Tag Archives: debut author

The Rose Gate by Hanna Sandvig

One of my reading missions this year is to discover some indie authors of quality. I love the indie space for many reasons: it’s easier for authors to make a living, authors retain complete creative control over their work, and the author community has a positive, entrepreneurial vibe, rather than the doom-and-gloom of trad pub.

Story quality, however, can be an overlooked issue in the indie space; with the push to rapidly release books (I’m talking 4+ books a year, and sometimes wayyyy more than that), the majority of the indie books I read don’t meet my personal threshold for a quality novel. I totally get why indie authors release like this; readers and store algorithms respond well to rapid release, so there’s a lot of money to be made. When voracious romance fans are breathing down your neck for the next book in a series so they can throw money at you, who can blame an author for getting their book to market as swiftly as possible?

But I’m just not personally a fan of these pulp fiction-type books. No matter how cool a story’s premise, flat characters and weak prose will doom a book for me every time. So that’s why I was so happy to finally get a chance to read Hanna Sandvig’s Beauty and the Beast retelling, The Rose Gate.

Sandvig as an author has been on my radar for a while. (Her author Instagram is to die for, and I’m in the mood for Beauty and the Beast retellings, since I’m writing one myself.) The first in a fairy tale romance series, The Rose Gate follows MC Isobel (otherwise known as Bel–get it?) as she accidentally leaves our modern world for Faerie. Of course, there’s a handsome prince, a curse, and lots of fun flirtation.

This book is a strong first entry in Sandvig’s series. I thoroughly enjoyed the author’s voice, world-building, the characters, and especially the budding romance between Bel and her faerie beau. I do think the book could have done with another pass by an editor, as there are some punctuation issues and especially run-on sentences, but these lessened as the book went along, and I didn’t find they hindered my enjoyment.

Can I also talk real quick about the production quality behind this book as well? Sandvig designs her own covers, and the paperback edition is gorgeous, including full-spread illustrations also by the author. I’m so glad I picked up the paperback version!

The Rose Gate was a twenty-four hour read that really swept me up–it was the palate cleanser I desperately needed after the disastrous The Sound of Stars. I will definitely be taking a look at Sandvig’s future work!

Also, comment down below–do you have any recommendations for other books by indie authors? I’m always on the hunt!

ARC: Diamond City by Francesca Flores

Thank you to NetGalley and St. Martin’s Press for sending me a free advanced reader copy of this book for an honest review. Diamond City debuted January 28th.

I requested an ARC for Diamond City because I’m a Sarah J. Maas fan, and (flawed though it may be) I think the conflicted lady assassin trope is pretty fun. The first chapter or two of Diamond City started in an okay spot, but it unfortunately went swiftly downhill from there. Where Maas was able to make her main character assassin mostly work, Flores unfortunately flounders; the MC in this book often wonders things like, Would my parents be proud of me even though I kill people for a living? or Do you think this cute boy and I might have a romantic future even though I tried to kill his older brother?

As people funnier than me have said, the short answer to both these questions is no. The longer answer is noooooooooo.

I just can’t buy the main character. She’s a badass assassin, but she’s deathly afraid of spiders, opts for knives over guns, and spares key characters’ lives at multiple points in the book. It’s an issue I often see with these types of killer characters: they’re supposed to be oh-so-hardcore, but the author can’t let the characters be their brutal selves on the page because it will turn off readers.

But even beyond the characters, I couldn’t find much to recommend this book. The world-building is a confusing mishmash of heritages and cultures that were difficult to keep straight, all with a vague backdrop of an outlawed religion and magic system that places heavy importance on diamonds–diamonds which are traded at high price on the black market, but actually there are oodles of them around. (???) The language of the book, too, did not help matters; the fight scenes especially were wooden and very “this happened, then this, then this”–not good for a book about assassins where there’s bound to be a lot of fighting. There’s also not much of an artistic or lyrical quality to the prose, and I found myself predicting plot points at every turn, so… without compelling characters, beautiful language, a riveting plot, or engaging world-building, I really came up empty on this book. I do feel bad about the poor review for this debut author, but Diamond City is in need of significant revision and critique.

Keeping It Local: Setting My Book in Connecticut

When it was time to put pen to paper, the decision about where to set Specter was an easy one. It had to be Connecticut, specifically a loosely-veiled version of the Farmington Valley—this despite the fact that there’s a good amount of myself in Lanie, the sixteen-year-old main character, and I had spent my own high school days in a Chicago suburb very different from the Farmington Valley.

I’ve lived in Connecticut for about ten years now, and it’s taken me a solid chunk of that time to feel like the state is really my home. Moving to the East Coast is a tough transition for a Midwest girl who’s used to open fields—from a zombie apocalypse perspective, I used to staunchly hold the position that I want all that open Midwest space around me so that I can see the undead mob coming. Now, after years of living in the lush, forested valley, my opinion’s made a hundred and eighty degree flip—I’ve grown to love the dense press of trees all around me, the mountains framing the horizon. It’s comfy having this much greenery around, like nature’s version of a lead blanket.

And all that forest provides a perfect setting for a book with much weirdness. Here are just a few examples of the startling things I’ve encountered in the CT woods…

  • Bears at every turn. Morgan Matson needs to get her facts straight; I have no idea what the hell kind of “research” she conducted for Save the Date to claim that there are no bears in CT.
  • This sound. (It was so loud.)
  • Clothes stitched together into the shape of a human body and filled with stuffing to form a punching bag.

I don’t want to give anything away plot-wise, but suffice it to say that the CT woods—and the surprising things within the woods—features heavily in Specter. Weird attracts weird; CT and my book were simply a perfect fit. 🙂


Specter debuts July 7th and is available for preorder at all major retailers.
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