Search This Blog

Saturday, 7 December 2013

The Hunger Games: Why the World Became Obsessed With a Book about Teens Murdering Each Other

So I missed the blogosphere so much that I caved in and did a guest post for my friend Anya. If you are interested, link is here:

I miss you all! Don't forget about me!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year :)

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

I Was Hoping it Wouldn't Have to Come to This...

If you're one of those wonderful people who follows my blog without actually knowing me in person (meaning you must actually like what I write! Wow! I'm flattered, truly I am.), let me fill you in regarding my crazy, hectic, stressful-at-the-moment life.

I have biiiiiiiig exams this year. Mocks in January, real things in May/June. Having received the finalised timetable for the mocks today, I've realised how little time to revise I have left. As it is most of my Christmas so-called "break" will consist of revision. So, while it brings me great sadness (it really does), I am going to have to suspend Perfect Companions Have Pages and Prose until February.

Yes, it's okay to cry.

I can't possibly tell you how sorry I am or how awful I feel that I'm taking a somewhat-unprofessional pause. But life happens. As I love to say, c'est la vie. And on the bright side, I will have loads of great content (I hope) when I return! So many wonderful books from Santa and writing topics to discuss (like how foreshadowing IS NOT a theme, thank you very much! Long story short, bad English teacher, who, thank the Lord above, has now been replaced with a fantastic English teacher who agrees with me that foreshadowing is a literary technique, not a theme. But that's another rant...) and songs to share with you and my delicious gingerbread recipe! We'll have so much fun!

So now, as my parting gift, I would like to tell you that:

Because I knew you, I have been changed for good.

Don't forget to keep Dancing Through Life:

And of course, have a very merry Christmas!

Lastly, what Christmas would be complete without a generous helping of Buble?

I'd just like to say that I appreciate every single one of you, and I will miss doing this blog. Think of me, revising my quadratic equations while you go Christmas shopping, and know that this was not what I wanted. But we don't always get what we want. Life, as Augustus Waters says, is not a wish-granting factory.

So long, fare well, take care of yourselves, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, and see you all back in February! :)

Thursday, 21 November 2013

I'm sorry, but...

...there will be no Book Talk post tomorrow, because I am at the hospital. Worry not, I'm not going to die on you! This is, however, important and I wont get back home till late. Will be back next week my lovely lovely readers. Ciao x

Friday, 15 November 2013

Book Talk: the Abandon Trilogy by Meg Cabot

So last night, I finally brought an end to what has been an emotional roller-coaster ride second only to Lili St Crow's Strange Angels series. Oh. My. God. The cliffhangers at the ends of books one and Let's begin at the beginning, shall we?

Seven years old, Pierce Oliviera is playing in the Isla Huesos graveyard after being kicked out of the sexton's office at her grandfather's funeral. A tall, mysterious boy -- a giant, really -- spots her crying over a dead dove.

He revives it. Then walks away.

Fifteen years old, Pierce trips on her scarf, falls into her father's pool and drowns. She wakes up, cold, wet and afraid, in a cave by a lake. There are two long lines of people: her line, the quiet line, and the rowdy other line. Scared, confused, not realising what has happened, Pierce isn't really thinking when she runs up to the one person there she recognises -- the boy from the cemetery. John Hayden. He gives her a necklace just before the doctors revive her in hospital. When she wakes up, it's still there.

Now seventeen, and John is turning up everywhere she goes. This "dream" she had while dead is anything but fantasy, and anything but over. It's not like anyone would believe her if she told them, so she doesn't. But John's not the type of guy you can ignore. He wants to take her back to the place that haunts her nightmares. The Underworld. The only question is, why?

As with many trilogies, the first book in this series, Abandon, was by far the best. I loved the idea of having an NDE (someone who has had a near-death experience) as the main character, and as always Meg Cabot did not disappoint, even though my expectations were, after the Mediator series, incredibly high. The whole tall, dark, mysterious guy thing may seem like a cliche, but believe me, Meg Cabot handles it well. John Hayden is a complete, well-rounded, extremely interesting and three-dimensional character that you will fall in love with, even though in my opinion, it takes longer than usual. He's just so fascinating, though, that even if you don't like him, you still need to find out what happens to him.

I think it'll be hard to talk about Underworld and Awaken without ruining the end of Abandon, so I'll just say that they were full of suspense and fantastic, even though books one and two ended on EVIL cliffhangers! To contrast, book three felt almost too tied-up. So, as saying to little is better than saying too much, I'll leave you now to discover the series yourselves.

Star rating: 5/5

Till Monday!

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Writing Wednesday -- Creative Writing Prompts!

I cannot believe I didn't think of this sooner. Writing prompts! Fun or what? If this goes well, I'll definitely do this more often. You'll have to let me know what you think in the comments. Anyway...

It happens every time. You sit down, all excited to get those fingers tapping away on the keyboard. Coffee in hand (in your favourite mug, the one with the grammar pun), you sit back, relax, fire up the trusty old laptop, and...

...nothing. Not a word pops into your head. You set Microsoft Word to your comfort font, classic 12pt Times New Roman. Wait for it...nope. Still nothing. What's wrong with you? You're a writer! Why can't you write? Are you losing your touch? Has your muse abandoned you?

Oh no. What if this happens every day? What if you can never write again? Then the world will never read the masterpiece you've been pouring all that metaphorical blood, sweat and tears into! Why, cruel fate? WWWWWHHHHYYYYYYYY????????

Even if you're not as melodramatic as I am, writer's block -- or whatever you want to call it -- is scary at worst and irritating at best. So what can you do to lure your muse back and cure this bout of The Freeze?

1) Don't panic. The muse doesn't like you when you're panicked.

2) Read back over what you wrote yesterday. Put yourself in the scene. That is not your goldfish watching you from the tank, that is an ocean filled with Sirens waiting to lure your unsuspecting group of sailors to their watery graves. Honest.

Feeling inspired yet? If so, great! Dive in! But if not, that's fine, too. Just try one of these five-minute exercises to get those writing muscles warmed up. Have fun with them. The sillier, the better! All of these are my original writing prompts, so I give you permission to share and publish any work you create using these. You may also link back to this page and share the writing prompts as you see fit, I just ask that you please credit me, Hannah J of Perfect Companions Have Pages and Prose, as the creator. Thanks!

Your main character (or another book character), a celebrity, a friend, a family member and one of your childhood teachers are stuck in a lift/elevator. One of them is secretly claustrophobic. Write about what happens.
I've had hours of fun with this one. If you don't want someone to have claustrophobia, pick something else weird. Maybe the lights go out? Someone is on a mission to deactivate a bomb, and if they don't get out of here in thirty-eight -- make that thirty-seven -- minutes, the building will explode? Don't be afraid to mix it up.

Pick three songs at random from your music collection (shuffle is good for this.) Write a scene, a poem or a short story inspired by the events and emotions in those songs. Rule: You must use something from each song. Alternatively, use one line of the lyrics from each song in your poem.
This one is also one of my go-to prompts and I always make a playlist for each writing project I do. It's great for when you need to put yourself into the emotions of the scene, to keep the story in your mind when you're out and about and to spark ideas when you're feeling uninspired. My favourite artists to use for this are Taylor Swift, Kelly Clarkson and Lady Antebellum, because they have some gorgeous imagery in their lyrics, but anything works. I dare you to use The Duck Song...

Take your main character and put them in the climax of another book, or vice versa. How would they have handled the situation?
Also very fun, and useful for getting back into your MC's shoes, if this was your problem. Alternatively, take a main character from a book that's not yours and put them into the climax of another book that's not yours. Oh, and if anyone puts Bella Swan in the arena (The Hunger Games), please please pretty please send it to me. I'm dying to see how that would play out.

"The girl in blue sat in the furthest corner of the coffee shop, grazing on chocolate covered pretzels. She was scribbling madly on a tablet, and every time the bell above the door rang, announcing the entrance of another customer, she almost jumped right out of her chair."
Continue this, either from the girl's POV (in third person) or the POV of the person who is watching her (first or third). Try to answer some of the questions the beginning poses (Who is she? What is she doing on the tablet? Why is she so jumpy?) whilst also posing a few more of your own. There are real possibilities with this, because we know almost nothing about the girl. Take it in whatever direction you want, and keep going until you feel like stopping. Or turn it into a novella- or even novel-length piece. Be creative.

A shaft of light shines down on you, illuminating your bluish toes and a small space of damp stone floor. A few dust mites hover in the air in front of your nose, and you sneeze. The echo of the sound tells you the room can't be more than ten feet in any direction. You're cold, wet, hungry. Your head hurts like nobody's business. There's a thick stench in the air, like stale smoke and urine. Worst of all, you can't remember a single thing. Write from here.
This could be continued in any person, but I think first would be most effective. If you're planning on reading this aloud, though, second holds major possibilities.

That's all for now, but I'll try to make this a reasonable regular occurrence. It really depends on the response I get. So, if you've enjoyed, please let me know, and feel free to share your work in the comments. I'd love to see what you came up with! Until Friday, my lovelies.

Friday, 8 November 2013

Book Talk: Fire by Kristin Cashore

This is a book I read over a year ago, actually. Wow. It does not feel like anywhere near that long at all. I'm getting old ;)

Fire is a monster. Named after her flame-coloured hair and hated for being a breed she can't help, Fire relegates herself to a small corner of the Dells, mixing only with her friend Archer and his father. Aware and afraid of her ability to influence people with her beauty, she does this not only to protect them, but also herself from their prejudice. However, there lurks a bigger danger to the Dells, a danger that wears the face of a child. The fog is coming, and if Fire wants to protect those she loves, she will need to face a judgemental royal court, confront her past, and take control of her wild self, dealing with hurt, betrayal, passion and unexpected love along the way.

As you may or may not have guessed, this is a companion novel to Graceling. The sequel to Graceling, Bitterblue, is out but I have not read it yet, despite constant harassment from my friend. It's not that I don't want to, it's a question of, "Well, I have this much time, which book do I want to read more?" I wouldn't say this book had as tight a hold on me as others, but nevertheless I still consider it a great story and I salute Cashore on her world building skills. If you're a Narnia/Middle Earth/Oz lover, you must read this series. (May I just add that the books may be read in any order, and although chronologically Fire would come first, Graceling was published first and I recommend that you read it first. Why? You'll understand when you read it...)

What I really loved about Fire was the fact that just one of the characters is the same as Graceling, yet because we see him from more than just Katsa's (Graceling) perspective, we see more to him. We see ow he became what he is in Graceling, without him even being the main focus. It's use of subplots at its finest.

The one complaint I have is that at times it moved a bit slowly for my taste, but I am a thriller person. The writing was certainly beautiful, anyway, and the characters were interesting, especially Archer, Fire and Brigan. Archer has to be my favourite, even though he makes some mistakes, and he's not the type I usually go for. Odd. Who doesn't make mistakes, though?

Oh, and there's someone in this book called Hanna! No "h" at the end, but unless you count the crazy 5-year-old who got one mention in Joy Preble's Anastasia Forever, or the former best friend who committed suicide before Meg Cabot's Abandon even started, this is the first character who has shared my name. Hanna is awesome. I take it back -- Hanna is my favourite character. Sorry, Archer.

Star rating: 4.5/5

Amazon link.

Oh, and did I mention it has an awesome cover? :)

Monday, 4 November 2013

Music Monday and a Liebster Nomination!

Hey everyone!

This is me right now:

"Celebrate good times COME ON!"

Because my lovely blogging buddy and fellow teen writer, Alice (+Alice Kouzmenko on G+) nominated me for a Liebster award earlier today! Yay! Basically, the Liebster award is like a blogging chain letter. You get nominated, and have to answer 10 questions of the nominator's choice on your blog. Then, I pick three little-known blogs (I've heard less than 3000 followers, because the whole purpose of the Liebster is to spread the word for new or obscure, but talented, bloggers you like) and ask them ten questions. They link back to my blog and answer them, pick three nominees of their own, and thus the cycle goes on and on and on...

So, here is the blog of the wonderful Alice, my nominator:

I love reading her short fiction. It's always inspiring, thought-provoking and perfectly paced. I'm jealous :)

And the questions she asked me (so fun!):

1) What are three places you have always dreamed of travelling?

Hawaii, definitely! Then I'd love to go Japan, and Murano, which is an island off the coast of Italy. I'd say Russia, too, but my history teacher has told me horror stories about muggings there, and frankly, I'm a wimp.

2) Biggest goal in life?

Be happy. Really, is there anything else? Among the things that would make me happy are an adorable husband, kids, working in publishing and becoming a part- or even full-time writer.

3) Favourite flavour of ice cream?

That's a hard one. I'd have to say coffee, but I'm a self-confessed chocoholic, and I love strawberries and cream, too.

4) What inspires you?

Where do I begin?! My family and friends, obviously. Then books, music, writing, movies, and watching others act on their inspiration. Honestly though, I find inspiration in the weirdest of places. Once I thought of a novel idea in biology. True story.

5) What are you looking forward to?

Getting these stinky GCSEs over and done with! Then IB, university, life...everything. On a more immediate scale, this Saturday, because I'm getting and iPad Air with my birthday money from my Godparents, and a pumpkin spice latte :)

6) Summer or winter?

Winter. Why? Pumpkin spice latte, of course ;)

7) If you could have any talent, what would it be?

I would love more than anything to be able to draw, but I can't. At all. My people resemble potatoes and my trees look like poodle tails. Ah well, c'est la vie.

8) What's a question you've always wished someone would ask you, and what's the answer?

Awesome question! Well, that would have to be, "Which book character would you like me to bring to life with this magical machine here so you can marry him?" And my answer would be, "Gah, how could you expect me to make a decision like this?! Ethan Kozninsky, Edgar Graves, Cas Lowood, Thomas Sabin, Sam Temple...ahhhhh! Ethan. Let's just go with Ethan. Unless you're willing to do all five? Pretty please?"

9) What are you most proud of?

I wrote a novel before my dad even finished planning his! (He's still not done...) :) But I couldn't have done that without GoTeenWriters, so huge thank you and shout out to Stephanie Morrill and Jill Williamson, two absolute angels.

10) What is something that never fails to make you smile?

Reading a sappy kiss scene in a book, happily ever afters, disney films, the smell of Barnes & Nobles (don't ask), troll dolls, and listening to the music from "Wicked!"

And now, ladies and gentleman, bloggers and followers, put your hands together for my nominees!

*crowd goes wild*

1) The blog of one of my favourite authors ever ever ever, creator of Mr Sexy Blue-Eyes Ethan Kozninsky, awesome person, saint for putting up with me, JOY PREBLE EVERYONE!

2) I'm sorry, I know it's mean, but some of this stuff is just too true. And it's so funny. "Prom...really? That's the culmination of the greatest modern love story ever told?" TERRI WEAVER!

3) Here is another one of my writing and blogging e-friends, who is undertaking the huge task of forming a critique group for teen writers! I know you guys are out there and I know you want to join, so come on, help her out and meet some friends -- it's win-win! BRITTNEY JOHNSON!

Nominees, here are the questions you must answer on your respective blogs, linking back to mine and nominating three more blogs you think deserve more traffic. Don't forget to come up with questions of your own, too!

1) If you met the Doctor and he offered you a ride in the Tardis, where would you ask him to take you and why?
2) What book would you direct the movie adaptation of and who would you cast as the main characters?
3) Your weirdest dream ever?
4) If you could have one superpower, what would it be and why?
5) Most memorable childhood experience?
6) Which historical figure, celebrity and fictional character would you like to be best friends with?
7) Pick one food or drink you couldn't live without.
8) Three things on your bucket list?
9) If I gave you $10,000 to start up a charity, what would that charity be called, who would you help and why?
10) How do you picture the end of the world?

Thanks again to Alice for nominating me. I am truly honoured that there is at least a small pocket of humanity that would miss my blog if I upped and disappeared; this is definitely motivation to carry on, even when I'm tired and lazy and have a physics test the next day. Nominees, I hope you have fun answering my questions. Can't wait to read your answers!

Thursday, 24 October 2013

A Quick Apology Message

Hey readers. I am so, so sorry I've been a bad blogger recently. I know I've missed a few posts and now I'm going to be even more horrible and tell you that there will be no Book Talk tomorrow, nor any blogging at all next week, because I'm going to the USA with my best friend! Eek! We've been waiting for this trip for over a year, and now it's finally arrived and neither of us can believe it. It's just so strange how the super-crazy-excitement hasn't really hit us yet, but I'm sure it will by tomorrow. Can't wait!

Well, I'm going to miss you all! Be back in two weeks :)

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Writing Wednesday: Killing Off Characters

I can guarantee that nothing, absolutely nothing, will make me hate an author more than if he/she kills off my favourite character. However, sometimes you need the reader to hate you. Sometimes that poor protagonist you've been dragging through hell (literal or figurative -- your call) and pushing to the limit needs to be tipped over the edge into action. And what better way to do that than to brutally and heartlessly murder someone they love? That will motivate them to finally assassinate the evil dictator!

Killing off characters is something you can very easily do wrong. In either direction. Some of us ( get so attached to our characters that they become our best friends and our babies all at once. Suddenly you can't possibly kill Bob because even though that would be great for the story, and losing the love of her life will definitely get Beth to shake her tail bone, get off her high horse and avenge Bob, which could either be the main story goal or could serve to get her stuck in some other sort of sticky situation, such as trapped in the dungeons under the castle. So you can see that the occasional bit of cruelty in your writing is useful as a plot-pusher, and you want the reader to feel something, don't you?

That said, so many authors take it to the other extreme. They kill everyone. They have no mercy. Bob needs to die, yes, so then why not kill of Beth's brother, Billy, while she's out trying to avenge Bob? Let's rack up the guilt! Let's have a massacre! Right?

Umm, no. Because you'll end up having to constantly replenish the cast with new characters, which is confusing both for the reader and for you. Confusion = bad. You may also end up killing someone you need later, and then you'll have to bring them back. Which works in a few rare cases if done well, but usually, I'd say it's a no-no. The reader can and will be able to tell when it's a cop-out and they will not be happy.

Racking up the guilt is something which works, obviously. Maybe you can kill Bob and Billy in one book, but then I wouldn't advise losing any more main characters. Killing characters the reader loves will ensure an emotional response, yes. Let's think Titanic -- a film I love to hate and hate to love. (Spoilers ahead.) Lots of people die. That's a given basically from the start, because who doesn't know the infamous story? It's when Jack dies that the twist comes. We care a lot about Jack. Some of us even love Jack. Jack is smart. Jack is selfless. Jack is gorgeous. In short, Jack is as perfect as a character can be without being too perfect. So that's why when Jack dies, it hits us right in the gut, like a freight train zooming at 500mph. It barrels, unseen, out of the tunnel and it physically hurts, it's so sad. I literally -- not figuratively, not practically, literally -- cried for an hour the first time I saw that movie. We all know Rose was the one who deserved to die the most out of the couple. Rose was a pretty annoying person before Jack came along. And yet Rose lived. Because of Jack; because Jack selflessly let her get on the raft-thing (even though Mythbusters proved there would have been enough room for both of them. Just saying.), even though he knew it meant he'd freeze to death in the water. That made us love Jack more, which made his death even worse.

Titanic is one of my saddest examples. I won't lie and tell you I wasn't furious, initially, even though the critical part of my brain was pointing out all the smart things about the story ("Make it count, meet me at the clock") and trying to calm the emotional part that just felt like it had nothing left to live for. Titanic only killed one main character, and look how much impact. Like cliffhangers, and setting, this is another instance where less is often more. Overdo your killing, Jigsaw-style, and you will either desensitize your reader or annoy he/she so much she vows never to buy another one of your books again, because it's just too much emotional trauma. Neither of those things is particularly desirable if you want to actually sell books and have readers that actually like you, as opposed to readers who want to meet you just so they can punch you. Tell me, are you writing a novel or a script for a slasher movie? I rest my case.

Another point is that, if you're writing something vaguely fantastical (sci-fi, paranormal, fantasy, you name it), you have the luxury of thinking of new and original alternatives to killing. (Mockingjay spoiler alert ahead.) Having Peeta hijacked was a very smart move by Suzanne Collins, because having him there but not himself made it even worse, both for the reader and Katniss. And of course, then she could have fun taking it either way: will Peeta stay nuts or will he recover? Read the rest of the book or you'll never know! And she made use of her own quotation "Hope. It's the only thing stronger than fear."

So pull a Lili St Crow/Suzanne Collins and do something worse than death to your main character's loved ones. Rack up the stakes without racking up the death count. That cool new brainwashing-meets-zombification thing you came up with is sure to stay with your reader much longer than a mere death. If your genre permits it, of course.

I am still of two minds about killing off characters, and how much is enough vs. how much is too much. I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments! Till Friday, friends and readers.

Friday, 11 October 2013

Book Talk: The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold (not for children)

(First, so sorry I disappeared on you on Monday. I was my birthday :D and we got home late, and then there was the cake and before I knew it, it was ten o'clock and too late to blog. But I'll post a song this Monday instead, as well as the Writing Wednesday post that'll be due. I'm really excited about this one!)

Oh, my golly gosh. This book. I had heard many things from many different people, but nothing prepared me for the, excuse the cliché, emotional roller-coaster that this book put me through. It was tragic, but it was beautiful. I cannot count the number of times I had tears in my eyes or shivers down my back. It was an odd sort of sadness, though, not like the other sob stories I usually bawl my eyes out at, like Titanic and The Fault in Our Stars, in which you cry your heart out only at the end. No, The Lovely Bones was tear-worthy at many, many points, but you cry less each time. I liked how Alice Sebold did that. So without further rambles, here is my usual teaser/summary:

Walking back from school on the evening of 6 December, 1973, 14-year-old Susie Salmon is stopped by her neighbour, George Harvey. Lured by curiosity, she follows him into a den-like hole he has dug in the cornfield by their houses -- where he rapes and then murders her. And he seems to have gotten away with it. But Susie isn't done on Earth yet. She watches her family, friends, people she once spoke to, from her own personal heaven, as detective Len Fenerman grows increasingly frustrated at his inability to find the murderer, or even a body. If only Susie could find a way to prove to her loved ones that she's still here, that it wasn't their fault, that she's safe now, if longing for things she might have done. That her murderer lives right next door...

This book touches something deep and personal inside us all. It proves how danger sometimes lives right on out doorstep, and while that may not be a particularly comforting thought, the author still managed to execute what some people may call a "horrible" story in an absolutely beautiful, poetic way. Susie narrating from her heaven gives the effect of a combined first person and omniscient narrator, something that prior to reading this book I would have considered impossible. "Like a beautiful gasoline rainbow" (my favourite quotation, that made me cry more than all other parts bar one), this book manages to take something ugly and make it a story so captivating it kept you enthralled without the use of what I refer to as the literary "underhand tactics", e.g. extraneous cliffhangers. The character my heart bled for the most had to be Susie's poor father, Jack; followed by Lindsey and Buckley, her siblings; and then Ray Singh, Susie's crush, who is at one point a suspect. I have to confess that I did not like Susie's mother at all. I know her daughter died, and I made allowances, but there is some behaviour that is just inexcusable. I won't mention what that behaviour was. You'll have to read it and find out ;)

Star Rating: 5/5

I recommend this to almost everyone -- don't let your kids under twelve at the very minimum read it, please. I would say fourteen and up, but if you do allow younger children to read it, well, don't say I didn't warn you.  It's a fantastic novel, but there is the rape, which isn't described in detail but I still don't think it's the best thing for children to be reading. There are also one or two sex scenes, which are also not gone into in detail. Even though I believe Sebold handled the tricky subject as well as she could, the fact remains that it's there, and some things are best left till older. If you want a sad but beautiful book that's child-friendly, I recommend Ways to Live Forever by Sally Nicholls, which you can read my post on here.

Have a wonderful evening, everyone! I start "work" tomorrow -- unpaid volunteering, but still my first job. Excited! This is the charity shop that gets all my old books. I wonder how many I'll recognise on the shelves :)

Friday, 4 October 2013

Book Talk: Graceling by Kristin Cashore

Hello, all. This is a book I actually read last year, but I saw it on my shelf and realised I had to tell you all about it.

People with an exceptional skill in a particular field, known as a Grace, are equal parts feared, envied and exploited in the Seven Kingdoms. Katsa, who can be identified, as all Gracelings can, by her mismatched eyes, is cursed with the Grace of killing, something even she loathes herself for. Used as an assassin by her uncle Randa, king of the Middluns, Katsa is on a mission to find and save the kidnapped father of the king of  Lienid. But the old man is harmless. What could anyone possibly want with him? And who was that knife-wielding, Graced fighter, with eyes the colour of precious metals? Is following Randa's orders really the right thing to do? Because Katsa's not sure she still wants to kill any more. She doesn't want to be a pawn all her life. This time, she's going to solve the mystery by herself. Maybe with a little help from Po...

 This book had an interesting premise; never before had I seen anyone do something similar to a Grace. The other thing I love is that there are loads of twists, but they're not horrible, sneaky underhand tricks of the author -- they're the kind of twists that make you go "aaaahhhhhh" and nod, rather than screech, "NOOOOO!" Prim-style and cry. No one in this book is exactly as they seem, and I love that. You discover things throughout the course of the novel even the characters didn't know about themselves, and it's fun to try to solve the mystery before they do. And, as with all the books I really like, there's an adorable guy :)

The writing is beautiful, too, because it's not typical. Being set in a fantastical world, Graceling is written in a more poetic fashion than most YA fiction is, and it really works for this story. There's a companion novel, Fire, which tells the story of Graceling's antagonist, but not always from his point of view, and the sequel, Bitterblue, is set eight years later and has just come out. I haven't read it yet, but I will. Eventually. If only you guys could see my To Be Read list.

Here's Graceling on Amazon.

Star rating: 5/5

Well, this has been a short post, but the plot is complicated, and I can either under-describe or over-describe. I think under-describing is better than spoiling the book for you. So, see you on Monday ! (MY BIRTHDAY!)

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Writing Wednesday: The Cliffhanger -- How Much is Too Much?

(Sidenote: this is my 44th post! Yes, really! Where has all the time gone...)

Ahh, cliffhangers. My love/hate relationship with this technique burns stronger with every book that ends with poor old Bob hanging grimly for dear life. Figuratively speaking. Of course, cliffhangers are a sure-fire way to ensure the reader will stick around for books 2, 3, 4, etc. of your series. However:

1. It's annoying. Very. And you don't want to annoy your reader (well, only a little). Remember, every page of your story has to convince them they should stick around for another. Living in a world where people can get e-books for $0.99, authors, both traditionally- and self-published alike, have to try harder than ever before to make the reader believe that, yes, just one more chapter is worth it, even though they have a chemistry exam tomorrow they haven't revised for and it's already one in the morning. Or convince the frazzled, the sleep-deprived mother of newborn twins to read instead of taking her well-deserved nap when cute little Aidan and Nadia are (finally) sound asleep. Twenty years ago, as a writer, your job was to sell a book to each reader once. Now you have to keep selling it over and over again, because in times like these, people aren't going to stick around to finish a so-so book they invested less than a dollar in. Sorry to be so blunt, but that's a fact.

2. It's a breach of the unofficial author-reader contract. (Thank you, Augustus Waters. This is in your honour.) I don't know why this one is so hard. When you buy a book, you expect a complete story, no? Yes, yes you do. So when a book ends at what feels like halfway through the climax, I think I have a right to be ticked off. I don't want to wait a year to find out what happens to Bob! I don't even want to wait a day! And that's good, by the way. If I get so mad at this contract breach, it must mean Bob is a good character, because I care about him, and I don't want him to go tumbling into the sea. Now don't get me wrong here: you are allowed to use cliffhangers. In fact, the cliffhanger is quite probably the best reader-torture technique, second only perhaps to BRUTALLY AND HEARTLESSLY MURDERING THE SWEETEST, DO-NO-WRONG character that everyone is in love with. (That one is basically guaranteed to get you hate, though. Just a warning.) But, the cliffhanger's strength is also it's downfall. Let me explain. We read books for the emotional journey, it's true, but unless all your readers are masochists, they are going to be displeased if all you ever throw at them is cliffhanger after relentless cliffhanger. And reader's don't forgive easily. We may be more empathetic than average Joe no-books, but that doesn't mean we're not exceptional at holding grudges. I can quote, word for word, the exact line that ruined my life. I wasn't even reading this series as they came out. I had the next book on my shelf, and I still had a meltdown when I read those ten horrible, horrible italicised words. It was horrible. Traumatic, even. My metaphorical heart had been ripped out of my chest, stomped on, put through a blender and then handed back, bloody and broken, all in just ten words. Call me a drama queen if you must, but can't you see how good at characterisation this author was? By inflicting this atrocious deed upon the fictional love of my life, she ensured another £6.99 from me because I would just have to buy the next book. And I did. BUT, I will probably never read that author again. Ever. Because I can't go through that kind of emotional trauma again. I won't do it.

3. It's somewhat unoriginal, and downright tiresome. I say "somewhat" because, let's face it: you'd be hard pressed to write a suspenseful book that doesn't include a single cliffhanger. Almost every YA trilogy these days follows this formula: Book 1, ending that can be continued, but is still tied off; Book 2, evil cliffhanger; Book 3, varying degrees of happy ending. Predictable, don't you think? Still, my point is not that cliffhangers shouldn't be used, my point is that they must be used sparingly. If you have a whole book full of cliffhangers, each one packs a smaller punch than it would on it's own. They barely feel like cliffhangers any more. The reader becomes desensitised. Your book, your baby that you spent years planning, poured blood, sweat and tears into, becomes a cheap and predictable story. Kind of like how when you drink chocolate milk while eating cookies, the chocolate milk doesn't taste as sweet, because the cookies are sweeter, so the milk's sweetness is lost. Sad, isn't it? Because chocolate milk would be deliciously sweet if you didn't have the cookies too. So save your chocolate milk for one book, and your cookies for another.

So once again, as with all other aspects of writing (and life in general, too), the trick is finding a balance. I feel bad, because I told you that last fortnight, about setting, but balance really is what you must strive for. Also as with setting, how much suspense you include and how much trauma you inflict upon your innocent reader is decided by your personal style and the genre(s) you write in. Beta readers and critique partners will help you cut down on extraneous cliffhangers, or add a bit more spice to a bland and boring book. Don't forget the plot twists!

And I just thought I'd leave you with the knowledge that I have my own personal alliterate, hilarious name for the "disease" in which a writer uses too many cliffhangers, but I can't share it here as it involves a specific name and I don't want to a) offend that person or b) get sued. But I encourage you to think up your own! :)

Friday, 27 September 2013

Book Talk: Antigoddess by Kendare Blake

Salutations, YA book fans. Remember years ago, there was the vampires vs werewolves craze? And then the twisted-fairytales trend? Well, welcome to the new biggest thing in teen fiction: Greek mythology. You've read Percy Jackson, now try Kendare Blake's Antigoddess!

"He was Apollo, the sun, and he'd burn down anything that tried to hurt her..."

Athena and Hermes are dying. The supposedly immortal gods and goddesses of Greek myth are each hurtling towards their individual, humiliatingly ironic ends. This is it. The Twilight of the Gods. But there may still be hope. An ancient prophecy speaks of a girl with the power to see the future, the girl who could hold all the answers to their survival. A girl cursed to always see but never be believed. Cassandra of Troy.

Cassandra Weaver really isn't anything special. She's just your average high-school girl -- except for one thing: She's psychic. Not that she uses this gift for anything other than party tricks. Unaware of the sheer scale of her own power, Cassandra's only worried about whether she and her boyfriend Aidan will still be near each other when they go to college. But Aidan has a secret. A secret that will change everything Cassandra ever thought she knew, and will throw her into mortal danger. There will be war. There will be bloodshed. There will be death. Through all the chaos, only one thing is certain: Nothing will ever be the same again.

When you read an author's work, you begin to notice things about them. Quirks. Their unique writing voice. The kinds of characters they like to write. Well, here is my formula for a Kendare Blake book: gripping plot + bucketloads of creepiness + the token British character = Kendare Blake. For those of new who are relatively new to my blog, my first ever post was on her Anna Dressed in Blood series, and I did an interview with her here. Despite all the violence in her books, she's actually really nice. Ms Blake certainly set a very high bar for herself with Anna, because I absolutely adored that book and (almost) everyone in it.

Well, she did not disappoint. Antigoddess was well worth the torturous wait. And while I went through momentary shock when the first chapter opened to reveal third person past tense, as opposed to the first person present of her last book, she can pull off this form of narration just as well. Told from Athena and Cassandra's alternating perspectives, Antigoddess is a book I definitely think has wide appeal. It does say "not for younger readers" on the back, but I think that's just because of the aforementioned goriness. There is mild language, but certainly nothing inappropriate in the romantic sense, and the language and goriness shouldn't bother anyone older than thirteen at most. So with that in mind, I definitely encourage you to check it out. The original take on Greek mythology will interest anyone who likes some "supernaturality", I think, but especially fans of myths, legends, and the other popular YA books that share this topic, like the Percy Jacksons mentioned above, and Meg Cabot's Awaken series, which I am about to read the last book of.

Antigoddess was also a great read in that the characters were all intriguing. You can sympathise with everyone, even the people you don't like, and you can understand their goals and mistakes, which I love. It's awful when you don't understand a character. But Kendare Blake's characters are all so lovable! Well, I love Odysseus and Hermes, really like Athena, Andie, and Henry, and like pretty much everyone else (excluding, of course, the villains) most of the time. It's a book which leaves you room to wonder in places, and create your own theories. I can't wait for her to continue the story in the sequel Aristeia!

Star rating: 5/5

And here's a link to the Amazon page.

Thanks for reading! See you back on Wednesday for another writing post, as per usual. And if you've read Antigoddess or Anna Dressed in Blood, feel free to comment and let me know what you thought :)

Monday, 23 September 2013

Music Monday: Starlight - Taylor Swift and Songbird - Kenny G

It seems every time one of these posts is due, I get a song stuck in my head. Well, I'm just going to take that as a sign that I should be sharing said song with you. And because I have the queer feeling I missed a week (must go check in a second), I'll share two songs today.

The first one is country, yes, but not Lady Antebellum *shock horror gasp*

It's Taylor Swift!

This may sound silly, but this song changed my whole outlook on life. True story. There's a part that goes, "he said 'look at you, worrying so much about things you can't change. You'll spend your whole life singing the blues if you keep thinking that way.'"

And simple as it may be, it really hit home. It clicked. This was last year, when the album first released. For months, I lived and breathed by that line. And then the summer came, and exams loomed ever closer, and I kind of forgot my "don't worry, be happy" resolve. Listening to this song again on Saturday reminded me. There really is not point in worrying about something you can't do anything about, because worrying doesn't get anything done. Do something, Hannah, don't just sit there biting your nails, wondering how on Earth you're going to learn x, y and z in time for whenever.

So there you go. A little piece of my soul for you, and something to remember for when the stress of life, the universe and everything gets you down. I must make a mental note to add this song to my "Uplifting" playlist on my phone.

And for the writers among us, song number 2. Songbird by Kenny G is great to write to, I think. Providing you're not one of those MUST HAVE SILENCE people. If you are, listen to this before you start writing:

I love Kenny G. He and Ludovico Einaudi are my writing music people. Kenny G, you are a saxophone badass. There is one song that is just so freaking perfect for this one scene in my next WIP, that in my mental movie, it is the backing track. And it is beautiful. I'm thinking of studying film, actually. (Oh dear, I can feel a tangent coming on...)

That's enough for today, folks, but see you back here on Friday. Remember not to worry about things you can't change :)

Friday, 20 September 2013

Book Talk: City of Bones by Cassandra Clare (The Mortal Instruments Book 1)

Ah, City of Bones. This book sat on my bedroom floor for so long before I got around to actually reading it, but then again, most of my books do. The final push that got me going was wanting to read it before seeing the film, but now I realise that if I do want to see the film, I have to go all the way to Bradford (uh, no, not gonna happen, thank you very much) or wherever because they're not showing it in ANY of my locals cinemas any more :( So wait till the DVD it is.

On a night out with her best friend Simon, Clary Fray witnesses a violent murder. Or so she thinks. (This club isn't called Pandemonium for nothing. PanDEMONium...) In reality, the three "thugs" she sees are Shadowhunters, hunters and killers of demons...which she shouldn't be able to see, unless, of course, she's a Shadowhunter herself. (Thanks, Mom, for telling me this sooner...) Drawn to the sexy, mysterious group -- in particular, a certain Jace Wayland -- like a moth to a flame, Clary finds herself thrown head-first into a whirlwind of action, as she tries to save her kidnapped mother from the evil Valentine, loving and losing along the way.

My friend Jenny had been trying to get me to read this book for ages before I finally did, and she was right -- it is awesome. However, it was, for lack of a better word, a strange read. Not the plot -- well, no stranger than the other books I've read -- it was strange because I seemed to develop bipolar disorder as I read it. I liked it, then I loved it, then I didn't like to so much, then I liked it again, and so on.

But even when I didn't like it, I had to keep reading. I was glued to the pages. There was a point where Simon was THE ONLY character I liked -- I was furious with Clary, and still I had to keep reading. I needed to know how it ended even if I disliked half the cast for the majority of the book. By the end, I liked many people I'd initially disliked and vice versa. Come to think of it, Simon was the only character for whom my feelings stayed almost stagnant, the only change being my love for him growing... ;)

So plot, I really liked towards the end of the book, but in the beginning it felt like Cassandra Clare was just leading us in circles, and it got a little frustrating, but not enough to spoil the book. I also predicted much of the ending before I was even a third in, but as far as I know, this isn't typical. Jenny was surprised, at least. I'd be interested to hear in the comments if you guys were also shouting "I knew it all along!!!"

Setting was also very cool -- I mean, who doesn't adore New York? I have and always will be a city girl through and through, and the night-time scenes where Jace and Clary were flying through skyscrapers on a demon bike were awesome.

My only nitpick with this story was the character cast. I'm just going to come right out and say it: I got sick of Clary. There is one point where I really didn't like that girl. To be fair though, for the most part she was okay. Not amazing. But not awful. Just okay. There were many cryptic and equivocal people to attempt to figure out, which I did really like. You're never quite sure whose side some people are on...but as I said earlier, there was still that point where Simon was the only character I cared about, and that bugs me. You're supposed to like the characters, or if not, understand and forgive them for being un-likeable  because of their twisted pasts or whatever.

So because of that, I'm giving City of Bones a star rating of 4/5

If you've read and liked City of Bones, I really recommend that you check out Lili St Crow's Strange Angels series. It has all the fast-paced supernatural thrilleriness (faster paced, I'd say) with the same fantastic range of creatures, an evil supervillain, a geeky character you adore, and a hot but annoying character that I never like but everyone else always seems to. If you're viewing this from a computer/laptop (as opposed to a smart phone), you will see a search bar in the top left-hand corner of the window. Search there to search my blog. If you liked this, you'll like Strange Angels, Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake, and Dreaming Anastasia by Joy Preble. I have "book talks" about all three, if you want to know what they're about and how highly I rated them.

So right now I've taken a break from this series to read a book I've been waiting since March, but I cannot wait to read City of Ashes (book 2). Hopefully I'll hate less people this time. And hopefully there won't be another scene that just breaks my poor little heart like there was here. Clue: It involves Simon. That said, Jenny has been tormenting me with threats of scenes to come...oh dear. I'm scared for you, Simon :(

See you back here for Music Monday. Until next time, my pretties. :)

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Writing Wednesday: Is Less More?

Hello, everyone! First up I'd like to apologise for the lack of Book Talk on Friday. I was at the hospital all day and when I got back I couldn't muster up the energy to so much as fire up the laptop, let alone obsess about a certain book for 400+ words. I am sorry. But I'm back this Friday! :)

Now that's done with, onto today's actual topic: setting. I have been thinking about this a lot recently, since a) I've been editing the WIP, b) Jill Williamson over at GTW has been talking about creating every aspect of a storyworld, and c) Joy Preble talked about settings in her blog post here. But until recently, I gave setting little of the thought or importance it truly deserves. Plot and character, those are the main aspects of a story, right? Right?

Wrong. Even though I brainstormed the perfect creepy house and the perfect forest to set my tale in, I still didn't have it up there with plot and character where it should be, and if I had to pick one of the three, setting is definitely my weakest point. The balance, I find, between too much and too little, is hard to strike. Currently, I think I'm adding too little. This is probably worsened by the fact that I read a very badly-edited book not that long ago (which shall remain nameless) wherein the author went on and on and ON describing Every Little Detail of her storyworld. Every. Tiny. Thing.

"But isn't this a good thing?" one might say. "You had a vivid mental image, didn't you? Surely that's a good thing?"

Well, yes I did, and if I close my eyes now I can still picture that desert perfectly, and describe it to you exactly. What I could not tell you is the plot, because there wasn't any, and this wasn't literary fiction where that kind of thing doesn't matter. This book was clearly supposed to be a very plot-focused piece of genre fiction, but the setting completely took over. I'm telling you, I was 40% through (this was on my Kindle) and we were barely past the inciting incident. It drove me away, along with the abundance of grammatical errors that even my twelve-year-old cousin could have spotted with ease, and no, I never finished that book, nor will I, nor will I ever read that author again, most likely. This example is extreme, but you can still bore people if you ramble on too long, even if you are getting to the plot, promise, and no matter how beautiful your description of that flowering bush is. If it's not important, don't go on forever as if it is, because you will a) lead the reader to believe it is, in fact, very important, thus confusing and irritating them when it turns out not to be, and b) bore them to sleep. At the end of the day, when I buy your book, it's because I want you to tell me a story. Not paint me a picture. And that is, as the meerkats say, simples. (It's an advert here in the UK, for all you foreigners.)

Having said that, it is far too easy to take it to the other extreme -- what I did. I got paranoid about over-describing and boring the reader and, consequently, I have great action taking place in a load of white space. I'm exaggerating here, but you get my point. I noticed as I reader that I liked it when we're left to fill in the gaps, but my so-called gaps were gaping hollows. I was leaving the reader to paint the picture all by themselves, and that's just as bad. I'd like to say I'm getting better now, but I know I still have a lot to learn, and that's okay. I have the rest of my life to improve, and so do you. How do you do that, you say?

Well, I'm sorry to tell you that really the only way you can do this is by trial and error. Craft books help, as does paying attention to your favourite authors and the methods they employ, but to get better at writing setting, you have to, well, write setting. It goes without saying, really.

How much detail you choose to put in will vary on your genre -- fantasy is going to require a lot more worldbuilding skill than a contemporary romance set in your typical, everyday town -- but also on your individual writing voice. No matter who you are or what you choose to write, what you are aiming to do is to make the peculiar familiar. (Sidenote: Ransom Riggs and Lili St Crow are awesome at this, so I recommend them for teaching yourself, especially if you write YA paranormal.) You want to grab your reader by the shirt front and drag them -- kicking and screaming if you must -- right into your storyworld. By the end of the book, they must know it as well as their own bedroom. They should be able to navigate it in their dreams. They should be able to feel the cool kiss of the ocean breeze, the grains of warm, yellow sand between their toes. They should taste the salty spray on their lips as seagulls swoop, screaming, overhead, and they should smell that seaweed rotting in the warm summer sun. They should know that behind them is a row of souvenir shops, even if presently they're looking out to sea -- is that a sail boat on the horizon? And finally, when one of those aforementioned seagulls poops on them, they should be able to feel the wet splat! on their own shoulder. Which brings me to the point that everything that comes to your MC's rescue must be mentioned previously, or it feels like cheating. Like in The Hunger Games, how it's established that Peeta is amazing at camouflage before the arena, and then Katniss almost steps on him because he's so well hidden. If you use a fishing net to trap the bad guy in chapter 24, you'd have better mentioned it that first time you visit the beach in chapter 7, or even the second time in chapter 11. Just make sure you mention it, and if you want it to be a surprise, leave enough time between mention and use for the reader to forget.

Setting is hard. You need to weave everything together seamlessly so as not to take the focus off the plot, yet still achieve that perfect balance between rambling and white space. If you can do that, then congratulations! You have mastered the art that is setting. Now go clean off your shoulder ;)

Monday, 9 September 2013

Music Monday: Iris by Goo Goo Dolls

Bonjour mes amis! Ca va? (That's what happens when I spend a whole day reading and editing my French homework.)

Today I have a song that I am really liking at the moment, because it's awesome, but also because it's applicable to the WIP I am plotting. Without further ado (because I really need to get back to my chemistry homework), here it is:

Great song, n'est-ce pas?

I realised yesterday that I have neglected to tell you about an AMAZING book. Facepalm. So that's coming on Friday! Au revoir, a bientot :)

Friday, 6 September 2013

Book Talk: Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

Before I'd even finished this book, I was already thinking, "Wow, I can't wait to tell the blog readers about this one!" But then I went to America, and then I read Send and had to blog about that one, so this post is coming later than I would like. But c'est la vie. Also, this is the my first post from my new laptop, so pleas forgive any typos -- the keys are bigger and hard to get used to.

"A mysterious island. An abandoned orphanage. A strange collection of very peculiar photographs."

Following the tragic death of his grandfather, sixteen-year-old Jacob Portman just can't get the old man's last words out of his head. Giberish, perhaps, but they have to mean something. They must. And though torment him these words may, he must find that meaning out.

So begins his journey to Cairnholm island, off the coast of Wales. At first glance, Cairnholm seems to house nothing more than drunkards, bad rappers, diesel generators, and a couple-hundred-too-many sheep. However, hidden at the far end of the island, through the bog, deep in the shadows, is Jacob's destination: the crumbling remains of Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children -- the source of his grandfather's collection of very odd photographs. Seemingly abandoned, the house looks like the victim of an air raid, yet unless Jacob really is as crazy as his family believe, unless he imagined the knife-wielding girl and he invisible boy, there are still people living on the premises. Children. Peculiar children.

Who were these children? Why were they quarantined on this island? And how, despite all logic, can they still be alive?

This is a very, very rare book. It is a book with thrilling plot, interesting characters, and a VERY COOL setting, which, on top of all that, is written absolutely beautifully without needlessly flowery descriptions or unnecessary blah blah blah. And don't even get me started on the AWESOME vintage photography. It gives you chills.  This is book you must buy a physical copy of -- E-BOOK WILL NOT SUFFICE. I love my Kindle, don't get me wrong, but you really need the atmosphere that comes from turning the pages here. This is a book with HUGE cross-over appeal. I can't think of a single person who would not love this story. It is an international best-seller, and it's pretty darn obvious why. Go get yourself a copy of Miss Peregrine now, because if you don't you are missing out on something amazing, haunting, thrilling, and altogether perfect. I could find no fault with Ransom Riggs in any way. (He had the decency not to kill off my favourite character, even! I love his dude!)

And the twists...I never saw it coming. Usually, I can tell when there's going to be a twist even if I can't tell what hat twist is going to be, but this! It hit me like an invisible freight train travelling at the speed of light. The betrayal! And Ransom Riggs is awesome at doing that thing, you know, where authors sprinkle in seemingly irrelevant details seamlessly, and then those details turn out to be extremely relevant. I just love that.

In this book.

Star Rating: 5/5

I would also just like to add that the promise of the sequel, Hollow City, is the only thing that will prevent me from curling up and bursting into tears in January. GCSE mocks, but then a wonderful book to read when it's all over and I can feel my brain again. Ransom Riggs, you are keeping me sane.

Until next time, wonderful readers!

Friday, 30 August 2013

Book Talk: Send by Patty Blount

I have been counting down the days till I could post about his one! Eeek! I had originally been planning to talk to you about a different book today, but that one got shoved back a week when I started reading Patty Blount's Send.

"It's been five years since I clicked Send.
Four years since I got out of juvie.
Three months since I changed my name.
Two minutes since I met Julie.
A second to change my life."

Daniel Ellison's aims of being invisible this senior year are shattered the morning of his first day of school, when he breaks up a fight in the parking lot. Well, what else could he do? Especially since the other girl there refused to do anything. And Dan knows how much damage bullies can cause. He's been paying for That One Unmentionable Mistake for five years -- paying for it since he clicked Send. Now all he wants with this new name and new identity is a normal life and escape from the man who has been pursuing his family relentlessly. But how can you ever really have a normal life if you can't reveal anything about your past, not even to your closest friends? Not even to your girlfriend?

Cue Julie, the girl who stood by and watched. Despite this, despite the cold looks and devil-may-care attitude, Dan just can't stop thinking about her -- and neither can Kenny, the talkative and very real hallucination. But there's something about Julie -- in her eyes? -- that makes Dan wonder. Something that suggests she knows more than she's willing to reveal. Like she knows his secret.

But Julie has a secret of her own...

I generally do not read much contemporary -- I am through-and-through a supernatural girl. (Off the top of my head I can only name three non-supernatural books I've ever really loved, and Send is one of them.) However, one of my favourite authors, Joy Preble, talked about this book on her blog awhile ago, and it sounded pretty good. On my trip to the USA I must have gone to B&N every other day at least, and I made a point of ordering this book. Joy Preble recommends it, it's from the same publisher as her Dreaming Anastasia series, and the premise is intriguing. Though there was a certain lack of paranormality, I would still give this book a try.

And God, am I ever glad I did!

SEND. WAS. AWESOME. It is my favourite contemporary ever now -- yes, I liked it better than John Green's The Fault in our Stars. Yes, I went there. For one thing, Patty Blount didn't murder my favourite character...exactly. She does other mean things, sure, but all authors do. I'm going off on a tangent. My point is, John Green killed Augustus Waters and Patty Blount didn't, and on top of that, I just liked the plot of Send better. I loved Send. I love so much about it that I don't even know where to start! Daniel has a fantastically hilarious voice, and he is so cute! He leapt onto my top ten favourite narrators list while I was still in the first chapter! And Kenny! Though irritating in the beginning, I really did grow to love Kenny too. All the characters, in fact, were interesting, and FOR ONCE I didn't really despise anyone in the end. I usually hate at least two of them. But it's hard to hate when you understand their motives -- even if they do go over the top with their revenge.

Revenge. The main themes of Send are forgiveness and the dangers of technology, but I think counts as a sub-theme of sorts. Regret plays a part in the story, too. Patty Blount manages to make the themes jump out without trying to force a moral down your throat, which I really love. Her descriptive skills are also great. since I started writing the nerd in me has been admiring similes and metaphors I used to pass without a second glance before. But who couldn't love the line, "As she led me down the first corridor, she shot me a look so cold I was willing to bet it could freeze a nuclear explosion mid-mushroom cloud and still have enough power left over for the fires of hell." Powerful verbs, vivid description, original metaphor, the geeky writer in me is in heaven!

Star rating: 5/5

And for the record, Kenny is my favourite character ;)

You must all read this. You will not regret it, and I know I'm DEFINITELY going to think twice about everything and anything I post on the internet now. Thank you, Patty Blount, for a wonderful read and non-cheesy life lesson all in one! :)

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Writing Wednesday: What I Learned From My First Novel

Hello again blog readers! I am back from my wonderful trip to the States. I adore America. Anyway, am now back in England where, surprisingly, it's not raining! Which is why I'm cooped up indoors tapping away on my laptop. Lol. No, not really -- spent all day at Chessington World of Adventures amusement park, which is why this post has come so late in the day. Sorry!

I realise I haven't done Writing Wednesday in a very long time, and I'm not quite sure why. I seem to have an endless stream of Music Monday weeks. Poor abandoned Wednesday. I'm sorry. But anyway, I thought I should return with a bang, so here I am, telling you what I learned writing a book as a teenager.

Until the summer of last year, I hadn't even considered attempting a work longer than about sixteen Microsoft Word pages, my then-record for longest piece of fiction. Until my Strange Angels (failure of a) fanfiction, I had no idea how much I liked writing. I never finished Reunion, by the way, other than in my head, because that was when I began to plan the work that would become My First Novel -- which was such a daunting and monumental task for me that yes, it does deserve to be a proper noun.

While plotting out this scary endeavour, I read as many craft books and web pages as I could lay my fingers/mouse on. There are still many I haven't read and would like to, but the one thing everyone said was that, to improve your writing, you had to actually, well, write. Duh. So write I did. Even knowing this, the amount I learned just by bumbling along, fingers on keys, missing God only knows how many Friends reruns (not a huge loss since I've seen them all anyway) along the way, astounded me. I flat-out refused to give up. This would never be to a publishable standard -- I knew that from the get-go -- but I was darn well going to finish this little monster/my precious baby (usually it was the latter, but occasionally it really did feel like the former) IF IT KILLED ME. (Coincidentally, I did have a hospital scare, as some of you may remember, and my first thought was, No! I can't die! I'm two chapters from the end! Thankfully, I recovered. Phew! But that interview with Joy Preble about The Sweet Dead Life? That came to you straight from my hospital bed. True story.)

By far the most surprising writing-related thing was this: You, the author, are really not in control at all. You are at the complete, total and utter mercy of the characters. Sure, you can plot and plan and outline all you want, but if they turn around with a better idea, they will make you follow it. Stubborn rascals.

Not wanting to give too much away, I will give an example lest anyone is sitting there like, "what on earth is this nutcase talking about?" Well, my main character is...somewhat of an actress. Following a huge loss in her life, she turns inside herself, yet, to prevent her friends and family from worrying about her and asking questions, she still acts like her happy, bubbly old self. She fools everyone with this façade -- including me. Yes, me. My original vision of Protagonist was the bubbly girl. She was so good at her game, it wasn't until one night in bed where it hit me like a freight train. After that, all the plot pieces started coming together seamlessly, and I knew that Protagonist was so interesting, I couldn't write the story from the point of view of anyone but her. So while for a few days I was marginally irritated that my character was nothing like I thought she was, I'm very happy she eventually showed her true colours. Why? Well, her secrets give way to multiple Very Exciting Plot Twists which just could not have happened had she stayed the optimistic extrovert. I realise now the story she would have produced would have been completely different, and -- not to blow my own trumpet or anything -- I like the way the story ended up. My themes would have been different too. See how so much depends on character? I never believed it before, but now I sure do.

So then about 3/4 of the way through the story, another big revelation occurred. Best Friend and Other Friend knew Protagonist was acting all along, but they didn't tell her because she wanted them to believe she was fine. They knew. Bombshell. Protagonist and I found this out at the exact same time. Unplanned plot twists are always good, and although I did plan out the story before writing (otherwise I just ramble all over the place -- kind of like my blog posts, hahaha), I had characters refusing to do what I said, revealing they knew stuff I didn't intend for them to know, and jumping out of windows (you'll have to wait till it's published to know how that one ties in...mwa ha ha ha ha.) But this made no sense. They're my characters. I created them from the depths of my imagination. I made them up. They couldn't just do whatever they wanted and keep secrets from me, could they?

Um, evidently, yes.

And I loved that.

I also learned about my writing voice and description skills and whether I am a plotter or a pantser and characterisation, but that's to be expected, and honestly I'd bore you if I tried to tell you all about it. So instead, I'll tell you about the other, non-writing-related things I learned -- perhaps the most useful and transferable of which is dedication. My First Novel taught me to push on and finish a project, not to give up no matter what. Finishing this thing was a promise I had made to myself, and I was going to keep that promise. Promise kept? Check. But that required dedication, especially with school and family and social life to squeeze in, and the siren call of American sitcoms telling me to, "watch can write me, watch me..."

Last, I learnt about people -- both people in general and myself. Exploring my characters -- especially Protagonist -- and themes required a lot of pondering human behaviour and psychology. How would Situation A affect different people? Why did Love Interest cope so well with Situation B, whereas Other Friend resorted to the only thing he could handle -- outright closed-mindedness -- to the point where he was hurting the ones he loved? And creating these people, I was subconsciously delving into myself. What traits and qualities I value, and which I dislike. How much I would be prepared to forgive. What scares me most. What I can't afford to lose. And what I can.

I know, right? I'm so deep, you can't even see me any more.

In short, I have a huge debt to My First Novel. One I can probably never repay. Other than, of course, by getting published. One day...

I'll be back on Friday to tell you all about my favourite YA contemporary yet. Yes, that's right. Better than The Fault in our Stars! You won't want to miss this, guys.

Friday, 26 July 2013

Book Talk: Gone series by Michael Grant

This book seems to have come up in quite a few of my e-conversations this week, so I thought I might as well blog about it. It's definitely one of the most violent books I've read to date, but it is YA, so it's not anything overly life-scarring. Also no graphic adult scenes or bad language, so I guess that makes up for all the character-to-character cruelty.

It was a regular day. Then without warning, in Perdido (which, by the way, means "lost" in Spanish, so I thought that was a nice touch) Beach, California, everyone over the age of fifteen disappeared. Poof. But that's not the only supernatural thing going on in 14-year-old Sam Temple's life. Between the orb of light he somehow created that floats in his closet, the incident with his stepfather's hand, and now the enormous, impenetrable dome that surrounds "Fallout Alley" (as the town is sometimes referred to, due to an incident with radioactive fallout) -- the exact centre of which is the nuclear power plant. Coincidence? Probably not, considering the fact that both animals and kids are mutating to develop weird powers. And in a society ruled by teenagers, this will prove to be dangerous -- even fatal.

Fallout Alley Youth Zone -- it's just a FAYZ. Especially for those near their fifteenth birthday. Now Sam -- who can never resist playing hero -- not only has to keep the town together with the threat of Caine and his minions, he also has to find a way to "beat the blink" before it's too late.

I really like the study this book does on what would happen if adults really did disappear. It just goes to show how much would go wrong. If you think about all the wars that have happened in history when the world ISN'T being run by scared, armed, sometimes supernaturally-powered kids now fighting over the limited resources, you can begin to imagine the sheer chaos in Michael Grant's fictional world. this book sin't only a thrilling sci-fi story (sidenote: a sticker on the cover of book 5 claimed, "more thrilling than The Hunger Games". "Pah!" said I at first. But after reading both, I think the sticker was telling me the truth. Just don't tell Suzanne Collins. Shh!), he has also created a social study that doesn't feel like a life lesson being rammed down you throat, and flipped gender and racial stereotypes in his stride. Who could possibly not love Edilio? An illegal immigrant, but he does so much for the town in the FAYZ. There's one point where Sam remarks something like "he and his family would have been deported if the authorities found out, but he's done more than anything to keep the town running." That quotation is probably all wrong but the general message behind it is right. I'll say it: Edilio is my favourite character. Even more than Sam. Yes, I went there. To be fair though, Sam is an extremely close second.

Speaking of characters, I think I hate some people I'm not supposed to, but that's one of the things I like about this book. It bugs me when the author dictates who I should like and who I shouldn't. I like to make up my own mind who I'll root for and who I'll hope gets prematurely picked off.

Here is the Amazon page.

Star rating: In the beginning, I might have been tempted to say 4, but the series gets better as it goes along and it ended on a definite 5/5.

Books in this series:


You can tell just by the titles that things get worse before they get better, can't you? But it's worth sticking with sam until the end, even if a certain someone is driving you crazy and you keep wishing she'll go away but know she never will. Not mentioning any names . . . *cough* Astrid Ellison *cough*.

Just do it for Sam. I love Sam. He's one of those characters who you'll forgive even if he screws up big time, because he's got so much on his plate and his intentions are basically good, and he's given up so much for other people. Aww, Sam. Why do bad things have to happen to good people?

On that philosophic note, I shall leave you. Also I'll go ahead and say that I doubt I'll be blogging next Friday, as I'll be packing. Squeal! Holiday time! Yay! Try not to miss me too much ;)

Just kidding. In my absence, see how many books from my recommendations you can read :)

Monday, 22 July 2013

Music Monday: Keep Holding On by Avril Lavigne

I discovered this song last week and have been utterly addicted since. It's one of those songs that are beautiful in both melody and lyrics, and I could listen to it over and over and over again (and I frequently do). This song is just so sweet. I love it <3


Must go brainstorm my next WIP now. I hope this song will be applicable to the characters' romance :)

See you back here Friday for the next Book Talk!

Friday, 19 July 2013

Book Talk: Glass Houses by Rachel Caine (Morganville Vampires book #1)

So I'm of two minds about this book. I'm slightly biased against vampire books, because they always seem to feel cliché/Twilight-knock-off to me (the exception being Strange Angels -- but that's not technically a vampire book). But on with the post:

"Welcome to Morganville. Just don't stay out after dark."

It's never easy being freakishly smart, but for 16-year-old Claire Danvers college will be the hardest year yet. Run by vampires, Morganville is not your average small college town, and when Claire gets on Monica Morrell, Queen Bee's bad side, things take a turn so bad she has to flee the dorm and seek shelter with three well-meaning but total strangers.
As if having to lay low and run from the evil Monickettes wasn't enough, Claire soon makes another enemy -- this time, vampire Brandon -- and falls for Shane, one of her new roomies. With the whole town hunting her down -- including the vamps -- Claire will soon discover whether what's worse: Morganville's bark, or its bite . . .

I have two complaints about this book. Firstly, I didn't really love the main character enough. I didn't dislike her, but she was too whiny for my taste. I have read a lot worse though, and there are other characters (Eve, Michael, Shane) that make up for it. Secondly, without giving anything away, there was a cruel twist at the end which made the reader in me shriek "NOOOOO!!!!!" and left the writer with the impression that it was a cheap trick. I would have liked the end, if it had to be a cliffhanger, to be done in a slightly less evil manner. Or at least, for the evil to have been more justified, if you can ever justify evil. I think you only can in fiction, and even then, I will most probably not like you for it. *cough* you know who you are . . .

All that said, it is an internationally best selling series, and I thought the plot was fast-paced and entertaining. There were many clever twists which more than made up for Claire's self-pity and the just-plain-mean last sentence. I don't regret buying this book, and if I could start over I'd definitely still read it, but I honestly don't think I'll ever get around to the next umpteen books (it's a reeeaaallllyy long series).

However, even with my nitpicks, I have a friend who is in love with this series. So do still try it out if the premise interests you. We all have different tastes, after all -- which is why I don't like writing bad reviews. This is about as negative as you can expect me to get. I could rant forever about some of the awful self-published wannabe books I've read -- or tried to -- that were in such dire need of an editor my twelve-year-old sister could have drastically improved them. This is the sister who writes nothing but One Direction and Justin Bieber fanfiction (*sigh*). BUT, if I complained all the time, a) my blog sound like it was written by a stuffy old man and b) I'd just feel mean. Obviously these people really love writing or they wouldn't be doing it; I just wish they'd PROOFREAD a little more carefully. (For crying out loud! YOUR is possessive and YOU'RE is a contraction of "you are"!) Or, better still, pay for a freelance editor to take a look, but I know that sadly not everyone can afford that. This is why I'm still a strong advocate for traditional publishing because, IN GENERAL, it is of a much higher quality. Emphasis on the IN GENERAL. I've read amazing self-published stuff and not-so-great (in my humble opinion at least) traditionally published stuff -- but that's just the point! It's my opinion. Yours will be different. As will your mother's. And my mother's. And my friend Leila's. And her Great Aunt Susan's. And my other friend's dog Maud's -- if Maud could read. I think that french bulldogs are only concerned with how chewable a book is, though, not the quality of the literature ;)

It's Maud!! Say hi to the blog readers, Maud!

So if I read a book I really don't like, you will never hear about it, because it takes a lot of blood, sweat and tears to get a book in print, and the last thing I want to do is have a negative impact on anyone's career. We've all read bad reviews of books we loved. That's one of the more wonderful things about humanity -- we're all different. (One of the not-so-wonderful things is that I can actually see ourselves doing something like The Hunger Games to each other. Big Brother meets the Holocaust. Scary or what?)

Well, I went off on a tangent there, but you can find this book on Amazon here.

Star Rating: 3.5/5

And before I go, I'd like to say that I'm away from the 3rd of August till the 25th of August -- so there will be no blog posts between those two dates. See you on Monday, guys!

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

An Interview with Joanne and Karen Rock (J. K. Rock) -- Authors of the Camp Boyfriend Series!

Hey everyone! Today I'm very happy to welcome the two halves of the pen name J. K. Rock, Joanne and Karen, to my humble little corner of the interwebs.

I have a confession to make . . . I haven't had the chance to read Camp Boyfriend yet! But I will. You can find it here on Amazon, and the prequel novella, Camp Kiss, is absolutely FREE! I must say that was a good marketing move. Not only do you get to see how it all started, but you can see risk-free whether or not you like Joanne and Karen Rock's writing style. What are you waiting for? Go download it!

So now that I've introduced them, let me welcome J and K!

*round of applause*

Thank you so much for having us on the blog today! We’re so excited to meet you and your blog readers.

1) tell us a bit about yourself and CAMP BOYFRIEND
J – I’m a writer from the romance world who loves Young Adult books and wanted to try writing one. Camp Boyfriend is my first attempt at YA, and it was all the more fun as I wrote it with my sister-in-law, who is an eighth grade teacher and an expert in YA books.
K- I have my first adult romance coming out in the fall, but Camp Boyfriend is my first YA book. As Joanne said, I’m also a teacher and really wanted to write my own YA after years of seeing what kinds of books kids choose for their free reading time. It’s one of the most rewarding parts of my job to help kids who say “I’m not a reader,” find books they can’t put down. In Camp Boyfriend, a girl’s ideal summer is turned upside down when her school boyfriend wants to go to camp with her. It’s a book about friendships, boys, and fun, but it’s also a book about finding your identity.

2) what was the spark for CAMP BOYFRIEND?
J-We wanted to write a book set in the summer because so much can change over a single summer. People go on vacations or they move. They find themselves in different situations than during the school year, and so often that changes them. As we brainstormed settings for a summer story, one of us mentioned “camp” and it just started snowballing.
K-When an idea is right, we know! The ideas started flowing fast and furious as soon as we hit on the summer camp idea. We loved so much about that setting, especially since Joanne and I both attended camp as teens. You never forget those summer friendships, the crazy counselors, the swim tests or- of course- the boys.

3) when did you discover your love of writing?
J- I loved writing even in high school but I wasn’t sure how to use it until I was in graduate school and I realized I wanted to write a novel. I was on track for teaching English at the college level, and did this for a few years before I sold my first book, but the whole time I was teaching, I was writing on the side.
K-I was reading novels behind my math book in high school, so the love for stories was always there. It took a little longer for me to decide I had to write my own, but once I did, I couldn’t stop until I got it right!!

4) if you had to be a fictional character (it can be one of your own or someone else's), who would you be?
J- Can I be Catherine Earnshaw from Wuthering Heights? Sure, she dies young. But to be beloved by Heathcliff? Swoon!
K- Scarlett O’Hara. Because who doesn’t want to put off their worries until tomorrow? And – bonus- there is Rhett. Dreamy sigh.

5) what are your literary pet hates?
J- Characters I can’t get behind. I don’t like it when characters keep making bad decisions. It’s fine at the start of the novel, but if they don’t grow and change, why am I reading?
K – Dialogue that doesn’t sound authentic from teens. That drives me crazy because I feel like, if you don’t know how kids really talk to each other, who can you possibly know how they think?

6) if you could only read one book ever again, which one and why?
J- Argh! I find it so tough to choose one of anything. I suppose it’s cheating if my “one book” is a Norton anthology with twenty books stuffed inside? If I only got one book to take to a deserted island, that’s definitely what I’m doing. But okay… non-cheater answer is probably Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston. She’s an amazing author and I love that book so much.
K-The Fault in Our Stars. I’m still so in love with that book!  But then, all of John Green’s work amazes me.

7) if not an author, what do you think you'd be doing right now?
J- I would be a college professor, surrounded by books, talking with students about books and reading a lot of books!
K- I adore teaching middle grade and high school students. They inspire me.

8) any fictional crushes? ;)
J- Did I mention Heathcliff? Although lately, I’m also crushing on all the boys Simone Elkeles writes. The Fuentes brothers are dear to my heart.
K- Augustus. He’s all mine! (Hannah here with a sidenote: you're going to have to fight my friend Ellie for him . . .)

9) what's the best thing about your job? Is there anything you don't like?
J- I love writing the heroes. It’s so fun to put myself in a heroine’s shoes. Although working with my amazing sister-in-law is a cool job perk too. The only thing I don’t like about the job… hmm… it really is my dream job! But I guess sometimes it’s tough to maintain the fun of a dream job when you work hard at it every day. I try hard to always maintain the fun of writing and never to let it become strictly “a job.”
K- Because this is my first year on the shelves, I’m still amazed by it all and I’m always finding new fun things about writing. Right now, there’s nothing I don’t like about, other than shutting down the computer at the end of the day because… what if I miss something important??!!

10) what's next for you now, after CAMP BOYFRIEND?
J & K – We have so many more camp stories to tell! This is a three-book series- Camp Boyfriend, Camp Payback (4/14) and Camp Forget-Me-Not (8/14). But we have novellas planned in between them, too! Readers already have seen the FREE prequel to the series, Camp Kiss. But we’ve got two more novellas as well, including CAMP CHRISTMAS, which will release this winter.

Thank you so much for having us on the blog today!

Aren't they nice? And I have to say I completely agree with their answers to question 5. I'm glad neither of them said Ethan Kozninsky from Dreaming Anastasia for number 8 . . . HE IS MINE!!! I call dibs.

It was a pleasure to have you here today, J and K! Make sure you download Camp Kiss, everyone! See you back here on Friday :)