Saturday, 29 December 2012

Highlights of 2012!

Well, it's been quite a year. Looking back, I'm amazed at how much has happened, especially with my writing. I started out with half a novel and an undying dream. Now I'm an almost-published author with nearly three novels completed this year! How on earth I managed that, I've honestly no idea. I guess it's time to look back on some of the highlights of 2012...

  • Work Experience at Macmillan Children's Books: This was one of my proudest moments. I'd applied to over 30 publishers for work experience but without any prior experience, I wasn't having much luck. Then Macmillan contacted me to offer me a 2-week placement in Marketing and Publicity, and I finally got the chance to experience working for a major publishing company! A fantastic two weeks! :)
  • Finishing my third completed novel, THE PUPPET SPELL, and uploading it to Authonomy for feedback! I managed (through hours spend critiquing other people's work) to get over 100 comments and some fantastic advice on improving the book.
  • Having some amazing times with people from uni, including cinema trips - the best was definitely The Hunger Games! (except now I've seen The Hobbit, I'm not so sure!)
  • Hiking in the Lake District and Yorkshire :)
(this was taken in Malham, Yorkshire!)
  • Going on a road trip to Haworth (home of the Bronte sisters) with my friends!
(Outside the Bronte Parsonage Museum!)
  • Epic day at Blackpool Pleasure Beach with my boyfriend. Pouring rain meant no queues and a whole day of rollercoasters! (adrenaline junkie that I am :P)
  • Passing my second year at university with a 2.1!
  • Starting this blog! (can't believe it's been 8 months!)
  • Getting my first short story published in an online magazine, Inkapture!
  • Dressing up as a Powerpuff Girl for the end-of-year celebrations, watching the sun rise from campus, and watching some awesome bands for my last night in Lancaster before summer!
  • (The theme was superheroes and supervillains :P)

  • Spending 5 weeks in Costa Rica, learning  Spanish, volunteering, and travelling around doing awesome adventure activities! Certainly an unforgettable experience!
(abseiling down a waterfall in Arenal Adventure World, Fortuna!)
  • Going to Italy for a week with my family and visiting Sorrento, Capri, Pompeii and Rome! Best family holiday in ages. :D

  • Celebrating my 21st!
  • Returning to Lancaster for my third year of university! Crazy times despite having no money, ending with the awesome Winter Ball!
  • Finishing another book (Darkworld Book 1: Darkness Watching), and starting another (Book 2 - first draft now finshed!)

Wow! I know I've been lucky. I'm now permanently skint so no more travelling for a while, but I'm hoping next year brings even better things (like a publishing contract for my next book series! Please. Please...). I guess the most important thing 2012's given me is a real sense of direction. Having done work experience at a publishing house, I can safely say that's where I want to work! And I finally achieved my dream - a publishing contract. I even finished three books in a year!

I'm really grateful to everyone who's helped make this year awesome, including everyone who's followed me on Twitter, followed this blog, added my book on Goodreads and liked my Facebook page. You guys are fantastic. Here's to another year of reading/writing!

Monday, 24 December 2012

Best books I've read in 2012

It was difficult, but I managed to narrow down my list to a few of the best books I've read this year (doesn't mean they were published this year, fact, I've spent rather a lot of time catching up on LAST year's reading!) But here's the list! (in no particular order)
The Iron Knight (Iron Fey, #4)

I loved that I finally got to read the conclusion to Julie Kagawa's fantastic Iron Fey series this year - The Iron Knight was brilliant, an imaginative, tear-jerking journey, and wow...what an ending! Read my review here

City of Lost Souls (The Mortal Instruments #5)
Cassandra Clare's latest Mortal Instruments book was well worth the wait! Definitely one of my favourite YA urban fantasy series. Read my review of 'City of Lost Souls' here

Divergent (Divergent, #1)

I read the first in Veronica Roth's dystopian trilogy this year, and finally discovered what all the fuss was about! If you like thrilling, action-packed dystopia, you can't go wrong with this. Read my review here.

Forsaken (The Demon Trappers, #1)Forbidden (The Demon Trappers, #2)

I discovered this witty and inventive urban fantasy series earlier this year and I intend to read the next two books soon! Read my reviews of 'Forsaken' and 'Forbidden'. 

The Final Empire (Mistborn, #1)
This trilogy blew my mind. Astonishingly original and compelling, this is a fantastic fantasy series by a great author. Read my review of the first book here. 

Kingdom of the Wicked (Skulduggery Pleasant, #7)

Derek Landy's Skulduggery Pleasant series is just plain brilliant. Every book is hilariously witty, action-packed and full of bizarre characters with fun names. This is inventive fantasy at its best, and with a racing plot, dark magic, and plenty of horrible monsters, 'Kingdom of the Wicked' is a fantastic addition to the series. 

Switched (Trylle, #1)

Amanda Hocking's Trylle trilogy gets a thumbs-up from me for being an example of how self-publishing can really pay off. The books sold over a million copies before being re-published by St Martin's Press, and Macmillan in the UK (incidentally, I actually received my copies of the books whilst on work experience at Pan Macmillan and it was only when I discovered Amanda Hocking's blog later on that I made the connection!). Switched is the first in a paranormal romance trilogy about trolls from legend - a pretty awesome concept!

 Angelfall (Penryn & the End of Days, #1)

I reviewed this a few weeks ago, and it remains one of the best post-apocalyptic novels I've ever read. A gripping and thrilling tale of one girl's quest to rescue her sister from evil angels of the apocalypse - read my review here! 

The Immortal Rules (Blood of Eden, #1)

Another by Julie Kagawa, but The Immortal Rules, the first in the Blood of Eden series, couldn't be more different from the Iron Fey. Vampire dystopia? Hell yeah! My review's here

A Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire, #1)

I've just finished this one - review on the way soon!

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Winter is coming!

...had to get in a Game of Thrones reference there...

Yep, it's that time of year. I'm going home for a month on Saturday (waaaah! Not that I don't want to see my family...but it's a whole MONTH away from all the awesome people at uni!), and I'm planning to use that time to get some serious writing done. I realise I have a 5000-word essay and a dissertation to work on, too, but this is supposed to be about my personal writing goals! (I will get the essays done. Even in the holidays, I'm an insane workaholic - probably more so than in term time because at home I'm 200 miles away from most of my friends!) So here are my goals:

  • Finish Darkworld Book 2, then put aside.
  • Start Puppet Spell sequel, and decide whether to make a duology or trilogy! (according to spellcheck, duology isn't a word. I like it, however, so I'm keeping it)
  • Wait for responses from publishers for Darkworld Book 1 (sits rocking in corner chewing fingernails)
That's it!

Meanwhile, I shall be enjoying the festivities. The university sure know how to get into the Christmas spirit! Last Sunday I watched the most hilarious Christmas pantomime of Cinderella ever, put on by people from my university, and had a fantastic time at the Winter Ball last night, with all my friends and my boyfriend, Jed. Hope everyone else has a fantastic holiday!

And here's a lovely picture of a Lancaster sunset, to remind me of why I don't want to leave!

Monday, 3 December 2012

Interview and Review - Renhala by Amy Joy Lutchen

Today I'm interviewing the lovely Amy Joy Lutchen, author of the wonderful fantasy novel Renhala!


Goodreads summary: Kailey Rooke, timid accountant, dedicated to philanthropic work, finds herself spiraling into a deep depression after she suffers a horrifyingly odd and humiliating assault, to only discover more of these freakish assaults occurring across the globe.

A chance discovery leads Kailey to a meeting with elderly Gunthreon, actual master of persuasion. Gunthreon, who seems to know too much of Kailey's history for her liking, opens Kailey's eyes to a coexisting realm she never knew existed: Renhala, while entrusting her with the knowledge of her newfound power as karmelean, serving as a beacon to the Higher Ones. Kailey slowly starts revealing new talents, and Gunthreon is fascinated with what she starts achieving.

She soon discovers that Renhala is in danger, and this danger has been leaking into her own realm. As she uncovers secrets within herself, and attempts to toughen up, she fuses with an unlikely band of fellow travelers (including a dragon, woodsprite, six-hundred-pound greble, her faithful female canine companion, and a "giver"), falls into an unexpected love triangle, deals with her sexy and flirtatious best friend’s “issues,” and finds the courage to master a new deadly weapon. 

On her mission to save Renhala, Kailey will find herself running from life-threatening disasters, such as greble Tartarin, who likes to remind Kailey that when he catches her, he plans on eating her brains with ice cream; she'll run from the deadly meeples: small cute bunnies with talons and an undeniable thirst for imposing self-destruction on others. Kailey will also run into the possibility that a centuries-old Renhalan rumor is true, that advanced technology existing in Kailey's realm shortens all life spans.

As blood is shed and puzzles near completion, Kailey pulls from deep within herself, conjuring up mystical qualities that enable her to astonish as once predicted at her birth, but despite the newfound strength, Kailey will discover that monsters not only come in ugly packages, but can be easily disguised as those she has come to love and trust.

My Review:

Renhala, by debut author Amy Joy Lutchen, is an inventive and imaginative fantasy that spans two universes: our own, and an alternative realm known as Renhala. The narrative begins with Kailey, who is recovering from a horrible, bizarre assault which has left her broken. But things take a turn for the weird when she meets a mysterious stranger at a party who reveals to her that she possesses strange powers, somehow connected to the alternative universe known as Renhala. Kailey learns that she is a karmalean, and that she might be the only hope to save both worlds.

The novel is populated by a variety of fantastic characters, from her flirtatious best friend Amber to Bu, an eight-foot, green monster with poor hygiene yet who somehow manages to be adorable. There are killer bunnies, a dragon, and a love triangle. With great world-building, the author weaves an original fantasy tale set in a vividly-imagined alternative realm. This is definitely worth a read for anyone looking for their next fantasy adventure.

Rating: ****

About the author: 

Was born in Chicago and slept in a dresser drawer for the first few weeks of my life, marking me as a future claustrophobe. 

I studied at the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana (man I grew up quick), where I became a number, but decided it was a good number.

I now write in my spare time as I eat snacks, making sure they are not in multiples of three. That number makes me nervous.

Amy Joy Lutchen
Website/Blog Goodreads


Could you tell me a bit about yourself?
Hmmm. Such a hard question to start off with! I never know what to say about me. Well, I am a female, in her thirties—maybe at the end of that decade, BUT STILL IN MY THIRTIES! . . . for now. I love sweets, especially European chocolate. OMG! Chocolate *drooling*. Oh, and I LOVE tea! It’s unnatural how much I love tea. I’ve basically built my house out of tea. It’s absolutely everywhere . . .

I am also a wife and mother of two boys (see the gray hair?).

When did you start writing?
I’ve always been full of characters bursting to get out. Within the past five years is when I knew I had to release them in order to help me deal with some of my own personal issues in an unbelievably therapeutic way: writing. I can’t stop! Guess that’s good for all those waiting for the second book in the Renhala series. *wink wink*

What inspired you to write the book?
Renhala started as a single piece of paper littered with a hodgepodge of written fears and tragic events from my life—things that were haunting me, things that I just couldn’t get past.You see, years prior to me writing down these events, I suffered a horrible assault by the hands of a total stranger and it was eating me alive. Simple things like meeting eyes with someone new or watching an attack scene on television kept driving me into dark corners inside my mind.

But one day, out of the blue, on a train ride home from work, I gathered my strength and flipped that same stupid piece of paper over and began writing more words, different words. As the magic began flowing freely from my fingertips, and Renhala was becoming more and more concrete, my destiny was changed forever. I finally felt better about myself—felt better about life—for I was shaping future events. And the characters that emerged were exactly the healing friends I needed.

Who is your favourite character in your book?
Well, apparently Bu is a favorite of everybody . . . but I can say that Kioto, the Akita, holds a special place in my heart. Unconditional love is like no other gift in this world.

Which authors have inspired you?
Every author I read inspires me in one way or another, whether it be this particular author’s rendition of a scary-ass clown, or this author’s ability to bring tears to my eyes, or that particular author’s ability to make me feel dumb ‘cause I just don’t get it.

Tell me about one of your favourite books of all time.

One of my favorite books of all time is a really strange book, SERIOUSLY. Have you ever heard of the book Flatland, a Romance of Many Dimensions, by Edwin A. Abbott? I don’t know what drugs that man may have taken, but it’s genius! The women in the book are straight lines and they have to wiggle back and forth so that if they walk toward you, they don’t pierce right through you. See? Genius!

Friday, 30 November 2012

Review of The Immortal Rules by Julie Kagawa

The Immortal Rules (Blood of Eden, #1)

Goodreads summary: "In a future world, vampires reign. Humans are blood cattle. And one girl will search for the key to save humanity."Allison Sekemoto survives in the Fringe, the outermost circle of a vampire city. By day, she and her crew scavenge for food. By night, any one of them could be eaten.

Some days, all that drives Allie is her hatred of "them." The vampires who keep humans as blood cattle. Until the night Allie herself is attacked--and given the ultimate choice. Die...or become one of the monsters.

Faced with her own mortality, Allie becomes what she despises most. To survive, she must learn the rules of being immortal, including the most important: go long enough without human blood, and you will go mad.

Then Allie is forced to flee into the unknown, outside her city walls. There she joins a ragged band of humans who are seeking a legend--a possible cure to the disease that killed off most of humankind and created the rabids, the mindless creatures who threaten humans and vampires alike.

But it isn't easy to pass for human. Especially not around Zeke, who might see past the monster inside her. And Allie soon must decide what--and who--is worth dying for.

Amazon UK

Julie Kagawa is a hugely talented writer – I’ve said that enough in my reviews of her amazing Iron Fey series. The first in Kagawa’s new Blood of Eden series is hugely different from her other books in many ways, yet the quality of the storytelling and character-building remains high as ever. I loved The Immortal Rules – it definitely revitalises the vampire myth, bringing back the fearsome, blood-drinking monsters from legend, and proving that it’s possible to breathe new life into a tired literary theme.

The Immortal Rules is set in a future world where vampires not only exist, they rule humanity. Forced to expose their existence after a disease which has decimated the populations of both humans and vampires, the immortals now dominate our race. Humanity – or what remains of it – lives in fear. Registered humans are used as blood cattle, with the most elite acting as ‘pets’, betraying their own to serve the ruling vamps. The Unregistered live on the streets, risking their lives for their very survival - because to steal from the vamps means death. But to Alison Sekemoto, the idea of belonging to the vampires is repellent.

The vampires may rule the city of New Convington, but outside it, rabids roam, victims of the disease. After a brutal rabid attack leaves Allie on the brink of death, she is faced with a choice: let the rabid virus spread and become a savage man-eating monster – or allow her rescuer to turn her into a vampire, one of the creatures she despises. Wanting to survive, she chooses the latter.

Now Alison must learn how to live as a ‘monster’, dependent on drinking the blood of humans. Under the guidance of her creator, Kanin, she tries to adapt to her brutal new existence. But when she learns her master’s shocking secret, she is compelled to leave, and finds herself joining a group of humans who are searching for a city named Eden, where there are supposedly no vampires – and even the possibility for a cure for the rabid virus. But how long can she last without revealing her true nature? And will she ever find acceptance?

The writing was, as usual, faultless, and the dystopian fantasy world was realised in vivid detail, from the ravaged, crumbing cities to the endless wilderness between. As I said before, this is very different from the Iron Fey series. Allie, the protagonist, is far tougher than Meghan – though of course, this is a different story entirely.  It’s great to see vampires as the feared creatures they should be – and it makes for an intriguing and compelling tale as Alison tries to do the apparently impossible:  live as an immortal whilst retaining her humanity.

Rating: *****

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Writing character

I've just been reading a book, which I was forced to abandon (something that almost NEVER happens) because I found the main character and her life to be completely unconvincing- and, in fact, I didn't actually care what happened to them. It got me thinking about all the things that can ruin a story for the reader, and a large number of them are connected to the protagonist - after all, it's through their eyes, be it in first or third person, that we experience the story. They don't have to be likable - I can think of plenty of classics with narrators who are downright detestable! - but in Young Adult and Children's fiction in particular, there has to be something there we can connect to. So I've written a list of important things to think about when creating your main character.

  • Backstory- don't bombard the reader with details, but in order to establish an emotional connection with the protagonist, we need to know who they are and where they come from. They have to feel like they've lived before the story began. In the first chapter of The Hunger Games, we find out the basic details of Katniss's life - in particular her love for her sister, Prim. An instant emotional connection is established. In other books, the characters act like paper cut-outs, or puppets of the plot (had to get in a sneaky reference to my book there!), and it's like they only exist for the purposes of the story. Even if the book's set on another planet, the character's life has to be plausible otherwise the story just won't convince.
  •  Think about the different elements involved in constructing a character: description, dialogue, action, memories, reactions to other characters. Above all, remember that showing us what a character is like is almost always better than telling us. Telling is best used for talking about the character's past and situation (though much of this can often be implied too), whereas the most effective way to show characteristics is through letting the reader watch the characters in action.
  • Dialogue - this is another of the most important ways to reveal character - in fact, dialogue IS character. We can infer so much about someone by the way they speak, what they say, and, crucially, what they don't say. The way characters speak to others can reveal social status, attitude towards life, and much more.
  • Details are key. Make profiles for all your main characters and include lots of detail, however apparently trivial: family, friends, favourite colour, hobbies. It's the details that make your character stand out like a real individual, and not simply there for plot purposes. But remember to stay consistent!
  • A novel should be about, in part, the main character's journey. They should have changed in some way by the end of the book. It's part of the key to a satisfying ending. I always write the main character's storyline out before starting a new project.

That's it from me for today! I'm currently in Essay Hell and might not be able to update as frequently, but I'll be posting a review of The Immortal Rules by Julie Kagawa in the next few days, and I'm preparing to host my first author interview/feature!

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Books I want to read!

I'm already counting down to Christmas! I'm really looking forward to finally getting a Kindle (reading books on my iPhone plays havoc with my eyesight!) so I can read all the great e-books I'm planning to buy with my Christmas money! Yep, that's basically my list: Kindle + money for books. Of course, all I really want for Christmas is a publishing contract for my Darkworld book series, but alas, that isn't something you can put in a stocking. So I just wait in hope...

Anyway, I've decided to post a list of five of the books I want to read, when I finally have money (the joys of being a poor student who can barely afford bus fare, let alone books *sniff*)!

The Lost Prince (The Iron Fey: Call of the Forgotten, #1)
Goodreads description: Don’t look at Them. Never let Them know you can see Them.
That is Ethan Chase’s unbreakable rule. Until the fey he avoids at all costs—including his reputation—begin to disappear, and Ethan is attacked. Now he must change the rules to protect his family. To save a girl he never thought he’d dare to fall for.
Ethan thought he had protected himself from his older sister’s world—the land of Faery. His previous time in the Iron Realm left him with nothing but fear and disgust for the world Meghan Chase has made her home, a land of myth and talking cats, of magic and seductive enemies. But when destiny comes for Ethan, there is no escape from a danger long, long forgotten.

I really, really want to read this. I love the Iron Fey series and was thrilled to learn that Julie Kagawa was releasing a follow-up, focusing on Meghan's little brother Ethan, all grown up! This looks like a fantastic read and I'll be buying this as soon as it's released!

Delirium (Delirium, #1)
Goodreads description: Before scientists found the cure, people thought love was a good thing. They didn’t understand that once love -- the deliria -- blooms in your blood, there is no escaping its hold. Things are different now. Scientists are able to eradicate love, and the government demands that all citizens receive the cure upon turning eighteen. Lena Holoway has always looked forward to the day when she’ll be cured. A life without love is a life without pain: safe, measured, predictable, and happy.
But with ninety-five days left until her treatment, Lena does the unthinkable: She falls in love.

Delirium has been on my list for ages but I just haven't had the money to buy books to read for fun (waaah!). Looking forward to finally reading it!

The Blemished (Blemished #1)
Goodreads description: A beautiful world comes at a price...
In a world filled with stunning clones Mina Hart is Blemished. Her genes are worthless and that takes away her rights: her right to an Education, her right to a normal life and her right to have a child.
Mina keeps a dangerous secret which she never thought she could share until she meets Angela on her first day at St Jude's School. But their friendship is soon complicated by Angela’s adoptive brother Daniel. Mina finds herself drawn to his mysterious powers and impulsive nature. Then there is the gorgeous clone Sebastian who Mina is forbidden from even speaking to…
The Blemished is a frightening take on a fractured future where the Genetic Enhancement Ministry have taken control of Britain. It will take you on a ride filled with adventure, romance and rebellion.

I read the first few chapters of this on Authonomy a while ago, and I absolutely loved it - it's a great take on dystopia, and I'd love to finally get to read the whole book!

Shadow and Bone (The Grisha, #1)
Goodreads description: Surrounded by enemies, the once-great nation of Ravka has been torn in two by the Shadow Fold, a swath of near impenetrable darkness crawling with monsters who feast on human flesh. Now its fate may rest on the shoulders of one lonely refugee.
Alina Starkov has never been good at anything. But when her regiment is attacked on the Fold and her best friend is brutally injured, Alina reveals a dormant power that saves his life—a power that could be the key to setting her war-ravaged country free. Wrenched from everything she knows, Alina is whisked away to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the mysterious Darkling.
Yet nothing in this lavish world is what it seems. With darkness looming and an entire kingdom depending on her untamed power, Alina will have to confront the secrets of the Grisha…and the secrets of her heart.

I've seen this book around a lot lately, and it caught my eye as it seems such a cool idea! I've been starving for an original fantasy read, and this looks like something I'll enjoy!

Black City (Black City, #1)
Goodreads description: In a city where humans and Darklings are now separated by a high wall and tensions between the two races still simmer after a terrible war, sixteen-year-olds Ash Fisher, a half-blood Darkling, and Natalie Buchanan, a human and the daughter of the Emissary, meet and do the unthinkable—they fall in love. Bonded by a mysterious connection that causes Ash’s long-dormant heart to beat, Ash and Natalie first deny and then struggle to fight their forbidden feelings for each other, knowing if they’re caught, they’ll be executed—but their feelings are too strong.
When Ash and Natalie then find themselves at the center of a deadly conspiracy that threatens to pull the humans and Darklings back into war, they must make hard choices that could result in both their deaths.

Another book I've seen floating around the Blogosphere. It looks intriguing, so I think I'll give it a read!

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Five tips for writing fiction

I was struggling to think of a writing topic to blog about this week, but I realised that some of the notes I have from my creative writing course might be useful for other writers. This is based on my lecture notes from over two years ago on writing short stories - I found it pretty useful! So here's my top five tips of the week:

  • Remember the three part narrative structure: beginning, middle, end. Sounds pretty basic, but it's what readers expect. Of course, there are some examples of great novels which are told outside of the traditional order (with the end revealed at the beginning, or the story told through flashbacks) but these are the exception rather than the rule. The narrative doesn't necessarily have to be linear, but must have a compelling opening, enough in the middle to keep the reader entertained and a build-up to a great climax and denouement. It's the basic structure as set in the earliest stories told around campfires by our distant ancestors, and it's never been bettered.
  • Show don't tell...this one constantly comes up in writing advice, but it's amazing how easy it is to get into the habit of telling the reader things that can easily be shown through action. Why say 'It was raining' when you can show the raindrops drumming on the windowsill? The same goes for emotion. I've been told to avoid words such as 'angry', 'depressed', etc. It's so much more effective to convey emotions through the characters' speech, actions and reactions. Characteristics come through more strongly in this way, too. Showing brings your writing to life.
  • Conflict! Every story needs something that drives it, and that's generally linked to what the characters want, and the forces preventing them from achieving those goals. Before you start writing, think about what your main character wants, and what forces work against them. The conflict can be internal or external, but it has to be there.
  • Motivations: this one's linked to conflict, but it's important that you give the characters a reason for pursuing their goals. People act for a reason, and it has to fit in with their character. Without motives, characters fall flat, and their behaviour makes no sense.
  • Get right into the action - don't spend ages setting the scene, but hook the reader first and explain the background later. Giving the reader a reason to read on is the most important aim for Chapter One!

As you might have noticed, I've gotten into the habit of blogging twice weekly, posting one book review and one writing-related post. This is the most I can manage right now with the amount of work I have to do for university - third year is turning out to be a killer! But I'm still managing to do some writing, even though it isn't as much as I'd like to be doing.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Review - Angelfall by Susan Ee

Angelfall (Penryn & the End of Days, #1)
Goodreads description: It’s been six weeks since angels of the apocalypse descended to demolish the modern world. Street gangs rule the day while fear and superstition rule the night. When warrior angels fly away with a helpless little girl, her seventeen-year-old sister Penryn will do anything to get her back.

Anything, including making a deal with an enemy angel.

Raffe is a warrior who lies broken and wingless on the street. After eons of fighting his own battles, he finds himself being rescued from a desperate situation by a half-starved teenage girl.

Traveling through a dark and twisted Northern California, they have only each other to rely on for survival. Together, they journey toward the angels’ stronghold in San Francisco where she’ll risk everything to rescue her sister and he’ll put himself at the mercy of his greatest enemies for the chance to be made whole again.

Amazon UK

I confess that this was one of my ‘impulse buys’ – I was bored, found this ebook cheap on Amazon, and found the description interesting. I didn’t expect much – but Susan Ee’s storytelling blew me away.

In a word: wow. There are a lot of books about angels around these days, but I’ve honestly never read anything quite like this. Ee draws on the biblical depiction of angels as vengeful and merciless agents of God who hand out judgement on humankind, and the result is a brutal post-apocalyptic world in which avenging angels have laid waste to civilisation. Hunted by the avenging messengers of God, humanity has fractured, the survivors broken wrecks for the most part – some even turning to cannibalism.

Penryn spends her life looking after her disabled sister and her paranoid-schizophrenic mother, but when her sister is taken by angels, she is forced to ally herself with one of the beings she despises. Having been stripped of his wings by his own kind, Raffe may be Penryn’s only hope to save her sister, and the two make a reluctant alliance. But as the stakes heighten, it seems impossible for either to stay loyal to their own kind. Raffe wants his wings back, and Penryn intends to go right into the aerie, formerly San Francisco, to find her sister, no matter the cost.

We have little or no back story in the beginning; Susan Ee leaves it to the reader to piece together what happened to the world and focuses instead on the immediate action. The result is that you feel like you’re there with Penryn, whether it be hiding out in abandoned houses or trekking through dark forests full of unseen enemies. It’s incredibly nerve-wracking, and the narrative kept me in a constant state of tension.  Ee is a fantastic storyteller, and Penryn’s voice is both youthful and cynical, perfect for the story. Penryn is an independent, tough heroine reminiscent of Katniss from The Hunger Games. But Ee’s horrific future world is very different from Collins’s dystopia. In Katniss’s world, you know you’ll be punished if you break the rules. In Penryn’s world, there are no rules. The angels are mean, remorseless and want us dead. And I love it.

This book has to be one of the most gripping post-apocalyptic novels I’ve ever read - and in a genre full of great talent, that’s saying something. Every twist was unexpected,the action remains at a constant high, and the depiction of the world in ruins is eerie and haunting.  Maybe some readers will be annoyed at the lack of background information - other than what we gather from Penryn's observations - but I think the story works better that way. Angelfall has a gripping narrative full of nail-biting suspense and some genuinely shocking moments, yet the characterisation - particularly of the leading characters - is also well-developed, especially Penryn’s conflicting feelings towards Raffe. The cliffhanger ending left me, as I'm sure it did so many other, eagerly anticipating the sequel - it'll be hard to match this debut on quality, but there are so many things hinted at, including the angel politics that led to the invasion of Earth, the twisted experiments they were performing, and the history of Penryn's family.

A fantastic novel from an incredibly talented author: this is one end-of-the-world story you don’t want to miss.

Rating: *****

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Review - The Alloy of Law by Brandon Sanderson

The Alloy of Law (Mistborn, #4)

Goodreads summary: Fresh from the success of The Way of Kings, Brandon Sanderson, best known for completing Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time®, takes a break to return to the world of the bestselling Mistborn series.

Three hundred years after the events of the Mistborn trilogy, Scadrial is now on the verge of modernity, with railroads to supplement the canals, electric lighting in the streets and the homes of the wealthy, and the first steel-framed skyscrapers racing for the clouds.

Kelsier, Vin, Elend, Sazed, Spook, and the rest are now part of history—or religion. Yet even as science and technology are reaching new heights, the old magics of Allomancy and Feruchemy continue to play a role in this reborn world. Out in the frontier lands known as the Roughs, they are crucial tools for the brave men and women attempting to establish order and justice. 

One such is Waxillium Ladrian, a rare Twinborn, who can Push on metals with his Allomancy and use Feruchemy to become lighter or heavier at will. After twenty years in the Roughs, Wax has been forced by family tragedy to return to the metropolis of Elendel. Now he must reluctantly put away his guns and assume the duties and dignity incumbent upon the head of a noble house. Or so he thinks, until he learns the hard way that the mansions and elegant tree-lined streets of the city can be even more dangerous than the dusty plains of the Roughs.

The Alloy of Law is Sanderson’s follow-up to his epic fantasy trilogy, the Mistborn series. Sanderson is an extraordinary fantasy writer, with the enviable ability to create unique alternative worlds operating on fascinating and totally original systems of magic. The Mistborn trilogy is far and away one of my favourite fantasy series of all time, and I was eager to read this follow-up novel despite knowing that it would not feature any of the classic characters from the original series, being set in the future.

The Mistborn series contains one of the most original magical systems I’ve ever read. Allomancy and Feruchemy are magical abilities which work by ‘burning’ metals to enhance one’s abilities, and those with either skill generally have only one such ability. An issue I often have with adult fantasy is that it can get too bogged-down in world-building and complex details. As original as Ian Irvine’s fantasy world in the Well of Echoes trilogy may be, I confess that most of the detailed explanations of Geomancy went right over my head (possibly because I’m not a science person!). But this never happens with Sanderson’s novels:  they’re both complex and readable, and that’s no easy feat.

The protagonist, Waxillium Ladrian, is a Twinborn, one of the few people with abilities in both Allomancy and Feruchemy, capable of Pushing on metals for limitless movement, and of becoming lighter or heavier at will. A reluctant aristocrat who spent most of his life in the Roughs, catching criminals, he is expected to assume his role as the head of his House and to find a suitable wife.  But in the city, mysterious crimes are being committed, with seemingly random thefts and kidnappings. He and his former partner-in-crime Wayne - a man capable of healing himself even of a life-threatening injury - and Marasi, a friend of his kidnapped fiancĂ©, have to join forces to uncover who’s behind the robberies – and what their true motives are.

Whilst not quite as intensely gripping as the original trilogy, The Alloy of Law is an excellent book, drawing us into a future world far away from the world left ravaged at the end of The Hero of Ages. The book is intended as a companion to the series and, as such, it would be better to have read the trilogy first (I highly recommend them!) to gain an idea of the context of the events. That said, The Alloy of Law is a great story in its own right, with the same page-turning quality, epic fight sequences, and vivid, well-developed characterisation that makes his Mistborn series so stunning.

Rating: *****

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Review - Divergent by Veronica Roth

Divergent (Divergent, #1)
In Beatrice Prior's dystopian Chicago world, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue--Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is--she can't have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself.

During the highly competitive initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris and struggles alongside her fellow initiates to live out the choice they have made. Together they must undergo extreme physical tests of endurance and intense psychological simulations, some with devastating consequences. As initiation transforms them all, Tris must determine who her friends really are--and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes fascinating, sometimes exasperating boy fits into the life she's chosen. But Tris also has a secret, one she's kept hidden from everyone because she's been warned it can mean death. And as she discovers unrest and growing conflict that threaten to unravel her seemingly perfect society, she also learns that her secret might help her save those she loves . . . or it might destroy her.

(Cover and description from Goodreads)

This book intrigued me, mainly because I had an idea for a dystopia in which people are segregated according to their personality type a while ago, which never got past the planning stage. But this was different to what I expected, and in a good way. Veronica Roth creates an interesting version of the dystopian world, one based on conformity rather than fear. In this world, there are five paths in life: Abnegation, Amity, Erudite, Candor, and Dauntless, each based on a virtue which they value above all else. The factions live separately, and at sixteen, everyone has to take a test to see which of the factions they will spend their life in. For Beatrice, this will mean staying in Abnegation with her family, or being permanently separated from them.

But what if you don’t fit comfortably into any category?

When Beatrice takes the test, she learns something about herself that could put her life at risk: she is Divergent. This gives her the choice of whether to stay with her family in the selfless, giving world of Abnegation – or to join the Dauntless and realise her full potential.  She decides to start an new life and switch factions, unable to commit to the selfless existence at home. Renaming herself Tris, Beatrice fights to pass the gruelling initiation. If she fails, she will be cast out, factionless – which, to her, is a fate worse than death. But can she survive the tests that follow?

As she fights for a place in the world, Tris is forced to question everything she thinks she knows about herself and her family, and has to face her deepest fears. In a world where everyone is out to compete, can she trust anyone? And with plots brewing in the background, her secret might not be as safe as she assumed.

Divergent didn’t grip me as much as The Hunger Games, but this is an action-packed, engaging read. The action is high and tension and suspense are maintained throughout.  The only criticism is that the majority of the novel is taken up by the long initiation process, which may frustrate some readers that we have to wait until three quarters of the way through the book for the main action to start. But the gripping finale is worth the wait, and the final part of the book is an emotional rollercoaster. The writing is well-paced throughout and the characters are convincing. Tris is a strong heroine, if a bit unfeeling, but it’s refreshing to see a protagonist who isn’t caught up in petty love triangles. The tentative romance is believable, even though Tris’s relationships with the other characters, particularly her family, are a little underdeveloped.

Divergent is well worth a look for anyone looking for their next dystopian read, even if this particular dystopia isn’t quite as absorbing as Katniss’s, and perhaps not entirely plausible under close scrutiny. But the story is enjoyable, and it’s easy to see why it has so many fans. I’ll definitely be reading the next in the series, and I’m interested to see where Roth takes the story next!

Rating: ****

Monday, 29 October 2012

My Recommended Halloween Reading

It's that time of year again. Out come the pumpkins, cheap vampire fangs, and opportunities for fancy dress (think I might be a witch or a zombie this year... :P). Halloween isn't celebrated as much here in the UK as it is over in the States, but at university, any chance to dress up goes!  This week I'm going on a ghost walk in Lancaster which should be awesome (we're going around all the old pubs, listening to supposedly true local ghost stories along the way!), and also to a zombie-themed Halloween party on the 31st. Looking forward to getting the face paint out again!

So I've decided to dedicate this blog post to good books to read at this spooky time of year. I don't generally read horror (although I've started branching out into dark fantasy in the last few months - triggered by starting writing my new Darkworld series!) but I can remember the ones I have read pretty vividly!

Dracula by Bram Stoker
You can't beat the classics. Stoker's Dracula established the vampire myth as we know it today, and the vampire novel has become a genre of its own (I actively despise Twilight for removing the threatening aspect and turning vampires into sparkly, controlling immortals who do nothing of consequence with their endless existence...but that's another debate entirely!). Some recent vampire novels that look worth a read are The Immortal Rules by Julie Kagawa and The Dark Heroine: Dinner with a Vampire by Abigail Gibbs. Also, check out this great blog post about Dracula, posted on the 100th anniversary of Bram Stoker's death:

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
The Picture of Dorian Gray

Not necessarily horror, but pretty chilling all the same. Oscar Wilde's tale of the boy who sells his soul for eternal youth, leading him into total corruption and murder, remains a classic tale today.

The Woman in Black by Susan Hill
The Woman in Black

I admit it: the film scared me more than the books did, and for hours after watching it, I saw the face of the woman in black every time I shut my eyes! Still, the book is also pretty creepy. The solicitor Arthur Kipps is hired to sort out the papers of an old woman who recently died, leaving her house vacant. Kipps first sees the mysterious black-clad figure whilst at the house, and the horror grows as he is continually haunted by her and starts to realise the truth behind the rumours that she is responsible for the unexplained deaths of local children. Will there ever be an end to her curse?

It by Stephen King

This book scared the hell out of me. I read it when I was 18 and despite its pretty impressive length, I made myself read it in two days because it was depriving me of sleep! But It is a fantastic story. It's about a group of people who were once friends as children when they were growing up in the small town of Derry, and promised to reunite if the monster they encountered in their childhood returned to the town. IT is a sinister creature which lives in the sewers beneath the town, taking the form of a clown (anyone scared of clowns will find this even more scary!) in order to murder children. With brilliant characterisation and a heart-racing plot, you can't go wrong with this genuinely terrifying horror story.

Hollowland by Amanda Hocking

Hollowland (The Hollows, #1)

This is a self-published book by Amanda Hocking, who is one of the authors I most admire for her perseverance with self-publishing in the face of rejections from traditional agents and publishers and managing to make millions from selling her e-books herself. Whilst not as good as Switched in my opinion, Hollowland is a great zombie novel, which is something considering I don't normally read zombie stories! The heroine, Remy, is fearless and strong, fighting her way across a zombie-stricken America in order to rescue her brother. With civilisation in a state of collapse and zombies roaming free, nowhere is truly safe, and I couldn't stop turning the pages. Definitely worth a read.

And finally...

The Hunting Ground by Cliff McNish

The Hunting Ground

I haven't actually had time to read this yet, but I got a copy signed by the author at Litfest last week and I intend to read it soon! Here's the Goodreads description: 

'When Elliott and his brother move into the old and crumbling Glebe House they don't expect to find themselves sharing it with ghosts. But soon sinister events are unfolding. An old diary reveals glimpses of the mansion's past - and of a terrible tragedy. An old woman talks to ghosts - but is she in fact being controlled by them? And what of the sinister East Wing - a hideous labyrinth devised by a truly twisted mind? Can Elliott and his family escape the clutches of Glebe House? Or will they end up trapped in the endless maze of corridors, forever hunted by the dead?'

I'm looking forward to this one! 

I'd also like to say a massive thank you to anyone reading my blog, supporting my Facebook Page, and following me on Twitter or Goodreads - you rock! :)

Thursday, 18 October 2012

I write for the monsters

Right now, Lancaster's annual literature festival, Litfest, is in full swing, which means there are all sorts of cool events happening in Lancaster. Yesterday I went to a discussion on Young Adult Gothic Fiction which was led by Dr Catherine Spooner, an English Literature lecturer at my university, and featured YA authors Celia Rees (author of Witch Child), Chris Priestley (author of the Tales of Terror books), and Cliff McNish (author of The Hunting Ground and Breathe). It was really interesting! The topic under discussion was why Gothic has become so popular over the last few years, and why it's so appealing as a genre. I love the Gothic - I just find it fascinating, both to study and to write (I've never exactly written a Gothic novel, but there are definitely elements of it in my Darkworld series, what with all the graveyards, demons and possession...), so this was right up my street!

First came a discussion of what exactly Gothic is, and it's pretty hard to define! The actual term Gothic comes from the Gothic architecture of the Middle Ages, in which there was a revived interest in the 18th century, when Horace Walpole wrote what is known as the first 'Gothic story', The Castle of Otranto. It's a pretty bizarre story, to be honest. I mean, in the opening scenes, a gigantic helmet falls from the sky and crushes the King's son to death. Honestly. Despite this, there's no denying that the book contains many elements we recognise in Gothic novels today - spooky settings (including a Gothic castle), darkness, hauntings and apparitions, the revelation of hidden crimes and murder. Another, very popular, book in the late 18th century was Ann Radcliffe's The Mysteries of Udolpho, in which a series of supernatural occurrences seem to befall the heroine, only to be revealed to have a rational explanation in the end. On the other hand, there are books like The Monk, which is pretty macabre. Of course, one of the best-known Gothic novels is Bram Stoker's Dracula, written in the late 19th century, and Gothic short stories by authors like Edgar Allen Poe were also very popular in the Victorian era. I apologise for letting my inner literature geek out for a bit there - I studied Romanticism and Victorian Literature last year so I know all this random stuff!

Anyway, Gothic resists definition to a certain extent. It's often used as a uniform term for any 'scary' story, but there are tales in other genres which can be classified as Gothic also. A defining factor is the evocation of a certain atmosphere. A sense of place is very important in Gothic, which is why so many settings recur throughout the genre: castles, graveyards, churches, foggy moors, deep forests, underground passages. A skilled author can create a spooky atmosphere with only a few words, and often the setting alone can unsettle us. Claustrophobia is often evoked through setting, confining the action to a small area, such as a house or building. An interesting point which was brought up was the technique of using settings like houses, which are supposedly safe, and turning them into places of danger. 

I think this is part of the appeal of Gothic: it frightens us, that's its aim. Gothic is concerned with the darker side of life, and things that unsettle us, so writers try to tap into our archetypal fears. The fear of being watched or followed, the threat of imminent harm, fear of being alone. The key question of the discussion was: why is the Gothic currently flourishing in young adult literature? The three authors on the discussion had interesting things to say about this! Cliff McNish's argument that we 'need' fear in a way because in the modern world, there is no longer anything major to be afraid of. All events can be explained rationally; we have cures for most diseases, or in any case can work out the cause; and most people live long lives. It's very different from what life was like when dangerous beasts lurked outside the small villages, and war and plague could decimate the population. Today we have technology and knowledge of the way the world works, and there is no longer any significant 'unknown' element. Is this the reason for the abundance of fear-filled tales: because we can't live without an outlet for fear? Part of the appeal of Gothic as a fiction form is that it isn't real; it's scary, but distanced from us because we experience it through the characters' eyes. How would people really react if we found proof of the existence of the supernatural? Life as we knew it would fall apart.

Gothic is often associated with the 'forbidden' or with transgression, breaking of boundaries. I'd say this also includes a breaking of the rules of reality we are used to. It's also - and I was pleased with the reference to Christopher Booker, one of the main focuses of my dissertation! - a version of the archetypal 'overcoming the monster' tale, whether the monster be human or supernatural. There were some interesting suggestions about what actually qualifies as 'Gothic'. Is the film Alien Gothic? Is Batman, which is set in the modern Gothic city of Gotham and features many staples of the genre? It's a debatable thing, and literature geek that I am, I find it all fascinating!

But of course it interests me as a writer, too. I also received some great advice on writing horror from the Cliff McNish, who signed my newly purchased copy of his novel The Hunting Ground, which looks like a pretty good read! His advice on scaring the reader is to think of a frightening situation and write it, then go back and think of a way to make it even scarier, to dig deeper. Then leave it for a while, come back to it, and take it a level deeper, make it even scarier. You start off with something generic, and end with something completely unique. When you delve into the darkest depths of your imagination, that's where true originality happens! 

My Darkworld series could probably be classified as Gothic fantasy, as the magic in the story is connected to dark forces, and the demons are really creepy. There are also some very Gothic-inspired settings (it's set in a little coastal town near dark forests and rugged cliffs, with a sinister abandoned cemetery and a network of tunnels beneath it!). The first book, Darkness Watching, relies on suspense and potential threat (the demons), but I didn't want to write out-and-out horror despite my rather morbid imagination! I think that writers often try to scare themselves. If I'd read my own books as a child, I'd probably have had nightmares! But the books that scare us are very often the ones we revisit again.  Darkness fascinates us.When asked 'Why do you write?', author China Mieville said, 'I do it for the monsters'. Seems like a good enough reason to me!

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Good sources of inspiration

What with the insanity of returning to university, I suddenly have a million things to do, which is why I haven't blogged in a while. I've barely even had time to keep on track with my writing, what with a dissertation to start and a stack of course books to read. But today I've decided to write a post about things I've found to be good sources of inspiration for my writing!

  • Life experiences. I don't mean literally tell your life story, but in my current book series, some of the things that happen are based on personal experience. For instance, the main character has a disastrous university interview, which actually happened to me (though not under the same circumstances). And the trauma of being stranded overnight in a minibus after getting caught in a blizzard in the Lake District was so scarring, I had to use it in a book! Now I need to write a story set in a jungle with killer bees...
  • Other books/films. Not plagiarism, but there's no harm in taking certain aspects of a book, such as the atmosphere or setting, and writing a completely different story. Plus, as I know from researching my dissertation, stories in totally different genres can actually have the same story arc, so it's good to look at a variety of different books or films to see how the author handles the story, maintains tension etc.
  • Look at other books of the same genre - and think about how you could do it differently. This can be a good way to make sure your book is different from others out there, and it's why it's a good idea to read other genres, too (a lot of writers don't read books in their genre whilst writing for fear of subconsciously taking on other writers' styles. Personally, I don't see the harm in this, but that's probably because I've learnt how to recognise when I'm taking on another writer's voice and can hopefully stop myself doing it by now!)
  • Listen to other people's stories about strange things that have happened to them. Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction!  Half the anecdotes I've heard at university are bizarre enough that I probably couldn't use them in a book for fear that the reader would say 'That could never happen!' (my creative writing seminar group were having an interesting discussion about this a few days ago!)
  • Dreams - a lot of great works of literature were actually inspired by dreams, so if you're lucky enough to remember an interesting one, it's a good idea to write it down.I have friends who have very strange, vivid dreams, which would make great stories!
That's all I can think of for now! Happy writing :)

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Writer's Paranoia

This post is dedicated to a little-known (possibly because I just made it up) but serious condition: Writer's Paranoia, in the hope that I can raise awareness of it.

Symptoms can include:

  • Constant checking of emails to see if you might have missed one from your editor/agent/publisher, whether it be a) hoping for good news or b) hoping it isn't bad news
  • Constant checking of finished draft to make minor changes despite the manuscript being out of your hands
  • Fretting that no one will want to buy the book when it's published
  • Fretting that no one will like the book
  • Fear of bad reviews
  • All of the above
If anyone knows any possible remedies for the above condition, please let me know!

On a totally unrelated note, I've just finished editing my novel Darkness Watching, the first in a new 5-book YA paranormal/fantasy series! And I'm packing. Yeah, it's that time again. Time to go back to uni! I have to say, it's been quite a summer. Surviving the Costa Rican jungle, trying terrifying new sports, getting stranded in Texas, enjoying a family holiday in Italy, celebrating my 21st and, of course, signing a publishing contract! But I'm more than ready to get back to Lancaster, even though it's scary that I only have one year left! Time to return to my home away from home...

Note: I've also created myself a Facebook author page! Might be a little premature, but it'll save me time later... :)