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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!