Sunday, September 23, 2012

Sulan Blog Tour: Author Camille Picott Guest Post

Today is Day 2 of Camille Picott's Sulan, Episode 1: The League Book Tour and we have a special guest post by her. Her post is about the evolution of her very intriguing book cover and how the process of creating it developed....

Evolution of a Book Cover

For me, cover creation is the most exciting and most terrifying part of publishing a book. I know from my own shopping habits that readers do judge books by their covers. I spend a lot of time thinking about my book covers and working with Joey Manfre, an amazing illustrator and graphic artist. 

Before Joey begins a cover design, we sit down and discuss concepts. We talk about main characters, setting, target audience, and the overall feel the cover needs to have.

For Sulan, Episode 1: The League, I wanted the cover to target a YA audience with a potential crossover into adult. The story has a strong blend of cyberpunk and fantasy, both of which I wanted to be conveyed in the final piece of art. It was also important for the name SULAN to be prominent. SULAN is the central brand for this book, so it needed to stand out on the cover and catch the eye of readers.

1st Draft:
I really love the strong font Joey chose for SULAN. It really stands out and draws the reader’s eye. For a branding image, it’s hard to miss. I also love the way he worked in the cyberpunk theme with the stylized circuit board in the background. The central image of Riska (the winged tiger) also brings in the fantasy element I wanted to convey.

2nd Draft:
I have to admit, I freaked out just a little when I saw the bright green wing. LOL. But, I also saw what Joey was trying to accomplish. Giving Riska a black wing, which he has in the book, really caused him to disappear into the circuit board background. The green wing helps him visually pop. Once I saw the image of Sulan the character in full cover, I also wasn’t sure she was the right image for the front cover, either. The overall feel was too adolescent with an anime sensibility, which is not the audience I wanted to target.

3rd & Final Draft:

In the end, we decided to move the image of Sulan and Riska to the back cover. For the front, we opted for a simpler, more streamlined image of a blue sea serpent, which maintains the fantasy element that I wanted to include. You can see that Joey tied the serpent to the circuit board theme. If you look at the back cover, you can see he also used the serpent image on the background. Thematically, this really tied the front and back covers together.

Another thing to note is the purple border that surrounds the entire cover. Joey did this for a technical reason. In print-on-demand, there is a certain amount of drift tolerance with every print run; the paper moves on the press as it shoots through. In other words, your graphics will shift. No book cover produced on a POD press will ever be perfectly centered. Joey compensates for this by implementing the border, which helps disguise the tolerance. If the art went all the way to the edge, the shift would be much more obvious.

It is very common for Joey and I to do lots of tweaking as we work toward a final piece of art. (We actually had a lot more drafts, but this guest post would be WAAAAY too long if I included all of them!) We toss ideas back and forth and try different things as we work toward the ideal cover. For us, it’s all part of the creative process, which is very engaging and a lot of fun. It always yields a cover that I love.

Thanks, Cathy, for hosting me at Abnormally Paranormal! 

Author Bio

Camille Picott is a mom, wife and writer. She writes and self-publishes speculative fiction with Asian-inspired settings and Asian main characters. She is the author of the Asian inspired middle grade book series, Chinese Heritage Tales, Raggedy Chan and Nine Tail Fox as well as a short story "Warming Demon" and the first in her latest YA dystopian series, Sulan, Episode 1: The League. Visit her website at

Friday, September 21, 2012

Sulan Blog Tour: Book Review of Sulan by Camille Picott

Hey, everyone! Today is the first day on my stop of the Sulan, Episode 1: The League Virtual Book Tour and I've got a review for you all. Tune back in tomorrow for a guest blog post by the author of Sulan, Camille Picott, as she discusses her process of designing the lovely cover of her new novel.

Sulan, Episode 1: The League
by Camille Picott 

Genre: Dystopia/Cyberpunk
Reading Grade: Young Adult
Publication Date: June 2012
Source: review copy by author
Age Rating: 14+

Sixteen-year-old Sulan Hom can’t remember life before the Default—the day the United States government declared bankruptcy. As a math prodigy, she leads a protected life, kept safe from the hunger and crime plaguing the streets of America. She attends the corporate-sponsored Virtual High School, an academy in Vex (Virtual Experience) for gifted children.

Beyond the security of Sulan’s high-tech world, the Anti-American League wages a guerrilla war against the United States. Their leader, Imugi, is dedicated to undermining the nation’s reconstruction attempts. He attacks anything considered a national resource, including corporations, food storage facilities—and schools. When Sulan witnesses the public execution of a teenage student and the bombing of a college dorm, she panics.

Her mother, a retired mercenary, refuses to teach her how to defend herself. Sulan takes matters into her own hands. With the help of her hacker best friend, Hank, Sulan acquires Touch—an illegal Vex technology that allows her to share the physical experience of her avatar. With Touch, Sulan defies her mother and trains herself to fight.

When Imugi unleashes a new attack on the United States, Sulan finds herself caught in his net. Will her Vex training be enough to help her survive and escape? 
My Review

Sulan Hom is a math genius who pretends to be a slacker, but gets tricked into being accepted into a prestigious high school for gifted students. She lives in the San Francisco Bay area with her former mercenary mother at an undetermined date in the future, after the United States had so much debt, it defaulted and systematically plunged the country into mass unemployment and poverty. A group of terrorists called The League are made up of foreigners bombing and killing innocent Americans for their anti-American cause. After Sulan witnesses The League leader, Imugi, kill a college student on live TV, she decides she's going to train to become her own bodyguard.

Despite her mother's former life as a well-honed mercenary, she refuses to train Sulan to become physically capable of taking care of herself in a fight. Sulan sneaks into the online virtual world of Vex, a place where she can enter cyberspace with an avatar. In there, she meets Gun, a big tough guy who decides to train her for suspicious reasons, but she learns to trust him and they become good friends. Even in a virtual environment, she can train her real muscles to fight with the technology available in her era.

I really like this world of Vex and how a lot of the story takes place in this online, virtual world. Sulan would put on a pair of goggles and it was like she was literally entering a world made up of pixels and 3D images and doing all this through an avatar that looked exactly like her real body. She went to school this way and made friends with people who lived hundreds, if not thousands of miles away. She could go to other locations as well, just like surfing the internet, and spend time doing things people do in real life. So cool! Too bad we don't have anything like this now.

Sulan's goal is to not be weak and vulnerable to the threats posed by The League, who are pretty serious killers on the loose. The world in this story became a dystopia not because some lunatic got too much power, but because the world is so unsafe, the only way to protect regular citizens is to patrol them as if they were prisoners in a camp. I like this very different approach to dystopian world building, if anything, because it could happen in reality.

Sulan gets her opportunities to fight physically, but also to use her unique math genius skills to get an edge on The League enemies, and it's cleverly done. Kind of ironic that she tries so hard to be physically capable when being a math genius serves her better in combat situations.

As for characters I liked, I really thought Billy's uncle was hilarious, but it might be too spoilery to name him in this review. He's kind of crazy, but he really livens up every scene he's in. I also think Taro, a mercenary boy her age, is a pretty cool character, as is Riska, the tiger-bat pet that Sulan takes with her everywhere, which also serves as her protector. Sulan, her parents and Taro are the most prominent Asian characters in this story, which is meant to highlight Asian characters that English language YA literature so often does not feature prominently, if at all.

I think this type of YA dystopia is simply not represented anywhere else, so you'll be reading a unique story that doesn't smack of all The Hunger Games-esque books out there. Although, it's overly saturated with info-dumping in the first 50 pages, get beyond that and you'll enjoy the story just fine. It's a little violent, but much less so than The Hunger Games, for example, so it should be fine for its intended audience. It sets up the next volume well and gets you asking questions about Sulan's mysterious friend and trainer, Gun.

My score: 4/5 stars.

*I received a complimentary copy from the author of this novel in exchange for my honest review.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Book Review: Insurgent by Veronica Roth

Insurgent (Divergent, #2)
by Veronica Roth 

Genre: Science Fiction/Dystopia
Reading Grade: Young Adult
Publication Date: May 1, 2012
Source: hardcover purchase
Age Rating: 13+

Tris's initiation day should have been marked by celebration and victory with her chosen faction; instead, the day ended with unspeakable horrors. War now looms as conflict between the factions and their ideologies grows. And in times of war, sides must be chosen, secrets will emerge, and choices will become even more irrevocable—and even more powerful. Transformed by her own decisions but also by haunting grief and guilt, radical new discoveries, and shifting relationships, Tris must fully embrace her Divergence, even if she does not know what she may lose by doing so.

"New York Times" bestselling author Veronica Roth's much-anticipated second book of the dystopian "Divergent" series is another intoxicating thrill ride of a story, rich with hallmark twists, heartbreaks, romance, and powerful insights about human nature. 
My Review

Wow, it took me a long time to finish this one since it's so long and I had family visiting for a good chunk of the time I spent reading it. All I can say is that I didn't like this one as much as Divergent. Tris spends so much time bouncing from one thing to the next, one place to another, all without any direction or purpose. She finds out very early on from Marcus, Tobias' father, that he knows why Jeanine attacked the Abnegation faction at the end of the first book, but Tris doesn't get that answer at that time. She doesn't even feel it's all that significant of information to go after until the end of the book.

I just feel like it should have been much shorter and it would have been easier to get through. There are a lot of unnecessary scenes and lengthy descriptions that could have been left out completely. It bogged down the flow of the story and made it soupy to tread through. Shouldn't this story be more action-oriented and adrenaline-pumping? It is for a few short scenes, but that's all in its entire 525 pages.

For some reason, I sometimes find the second book in some trilogies to be “the sagging middle” books, and Insurgent seems like that to me. There is a plot twist at the very end that leaves you wanting to read the third book because it promises to answer the overarching, pink-elephant-in-the-middle-of-the-room question, why are all these people living in factions in Chicago, Illinois and are completely unaware of the outside world? So, I'll likely read Book 3 just to find out, but it better be more focused, more action-oriented and less cluttered with meaningless prose so it's not such a pain to get through.

To authors: Please remember you need to write a real story even in Book 2 of your trilogies. If you can't, then save us the pain and write duologies, instead. 'Kay, thanks.  

My score: 3/5 stars.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Novella Review: Weighted by Ciara Knight

Weighted (The Neumarian Chronicles, #0.5)
by Ciara Knight 

Genre: Science Fiction/Steampunk
Reading Grade: Young Adult (Novella)
Publication Date: August 2012
Source: review copy by author
Age Rating: 13+

The Great War of 2185 is over, but my nightmare has just begun. I am being held captive in the Queen’s ship awaiting interrogation. My only possible ally is the princess, but I’m unsure if she is really my friend or a trap set by the Queen to fool me into sharing the secret of my gift. A gift I keep hidden even from myself. It swirls inside my body begging for release, but it is the one thing the Queen can never discover. Will I have the strength to keep the secret? I’ll know the answer soon. If the stories are true about the interrogators, I’ll either be dead or a traitor to my people by morning. 

My Review

This is a short story prequel to a series of steampunk novels coming out in 2013 called The Neumarian Chronicles. From this story, I can gather some aspects of the world building and that there are two types of people against one another, Slags and Neumarians. I don't know why they fought a war or why they hate each other so much, but what happens to the protagonist, Raeth, happens because of these feuding societies.

Raeth is a Neumarian and seems to be around 12-years-old. She has some sort of ability that she needs to keep hidden from the Slags who captured her in order to find out what it is. The Slags are people with bionic body parts—cyborgs, basically. That is so cool, but they are the bad guys and they are very not cool, not even towards each other. The Queen is execution-happy and everybody smacks everybody's faces all the time. Raeth suffers torture and near death at the hands of the Queen of the Slags who is completely evil and one-dimensional, but successfully strikes fear in you.

Although, a lot of the story is confusing, it still has elements I usually am drawn to: cyborgs, a mad scientist (Raeth gets tortured by a man in a gray coat at the behest of the evil Queen), sci-fi technology and even a fantasy element in Raeth's supernatural ability. It's quite an intense read for all it's worth and really gets your appetite whetted for the future subsequent novels.

My score: 4/5 stars.

*I received a copy of this title from the author in exchange for my honest review.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Review: The Annihiliation of Foreverland by Tony Bertauski

The Annihilation of Foreverland
by Tony Bertauski 

Genre: Science Fiction/Dystopia
Reading Grade: Young Adult
Publication Date: December 31, 2011
Source: Kindle store
Age Rating: 15+

When kids awake on an island, they’re told there was an accident. Before they can go home, they will visit Foreverland, an alternate reality that will heal their minds. Reed dreams of a girl that tells him to resist Foreverland. He doesn’t remember her name, but knows he once loved her. He’ll have to endure great suffering and trust his dream. And trust he’s not insane. Danny Boy, the new arrival, meets Reed’s dream girl inside Foreverland. She’s stuck in the fantasy land that no kid can resist. Where every heart’s desire is satisfied. Why should anyone care how Foreverland works? Together, they discover what it’s really doing to them.

My Review

This is a pretty interesting sci-fi novel with a decidedly different type of dystopian “society” portrayed compared to all myriad The Hunger Games-eqsue novels being published. The story takes place on a remote island closed off from the rest of the world and these boys, ranging from ages 13 to 18, all live there not having a clue as to why. But, they just do what they are told by the people who run the island—a bunch of old dudes about to croak from old age. The boys have virtually no memory of who they are. They get to study without doing homework, or taking tests and they get to play video games as much as they want.

It's practically paradise for boys and young men, minus the presence of any females, except that every couple of weeks or so, they must endure torture for about a day so that they will want to voluntarily plug into a network that will allow them to escape into a virtual reality that takes them away from their physical suffering. I know—that makes no sense, but as you read the story, it starts to make sense. Like a mystery novel, this one unravels piece by piece and answers (almost) all of your questions by the end.

The story mostly follows a 13-year-old computer hacking genius named Danny, or 'Danny Boy' as he is typically called. He has been acquired by his Investor to live on the island for unknown reasons, just as every other boy on the island has been. All of them have their own Investor, an old man with creaking bones who seems to take care of them and looks after them. The boys are told that they are on the island to rewrite their minds, like rewriting a faulty computer program, because the boys' lives had been so awful, they need new mental programming. That's why they go into the needle—the way into the network that leads to the alternate reality they call Foreverland.

Each boy has a hole in his forehead in order to insert the needle, which then causes them to enter Foreverland. Foreverland is like being in a lucid dream. You can do anything and everything you've ever wanted to do. It's super fun and addicting, and the boys all look forward to it, even when not stripped naked and cold water-tortured. But, there's one boy named Reed who simply endures the torture and never takes the needle, no matter how much they torture him. Reed says he dreams of a red-haired girl who tells him not to take the needle—never to take it because they'd never get to be together otherwise. He doesn't remember who she is, but it's enough that he believes he once knew her.

Danny starts going into Foreverland, but because of Reed's abstinence, he starts to get suspicious of everything going on with the program. Why are they all there? Who were they before they came to the island? Why do they need to be tortured just to take a needle and why do they need to go into Foreverland? What really happens to the boys when they graduate? Why do the graduate's Investors suddenly disappear? Danny uses his computer hacking skills to dig deeper into the truth and the truth is shocking! This makes for a pretty great unraveling mystery and I can easily see this as a future film.

Despite how cool this novel is, it isn't perfect. There are too many POVs going on and sometimes they hop around in the middle of paragraphs without any transition. My biggest reading pet-peeve. Also, don't expect too much character development because it's not much of a character driven story. Although, I love the issues and themes this novel addresses—what is the nature of reality? Is reality real, or is our dream life the reality? Men will stop at nothing to satiate their own greed—stuff like that. But, I wanted to see how these issues affected the characters themselves. Getting inside their emotions would have allowed me to empathize with them and really feel their problems for what they were worth.

Still, this is great science fiction and the perfect dystopian novel for anyone who wants to read something different from The Hunger Games-type of dystopia. Since it's self-published, I wasn't surprised to see a lot of missing words, indicating lack of proper editing, but they were words I could fill in on my own. This is the type of YA literature that may leave you contemplating human existence and reality itself. 
My score: 4/5 stars.

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