Sunday, 29 April 2012

Review- The Demon Trappers: Forbidden by Jana Oliver

Forbidden (The Demon Trappers, #2)

Goodreads description: Seventeen-year-old Riley has about had it up to here. After the devastating battle at the Tabernacle, trappers are dead and injured, her boyfriend Simon is gravely injured, and now her beloved late father’s been illegally poached from his grave by a very powerful necromancer. As if that’s not enough, there's Ori, one sizzling hot freelance demon hunter who’s made himself Riley’s unofficial body guard, and Beck, a super over-protective “friend” who acts more like a grouchy granddad. With all the hassles, Riley’s almost ready to leave Atlanta altogether.

But as Atlanta’s demon count increases, the Vatican finally sends its own Demon Hunters to take care of the city’s “little” problem, and pandemonium breaks loose. Only Riley knows that she might be the center of Hell’s attention: an extremely powerful Grade 5 demon is stalking her, and her luck can't last forever…

Amazon UK

To make up for my absence (due to an overload of uni work, and approaching deadlines and exams!) I'm posting two book reviews today! Here's the first- of the second in the Demon Trappers series by Jana Oliver.

It’s time for me to return to the world of the Demon Trappers- and the second book is even better than the first! Forbidden is the second in the Demon Trappers series following Riley, a seventeen-year-old demon trapper who, after making a deal with angels in a desperate bid to save her boyfriend’s life after the Guild is attacked, now finds herself a pawn in the war between Heaven and Hell.

Urban fantasy once again blends with paranormal romance, in a demon-infested future Atlanta. As independent as ever, Riley is still struggling to make ends meet, accepting help (albeit reluctantly) from fellow demon trapper Beck, whose overprotectiveness continues to annoy her. But she has bigger problems: her dad’s corpse has been stolen by a necromancer, and whoever stole him isn’t ready to relinquish his prize in a hurry. To make things worse, in the aftermath of the attack, her boyfriend, Simon, is convinced that she’s in league with Satan; and she finds herself attracted to someone who is clearly bad news. And the demons seem to be plotting something which may have devastating consequences not only for the Guild, but for the entire world.

The plot races along, and as before, the twists are unexpected. We learn more about the central characters, some of whom are developing in interesting ways. Olivier expertly plays around with stereotypes- at the risk of spoilers, let’s just say that the ‘mysterious, stupidly good-looking boy’ might have a secret or two far from the ‘harmless’ Twilight-esque ‘I’m in love with you but I’m dangerous’ we’ve come to expect from the genre. Riley makes mistakes- some with potentially deadly repercussions- but ultimately she is a sympathetic protagonist, far from the ‘helpless victim’ mode.

All I can say is: bring on the next instalment! The next book promises solutions to the deepening mysteries (especially concerning what Riley’s father knew and why the necromancers targeted him), and the consequences of Riley’s decisions in Forbidden. At the same time, the lines between Heaven and Hell are more complicated than it seems. The series is shaping up to be something totally unique, and I can’t wait to see how this works out!

Rating: ****

Friday, 20 April 2012

Review- The Demon Trappers: Forsaken by Jana Oliver

Forsaken (The Demon Trappers, #1)
Riley Blackthorne just needs a chance to prove herself—and that’s exactly what the demons are counting on...

Seventeen-year-old Riley, the only daughter of legendary Demon Trapper, Paul Blackthorne, has always dreamed of following in her father's footsteps. The good news is, with human society seriously disrupted by economic upheaval and Lucifer increasing the number of demons in all major cities, Atlanta’s local Trappers’ Guild needs all the help they can get—even from a girl. When she’s not keeping up with her homework or trying to manage her growing crush on fellow apprentice, Simon, Riley’s out saving distressed citizens from foul-mouthed little devils – Grade One Hellspawn only, of course, per the strict rules of the Guild. Life’s about as normal as can be for the average demon-trapping teen.

But then a Grade Five Geo-Fiend crashes Riley’s routine assignment at a library, jeopardizing her life and her chosen livelihood. And, as if that wasn’t bad enough, sudden tragedy strikes the Trappers’ Guild, spinning Riley down a more dangerous path than she ever could have imagined. As her whole world crashes down around her, who can Riley trust with her heart—and her life?

(Cover and description taken from Goodreads)

Amazon UK

I’ll admit I was a bit sceptical about the Demon Trappers series to begin with. There’s a plethora of young adult novels featuring vampires, demons and the like and it’s often difficult to tell whether a book is merely jumping on the bandwagon or has something new to say. But Jana Oliver’s series is something different: a mix of urban fantasy, supernatural romance, and futuristic dystopia, set in a future Atlanta crippled by debt and infested with demons.

Riley is a demon trapper, and as the only female in the Guild, she’s used to having to prove her worth. But when her father is killed by a demon, she finds herself facing some monumental problems. She has to sit vigil by her father’s grave every night, in order to prevent her father’s body being stolen and reanimated by necromancers as a slave. She has to deal with an unpredictably violent mentor. And she has to somehow pay the rent.

Fiercely independent, Riley refuses help from fellow trapper, war veteran Beck, who she sees as like an annoying parent figure, despite having had a crush on him some years previously. She attempts to trap demons alone in order to get enough money together to survive on, but it’s not easy- and for some reason, demons keep targeting her. It becomes clear that her father was involved in something, and that they saw him as a threat, but no one can predict the consequences…

It’s refreshing to read a genuinely original urban fantasy. Although as the first in the series Forsaken is more setup-based, with the sequels promising to deliver more action, it didn’t feel as if anything was compromised. The story was great, the plot twists unexpected, and although some of the characters appear to fall into stereotypical roles (i.e. mysterious bad boy; seemingly perfect guy, etc), I have a feeling Olivier intends to contradict our expectations (having now read the second in the series, I can confirm that my hunch was right!). Riley is a great protagonist, feisty and strong, and despite the attempts of the guys in her life to protect her, she isn’t having any of it.

Whilst in my opinion it can’t quite match up to Clare’s Mortal Instruments series, The Demon Trappers creates a world that’s both fascinating and familiar. The stage is being set for a repeat of the battle of Heaven and Hell- and I, for one, want to be there to see it.

Rating: ****

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Diana Wynne Jones: a fantastic author

Yesterday, I found out that Tumblr are running a blog tour for one of the greatest fantasy writers of the age, the late Diana Wynne Jones. As she’s one of my favourite authors, I thought it would be appropriate to dedicate this blog post to her work!

The first book of Jones’s I read was Witch Week, at the age of nine. It’s set in a world where magic is illegal, punishable by death, at a boarding school for witch-orphans (children whose parents have been burnt for practicing witchcraft). It follows several pupils as magic starts to break out in the school, and the hapless teachers’ attempts to find out who is responsible- before the Inquisitor finds out… It’s a brilliant story, and the grim boarding school setting was great (yes, a boarding school story- published over a decade before Harry Potter!). I went on to read the other books in the Chrestomanci series- Charmed Life was a particular favourite. What I love most about Diana Wynne Jones’s writing is the sheer inventiveness of it. Everything is invested with a unique personality, from demanding broomsticks to obnoxious siblings! And of course, there are the numerous alternative worlds. I confess that that this has been a significant influence on my writing- nearly every story I write seems to involve another world in some way!

But in my opinion, the best other-world novel I’ve read is Deep Secret- one most people (except die-hard Jones fans) probably won’t have heard of. I found out about it when reading an interview with Diana Wynne Jones, and upon learning that it was set in the same universe(s) as The Merlin Conspiracy, determined to get my hands on a copy. I was lucky enough to track one down on Amazon….good job, too! I first read The Merlin Conspiracy at the age of 13, and loved it. I never get tired of rereading it, and it’s lodged itself in my imagination amongst the best books I’ve ever read. Whilst The Merlin Conspiracy is a fantasy adventure for young adults, Deep Secret is one of her earlier adult novels, set in the Multiverse, where Magids deal with otherworldly affairs, many working undercover on Earth. But something starts to go wrong, something that threatens to unravel everything. Plots converge, twists arrive unexpectedly, and characters reveal startling secrets. For me, the highlight is that the finale takes place during a fantasy convention at a hotel- so naturally, the arrival of a centaur doesn’t attract too much attention! Jones’s imagination seems to have no bounds, and the painstaking planning that’s clearly gone into her writing results in worlds that are entirely plausible- and in which we can recognise elements of our own, often in unexpected ways!

I could go on all day about Jones’s other novels, the majority of which I’ve read- Fire and Hemlock being a particular favourite- but I want to end with Howl’s Moving Castle, which inspired the brilliant anime film. I love almost all the characters- even the Witch of the West, and of course our cowardly hero. I think what I find most inspiring in this book, and in Jones’s writing in general, is that it’s just a plain good story. With a dazzling imagination and a wicked sense of humour, Diana Wynne Jones taught me that fantasy doesn’t have to be generic and same-y, that you can break the rules and be different- you just need to tell a great story.

Monday, 9 April 2012

Review- 'Reckless' by Cornelia Funke


Through a mirror...
is a dangerous world.

For years, Jacob Reckless has
enjoyed its secrets and treasures.

Not any more.

His younger brother has
followed him.

Now dark magic will turn the boy
to beast, break the heart of the girl
he loves, and cause chaos to rule

Unless Jacob can find a way to
save them.

You thought you knew
fairy tales? Think again.

(Cover and description taken from Goodreads)

It’s taken me a while to get round to reading Cornelia Funke’s latest novel, but being an avid fan of the Inkheart trilogy, I hoped that this wouldn’t disappoint. The blurb pulled me in instantly (as did the rather scary-looking eye on the cover!). I love fantasy stories involving magical portals to other worlds (having written several myself…like my newly finished novel!), and with Cornelia Funke’s brilliant imagination behind it, I knew that Reckless would be something special.

Cornelia Funke’s writing is stunning. The sentences leap off the page into the imagination, painting a world vivid in its inventiveness. The magical atmosphere and fast pace are set from the start: within the first few pages, Jacob Reckless discovers the magical mirror in his missing father’s study, and finds himself elsewhere. As the novel fast-forwards twelve years, we see that Jacob’s glimpse of the other world has come to rule his life; he spends longer there than he does in his own world. But now his younger brother, who followed him, has been attacked by a Goyl (a creature of stone) and is slowly turning into one of them, forgetting who he is. Jacob has to find a way to free his brother from the curse- even if it means facing up to savage Unicorns, treacherous Dwarfs, and the sinister Dark Fairy.

Due to the time skip, we don’t discover the world along with Jacob. This works in the book’s favour, as there is little exposition to slow down the pace. Instead, we’re completely immersed in Cornelia Funke’s wonderful fantasy world, travelling to fantastic places, and meeting on all manner of dangerous magical creatures. Whilst I admit I found the characters to be a bit flat, the compelling plot more than made up for it. With a world painted in beautiful detail, this tale of adventure and magic held me spellbound to the end.

Rating: ****

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Film Review: The Hunger Games

Film Review- The Hunger Games

To summarise the plot: The Hunger Games is set in a world where the ruling Capitol forces the twelve districts, survivors of a war in which they rebelled against the Capitol and were defeated, to volunteer two Tributes to participate in an annual event known as the Hunger Games. In these games, there is only one rule: kill or be killed. Sixteen-year-old Katniss volunteers to take her sister’s place in the Games, knowing that she has little chance of making it out alive…

Let me say from the start that I am a huge fan of these books. I read them last summer, on the recommendation of a friend, and loved them. By turns thrilling and heartbreaking, they held me in their grip for days. When I heard that the author, Suzanne Collins, was to be involved heavily in the films, I was relieved; if there’s one thing I can’t forgive, it’s a film adaptation of a book that completely butchers the plot (Eragon being the first example to come to mind…) My hopes rose exponentially after watching the trailer: it takes something exceptional, book or film, to bring me out in goosebumps. But The Hunger Games surpassed all my expectations.

From the outset, I was glued to the screen. The build-up to the games kept the tension trembling at breaking point, and from the moment Katniss and the others entered the arena, the action kept going till the end. The books are written in first person, which would be difficult to adapt for the screen without giving over a lot of time over to monologue, but the film avoided this by having other characters explain things about their world which were vital to the plot, but not in a way that drew away from the action. Even in the build-up to the games, which could have easily lost the audience’s attention, suspense was kept at a high through the underlying threat that death awaited most of the participants in the near future. As the Tributes were prepared for the games, paraded around in a way reminiscent of shows like the X-Factor, it was easy to see the parallels with modern reality TV. Even without hearing Katniss’s thoughts, the audience could experience her feeling of being watched throughout the film.

The casting was, in my view, perfect; the characters were more or less exactly as I had imagined them whilst reading the book. The performances of Lawrence as Katniss and Hutchinson as Peeta were flawless; their unfolding romance was believable and touching without being overly sentimental- unsurprising, given the circumstances! Haymitch and Effie added some great comic moments to scenes that could otherwise have been bleak. I thought the death scenes were very well done, and the scene between Peeta and Katniss in the cave was one that was particularly poignant. In every scene, the brilliant soundtrack fitted the atmosphere of the book perfectly.

Without a doubt one of the best films- and best book adaptations- I have ever seen, The Hunger Games was fantastic. I am eagerly anticipating the next film, Catching Fire- my favourite of the books- and I hope that this, too, will live up to its source.

Friday, 6 April 2012

Why I write- and why I won't give up

 I’ve wanted to be a writer since the age of ten. My teacher remarked one day that I could be a writer…and that was it. Everything made sense. At that age, everything was simple. I’d write a story, show it to everyone, then it would get published and I’d be a success. No problem.

My teenage years taught me otherwise (yes, at 20 I can sadly no longer call myself a teenager…). I invented characters. I drew pictures. I made lists of stories I was going to write. Most of these never saw the light of day, but there was one set of characters who kept coming back. At 14 I attempted to write a novel starring these characters. It took a year and a half of extensive rewrites, but I was reasonably happy with the result. But I showed no one. My initial confidence had been crushed by secondary school, in which stories had to follow a set pattern dictated by the teacher, anything a little different was seen as ‘weird’ by others, and in which my teachers showed no interest in my ambitions- indeed, actively discouraging me from having ambitions, other than those they wanted to impose on us (which may be why, despite having an aptitude for languages, I had no desire to study them at university!).

Now, I wasn’t deluded. I knew I wasn’t J. K. Rowling, and I knew that most writers couldn’t make a living from writing alone. At age 15, I purchased ‘The Writers’ Handbook: Guide to Writing for Children’, which confirmed how difficult the whole business is. But nothing could persuade me to give up. I had my novel (which I was still editing obsessively), and I managed to work up the nerve to enter a few competitions. I received my first proper rejection at 16, for a children’s short story competition. Many writers speak of this pivotal experience as a moment of pride, but for me it was more like a month of despair, for the rejection was an example what I like to call ‘invisible rejections’ (i.e. competitions that only contact the winners)- which I was to experience again and again.

The novel, however, had expanded. There was going to be a series. There would be six books, and therefore a complete re-planning of the first book would be necessary. At 17 I got a laptop and for the first time was completely in control of my writing (hijacking the family computer for days at a time wasn’t always an option). I found a world-building website and got busy planning every detail of my fantasy world. I wrote character biographies, constructed synopses of all the books, and even went as far as to sequence every event of each book on a spreadsheet. Finally, I had six completed spreadsheets, and I was ready to start.
I was 18, revising for my A-levels, but the sheer amount of planning I’d done cut the writing time by such an amount that a first draft was finished in a month, and typed in another month. Three more months for edits (and positive feedback from friends and family, including my 13-year old cousin, who’d promised to be honest), and I stood facing a complete manuscript.

It took me a further month to put my submission package together. I honed my synopsis and covering letter, determined not to be caught out at the first hurdle. And just days before my 19th birthday I sent off my first novel to an agent.

The first rejection was surprisingly positive. Imaginative storyline, engaging characters, professional proposal…I was happy. For the first time I had confirmation that I could write, that I wasn’t just deluding myself. This only got better when I started my undergraduate creative writing course at Lancaster University. I met other writers, people like me. For the first time in my life I felt accepted. I had a sense of purpose that I’d previously only found in my writing. Despite having a creative writing tutor who wasn’t keen on fantasy (!), the response to my work was positive. I learned more about my writing- and about myself.

Of course, the rejections kept coming. I began to feel discouraged, once the initial buzz of university had worn off. If I could write, why couldn’t I get published? Why would agents not tell me why they’d rejected my work? I grew impatient. I wanted feedback, detailed, immediate feedback, and after researching all the options I finally decided to send my work to a well-reputed literary consultancy.

This was the best decision I could have made…and the worst.

Undoubtedly the most honest feedback I’ve ever received, the consensus was that my novel was unpublishable. It was well-written, well-planned, and all the rest of it, but as I’d feared, it didn’t stand out enough. It wasn’t “sufficiently original”. Yes, fantasy novels are all to an extent derivative, but I make a point of not ripping off other writers. What’s the sense in compromising your own ideas?  True enough, the story itself was perfectly fine; they praised my characterisation and writing style. There were some other issues, of course, but nothing unfixable. Except that. The indefinable something. Originality.

I wandered around in a state of listless despair for about a week. I thought of a million ways I could rework the story, but it all came down to that one question: is it original? I didn’t know. How can anyone know? There’s no such thing as a perfectly original book. And it’s a question I still can’t answer.

In the end, I started a new novel. Whilst waiting for the rejections I’d been doing the background planning/character biographies for a new book, and I was ready to start it as I went into my second year at Lancaster. I made the decision to make it my focus for the year, the core of my writing portfolio, submitting chapters to my seminar group for feedback every other week (definitely a welcome alternative to forking out £400 for an appraisal from a consultancy!)- until I finished it a few weeks ago. I’ve received honest, helpful feedback from my tutor and peers, and at least have some confidence that this time the manuscript is as good as I can make it. Once the final edits are done, I’ll be sending it to agents again.

Will I fare better this time, or will this be another failure? Only time will tell. I have ideas for two other series as backups in case this one doesn’t work, and I’m prepared to wait. I have that writerly virtue of patience, at least I can say that much. I don’t claim to be a brilliant writer. It’s entirely possible that I’ll continue to produce average, non-standout manuscripts for the rest of my life. But the writing’s the thing. I’ll keep doing it, and hell itself couldn’t discourage me. Because I’m a writer, and that’s what I do.

From the bookworm's cave

I’m Emma, a 20-year-old book-lover, student, and aspiring author. I set up this blog so that I can talk about the books I love (I suspect my raving about The Hunger Games is starting to bore my family!) and about my writing. I’m going to be posting book reviews, mainly YA and fantasy books, because they’re the kind of books I read the most (when I'm not dissecting Wordsworth for my literature degree course. I mean, dissecting his poetry. Yeah…) I’ll also be talking about my writing, and the trials and tribulations of trying to get my second novel published. I’ve wanted to be a published author since the age of 10,at the beginning of a nearly-10-year-long struggle to turn an ever-mounting pile of notes into a successful book series. I completed my first novel at age 18, the first in a fantasy series for 9-12 year olds, but after a year of rejections from agents, and finally some honest criticism, I put it away (for now!), and began a new project. This one’s a fantasy adventure novel for teens. Complete at 52,000 words, it’s undergoing a final edit before I upload it to Authonomy (this is a great website- I thoroughly recommend it for anyone who’s writing a novel, complete or not!).

Right now, I'm at home from university for Easter, up to my neck in work (and books). Having been a book-hoarder for most of my life, I now find myself with the dilemma of owning more books than I have shelf space (as I have four bookshelves in my room, this is an achievement!). Admittedly a fair few of the books are for my university course (I'm in my second year studying English Literature with Creative Writing at Lancaster University). The next few weeks are going to be chaotic for me, as deadlines and exams rear their heads, but I’m determined to update this blog weekly- as I already keep a diary (and have done so for the past decade), this shouldn’t be too difficult, I hope! I’ll be posting my first entry on writing soon, and I’m preparing a couple of reviews. So I guess it’s time to share my random (and often bizarre) thoughts with the world!