10 April 2013
I have made the hard decision to temporarily stop book blogging at the end of March 2013 so that I can concentrate on my own writing and acting. So from the start of April, My Book Journey will be on hiatus. I hope to return to blogging when I've got into a regular writing flow. Until then, thank you so much for sharing your love of books with me. I've met so many amazing bloggers, and I will still be popping into your blogs to see what's going on, (and will be happy to write guest reviews for anyone who wants me!)
Happy reading everyone!
20 March 2013
I'm really excited to hear Rob's perspective on writing and forming story ideas. So Ladies and Gentlemen, without further ado, and with a drum roll, read on to find out...
Where Ideas Come From
Hi and thanks for having me on My Book Journey.
I don’t get asked many questions. I’m pretty new to this, so I don’t have a lot of advice to offer. Also, I suspect there’s something about me that suggests I might not give good answers. I mumble and fidget when asked about anything important. Or I pretend to need the loo and flee. There’s one question, in particular, to which I always mess up my reply. So I thought I’d take this opportunity to write it down for the record. Now I can simply direct anyone that asks to this blog.
The question is, of course, where do I get my ideas from?
Just because this is asked a lot of writers doesn’t make it a bad question (if there’s such a thing as a bad question). Different people will give different answers, yielding new and interesting advice. So ask it as much and as often as you can.
Usually writers offer smug, rehearsed replies to this question. So here is mine: Where do my ideas come from? My brain.
I was never much good at science, but I think that’s where ideas come from.
That sounded very smug didn’t it? Sorry.
The point, though, is this: everyone has ideas. They are not a divine privilege of writers, just as not only philosophers are allowed to think. We all have ideas, all the time. You’re probably having one right now. The only difference between writers and other people are that writers write their ideas down.
So always - always - carry a pen. Your mind is a motorway, where ideas flash past way over the speed limit. Some of them aren’t much to see – dented old saloons towing rusty caravans. But every now and then – vroooom – there goes a Ferrari!
And if you don’t write that down you’ll forget it was ever there. No, it’s worse than that – you’ll remember it was there but you’ll forget what it was.
Write it down!
There are ways to jump-start good ideas (okay, enough with the cars stuff already). Look around you, for a start. Pay attention. Even the most humdrum everyday things might throw up an interesting story idea. As you look around ask ‘What if?’ What if one of those puddles in the park wasn’t a puddle at all, but a watery hole that sucks you down to somewhere incredible? What if the kitchen oven started speaking to you? What would it say? What if, flicking through a book, you saw a photo of yourself? Only it’s a history book and the photo was taken over a hundred years ago...
Speaking of history, what a treasure trove of ideas that is! Read about pirates, knights, spies in wars... At school you need to remember what reallyhappened. But now imagine what might have happened. What if there was something else living in no-man’s-land between those two armies?
That’s how I stumbled across the idea that became my first book. I was reading about Victorian England (one of my favourite subjects) and, in particular, the travelling freak shows that toured the countryside. I remember writing down two questions.
What if one of the freaks - a boy covered in hair? - spied on people for clues to the outside world? Would he be a detective?
To be honest, I knew immediately that I had to tell this boy’s tale. I was never going to forget that particular idea. But, once it was written down, itcouldn’t be forgotten.
Sometimes our ideas turn out to be a bit wobbly. Flicking through my notebook, I’m always cringing with embarrassment that I had this or that thought. But then, occasionally, my fingers tighten around a page, and I think, Oooh, that was a goodun. Maybe I’ll never do anything with it, but it would have been lost forever if I hadn’t written it down.
So if you have an idea – and you have loads! – don’t waste it. Write it down. One day it could change your life.
Wild Boy will be published on April 4th 2013 by Walker Books.
For more information about Rob or his other children's books, you can find him on Twitter.
Don't forget to visit Clover at Fluttering Butterflies on Friday for the next instalment of the Wild Boy blog tour!
4 March 2013
Series: Yes, but you can absolutely read the Discworld series out of order
UK Publisher: Corgi
UK Release date: 2005
Moist von Lipwig was a con artist and a fraud and a man faced with a life choice: be hanged, or put Ankh-Morpork’s ailing postal service back on its feet. It was a tough decision. But he’s got to see that the mail gets through, come rain, hail, sleet, dogs, the Post Office Workers Friendly and Benevolent Society, the evil chairman of the Grand Trunk Semaphore Company, and a midnight killer. Getting a date with Adora Bell Dearheart would be nice, too. Maybe it’ll take a criminal to succeed where honest men have failed, or maybe it’s a death sentence either way. Or perhaps there’s a shot at redemption in the mad world of the mail, waiting for a man who’s prepared to push the envelope...
Being a big fan of Terry Pratchett's other books, and the TV version of this book, you can easily imagine my thoughts after reading Going Postal. It didn't disappoint; in fact I loved it.
When I tell you about the main protagonist, Moist von Lipwig, you may wonder why I loved it so much. Moist was a con artist, swindler and trickster. I shouldn't have liked him, because he stole, cheated and lied at every turn. And when he wasn't doing that, he was running away like a coward. But I did really like him and I found his story to be captivating, humorous and fast paced. Perhaps it was because of his witty narrative and charisma. Or perhaps it was because he started out at his lowest point - on the hangman's noose - and from there he could only go up. He struggled to see the error of his ways, and continued to manipulate people into being on his side, however it wasn't done maliciously. And because he ended up caring for the people in the post office, it turned out to be a good thing. In fact, this quick wit, bravado and fast mouth, were the very things needed to bring life back into the post office.
In his typical style, Terry Pratchett included plenty of humour and wit. I smiled and giggled my way through the book. However there was also a moral element to the story. Vetinari, the leader of Ankh-Morpork, may be fearsome, but he is also fair. He doesn't just punish Moist von Lipwig for his crimes. He offers him a choice, and a chance at redemption.
The story held plenty of action, twists, turns and surprises. And of course, a handful of weirdness. I love the way Terry Pratchett took something so normal, like post and stamps, and turned it into this fantastical and frantic race to succeed, and do right by the common people of Ankh-Morpork. I have no idea how stamps came into being in our own world, but it was fascinating to see how the idea of them developed in this story.
Once again Terry Pratchett creates magic on each page. If you love a book with fantasy, humour and bold characters, then please read this!
1 March 2013
Series: No, standalone
UK Publisher: Penguin
UK Release date: January 2013
Diagnosed with Stage IV thyroid cancer at 13, Hazel was prepared to die until, at 14, a medical miracle shrunk the tumours in her lungs... for now.
Two years post-miracle, sixteen-year-old Hazel is post-everything else, too; post-high school, post-friends and post-normalcy. And even though she could live for a long time (whatever that means), Hazel lives tethered to an oxygen tank, the tumours tenuously kept at bay with a constant chemical assault.
Enter Augustus Waters. A match made at cancer kid support group, Augustus is gorgeous, in remission, and shockingly to her, interested in Hazel. Being with Augustus is both an unexpected destination and a long-needed journey, pushing Hazel to re-examine how sickness and health, life and death, will define her and the legacy that everyone leaves behind.
The first thing that will probably make you decide whether you read this book or not, is that it is about cancer. That may not be everyone's cup of tea, but I urge you to read this book. I cannot say a bad thing about it.
Being the first book I've read by John Green I completely underestimated what this book would be like. What surprised me the most about his writing is that he can write big sensitive themes and events but also the subtle nuisances of human behaviour. The latter really made the characters feel alive, through their life-like gestures, responses, thoughts, and everyday habits. But on the flip side, John Green can take the often depressing subject of terminal illness and infuse it with empathy, humour, emotion, and joy.
Hazel is the narrator for the story and at first she is isolated and alone, almost hiding away with her illness in order to protect everyone around her from getting hurt. She was so strong and honest about death, that it made her a very brave and brilliant character. But I'm also so glad that she didn't allow her illness to keep her from the world and connecting with other people.
Augustus (Gus) was gorgeous and an absolute star. His personality and wit blew me away. I loved how positive he stayed throughout his, Hazel's and Isaac's treatments. He made me smile and laugh, and I was so glad he and Hazel found each other.
What worked really well was seeing how Hazel's family coped with her illness. This wasn't something I had expected but I think it was important for the reader and Hazel to understand how her parents felt about the situation.
Gus and Hazel were brilliant together and so perfect for each other. Perhaps though they were a little too smart for me, with their existential and philosophical debates and satirical comments. This did allow the sensitive central themes of cancer and dying to be thought provoking but also touched with wit and humour. It also gave me a sense of reality to Hazel's condition and the chances of her survival. The pair's differing views on life and death made me think; and like Gus I would want to make my mark.
I won't lie to you - The Fault in Our Stars is an emotional roller coaster ride. I laughed one minute and the next could be crying. And the end was so unexpected - the plot completely subverted my expectations and the unfolding events came out of nowhere taking me by complete surprise. It just seemed like life was so unfair for Hazel and other young cancer sufferers like Gus and Isaac. And it hit home how lucky I was just to be alive and healthy, and that I shouldn't take that for granted.
A must read - you will truly appreciate every day you have after reading this book.
26 February 2013
Series: Yes, #1
UK Publisher: Haper Collins
UK Release date: 28th February 2013
Kindly given by the publisher for an honest review
Harriet Manners knows a lot of things. She knows that a cat has 32 muscles in each ear, a "jiffy" lasts 1/100th of a second, and the average person laughs 15 times per day. What she isn't quite so sure about is why nobody at school seems to like her very much. So when she's spotted by a top model agent, Harriet grabs the chance to reinvent herself. Even if it means stealing her Best Friend's dream, incurring the wrath of her arch enemy Alexa, and repeatedly humiliating herself in front of the impossibly handsome supermodel Nick. Even if it means lying to the people she loves.
As Harriet veers from one couture disaster to the next with the help of her overly enthusiastic father and her uber-geeky stalker, Toby, she begins to realise that the world of fashion doesn't seem to like her any more than the real world did.
And as her old life starts to fall apart, the question is: will Harriet be able to transform herself before she ruins everything?
Harriet is a geek. And right now, geek is cool.
However for Harriet, she wasn't comfortable in her own skin. Her nemesis and bully, Alexa, was a mean hearted, spiteful girl, who delighted in picking on Harriet and making her feel like an outcast. Harriet didn't have the self confidence to ignore Alexa's taunts and thought far too much about what others think about her, meaning she felt nervous and embarrassed at every turn. Despite, and because of her flaws, I thought Harriet was great. She was down to earth and easy to relate to.
The story didn't get boring; it was a fast paced and humorous read. With a positive message behind it, Geek Girl is fun and sweet. If you were ever the geeky girl at school, you'll love this.
At first I didn't like Harriet's best friend Nat. She took Harriet for granted, inviting her to the school trip and then dumping her as soon as they arrived. I couldn't quite see why they were friends. And as the story went on there was a lot of tension between them, but I did eventually see them look out for each other.
In contrast, Harriet's dad was fab! I loved him from the off. He was off the wall, crazy and more of a teenager than Harriet, often trying to encourage her to act like a proper rebellious teen. I imagine he would be embarrassing as your own dad, but from an outside perspective he added fun and humour to the story. I just loved his personality and the way he teased Harriet, and in turn I loved Harriet's reactions to him.
My one gripe with the plot is the modelling aspect and the personalities of the model agent and fashion designers. It all seemed a little cliche and a little too easy and far-fetched. I understand Holly Smale was once a model and has experience of this job (and I don't), but for me it just didn't sit quite right.
This is a story of a young girl trying to come to terms with who she is, and although she goes to extremes to try to become a different person, it is most definitely a feel good story.
25 February 2013
20 February 2013
Series: No, standalone
UK Publisher: Bloomsbury
UK Release date: January 2013
Kindly given by the publisher for an honest review
Megan Bright and Jackson Dawes are two teenagers who first meet each other on the hospital ward where they are both being treated for cancer. Megan is scared and worried about her illness, but Jackson seems to be an old hand, having been on the ward for ages. And everybody loves Jackson! He is a whirlwind of life and energy, warmth and sparkle. Megan will need to borrow some of Jackson's extraordinary optimism to face her and Jackson's future. A moving story of first love and a remarkably powerful debut novel.
It's a very scary time for Megan Dawes when she goes into hospital for the first time. Suffering from cancer, the story focuses on her experience of illness and her stay in hospital as she receives chemotherapy. At first she finds the hospital unsettling, and filled with children and babyish decorations it's not a very comforting place for her. With her friends avoiding her and her own reaction to push her parents away, Megan is very lonely. But through the course of her treatment, Megan changes and adapts to her situation, especially with the unrelenting, positive and sunshine-like presence of Jackson. The hospital seemed gloomy until he came into the picture; his smiling personality brought warmth and humour to the plot and to Megan's life. The plot definitely benefited from Jackson's character, as it uplifted the whole story.
To me the writing felt like it had an 'old' quality to it. There were lots of old fashioned sayings and phrases in the dialogue and narrative. And although they were often words quoted from grandparents or parents, they still found their way into the teenagers' vocabulary and the general narrative. It gave me a sense of familiarity (probably because I'm getting old myself), but I'm not sure if a younger audience might find these phrases a little off and unusual.
I found the story to be a short and snappy read giving a glimpse into the different characters lives without delving too deeply in. Although there's always an undercurrent of fear and trepidation, the story isn't too depressing, making it suitable for a younger audience. Being an emotional roller coaster ride, it would have been too draining to read if it was any longer, and as it was, the plot kept a good balance of smile and cry worthy moments. However on the downside, I would have liked a little more character development. I wanted to know more about Jackson and Megan's family, and get a better understanding of their emotions and feelings around illness and loss.
Anthem for Jackson Dawes is a heartbreaking debut of two teenagers' experience of love and loss.
17 February 2013
Series: Yes, #1
UK Publisher: Walker Books
UK Release date: 7th March 2013
Genre: YA, Fae
Kindly given by the publisher for an honest review
When Lissy meets a mysterious and strangely beautiful boy on her way to Hopesay Edge, she is deeply unsettled by their encounter.
She discovers that the boy, Larkspur, is a member of the Hidden, an ancient group of elven people, whose secrets lie buried at Hopesay Reach. Before long, Lissy and her brother Rafe find themselves caught by a powerful magic and fighting to escape a bargain that can never be broken. (From Goodreads)
One of my favourite things about Hidden Among Us was the British setting. It wasn't just that the story was set in the UK, but the rural Hopesay Edge felt wild and rugged. This atmosphere (and very typical British rainy weather) fit perfectly with the scary fae theme. It also made the old house Lissy stayed in feel like it was right on the border with the dangerous and mysterious fae world - which of course it was.
The faeries were typically ethereal - tall and inhumanely beautiful. But they had a very dark, wild and scary side to them. They flitted in and out of the story to start and I didn't know what to expect from them; but I did know they were up to no good by stealing children from the human world to take back to the faery world. The fact that they didn't understand or follow human emotions and morals made them unpredictable, cold and dangerous. The faery King in particular was a nasty figure. Bur Larkspur was different; he seemed to understand humans and empathise with them, and for some reason I had a little soft spot for him.
I really liked that the story was told from different character's perspectives; Joe's, Lissy's and Rafe's. each character, and narrative style, was very distinct. Lissy was both wonderfully fragile and strong. There was obviously something or someone coming after her, but even when she was in serious danger she still fought back. Rafe was the tough older brother, charging around trying to find out the mystery behind Hopesay Reach. In comparison, Joe was thrown into this strange family and was made to feel like the useless outsider. In my opinion though, he was the best character in the book. He wasn't pretentious or overly macho like Rafe, but he was still brave and caring. Despite being a naturally sensible person, he still took risks. I think he was fab!
What I didn't expect were the mysterious people following Lissy's brother, Rafe. They were always unseen but always following, and so I instantly knew they were creepy and dangerous. Mind you, with this story there was danger lurking around every corner, and this really kept me on my toes.
Hidden Among Us was a grippingly creepy and wild adventure with the fae.
15 February 2013
Hidden Among Us was first formally discussed with my editor in 2009, but for many years prior to that I’d been percolating the idea for a book in which the everyday world is not all it seems; I wanted to make readers suspect that magic really might take place, and that those old myths and legends we grew up with are far more than just stories, but actually powerful influences on real people. My greatest teachers in this respect were authors whose books I drank in with bottomless appetite as a child: Alan Garner, Robert Westall and Diana Wynne-Jones to name only a few. One of my most favourite books as a child was Pat O’Shea’s The Hounds of the Morrigan – I read about Pidge and his sister and their terrifying close encounter with the Otherworld so many times that the book is in tatters now. Of course, Alan Garner’s The Owl Service is another masterpiece that explores not only the power of an ancient myth – the old Welsh tale of Blodeuwedd – but also the destructive effects of jealousy, bitterness and revenge. All of these books shaped my imagination as I grew up: ideas for books can brew in an author’s subconscious mind for decades before finally taking shape. Sometimes, ingredients are added almost without my being aware of them, but I do distinctly remember a boy who became my husband playing me a song in the kitchen of the house we shared at university. The song was Reynardine, sung by Sandy Denny. I’d never heard Reynardine before, and I knew that one day I would have to write a story about a wild and mysterious young man encountered one night by a young girl.
I grew up reading tales of myths rooted to wild landscapes, but one of the most crucial ingredients in Hidden Among Us was the countryside I grew up in. Cambridgeshire is almost suburban by comparison to where I live now but when I was a child, the fields and lanes we explored beneath those enormous shifting skies sometimes seemed perilously close to another world. There’s a lane in our village called the Drift – often spoken of in whispers. A friend and I ran down it in complete and genuine terror one day, convinced we were being chased by a giant – and totally non-existent – black cat. Another time, we were walking home from a dark pool that I was convinced witches had been ducked in when we discovered a tree covered in deep slashes, as if it had been scratched. I clearly remember the pair of us examining gouges cut right through the bark, then looking up to see all the trees along the lane covered in similar scratches. We ran that time, too. I can’t say for sure what really happened. Maybe there was one tree that someone had vandalised with a pocket-knife, and my overactive imagination filled in the gaps, in which case I must have terrified the living daylights out of the friend I was with. My four-year-old lives in a world that is indistinguishable from his imagination, and I suspect that this merging of reality and interior stories goes on for a lot longer in some children, and in the case of those who grow up to become writers of fiction, it never really subsides one hundred per cent.
So, Hidden Among Us was conceived in the mind of a child who lived in the countryside, reading myths and legends planted in modern landscapes by master storytellers. Maybe it was that creepy dark pool in my village, but by the time we reached 2009, and I began to pin down the plot for a new novel, I knew I wanted to re-work those old stories of sunken villages lost in floods let loose by divine retribution or the need for new reservoirs. I’d been to the Highlands of Scotland and driven past a man-made loch concealing such a village, which I think must have reignited my interest, and I also began researching odd places like the mysterious Bomere Pool in Shropshire, which reportedly houses the ghost of a Roman soldier in search of his lost love. As you will see, the plot of Hidden Among Us morphed – it was certainly one of those cases where the characters took matters into their own hands. Hidden Among Us is no longer the story of a sunken village, but of a lake which becomes a gateway into another world, and I suppose I have the tale of King Arthur to thank for that!
Hidden Among Us will be published on March 7th 2013 by Walker Books. For more information about Katy or her books, you can find Katy on Twitter or on her website.
Don't forget to drop by Viv's blog next Friday for the second installment in Katy Moran's blog tour.
13 February 2013
Series: Yes, #1
UK Publisher: Harper Collins Children's Books
UK Release date: 19th February 2013
Genre: YA Paranormal
Kindly given by the publisher for an honest review
She never chose her deadly gift but now she’s forced to use it. How far would you go to protect the only family you have left?
Annie is beset by fleeting strange visions and a guilty conscience. Blind and orphaned, she struggles to care for her feisty younger sister Fia, but things look up when both sisters are offered a place at Kessler School for Exceptional Girls.
With Annie trapped in Kessler’s sinister clutches, instincts keep Fia from killing an innocent guy and everything unravels. Is manipulative James the key to the sisters’ freedom or an even darker prison? And how can Fia atone for the blood on her hands? (Goodreads)
Having just finished the Paranormalcy series by Kiersten White, I was completely surprised and blown away at how different this book was in writing style. Sister Assassin was punchy, intense and gripping; a fast paced roller coaster ride. One minute I was thinking and expecting one thing, and then a few pages later everything had changed to make me think otherwise. The plot and structure certainly kept me on my toes.
Fia and Annie were both plunged into this strange, deceptive world after the death of their parents. Unlike the school Annie is expecting it to be, it turned out to be far more dangerous and really pushed Fia to her limits. Having been tested and manipulated so much, Fia was both incredibly strong and clever and yet also so hurt and broken. I really felt for her and wanted her to outwit the deceitful people around her.
With first-person dual narratives from both Fia and Annie’s perspectives, these gave a lot of insight into their feelings, and often their guilt concerning their sister. It could be a little difficult to keep track of who was talking and when, because the narratives would also jump forward and backward in time, but I enjoyed trying to piece together what had happened and where the story was at.
I found it so intriguing and yet sad that both Fia and Annie would make decisions based on their sister. Neither of them was happy because they felt guilty or responsible for their sister, worrying that they were holding them back and trapping them in their situation. Sadly neither of them really understood how the other felt and they kept trying to do the best for the other but it often didn’t work out for the best.
The paranormal element to the story was the existence of seers and readers. I loved these different abilities people had within the story, and the mystery behind Fia’s ability. I didn’t understand what exactly she could do for a long while, but I enjoyed the way she messed with other people’s abilities, screaming swear words or annoying pop songs in her head to put off the mind readers. Apart from Tia and Annie, I didn’t trust any of the other characters or didn’t know if I could trust them so I found it amusing when she did this.
Sister Assassin is a short, sharp, punchy read with lots of action and mystery that will keep you glued to the pages.
6 February 2013
Series: No, standalone
UK Publisher: Headline
UK Release date: May 2012
They say I'm evil. The police. The newspapers. The girls from school who shake their heads on the six o’clock news and say they always knew there was something not quite right about me. And everyone believes it. Including you. But you don't know. You don't know who I used to be.
Awaiting trial at Archway Young Offenders Institution, Emily Koll is going to tell her side of the story for the first time.
Heart-shaped Bruise is the story of a young girl in a youth offending institution. Emily is the bad girl – other girls in the institution fear her, and it’s obvious she’s done something awful to end up there. I wondered at first if I could have sympathy with her; with a girl who offers no regrets or apologies to the girl she victimised. But when I started listening to her story I instantly suspended all doubts and judgements, and was completely riveted by Emily’s account of why she did what she and the msytery of what had actually happened.
Written in a diary, Emily pours her feelings and memories onto the pages and also recalls the sessions with her psychiatrist. I loved the variation between the two; with the psychiatrist, there were things she is pushed to think about, and things she tries to hold on so tightly to. What she said to the psychiatrist was just as revealing as what she didn't say, and I loved the interaction between Emily and Doctor Gilyard. Writing in her diary, Emily was a lot less reserved and more honest about her feelings and the past, whilst in contrast her sessions showed her very slowly changing and moving into a new future.
Despite the fact that Emily bitterly wanted to get revenge on Juliet, I loved the way she still felt respect and admiration for her. I found this fascinating and still can't decide if it makes me feel more or less sympathy with her. These psychological and emotional elements to the story made it gripping, and Tanya's writing really made the characters feel alive.
Although I won't give spoilers, I will say that Tanya Byrne could have very easily written an ending that was happy or gave a definite outcome and resolution. But she didn't; and I like that. I think a happy ending would have felt like it was done for the sake of it. Okay, so yes, I still had questions at the end and I wanted to know for certain what happened to particular characters, but I liked the ambiguity and the fact that you could fill in the gaps for yourself.
Heart-shaped Bruise is a gripping tale of a young girl led down a troubled path.
4 February 2013
Recently I thought I was buying a particular service only to realise later that it wasn't what I had thought it was. In fact it was a poor substitute. This deception really annoyed and frustrated me. But is it any different to when I tell a friend that a new haircut or item of clothes looks good (when in fact it really doesn't)? Both are lies. But the purposes are different. Whilst the shop I went to gained extra profit from their deception, I didn't really gain much from lying to a friend. Except perhaps maintaining a positive relationship.
So do these little lies I tell make me a bad person? Would society be a better place if we didn't lie at all? Or are some little lies that smooth over social interactions a necessary evil? Many people believe that if we didn't have these little 'white' lies, then society would be very different, and not for the best either.
"No one had bothered him. No one had looked at him twice; no one ever did. The city gates had indeed been wide open. The plains lay ahead of him, full of opportunity. And he was good at parlaying nothing into something. For example, at the first little town he came to he'd go to work on this little old nag with a few simple techniques and ingredients that'd make it worth twice the price he'd paid for it, at least for about twenty minutes or until it rained. Twenty minutes would be enough time to sell it and, with any luck, pick up a better horse worth slightly more than the asking price. He'd do it again at the next town and in three days, maybe four, he'd have a horse worth owning."
Like many of the people in DePaulo's study, I don't lie to hurt others or to necessarily gain anything. None the less, I do lie. But these lies aren't the whole of me, they don't define me; they allow me to get on better with other people. This might not be the case for everyone, but when it comes to book characters, I think we can like characters that lie if they aren't the defining feature of them. If there is more to them than lies. If there are other things that they care about.
Could you ever like a character that lies?
30 January 2013
Series: Yes, #2
UK Publisher: Angry Robot
UK Release date: September 2012
Genre: Urban fantasy
Kindly given by the publisher for an honest review
Miriam is trying. Really, she is. But this whole "settling down thing" that Louis has going for her just isn't working out. She lives on Long Beach Island all year around. Her home is a run-down double-wide trailer. She works at a grocery store as a check-out girl. And her relationship with Louis--who's on the road half the time in his truck--is subject to the piss and vinegar Miriam brings to everything she does. It just isn't going well. Still, she's keeping her psychic ability--to see when and how someone is going to die just by touching them--in check. But even that feels wrong somehow. Like she's keeping a tornado stoppered up in a tiny bottle. Then comes one bad day that turns it all on her ear. (Goodreads)
I implore you, if you haven't yet read Blackbirds, go read it. In the second in the series, Miriram Black returns in another no-holds barred thriller. Some people might find Miriam's restlessness, recklessness and open approach to sex and alcohol a little sexist. But I enjoy her directness which is refreshing and humorous. She is very rough on the outside, but the more you get to know Miriam, with her hidden past and guarded emotions, you can see the soft inside.
When the story first starts things are very different. Miriam has tried to settle down with Louis, by living in a trailer and working in a supermarket. But Miriam lives for the nomadic life, chasing after those death visions. And unfortunately she doesn't do right by Louis. She's a little hard to sympathise with to start, but stick with her. Miriam has balls, guts and yet shockingly, a heart. The strange and sickening visions she sees at Caldecott girls school bring out the best and worst in Miriam. Although no-one could blame her for her actions. In particular, Wren, a young girl at the school, seems to capture her heart and an almost maternal-like protective instinct.
With a thrilling, action packed and sometimes gory plot, Miriam's attempts to unearth a masochistic killer kept me on my toes. I truly wanted Miriam to find out what was going on, but you know that she's going to get into trouble along the way. Even though she is a tough old girl, Miriam can only take so much of a beating.
The bird theme really took off in this book, symbolically referring to different birds as clues and riddles on a number of occasions, but also appearing as a hallucination to Miriam. I was a little wary of this 'trespassing' crow because I honestly couldn't tell what the purpose of her supposed hallucinations were and whether the crow meant to be good or bad. But I am really interested to see how things develop in the final book, Cormorant, and whether the crow still stays with her.
Mockingbird is a hard edged thriller, with gory action and plenty of mystery. Handle with care.
27 January 2013
There are the friendly greetings, or cheek kisses. Sometimes you might not even make actually contact with the other person, particularly if you don't know or like the other person very well.
There's the tentative kiss for not quite friends, not quite lovers. This kiss involves a whole dilemma of where you should actually aim for when kissing them. Cheek or lips? In the most awkward of situations, one person will be aiming for somewhere different to the other person, and there will be an inevitable bumping of noses. How embarrassing!
More comfortable couples will often share a quick peck.
And if you happen to be out on the town of a Saturday night you might see the full-on snog. Full of passion, emotion and plenty of tongue, thankfully you don't see this too often in public.
If I could keep a single moment for all time, that would be the one.
I became the very air; I was full of stars. I was the soaring spaces between the spires of the cathedral, the solemn breath of chimneys, a whispered prayer upon the winter wind. I was silence, and I was music, one clear transcendent chord rising toward Heaven. I believed, then, that I would have risen bodily into the sky but for the anchor of his hand in my hair and his round, soft, perfect mouth.
Do you have a perfect book or movie kiss?
23 January 2013
Series: No, standalone
UK Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
UK Release date:
Carrie White is no ordinary girl.
Carrie White has the gift of telekinesis.
To be invited to Prom Night by Tommy Ross is a dream come true for Carrie - the first step towards social acceptance by her high school colleagues.
But events will take a decidedly macabre turn on that horrifying and endless night as she is forced to exercise her terrible gift on the town that mocks and loathes her . . . (Goodreads)
Despite having watched a number of films based on his books, I have never actually read any of Stephen King's books. Reading Carrie, I was not disappointed.
Sixteen year old Carrie is an unusual protagonist. Not because she has rare telekinetic powers. But because she is the girl that everyone picks on and nobody likes, and she passively accepts the abuse and taunts thrown at her. To start with I empathised with her, but didn't really sympathise with her or even like her that much. Perhaps because the start was written in third person perspective, it kept the bullying and Carrie at a distance. But as the narrative switched to Carrie's first person perspective and sometimes her mothers, I began to understand how tough her home life was and why she was the she was.
And I also started to hate her mother. A zealous, religious fanatic, she put Jesus, righteousness and atonement above all else, including Carrie. Her mother seemed completely oblivious to Carrie's needs or the psychological trauma she was suffering. Although Carrie started off as a passive character, accepting her mother's and peer's abuse, her developing telekinetic powers gave her the courage to stand up to her mother. It was great to see Carrie refuse to bow to her mother's ridiculous beliefs and demands, however Carrie went too far in the end. Really though, who could blame her. And despite the horrors of what happened, part of me was a little bit glad that Carrie was able to exact revenge of those mean people that had bullied her for so long.
The narrative changed quite regularly, quoting articles/papers one page and then quickly changing to a character's point of view. Sometimes these perspectives overlapped, and it could be a little confusing to keep track of. However you got to see each of the characters differing thoughts and feelings about a particular event and somehow still flowed and kept up a fast pace.
From the very outset, we knew something bad would happen at the end of the story, although I had no idea what exactly that would be. We do know Carrie is not only the instigator but also cause for national concern. Because of this my curiosity was instantly piqued, and there was a gradual build up of tension and suspense throughout the plot, with flashbacks and new experiences telling Carrie's story and giving the backstory to the final climatic events. Carrie's story, whilst deep troubled was also very gripping and sad. I sped through the pages with ease, and understand now why Stephen King's writing has captured the attention of so many.
Carrie is a twisted psychological thriller horror, and a brilliant read.
20 January 2013
The other night I was awoken at 1am by shouting and banging. Being a nosy neighbour I had to look out the window. I saw a man jump into a van and race off down the street. No big deal. Except I'm pretty sure I saw the van bump another car. Okay, so I didn't have my glasses on, but yeah he scratched it. But I keep telling myself it may or may not have happened, because I felt bad about not doing anything with the information. I figured there was no point in finding this other neighbour and saying some van bumped your car, but I can't tell you the license plate of the van or what the man looked like. So I did nothing. But I feel very guilty, firstly because I feel like some sort of accomplice. But also because I know the car-owner is unable to get any justice for the wrong that has happened to them.
Whilst this may seem like a silly thing, having done a little research on the concept of justice, it seems that fairness and justice may be 'wired' into our brains and might go someway to explaining my feelings of guilt.
But that’s not why I did it. You must know that, otherwise you wouldn’t be asking. So, okay, you want to know why? This is why: you stabbed my father. That’s it. What don’t you understand? China shop rules, Juliet: you break it, you pay for it, and you broke me. You got what you deserved.
16 January 2013
Series: Yes, #1
UK Publisher: Harper Collins
UK Release date: August 2011
By age sixteen, Rhine Ellery has four years left to live. She can thank modern science for this genetic time bomb. A botched effort to create a perfect race has left all males with a lifespan of 25 years, and females with a lifespan of 20 years. When Rhine is kidnapped and sold as a bride, she vows to do all she can to escape. Her husband, Linden, is hopelessly in love with her, and Rhine can’t bring herself to hate him as much as she’d like to. But Rhine quickly learns that not everything in her new husband’s strange world is what it seems. Will Rhine be able to escape--before her time runs out? (Goodreads)
I've had this book on my kindle for quite a while now, but never got around to reading it. But I'm really glad I did.
When Rhine was kidnapped, she was thrown into this bizarre world in which she was one of three wives to a rich young man looking to have children. What fascinated me most about the story was how each of the wives, really only teenagers, reacted to their new life and learnt to cope. This idea of kidnap and luxurious entrapment really made me think; if I knew I had to spend the rest of my life living in a luxury prison, would I adapt quickly for an 'easy' life or would I never be able to forgive and forget my past life? I guess if this new life was better than your old life (as in Cecily's case, where she had been a poor orphan), perhaps it wouldn't be so bad to live a rich and frivolous life no matter how fake and contrived. In contrast Rhine and Jenna were both strong willed and determined to never forget their past and family.
Despite Linden and his father's attempts to make the family situation seem happy, the reality was creepy, chilling and a little despicable. Touching on issues of polygamy and pedophilia, the story evoked such conflicting emotions in me. On one hand, I found the idea of 13 year old Cecily carrying a child for her husband really sickening. How could such a young girl really understand the situation she was in? And how could Linden not understand what he was doing? But on the other hand, her naivety probably made it easier for her to cope and adapt. Whilst Jenna and Rhine fully understood the gravity of their imprisonment and what they had lost, it was practically impossible for them to come to terms with this new life. It made me feel so sad and angry that they had been ripped from their lives to become sister wives.
Given her situation, Rhine was a wonderfully strong character. In her situation, so many girls could have had a complete breakdown, turned very bitter and angry or just weakly caved in to the situation. But she was kind to the servants, smart and cunning and never gave in to Linden's advances. Her growing attachment to sweet young Gabriel was one of the few lights of hope in that horribly dark house and I really wanted something to develop between them. I also grew to like sullen Jenna, who was quietly shrewd and observant but never let her past life fade.
Wither combines an intriguing and thought provoking plot with wonderfully written and contrasting characters.
13 January 2013
I love my boyfriend, friends and family, but I'm not naive enough to think they are without their faults (sorry folks!). Regardless of these though I still love them all, because that's who they are; the good comes with bad. And trust me, I definitely don't think I'm perfect either. I'm terrible at standing up for myself (even after a bad manicure in which I left with a cut finger, I still gave a tip!!!); I'm really not that bothered that my roots show through; and I leave tissues in my trousers pocket so that all the clothes come out of the washing machine scattered with a flurry of white fluff. I really can't sing, but in the car I love to do it at full volume; I bite my lip to shreds when I get nervous; and quite honestly I don't know what I'm doing career or aspiration wise.
But these flaws make me who am I; as your flaws make you who you are. But they shouldn't be forgotten when it comes to writing a character. Imperfections make the characters real, relatable and more interesting. Some of my favourite characters openly admit their faults, whilst others don't quite realise where they are going wrong.
But it's not just about the characters in isolation. Perhaps the underlying arc of the story is some sort of character development, or maybe a character's faults lead them down a certain path and thus informs the plot. These things couldn't happen if your protagonist is perfect to start with.
When Miss Desjardin led Carrie up to the office fifteen minutes later, the halls were mercifully empty. Classes droned onwards behind closed doors.To her peers Carrie had many, many faults, which they bullied her for. I empathised with her but found her a little hard to sympathise with to start. But as I discovered what her mother and home life was like, I began to understand why she was the way she was. Carrie is far from perfect, at the start or at the end of the story, but her quirks, imperfections and experiences influence how she behaves, drives the plot forward, and in the end make me understand her as a person (and maybe just a little, root for her too).
Carrie's shrieks had finally ended, but she had continued to weep with steady regularity. Desjardin had finally placed the napkin herself, cleaned the girl up with wet paper towels, and gotten her back into her plain cotton underpants.
She tried twice to explain the commonplace reality of menstruation, but Carrie clapped her hands over her ears and continued to cry.
Do any of your favourite characters have any imperfections? ...Do you...?
*You can find Alane Fergus's post on Writing Imperfect Characters at Writing Teen Novels.
9 January 2013
Series: No, standalone
UK Publisher: Walker
UK Release date: 3rd January 2013
Kindly given by the publisher for an honest review
Inspired by Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, BLACK SPRING reimagines the passionate story in a fantasy 19th century society sustained by wizardry and the vengeance code of vendetta.
Anna spent her childhood with Damek and her volatile foster sister Lina, daughter of the Lord of the village. Lina has magical powers, and in this brutal patriarchal society women with magical powers are put to death as babies. Lina’s father, however, refuses to kill her but when vendetta explodes in their village and Lina’s father dies, their lives are changed forever. Their new guardian Masko sends Anna away and reduces Lina to the status of a servant. Damek—mad with love for Lina—attempts to murder Masko, then vanishes for several years. Anna comes home five years later to find Lina about to marry a pleasant young farmer, and witnesses Damek’s vengeful return and its catastrophic consequences. (Goodreads)
Black Spring is a re-imagining of the classic Wuthering Heights, embellished with fantasy elements. The story includes witches, wizards, and a strange vendetta that must down through families to enrich the King's coffers.With these fantasy elements, Black Spring will appeal to a new, younger audience that may not have already read Emily Bronte's classic, as well as fans of the tale.
I was surprised that in this retelling, the key plot points stayed the same but the character names had changed. Because of this, the start felt very different to the original and I had a little trouble trying to equate the characters in this book with the original (although I do realise that each book should be read on its own merits, and not compared, it is difficult for me to do with such a well known book). Having said this, I think the new names better suited the new setting and fantasy elements, rather than the historical, British feel.
The addition of the family vendettas, wizards and curses gave a more ominous backdrop to the doomed love between Lina and Damek, as well as adding interest and action to the plot. For me, it also gave credence to Lina’s (aka Cathy’s) behaviour and went a little way to explaining her drastic change in demeanour. Yes, I understand that Damek’s leaving would have caused Lina to be deeply upset, but I also think such a strong willed young woman would have more strength of character. And of course the wild character of Lina was perfectly suited to being a potential witch.
Just as with the original, Alison Croggon has created an atmosphere of gloom and despair in the isolated village, and this gloom haunts the characters throughout. If you enjoyed the original and like fantasy, or if you want to read a dark tale of despair, then Black Spring will be perfect.
6 January 2013
Most people making resolutions will probably hope to lose weight, see family more often, get a new job or quit smoking. Mine are to grow my nails (not 'stop biting my nails' - as with hope, a resolution should be positive); finish writing a dystopian short story I started a while back; and travel more. Whilst hope is a key concept in lots of fictional writing, and is often a motivating force for change in the key characters, it's not often you read about characters in books wanting to achieve mundane goals like quitting a bad habit. (It's just not that interesting to read about.) But more common themes in YA are new relationships, being accepted by peers, or surviving life threatening situations.
If I thought people might read them all, I would give quotes from lots of books, including Debutantes by Cora Harrison, which is about four young sisters in the 1920s, each hoping and striving to escape their humdrum life and fulfil their career ambitions. Or from Whisper by Chrissie Keighery, which follows 16 year old Demi as she copes with becoming deaf. The whole story is wrapped up in feelings of hope and despair, fear and courage, and the emotional journey Demi goes through, from hopelessness to hope, is completely heart warming and touching.
"Of course it's worth it," said Kira. "Say that it's stupid, say that it's impossible, but never say that it's not worth it. We know full well that we might not be coming back alive, or successful, and I recognize that, and I wouldn't have suggested it if I wasn't ready to accept it. But Haru is right -- trading any of us, even trading all of us, for the chance to start a new generation of humans is more than worth it. If we can actually pull this off and use a Partial to cure RM, we're not just saving Maddy's baby, we;re saving thousands of babies, maybe millions of babies -- every human baby ever born for the rest of time. We're saving our entire species."This was one of my favourite books of 2012, and I would definitely recommend reading it!
2 January 2013
Series: No, standalone
UK Publisher: Random House Children's Publisher
UK Release date: 3rd January 2013
Kindly given by the publisher for an honest review
Eva’s life is not her own. She is a creation, an abomination – an echo. Made by the Weavers as a copy of someone else, she is expected to replace a girl named Amarra, her ‘other’, if she ever died. Eva studies what Amarra does, what she eats, what it’s like to kiss her boyfriend, Ray. So when Amarra is killed in a car crash, Eva should be ready.
But fifteen years of studying never prepared her for this.
Now she must abandon everything she’s ever known – the guardians who raised her, the boy she’s forbidden to love – to move to India and convince the world that Amarra is still alive ...