ETJ Writes

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The Best-Kept Book Secret (Little Free Libraries)

Hello Friends!

Have y’all heard of Little Free Libraries?

They’re basically a take-a-book leave-a-book system dedicated to getting more books into the hands of readers. They’re also a FANTASTIC place to donate books you don’t want anymore. I was introduced to the idea in 2019 by @littlefreelibraryreads on Instagram, and since then have made it a mission to hunt down all the Little Free Libraries I can, leaving my novels, and bookmarks too!

A lot of public libraries were unable to open their doors for a substantial amount of time during the summer, which is a KEY time for children to develop their reading skills. Thankfully, given the outdoor positioning, and limited interaction nature of Little Free Libraries, many families were still able to obtain books for summer reading.

A lot of Little Free Library custodians were also amazing during this time, providing ample amounts of hand sanitizer and wipes, and making sure the libraries were stocked with fresh books.

If you want to find a Little Free Library in your area, simply plug your location into this map, and get ready to go on an adventure!

https://littlefreelibrary.org/ourmap

 

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Top 5 Must-Buys for Indie Authors

Hello Friends!

Today we’re talking about the top five things you as an indie author absolutely MUST invest in if you want your book to have the best shot at success during and after publication.

Of course, you can do everything yourself and not spend any money, but chances are your final product will be rather poor quality both inside and out and therefore off-putting to potential readers. Not to mention, you might wind up giving away the rights to your book if you’re not careful.

So without further ado, here are the top five Must-Buys I recommend serious indie authors put money towards.


1. Book Cover

Unless you’re insanely talented, it’s a really good idea to outsource this part of the publishing process to someone else. Your cover is the first thing a reader sees, whether on a bookshelf or online (especially given that our world is very visual these days, a move that is increasingly more driven by social media) and getting it right is KEY if you want your book to sell.

You’ll want your cover to fit within your book’s chosen genre – for example, many scifi books have planets or tech on them, letting you know instantly what kind of book it is – and also fit current trends without being too locked into whatever is popular, given that tastes change very quickly in the publishing world.

You can work closely with an artist/cover designer to execute your vision or you can purchase pre-made covers. Either way, expect to spend anywhere from $100-$500 (possibly more) depending on what on level of quality and customization you are looking for, and on how many revisions are needed.

Don’t forget to credit your cover artist on your copyright page!

2. Editing

There are lots of different types of editing – developmental, line, copy, and proofreading, for example – and each stage is critically important for your manuscript to be the best version of itself. A traditional publishing company will have all these editors in-house, sometimes in multiple departments, often in just one or two people. However, as an indie, you’ll have to pay for each stage of editing yourself, which can end up being quite costly. The most consistent advice I’ve seen is to stick to beta readers and critique partners for the first few stages, and hire out to professionals once you are closer to the end.

I personally like to invest my money in a really good copy edit, but you may choose to put your money toward a different stage, or several, or all of them.

Quick side note here – I see quite a few people in writing groups mention that they paid someone to edit and then threw their books on Amazon without looking at their manuscript, and readers ruthlessly criticized the books for being riddled with errors. When you pay to get your book edited, your editor should mark changes, and upon receipt of your edited copy, you should be the one to accept or reject them.

Always proofread whatever you get back from the editor! As an indie author, it’s ultimately your job to write your book, not the editor’s.

Keep in mind that this is where you will likely spend the majority of your budget on self-publishing. There are very good editors out there who offer incredible discounts for indie authors, and you can have your novel-length book edited for as little $400-500, but for the most part, expect to spend anywhere from $1000-$4000 or so (depending on word count) on a good clean edit of your book.

3. ISBNs

The third thing I highly, highly, encourage you to spend money on are ISBN’s. I can already hear so many of you asking, “But don’t companies like IngramSpark and Amazon allow you to publish with a free ISBN?”

The answer is yes, but also no.

Yes, there are free ISBNs you can obtain from these companies, but they will ONLY work with those companies, and you cannot publish your book – that version of it anyway – on any other platform. That means that the free ISBN you have lacks the full functionality of an ISBN purchased through Bowker’s website.

Additionally, by using a free ISBN, you voluntarily hand over your publishing rights to your book.

Yes, you read that correctly. Not the copyright, but the publishing rights. But only for whatever particular version of the book you are publishing. So if you publish a paperback at a certain trim size with a free ISBN, you CAN publish an audiobook, ebook, or hardcover copy (at a different trim size to be on the safe side) with an ISBN you previously purchased and still retain your rights to that version of your book, which can then be printed/plublished with any platform you desire.

Of course, many people (especially in the ebook space) have published their books with a free ISBN and been fine, but since indie publishing is all about you being the one in control at the end of the day, it’s nice to be able to say you own the publishing rights to your own book. For this reason, I highly recommend purchasing your own ISBNs.

You can buy a single ISBN for $125, but since each given format of a book requires a different ISBN, I recommend you go for a bulk purchase and buy a pack of 10 at $295, which is a 75% discount.

4. Bookmarks

Now onto number four; bookmarks! There are so many websites out there that will let you upload custom designs and print and order sets of 500 to 1000 bookmarks that it’s WELL worth your money to invest in this. Bookmarks are probably the best in-person marketing tool for an indie author, as they are small, light, unobtrusive, useful and very easy to give away.

You can expect to spend anywhere from $60-$200 depending on how many bookmarks you order, what quality you choose, and which service you go with. I recommend ordering a few first to see if you like them before making a larger purchase.

5. Marketing

Lastly, we have advertising! Most indie authors are on a shoestring budget to begin with (and if you paid for a good edit, you might broken the bank already), so you can definitely invest time and effort into social media sites such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or other social media platform of your choice for free. However, it’s generally worth it to spend a little money on ads to get people outside of those platforms looking at your book.

I recommend AMS ads first and foremost. This is an ad option offered by Amazon if you are publishing through their KDP service. You can advertise both kindle and paperback versions with them, and the results can be highly effective, given that people using Amazon are already browsing the site with the intention of making a purchase and so are much more likely to be favourable to ads.

They can be tricky to get the hang of, but Author Dave Chesson has put together some courses and resources on how to effectively use and get the most out of AMS ads without spending bucket loads of money, which I highly recommend checking out.

Additionally, many indie authors find success with facebook ads, and to varying degrees of success, things like Bookbub deals. The 20Booksto50K Facebook group has a tonne more info on this.

I personally recommend doing a BIG push with ads right around your book launch, maybe a day or two ahead, definitely on the release date, and then for a couple months after – some people keep ads running indefinitely, and if this fits your budget, you can experiment with that as well, through perhaps at a much lower spend point.

If you do your research before jumping into buying ads, it can really help to minimize the amount of money you spend on them. I think it’s best if you keep it comparable to whatever you spend on your book’s cover, and you can probably expect to spend anywhere from $200-10,000 on ads depending on how much revenue they bring in. (I know that second number sounds scary, but there are indie authors making $10K or more a month on their books, and so can afford to turn around and reinvest that money into making sure new readers find them.)


So there you go! The top five things you should spend money on as an indie author.

Book Covers, Editing, ISBNs, Bookmarks, and Ads. I can’t give you a concrete number on all these things combined, because there is so much variance that goes into each element, but it’s worth noting that what you put into your work is what you will get out of it.

And that includes confidence! If you think you can put the best version of your book out there without spending any money, go for it! But readers expect quality – especially in such an oversaturated market – and it’s difficult to achieve that without spending at least a little money.

(There are other publishing/marketing things you can choose to invest in such as fanart, merch, book conventions, etc. They aren’t as necessary to sell your book in my opinion, but can be very fun and rewarding, and I do enjoy a good bookfair myself.)

Drop any questions you have in the comment section, and I wish you all the best on your publishing journeys.

Happy indie authoring!

~ETJ

Stock images sourced from unsplash or pexels

Author Interview/Book Review – E.S. Barrison, “The Mist Keeper’s Apprentice”

Hello Friends!

Today I’m so excited to be sharing an exclusive interview with dark fantasy author E.S. Barrison, as well as my review of Barrison’s debut novel The Mist Keeper’s Apprentice.

I first stumbled across Barrison on Tumblr, during an event focused on character backstories, and almost instantly fell in love with Brent, one of her main characters. Since then, I’ve had nothing but positive experiences with this talented fellow author, and I’ve eagerly followed along on her journey to publication, looking excitedly forward to the day when I would be able to read her work in full.

Following is the interview, and then my review of the novel below that. (I will note that, as this is an adult fantasy book, there is rather a bit of language sprinkled throughout, as well as allusions to sensitive topics, so younger readers (teens) are advised to read with caution.)


The Mist Keeper's ApprenticeThe Mist Keeper’s Apprentice by E. S. Barrison
🌟🌟🌟🌟

I definitely enjoyed reading this book. It’s always exciting to follow along on a debut author’s journey, and I’ve eagerly soaked up the excerpts and illustrations Barrison has been generous enough to share as part of her pre-publication process.

Funnily enough, while I initially fell for Brent from the snippets posted on tumblr, when I actually started reading, I found I really connected with Rho. She’s quite intriguing, and has both an inner and outer strength that is perfectly tempered with her gentle and kind character. Rho was really the highlight of this novel for me, and she is a wonderful complement to Brent, who is determined to give up on himself from the very first chapter.

The prose was easy reading, which sucked me right into the world of the book, and I was never bored at any point. The novel moves along at quite a fast clip, allowing some down time here and there, but never lingering in any one place for too long, moving the reader along with the characters through each next adventure (some rather more bizarre than others!)

I did find the worldbuilding to be a bit confusing at first, but the more I read, the more was revealed, until I felt—for a time—that I also lived in Rosada, and understand this strange, and yet oddly familiar, world. There are a lot of characters and places, but the only ones I really struggled to remember were the Council—and I think that’s because of how sinister most of them seemed, blending together as a sort of faceless “bad.”

And speaking of the Council—while the Order were ostensibly the “villains” of the novel, lurking in the background, and pulling the shady strings of Brent and Rho’s lives, I found the Council—with their contradictory and obsfucatory ways—to be just as, if not more, unsettling. I felt terribly for Brent through much of the book, running from one bad situation headlong into another, all the while surrounded by people who professed a desire to help him, and never quite sure who to trust.

Brent’s powers were pretty cool, his abilities regarding stories something I think any storyteller can relate to, and the way the novel ended—wow! I’m highly intrigued about where his path will take him next.

Overall, I had quite the entertaining time reading this novel, and I think other fans of fantasy will have a wonderful lark indeed in this strange little world Barrison has created.


View all my goodreads reviews

So there you have it, my review of “The Mist Keeper’s Apprentice.” But don’t just take my word for it, pick up a copy for yourself, and be swept away by the mists of adventure!

You can find E.S. Barrison here:
headshot

 

And her debut novel can be purchased through Amazon (among other major online book retailers).

Happy Reading,
~ETJ

⚡THORUNN⚡ IS HERE!

Announcing Esther T. Jones’ Sophomore Novel:

⚡THORUNN⚡

I’m so thrilled and excited to announce that my second book (and debut Young Adult Science Fiction novel) Thorunn is now available both as a paperback and an eBook from Amazon, iBooks, and Barnes & Noble.

The novel can also be purchased directly from this website.


This thrilling story is set in the far future, with a shady government, a vibrant alien culture, and fantastically imaginative tech. ⚡Thorunn⚡ follows the stories of Kenton Wishings – whose entire family was brutally murdered – and Laine Riven – a rebellious teen spirited away to the mysterious planet by his at-wits-end parents. Their paths clash amidst tragedy and betrayal, and despite how hard they try, neither teen will escape unscathed.

Time is running out as frix season closes in, and their only shot at victory hinges on outrunning the seasoned bounty hunters, savage creatures, and unpredictably violent weather trying to kill them every step of the way. . .

“The world Jones produced is absolutely brilliant . . . from start to finish, I wanted to know more!”

– S.V. Filice, author of “The Summoning (Moral Bloodlines, #1).”

Enjoy following Kenton and Laine’s epic adventures, whether in print or digital media, and be sure to join the mailing list to receive updates about exciting new content, contests, giveaways, and more.

Bonus content in the form of a series of backstory vignettes focusing on Kenton’s best friend Bo can be found on Wattpad here: The Many Misadventures of Bo, and official ⚡Thorunn⚡ swag (mugs, cups, stickers, & T-shirts) is available to purchase via NEXT-GXN on Redbubble.

A special thanks goes out to the author’s wonderful brother, professional artist Don Jones, who was also the novel’s alpha reader, illustrator, and cover designer. (And what a stunning cover it is!)

Additionally, you’re personally invited to the ⚡️THORUNN⚡️ Virtual Book Launch Party taking place on Instagram Live & Twitter starting at 1:00 PM. Talk directly to moi, the author, and get a chance to win some of the swag mentioned above – don’t miss it!

Currently, I’m working on a few stand-alone novels as well as a multi-book series set in a distant and mysterious era, and I can hardly wait to share these next books with you all!

Keep up with me on instagram and twitter, and happy reading!

Esther T. Jones

How to Get Free Books!

(If you cannot afford to buy)

Hello Friends!

In these trying times, escaping to a different world via a great book is what many of us are craving right now. Unfortunately, it’s also leading some people to start pirating books, which hurts struggling authors (which is the vast majority of them) and is generally just not kind.

Therefore, I would like to take this time to remind readers that there are some wonderful ways to get free books that still support the authors (taken from a post I wrote on tumblr some time ago):


  • The Library – if the library doesn’t have the book you want, ask them to buy it. I’ve never actually had to do this because the interlibrary loan system works so extraordinarily well, but if by chance the book is not on file, they can buy it for you. This benefits both the author and the library! (Side note: for indie books this works best when there’s a paperback in addition to an ebook available, and the book can be purchased outside of amazon.)
  • Digital Libraries – slightly different in that these only stock ebooks, but services like HOOPLA, OVERDRIVE, & LIBBY are free reading apps that work in partnership with local libraries to give and maintain free access to thousands of books. The more you use any library services, the better the chances of those services sticking around.

  • Free Amazon Books – Go to the kindle store on amazon, type in “free kindle books,” and thousands of results pop up. All you need are an amazon account and a kindle app (free to download for iOs, Android, PC, & Mac), and you’re good to go. Yes, a lot of the free books will be romances, but many other genre authors who are part of KDP select will put their books on freebie deals for a few days every now and then. Twitter is also a great way to find these freebies, just browse the #freeEbook hashtag.

  • Become a Book Reviewer – All of us have thoughts and opinions about literature, and reviews are coveted by both the traditional and indie published book industry alike. Popular book bloggers and booktube channels are often contacted by authors and publishing houses and are sent free books (usually ARCs) in exchange for honest reviews.
      • Smaller book reviewers can participate in blog tours (search twitter/instagram to find these) for new releases, both indie and trad, and/or sign up for a NETGALLEY (or similar website) account. Netgalley, BookSprout & BookFunnel are all sites that send readers free ARCs in exchange for reviews.

These are the best ways I personally know of to get free books and still directly support authors, whether it be by review or having a library purchase their books, and they help everybody in the book world.

(Let’s be honest, most of us have a mile long TBR, and so while some of the above methods require waiting, we have lots of books to read in the meantime. And if you do run out, there’s always AO3.)

That being said, happy reading, my friends! Let’s stick to imaginary piracy only, inside the pages of a good book, and practice kindness in our real daily lives.

~ETJ

All images sourced from unsplash or pexels

Thorunn Giveaway & Pre-Order Announcement!

Hello Friends!

Today is a very exciting day! For the last few years, I’ve been feverishly working on finishing my sophomore novel – my debut Young Adult Science Fiction novel to be exact – and I’m so pleased to announce that Thorunn (releasing May 20th, 2020) – is currently available for pre-order!

Many thrilling adventures await within the action packed pages of the novel, enhanced by cool futuristic tech, mysterious shape-shifting aliens, and heart-stopping (literally!) escapades, all underscored by themes of loss and forgiveness, hope and heartbreak, and greed and sacrifice.

The shadow of the Hexagon looms large over Laine, Kenton, and Bo, and they have no idea whether they’ll escape alive. . .

Me and BookYou can pre-order paperback copies through Barnes & Noble, Book Depository, or your favourite local indie book store, (paperbacks will be available through Amazon for US costumers shortly), and ebook copies through Amazon, Apple Books, and other major online e-retailers. Additionally, Thorunn will be added to the Overdrive and Hoopla catalogues, so don’t forget to check out those sources as well.

Speaking of libraries, I’m inviting you to be a part of my street team, and help make Thorunn a smashing success in its debut year!

Even if you plan to purchase a copy, one of the best ways you can help out is to request a copy from your local library. That way the novel can be enjoyed by hundreds of teens who might not be not able to purchase a copy themselves. (It also makes the libraries very happy that their services are being used to further the love of reading.)

Another thing you can do right now is to head over to Goodreads, and add Thorunn to your “want to read” shelf. Don’t forget to go back and leave a review once you’ve finished reading the novel! (And if possible, a review on Amazon would be highly appreciated from me.)

The last bit of exciting news today is that I’m hosting a giveaway! Two special winners will receive a signed paperback ARC, and five lucky people can get their hands on an exclusive eARC before the book releases in May!

To enter, simply follow me on Twitter (@etjwrites), retweet my pinned tweet, and tag me and two friends telling me how much you’d love to win a copy! This giveaway will be open until the end of March. Winners will be notified publicly and by DM.

I am planning a launch party, and the details of that will be announced very soon, so be sure to subscribe to the ETJ Writes Newsletter to be informed of when and where that will take place.

In the meantime, you can whet your appetite by checking out some sneak peeks of the novel over on Wattpad (and hurry, once the book comes out, many of those chapters will disappear!) or dive into Bo’s backstory, and his time as a kit living in the Hinnom Forest after the terrible events of chapter one.

I’m inexpressibly excited to go on this book launch journey with you all, so check that pre-order box, mark your calendars for May 20th, and get ready to join the fight to save Thorunn!

Happy Reading!
~ETJ⚡

THORUNN

How to Turn any Kindle eBook into an Audiobook with this Simple iPhone Hack

Hello Friends!

In this article I cover how I seriously got into audiobooks, and the solution I discovered to get my phone to read aloud to me.

[Watch Video or Jump to step-by-step solution.]

You may recall that in my “Top 5 Books I Read in 2019” I mentioned that I struggled to read traditionally published books during college and for a few years afterward. Part of that, for me, was the work of having to commit to a new world, new characters, and plots. Once I’ve gotten into a series, I’m fine, it’s the getting started that’s the issue. (As opposed, to say, fanfiction, where I’m already attached to the worlds and characters I’m reading about.)

But early last year I was bound and determined to read more than one original work a year, so I set my Goodreads reading goal to 50 books, hopped on Twitter, and downloaded a varied selection of books to the Kindle app on my phone.

At first I was reluctant to try audiobooks. I’ve always been able to read much faster than I can listen, and I always felt I would be wasting time by listening to books instead of sitting down for a dedicated hour or three. But during college and after, I found that that dedicated hour or three was constantly being filled up by other things – writing, music, work, so I thought “What could it hurt? I might as well listen to a book and get two things done at once, even if it’s slower than reading it would be. I’m not reading anything at all, otherwise.”

As it happened, in late 2018, I’d stumbled across the Kingfountain series by Jeff Wheeler, whose books in the KindleUnlimited program all have the whispersync audiobook feature (meaning that one can listen to the audio recording without having to have audible).

The Kingfountain series was for me the perfect introduction into the world of audiobooks. I was forced to slow down and really absorb every word, as I couldn’t go back and re-listen to a certain phrase or paragraph if my hands were busy and I’d missed it. I started to deeply, in a way I hadn’t before, appreciate the care that other authors put into crafting every word, every emotional phrase. And I couldn’t get enough. I was suddenly reading 2-5-10! books. I would listen in the car, while doing dishes or laundry, or working out, or mundane work on the computer, gardening (practicing scales sometimes even!) – you name it, if I could listen and keep my hands occupied at the same time, I had a book on.

But I ran into a problem. That problem was that not every novel has an audiobook accompaniment. There were all these books on my Kindle that were piling up and I wasn’t listening to them. I knew that Kindles have a text-to-speech option, but I didn’t have a Kindle, only the Kindle app, which doesn’t have that feature (if amazon ever adds it, I’ll be thrilled, and update this article). I tried several different third-party apps, but nothing worked well.

Still determined, I experimented with the VoiceOver option from the Accessibility settings on my phone. That was a bit disastrous. But I was on the right path. And that right path led me to the solution, also located in the Accessibility section of Settings. I tried it on the book I was struggling to find time to read about the middle of 2019, and I never looked back.

And, dear readers, here is the “hack” I discovered.

(This solution is for iPhone, but I imagine Android and other smart phones have similar capabilities.)

I enabled Speak Screen. This setting allows you to use a simple finger gesture to activate the iPhone’s internal text-to-speech feature to read webpages and other detected text content. (Unfortunately it doesn’t work on PDFs, at least not yet.) It does take a little fiddling to get it to work correctly on the Kindle app, but once it gets going, it works like a charm.

Part 1 – Setup
(These steps only have to be done once, but can be adjusted as needed.)

Step 1. Locate Speak Screen from Settings>Accessibility>Spoken Content. (This might vary slightly depending on which version of IOS your phone is running.)

AccessibilitySpoken Content Speak Screen

Step 2. Toggle it on. (I would avoid turning on the other settings, as they can be a bit frustrating, but feel free to experiment with what works best for you.)

Speaking RateStep 3. Set the speaking rate. (I find the middle works best for me. Too fast is difficult to comprehend, too slow strands us firmly in the uncanny valley.)

Step 4. Select a voice. (There are a lot of voices, but I prefer to go with a female British voice. It’s very soothing, the inflection is usually correct, and it reminds me of listening to audiobooks as a child.)

Step 5. (Optional) As you have Speak Screen read aloud, you might notice it butchering some simple words, or struggling with fantasy novels’ pronunciations.

PronounciationTeutaOne that I’ve noticed is that it thinks “No.” (with a period at the end) is the substitute for “number” and so reads it that way. Consider adding in some alternate pronunciations if this bugs you – just make sure you tap on “Languages” and set it to your preferred reading voice.

Step 6. Open up your Kindle app.

Step 7. Make sure to tap on the page, and select the “Aa” from the top of the page to bring up the Kindle app options menu.

Step 8. Make sure that “Continuous Scrolling” (if the book you are reading supports it) is turned off.

AaContinuous Scrolling

This is because Speak Screen refuses to work in the Kindle app if this option is enabled.

Part 2 – Execution
(Just four more steps and your Kindle ebook will be an audiobook!)

Step 9. Set your volume to high and your brightness (if not plugged in) to as low as you can stand. This can be done from inside the app and with the volume control buttons on your phone, or by rapidly tapping home twice and swiping up to accessing your iPhone’s Control Centre.

Step 10. (This is where it gets a bit tricky!) Swipe down firmly with two fingers from the top of your iPhone. If not done correctly, this might swipe down the Notification Centre. Just slide it back up, and try again.

Step 11. (Vital!) Once the screen reader playback box appears, swipe to the page before and then back to the page you started out on. This will prompt the screen reader to keep reading once it reaches the end of the page. Otherwise, it will stop at the end of the page.

Step 12. Tap the arrow to hide the screen reader playback box. This will also help prompt the screen reader to keep reading.

Kindle Speak Screen PlaybackKindle Speak Screen 2Sometimes there is an issue where initially the screen reader will read from the previous or subsequent page. In this case, close the Kindle app, reopen it and repeat steps 10-12. This might have to be done one or two times to reset it correctly.

Step 13. DO NOT TURN OFF YOUR SCREEN. If you do, the screen reader will read to the end of the page, then stop, and you will have to repeat steps 10-12 again. In fact you will have to repeat those steps if the Speak Screen is disturbed in anyway (a phone call, going to another app, etc.) This is the purpose of setting the brightness and volume level before starting.

The brightness level is especially important here, because if your phone is at half/full brightness, unplugged, the phone will die rather quickly. On low brightness, it will last for a long time if not plugged in. I suggest having a car charger if listening on long car trips.

Speak screen also works for the Wattpad app (but you have to back in and out of the app for every chapter to avoid it reading the ads by mistake, so it can be a bit of a hassle), and for A03. On websites, you usually can turn the screen off or use other apps at the same time, because of the vertical non-stop scrolling. It’s just the page turning aspect of the Kindle app that forces the issue.

Yes, the Speak Screen output does take a bit of getting used to. There are no variances between voices for different characters, or for dialogue versus prose, but for a synthetic voice, it does a decent job. Good stories shine through, and badly written stories are immediately apparent.

And there you have it! How to get your iPhone to turn any Kindle book into an audiobook. I trust this will open far more reading possibilities for you all. It definitely has for me!

Happy listening!
ETJ

The Top 5 Books I Read in 2019

Hello Friends!

2019 was the year of reading for me. I’ve always loved books, and there hasn’t been a day in my life that I’ve gone without reading, but around college – and for years after – published books kind of fell to the wayside for me. I read a lot of online works and while there are so many talented writers producing fiction (both original and derivative) for free – and I applaud their hard work and willingness to share their writing with the wide world – as an indie author I felt very strongly that I needed to support more self-published writers.

That’s not to say that I haven’t read traditionally published books, but indies made up a large portion of the 50 books I ticked off in the Goodreads reading challenge last year. There have been gems, there have been lesserly polished works, but it’s been fascinating reading them all, and I’ve loved re-discovering the wonderful world of books (particularly with the help of audiobooks, which I’ll cover in a future post).

Of course, my main goal as an author is to spread the joy of reading, so following are my top 5 books I read in 2019, the ones I think about often and treasure.

These books (a mix of traditionally and independently published) made me laugh, cry, gasp in shock, and relive some of the best moments from my childhood, and it is my hope that you all will read these and be as thrilled with them as I have been:


The Blight of Muirwood1. The Blight of Muirwood by Jeff Wheeler
🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟

Hands down, this was my favourite book of 2019. Somehow I stumbled onto “The Queen’s Poisoner” – the first book in the “Kingfountain Series” – early last year and fell headfirst into the worlds of Jeff Wheeler. A fantastic author who liberally peppers his work with underlying Christian themes (à la C.S. Lewis), I’ve read almost 14 of his books since that first one.

But the singular novel that has stuck with me is “The Blight of Muirwood.” It’s actually the second book in the initial Muirwood trilogy, and though the prose isn’t as delicately refined as his later books, it’s the characters, story, and core values that stood out to me. I fell in love with the main character, Lia, and related to her so much. As I was listening to her story, her struggles became my struggles, her victories, my victories, her steadfastness to her convictions and beliefs, my steadfastness.

I truly believe this book will stick with me as one of my favourite books of all time.


Project Starfighter2. Project Starfighter by Stephen J. Sweeney
🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟

This book nearly took the top spot. Science fiction is just as dear to my heart as the fantasy genre, and this is a true space adventure. I already wrote quite a long, adoring ode to this book in 2019, so I will copy portions of that below, and link to it here.

As a kid I played the game released by Parallel Realities over and over again. It wasn’t easy, as timed missions, heavy artillery from the WEAPCO ships, and literal minefields made completing it difficult at the best of times. But I loved the challenge, playing over and over and over, memorising the dialogue from the cut scenes, and falling in love with the characters – Chris, Phoebe, and Ursula.

You can imagine my excitement when I discovered that the creator of the game had decided to write a novel based on it.

I was not disappointed. Yes, the writing and dialogue could have been stronger in parts, and there were some disturbing events that happened to the characters that I could have done without, but overall, the story was well told. The novel greatly expanded on the world I’d been introduced to in the “Project Starfighter” game, taking us down onto the planets and interacting with the characters at a personal level.

The ending was fantastic and didn’t let me down in the slightest, topped off with a short, well crafted epilogue that brought me to tears. This book took me back to my childhood and teen years, and I got to relive some of my fondest memories while experiencing something new. I definitely recommend “Project Starfighter” to anyone who loves sci-fi, gaming, or both.

Suffice to say, another book that is going on the permanent favourites list!


Urban Heroes3. Urban Heroes by T. J. Lockwood
🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟

The twist, the twist, the twist.

This book gutted me – not so much emotionally, but on a thematic and storytelling and structural level. It asks (and answers) such a huge question, one posed by media such as “Almost Human” and “Detroit Become Human” and by the works of sci-fi legend Isaac Asimov. I can’t reveal it here, because that would involve ruining the near-perfect slow moment of revelation, but I hope that everyone who reads this book will feel the same wonder and shock that I did when I finally understood what the novel was saying.

And of course, the in-media-res start, almost non-stop action, excellent writing, and wonderful characters round out this absolute gem of a story.


Twilight to Son Shine4. Twilight to Son Shine by Jim McDonald
🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟

This is a beautiful book of poems documenting the transformation of man from darkness into light. A few of them (“Depression” and “It Comes in Threes” in particular) really touched my heart.

I’m not usually much for poetry, but: 1. I’d recently read a story that changed my perspective on the purpose of poetry that put me in a more curious mindset, and 2. I had the great pleasure of meeting the author at a book fair, and his life story and genuine manner convinced me to give his works a try. I’m really glad I did!


Warmaiden of Arna5. Warmaiden of Arna by JT Archer
🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟

This book was long – but the wonderful kind of long. From the very first pages I wanted to sink into the world of this story and never leave. I listened to it while riding my bike. I listened to it running the track at the gym. I listened to it while practising piano, and while driving in my car.

I couldn’t get enough of this book, and I can hardly wait to read the sequel.

 
So there you have it, my top 5 books of 2019! You can find the full list of stories I read and reviewed last year on my goodreads page, as well as the full reviews of each book I’ve mentioned above.

I’m so excited to dive into a new set of books this year, and in fact, have already started! I can hardly wait to discover some new favourites from fantastically talented authors in 2020.

Pick a book from this list, dive in, and happy reading!

ETJ.
 
View all my goodreads reviews

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