the suggestions to heart.

Further Reading

Smashwords: All Function and No Form - Part 1

Let me start by saying I love Smashwords. It's a great platform for the distribution of eBooks to multiple platforms with relatively little effort on the part of the author. I also like their coupon system, which allows me to hand out 100% off coupons to readers who agree to write a review of either of my eBooks. So as I get into what I perceive as deficiencies in the Smashwords way of doing things, I'm not demeaning them out of disrespect but because I don't think they're reaching their full potential. I would really like them to do well because then I do well.

I'm going to assume you're already familiar with Smashwords. But in case you aren't, here's the founder's explanation of what it's all about:

Smashwords is an ebook distributor.  We make if fast, free and easy for authors and publishers to distribute ebooks to the world's largest ebook retailers.  Authors and publishers retain full control over how their works are published, sampled, priced and sold. If an author wants to give it away for free, they have that freedom.

I'm going to break this post into two parts. First I'll look at some of the deficiencies I feel are holding Smashwords back. Then, next post in this short series, I'll make suggestions on how I think they can improve the experience for both authors and readers alike.

Here, then, are what I perceive as areas in need of improvement.

1. The Web Site

The site design is horrific, primitive, and, in too many ways, useless. Smashwords exists to connect readers with great new reads. It's not going to do this via a web site Mark Coker, the founder of Smashwords, himself feels is stuck somewhere in the 90's:

When people tell us the design of the Smashwords store is so circa 2000, we take it as a compliment because we think they’re being generous by at least a decade. The Smashwords web site user interface is outdated.

Outdated is right. The site really needs a complete overhaul. It's just not all that aesthetically pleasing or inviting. Also, it's too difficult and time-consuming to sift through the massive number of books there and far too difficult or possible at all to filter all those books down to a useable level.

In my ePublishing predictions for 2013 post, prediction #6 was that Smashwords would revamp its site. I'm happy to say that it looks like that particular prediction is going to come true as Mark Coker, Smashwords' founder, states in his Smashwords Year In Review post:

2013 is the year we will give the Smashwords store a facelift, not because we have designs on becoming a large ebook retailer (well, actually, we already are, even though that’s not our focus), but because we think an updated site will help us attract more books and more customers that we can feed to our retail partners.

Hallelujah!

2. The Filtering

The filtering is fairly basic. You can see the options. You can also trim the list of results by genre and sub-genre, which reduces the ocean down to a sea. Now, I'm not saying Smashwords is any worse than other retailers, but they need to do more to help discoverability. Amazon, for example, has their "Customers also bought…" lists. I've tried finding my book using Amazon's conventional means of searching and gave up after around 20 pages of results. As for Smashwords, it's no better. The single best way for someone to find my book is to filter by "Highest Rated", "$2.99 or less", and "Epic" after you've already whittled the list down by genre. Even then you have to wade through too many pages of information. If I can't use the filtering to find my own book, how is a potential reader going to discover it? Tagging isn't a solution to this as authors too often manipulate the system. Amazon, I believe, has done away with tagging altogether.

3. Search

Search doesn't work hand-in-hand with filtering, which makes it almost useless. I chose "Fantasy" as my genre and "Epic" as my sub-genre, searched for "witches", and got so many results unrelated to either of my genre/sub-genre selections that the search was not very helpful. Searching for "witches fantasy" was a little better, but it still ignored my previous filtering selections.

4. Top Lists

Smashwords has some feature lists: Top 100 Downloaded, Top 25 Bestsellers, and Top 25 Most Viewed Authors. Unfortunately, all three of these lists cut across ALL books on the site making them of no use at all. As one might expect, the Top 100 Downloaded is full of erotica, Top 25 Bestsellers has a bit of everything under the sun but probably nothing most people will find of interest, and the last… most viewed authors? What does that even mean and why is that useful at all?

5. Coupon discoverability

Unless I'm completely missing something I've never seen a way for a reader who comes across a book to know there is a coupon available for it. Coupons are one of the biggest and best ways Smashwords has separated itself from the other eRetailers. But, as an author, I have to send these coupons out and make people aware of them myself. I do that, of course, but my influence is often much smaller than the sheer number of people who visit the Smashwords site. They should do more to highlight books that are on sale via coupons. The brick-and-mortar retailers do it, so why not the digital ones too?

6. Reviews

Smashwords doesn't allow anonymous reviews. That's a very good thing. But they also don't let other people comment on or "up/down vote" those reviews. This is something that I think works on Amazon as less useful reviews are moved to the bottom and more useful ones to the top. Smashwords just lets the reviews fall in the order in which they are entered rather than allowing readers to have a say in which ones influenced their decision to make a purchase.

7. The Logo

Here's the Smashwords logo:

Like the site, it seems stuck in the yesteryear of the Internet when silly animated gif's and purple backgrounds abounded. Hopefully with the site redesign the logo also gets a refresh.

Personally, I don't want this logo on my site. To that end, I created a simple 'S' button instead of using it.

Conclusion

Smashwords has an information overload problem, which isn't necessarily a bad thing until you consider that they don't make it easy for their customers (authors or readers) to deal with this. Plus, their site is not very inviting. It's an immediate put-off for potential readers.

Next post in this series I'll make some proposals on how they can fix these things.

Further Reading

Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher

I'm stepping into the way-back machine today to highlight a series I wrote back in 2009 about selling your eBook without a publisher.

Back then I was just getting started with self-publishing. A lot of people were. I used the series of posts primarily as a way to familiarize myself with the various retailers, services, and how to actually produce an eBook. I've learned a lot since then. Still learning, in fact. But I think this series is still relevant. In fact, I think I could expand on it. For example, Kobo and CreateSpace are missing as retailers and service providers, respectively. Both are used by yours truly.

But, for now, here is the 8 part series in its original form broken down by post.

  1. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 1: Introduction
  2. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 2: E-book Formatting
  3. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 3: Book Covers
  4. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 4: Amazon.com
  5. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 5: Smashwords
  6. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 6: Scribd
  7. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 7: Lulu
  8. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 8: Selling Strategy

ePublishing Predictions for 2013

The past year has been interesting to say the least. A lot has happened in the world of ePublishing and more people are reading electronically than ever before. It doesn’t seem like much of a stretch to predict that eBooks and eReading in general will continue to do well in 2013.

I’m no expert in the field, but I've got this crystal ball I rented, and while the images it's showing me are pretty fuzzy, I thought I'd go out on a limb with some predictions. If nothing else it should be fun to re-visit this a year from now just to see how wrong I was.

Here goes…

1. Amazon does away with the 70% royalty rate for authors who do not enroll in KDP Select

KDP Select is Amazon’s opt-in program for authors who wish to have their books enrolled in the Kindle Lending Library. Amazon Prime subscribers can borrow any eBook in the library for free. Amazon then pays the author for each borrow. It was a good deal from the author’s perspective when it came out, but Amazon has gradually reduced the effectiveness of certain aspects of the program while holding steady with the exclusivity clause which requires authors to remove their eBooks from other retailers.

Amazon already requires enrollment in KDP Select for certain international markets if an author wishes to get the highest royalty of 70%. In 2013, I think Amazon is going to require enrollment in KDP Select across the board in order to earn that rate. Otherwise, an author will only earn 35%, which right now is the rate for eBooks selling below $2.99. Amazon is on a mission of world domination. Unfortunately I think a lot of indie authors are going to get run over in the company’s attempt to crush the competition.

2. Publishers begin competing directly with indies at the $2.99 price point

I don't think the big, traditional publishers are ever going to sell new eBook releases for anything lower than around $7.99 (though $9.99 seems to be their new normal). But they have such a large number of back-listed titles that I think once they realize the gold mine they're sitting on they'll start releasing these in increasing numbers and at lower and lower prices. The $0.99 – $4.99 price range has been the bastion of indie writers up until now. In 2013, I think these price points will come under siege as the Big 6 attempt to put the big hurt on indie writers.

3. The indie writing boom comes to an end

This probably won't happen entirely in 2013, but I think the indie boom is going to start declining. Every boom has a bust, so it's inevitable that authors in the bountiful eBook market of 2012 begin to lose enthusiasm. It might be because sales drop off due to increased competition or lowered royalty rates. Some may come to realize just how much time and effort writing requires and decide they've had enough. Still others might find themselves satisfied that they rode this pony for as long as they did and they're done now. With most indie writers earning less than $500 annually, I don't think I'm going out on a limb here.

In 2013 we'll start to see a further separation between the amateurs or hobbyists and the professionals. Editing, quality book covers, and the proliferation of titles will make the difference. The positive here is that those of us who are left standing will have learned and matured a lot. This can only be good for readers.

4. Some eReaders will be sold for free

This seems inevitable to me. If the rumors are true, Amazon and presumably the other guys (with the exception of Apple) make no money on their tablets or even use it as a loss leader because they want buyers to jump into their ecosystem, buying their apps, movies, music, etc. Content is where the real profit is in this market. So why not give away for free the low-end tablets or eReaders? Amazon continues to slash prices year-after-year. I don’t think $0.00 is that far away.

5. Dedicated eReader devices will begin to decline in sales

I predict the proliferation of dedicated eReader devices will decline as people begin to move exclusively towards multi-function tablets. I own both a Kindle 2 and an iPad. Both serve different purposes for me. But if I had to choose between them I'd choose the iPad because it can function as a dedicated eReader and then some. Same goes for the Kindle Fire and many other tablets, of course. In fact, if I didn't own either device and was in the market, with the variety of multi-function tablets available today I doubt I'd even consider a dedicated eReader. In 2013, I expect the market for dedicated eReaders to shrink and the market for multi-function devices to increase.

6. Smashwords revamps its site

Smashwords bills itself as a “distribution platform and not a retailer”. Still, it sells eBooks directly from its site in the most varied types of eBook formats possible. More so than any other retailer, in fact. But the site is so stuck in the 90’s it’s difficult for readers to navigate and painful for everyone to look at. I predict the Smashwords site will undergo a major redesign in 2013. I don’t know if they’ll ever make a push to become a major retailer because then they’d be competing directly with the channels to which they distribute eBooks, but I think they’ll realize that by making their site more searchable, easier to navigate and find titles, and by removing all of the erotica and putting it somewhere else (or greatly improving their erotica filters), they’ll be serving their mission of being the first, best place for readers seeking great new eBooks.

Some other predictions:

Scott Marlowe
Scott Marlowe, fantasy author

Scott Marlowe

Author of the Alchemancer and Assassin Without a Name fantasy series

Book Review: The Gunslinger by Stephen King

gunslinger-book1I'm taking LibraryThing's 50 Book Reading Challenge for 2010. This is my 32nd read of the 50.

The announcement that Stephen King's Dark Tower series was coming to both movies and television was all the impetus I needed to finally jump into reading this series. The entire series of books encompasses seven novels, with the first being written in the early 70's and the next not coming until almost a decade later. In the preface to The Gunslinger, King notes that it was upon reading Tolkien's Lord of the Rings that the seed of the idea for his own epic fantasy was planted. But it wasn't until later viewing a certain western featuring one of America's greatest living actors (the movie being The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, starring Clint Eastwood) that the light bulb went off in King's head.

The Gunslinger is very much a melding of Tolkien's epic scope, Eastwood's gritty, gunslinger persona, and, without a doubt, King's own unique writing style. The plot is fairly straightforward: Roland, the last of the Gunslingers, is pursuing an ominous villain known only as The Man In Black. Roland follows in the latter's footsteps across a wasteland dotted only by the vestiges of our own modern society, for the world has "moved on". The modernisms we know so well have been swept away; by war, disease, or some other means, King never says. But the world depicted in this first novel is harsh, desolate, and unforgiving.

With only the occasional flashback into Roland's past, The Gunslinger follows a fairly straight course as Roland does whatever he needs to do to capture and kill The Man In Black. Even still, the glimpses into Roland's persona offer a glimpse into a very complex individual. He's a man driven by things we may not fully understand yet, but we see him as sympathetic nonetheless. We may not understand or condone his willingness to sacrifice anyone or anything to capture his enemy, but we also realize that, hell or high water, he is going to capture him.

King admits he didn't know what direction the series was going to take past The Gunslinger. He knew Roland was on a quest to find the Dark Tower, but King didn't know the why's of it or even if Roland would ever actually find it. Needless to say, the reader is left with more questions then answers, which might be the best way to leave the first novel in a series of seven.

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Book Review: Cugel's Saga by Jack Vance

View this book on Amazon.com I'm taking LibraryThing's 50 Book Reading Challenge for 2010. This is my 31st read of the 50.

Novels in the Tales of the Dying Earth series include:

  1. The Dying Earth
  2. The Eyes of the Overworld
  3. Cugel's Saga (this post)
  4. Rhialto the Marvellous

Cugel's Saga by Jack Vance is the third of his Tales of the Dying Earth novels and continues the tale of Cugel from the previous book in the series, The Eyes of the Overworld. That book started with Cugel crossing Iucounu the Laughing Magician, who pays Cugel back by transporting him halfway across the world. Much to Cugel's chagrin, the end of that novel finds him right back where he started: halfway round the world in a strange place (that is perhaps a bit less so since Cugel has now been here before), though this our erstwhile hero is driven by a simple desire to return home and hopefully live out his days free of Iucounu's attentions.

Much of Cugel's Saga is about the fulfillment of that desire as Cugel signs on with one group of travelers after another. Each time, he attempts to do what Cugel the Clever does best: receive maximum payout for the smallest expenditure possible. This works admirably well sometimes. Other times, not so much. Always, Vance entertains us with his unique blend of strange characters, places, and situations. There are some absolute laugh out loud moments. Some times I wanted Cugel to get a sound smacking for his underhanded tactics. Other times, I was applauding him for his ability to out-fox the fox.

Cugel is without doubt a complex characters. Neither hero nor villain, you'll alternately like or hate him. He's neither the best of the best, nor the worst of the worst. Nor does he always come out on top. On the contrary, more often than not he's chased from town with his tail between his legs. But, like any good opportunist, he never gives up, and always sees new possibilities around every corner.

This is my first go-around with Vance's work, and I find myself eager to jump into the next and last novel in the series while also hoping Cugel makes an appearance. It's not clear from the title if he does. But if this is the last we hear from Cugel, then I think Vance has concluded his tale with a fitting ending. Cugel finally learns his lesson (that, sometimes, you just have to be happy with what you have) and ultimately gets the last laugh when he has his final confrontation with his nemesis, Iucounu the Laughing Magician.

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Book Review: Medieval Siege Warfare by Christopher Gravett

View this book on Amazon.com

I'm taking LibraryThing's 50 Book Reading Challenge for 2010. This is my 30th read of the 50.

Medieval Siege Warfarealt by Christopher Gravettalt is a break from my usual reviews of fiction. But I'm starting to think about my next novel and, if all goes as planned, this one is going to take place exclusively during a siege. One of the rules I set forth going into this next one is that everything would happen in one place—whether it be one city, town, castle, whatever. No traveling, in other words. In an effort to make sure my bases are covered, I thought a little reading on the subject of sieges was in order. Fortunately, I was able to look no further than my own library where I found Medieval Siege Warfare along with another book entitled Siege: Castles at Waralt by Mark Donnelly and Daniel Diehl (review forthcoming on that one).

Medieval Siege Warfare is fairly short, coming in at 64 pages. There are an abundance of pictures, illustrations, and numbered diagrams; the obvious reason for these is to provide a visual for the discussion subjects. In many cases, they helped. The ones I found of most significance were the aerial photos of various castles as these go a long way in impressing upon the reader just how difficult a castle was to capture via siege. The height and thickness of the walls, the strength and defensive position of mural towers, the fact that the defenders were not often idle, leading sorties against the besiegers at every opportunity; all of these factors meant sieges were often a long, drawn out affair where the besiegers best hope was to wait out a castle's defenders until they ran out of water or food. Besiegers often hastened this waiting period by plugging up sewers, doing their best to promote disease within the castle walls by hurling carcasses over the walls, and by cutting off supplies in or out of the fortress. In fact, often diplomacy was the first tactic in any siege.

It's an interesting fact that in a feudal system soldiers were only required to serve for forty days before being allowed to return to their fields or craft as the services and goods they provided formed the basis of society.

Siege engines, artillery, and the other constructs utilized by besiegers are perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of a siege. Gravett spends some time discussing mantlets (a large shield or portable shelter used for stopping arrows or bullets), belfries (a siege tower; expensive, time-consuming to build), battering rams (up to 60 men swinging it to break stone apart), as well as the three types of (pre-gunpowder) artillery separated by the firing principles of tension (ballista; giant crossbow), torsion (catapult), and counterpoise/weight (trebuchet).

The author also discusses sapping or mining, escalade, where men with ladders attempt to take a fortresses' walls by force, and pyrotechnics, many medieval strongholds and towns being highly susceptible to fire.

My overall impression of Medieval Siege Warfare is that it gives a good, high-level overview of the different aspects of a siege. I don't know that you'd be able to go off and write a thesis on the subject based on this work alone, but it's thorough enough to satisfy the layman. The only complaint I have about the book is that there is no index. However, it's short enough that finding information isn't all that difficult.

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Book Review: The Children of Hurin by J.R.R. Tolkien

childrenofhurinI'm taking LibraryThing's 50 Book Reading Challenge for 2010. This is my 29th read of the 50.

The Children of Hurin by J.R.R. Tolkien (edited by Christopher Tolkien) is the tragic story of the scions of Hurin, Turin and his sister Nienor. Step into the wayback machine; this tale takes place long before The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings, when the First Dark Lord, Morgoth, sought dominion over all of Middle-Earth.

Morgoth has fled from his Valar brethren, taking up residence in his dark fortress, Angband, There he plots to conquer all of Middle-Earth. At first, only the Elves oppose him. But then Men revolt against Morgoth. The Elves welcome their new allies, most of all Hurin, who above all others defies Morgoth to such an extent that the Dark Lord takes a personal interest in him. Morgoth captures Hurin and places a curse on his children. He then forces Hurin to watch as Turin and Nienor's lives unfold. Always, there is Morgoth's curse hanging over them and, ultimately, leading them to tragedy.

Unlike The Silmarillion, The Children of Hurin is readable. Where the former requires a classroom of Tolkien scholars to help interpret exactly what is going on, the latter is told in an easy narrative style. Christopher Tolkien, who edited the drafts and notes of his father to put this story together, says in the preface that he wanted to tell the story in a more accessible fashion, recognizing that The Silmarillion and The Book of Lost Tales were anything but. That being said, The Children of Hurin, while readable, is told in a distant narrative style. Don't expect a lot of character viewpoint here; it's all told in third person omniscient. It's all telling, in other words, and no showing.

Much of the story has to do with Turin, son of Hurin. Turin comes to realize the curse he carries early on. As a result, he becomes a wanderer and wears many hats (and false identities) as he moves from one part of his life to another. He is often recognized as a natural leader, a stalwart ally, and a fierce combatant, though, and always he is thrust to the forefront where eventually his true identity comes to light. It is then when tragedy strikes as Morgoth's curse inevitably finds him time and again.

Turin uses many names corresponding to the false identities he takes on in an attempt to in some way forestall the curse. I found all of the names added to the already difficult names Tolkien bandies about. Fortunately, there is a "List of Names" in the back of the book which I found myself referencing often just to keep the various characters straight.

I enjoyed The Children of Hurin. It's a good addition to the Tolkien legendarium, though if you're looking for something as entertaining as, say, The Lord of the Rings movies, you might be disappointed.

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Book Review: Bright of the Sky by Kay Kenyon

View this book on Amazon.com I'm taking LibraryThing's 50 Book Reading Challenge for 2010. This is my 28th read of the 50.

Bright of the Sky by Kay Kenyon is the first book in The Entire and the Rose series. Subsequent novels include A World Too NearCity Without End, and Prince of Storms. Bright of the Sky was (and still is) a free Kindle giveaway, which is how I obtained this gem. Free is always easy; you didn't pay anything for it, so if it doesn't live up to expectations, no big loss. Fortunately, Bright of the Rose did not disappoint.

The novel is a blend of science fiction and fantasy, the latter coming into play because the technology is so far advanced that it might as well be magic. The setting is reminiscent of such series as The Chronicles of Narnia or the Thomas Covenant Chronicles, both of which feature characters who travel from our world into one that is both wonderful and strange. What Kenyon does, however, borders on brilliant: instead of journeying with the main character into this other world for the very first time, we quickly learn that our main character, Titus Quinn, has already been there. This sets things up in an entirely different way than if he's just come into the Entire (the name for this otherworldly dimension). The catch is that he doesn't remember much about his previous stay, and only once he's back and immersed in the Entire's strange culture do bits and pieces return to him. As readers, everything is new. But with Titus as our guide, we're able to skip over some of the minutia and get right into the good stuff. That's the brilliance of Kenyon's approach.

The only thing that Titus does remember for sure is that he didn't enter the Entire alone: with him were his wife and daughter. They did not return with him, though, and so Titus spends much of his time trying to convince others back in his own world that he isn't crazy, that there is another world or dimension that he somehow traveled to, and that his wife and daughter are still there. The opportunity to return final presents itself when your somewhat atypical greedy corporation steps in offering to send Titus back in exchange for his performing some reconnaissance for them. It seems space-time works differently in the Entire, and they think it can be used to speed up interstellar travel. Titus agrees, and off he goes.

The Entire is an odd place based loosely on feudal Chinese society. Ruled by the Mantis Lords, or Tarig, there are humans and many others races there, but all are kept in a sort of subjugation by the Tarig, who are the creators of the Bright, an energy source that makes the Entire possible. Our world is called the Rose, because while those of the Entire view it as a thing of beauty, they also have seen its thorns. Interaction with the Rose is forbidden, and punishable by death, as is aiding someone like Titus who's come from there. Titus does find allies, though, those who are tired of the Tarig yoke. HIs journey becomes one of deception and subterfuge as he avoids detection at all costs while trying to determine the fate of his wife and daughter.

Titus comes across initially as a bit of a bitter kook. He was ridiculed and discredited upon his return, so he chooses to live a life of solitude until given the chance to return to the Entire. He is ruled by guilt over leaving his family behind, though, and so he desperately wants to return. This desperation sets him up ultimately as a sympathetic character whom I wanted to succeed. As the story unfolds and Titus's memories return to him, the fate of his family is both sad and bittersweet. Ultimately, what begins as a sort of rescue mission for Titus becomes something else entirely as old enemies emerge and secrets are revealed. Suffice to say that Kenyon resolves some threads while leaving others spinning on the loom for the next two books in the series.

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