Review: The Shadow of the High King by Frank Dorrian

Violence, betrayal and vengeance rot Caermark from within.

King Aenwald, a murderous tyrant determined to continue his twenty-year rule, will suffer no man that lusts for power. But those who came long before the Kings of Caermark stir once again, after a hundred years of silence, and even Aenwald’s iron fist may struggle to hold them and the chaos they bring.

The mercenary lord, Arnulf, dreams of greater things than a life of bloodshed and murder. Robbed of his birthright and denied justice by King Aenwald, those very dreams may carry their price in blood for his loyal band of men, as he strives to see them made real.

The young warrior, Harlin, haunted by the atrocities he suffered as a child, struggles to come to terms with the past. Consumed by hate and obsessed by revenge, how far is he willing to go to see it done, as the horrors within his mind run unchecked and unchained?

4 out of 5 stars

I had heard some good things about Frank Dorrian's work, and I had a few preconceived notions about this book. I expected battle, knights, mercenaries, and some amount of ass. But I have to say, there was way more to this book than I expected.

The worldbuilding is incredible. Original races, varied cultures, and unique religions. The magic system is druidic in feel. The mythology of the Luah Fáil people holds an intriguing mix of Celtic and Egyptian vibes. Dorrian's work has an uncanny way of being crass and poetic, bold enough to handle scenes with rape or slavery, yet capable of waxing philosophical in the calm before the storm. 

Pacing struggles in the first third of the book, as the chapters are long and rife with backstory. Just when I felt like things were about to get moving, the narrative would switch point of view and back up in time considerably. But that works itself out further into the book and the plot hits its stride as the characters regroup and become more active in their plans.

The main POV characters in this book are hard to like. They are all SOBs, each with an agenda of his own. Whether their actions are justified is up to the reader to decide. Their complex personalities echo their complex fates. In a war where loyalty can be bought with coin or blood, none are sure to come out with everything they desire.

The Shadow of the High King is an entertaining grimdark adventure for readers who enjoy battle, politics, religion, history, and a clash of cultures that threatens to destroy the very land they fight over.

You can find it here on Amazon or here on Goodreads.

Review: Where Loyalties Lie by Rob J. Hayes

Everybody knows Captain Drake Morass is only out for himself.

As the fires of a dying city burn on a distant shore, Drake sees an opportunity to unite the other pirate Captains under his flag and claim a crown for himself. If he is to succeed, he will need allies and the Oracle named Keelin Stillwater, the best swordsman in the isles, as his right hand.

With enemy ships sailing his waters and setting fire to his cities, and the sinister Tanner Black threatening to steal the throne before Drake even has a chance to sit upon it, Drake Morass must somehow convince the other Captains that his best interests are also theirs.

5 out of 5 stars! 

Pirate captains with deep grudges and seething competition must figure a way to unite to survive the royal navy's growing pursuits to eradicate them.

This was my first Rob Hayes book. I haven't read his previous works, but that in no way hindered my reading experience. The further I got into this book, the harder it was to put down, a necessary quality for a 5-star rating from me.
There are a lot of point of view characters, and some introduced late in the book, but it served the experience of the story rather than distracting from it. When pirates are preparing for war, one wouldn't expect the efforts to be single-minded or well-organized. In fact, Hayes so wonderfully captures a tone of calculated recklessness, flamboyance, and intrigue. Each captain has a different style, with a different flavor to each ship's atmosphere. 

These pirates invaded my heart. My favorite is Keelin Stillwater, who abandoned his noble upbringing to pursue a life of simple pleasures and the freedom of the sea. Okay, well I'm romanticizing that quite a bit, which is certainly not what this book does. But it's not difficult to find some connection with each character (except for Tanner Black—he can burn in Hell). Despite their lawless violence and extreme life choices, Hayes brings to life the humanity in each of them, giving us something to root for and something to dread. Even as allies are coming together, others are falling apart, and the whole plan could very easily topple completely at the whim of the sea goddess.

You can find it here on Amazon or here on Goodreads.

Impulse Control in Self-Publishing

There’s a huge problem with self-publishing: it’s too easy. I’m not saying it’s easy to write a book. I know the monumental effort it takes to write a book. And I’m not saying it’s easy to sell a book. It’s most certainly not easy to sell a book! But there is a key part of self-publishing that is so unbelievably easy it shouldn’t be considered safe, and that is, clicking the “Publish” button.
You finished your first book. Awesome! I’m so proud of you! I know how excited you are, and I know how painful your need is to get that story out into the world. But before you start a KDP account, before you ask your sister-in-law to draw up a book cover for you, before you hit the discussion boards to find out whether you should choose 35% royalties or 70% royalties, please hear me out!

Do not click that button. You still have lots of work to do.
Ignore your book. For months, like, at least three of them. Six would be better. Don’t start revising right after you’ve finished the first draft. The story is still fresh in your mind. It all still makes sense to you. You need time away from it to forget how perfect it is. Come back to it later, with a clear mind, so you can find the glaring plot holes and unintentional repetition. 

After you’ve sat on it for months, after you’ve combed through it looking for trouble, send it to an editor. It’s no mark against your talent to work with an editor. Producing a quality book takes more than one person. When you get it back from the editor, read all the comments and then find the will to keep living. Then ignore your book. For months, like, 3-6 of them.

For those of you doing the math, we’re now at least a year after you first finished writing the book. It takes a lot of strength to resist the “Publish” button for that long. You can do it. Write another book while you’re waiting.

Speaking of which, if you’re going to reach any self-publishing success, you’ll want to write more than one book. If you only have one book in you, that’s fine. Do everything you can with it. Some people will read it. Some people will love it. You might find another book in you later. But self-published authors rely heavily on social media, and I’ll tell you something about social media users. They get tired of hearing the same thing over and over. If you can write more books, you’ll have new stories to share. Maybe that sounds obvious, but it does make a difference.

Okay, so you’ve written, edited and revised your book.

Do not look at that “Publish” button. Have your book proofread. There are typos in there. I promise. Typos find a way.

Now, on to the book cover. Even if you are a professional designer, don’t design the cover yourself, for the same reason you wouldn’t edit it yourself. Your own opinions and understanding of the story will get in the way. Let’s just get this out there—we all judge books by their covers. The cover is a huge factor in drawing readers to your work. It needs to attract people who have no idea what the story is about. It needs to be from a fresh point of view.

If you’ve done some research, you’ve heard some of this advice before, and you might be tired of adding up the costs of all these services, looking for ways around them, or ways to do them for free. You know what? Do whatever you can. It does add up. It does get expensive. Save up for some of it, find a willing relative who has some relevant skill. You’re an indie author. You don’t have a big budget. We get that. Just do each step of the process the best you can with what you have, and try to improve on it every time.

So, you’ve taken the time. You’ve done the work. You’re ready to publish. Go ahead. Click the button.

There aren’t any fireworks or balloons or anything. It’s terrible. You won’t be flooded with sales. You won’t be inundated with reviews. You have to ask reviewers to read your book. You probably will have to pay some reviewers to read your book. Marketing a self-published book is a learning process. And actually, some things that work the best, won’t work when you’re first starting out. In the beginning, no one knows who you are. You have no credibility. Top reviewers won’t have time to read your work. They’re busy. Their TBR lists are insane just trying to get through books from authors they’ve heard of.

Find a community you can be part of. Find authors within your genre and get to know them. Facebook groups, Goodreads groups, Twitter, Reddit—indie authors who thrive help other indie authors. Search for book review blogs that specialize in your genre, and send out review requests. Every once in a while, someone will reply. As you gradually build up more reviews, you’ll be more likely to receive more replies.

Now, I’m going to reveal to you one of the greatest truths of the book industry. Some people will not like your book. Some people will give you a 1-star rating. I'll show you what it looks like. If you have a weak stomach, you might want to look away:

It’s terrible. It’s devastating. Especially after everything you’ve put into this story. You know what? It’s okay. Don’t respond to the review. Don’t take it personally. Readers don’t know you. They aren’t actually interested in all the time you put into this book. They just want a story they like. And different people like different types of stories, different styles, different endings, different points of view. You can not please everyone. There will always be readers who don’t like your work. Don’t get caught up on it. You aren’t writing for them. You’re writing for the ones who do enjoy your books. And if you’ve gone through the entire process in a professional way, and made this book the best you can, you’ll find some people who enjoy it. You’ll find some people who can’t put it down.

If you’re lucky, they’ll tell someone about it. They’ll convince a friend to buy it. And that’s how you sell one book.

It is a lot of work. It takes a lot of time. You can do it, or you can walk away. Just don’t click that button expecting it to be easy.

Review: Senlin Ascends by Josiah Bancroft

Senlin, a mild-mannered school teacher, is drawn to the Tower of Babel by the grandiose promises of a guidebook. The ancient and immense Tower seems the perfect destination for a honeymoon. But soon after arriving, Senlin loses his young wife, Marya, in the crowd.

Senlin’s search for Marya carries him through slums and theaters, prisons and ballrooms. He must survive betrayal, assassination, and the long guns of a flying fortress. But if he hopes to find Marya, Senlin will have to do more than survive. This quiet man of letters must become a man of action.
4 out of 5 stars
Senlin Ascends presents a distinct creation that sets it apart. The Tower of Babel is truly a wonder of the world, with elaborate settings and diverse culture. Thomas Senlin has high expectations of what he'll encounter within, but those lofty ideals are quickly doused with the cynical reality he finds. Like many tourist traps, the Tower is romanticized by those who've never been there, but a brutal existence hovers around every corner.

Senlin's reserved demeanor is charming in a refreshing way. The steady pacing throughout the book reflects his steady intellect. This creative story engages the mind and challenges the reader to puzzle out who can be trusted, and who can be saved.

You can find it here on Amazon, or on Goodreads!

Review: I Was A Teenage Weredeer by C.T. Phipps & Michael Suttkus

Jane Doe is a weredeer, the least-threatening shapechanger species in the world. Blessed with the ability to turn furry at will and psychically read objects, Jane has done her best to live a normal life working as a waitress at the Deerlightful Diner. She has big dreams of escaping life in the supernatural-filled town of Bright Falls, Michigan, and her eighteenth birthday promises the beginning of her teenage dreams coming true.

Unfortunately, her birthday is ruined by the sudden murder of her best friend's sister in an apparent occult killing. Oh, and her brother is the primary suspect. Allying with an eccentric FBI agent, the local crime lord, and a snarky werecrow, Jane has her work cut out for her in turning her big day around.

Thankfully, she's game.
4 out of 5 stars

I received a free copy of this book in an Amazon giveaway and was deerlighted. This is my first leap into the work of C.T. Phipps.

Many types of werecreatures live openly in this world, and they operate within a certain hierarchy, with werewolves being at the top. As Jane Doe uncovers details of her town's past, she must face her own prejudices about other shapeshifters and trample her assumptions about good and evil.

Allow me to fawn over the character development, as it seems to be a strength here. Jane is great! A young woman, resentful of her dependence on her parents, but not quite ready to hoof it on her own. She finds herself on an unexpected hunt when her brother is accused of murder, and suddenly she has way more riding on her shoulders than she feels ready for. Her snarky attitude shows she's willing to buck the system, and there are enough pop culture references to assure us she's a proper geek.

The cast is filled with a wide range of characters, with interesting backgrounds that are gradually revealed as the case unfolds. I would have liked to have seen Jane's connections to some of them deepen. She's a bit awkward with expressing emotion and doesn't always follow her hart's desire, but we do get a sense of more to come.

The pace plateaued for awhile just when I wanted it to pick up, but overall this is a fun read. The story is definitely YA in nature, reminiscent of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys paranormal detective stories and, of course, puns. (Note: You don't have to admit to enjoying the puns.)

You can find it here on Amazon, or on Goodreads!

Here I Go, Expanding to New Interests

While I've still been active on Facebook, the Kreative Joose blog has sadly suffered neglect. The truth is, I've become immersed in the world of fantasy indie authors. Managing the marketing and publicity for Jesse Teller's books is a fun, rewarding experience that takes a lot of my free time.

I've struggled with whether to keep this blog going, or to abandon it entirely. I started it as a hobby when I realized how much I enjoy encouraging creatives, be it art, design, writing, or other ventures. This realization was a direct result of the time and energy I had spent encouraging my husband, Jesse. And as I invested more time in his endeavors, I saw it was pulling me away from Kreative Joose.

Then I remembered his work was the inspiration for this blog in the first place. So, I'm going to meld the two.

Kreative Joose will keep it's name, but the focus will be more heavily on writing. Fantasy and self-publishing topics will be regular content. I'll feature a variety of authors, including reviews of books I'm reading. This is a great way for me to keep this blogging hobby going as it reflects my evolving creative support and interests.

Birthday Confessions of an Introvert

This year, on my birthday, I was fighting off a crummy cold. I didn’t feel like doing much, so I started telling my husband, Jesse, about birthday childhood memories. Feeling sentimental, I decided to share them. Here’s what became of it:


Of course, I don’t remember the night I was born, but every year since then, my Mom tells the story. It’s a birthday tradition for me. It goes like this:

Mom and Dad stopped at the doctor for a check up. I wasn’t due yet for a few more days, and the doctor didn’t think anything was happening anytime soon. But he offered to keep Mom overnight for observation. He sent Dad home, which was a considerable drive.

Mom went into labor suddenly. The nurses didn’t believe her when she told them she needed to push. She says the entire labor only took 45 minutes. It felt like a train hitting a brick wall. It was the only thing in my life I did in a hurry. 

If the doctor hadn’t offered to let her stay overnight, I would have been born on a curvy back road in the middle of nowhere.

They called Dad and he turned around and started heading back to the city. He wasn’t there when I was born, but luckily I turned out quite a bit like him so he never wondered if there’d been a mix-up. 

I was really jaundice and the hospital kept me longer than they kept Mom. (This turned out to be the case for both of my own children, too.) She had to travel back and forth to see me, which would have been no problem, except for the weather.

Missouri had a huge snow storm to celebrate my arrival, and got something like 11 inches in one night. Mom & Dad were staying with my aunt, who lived closer to the hospital. They had to dig out and put chains on the tires to get to me.

They didn’t mind too much.


The earliest birthday I remember, I was turning 3.

I was in my room, getting ready for the party. I had to reach pretty high to flip through the clothes in my closet, but I loved being able to see them, and I always enjoyed reaching as high as I could. I picked out my favorite dress at the time. Covered in tiny flower print, it had a white apron-like section that had Cinderella’s carriage on it. I felt magical wearing it.

We had a big party at home in the family room. I walked down the hall, holding Mom’s hand, and she led me to the family room door. I opened it. The longest table I could ever imagine was set up, with plates and cups and napkins, and every single person who existed in my world was in there smiling at me. I felt like a star.


I love summertime in Missouri, and during my childhood, I lamented the fact that my birthday was in the winter, when both my sisters had summer birthdays. It really cut down on the birthday options for me. I couldn't have a party at the park or at the swimming pool, or even in the back yard.

But I managed to come up with something fun indoors every year. One year, I had a skating party. I was pretty good on roller skates back then. We used to go so often that I had my own skates. I was decent at the Hokey Pokey, the Limbo, and almost figured out skating backwards. But my favorite was just skating in the dark with the blacklights. I’d sing along to the music as loud as I could, pretending I was flying through the night, pretending I was the only one there.


One year, I had a party at Showbiz Pizza, the old school version of Chuck E. Cheese. They served pizza slices on flat pieces of glossy cardboard instead of plates. I thought that was really daring of them. The room was dark and loud. The brightly lit stage came to life, and Billy Bob the bear sang and played the banjo. It was exotic and ridiculous. I wanted never to leave.


Mom always let me pick what we ate for dinner on my birthday. Usually, I went with pizza from Pizza Hut. That was my favorite kind, and we didn’t get it very often just because other pizza places were much closer to our house. As a kid, the 6-cheese pizza from Pizza Hut was the pinnacle of decadence for me.

When I got older, I requested cabbage rolls more often. They are complicated, but Mom made them for me whenever I asked. Some day I really need to learn the recipe, but part of me never wants to have to make them for myself.


For my 13th birthday, I didn't want to have a party. I had a long-distance boyfriend I met at summer camp, and I wanted to see him. My parents, sisters, and I spent the weekend in a hotel near his hometown. It was a fancy hotel, which was fun on its own. We ordered room service and Mom & Dad had them surprise me with a cake, too. The hotel kitchen didn't customarily make birthday cakes, and they had little to decorate it with. They cut heart shapes out of sliced raw potatoes, dyed them red, and placed them on top. It looked perfect. They apologized for not having proper cake decorations, and warned us not to eat the hearts, but I felt so so special because of all the trouble they went through just for me.

That weekend, I went on my first date. We all went to the movies, but my parents and sisters went to a different theater so my boyfriend and I could see a movie on our own. Then we walked around the mall and met them later in the Food Court. We were a bit awkward and a bit overzealous. It was pretty much the perfect first date.


Dad missed one other birthday when I was growing up. He had to go out of town for work, and it just happened to fall on my 16th birthday. Much to my surprise, he had a vase of flowers delivered to the high school for me. They called me down to the office, and when I saw the flowers, I was overwhelmed with glee. It was the first time someone had sent flowers to me. The next person to do it was the man I decided to marry.


Right after I turned 16, I was ready to take my driver’s test. The night before, much to my horror, my parents realized they had mailed their only copy of my birth certificate with my passport application a few weeks earlier. (Later that year, I was scheduled to go on a very cool trip, but that's a different story.) After recovering from the shock, I said that was OK, I could wait until it was returned in the mail. I tried not to make a big deal about it, but it was quite a blow. I had really been excited about driving.

The next day, my grandma came to check me out of school unexpectedly in the middle of the afternoon. She had spent the morning driving to the state capitol to get another copy of my birth certificate, and she was taking me to test for my license. It was crazy. It was cool. It was above and beyond. Such is my grandma.

Thank goodness I passed.


When I turned 18, I got a tattoo. It was entirely spontaneous. I hadn’t thought about it ahead of time. I was actually tagging along for moral support for my friend, Melissa, who planned to get one. As she talked with them about what she wanted, I browsed the designs on the wall. Tattoos were so foreign to me. If I were to one day get one, what would it be? I happened upon three little music notes that I somehow couldn’t leave without.

At the time, I was really involved in band. I played clarinet, I was drum major during marching season, and I had toured Europe with a concert band two summers before. Music was my main past time, and it felt like a fitting way to mark myself.

When I got home, I showed Dad and said, “Isn’t it cool?” He shook his head and said, “No, it isn’t.” That’s everything he ever said about it.

Mom was much more receptive. She wanted to hear all about it. She said the only concern she had was, what if I quit playing clarinet when I was older? Would I regret it? I said no, it will just change the meaning. Music would always be a constant in my life. Maybe it wouldn't be about band anymore, but it would still be special. She said, “I can see that. Music is the language of the heavens.”


My 20th birthday was my worst one ever.

Jesse and I had been together for six months, but it took me less than two weeks to decide I wanted to marry him. Things were moving fast after that, and we were planning a wedding like it was a game of chicken. We were young, uncompromising and unforgiving. That January, we finally agreed to postpone the wedding to preserve some sanity. But that proved to be too hard for us to live with. Just before my birthday, we broke up completely. I was devastated. It was terribly painful for both of us, but we couldn’t figure out what else to do.

He said he still loved me. “I want our lives to be together,” he said. “I can see our kids running down the hall with flowers in their hair and swords in their hands. But I’m just not ready for that.” He had good reason not to feel ready. Over the years, we would uncover more and more about why. But that’s his story, so I’ll leave it at that.

On my 20th birthday, I was miles away from home, at a new school with no new friends. I called an old friend from high school, who walked me to the dining hall and ate dinner with me, then walked me to my dorm room and hugged me while I cried.

Alone in my room, I laid in the dark and listened to music. Perhaps love only lasted in fairy tales. Perhaps I had reached too high. I stared up at the glow-in-the-dark stars on the ceiling, wishing my Love was beside me, wishing the stars were real.

It took us less than two weeks to decide we could at least be friends.


When I turned 21, I wanted to get drunk, but I wanted to be safe about it. I didn’t have much social life in college. I was always taking too many classes and working too many hours. I invited Jesse and his girlfriend to come over to my tiny apartment and, longing for something exotic and ridiculous, decided to drink tequila. We all talked and danced and cried and laughed, and I knew I was safe because Jesse was there. He took on the role of Sober Adult. I don’t remember how many shots I had, but I know he helped me stumble to the bathroom. I know he helped me navigate to my bed. Before I passed out, he kissed me on the forehead and left.


For my 25th birthday, I wanted to have a party. I was out of college, I had a job I loved, and a nicer, bigger apartment. I had a solid group of friends I played D&D with every week. Everyone came over to my place. I made a delicious turtle cheesecake recipe that somehow wasn’t too complicated. We had a good time until I put in the Josh Groban CD someone had given me. It was not the best party music. We all got sleepy and sad.

Everyone who knew me worried about me back then. I had been single for years. I was taking yoga classes and dog-training classes, and I just didn’t want to be out in the dating scene again. I had flown and crashed and burned, and no matter how much time passed, I was numb from it. Jesse was my very best friend, and I still wanted to marry him, but I was afraid it would all fall apart. I didn’t know if our friendship could survive another breakup. Being friends was better than being nothing. I was content to wait it out.


The day I turned 26 was my best birthday ever.

Loneliness was finally taking its toll on me. I had made a new friend at a yoga retreat. He lived states away, but we talked a lot on the phone. He was fun and sweet, enough for me to wonder what dating would be like. Something long-dormant within me rolled over. My subconscious was messing with me, but I was tired of being single.

A month before my birthday, I told Jesse I was ready to date people again. I told him all about my new friend. He listened with a quiet smile, and said he was happy for me.

The night before my birthday, Jesse called. I hadn’t seen him in two weeks. He came over to my house and told me he loved me. He said if I was dating people again, he wanted to be first in line. I said he could stay. We laid in the dark and talked all night. We talked about our past, about our future. We talked about our hopes and our fears, and I fell asleep beside my Love, thanking the heavens for stars.

On my birthday, I woke up to my soulmate sleeping peacefully. It was the first day of our new life together. Somehow, we had been given a fresh start. It is by far the greatest present I’ve ever been given. I am thankful for it every day.


We took our time getting married, but we started our family pretty quickly after that. A fun side effect of busy family life is that we celebrate for a whole week instead of one day, a favorite meal here, a date night there. Birthdays in my 30s involved squeezing in a special dinner between diaper changes and bedtime songs. Sometimes we’d manage to get a babysitter and go to a movie. I still feel special getting to choose what we eat for dinner.

Having kids around rekindled the importance of lighting candles on a cake and making wishes. They need to know the stars are listening. They need to know wishes can come true.


I turned 39 this year. I spent most of the day on the couch or in bed with cough drops, hot tea, and my laptop. It wasn’t the best way to spend a birthday, but it certainly wasn’t the worst.

We had Chinese food delivered for lunch and took the kids to Pizza Hut for dinner. I celebrated on Facebook by sharing each of these memories. They turned out to be a lot more intense than I expected. I guess the story of my birthdays is the story of my life. I feel really, really blessed. I most definitely had a happy day.