Novel Review: A Reluctant Queen: The Love Story of Esther by Joan Wolf

The Reluctant QueenI absolutely loved the story of Esther growing up. And when I saw A Reluctant Queen by Joan Wolf offered on NetGalley, I just had to take them up on their offer. I was ecstatic when NetGalley approved me for a copy, and started this goodie almost immediately. How about the blurb from Goodreads?

An inspired re-imagining of the tale of Esther, a young Jewish woman thrust from a life of obscurity into a life of power, wealth, intrigue . . . and tender love.

See the story of Esther in an entirely new way-with all the political intrigue and tension you remember, but told as a passionate and tender love story between a young man and woman. Misunderstood by many, King Xerxes was a powerful but lonely man. Esther’s beauty caught the eye of the young king, but it was her spirit that captured his heart.

Imagine anew the story of Esther, one of our faith’s great heroines, destined to play a key role in the history of Christianity.

Despite Esther being one of my favorite biblical stories, I wasn’t sure about this work when I first started. The writing focused on quite a few mundane descriptions written like a laundry list, and I feared the entire book would be muddled with them. As the story progressed, it was as if the author got so wrapped up in telling the story, she forgot to throw in the drab descriptions.

It was wonderful. 🙂 I went from wanting to skim the passages to wanting to take in every word. Truly, The Reluctant Queen was an interesting take on the story of Esther. I never knew what to expect or how Esther would handle each situation.

The king. He was a very attractive character. Despite the many problems he faced, he never lost his cool, always waited until he had the relevant facts before making a decision. A wise king. 🙂 You’d think he was King Solomon. On the other hand, I couldn’t help but feel sympathetic toward his plight.

Speaking of sympathetic… one character I didn’t expect to feel any for was Haman. Ms. Wolf did a wonderful job giving him motive and making him human. He was actually a character I could root for and mentally say, “Don’t do it!” Despite knowing the biblical story, I hoped for the best for Haman. He was like the Sandman in Spiderman. “I’m not a bad person, I’ve just have bad luck.” Of course, Haman had a hand in his bad luck. Still… couldn’t help but feel bad for him.

Bottom line: Ms. Wolf mentioned taking liberties with the story and embellishing at times.  I think by doing so, she created a culturally rich piece with a realistic and fresh take. Over all, this was an enjoyable story of Esther.

A Reluctant Queen: The Love Story of Esther by Joan Wolf is Available at: Barnes & Nobles and The Book Depository

Sunday Showcase #21

Another week hanging at the NetGalley has brought me a few reads. 🙂 Thank you NetGalley for creating such an awesome system… and special thanks to all the publishers offering the goodies.

If I Tell by Janet GurtlerJasmine Evans knows one thing for sure… people make mistakes. After all, she is one. Jaz is the result of a one night stand between a black football player and a blonde princess. Having a young mother who didn’t raise her, a father who wants nothing to do with her and living in a small-minded town where she’s never fit in hasn’t been easy. But she’s been surviving. Until she sees her mom’s new boyfriend making out with her own best friend. When do you forgive people for being human or give up on them forever?

Why I Picked It Up: Normally, contemporary works aren’t my thing. The title sort of pulled me in on this one. It reminded me of Tell Me a Secret by Holly Cupala. I know… silly reason, but it got my interest. I’m really hopeful about this work. I don’t have anything against contemporary. It’s just mundania has never really called to me as unique. I know I miss out on a lot of fantastic works because I’ve constantly got my eye out for paranormal goodies. It’s time for me to get a taste of realistic drama. 🙂

Available at: Barnes & Nobles and The Book Depository

Lilly's Wedding Quilt by Kelly LongShe isn’t looking for love. He’s mending a broken heart. It will take divine intervention for these two to get together.

Local Amish schoolteacher Lilly Lapp is tired of weddings, afraid of horses, and immersed in caring for her depressed mother. But when Jacob Wyse, a handsome horse breeder from her small community rescues her from a dangerous accident, Lilly discovers a renewed interest in life and the possibility of love.

Yet Jacob has lost the one true love of his life to another man and doesn’t care to expose himself to the vulnerabilities of loving again.

God works to bring this unlikely pair into a sweet romance to produce a pattern of faith, which leads to the creation and comfort of Lilly’s Wedding Quilt.

Why I Picked It Up: Simply put, I’ve become addicted to Amish romances. There’s just something about reading about a group of people who are so far removed from the materialistic rat race.

Available at: Barnes & Nobles and The Book Depository

Practical Jean by Trevor ColeJean Vale Horemarsh is an ordinary, small-town woman with the usual challenges of middle age. She’s content, mostly, with the life she’s built: a semi-successful career as a ceramics artist, a close collection of women friends (if you ignore the terrible falling out she had with Cheryl all those years ago), a comfortable marriage with a kind if otherwise unextraordinary man. And then Jean sees her mother go through the final devastating months of cancer, and realizes that her fondest wish is to protect her dearest friends from the indignities of aging and illness. That’s when she decides to kill them . . .

Why I Picked It Up: Now Chicklit typically isn’t my thing, and I’m pretty sure this is what this is. The premises is just so out there, I had to check it out.

Available at: Barnes & Nobles and The Book Depository

So this was a unique week of requests (other than Lilly’s Wedding Quilt) for me. Have you stepped out of your normal reading habit recently? How did you fare?

Novel Review: Pretties by Scott Westerfeld

Pretties by Scott WesterfeldWell, I lost my notes for Pretties by Scott Westerfeld. Or did I even take notes? Let’s see how this review goes with my less than perfect total recall. 🙂 But first, a word from our author… well, at least the blurb from Goodreads:

Tally has finally become pretty. Now her looks are beyond perfect, her clothes are awesome, her boyfriend is totally hot, and she’s completely popular. It’s everything she’s ever wanted.

But beneath all the fun — the nonstop parties, the high-tech luxury, the total freedom — is a nagging sense that something’s wrong. Something important. Then a message from Tally’s ugly past arrives. Reading it, Tally remembers what’s wrong with pretty life, and the fun stops cold.

Now she has to choose between fighting to forget what she knows and fighting for her life — because the authorities don’t intend to let anyone with this information survive.

First things first: I liked Pretties more or less the same amount as I liked Uglies. There were plenty of annoying aspects about Pretties, but the story was unique. In fact, I have to admit, the trilogy is really starting to grow on me.

Let’s start with what I disliked the most about Pretties so we can move on to the good stuff. 🙂 The lingo. The lingo sucked big time. It reminded me of Neal Bortz when he tries to sound like a valley girl with all the “like this” and “like that” “like” “like.” Okay… we get it. It’s obnoxious. Now can we get OVER it?

Same thing with Pretties. Everything was bogus or bubbly or whatever-making, and totally overboard. I don’t know if the overuse of the special lingo was purposeful, but the excessiveness of it made it seem like an adult trying to fit in the young crowd but failing miserably.

What I enjoyed? I loved that despite being transformed into a Pretty, Tally was still the same person inside — pretty but still full of insecurities. Instead of the focus being on her outward appearance and being adored, the focus shifted to fitting in. Just like when she was ugly, she still had doubts about being good enough.

In a way, it was sad. We had a society which perfected individuals physically… in essence, giving them all they dreamed of having. To help the pretties along, they turned them into the addle-brained, content with having fun. They created an utopian environment, at least it appeared that way to an ugly looking in. Well, even Pretties believed they were living the ultimate life despite their continual strive to be cool. In reality, they had a broken society full of daft people who never had an opportunity to be comfortable with who they were.

Though I consider the books middle of the road reads thus far, I still think the trilogy is worthy of attention. Well, I’m working on the last book of the trilogy. It’ll be interesting to see how everything resolved itself.

Pretties by Scott Westerfeld is Available at: The Book Depository and Barnes & Nobles

Authors Helping Authors: It May Not Work For You

Today I’m going to share my publishing journey, but first I’m going to let you in on a shameful secret. Okay. Maybe it’s not too shameful, but perhaps a little on the obsessiveness side. I check my Amazon sales at least once a day. In fact, admitting to once a day isn’t close to an estimate. Let’s go with several times a day and leave it like that. After all, a gal has to have a little pride right?

Control Freak: Brandon's Story by Reena Jacobs

Released September 2010

My best selling work, Control Freak: Brandon’s Story, averages about 3 sales a day. Though it’s listed at $0.99, the price isn’t bad for a 3+k piece of work which took me 1-2 weeks to write, polish, and edit. I have to admit, I’m quite pleased with the results, profit-wise. Not stellar, but at least it’s something. It’s rather nice knowing I’ll have $30-50 a month from Brandon’s Story to fund various promotions and what not. And anyone who’s tried to promote a book, knows that amount doesn’t go very far.

Still, if only my other works did so well. 🙂

It’s interesting to note, I did pretty much no marketing for Brandon’s Story. In fact, I offered it for free for the longest time. Honestly, I didn’t think it was a piece anyone would want to purchase at $0.99. After all, it’s a short story, and a very short story at that. When I set a price for Brandon’s Story, and people started buying it, I could hardly believe it!

Shadow Cat

Released January 2011

Why? Because Shadow Cat, which had all favorable reviews was having an extremely difficult time getting off the ground. I’ve been all over the place with the price, from $0.99 to reel in folks who only buy cheap, to $4.99 to lure in folks who think cheap is crap. No matter what price I slap on Shadow Cat, it averages about 2 sales a week. <sigh>

Shadow Cat and I even went on tour together. Me and my kitty… tiger.  I put up ads on various blogs, paid for advertising on Goodreads, Facebook, Google Adwords. I’ll be honest, I’ve yet to see a return on investment (ROI).

Allow me to go off on a tangent, as I’m known to do at times. 🙂 I was driving to pick up my son from preschool today and thinking about my ROI. With no out of pocket expenses by only publishing Brandon’s Story in eBook and not spending a dime on advertising (I think), I’ve already earned a decent salary for at least 1 week. Remember, I mentioned it took me 1-2 weeks to write, polish, and edit Brandon’s Story for publication.

ROI for Shadow Cat? I might have covered the marketing expenses for Shadow Cat… maybe. And the time writing, polishing, and editing? haha Let’s not even go there.

I Loved You First by Reena Jacobs

Released July 2011

Next up, we have I Loved You First. With I Loved You First, I cut back on the advertisements and went straight for the blog tour… full force. 45 days and I don’t know how many blogs. The book received lots of great reviews. Last I checked, we were up to 16 reviews at Amazon and averaging about 4 stars. Way to go Alex!

You’d think folks would flock to pick up a copy. Not so, my friends. Of all my works, I Loved You First has the least amount of sales. Lean a little closer, I don’t want this getting around the blogosphere. Can you hear me? Well, I Loved You First has only received 3 sales this month. Shhh. Don’t tell anyone. Last month was only slightly better at 6 sales. Yikes!

In terms of my ROI? I think I spent about $60 in promotion materials for the blog tour, which doesn’t include the costs of books and shipping. I’m certainly not crying over the fact. I spent a lot more trying to get Shadow Cat off the ground and still only have 8 reviews on Amazon. Of course, Shadow Cat has slightly better sales, but not enough to make me feel I’ve gotten my money’s worth with advertising.

Control Freak: Regina's Story by Reena Jacobs

Released October 2011

Okay. Last piece, which I released early this month. Control Freak: Regina’s Story. I did even less advertising with Regina’s Story than I did Brandon’s Story. For the most part, I just set it out there and tweeted a couple of times about the availability. Interesting enough, the sales on Regina’s Story are comparable to Shadow Cat — averaging about 2 sales a week. Actually, the sales for Regina’s Story are slightly (not by much), but still slightly better than Shadow Cat.

Like Brandon’s Story, Regina’s Story is another shortie — a little over 4k words. I will admit, it took me longer to write. I just wasn’t in the mood to write erotica. In fact, I’d considered giving erotica up entirely. However, I felt I owed readers the sequel to Regina’s Story. After all, the back of Brandon’s Story ended with a promise to have the sequel out shortly. That “shortly” took about a year to get around to writing. 🙂

So here I am, a little over a year into the self-publishing game, 4 works up for sale, 2 free flash fiction pieces, and completely clueless over what works and what doesn’t.

Just how effective are blog tours, ads, promotions, etc? Perhaps I’m not trying hard enough or better yet, perhaps I’m not giving my attempts at marketing long enough to kick in and take effect. What says you?

What types of marketing have you tried?

Do you have a story to tell? Share with us your successful and less than successful campaigns. 🙂 In fact, email me (reenajacobs@reenajacobs.com), and I’ll open Ramblings of an Amateur Writer to you for your own guest post.