The Poison Diaries: Book Review and Giveaway

Just so you know, I received a copy of Nightshade from the publisher.

Nightshade is the second book in the Poison Diaries trilogy by Maryrose Wood. And you also should know, I’m a HUGE fan of Maryrose Wood (and not just because I kinda want to steal her name). Her style is unique and evocative, whether she’s writing about poisonous plants or incorrigible kids. I am immersed in her worlds from the moment I open her books. I jumped on the opportunity to get my hands on Nightshade.

So, yes, I might be a tad biased. On to the review…

Nightshade begins with Jessamine Luxton, a healer, and her lover, Weed, separated from each other, and suffering both physically and emotionally. Our young innocent is desperate to find Weed, especially considering the distrust she has for her cruel father, an apothecary and keeper of poisons. And so she makes a terrible bargain with Oleander, the Prince of Poisons, and the price he exacts is monstrous. Nightshade is a gothic tale of poison, politics, and passion, asking that question that always makes for a killer story: How far would you go for love?

I think I liked the first book in the trilogy a bit better, perhaps because I was entranced by that first blush of a high concept–and the well-crafted rendering of the story. I’ve longed love gothic, I love gardening and plants, and I completely fell for these unusual characters. Nightshade, of course, is more of the same, but it moves slowly at first; I was aware of the “let’s catch everyone up” feel. Still, once the plot starts moving, it’s an intense and riveting ride. In fact, Jessamine’s dark transformation occurs so swiftly that I found myself wanting to see more of her struggle against the evil forces of Oleander. I have a feeling that our story won’t end until our heroine finds her hidden strengths—and help from her allies, Weed and his plants.

Wood is an excellent storyteller, and though Nightshade is a tale dark and grim, there is a glimmer of hope, and it’s that glimmer that will entice me to pick up the third book in the trilogy. Read the first book while you’re waiting to get Nightshade. (I’ll tell you how to win a copy in just a sec.) The Poison Diaries trilogy is not like anything you’ve read before. Check out the amazing website and you’ll get a peek at exactly what I mean.

To win a SIGNED copy of Nightshade, you must perform the following tasks (I know. It’s like one of those epic quests. But it’s SIGNED by Maryrose Wood, so yeah, just do it):

Go to Twitter, follow @Poison Diaries and tweet “I want to win Nightshade, saw it on @cathychall’s blog.”

Go to Facebook, like Poison Diaries, and post on the wall “I want to win Nightshade, saw it on Cathy C.’s Hall of Fame.”

And go to the website, find the plant Arum Maculatum, and share it on Twitter, adding my blog name and @poisondiaries.

Okay, I told you it was epic. But here’s the thing. There are quite a few blogs out there involved in this promotion. Each blog is sponsoring a giveaway. In order for the promo mistress to keep up with entries, she has to have the blog name. And of course, using social media to promote the book is genius.

Nightshade is genius, too. Now off you go to win a copy. You have seven days, starting now. (And P.S. you can enter through every blog you find!)

Blog Hops, Book Tours and Book Reviews, Part Deux

You know how a picture’s worth a thousand words? It occurred to me that maybe a link or two, directing you to a blog hop or a book blog tour or a book review, might be a good way to show you how everything works. So let’s follow Cathy-on-a-Stick up those ooky cave stairs to…


Here we have a themed blog hop, where a bunch of horror writers (97, to be exact) are waiting for you to drop in this week and get the bejeebers scared out of you. (There are some scary writers out there, my friends, writers who make you pray that you will NOT run into them on a dark and creepy night. Alone. In the woods. With their laptops in tow.)

Anyway, notice how each writer gets a chance to promote his/her books or stories or poetry, and you get a chance to perhaps find a new favorite writer–and win a prize or two while you’re at it. Bet you’ll also notice that some writers have done a great marketing job, from getting followers, to promoting their work, to offering fun contests. (You’ll want to be one of those writers if you participate in a blog hop.)

Okay, now we’ll hop into our time machine so we can visit the WOW!BLOG TOUR with Linda Hubelek’s book, Trail of Thread, here at the Hall of Fame back in May of this year.

You’ll notice that I talked a little about Linda and gave a short synopsis of her book. Often, authors will prepare ten to twelve posts on different topics and blog hosts can choose a topic. So I asked Linda to share a little about writing for our descendants. And I ended the blog book tour with a giveaway of her e-book, which Linda provided. Now here’s a little something from behind the scene. Though I didn’t get a ton of visitors commenting that day for a chance to win Linda’s book, I did get a ton of visitors to the blog. And I still get hits on that post. So as a host, I attracted readers who might not have come to the Hall of Fame (and some of them signed on as followers and return). For the author, the promotion stays out there forever, possibly drawing new readers every day.

Finally, let’s sneak a peek at some of my favorite spots to catch a BOOK REVIEW!

Sometimes, I’ll review a book just because I like the book. My friend (and a swell writer herself), Sally Apokedak, often reviews Young Adult and Middle Grade novels just because she wants to. If I want an in-depth and thoughtful discussion of a book, I’ll read Sally’s reviews. But don’t expect her to give away her books. (She might let you borrow one or two, if you know her.)

Any time you drop into Jodi Webb’s blog, you’re likely to find a book review. She reviews just about everything, from adult to kidlit. I like how Jodi gives a short synopsis, then follows it with her review, and then gives her readers a chance to win the book. Jodi is usually provided books by publishers; if you review a few books at your blog, don’t be surprised if you’re contacted by publishers, asking you to review their books. I rarely review books when contacted by a publisher, but I will do so if a. I LOVE the author and have already read other books by him/her or b. I REALLY, really love the author (in a writing kind of way).

So, I hope those links painted a better picture than all my blah-blah-blahing about blog hops and blog book tours and book reviews. Honestly, I’m wore out. (And Cathy-on-a-Stick’s getting a tad peckish, too.)

Blog Book Tour, Book Review, Blog Hop: What’s the Dif?

So, you see that your author friend is doing a blog book tour and you wonder what the heck is that? Or you see that another writer friend is doing a blog hop and you figure that must be the same thing. And then you decide that really, they’re both just a way to get a book reviewed. Why make it all so confusing?

Because it kind of is confusing. Your friend’s book may be making the rounds on a blog book tour, but may not be reviewed at every blog. And a blog hop can include a book review, or giveaways, or just a bit of promotion. Perhaps we need to take a closer look…

Blog Book Tour: When a book goes on a blog tour, the book’s author usually submits a post of some sort to the blogger. Often, the post will be in an interview format, and sometimes, the author will make him or herself available for questions from blog readers. The post may also be a topic discussion related to the subject of the book or the author. Say, for example, a fiction book about the Salem witches is on tour. You might read about “How To Research for Historical Fiction” or “How I Got My Book Contract.” In a blog book tour, you’ll find a summary of the book and oftentimes, you’ll find a book giveaway at each stop. And sometimes, you might find a short book review, mostly in the form of a recommendation. So, if you’re interested in a newly released book, search the author’s website for a Blog Book Tour. Somewhere along the 20 stops or so, you’ll win that book. And if you have a book coming out, contact blogger friends and schedule a blog book tour. Or use professionals (you’ll pay a fee) to help you target blogs with the right readership for your book.

Blog Hop: A blog hop is a fun way to get a ton of blogs involved in a common purpose; it is NOT a book tour. It is, however, a great way to get promotion if you have a book. Blog hops are usually centered around a theme…scary reads, foodie books, romance. All the participating blogs plan a post and usually some kind of giveaway (a great opportunity to talk about your book!). Honestly, it’s the prizes that draw readers to a blog hop. And here is where promotion for a book comes in. An author may offer a free download of the first chapter of his or her book to every commenter, or will sponsor a contest giveaway for the book. And don’t forget that getting folks to the blog is the first step in getting them to return! So a blog hop is also about encouraging readers to join as a follower, or sign up for Twitter or Facebook. The key word in a blog hop is fun, so if you’re thinking of participating, think outside the box. And keep in mind that blog hops usually last for a set period…say a week. Have your post prepared to go from the first day, and keep it up all week. You don’t know when readers will be hopping to your blog!

Book Review: A book review is pretty cut and dried. A publisher sends a book to a blogger and the blogger gives a review. Often, the blogger will give the book away. Some bloggers know how to write reviews, and others not so much. If there’s a genre you love (and write!), there’s likely a ton of bloggers who review it. Find a blogger you respect and you can keep up with what’s being written in your genre. But as an author, you need to know that a blogger’s book review may or may not be favorable. Often, it’s the publishers (or their representatives) who contact bloggers to do a book review (rather than the authors).

Now, that’s about it. Or maybe not. No, that’s it. Um…let’s just close the book on the subject for now, okay?

Amazon Reviews: The Long and Short of It

One of my writer friends entered her novel into the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Competition and is now a quarter-finalist. Wheee! Tomorrow, she’ll find out if her (excellent!) excerpt (Undisclosed)moves on to the list of 100 semi-finalists.

I have my fingers crossed, of course, but I also zipped over to her excerpt, gave it a read and a review. Every little bit helps, right?

The thing is, the writing of the book is just the beginning. After you’ve poured out all the blood, sweat and writing tears, you must move on to the selling blood, sweat and tears. And I’m beginning to think that the writing part is the easier of the two…

Anyway, you may not be able to help your writer friends come up with a dazzling query, snag an agent, or sell the book to a publisher. But you can help out if your writer friends finally get that book on the shelf, real or virtual. You can write a review.

I hear those Amazon rankings make a difference, and the reviews are part of the process. So if you’ve read a book that you really like, consider writing a brief review. If you win a book, say from a friend’s blog, or a book blog tour, say “thank you” by writing a swell review.

And someday, when you’ve got your own book on the shelf, they’ll do the same for you!

Finding Something (On a Not-So Foolish) Friday: More Writer’s First Aid

Once upon a time, there was a writer who sat about, bemoaning her writerly problems. “Oh, dear,” she said. “I’m stuck in a writer’s block!” Or, “Heavens to Betsy! How will I ever get any writing done with home, family and work responsibilities?” Until finally, she foolishly plopped down in the middle of the floor, putting off the whole writing thing altogether.

Fortunately, a wise friend (coincidentally, her name was Cathy) knew of Kristi Holl and her book, More Writer’s First Aid, a book jam-packed with answers to just about any writerly thing that ails you. She asked Kristi a few questions, to get her friend back on track. Let’s listen in, shall we?

So, Kristi, what’s the writing problem you most often hear about from struggling writers? And what’s one way to handle it?

The overall most common problem I hear about is how to juggle everything and still have time and/or energy for writing. Many new writers are starting at the same life stage that I began writing—with a houseful of small children. Your energy is low, your time to yourself is almost non-existent, yet you have this drive and burning desire to write stories and articles and books. (You wouldn’t mind some second income either.) Or your time/energy crunch might be for another reason: poor personal health, being a caregiver for an elderly relative, working a day job, marital problems or problems with teens that sap your energy, you name it. Lives today are so busy. This is why I started the “Rx for Writers” on the Institute of Children’s Literature website back in 1998, and why I wrote Writer’s First Aid and More Writer’s First Aid. My students—many of them very talented—weren’t quitting because they couldn’t figure out dialogue or description. They were quitting because life issues were sapping their energy and stealing their time.

One way to handle this? No matter what the issue, learn to write in tiny bits and pieces of time if you need to. Be ready, even if you only have ten minutes, to sit down and write. Have your story outlined so you know which piece to work on next. “Pre-write” or “pre-think” about the next part while doing those non-thinking activities (pushing kids on the swings, sweeping, pulling weeds, etc.) Then when you have ten or fifteen minutes free, dash to the keyboard (or keep a notebook and pen with you) and write like crazy. (I wrote my first five middle-grade novels this way.)

I know you’ve been writing for more than 30 years and published nearly 40 books! What do you know about writing and getting published that we don’t know?

Two things that experienced writers know that beginners usually don’t can make all the difference in whether you make it as a writer or not. (1) I know that persistence is more important than talent. That stick-to-it-iveness factor wins out every time. Talent is much more common, but talent won’t take you nearly as far as you might think. I’ve watched over the years which of my students went on to have books published by some of the biggest publishers. They were not the students I first predicted. Seldom were they the most talented, and occasionally I couldn’t see much hope in their work at all. But each of the students who went on to publish well—and repeatedly—simply didn’t give up. They studied and wrote and grew and wrote and read books and wrote and got critiqued and wrote and submitted and got rejected and kept writing. (2) The second bit of knowledge is this: every writer gets rejected, and the rejections don’t stop unless you stop submitting. Rejections are simply a part of the writing life. They’re a job hazard, like firemen who occasionally get burned. It just goes with the territory. If you don’t know this, you can erroneously believe your career is over when you get a string of rejections after several acceptances. Not true. Rejections happen to even the most famous writers—and they happen routinely and throughout your career. It won’t hurt that much after a while either—which is more good news!

What’s the writing obstacle that you most often deal with? And how do you deal with it?

It’s the same writing obstacle I’ve always had, I think. I have difficulty balancing everything and not feeling guilty about devoting so much time to writing and marketing and blogging. When my kids were little and I was writing, I was afraid I might neglect them. (They’re grown now, and they’ve turned out beautifully.) At this stage of my life, I’m afraid I’ll neglect my grandkids (they all live within ten minutes of me) and not give my grown daughters enough breaks. All my life it’s been a 90% needless worry. I’ve always been very involved with my kids and grandkids and some ministries at church. But sometimes I wish I could clone myself. One self would be the full-time writer who did nothing but write and read writing magazines and do writing exercises, etc. The other self would be on-call and involved full-time with family. I used to laugh that I prioritized according to guilt—but I was only half joking! One way I deal with it is to put things on the calendar and look ahead month by month. If it’s been longer than I like since I’ve seen the grandkids, I set up individual lunch dates with them or longer overnight stays. I don’t trust my memory.

Since this book is More Writer’s First Aid, there must have been a Writer’s First Aid. What’s the “more” in this book?

Some of the “more” is simply “more help” along the lines of the first book. Another “more” is more actual articles/short chapters (48 instead of 40). And the last “more” is because I’ve included a section this time on “Family Matters.” I think for most writers that juggling family and writing is a big issue, and it’s big whether you’re a single mom writer or a working dad writer or a grandma whose adult child and grandkids just moved back home and now “live” in her former writing office. Combining families and writing (successfully) is an ongoing challenge.

And finally, if you were a tree, what kind would you be? Hahaha! Just a little April Fool’s humor there. (Um, unless you really would like to be a tree…) But if you weren’t a tree, and you weren’t a writer, what do you think you’d be doing now?

If I were a tree, it would be a white pine Christmas tree—the kind with the long needles. When the kids were growing up, we grew our own white pines on the farm (in Iowa) and cut our own Christmas trees. Nothing ever smelled so good!

If I weren’t a tree or a writer, what would I be? I have no idea! It would have to be book related, I think…like work in a bookstore or library. But I might get fired the first week—once they found me curled up in a corner with a stack of books. I wouldn’t handle that kind of temptation well!

Thank goodness, Kristi is a wonderful writer. You can read her blog, Writer’s First Aid, for a daily dose of writing hope, and you can purchase her book for your Kindle, or get the paperback or the e-book. And because she’s extra swell (or maybe because I sorta begged), she’s giving away an e-book of More Writer’s First Aid for one of my lucky commenters. Make sure that I know where to get in touch with you, or Kristi won’t be able to send you the e-book!

So, friends, don’t make me write another story called “The Foolish Writer Who Plopped on the Floor and Turned Into a Big Giant Blob.” Because now there are no excuses—you know where to find all the answers to your writing problems—and coincidentally, I bet you’ll find your happy-ever-after writing ending, too!