Sunday, 21 January 2018

Book Review: The Bear and the Nightingale

3 Stars
Verdict: Not for me.

Vasilisa grows up at the edge of the Russian wilderness, surrounded by the love of her siblings. She has a wild spirit that cannot be tamed for any suitor or convent, and finds she is able to see and protect the spirits that in turn protect her home. However, her stepmother fears them, and when the winter becomes harsh, and the Vasilisa is blamed. She must fight the cold, her stepmother, and be brave in the face of the demons to protect her home and the ones she loves.

I think the author has gone to great lengths to make this book feel authentic. The Russian names and words were a lot to take in, so I was glad to be reading the kindle version for quick definitions. After a while, it's fairly easy to adapt to, and the language equates to strong 'feel' of medieval winters in the heart of Russia.

Still, the prose felt hampered down with extraneous details, and the story in general was dreadfully slow. It took it's sweet time before anything truly magical happened, and even then, it felt more like a tale of madness than one of magic. The deep religious roots also anchors the story to a theme I'm not particularly interested in. I could see early on this wasn't the book for me.

I started to enjoy this book towards the end, but it was mostly a test of persistence. The timeline often flew by in chunks, and I struggled to get the point of the story as a whole. It doesn't help that I'm not a fan of stories that skip wildly ahead, missing out the choices, the stories between, and the context of how their lives ended up where there are now. It lacked intensity for me, which was only regained in the last section.

Many have said this book is similar to Uprooted, another book I only partly enjoyed. I didn't find much similarity between the two books, apart from the Eastern-European setting, but everything I didn't like about Uprooted was stronger in The Bear and the Nightingale. The slow pace, the heavy prose, the distance from the characters. Although I got bored of Uprooted, I found more to love in it, and where Uprooted felt lyrical and beautiful, this book just felt heavy.

All I can say is that I enjoyed parts, but I was mostly bored. I'm really sad that I couldn't get out of it that everyone else seems to be able to so easily. It's a well loved book by most of the rest of the reading community, so worth a spin if nothing I've said has put you off.

Source: Bought it!

Thursday, 18 January 2018

Book Review: A Torch Against the Night

5 Stars
Verdict: An awesome sequel (and I don't say that often!)
#1 - An Ember in the Ashes

Elias and Laia are on the run, and must escape the Commandant before they can even think about saving Laias brother from torture in a Kauf prison. As the person who knows Elias best, Helene is given an ultimatum - hunt down her best friend Elias and publicly execute him, or watch her family die as traitors.

Elias's situation is also made complicated early on by a poison with no cure. He only has weeks to live, and it's not long enough to help Laia save her brother, to stop the Commandant, or save the Scholars.

If you loved book one, you'll probably love book two. Once again, it's beautifully written without compromising on the pace.

This is another brutally fantastic read. It's gripping from start to finish, lyrical in prose but never purple, and contains more torturous situations for the three leads. The narrative switches between Elias, Laia, and Helena to always keep the story on it's toes, and each of them try their best to survive the author's mind-games.

It's painful to read at times. Tahir is a cruel story-spinner, who doesn't mind doing the worst to her characters. That means, I could never guess how the book would play out. Helene's situation is miserably difficult, and I didn't know what she was going to do or who she would choose. Her story is particularly heart-wrenching to read.

I won't gush over the details, because I don't want to give spoilers away. This book left me with a satiated mind, a sense of excitement, and an itching for the next story. It's turning into a great series, and I wouldn't be surprised if you loved it too.

Source: Bought it.

Friday, 12 January 2018

Writing festival 2018

Hey all,

I'm putting together another blog festival (the official name is TBC)! If you're a writer, either published or aspiring, I'd love for you to contribute. I've already got a few excellent articles lined up from past guest bloggers, but I'd love to connect with as many writers as possible.

Take a look at these great articles from last time:

How to Leave your Readers Cold, Hungry, and Afraid by R.A. Black
Finding Inspiration in Likely Places by J.P. Jackson
Developing Ideas by Nikki Morgan
Nine Questions Every Writer Needs to Ask by Herb Mallette:

As long as the article is about writing, writing sites, critiquing, publishing process, indie publishing, or fiction books, it will be considered. I'll work with you to edit up the piece and add in an author bio, so please note there will be feedback to get the article into good shape.

Types of content

Let me know if you're interested in any of the following:

  1. An article on one of the above topics.
  2. Print and/or eBook giveaways of your novel.
  3. An author interview (your book can be published, indie, or at the beta-read stage, but should be complete). I'll send over a series of questions and we can have a bit of back and forth to get the most of out it.
  4. Offering up Chapter 1 of your unpublished novel for a free critique. With your permission, I would like to post critiques of your opening chapter. I may not post the whole first chapter, depending on length. If you know me, I can be quite critical, but I'll also look for positives and won't post anything unless I feel it's helpful. Thank you to anyone brave enough to apply!
  5. For a limited time, I'm accepting review copies of self-published books again. Please note, I usually get a high number of requests so I'll have to pick and choose. See past reviews for the types of books I usually read.
  6. If you have a completed manuscript which you are looking for beta-readers for and would like a shout out, let me know where your story can be found, a pitch, genre, word count, and if there is anything you'd like the reader to focus on.

If you're thinking about getting involved, just send me a message via the contact form on the side, or post a comment below. It would help me out if you followed the blog in some way, but it's not necessary. Just let me know you're interested and I'll make sure to keep in contact.

First drafts of content are needed by the 28th of February, but don't delay on showing your interest!

Cheers for reading!

Thursday, 11 January 2018

Book Review: Coraline

CORALINE by Neil Gaiman
5 Stars
Verdict: Quirky, creepy, and quick to read!

Bored and alone, with her parents too busy to play with her, eleven year old Coraline ventures through a mysterious door in the wall. It once led to nowhere. Now it leads to an interesting 'other' place, where her 'other' neighbours are much more entertaining than the normal world, and her 'other' mother gives her all the attention she could want. To stay here forever, all she needs to do is one little thing: sew buttons into her eyes...

This is a quick read that I only picked up because I was horribly behind on my reading list but too stubborn and competitive to lose. Fortunately, this is a great book for any age. Full to the brim of weird and wonderful characters, twisted logic, and dry humour, I enjoyed reading this from start to finish.

Gaimen's imagination really is endless. Wit is sew into the narrative like eyes, and it compliments the quirky tone well. The pacing is good, mixing the wondrous and quirky with action and adventure, and there's enough creepiness for me to think Coraline is a braver girl than I was at her age.

There are clever twists and strange discoveries and generally a lot to love. My only complaint is that there weren't' enough pages!

Source: Bought it to complete my 2017 reading challenge.

Tuesday, 2 January 2018

Welcome to 2018

2017 been a ride and a half, for me, anyway.

The year started with brilliant news. One of my clients emailed to say that he had managed to snag a publishing deal - check him out here. I was elated for him, and since then, he’s had success after success. His story of darkness even had honourable mentions in the Rainbow Awards. It's fantastic news for a fantastic writer.

Me on the other hand? My writing had to take a backseat. Turns out buying a house and progressing your career mops up all your free time and leaves you too dry to churn out a story.

It was worth it though. My life slotted into place in the first week of December. I finally moved into my first house with my boyfriend of seven years. To celebrate, he cooked a lovely meal, broke a cupboard, and proposed. Two days later, I was offered a new job as an editorial assistant. That's going to be a tough week to top!

So yeah, been a bit too busy for writing. So busy in fact, I had to read eight books in the last three weeks of December to complete my reading challenge. Prepare to read reviews for Coraline, Genuine Fraud, A Torch Against the Night, A Monster Calls, The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly, Count the Stars, Six of Crow and Uprooted. I still see words in my sleep.

This year, I'll focus on my writing again. I already have a great story drafted and edited, then professionally edited, and edited a bit more - it just needs some TLC before submitting to agents.

Last year was my year for life, so this year could be my year for writing! But I've said this before, and nothing has come of it so far.

I'll just have to keep hoping.

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Book Review: A Gathering of Shadows

4 Stars
Verdict: A great bridge to book 3.
#1 - A Darker Shade of Magic

The consequences of book one have set in. Lila has set off in the new world with a sink or swim attitude, and closes in on her dream of owning a ship. Kell struggles with Rhy’s life tethered to his, unable to live freely, fearing that they’ll share the consequences. Lila and Kell are drawn together once more, this time by the call of a tournament that pits magicians against each other in one on one battle, the Essen Tasch.

Lila is one of my favourite characters of all time. She's reckless, and smart, and a darker shade of hero, and it always surprises me how boldly she challenges the world to seize her dreams. I also liked the newest character, Alucard, the likable pirate slash privateer who gives Lila a chance in the world she doesn't belong in.

This book is easier to slip into, easier to enjoy from page one than the prequel. With less jumping around, the world building feels solid, strong I no longer felt lost between the worlds, and instead enjoyed the story from the first chapter. The prose is effortless and beautiful, conjuring up images to match the magical battles.

It's not quite as exciting as book one which is why it loses a star for me. The tournament begins two thirds of the way in, and before that, we’re really just getting there. Lila carves out a mini-adventure of her own, while Kell and Rhys plot their dangerous fun, and it's all of equal interest. The characters’ paths entwine closer and closer, teasing the reader with the promise of a momentous clash which, in the end, didn't make enough noise to feel like a proper climax. There are a few twists and turns as another evil rises in another London, but that's not for this book, just a promise for later.

Despite the brilliant writing and great characters, the story line never peaks or crashes. Instead it builds, one brick at a time, into the bridge that leads us to book three. There’s a bridge hanger too, with all the promises of a great tale beginning in the next book. It's a good sequel, but it's missing the impact of a great standalone novel.

Source: Bought it!

Friday, 17 November 2017

Book Review: The Ask and the Answer

THE ASK AND THE ANSWER by Patrick Ness (#2 Chaos Walking)
4 Stars
Verdict: Tough to get into, killer cliff hanger.
Review of book 1

This book is like climbing a very steep cliff. It starts slow, building up new characters, a new world, a new system to climb through. When you're at the top, it's amazing. And then you slip right off it, your hand gripping the edge, hanging on for that sequel.

If I'm honest, the ramble style of voice isn't my type of thing. I can appreciate the feeling of really getting inside the character's head in the moment, and the way the action scenes unravel at a frighteningly fast pace, but it's the slower in-between sections which don't work as well for me in this style.

The general pacing of the story reminded me of book one. In my opinion, it lacked momentum until something tripped me up and then I couldn't put it down, and this book took longer to stick its foot out. Perhaps after book one being about running, escaping, scraping through one disaster to the next, book two felt claustrophobic in comparison.

So it picks up with Todd and Viola trapped, their lives in the balance, and the promise of a reunion. But their reunion scene is exchanged for events that just weren't as interesting. I felt forced into a story-line I didn't want, forced to follow what the Mistresses were up to. Forced to watch Todd be forced into acts of cruelty. I guess part of it is I didn't expect most of the book to be set in one place, because the last book was such an adventure.

I struggled the most with the motives of the leaders. What does the mayor want? Then why is he doing that? I don't think this book really answered those questions, only asked them. Maybe that's the point, but if so, I still feel like it's missing something.

Towards the middle-end of the book, I started to love it again. The pace picked up, and the pieces started to slot into place. I read the last third of the book ten times faster than the rest, and that's where the four stars comes from.

Then there's that cliffhanger. I know a lot of people don't like cliffhangers, but this is book two of a trilogy, and that ending makes me want to pick up book three right away. It took me by surprised yet it's painfully obvious - this is my absolute favourite thing about reading, and Ness does it so, so well.

Source: Bought it.