Review: Cydni Hazard, Empathic Detective: The Pond Haunters, by L. S. Hullinger

Cydni Hazard, Empathic Detective: First Real Case, The Pond Haunters (2012)
By L. S. Hullinger
How did I get this book? I bought it.
Available on Amazon.

L. S. Hullinger’s middle-grade paranormal mystery is a great read. The book features Cydni Hazard, a 12-year-old empath who likes to solve the mysteries associated with some of the empathic connections she makes to the dead. Cydni’s mother died when she was very young, but her aunt, Ettie, is a major female figure in her life. This book, which I hope is the first in a series, takes place in Ettie’s home town of Blue Star, Texas, where Cydni stays for a week while her father is at a convention. Cydni finds out a local pond is supposedly haunted and sets out to figure out what’s going on.

Hullinger’s presentation of Cydni’s gift is interesting. For one thing, the gift is difficult to control — even difficult to recognize, at times. Cydni usually can’t see the ghosts who touch her empathically, and even when she makes an empathic connection to a living person, she often doesn’t recognize it’s happening until someone points out that she’s behaving weirdly (craving green Kool-Aid, for instance, when she normally can’t stand the stuff). In the process of investigating, Cydni often gets approached by cats that have helpful messages for her (the cat is her spirit-guide animal), but it’s not like she can have back-and-forth conversations with them — they’re still just animals. She also journals, writing down clues as she discovers them. The overall effect is that Cyndi has a paranormal advantage, yes, but it’s hardly a superpower. She still has to approach real people with questions and put the pieces together on her own.

This normality is something I really like about the book — I think Cydni’s gift is spooky enough to be interesting to child readers, but Cydni herself is normal enough to provide a good role model. She’s also a very nice kid — responsible, honest, and polite. Yet she’s not weirdly perfect — she’s capable of  embarrassment, annoyance, and so forth. She feels very real. So does her Aunt Ettie, who’s a professional psychic. Nice touches, such as Ettie’s tendency to answer questions with three possibilities labeled “A, B, and C,” give the secondary characters individuality. Also, the plot hangs together well, progressing through a series of interactions and investigations to a solution I really hadn’t foreseen ahead of time.

The book’s overall presentation doesn’t quite live up to its excellent story: there are some punctuation and other writing-mechanics errors, though they aren’t marked enough to impede comprehension. The paragraph indenting is so deep that when I open the book on my phone, I only get a word or two on the first line of each paragraph. Lastly, the cover needs replacing. For comparison, see the covers of traditionally published books in the middle-grade-paranormal-mystery genre: The Whispering Road, The Crowfield Curse,  The Red Pyramid, etc. If indie books are going to compete with traditionally published books, most will need professional editing, proofreading, and cover design. It’s not like traditionally published authors do that stuff by themselves, and neither can we.

Hullinger might also consider reordering the title, if this is going to be a series. Something like The Pond Haunters (A Cydni Hazard Mystery) or The Pond Haunters (An Empathic Detective Mystery) might better follow titling conventions in the genre. As is, the unique part of the title is buried at the end.

An edited version of this review will be cross-posted to Amazon.

Make Your Offer: A New eBook Sales Site

At UK-based Make Your Offer, indie authors can sell their ebooks in multiple formats. What’s new, here? At MYO, the author stipulates a sale price and then either permits or does not permit lower bids from interested readers. For instance, you might list your book for sale at $2.99, receive a bid from a reader of $1.99, then counter-offer at $2.29, whereupon the reader accepts and you make the sale. You can either set things up to run automatically by inputting a minimum acceptable price, or you can entertain any offer. You can also offer books for free.

Books enrolled in Amazon’s KDP Select program can still be listed on MYO for promotional purposes, though readers will not be able to purchase the book through MYO.

From what I can tell, authors will generally keep a markedly higher percentage of the book’s selling price than the percentages offer by Amazon:

14. The Distributor will pay the Owner the full selling price of the Work for all copies sold through the MakeYourOffer Internet website, always subject to the following:

(i) The deduction of the payment processing fee at cost from the payment processing agent;

(ii) The deduction of a sales fee of five [5] per cent. of the total full selling price of the work. (http://make-your-offer.com/book_upload_terms.php, accessed 5/4/12)

Sounds to me like an exciting innovation in indie ebook sales. Cool.

**Edited 5/6/12: MYO’s administrator posted more specifics about royalty structure in the comments to this post. Looks like a 61% royalty is as low as it gets, at this time — quite a bit better than Amazon’s lowest threshold of 35% — and it could get quite a bit higher than 70% for more expensive books.

MM: Colons

Colons and semicolons are tricky marks of punctuation. I see them misused all the time. I also see quite a few books (and student papers) that don’t contain a single colon or semicolon, which suggests the writer isn’t sure how to use them correctly and is just avoiding the whole issue.

Colons

Colons are used within sentences. Typically, they mark the transition between a general statement and a specific elaboration. That elaboration might be a definition, an example, a more detailed clarification, a list, or a quotation. Here are some examples:

  1. Sally’s purse contained some weird items: a dried up bottle of White-Out, a can of baked beans, an Elmo doll, and nine old toenail clippings. (assertion: list)
  2. Many people misuse the word “nauseous”: rather than being synonymous with “nauseated,” “nauseous” means “nausea inducing.” (assertion: definition)
  3. “Nauseous” means “nausea inducing”: “I saw a nauseous car accident on the way home from work.” (assertion: example)
  4. Trapped by his own lies, Bill Clinton began to sound rather silly: “It depends upon what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.” (assertion: supporting quotation)

A semicolon wouldn’t be appropriate in situations like these. Rather than separating the general from the specific within a sentence, a semicolon joins what could be two complete and separate sentences into one. But more on that in my next MM, which will focus on semicolons.

Now There’s No Going Back

One more point about colons before I leave them behind: when you include one in a sentence, it forms a sort of syntactical wall. You can’t go back to the line of syntax you had before the colon and pick it back up again. Here’s an example of this kind of error, which I see quite a bit:

Sally’s purse contained some weird items: a dried up bottle of White-Out, a can of baked beans, an Elmo doll, and nine old toenail clippings, all of which suggested she was a bit of a pack rat.

The main thrust of the above sentence goes like this:

Sally’s purse contained some weird items, all of which suggested she was a bit of a pack rat.

The list “a dried up bottle of White-Out, a can of baked beans, an Elmo doll, and nine old toenail clippings” is an aside. What the writer wants to do is take a break in the main thrust of the sentence, offer the supporting evidence, and then go back to the main point, which is Sally’s pack-rattiness. But there’s no “going back” after a colon. When you put a colon in, whatever came before it is finished, and later parts of the sentence can’t pick it back up.

Instead, the author needs to use dashes or parentheses:

Sally’s purse contained some weird items — a dried up bottle of White-Out, a can of baked beans, an Elmo doll, and nine old toenail clippings — all of which suggested she was a bit of a pack rat.

Sally’s purse contained some weird items (a dried up bottle of White-Out, a can of baked beans, an Elmo doll, and nine old toenail clippings), all of which suggested she was a bit of a pack rat.

Colons and Caps

You will see some people capitalizing the first letter after a colon. Personally, I think that’s weird, even if what comes after the colon could stand alone as a complete sentence. Could, schmould, you know? You chose not to make it stand alone, so it’s not a sentence, even if it could’ve been.