Wednesday, 31 July 2013

What's Up Wednesday

What's Up Wednesday is a weekly meme run by Erin L Funk and Jaime Morrow and is a great way for readers and writers to catch up! :)

What I'm reading:

I've been reading lots of great fantasy books over the past week. I recently finished Throne of Glass and Crown of Midnight by Sarah J. Maas, which were amazing (reviews are on the way soon!), and I'm now reading The Night Itself, a fabulous Japanese-inspired urban fantasy by Zoe Marriot. I now have two new writers to add to my favourites list! 

What I'm writing:

I'm hard at work on the Darkworld series! I finished the first draft of Book 4 on Monday and I'm now trying to think of a title (titles are my pet peeve: I'm good at thinking of them, but bad at actually matching them to books...)! Now I've just started drafting Book 5 - the final book! *eek!* It's very emotionally draining, so I'm on a constant high-low cycle right now, but it's coming together. If I've done this right, I might break a few hearts... (*evil laugh*)

Meanwhile, I'm dipping in and out of editing Darkness Watching for the 97,000th time, awaiting feedback from my editor! It's only two months to publication, guys! *runs around manically*

Also, I'm taking part in the #WIPMarathon- read my previous post! :)

What Else I've Been Up To:

I've been doing a work placement at Scholastic in London! The placement itself has been amazing. The commute from Birmingham, not so much. I'm pretty sure I've experienced the worst of the British public over the past week, and that's not even counting the train nearly getting hit by lightning during a crazy storm...

Other than that, I've signed up for an online proofreading course with SfEP (Society for Editors and Proofreaders), because it's something I'd really like to do alongside my writing! I've been having to make those big scary Life Decisions about careers lately, which is a bit difficult when you're in my position! On the one hand, I'm one of a hundred thousand recent graduates struggling to navigate the desolate wilderness of the current job market; on the other, I'm an author with one book published and another coming soon, but am nowhere near in a position to make a living as a writer... I also have a LOT of drafting and editing to do to make deadlines, and I can't afford to spend every waking moment writing CV's and job applications! I also find myself skint through no fault of my own (fraudsters hacked my bank account) so I'm stuck at home for the time being, and can't even afford to travel to job interviews. All of this would be very frustrating if it wasn't for my writing, and online opportunities such as my internship with Entangled! And I've applied for some more awesome opportunities, so my fingers are crossed!

What Inspires Me Right Now:

I've been listening to a lot of soundtracks lately, due to a need to drown out annoying background noise when I'm writing! My problem is that I can't usually listen to music with lyrics when I'm writing as it distracts me (I realise I'm a rarity here, because every other author blog I read seems to include in-depth playlists for every book they write...but I just don't do that!) I turned to soundtracks, and the kind of tracks that work as background to writing epic scenes. I'm currently playing through playlists of epic music on YouTube such as this awesome one here:

Hope everyone else is having a great week!

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

#WIPMarathon Intro

I've decided that as I'm currently working on two projects at once (because I'm a crazy person! :P), I'm going to sign up for an August writing marathon! You can find out more about it here. So, here are my goals!

Marathon Goal

As I said, I'm writing two books at once! The first is Darkworld Book 5, which is absolutely top secret because I want to avoid spoilers! But my goal is 1000 words a day, which should mean that I have about 30,000 words done by the end of the month.

The second project is something completely different - it's my first YA high fantasy! At the moment I'm thinking it'll be a standalone, and around 70K in total. Darkworld is my first priority, but I'm still hoping to get around 5000 words a week on this project, so around 20,000 this month.

Stage of Writing

First draft for both of them! I'll also be working on edits for Darkness Watching (Darkworld Book 1). So far, I've written 1000ish words of Darkworld Book 5 and around 1500 of the new project.

What Inspired My Current Project

I'm going to talk more about what inspired the Darkworld series closer to publication! But this new high fantasy came about in a very odd way. I was skimming through one of my old writing notebooks (as you do!), when I came across the words 'vampire merpeople'. Yep. That's not what the book's going to be about! But it gave me an idea for an original way to write about merpeople. I've spent the past month doing detailed research and creating my new fantasy world - as this is my first attempt at high fantasy, I'm determined not to fall down on worldbuilding! I've also written a detailed outline, but knowing what I'm like, I'll probably adapt it as I go along. I wasn't intending to start it until after I finished the Darkworld series, but I drafted a chapter whilst on the train the other day, and now I'm inspired to work on it!

What Might Slow Down My Marathon Goal

I'm going to be on holiday in Italy between the 10th and 17th August so I might not get much writing done that week! I'll still try to update, but I'll most likely be without an Internet connection. I'm taking my netbook with me for the lazy days by the pool, though!

Monday, 29 July 2013

Writing lessons learned from being an editorial intern!

I was going to write a ranty post about how much I despise London Midland and Barclays for royally screwing up my life lately (in short: I was a victim of online fraud, had all my money stolen from my account, and the bank have been utterly useless at sorting it out – it’s been a month and I still don’t have it back. And due to a combination of that and this country’s appallingly unreliable train service, I’ve had to cancel the second week of my placement as I can’t actually GET to London every morning at a reasonable price and on time…), I decided that I’ve had enough negativity for one month. So I’ve decided instead to blog about some helpful things I’ve learned as a writer from being an intern!

I’ve been an editorial intern with Entangled Publishing for two months now, and I love getting the first look at some fantastic books. It’s great to read a book you really want to see published, and have some say in making that happen. But it’s also been an educational experience because I get to read books with a critical eye, which has begun to seep into my own writing, too. And this is a good thing!

So I’ve decided to list some of the things that turn me off when I’m reading a manuscript (excluding tropes like insta-love, love triangles etc. because I’m aware that they can be a matter of personal preference!). But here are some of the things that turn me off a book:

  • Lack of conflict. If there are no real obstacles for the MC, there’s nothing to keep me on the edge of my seat when I’m reading. I can’t connect to stories where everything is easily resolved, and the outcome is obvious from the beginning. Also, the climax has to make the journey worth the effort. I’m always disappointed when the author skims over the resolution of the plot.
  • Contrived plots. Similarly, it makes me roll my eyes when I see the telltale hand of the author in the way events play out. The character with the vital information happens to turn up at precisely the right time to give it to the protagonist...I’ve seen this one too many times to count! At the same time, I’ve seen a lot of plots where the resolution comes out of nowhere, from a twist that the author has obviously just thought of on the spot and which has no relation to anything that has happened before it.
  • Characterisation issues – like passive heroines and too-perfect heroes (these tropes seem to go hand in hand, for some reason!) – if there’s one thing that really turns me off a story, it’s a protagonist who just accepts everything that’s happening to her, no matter how strange (this usually seems to happen in paranormal romance/urban fantasy). Even worse are heroines who just accept the hero’s word as law and that he’ll deal with every problem for her because she’s incapable of doing anything herself. *gag*
  • Unconvincing romance: I’ve developed an aversion to stories where the MC and the love interest hate each other at first sight, and then suddenly jump into bed together based on nothing more than physical attraction. How about working on emotional depth rather than including insta-lust just for the sake of it? There are some writers who can write this kind of ‘romance’ well (Jennifer L. Armentrout, for one), but the majority of the time, it doesn’t work.
  • Poor world-building. Word of advice: establish the rules of your world before you start writing. I can’t count the number of books which have had a nice premise but the world-building has disappointed because it’s clear that the author hadn’t thought out their world and established the rules. Sometimes there are direct contradictions, sometimes a new rule conveniently comes out of nowhere to save the day.  Both things annoy me to no end.
  • The opening: trust me, as a writer, I can completely sympathise with the woes and pitfalls of constructing an opening to your book that successfully draws the reader in. I still don’t have the perfect formula. But I know what NOT to include:
a)      An opening that explains too much, and is reliant on info-dumping.

b) An opening that doesn’t explain enough, and is therefore too confusing to follow.

  • Pacing, pacing, pacing. Why does a story have to be 90K words when it could be 70K? Why all the unnecessary tangents and redundant characters? Though I freely admit that I have the opposite problem: I don’t write ENOUGH, and my first drafts tend to be quite skeletal. But the general rule is: if it doesn’t need to be there, cut it. *hands over scissors*
  • Point of view switches: a couple of times, I’ve been surprised when the author suddenly switches to the viewpoint of a minor character – especially during a pivotal scene for the MC. Surely we want to be with the protagonist when they face their challenges? It’s rare that I find these random POV switches, but it happens.
  • Editing issues: most commonly, telling emotions rather than showing them, repetition, and relying on cliché rather than inventiveness. It makes the writing dull. It takes time to develop a unique authorial voice, but the writing is that much stronger for it.

These are some of my main pet peeves with manuscripts I read. But equally, there are lots of things I love to read, too, and that might be a topic for another post!

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Review: Insurgent by Veronica Roth

Insurgent (Divergent, #2)

Goodreads description: One choice can transform you--or it can destroy you. But every choice has consequences, and as unrest surges in the factions all around her, Tris Prior must continue trying to save those she loves--and herself--while grappling with haunting questions of grief and forgiveness, identity and loyalty, politics and love.

Tris's initiation day should have been marked by celebration and victory with her chosen faction; instead, the day ended with unspeakable horrors. War now looms as conflict between the factions and their ideologies grows. And in times of war, sides must be chosen, secrets will emerge, and choices will become even more irrevocable--and even more powerful. Transformed by her own decisions but also by haunting grief and guilt, radical new discoveries, and shifting relationships, Tris must fully embrace her Divergence, even if she does not know what she may lose by doing so.

"New York Times" bestselling author Veronica Roth's much-anticipated second book of the dystopian "Divergent" series is another intoxicating thrill ride of a story, rich with hallmark twists, heartbreaks, romance, and powerful insights about human nature.

Add on Goodreads

The divided society in which Tris never truly belonged has now become scattered. Insurgent picks up where Divergent left off, after Tris and Four narrowly escaped with their lives when the leader of the Erudite faction used mind-control serum to trick the Dauntless into launching an attack on the defenceless Abnegation. As a Divergent, someone who does not conform to any of the five factions into which society is divided (Amity, Abnegation, Dauntless, Candor and Erudite), Tris was one of the few Dauntless who was immune to the simulation serum which turned her friends into brainwashed killers. Haunted by the deaths of her parents, and her own actions during the attack, Tris struggles to forgive herself and to decide where she stands in the upcoming conflict.

I didn’t enjoy the book as much as Divergent, and felt that the constant switching around locations only served for filler rather than necessarily advancing the plot. That said, like in Divergent, the action really ramps up during the final quarter of the book, with plenty of shocking twists and betrayals. As before, Veronica Roth writes in gripping prose, the high suspense and fast pace keeping me turning the pages. On the other hand, there’s a lot more scope for character exploration here. In Divergent couldn’t make my mind up about Tris. I understand that it’s in her character to act in her own self-interest – that’s why she never truly belonged in Abnegation. But some of the risks she took were idiotic, and I thought she behaved quite heartlessly throughout. In Insurgent, however, she struggles with guilt and grief as well as identity problems, and I found her character to be a lot more sympathetic. And an absence of whining about love triangles gains a thumbs-up from me! The romance between Tris and Tobias is believable, with misunderstandings resulting from their decisions to lie to one another, but thankfully this doesn’t get in the way of the storyline.

We also learn more about Tris’s abilities as a Divergent, which fascinate both her allies and her enemies. And my suspicions that the factionless would have an important role to play proved not to be unfounded, as those cast out from society plot a rebellion. It’s no longer clear who is right, and the author presents the positives and negatives of each faction’s way of life. What I like about this series is that the characters aren’t cardboard cut-outs, even those that belong to a particular faction, and their behaviour is as unpredictable as real people’s. This series maintains its thought-provoking look at human nature and conformity, and after a killer cliffhanger ending, I can’t wait for Book 3!
 Rating: ****

Sunday, 21 July 2013

On writing and living multiple lives

It's been a while since I posted a general update, possibly because my life has jumped into the land of insanity lately! As I've had a few weeks without much happening, I decided to go crazy and try to do All The Things - which has meant everything crashing down on me at once! I've been away for a few days, which hasn't helped with the chaos, although I can now proudly say that I'm officially a graduate! 

Yep, I got to wear the hat and everything. :P England has been struck by a heatwave this week, so walking around in a cloak all day wasn't as fun as it looks! But, miracle of miracles, I managed not to fall over and face-plant during the ceremony (which was very fancy - what with everyone wearing cloaks, I felt like I'd walked into Hogwarts! :P). I also managed not to lose my hat, which kept threatening to fall off...We had loads of photos, and then my parents drove back home whilst I got to spend a couple of days with my boyfriend and his family. Now we've graduated, we're back to living 3 hours apart, separated by unreliable rail services (seriously, it took me 5 hours to get home, in the heat, with no air conditioning...)

Still, it feels great to be a graduate, and I can't say I don't prefer the weather to be nice rather than rainy, like a typical English summer (I'm starting to think the climate from the Mediterranean has migrated over here!). And I'm making good progress with Darkworld Book 4 - nearly onto the final act! 

But next week, I start the next phase of my summer: work placements! I'll be commuting 2 1/2 hours to London (and back!) every day for the next two weeks, for my placement at Scholastic! I'm super-excited to learn more about children's publishing from the experts! Meanwhile, I'll be continuing with work for my other internship at Entangled; writing Darkworld Book 4; and completing major edits for Darkness Watching. Yep, social life will have to fall by the wayside for a bit...

And on top of that, I've signed up to host authors every day for the next week for the Blogger Book Fair, which is a superb event for authors and bloggers, running from the 22nd-26th July! I've been crazy-organised about getting all my posts scheduled in advance because I'll be absentee during the day and spending most of my free time on trains, without an internet connection! This means I might get a bit behind in responding to comments and emails, but I'll try my best to keep up! 

After that, I have interviews, more potential placements, more editing, Darkworld Book 5 (!) - it's a crazy-busy summer, that's for sure! I'm going to be putting up my first post on Tangled Up In Words on Thursday -appropriately enough, it's about multi-tasking and wearing numerous hats!

Hope everyone has a fabulous week!

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Review - The Archived by Victoria Schwab

 The Archived (The Archived, #1)

Imagine a place where the dead rest on shelves like books.

Each body has a story to tell, a life seen in pictures that only Librarians can read. The dead are called Histories, and the vast realm in which they rest is the Archive.

Da first brought Mackenzie Bishop here four years ago, when she was twelve years old, frightened but determined to prove herself. Now Da is dead, and Mac has grown into what he once was, a ruthless Keeper, tasked with stopping often—violent Histories from waking up and getting out. Because of her job, she lies to the people she loves, and she knows fear for what it is: a useful tool for staying alive.

Being a Keeper isn’t just dangerous—it’s a constant reminder of those Mac has lost. Da’s death was hard enough, but now her little brother is gone too. Mac starts to wonder about the boundary between living and dying, sleeping and waking. In the Archive, the dead must never be disturbed. And yet, someone is deliberately altering Histories, erasing essential chapters. Unless Mac can piece together what remains, the Archive itself might crumble and fall.

In this haunting, richly imagined novel, Victoria Schwab reveals the thin lines between past and present, love and pain, trust and deceit, unbearable loss and hard-won redemption.

Amazon UK

This was one of those few books I knew I’d love from the cover and blurb alone. Libraries? Dead people shelved like books? I had a feeling this was going to be right up my alley, and happily, I was right!

The premise for the books is the idea that we are made up of our experiences and memories, and that these survive our deaths in the form of Histories, stored in a vast library known as the Archive. Mackenzie is a Keeper, meaning that it’s her responsibility to find escaped Histories and return them to their rightful place. After the loss of her little brother, her parents move to an old hotel, a place with a history someone wants to cover up. Mackenzie is forced to reassess everything she thinks she knows as she learns that something is wrong in the Archived, and it’s somehow tied in to her new home’s sinister history.

This book drew me in from the first page and refused to let me go. I loved Mackenzie, who is a fantastically relatable protagonist – both tough, ruthless keeper and lost teenage girl desperate to cling to the memory of her little brother. The Archived explores an array of themes surrounding loss and memory, life and death, through its unique concept of the Histories. They’re like ghosts, in a way. I wouldn’t call this a horror story, but the idea of a hotel with a hidden history, and the shadow of a murder in the bedroom, sends a delightful shiver down the spine.

I’ve read so many books and seen so many films which have a great concept and poor execution. Thankfully, The Archived isn’t one of them. The gripping story and lyrical writing more than match the fascinating idea. I’m usually a fast reader, but this is one of those books you want to slow down and savour because of the beauty of the writing. At the same time, the plot held me hooked until the end. A definite five stars from me!
Rating: *****

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Indie Book of the Week #6 - Destiny Gift by Juliana Haygert

Destiny Gift (Everlast, #1)

Thirty years in the future, a sinister New York City exists in permanent darkness. 

A student at the secured NYU, nineteen-year-old Nadine has visions of Victor Gianni, an imaginary guy she has real feelings for. Afraid of being truly insane, she explains the visions away as simple daydreams, but she can no longer deny them when she bumps into Victor in real life. But this Victor doesn’t know her, and turns her away. After the encounter, Nadine’s visions change to those of eerie fates, gods she’s never heard of, demons with sharp claws they are not too timid to use … and instructions.

To discover if she’s losing her mind, Nadine follows the vague directions—with the real, rude and reluctant Victor—leading to a man who knows it all: Nadine can restore an ancient creed by unveiling the clues on her visions, and bring sunlight and peace to the world again. But that’s only if the demons and the other evil forces behind the darkness don’t stop her first.

This week I’ve picked Destiny Gift by Juliana Haygert, a new adult paranormal novel set in a future New York in the midst of a world crisis. The world has been plunged into permanent darkness and crime and natural disasters are rampant.

Nadine is suffering from strange hallucinations, which come without warning. Up until now they’ve mainly been of a guy called Victor, who she has come to know as a close friend and is secretly in love with. But now she’s seeing strange gods and goddesses, and her visions are starting to overlap with the waking world. However, when she finally meets Victor in real life, she is stunned to find that he doesn’t know her at all. Meanwhile, thanks to a mysterious guy named Michel, she learns that she apparently has the ability to heal pain at a touch. she, Victor and Michel are part of something bigger than they know

This is a fast-paced read with an intriguing twist on mythology and supernatural powers. I love the idea of a future world in complete darkness, with twisted bat-creatures roaming the streets – whatever that says about me! I really like the way the gods and mythology tie into what’s happening in the world.

I did think Nadine needs be a bit more pro-active, and she seems to let the others just use her healing powers without protesting, but she’s a relatable protagonist. The plot is superb, with some great twists I never saw coming!

This is a great example of new adult paranormal with post-apocalyptic elements. It’s fast-paced, well-written, and the approach to mythology is unique. Great stuff!

Rating: ****

Monday, 15 July 2013

Cover Reveal - Courage by Carrie Butler

Series: Mark of Nexus - Book 2
Author: Carrie Butler
Category: New Adult (NA)
Genre: Paranormal Romance (PNR)
Release: October 15, 2013
Formats: E-Book & Paperback

Short Description: Rena Collins never thought she’d long for the past—back when affection from Wallace, her freakishly strong boyfriend, was the most dangerous aspect of her life. But now that the human-altering organization known as ERA has gone on the offensive, nothing is safe. Her bloodline is exposed, her relationships torn apart, and just when it seems like things can’t get any worse, ERA ups the ante. To save mankind from forced evolution, Rena will have to mend her broken ties and form a resistance... hand-in-hand with the one she hurt most.

Where to find Carrie:
Where to find Courage (Mark of Nexus #2):

Saturday, 13 July 2013

Review - The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

 The Raven Boys (The Raven Cycle, #1)

Add on Goodreads

“There are only two reasons a non-seer would see a spirit on St. Mark’s Eve,” Neeve said. “Either you’re his true love . . . or you killed him.”

It is freezing in the churchyard, even before the dead arrive.

Every year, Blue Sargent stands next to her clairvoyant mother as the soon-to-be dead walk past. Blue herself never sees them—not until this year, when a boy emerges from the dark and speaks directly to her.

His name is Gansey, and Blue soon discovers that he is a rich student at Aglionby, the local private school. Blue has a policy of staying away from Aglionby boys. Known as Raven Boys, they can only mean trouble.

But Blue is drawn to Gansey, in a way she can’t entirely explain. He has it all—family money, good looks, devoted friends—but he’s looking for much more than that. He is on a quest that has encompassed three other Raven Boys: Adam, the scholarship student who resents all the privilege around him; Ronan, the fierce soul who ranges from anger to despair; and Noah, the taciturn watcher of the four, who notices many things but says very little.

For as long as she can remember, Blue has been warned that she will cause her true love to die. She never thought this would be a problem. But now, as her life becomes caught up in the strange and sinister world of the Raven Boys, she’s not so sure anymore.

From Maggie Stiefvater, the bestselling and acclaimed author of theShiver trilogy and The Scorpio Races, comes a spellbinding new series where the inevitability of death and the nature of love lead us to a place we’ve never been before.

This is an utterly compelling young adult read, which manages to put a new spin on familiar tropes, blending myth, superstition and fantasy into a unique tale.

Blue comes from a family of psychics, although her only gift is that she can amplify the abilities of others. The only prediction for her own future is that she will kill her true love. She thinks nothing of this until she sees a strange boy when watching for ghosts at the cemetery. He isn’t a ghost, but one of the ‘Raven Boys’ who attend the local private school. And because Blue can see him, it either means he’s her true love, or she’ll kill him.

Meanwhile, the Raven Boy in question, Gansey, is obsessed with the idea of finding the tomb of the ancient Welsh King Glendower, which he is convinced is buried somewhere near Henrietta. But he’s not the only one on a quest, and it soon becomes clear that the lives of certain individuals - including himself; his best friends Adam and Ronan; and Blue – are inextricable bound.

The blurb made this sound a lot like a love story, but it really isn’t. It’s a highly imaginative, gripping quest tale with a refreshingly different spin on the supernatural involving psychics, ley lines and long-dead kings. The characters are all well-developed and I like the dynamic between the central group of Aglionby boys, as well as Blue’s endearingly bizarre psychic family. I especially felt sympathetic towards Adam and his desire to be something more than his circumstances allow, and there was one particular twist surrounding one of the characters which I most definitely did not see coming!

I loved the gradually unravelling mystery and I’m a sucker for all things supernatural and mythology-based so I didn’t mind the slow pacing, even though I didn’t realise this was the first in a series. It’s beautifully written, and every detail fits wonderfully into place. This deserves a definite five stars from me! 

Rating: *****

Friday, 12 July 2013

Update on Darkness Watching and life

So next week I graduate from university. It's such a strange feeling. Three years have passed in no time at all, and yet I've done so much. I've finished a grand total of FOUR novels (plus two abandoned at the first draft stage)as well as signing a contract with CQP to publish the Darkworld series. Speaking of whichI start edits next week *eep* and I'm waiting on feedback from betas for Book 2 so I can send it to my publishers...

I also have something VERY cool I can share: the blog header for Darkness Watching, which is also the design for the beautiful bookmarks I've ordered for future giveaways! Massive thanks to Alexandria, my fabulous cover designer at CQP!

*Eeek!*  The official cover reveal will be on August 31st - I'm setting one up with Xpresso Book Tours and I'll be sure to share it when sign-ups open! I've also been scheduling promotional tours for October, which is a bit nerve-wracking when edits aren't done yet and I'm starting my first work placement a week on Monday (I'll be off to London to do a placement at Scholastic, which I'm ridiculously excited about!). After that, my future is totally up in the air - I'll be applying for jobs, doing placements, writing, and generally trying to juggle several lives at once. But it'll be worth it! :D

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Review - Vampire Academy: Frostbite

Frostbite (Vampire Academy, #2)

Rose loves Dimitri, Dimitri might love Tasha, and Mason would die to be with Rose... 

It’s winter break at St. Vladimir’s, but Rose is feeling anything but festive. A massive Strigoi attack has put the school on high alert, and now the Academy’s crawling with Guardians—including Rose’s hard-hitting mother, Janine Hathaway. And if hand-to-hand combat with her mom wasn’t bad enough, Rose’s tutor Dimitri has his eye on someone else, her friend Mason’s got a huge crush on her, and Rose keeps getting stuck in Lissa’s head while she’s making out with her boyfriend, Christian! The Strigoi are closing in, and the Academy’s not taking any risks... This year, St. Vlad’s annual holiday ski trip is mandatory. 

But the glittering winter landscape and the posh Idaho resort only create the illusion of safety. When three friends run away in an offensive move against the deadly Strigoi, Rose must join forces with Christian to rescue them. But heroism rarely comes without a price...

Amazon UK

This is the second in Richelle Mead’s Vampire Academy series, and it was just as good as the first! I really like Mead’s take on vampires, where the pure-blood Moroi rule, the half-vampire dhampirs acting as their guardians. Rose is a dhampir in training to become the guardian to Lissa, who in addition to being the last survivor of the Dragomir family, is also her best friend, who forged an irrecoverable bond between them when she brought her back from death in an accident. Lissa has powers few other Moroi have, as she works not with one of the four traditional elements but with spirit, which is how she brought Rose back to life. Unfortunately, a side-effect of this bond means that Rose can link up with Lissa’s emotions – and getting into her friend’s head when things are heating up with her boyfriend really isn’t what she intended! But Rose has bigger problems to deal with – for one, resisting her attraction to her mentor Dimitri, whilst knowing her friend Mason nurtures a hopeless crush on her. She also meets the enigmatic and charming Adrian, but with Strigoi brutally attacking members of the royal families, her tangled love lives are soon to become the least of her worries.

Richelle Mead has a writing style that pulls you right into the world of the story, and Rose’s witty narration and snarky attitude make this an entertaining ride. There’s plenty of action and the plot unfolds at a good pace. I like that we finally get to meet Rose’s mother, too. Rose develops as a character in this book, which is nice to see. I didn’t see all the twists coming and the ending was pretty shocking, but really well put together. I really like the creative vampire mythology and I can’t wait to read the rest of the series!

Rating: *****

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Blog Tour Stop - The Haunting Season by Michelle Muto

The Haunting Season

Be careful what you let in…

Siler House has stood silent beneath Savannah’s moss-draped oaks for decades. Notoriously haunted, it has remained empty until college-bound Jess Perry and three of her peers gather to take part in a month-long study on the paranormal. Jess, who talks to ghosts, quickly bonds with her fellow test subjects. One is a girl possessed. Another just wants to forget. The third is a guy who really knows how to turn up the August heat, not to mention Jess’s heart rate…when he’s not resurrecting the dead. 

The study soon turns into something far more sinister when they discover that Siler House and the dark forces within are determined to keep them forever. In order to escape, Jess and the others will have to open themselves up to the true horror of Siler House and channel the very evil that has welcomed them all.

About the Author 

Long bio:

Michelle has always loved storytelling. When she was a child, her favorite stories were of monsters and things that lurked in the dark. Telling stories often frightened her classmates and got her into a lot of trouble with her teachers. They had no sense of humor.

As an adult, Michelle traded her love of writing for the corporate life where she was an IT professional. Today, she's doing what she loves best - writing and storytelling.

Michelle grew up in Chicago, but currently lives in NE Georgia with her husband and their two dogs. She loves scary books, funny movies, sports cars, chocolate, dogs, and changes of season.

Short Bio:

Michelle Muto lives in northeast Georgia with her husband and two dogs. She loves changes of season, dogs, and all things geeky. Currently, she’s hard at work on her next book.


My Review

Holy crap. This is one of the best – and scariest – haunted house stories I’ve read. I don’t read a lot of horror but I love all things paranormal, and I was in the mood for a good ghost story. And wow, did this deliver.

The premise is simple enough: four teenagers sign up to spend a month in a haunted house as part of an investigation into the paranormal. All have different paranormal abilities: Jess used to see ghosts, Bryan has psychic abilities, Gage can apparently resurrect the dead, and Allison is terrified by the evil spirits she’s tied to - and thinks that there’s something particularly evil about Siler House. And she may be right – not only that the house has a sinister mind of its own, but also that there’s something wrong with the entire experiment. However, now the house has them under its spell, it won’t let them leave…

Michelle Muto does a superb job of creating a sinister atmosphere that gradually escalates. The plot is well-paced with unpredictable twists and some genuinely bone-chilling moments – a certain graveyard scene comes to mind! The characters are also well-developed, and the developing romance between Jess and Gage is a nice contrast to the scares.

I’ve previously reviewed one of Michelle Muto’s other novels, Don’t Fear the Reaper, and it’s difficult to say which I preferred since they’re vastly different in style despite both belonging to the paranormal genre. DFTR is bleaker in tone, dealing with heavy themes such as grief, whilst THS puts a more sinister spin on the idea of ghosts and spirits. I’m definitely giving this five stars – and I think it’ll be haunting me for a good while!

Rating: *****

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Saturday, 6 July 2013

Review - Clockwork Prince by Cassandra Clare

Clockwork Prince (The Infernal Devices, #2)
In the magical underworld of Victorian London, Tessa Gray has at last found safety with the Shadowhunters. But that safety proves fleeting when rogue forces in the Clave plot to see her protector, Charlotte, replaced as head of the Institute. If Charlotte loses her position, Tessa will be out on the street—and easy prey for the mysterious Magister, who wants to use Tessa’s powers for his own dark ends.

With the help of the handsome, self-destructive Will and the fiercely devoted Jem, Tessa discovers that the Magister’s war on the Shadowhunters is deeply personal. He blames them for a long-ago tragedy that shattered his life. To unravel the secrets of the past, the trio journeys from mist-shrouded Yorkshire to a manor house that holds untold horrors, from the slums of London to an enchanted ballroom where Tessa discovers that the truth of her parentage is more sinister than she had imagined. When they encounter a clockwork demon bearing a warning for Will, they realize that the Magister himself knows their every move—and that one of their own has betrayed them.

Tessa finds her heart drawn more and more to Jem, though her longing for Will, despite his dark moods, continues to unsettle her. But something is changing in Will—the wall he has built around himself is crumbling. Could finding the Magister free Will from his secrets and give Tessa the answers about who she is and what she was born to do?

As their dangerous search for the Magister and the truth leads the friends into peril, Tessa learns that when love and lies are mixed, they can corrupt even the purest heart.

The second in Cassandra Clare’s Infernal Devices series begins where the first left off. After a devastating attack at the hands of an army of clockwork monsters, Tessa and her new friends at the Institute find themselves in a race to track down the Magister before Charlotte and Henry lose their leadership of the Clave to the scheming Gabriel Lightwood. But the Magister – who they thought was a harmless human – remains as elusive as ever, even though they know that he is secretly building an army of clockwork monsters infused with demonic energies to take down the Shadowhunters.

This book in the trilogy was more focused on the romance element than Clockwork Angel, with Tessa torn between her confused feelings for hostile Will, who continues to shut everyone out, and Jem, who offers her comfort and security despite suffering from an illness which is slowly killing him. The other characters get more development, too, including Sophie, Gideon, Charlotte and Henry. Meanwhile, the plot thickens as the Magister tightens his grip over Downworld and prepares to put his deadly plan into motion. And Tessa is caught in the middle of it. The fast-paced plot kept me turning the pages, and as with Clockwork Angel, the interactions between the characters pulled my emotions in all the right ways. I have a feeling that the conclusion to the series is going to be heart-breaking – this is one love triangle in which it's impossible to predict which way Tessa will choose – and from which it's hard to see everyone escaping unscathed! 

Rating: *****

Friday, 5 July 2013

Indie Book of the Week #5 - Open Minds by Susan Kaye Quinn

Open Minds (Mindjack Trilogy, #1)

When everyone reads minds, a secret is a dangerous thing to keep.

Sixteen-year-old Kira Moore is a zero, someone who can’t read thoughts or be read by others. Zeros are outcasts who can’t be trusted, leaving her no chance with Raf, a regular mindreader and the best friend she secretly loves. When she accidentally controls Raf’s mind and nearly kills him, Kira tries to hide her frightening new ability from her family and an increasingly suspicious Raf. But lies tangle around her, and she’s dragged deep into a hidden world of mindjackers, where having to mind control everyone she loves is just the beginning of the deadly choices before her.

This week’s top indie choice is Open Minds by Susan Kaye Quinn, the first in an imaginative and gripping sci-fi trilogy set in a world where almost everyone is a mind-reader. As one of a handful of people unaffected by a chemical imbalance in the water, Kira is known as a zero, and is distrusted by most people. But one day, when Raf, her only friend, tries to kiss her, she accidentally does something to his mind and nearly kills him. Another student, Simon, tells her that she’s capable of ‘jacking’ someone’s mind and taking over, an ability he shares. She’s unwillingly drawn into a lie, forced to manipulate the minds of those around her to convince them she is normal. But when Simon introduces her to an entire network of people with abilities like hers, that’s when things get dangerous.

I love the concept of the mind-jackers, and the idea of a society in which everyone is always open to everyone else’s thoughts is a fascinating one. The world-building is great and I really liked the futuristic elements as well as the echoes of the world we live in today. Kira gains our sympathy from the outset, a girl who just wants to fit in, but is forced to make some difficult choices once she learns that she has a rare ability. The combination of paranormal and sci-fi elements makes for a fast-paced and entertaining read. This is a very well-written novel with a great concept, and one I’d highly recommend!

Buy on Amazon.

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

IWSG #4 - On the perils of first-drafting

It's time for another IWSG post, hosted by Alex J. Cavanaugh! Today's co-hosts are Nancy Thompson, Mark Koopmans, and Heather Gardner!

Today I'm going to talk about that moment that always hits around the 1/3 mark of a first draft, which I call the "arghwhatthehellamIdoing?" phase, or "Ican'ttellifthisbookisworkingsendhelpnow!", and involves a lot of flailing around and uncertainty and physically having to force myself to stay put in my desk chair and Just. Write.

I'm currently reaching that stage now with the first draft of Darkworld Book 4, and despite this being the eighth (!) first draft of a novel I've written (counting the three books I abandoned after the first draft stage), I still get stuck at the same point. Every single time. It's because when you start a draft, it's an adventure. You're caught up in the thrill of a new project, the sheer awesomeness of getting words on paper and creating a new world. But inevitably, like after a caffeine high, there comes the inevitable CRASH (as a diet coke addict, I can attest to this). Suddenly, the self-doubt demons are all whispering to you at once that the project is doomed to failure, that you're heading in the wrong direction.

This even happens when I outline the whole book (I generally try to have a rough outline with key plot points marked out so I know where I'm going). It's that "I'm actually trying to write a BOOK" moment, when it's not the beginning of a draft but actually, roughly, trying to take the shape of a full novel. But it's not ready yet. I tend to edit as I go along despite knowing I can't fix all the problems, which probably doesn't help. My feeble excuse is that I have OCD and can't leave well enough alone. I'm a perfectionist, and my first drafts tend to be the equivalent of third/fourth drafts. It's worth it in the end, but when I'm in the middle of it and caught up in all the tangled plotlines and confusing details, it feels like trying to navigate my way through a foggy quagmire. And my sense of direction is appalling! I think it's partly a confidence issue - the fear that all the projects I've finished were flukes and that I've suddenly lost the ability to write a novel.

And then this week I read this awesome blog post from Victoria Schwab which describes EXACTLY what I'm going through right now. So it's reassuring to see that it isn't just me, and even established authors have trouble with first drafts! Even when you have a publishing contract, even when you have an agent, the first draft of a new project always attempts to beat you down. But don't let it. Keep writing, and some day, it'll all click into place. It does for me - every time. 

So keep writing.

Review and Excerpt - Shudder by Samantha Durante

Shudder by Samanth Durante Blog Tour - June 15th to Sept 1st

Shudder by Samantha Durante

It’s only been three days, and already everything is different.
Paragon is behind her, but somehow Alessa’s life may actually have gotten worse. In a wrenching twist of fate, she traded the safety and companionship of her sister for that of her true love, losing a vital partner she’d counted on for the ordeal ahead. Her comfortable university life is but a distant memory, as she faces the prospect of surviving a bleak winter on the meager remains of a ravaged world. And if she’d thought she’d tasted fear upon seeing a ghost, she was wrong; now she’s discovering new depths of terror while being hunted by a deadly virus and a terrifying pack of superhuman creatures thirsting for blood.
And then there are the visions.
The memory-altering “stitch” unlocked something in Alessa’s mind, and now she can’t shake the constant flood of alien feelings ransacking her emotions. Haunting memories of an old flame are driving a deep and painful rift into her once-secure relationship. And a series of staggering revelations about the treacherous Engineers – and the bone-chilling deceit shrouding her world’s sorry history – will soon leave Alessa reeling…
The second installment in the electrifying Stitch Trilogy, Shudder follows Samantha Durante’s shocking and innovative debut with a heart-pounding, paranormal-dusted dystopian adventure sure to keep the pages turning.
Haven’t read the first book in the series? Check STITCH out on Amazon and Goodreads. Just $0.99!

Shudder Purchase Links
Amazon (Kindle $2.99, print $9.99)
Smashwords (multiple e-book formats $2.99)
Barnes & Noble (Nook $2.99)
Also available in the iTunes store ($2.99 e-book) and wherever e-books are sold
Shudder will be available on B&N Nook, iTunes, and Kobo by early July!
Buy Shudder on Amazon

Twitter: @SamanthaDurante | 
LibraryThing: Stitch | Shudder | Author Samantha Durante
Samantha Durante, Author of the Stitch Trilogy

Samantha Durante lives in Westchester County, New York with her husband, Sudeep, and her cat, Gio. Formerly an engineer at Microsoft, Samantha left the world of software in 2010 to pursue her entrepreneurial dreams and a lifelong love of writing. A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania’s Jerome Fisher Program in Management & Technology, Samantha is currently working full time for her company Medley Media Associates as a freelance business writer and communications consultant. The Stitch Trilogy is her debut series. Learn more about Samantha at


Strolling through the expanse, Alessa was just beginning to wonder if it was almost time to make camp when the ground in front of her suddenly exploded, dirt spewing in every direction as a series of rapid shots trailed up the lawn heading for her feet.  She jumped back into Isaac and both went tumbling below the grass.  They shimmied on their stomachs to the shield of the massive sculpture, unburdening themselves of their gear once safely behind cover.
“What the hell was that?” Isaac gasped.
“It sounds like someone’s shooting at us!”  Alessa’s mouth dropped at the realization of what she’d just said.  “Isaac – do you think they’re survivors?”
Isaac shook his head.  “If they are, they don’t seem friendly…”
“Maybe they think we’re those creatures.”
“In that case, I’d be shooting at us, too,” Isaac shrugged.
Alessa punched his shoulder.  “Come on, we need to convince them we’re not a threat.”
“What are you gonna do?”
“Talk to them,” Alessa replied.
Isaac raised an eyebrow with concern.  “Just try not to get shot, okay?”
Alessa stood up, her back to the statue, and slowly inched toward the direction the shooting had come.  When she reached the edge, she poked her head around to survey the scene.  There were bright searchlights crisscrossing the expanse of the yard, and she couldn’t see anyone near the large dark building up ahead.  But when she stepped out and waved her arms in a signal of submission, she was only greeted with the ping of more shots bouncing off the sculpture.  She quickly ducked back behind.
“They don’t seem willing to negotiate,” she reported.
“No kidding.”
“We just need to get them to stop shooting long enough to listen to us,” Alessa insisted.
Isaac peeked around the statue, staying low among the cover of the tall grass as he peered up toward the building.  “Okay, I think I have a plan.”
He scrambled back beside Alessa.  “When I say, you make a run for it –” he motioned at another solid sculpture 50 yards to the right, “– and while they’re distracted looking for you, I’ll sneak around the side through the grass and disarm the shooter.  Hopefully once he’s without a weapon, he’ll be a little more eager to talk.  Ready?” Isaac asked.
Alessa nodded.
“All right, then.  Let’s do this.”

Alessa nodded her understanding.  Her heart was pumping – she was ready.  She took a deep breath and one final peek around the edge of the sculpture… and then she flew.

My Review

Shudder picks up where Stitch left off, with Alessa and Isaac making their way across the wasteland that was once their world to find a safe place for the rebels. They’re chased by sinister creatures and face a new danger at every corner – and Alessa is starting to have strange visions and experience emotions that aren’t her own.

I like that we get several perspectives, including Nikhil’s, who was also a ‘student’ in the same programme as Alessa. He’s currently imprisoned in Paragon, and with the help of another prisoner, trying to piece together what is real and what is a lie. Meanwhile, we get more of an explanation about how Paragon came to be through the eyes of a girl named Phoenix, who has no memory of who she really is. She meets the engineers who designed the system, and it’s scary to think that science and technology could develop to this level. Using memory alteration to make people believe they’re living another life for the purposes of entertainment is shocking enough, but some of the revelations that come to light in Shudder go beyond even that!

Although we don’t get the same twist and genre reversal as we did in Stitch, this dystopian/post-apocalyptic sci-fi world still manages to surprise and shock. The pacing is faster and the action scenes had me on the edge of my seat! I love the lead characters, and even though Alessa has some tough decisions to make, her spirit and her love for Isaac and the others shines though.

With plenty of suspense and a downright scary future world, this is a sequel you don’t want to miss!