Book Review – Zoo of the Dead & other horrific tales


Zoo of the Dead was a fantastic first read of 2022! I don’t usually pick up short story anthologies, but this one caught my curiosity… and then totally held it till the last page. Everyone one of these unique stories really embodies the best parts of the horror genre from a variety of angles. They kept me guessing while giving me those creepy, suspenseful, disturbing (hello, “Checking Out”) and in some cases, goofy (I’m looking at you, Dead Jimmy) vibes. I also really enjoyed the author’s note at the end of each discussing where she got her inspiration (Justice for Twinkie!)

Highly recommend for anyone looking for some great horror short fiction, and I will definitely read more from Iseult Murphy in the future. Minor content warning for body horror and suicidal scenes.

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Tula’s quite pleased with this one and looking forward to more excellent 2022 reads!

Thanks for reading!

Audiobook Review – Behind Closed Doors



Behind Closed Doors follows Grace in her picture perfect marriage as she recounts how she got in predicament in the first place, through detailed flashbacks.

I was excited to pick up another fast-paced thriller audiobook from the library, and while this book was an easy enough listen, I came away a little disappointed. I really enjoy those thrillers that keep you bouncing around from suspect to suspect, always keeping you guessing, never really knowing what’s coming next, and… that’s not this book.

This book is definitely more slow, methodical kind of thriller. Most of Grace’s attempts of escape are shown via flashback, so since we already know the outcome, I felt like the tension wasn’t as intense as it could’ve been, and the premise kind of required me to suspend my disbelief in kind of strange ways. Jack comes off as a little one-dimensional, and if you’re waiting for a twist… well there isn’t really one.

Behind Closed Doors is an easy read though, a well-narrated audiobook, and has a mostly satisfying conclusion. Overall: a solid thriller that takes it time. (3.5/5)

⭐⭐⭐½

I’m not sure this one was quite Elsa and I’s speed.

Thanks for reading!

Audiobook Review – A Flicker in the Dark



Another solid thriller that takes its time with some surprises in store as well. The story follows Chloe two decades after her father was found guilty of murdering six teenage girls. Chloe is an unreliable narrator with some unhealthy coping mechanisms, so when a fresh series of murders crops up, she understandably starts on a downward spiral.

This book is chock full of tension, and sells its red herrings hard, but ultimately I thought the ending was kind of a downer. Chloe makes some choices that are a little hard to stomach, and it makes me feel bad for one character in particular as it rips all of their lives apart.

The audiobook was well narrated and the writing style feels rich and full even if it does slow down after the halfway point. Overall a solid listen I’d recommend to fans of dark thrillers. Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC! A Flicker in the Dark launches on 11 Jan!

⭐⭐⭐⭐

Elsa’s still looking over her shoulder after reading this one.

Thanks for reading!

Book Review – A Heart Worth Healing



I loved this book! I picked up A Heart Worth Healing by Cara Devlin for my Little Free Library Contest a while back, and I’m so glad I get to pass it on to another lucky reader.

A Heart Worth Healing follows Dr. Ellie Lennox as she goes out west looking for a fresh start after an incident in the East turns her life upside down.

Honestly, what’s NOT to like about this book? It’s loosely inspired by a frontier physician Dr. Susan Anderson, it has a clean, slowburn romance, the protagonists are completely lovable, the conflict feels real and well-paced, and it really gives you a feel for the frontier west. It also leaves plenty of room for the sequel, which I will totally be picking up.

Highly recommend for any fans of historical fiction and clean romance!

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

It’s always exciting to put a great book in the little library!

Thanks for reading!

NYC Midnight Challenge Entry: Two Truths and One Lie

Two Truths and one lie

October 2021 (Round One)
Genre: Horror
Word: Wine
Action: Taking a Lie Detector Test
Time Constraint: 24 hours
Length: 250 words

Matthew squirmed in the unforgiving metal chair, his chest heaving against the instrumentation strapped tightly across it and his fingers twitching under the galvanometer bands. Behind the desk, Agent Carlson studied the polygraph’s steadily scratching needles.

Wiping his clammy forehead, Matthew worked his rough tongue in his desert-like mouth, trying to find words as thirst raked his thoughts. “Could I please get some water?”

Carlson leaned forward across the polished desk, his midnight gaze intent beneath his bushy brows. “First, I’ll need you to tell that story of how your wife died. For the machine.”

Matthew flinched, the memory knifing into him as he recounted Ana’s murder for the twelfth time. The dark figure approaching their campfire. The wrongness of it—no nose, no hair, no eyelids—just a white, serrated smile beneath glinting eyes. How quickly it had grabbed Ana… and how slowly it had sunk its teeth into her. How it had stood, unwavering, as Matthew tried to pry the screaming Ana from its immutable grasp, until, at last, she fell silent. And how the creature had smiled as it chewed each chunk of flesh, meeting Matthew’s horrified gaze as it sipped the blood from his wife’s wounds like a fine wine.

“And it didn’t bite you?” Carlson asked, just as he had the first eleven times.

Matthew paused, the thirst drowning everything else out as the pain and fear and frustration hardened into something wholly new. “No.”

The needles jumped, and Agent Carlson’s bushy brows rose one last time.

JUDGe’s Feedback

This one placed in second in my group of 45ish and I got to move forward to the second round. The feedback is below!

WHAT THE JUDGES LIKED ABOUT YOUR STORY

{2144}  I really loved the artful storytelling here. I like the tension of the interrogation and the horror of this mystical-seeming beast. But I especially like the ambiguity of the end and some of the other horrible possibilities it also suggests.  

{1998}  There’s some good tension and anticipation that builds through this story. I expect some big reveal. 

{1772}  The story has a strong voice that engages the reader and helps create an effective atmosphere to chill the reader. Matthew has a clear motivation and conflict. Tension builds as the details of the plot unfold and Carlson realizes the reality of the situation.

WHAT THE JUDGES FEEL NEEDS WORK

{2144}  I would love if there was a line somewhere in the description of the attack that implied that Matthew could be implicated in the incident, like that he went to comfort his wife and got blood on him. It would add to the ambiguity at the end. I would also like to know what happened to the creature after it feasted on Ana; did it try to attack Matthew at all, or did it just leave? It does seem mysterious that he might’ve gotten away completely unscathed.

{1998}  The ending isn’t as clear as I hoped as a reader. I find myself contemplating what might have happened in that room, but it’s not obvious. Did he become the creature and turn on the agent? Or what was the consequence of the lie?

{1772}  One way to develop character might be to focus on Matthew’s journey in this line of questioning. In the end, the reader might be left unsure if Matthew has been hiding his emerging identity or just fighting it, so crafting his final words to reflect the real conflict he has been facing could be one way to leave the reader with the right intention.

Ups and downs with your friendly neighborhood small potatoes writer (2021 in review: Part Two)

So, in my last post, I talked about the numbers. But of course, the year is more than just numbers! Now, I want to talk about the highlights! New things I tried. Things I learned. Things I’d do again, and things I won’t. Mostly this review is a reminder for me on how to improve for next year, but hopefully others might find it useful as well.

New things I tried!

  • This weird writing/reading blog I’ve got going on! Since I often reach out to book-bloggers with review requests before I publish, I figured I should also open for review requests and try to give back to the writing community a little bit. This year, I reviewed 78 books! And honestly, thinking critically about what I enjoy and don’t enjoy in stories has been a great help to my own writing. Overall, it’s been fun and it’s a great way to support other writers and also get myself out there. So I think I’ll continue into 2022.
  • The NYC midnight challenge! This year I tried the 250 word, 100 word, and short story NYC midnight challenge. The short story one was a little more of a commitment than I think I wanted, but I made it to the final round of the 100 word challenge 🥳, and I’ve really enjoyed the feedback from all the contests. (You can see my feedback here) Will definitely continue the 100 & 250 word contests in 2022.
  • I also entered Odriel’s Heirs in the Book Blogger’s Novel of the Year Award, and it came in 5th! 🥳 The blog highlights they do as part of this contest are really cool and I would totally enter again in 2022.
  • The Page Turner awards! So, this one was a little bit of a lark. The more MS’s you submit, the cheaper the entry fee for each is, and I was able to submit five! Idriel’s Children and The Gatekeeper of Pericael were both finalists for the book award (full disclosure… there were a *ton* of finalists). And Codename: CNDRLA made the longlist for the writing award! 🥳 No luck for Odriel’s Heirs or The Belethea Race Royale (entered in the writing mentorship award), but I got a cool little finalist badge for Gatekeeper & Idriel’s. Still, it’s pretty light on the perks so I’d probably pass on this contest in the future.
The badge is cute though!

Realizations

  • Although I love Burning Shadows and Idriel’s Children. After I finish the Odriel’s Heirs series, I will not be self-publishing any other sequels. I missed the prospect of querying (I know, weird right?!), and even though Idriel’s is a stand-alone, I found the sequel harder to market.
  • On a similar note, I don’t plan to write any more middle grade. Although I love writing for younger readers, getting a self-pubbed book into an actual middle-grader’s hands is super tough! And there aren’t as many book bloggers that are into middle grade. So YA all the way!
  • In 2020 I definitely rushed through the querying process for Gatekeeper. This year, I’ve gotten better at juggling multiple projects and realized just how silly that was. I started querying CNDRLA in November 2020. Currently, CNDRLA has three full requests out, and querytracker is telling me one of them will probably take until June to (let’s be real) get rejected.😂 Last year I probably would’ve been antsy… this year, it’s happily on the backburner as I work on other stuff.
  • I need one or two reliable SFF beta reading services in my life. I love beta read-swapping, but I have a terrible habit of taking on too much and gobbling up a lot of my time. So, I’m currently in the process of finding some affordable go-to’s. When I find them, I’ll let you know, but if you have any recommendations, I’d love to hear them!
  • Social Media! Can be a great way to market your books… and it can also be time-consuming and draining. At one point, I got so caught up in doing daily prompts on Twitter and Instagram, it was taking up a lot of my time, and also piling on a lot of needless self-pressure. So this year, I realized I could give myself permission to step back from social media a little bit. Sure, my engagement’s not as good as it was, and I’m sure I’m missing out on marketing opportunities… but honestly I’m much happier when I don’t feel like I have to post, and it gives me extra time to focus on my WIPs!

refining the process!

  • This year, I made some huge strides in figuring out what my writing process is, and how to juggle multiple projects at once.
  • Alphas, CPs, Betas, Editor, Cover Artist, ACX narrator, ARC readers.
  • I now have go-to CPs (shout out to Caleb & Kayleigh!), an editor (MK editing) and a cover artist (100 covers.) I know where to go for ARC readers (Book Sirens), and I also know that audiobooks are totally not profitable for me 😅 (but they’re so amazing that I probably still won’t be able to stop myself.) Also, the Microsoft Word read-aloud function is a proofreading miracle!
  • I’m still searching for go-to Beta services, but with the process nailed down, it takes a lot of guesswork out, so I can focus on other things.

Still working on it

  • Getting a BookBub deal for Odriel’s Heirs. UGH! One of these days!!!
  • Querying! I will probably forever be working on this. But Codename: CNDRLA got the most full requests of all my works so far, so I feel like I might be getting better at it.
  • Marketing! This one is still super tough for me… but I’ve kind of made peace with it. I’m much happier spending less time on social media and more time writing, even if it means less sales. I’m also still trying to figure out which ebook newsletter promo’s work best too, so maybe I’ll try to be more methodical about it in 2022. I do think it works better to do 1 or 2 at a time and stretch them out rather than concentrating them all at once.
  • Also, I took the jump and went wide this year with Draft2Digital! That decision probably deserves its own post. But I think with future books I’ll stick with the Amazon/KDP situation… mostly because it’s easier to give away free books. 😅

wrapping up the year

So, I learned a TON this year! …And I still have a lot to work on… 😅 But there are couple things I’m super pumped about for 2022.

  • Codename: CNDRLA has gotten the most requests of any of my works so far, and I can’t wait to get it out there!
  • The Belethea Race Royale (working title) is my first sci-fi, my first dual POV, and my strongest side of romance yet. I’m so excited to query in 2022! Now… if only I could come up with a better title…🤔
  • 2022 will be the year I finish my first trilogy. And although I’m sure I’ll be a little sad to close the book on Okarria and Odriel’s Heirs, the epic conclusion is going to be so much fun to write!

That’s all I got for this year. As always, if you have any questions, suggestions, or recommendations please feel free to reach out! It’s been a blast, and I’ll see you all in 2022! 🥳

Thanks for reading!

Ups and downs with your friendly neighborhood small potatoes writer (2021 in review: Part One)


Well, it’s that time again! Time to look back on the year and see what worked, what didn’t, and how this whole writing thing is going. The review is important to me to make sure I’m still enjoying the process and see where I can do better.

In most of these self-publishing posts, I often mention how important it is to define what success means to us, measure ourselves in growth, and shooting for obtainable goals. But I also want to be transparent about my experience as a small-time self-pubbed writer.

So in this post, I’ll give a quick snapshot of my numbers, and and then in part two, I’ll talk more about the specific highlights and lessons learned.

The cold hard Numbers

Not much to write home about here. I sold:
15 hardcovers
93 ebooks
73 paperbacks
3,988 pages in KU
20ish* audiobooks
Total: 214ish copies

I’ve given away:
4,545 ebooks
38 paperbacks
179 audiobook promo codes
Total: 4,762 copies (not counting eARCs)

And my Goodreads review counts are currently at:
Odriel’s Heirs: 4.36 stars, 134 ratings / 109 reviews
The Gatekeeper of Pericael: 4.07 stars, 82 ratings / 75 reviews
Burning Shadows: 5 stars, 11 ratings / 8 reviews
Idriel’s Children: 4.29 stars, 42 ratings / 36 reviews
Total: 4.29 stars / 273 ratings / 228 reviews
(Thanks so much to everyone who took time to read and review—this means SO much to me!)

Which brings me to a whopping:
$183.82(ish)
(Thank goodness for a solid day job! 😅)

So, yeah. Like I said—small potatoes writer over here just trying to grow and have a good time. 😂 So I try to keep my expectations low and look on the bright side. I put three more books out in the world this year, got more sales and reviews in 2021 than I did in 2020, I learned a lot, and I had a good time doing it. There’s still obviously a lot to learn, but I’d still call it a good year. 😊

But I also wanted to measure the year in another way…

*This is so hard to measure, because ACX lumps in your redeemed promo codes as ‘sales’ so this is purely a guess based on royalties…which are also counted in a variety of ways. Honestly it could be anywhere from 6-50 copies.

The warmer, fuzzier numbers

So, I’m constantly thinking about how to measure writing growth and goals, but it wasn’t until I was trying to estimate what I could accomplish in 2022, that a very simplistic idea dawned on me.

Successful authors often give some version of the advice that the best way to get better at writing, is to just keep writing. So, of course, the answer should have been obvious. I should measure my growth in words.

There are a lot of you who are probably looking at the screen like: 🙄 well duh, girl.

But I think this is trickier than it seems, because I’m not just talking about the words we write. I can usually write a book in 3 months, but it takes another 9 months (and countless rereads) to revise, edit, and polish…not to mention querying.

So, I think we need to not only count the words we write but also those that we revise, query, and publish (and if you have more steps in your process, then count those too!). Add them all together, and then we can get a feel for what we really accomplished in this writing year.

For comparison. I’m also adding 2020, since I didn’t do this last year. (Also… I’m not adding flash fiction – it’s too hard to keep track of.)

2020:
Words written: 10,000(ish) + 10,000(ish) + 78,242 = 98,242 (1 complete, 2 partials)
Words revised: 50,581 + 74,948 = 125,529 (2 books)
Words published: 74,083 (1 book)
Words queried: 50,581 (1 book)
Total: 348,435 words

2021:
Words Written: 20,828+94,328+21,013 = 136,016 (2 books, 1 WIP)
Words Revised: 20,828+78,242+94,328 = 193,398 (3 books)
Words Published: 20,828+50,581+78,242 = 149,651 (3 books)
Books Queried: 74,948 (1 book)
Total: 554,013 words

Now, that’s an interesting comparison! I really didn’t know 2021 was more productive than 2020. And while I’m sure there are a lot of reasons behind this, I know it’s in part because I made some important realizations as a writer this year that have really helped me grow and become more purposeful and efficient in my process. (Which I’ll take on in the next post.)

Of course, however the numbers are tallied, our writing year is not just a number. And, we can’t realistically increase that word count every year. Eventually we’re going to cap out. Even looking forward to my goals for next year, I don’t think I’ll get anywhere close to this year.

  • Finish Ninth Circle (50K words left)
  • Write Time’s Orphan (70K words)
  • Revise Time’s Orphan (70K)
  • Publish Codename: CNDRLA (75K)
  • Query The Belethea Race Royale (94K)

Total: 359K

But, that’s a goal I can really wrap my head around, one that’s completely in my control, and one that I’ll enjoy working toward.

My goal is words. My goal is writing. My goal is growth.

And it was a pretty awesome year. 😊

More to come!

Audiobook Review – The Fastest Way to Fall



This was *such* a cute rom com! The Fastest Way to Fall is about Britta, a journalist that’s reviewing a fitness app, and her fitness coach, Wes, as they do everything they can to resist crossing professional lines and falling for each other.

There’s so much to love here. The MCs are super likeable and were totally brought to life in the audiobook. Britta is funny and lovable, Wes is sweet and sincere, their predicament is traditional romcom goodness, and I was cheering for them the whole time. Their relationship growth and chemistry felt super natural and even the side characters felt real. I also loved the body positivity in this book as well as the growth of the female coworker relationship. Honestly Britta’s fictional journey had me alternatively smiling and wanting to hit the gym. (Although, full disclosure, I am a gym rat, so I may be biased.) Also, speaking of disclosure, there is one steamy scene, and also trigger warnings stated in the beginning for eating disorders, addiction, and fat phobia.

This book was heartfelt, sweet, fun, and it just felt super real. Honestly, now that I’ve read it, I’m surprised I hadn’t heard of it before I picked up the audiobook from the library. Since it’s near the end of the year, I can say with confidence that this is my favorite romance of 2021 (and… I have read quite a few), and I *highly* recommend it for anyone looking for feel-good fun.

Now, someone make the movie please!!! 

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

This one definitely left me with a big smile! Reading slump: Vanquished!

Thanks for reading!

Audiobook Review – Three Halves of a Whole



Three Halves of a Whole follows Andrew as he struggles to cope with the downward spiral of his ex-lover. The story gives a brief introduction into how Andrew and Riley fell in love before bringing us to the present where Andrew has been forced to move on, even though he still cares deeply for the struggling Riley.

This short audiobook is well performed, beautifully written, and achingly poignant—making you wish you could reach in and pull the characters from their tragic trajectory.

My only real critique is that I wish we got to spend more time with Riley and be present while he and Andrew fell in love before diving into the aftermath. Mostly we see Riley through the lens of Andrew’s memories. But once I started listening, the story pulled me in and I flew through it.

Definitely recommend for those looking for a deeply emotional read that deals with grief, complicated relationships, and letting go. (Trigger warnings for substance abuse and suicide) 

⭐⭐⭐⭐

In other news, I’ve realized that like 90% of my reads these days are audiobooks. O_O
WHO AM I ANYMORE?!
In other other news, send audiobook recs!

Thanks for reading!

Book Review – This Last Adventure


This is one of those middle grade novels that makes me want to read more middle grade. This Last Adventure follows Archie as he navigates eighth grade while his grandfather and role model is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. As his grandfather’s condition worsens, Archie grapples for ways to help him hold onto his memories, learning about his grandfather’s triumphs, tragedies, and regrets along the way.

Beautifully told, This Last Adventure is about family, bravery, and what it means to be a good person. Archie comes across as a very believable eighth grader—dealing with crushes, school projects, peer pressure, as well as the weight of his grandfather’s illness. But I love how the story never underestimates Archie, and his emotions and realizations come across as thoughtful and heartfelt.

Neither too heavy or too light, the poignancy of this coming-of-age tale leaves you with a feel-good ending and plenty to think about. I’d definitely recommend to upper MG readers and those looking for a reflective tale that fully captures the uncertainty of growing up.

Thanks so much to NetGalley and the publisher for the free ARC! This Last Adventure comes out 1 Feb 2022, and you can preorder here. (OMG – I actually read a book before it came out, I know we’re all shocked.)

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Excellent middle grade can be a tough balance – but this one’s definitely a winner!

Thanks for reading!