Culture

How to Shop for a Book

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This is a guest post by Cedar Sanderson, author of Pixie Noir.  Sarah blurbed Pixie Noir thusly: “The unlikely love child of Monster Hunter International and the Princess Bride, this book … is unalloyed fun all the way.” -Sarah A. Hoyt, author of Darkship Thieves

It is an open secret that Cedar is the nice one of Sarah Hoyt’s friends, besides looking like a Heinlein character, red hair and all.  But she’s also sensible about things like books.

First, look at the cover. It might look like a child’s rendition, but this doesn’t mean the content is bad. I’ve seen some pretty bad writing under that pretty wrapper. What the cover ought to tell you is a little about what to expect. Not a faithful rendition of a scene, more a feeling for the tale you are about to immerse yourself in. This doesn’t always happen, and it’s something that can be forgiven, like a chocolate bar in a plain brown wrapper.

Next, check out the blurb, reviews, and other details. Are there typos in the blurb? Oh, so not good. Head on to the next option on the shelf/alsobot/list of titles below. Has the book won an award? Then it depends, was it an award given by fans who enjoy good stories? Then feel free to go on to the next step. Was it an award like the Hugo or Nebula, given out for writing approved message fiction? Step away from the book, and maybe do a little squirt of hand sanitizer, just to be sure.

The book has made it past the first steps of scrutiny, now it’s time for the next step. Look at the publisher? Why would you care who published it? Do you read publishers, or authors? No, wait, there is one exception. A certain flaming rocket logo is a good thing to scan for if you’re perusing a bookstore shelf. Online, the Baen cover art is generally a dead giveaway, being reminiscent of a certain scientist’s shirt.

If you’re shopping online, this is the fun part. Scroll down and look at the reviews. Ideally, you’ll see a mix of good and bad, tilted more to the good side. A book with only 5 star reviews should raise an eyebrow. No readers will all love the same book, and the old saying that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure is based in reality, after all. On the other hand, cogently written and on-point negative reviews should raise the other eyebrow, and have you clicking away from this title. Now me, I’m contrary. I have bought books based on negative reviews. Strawman reviews, attacking the author’s politics or perceived ideology are cues that whatever lies between the covers, it’s most likely not dull.

Now, the next step is to crack open the book and look inside. On Amazon, you can do this free and easy with the preview option. In a paper book, you can do what I do, cull a small stack, plop cross-legged on the floor, and start to skim. At home, you can legally do this wearing only a cat. I don’t recommend that in the bookstore.

Generally, Amazon gives you access to the first 20% of an ebook. Speaking as a former slush reader, this is usually plenty of time to get a feel for what’s in there. You want to find a good hook that draws you into the story, not a dull, draggy beginning that makes you feel gloomy. There should be some interesting characters, whom you can connect with. You should be able to immerse yourself in the fictional world and not be thrown out of the story by non-sequiters and egregious research errors.  You’ll know when it’s right, because suddenly you’re at the end of the sample and you click the buy button without a second thought.

Now that you’re hooked on a book, what next? Well, read! Enjoy! And when you’re done, remember where you found that one, and come visit us regularly, there are always new titles and authors to discover. Want more? I know, I know, I’m a greedy reader too. Check out blogs to find one that does regular reviews, and the reviews seem to align with your tastes (a good way to do this is to search for a book/author you really liked and find the reviewers who felt the same way).

Speaking of reviews, this is how you tip an author: review their book. It’s not hard to go to Amazon and write a review, it doesn’t need to be long, and it should not be a plot summary (please, for the love of spoilers, no plot summaries!). Or share a link to the book on social media. Or… both. Because you liked that book, and you want to have more, right? Authors need support, and readers need books. It’s a mutual admiration society. Speaking as a reader, I’m always tickled to do something fun to promote a favorite author, whether it’s simply sharing a link, putting the effort into a review, or even further like taking fun pictures of books and posting them to gloat when I have a new release… Ahem. Right. Sometimes I slip into fangirl mode.

So start your book shopping today, with the links below, and remember, escaping the mundane world gives your soul ease and amuses the brain. It’s food for the mind, and doesn’t go straight to your hips.


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Five by Five 3: Target Zone
By Kevin J Anderson (and others, including Sarah)

TARGETS ARE LOCKED!

Five short novels by five masters of military SF capture the excitement, and hell, of fantastic future war—on and off the battlefield. Stories of terrifying monsters, dangerous aliens and staggering cosmic dreadnaughts march alongside far-flung courtroom dramas and cautionary tales involving man and his devices.

Michael A. Stackpole—The Star Tigers are commandeered by a powerful alien overseer on a covert mission to a world long abandoned by an ancient species. There, the ruins of a forgotten war will tip the balance of their war, unless the Star Tigers can prevent it.

(Contains “And Not To Yield”, a novel in the Darkship universe.)


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Sparrowind: The Dragon Who Lived As A Knight
By R.K. Modena

Tiny Sparrowind can’t hunt from the sky, cannot hope to best his siblings in contests of strength, and scrapes by to survive. But in the books stashed in his parents’ hoard of gold and gems he finds a greater treasure: ideals.

Deciding to make his own way in life gives him more hope than he could have if he tried living only by the way of Dragonkind, but can this dreamer of a Dragon find his place in the world?

A delightful tale for all ages, that may be shared by reading out loud – either to a young audience, or those who are young at heart.


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Playing with Matches
By Suri Rosen

When 16-year-old Raina Resnick is expelled from her Manhattan private school, she’s sent to live with her strict aunt, where life becomes a torment. Her sister blames her for her broken engagement, and she’s a social pariah at her new school. In the tight-knit Jewish community, Raina finds she is good at one thing: matchmaking! As the anonymous “MatchMaven,” Raina sets up hopeless singles desperate to find the One – including her alienated sister. A cross between Jane Austen’s Emma, Dear Abby, and Yenta the matchmaker, Raina’s journey is both hilarious and heartbreaking as her life unravels from the effects of firsthand matchmaking.


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SECRET WAR
By Albert Schwartz

Tom Ryan, best-selling military novelist, has arranged a ride to familiarize himself with submarines. On August 10, 1991 he arrives at USS Haddock (SSN 621) as it prepares to depart San Diego for Japan. It would be a final deployment before going to the shipyard for nuclear defueling and decommissioning.

The transit is routine with plenty of opportunity for training. It doesn’t stay routine when Haddock is diverted to search for three Soviet submarines that had deployed from their base. Then events in the Soviet Union result in Haddock being given unprecedented orders. As history is made in Moscow events proceed under the ocean.

Join Tom Ryan aboard Haddock and enjoy the ride.


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Julia Blaine
By Vampire Music

Evil vampires cannot love — can they?

Vampire Gregory Weston loves the tinge of printer’s ink that flavors the blood of those who work with books; printers, publishers, editors and librarians are among his favorite sources of nourishment. Bored and lazy, seeking amusements to fill his endless existence, he has given up his unceasing quest to become human again — until accidentally, he employs Nia, a pregnant librarian. With child? Gregory has never experienced this situation. What a diversion for dispassionate scientific study! That she is beautiful has nothing to do with it.


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Children of Prophecy
By Glynn Stewart

An age in the past, the world’s two greatest Mages fought a bloody war to a draw that slew them both.

In the time since, the Kingdom of Vishni has known quiet, and the Swarm beyond the mountains has grown in strength and numbers. Now, with the Time of Prophecy at hand, dark forces move to fulfil ancient visions.

Two men, born to poverty but bearing the blood of those ancient Mages, will rise to decide the fate of both Swarm and Kingdom as the fires of this ancient conflict rise anew.


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Quantum Zoo
By Bridget McKenna, D.J. Gelner, et al

From a haunted old zoo filled with ghosts to a dying starship on its way to a new home – humanity’s final gasp, Quantum Zoo presents a dozen compelling stories featuring a dozen exotic and unusual menageries.

Jack the Ripper arrives for one last murder, while a dinosaur – out of place and out of time – bridges the gap between two poignant lovers in the wonderfully atmospheric England of Hugo-­ and Nebula-­nominated Bridget McKenna.

Quantum Zoo propels you on an enthralling journey through awe and emotion, highs and lows, with tender romance following hair-­raising action.

Join some of the hottest independent science-­fiction and fantasy authors writing today in the fascinating worlds they create from the zoo!


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Devouring Light
By J.M. Ney-Grimm

Can one small good deed offset ultimate destruction?

Mercurio stands watch over the first planet, guiding it through the perils of the void. Part messenger, part prankster, he cocks an eye for danger, but not from afar. Close to home lurks the real risk that his festival for Sol’s 25th anniversary will be a bust.

Failed negotiations with constellations and his fellow guardians send him to the brink of complete frustration…when a beautiful celestial wanderer fetches up at his domicile, seeking refuge.

Her form beguiles. Her mystery intrigues. And Mercurio’s fascination with his visitor poses yet another threat to Sol’s celebration.

Will Mercurio recognize his role as cat’s paw soon enough? Or will a looming menace – more lethal than any of the guardians imagine – threaten the solar system’s very existence?


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Elizabeth and Empire: Book Four of the Colplatschki Chronicles
By Alma T.C. Boykin

The higher the peak, the greater the fall.

Twenty years after the Seige of Vindobona, Duchess Elizabeth von Sarmas and her husband Col. Lazlo Destefani stand near the top of their world. But when a Frankonian army refuses to roll over and play dead, it sets off a series of conspiracies within the Imperial court that threated Elizabeth’s marriage, her position, and even her life. Emperor Thomas, young and untried, finds himself matching wits with King Laurence and even Elizabeth may not be canny, or strong, enough to stop Laurence this time.

They say the Age of Miracles is ended, but Elizabeth needs one more than ever!