Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Review - The Blemished by Sarah Dalton

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.

The Blemished is a wonderful dystopian debut by young adult author Sarah Dalton, set in a sinister re-imagined Britain which has fallen under the control of the Genetic Enhancement Ministry. The protagonist, Mina Hart, is Blemished: she has genetic defects, and the best she can expect from life is an operation preventing her from ever having children. The Blemished are the imperfect, with no rights, and only able to take on menial jobs like cooking and cleaning for the perfect GEM’s. But Mina isn’t like the others: she has a secret, an ability that would mean her death if discovered.

This story grips from the first page, and has everything a great YA dystopia needs – a compelling plot, a sympathetic protagonist, action and romance. It will definitely appeal to fans of Malorie Blackman’s Noughts and Crosses series and the Uglies series by Scott Westerfield. The inclusion of Mina’s powers gives the story its uniqueness, and the characters are very real and believable. It’s also very current, with debates about the ethics of genetic enhancement and ‘designer babies’, and the dystopian world is chillingly reminiscent of the ideals of the Nazis, and their segregation of ‘undesirable’ groups. This winning debut paints a sinister picture of a future society, and I’m keen to read the rest of the trilogy!

Rating: ****1/2*

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Review - The Demon Trappers: Forgiven by Jana Oliver

Forgiven (The Demon Trappers, #3)

Goodreads description: Riley Blackthorne. Kicking hell’s ass one demon at a time...

Riley has made a bargain with Heaven, and now they've come to collect.

Lucifer's finest are ruling the streets and it seems that Armageddon might be even closer than Riley imagined. But with her soul and her heart in play it's all she can do to keep herself alive, let alone save the world. Riley's not afraid of kicking some major demon butt, but when it comes to a battle between Heaven and Hell, she might need a little help...

I reviewed the first two in this series a while back but it’s taken me some time to get round to reading the third Demon Trappers book, Forgiven. This is a fantastic series following Riley Blackthorne as she tries to carve a path as a demon trapper in a hellspawn-infested future Atlanta. Riley’s facing some pretty big problems – she’s been tricked into making a bargain with Hell, and alongside the deal she made with Heaven to save her ex, that means she’s caught right in the middle of the war between the two. The Demon Hunters from the Vatican are in the city, killing every demon in sight. And it seems the person responsible for reanimating her father’s dead body is not a necromancer, but Lucifer himself, who has claimed Paul Blackthorne’s soul. Now Riley’s wanted by the demon hunters, and Beck has been arrested on suspicion of helping her. Meanwhile, other evil plans are afoot: someone is counterfeiting Holy Water, which is fatal to demons, and a necromancer is breaking all the rules…

This is an action-packed third instalment in the series, even better than the first two. Jana Oliver gives us a deeper insight into the world of the Demon Trappers, in which Heaven and Hell are fact and demons are sent to Earth by both sides to test humanity. The two sides, the angels and the fallen, are engaged in a constant conflict which keeps an uneasy balance, but there are rumours of a Fallen intending to usurp Lucifer and take his place. There are  a lot of angel-themed books around, but this series is one of the strongest – primarily, I think, because it doesn’t focus on romance. There are several potential love interests in the series, but after Simon, her ex, dumped her out of paranoia that she was working for the Devil, and her last lover turned out to be something else entirely, Riley’s far from willing to trust easily again. Which is why she and Beck are so perfect for each other. In Forgiven, we really get to see their relationship develop as they learn to trust each other despite each other’s histories – and despite Beck’s ex-lover, a reporter, being determined to ruin his life. The way they act around each other is at times hilarious to watch, at other times heart-wrenching. And oh God, the ending!

The plot races along and the characters are engaging and three-dimensional and see a lot of development in Forgiven. The story world remains engaging and highly original - demon trappers and hunters exist alongside witches and necromancers, and Heaven and Hell do battle on Earth. I love Riley as a protagonist – she’s so fierce and strong, and always speaks her mind no matter the consequences. She’s only an apprentice, yet she’s somehow supposed to prevent Armageddon, and her obligation puts her in constant danger from demons. But she faces her enemies head-on, and her inner strength and determination, despite making bad choices sometimes, make her a sympathetic protagonist. The other characters are just as engaging, from the surly but tortured Beck to the polite necromancer Mort.

This is one of the best end-of-the world series out there – witty, suspenseful, and thoroughly engaging. Prepare for an edge-of-your-seat read – one that will have you on tenterhooks for the final book!

Rating: *****

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Review - A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin

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

Goodreads description: As Warden of the north,Lord Eddard Stark counts it a curse when King Robert bestows on him the office of the Hand. His honour weighs him down at court where a true man does what he will, not what he must... and dead nemy is a thing of beauty. The old gods have no power in the south, Stark's family is split and there is treachery at court. Worse, a vengeance-mad boy has gown to maturity in exile in the Free Cities beyond the sea. Heir of the mad Dragon King deposed by Robert, he claims the Iron Throne.

Amazon UK

Epic fantasy is often stereotyped as cliché-ridden and formulaic, consisting of imitators of Tolkien and the like. Although there are many superb examples of fantasy which overcomes this stereotype, Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire saga defies most fantasy tropes, depicting a medieval-style struggle over the Iron Throne rather than fantastical adventures and heroic quests. Unusually, I saw the TV adaptation first. I watched Season One of the TV series after being told that if I liked The Lord of the Rings, I'd like it. It’s so different from Tolkien, yet just as absorbing. I couldn’t wait to read the books, and the first more than lived up to my expectations. It’s certainly not typical formulaic heroic fantasy. There’s barely anything fantastical about George R.R. Martin’s fantasy world; it reads more like historical realism, with plenty of political intrigue, murder, betrayal, and plot twists and character deaths that surprise and shock.

But fantasy lurks at the outskirts, through the legends of dragons and the sinister Others, horrifying zombie-like creatures whose origins are never truly explained - yet. From the multidimensional characters to the wealth of detail woven into the fantasy world, Martin has created a fantastic and compelling series, and one that does not suffer from being almost 800 pages in length.

Yes, it’s long. I knew that already, considering we get 10 hour-long episodes from the first book alone. But it’s not a difficult read, and it never gets boring – and this is coming from someone who has very little interest either in medievalism or politics! Martin alternates between equally fascinating characters with interlocking storylines. From the outset we see that these characters aren’t cut-out black and white stereotypes. We sympathise with Catelyn, wife of Lord Eddard Stark, at first, but then we see the way she treats her husband’s bastard son, Jon Snow. Then there’s Lord Eddard himself, who reluctantly takes up the position of King Robert’s Hand and is forced to make impossible decisions between honour and loyalty. Meanwhile, the Lannisters are presented as the ‘bad guys’, yet the dwarf Tyrion, cynical and intellectual, is actually one of the most interesting characters, as is Jon Snow, who as a bastard, has little options in life. He joins the Night’s Watch, a harsh life guarding the colossal ice wall from threats from outside, and comes face to face with the terrors from outside.

Elsewhere, Viserys, the son of the former king, killed by Robert, is mad for revenge and wants the throne back. He marries his sister Daenerys off to a warrior leader in the hope of gaining an army to win back what he sees as rightfully his. Dany’s story is vastly different from the others’, as she matures from a frightened girl into a powerful woman who takes control of her own destiny.

Every character’s story is unique and interesting, and consequently it’s a very difficult book to put down. However, I was warned not to get too attached to any of the characters, and with good reason. Martin does not hold back. It’s bloody and violent, crude in places, and every time I thought I knew how things would turn out, another twist appeared! But that, of course, is a mark of great writing, and I intend to carry on with the series to see where Martin takes it next. 

Rating: *****

Monday, 7 January 2013

Genre and YA fiction

I've been thinking about genre a lot lately - mainly because my own work is often so difficult to classify! I'm not sure how much difference it makes to readership, but agents and publishers very often specify which genres they will or will not publish, and everyone seems to have a bias one way or another. Genre seems like an arbitrary label, but does it affect a book's appeal?

Here are the main genres I can think of (debatable of course!)

Contemporary: Stories set in the everyday world, which explore issues relevant to us today. Contemporary romance is a popular genre.

Fantasy: Broadly speaking, fantasy stories involve magical elements as central to the plot and story world. It can be split into:
-High fantasy, which is set in an entirely fantastical world. Epic fantasy generally involves world-spanning themes and events, often steeped in mythology. Think Lord of the Rings, the Mistborn series, or A Song of Ice and Fire.
-Urban fantasy, in which the fantastical elements are woven into the everyday contemporary world, be it through a hidden magical world, or the story itself taking place in a world like our own but with the presence of magic or magical creatures. Many YA series, such as The Mortal Instruments and The Demon Trappers, fall into this category.
-Dark fantasy, which comprises elements of both fantasy and horror, often overlapping with supernatural and paranormal. Arguably, Stephen King's Dark Tower series falls into this category.
There are many other subgenres, including fairy tale fantasy, mythological fantasy, supernatural fantasy...too many to list!

Paranormal: Involving paranormal elements such as vampires, werewolves, ghosts, psychic powers, etc. Often overlaps with fantasy. Paranormal Romance is a popular sub-genre.

Horror: At its most basic, fiction written to scare the audience, generally involving some aspect of the supernatural, be it ghosts or monsters. Much overlapping with fantasy.

Science Fiction: Novels based on futuristic elements, imagining how technology and science might evolve in the future or in alternative realities. A good example I read recently was A Confusion of Princes by Garth Nix.

Dystopia: Similarly to science fiction, dystopia postulates future realities, but often with the worst possible outcomes, exploring what humanity might become under certain circumstances. There's a LOT of dystopian YA fiction around right now. The Hunger Games, Divergent and Delirium are all great examples!

Post-Apocalyptic Fiction: Often overlapping with dystopia, this genre imagines a world in which civilisation has been destroyed, be it by natural disaster, zombie apocalypse, or war. Examples include Hollowland by Amanda Hocking, Dark Inside by Jeyn Roberts and Angelfall by Susan Ee.

Obviously a large number of novels overlap - and that's why it can be misleading to confine yourself to one genre alone. Obviously you should write what you enjoy, but I personally find that my novels are often a mishmash of fantasy, supernatural and paranormal - with gothic horror and fairy tale elements thrown in as well! I'd say write the book you want and worry about genre later - readers very often aren't concerned with the genre but with the story itself!

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Review - Easy by Tammara Webber

Goodreads summary: A girl who believes trust can be misplaced, promises are made to be broken, and loyalty is an illusion. A boy who believes truth is relative, lies can mask unbearable pain, and guilt is eternal. Will what they find in each other validate their conclusions, or disprove them all?

When Jacqueline follows her longtime boyfriend to the college of his choice, the last thing she expects is a breakup two months into sophomore year. After two weeks in shock, she wakes up to her new reality: she's single, attending a state university instead of a music conservatory, ignored by her former circle of friends, and failing a class for the first time in her life.

Leaving a party alone, Jacqueline is assaulted by her ex's frat brother. Rescued by a stranger who seems to be in the right place at the right time, she wants nothing more than to forget the attack and that night--but her savior, Lucas, sits on the back row of her econ class, sketching in a notebook and staring at her. Her friends nominate him to be the perfect rebound.

When her attacker turns stalker, Jacqueline has a choice: crumple in defeat or learn to fight back. Lucas remains protective, but he's hiding secrets of his own. Suddenly appearances are everything, and knowing who to trust is anything but easy.

I’ve not read a lot of contemporary romance, mainly because I prefer to read speculative fiction as opposed to books set in the ‘real world’. It’s not so much a dislike of romance as an aversion to things such as ‘love at first sight’ (possibly because I’m incredibly cynical…) and whiny heroines who are utterly helpless without the presence of their 'soulmate' and completely incapable of making their own decisions (here’s looking at you, Bella Swan). But I’ve been seeing this book everywhere lately and it’s attracted a lot of positive reviews, so I decided to try something new. I like that ‘new adult’ is emerging as a genre, even though its successes so far seem to be mostly in the contemporary sphere (This is me hoping a publisher will take notice of my new Gothic urban fantasy series, which falls into the New Adult category because it features college-age protagonists (18+) and is set at a university with more mature content. Hey, I can dream!)

Anyway, I read Easy in one sitting. All I have to say is…wow. What an opening. The novel jumps straight into the action with a shocking scene involving the protagonist being assaulted by someone she thinks she knows – and then being rescued by a stranger. Jacqueline’s feelings were so vividly written in this chapter that I was completely drawn in – giving me the instant impression that this wasn’t a typical cliché YA romance. And I was right.

Jacqueline has recently split up with her long-term boyfriend two months into term at college. Now she’s stuck at a place she never really wanted to go to, and, thanks to her skipping two weeks’ of economics classes to avoid her ex, now finds herself failing for the first time in her life. To make things worse, her rescuer, Lucas, is in her class, and all she wants is to forget about the incident. Her tutor gives her a second chance to pass and she agrees to one-to-one tutoring with a fellow student, Landon. Whilst she’s struggling with complicated feelings for two guys, her friends complicate the situation by suggesting that Lucas should be her rebound. She finds herself flirting with Landon through exchanging emails, but is also falling for Lucas –and then finds out that they’re actually the same person. Meanwhile, when her attacker reappears and threatens her, she finally confesses to her friends about what happened. She now has to decide whether she can trust Lucas, knowing he has secrets – and learn how to fight back against her assaulter.

The author really nails the first person voice, managing to make us sympathise with Jacqueline’s situation whilst avoiding self-pitying monologuing. Jacqueline really grows in independence throughout the story; at first she is only just realising her naivety in assuming that she and her ex would always be together, and her dependence on him for a social life. She feels vulnerable, and the assault only makes things worse. But through her friends, and learning self-defence, she grows in confidence and really learns to stand up for her independence. This is a book about girl power – and it doesn’t hurt that it has a sexy hero and enough steamy scenes for the romance-lovers as well!

I’ve noticed a trend towards more realistic YA fiction lately, and whilst contemporary romance isn’t my favourite genre, books like this are great for older teens. Far from unrealistic escapism, it’s gritty and uncompromising, but ultimately empowering. It has a positive message and deals with issues such as sexual assault in a sensitive way. This is a romance with something to say, and it says it brilliantly – Easy is easily one of the best contemporary novels I’ve read in a long time, and sets a very high standard for New Adult fiction!

Rating: *****

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

New Year's Resolutions!

Yeah, I'm one of those people - I used to insist upon making long lists of resolutions at the start of every year, but right now I'm trying to make a shorter list with more achievable goals (which is a resolution in itself!). As 2013 is a very important year for me (among other things, I'm publishing my first novel in January and graduating from university in July!), I need to make sure I'm ready to face the challenges!

My Goals for 2013: 

1. Make a viable post-graduation plan. At the moment, the plan is to secure as much work experience as possible (I have two internships lined up between now and graduation, but nothing secured for summer...yet!) and decide if doing a Publishing Masters isn't a financially unrealistic option! It depends on whether I feel I'm ready to start work right away, or if I need more experience first. I don't have the money for a Masters, so the only option if I do one is to take out a scary huge bank loan and get into even more debt!
2. Prepare for the publication of my first novel - contact bloggers, organise a blog tour (as I still don't have a release date from the publishers, this is proving difficult right now!).
3. Decide how to publish my next book (Darkworld Book 1) - should I continue to query or self-publish? And where's the money for editors, cover design etc going to come from? (I have no idea about that one!)
4. Continue to work on the sequel to THE PUPPET SPELL!
5. And continue to be stubborn in the face of comments about how I'm attempting the impossible. I'm trying to publish another book series and also start a graduate career in publishing. Can I do both? Well, why not? Yes, publishing' insanely competitive and hard to get into. But I've managed to get 3 work placements, one at a top 6 publisher. It's not impossible - and I'm not the type to give up!
Ditto publishing my own books. Even if I fail to get a publishing contract for my new series (and the genre is quite niche), I'm more than happy to do it myself. I've already chosen a potential editor and cover designer, and I now know how to convert and format e-book files. And I've spent most of my life doing what most people would claim to be impossible!
So my final resolution is the usual - self-belief, not letting other people beat me down - and, of course, surviving the emotional trauma of leaving university!

But for now...Happy New Year everyone! :)