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Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Bullet Catcher - Book Review


Bullet Catcher
Joaquin Lowe
YA WESTERN
UK Publisher: Hot Key Books

Synopsis:

In the small town of sand, populated by gunslingers and surrounded by endless desert, Imma washes dishes and grieves for a life she never had. She and her brother, Nikko, dreamed of escaping to become bullet catchers, a legendary band of outlaws who can deflect bullets with their hands. But they were wiped out years ago, Nikko with them. And leaving is impossible when walking into the desert means certain death. 

When she sees a stranger catch a man’s bullet and turn it back on him, Imma knows it can only mean one thing: the bullet catchers live on, and this is her way out.

Determined to follow him, Imma starts a journey that will take her to her physical extremes and force her to question just what family means and who she really is: bullet catcher or gunslinger; hero or monster.

Review:

Being a YA Western with a slight pinch of fantasy, the premise of the Bullet Catcher instantly caught my attention. And while I must admit, although the book didn't wow me quite the way I had hoped, there were still plenty of things to like. 

Imma is an orphan, barely surviving as a dishwasher in the middle of a small, barely-on-the-map desert town. But when she witnesses a stranger catch a gunslingers bullet—she discovers that the legendary bullet catches aren't as extinct as everyone believed. Now with nothing to lose but her life, Imma sets out on a journey through the desert, determined to become a bullet catcher herself. But convincing the bullet catcher she is worthy to be trained is another matter… and as secrets are uncovered, Imma will learn that her childhood heroes may just turn out to be monsters after all…

This was such an intriguing book. The story is based around the bonds of friendship built between teacher and student, brother and sister, young minds and old… there is no romance whatsoever. This alone made the story a refreshing read. However this book also explored the darker themes of forgiveness vs revenge, and showed that every action has a consequence.

For example Imma is a very unusual heroine. Everything that happens to her is generally because of a choice SHE made, and for the most part she learns from her mistakes and grows a little more with every decision. However as much as I liked her as a character, I often felt she failed to ask the right sort of questions, which therefore led her to trust the wrong people and make bad choices. 

That said, the plot was fast paced and kept me turning the pages. However when Imma’s brother, Nikko, enters the story, I kept waiting for Imma to be all, “Where have you been these last ten years? Why didn't you come back for me?” — but she never did. For me this was a HUGE underlying niggle throughout the rest of the story. From that point on I also found Imma to be too placid, and a little sheep like. Brotherly love is one thing, but I disliked how she blindly followed Nikko and accepted everything he said so easily.

Of course the action picks up again at the end of the book, and I was happy when Imma seemed to get her old feistiness back. However I really think it was the western style backdrop, plus the life or death situation of the bullet catcher that really kept the story moving forward. Without these things the book actually had little world building or backstory, or much depth at all really.

As a reader, I’m big on understanding the why behind everything. Why are the bullet catchers and gunslingers enemies? What started it all? Why doesn't Imma question her brother? Why does the bullet catcher withhold his name? Why can bullet catchers bend bullets? Is it really just a case of trying hard? With these questions left unanswered, I felt the book read well on the surface, but lacked a little in the foundations.

All in all though, this was a nice afternoon read and certainly something I would recommend for those in search of something a bit different. 3.5 stars!

Thursday, 16 June 2016

Kitty Tweddle and the Wishing Well - Book Review




Kitty Tweddle and the Wishing Well - Book Review
H.J. Blenkinsop
MG Fantasy
(Kitty Tweddle Book #1)

Synopsis:

Stuck for the summer in the tiny village of dribble, eleven-year-old Kitty Tweddle thinks this will be the worst summer ever. But her grandparents house holds many secrets, and when Kitty steps on an enchanted penny, a world filled with magic unravels around her. With a rouge wishing well spewing out bad wishes, a mysterious house full of secret passageways and magical creatures everywhere she turns, Kitty’s summer suddenly gets a lot more interesting.

But when a bogeyman escapes Fairyland, determined to use the well for his own dark wishes, Kitty’s whole world is put in danger. And only Kitty—aided by three talking cats and a book of magic—can stop him. If she fails, her home and everyone she loves will be lost. Forever.

Review:

H.J. Blenkinsop is a new, self-published author — and while I don't usually review self published books — this story really intrigued me and I just had to make the exception. Full of magic, mayhem and a wonderful cast of characters, KITTY TWEDDLE is a story that I think fans of Stephanie Burgis and Abi Elphinstone will love!

When eleven-year-old Kitty Tweddle is packed off to spend the summer with her grandparents — Kitty is certain it will be the most boring summer ever! Yet when she steps on a bad-penny, she discovers fairyland lies, quite literally, on her doorstep. And furthermore, She, Kitty Tweddle, is a witch. Or at least a witch in training. 

Now with a bogeyman on the loose and a rouge wishing-well about to erupt in her grandparents basement, Kitty must learn to use her newfound powers and fast. Otherwise, the world as she knows it could end with one evil wish…

I really enjoyed this book. It was fun, lighthearted and packed full of adventure. Kitty was an awesome, tom-boyish sort of heroine who many girls will find easy to relate to. She has a natural curiosity which tends to get her into trouble, although I found she was often a victim of circumstance. Chaos seems to follow wherever she goes!

Then there are the cats, Nutmeg, Baby and Roger. They are brilliant characters with very distinct personalities, and I found much of the humour in the book came from then. They made me laugh out loud on more than one occasion! 

However I found all the characters very well written. Kitty’s grandparents, the irritating neighbours known as the Snodgrasses, everyone right down to the bogeyman - they all added something extra to the story. All the magical creatures were also very interesting - and each was described in a very vivid way. This is literally a book that will send imaginations soaring. 

The plot is also fast paced with nearly every chapter ending on some kind of cliffhanger. I think many people would be hard pushed to put this story down. I also found the ending absolutely adorable! I truly think girls between the ages of 8 - 12 would love this story and I personally can’t wait for the second book.

A really magical debut - I give Kitty Tweddle and the Wishing Well 4 stars! 

Monday, 13 June 2016

MIXING IT UP - A WRITING POST

(New Notebooks and Magic Pens)

MIXING IT UP - A WRITING POST

So today I wanted to talk about writing regimes. Why you may ask? Because thanks to extremely hot weather and my determination to not use the air-con (I’ll explain why in a minute) my trusty computer keeps overheating.  Therefore, unless I want to send my trusted laptop to an early grave, the whole way I write...

 NOW. HAS. TO. CHANGE.
(cue overly dramatic music)

You see for me, my method of writing has always been the same. 

  • Butt in chair. 
  • Hands on keyboard.
  • A thirst quenching drink close to hand. 
  • A general plot written in a notebook
  • I then sit and write each scene and chapter in consecutive order. 

Then came the hot weather.

As most of you probably know, I live in China (over three years now people - yes it’s really been that long!) and China isn't exactly… well, the cleanest place. Air pollution here is pretty bad so you’ll find the air-cons tend to make you sick. At best you get a cough and a sore throat. At worse… your more than likely taking years off your life. AIR-CONS are evil.

And so I invested in an electric fan. 
Health Problems - SOLVED.
My Computer though was still overheating.
Solution: Time to mix things up!

(My Magic Pens! Steven, Gramps and Ollie - Yes I named them. Shh, it's not weird!)

FIRST THINGS FIRST - PEN AND PAPER

So realising I would have to switch too writing with a pen and paper if I wanted to get anything done, I dutifully went out and brought myself two new notebooks - because clearly the hundreds of empty ones I had aren't good enough to be WRITTEN WRITTEN in.

I also treated myself to three magic pens — magic not because they make me smile, but these are magic Chinese pens with a rubber at one end that somehow, incredibly RUBS OUT INK! Who knew making mistakes could be fun?

But then came the actual writing. 

And it was hard.

(And no, not because I spent the first hour playing with my magic pens!)

However, for me notebooks have always been for planning, brainstorming, and maybe the occasional midnight-induced / late-night-thinking ideas. They also look pretty on my desk :)  But ACTUALLY writing stories in them? Ha - I don't do that. 

I like to type my stories. Generally because I can type faster than I can wield a pen, and I need to get the words out of my head before they go poof! (I’m sure you fellow writers know the feeling of poofing words - It's like eating your favourite chocolate first and realising only yucky ones are left).

 (Magic Pens!)

Ultimately I found committing something to ink (even erasable ink) was difficult. But I realised it was a good thing. It made me more critical of my word choices, and question both my plot and characters more.

Bottom line - I felt I made less mistakes. 

Which leads me onto: CHAPTERS VS SCENES

So when I’m on my lap top, I like to read through the previous days writing then move on from there. Yet in the spirit of mixing things up, I decided to write only in scenes, choosing from my planned plot any scene that took my fancy. 

(Aren’t I rebellious?)

My findings - I actually WRITE MORE, and get stuck much less. Instead of a few hundred works, I had pages that added up to almost a thousand. What is this magic?

Could it possibly be that by cherry-picking my scenes I was already going in with a positive frame of mind? Or was it lifting the pressure to progress the story - because shockingly, knowing what happens next makes it easier to write the bits in-between, or so I’ve found. 

However I’ll be curious if I will still feel this way in a few months when I will have less scenes to pick from… I guess only time will tell.

And speaking of time.

MIXING IT UP PART THREE - EARLY MORNINGS!

(My writing space - and yes that is a Kodama in the right hand corner, drawn by my lovely other half!)

I am a glorified night owl. Mornings? Well until a week ago, I barely remembered what they looked like. However as much as this pen and paper thing seems to be working for me, I still need my computer time. 

I have book reviews to write, emails to answer, and of course writing that needs typing up. But the coldest time of day right now is 5am.

And so that’s what time I’ve been waking up — although this also comes with the perk of midday nap times and an ice-cream :)

But overall… I’m loving it! Ok, ok, I know you are all backing away from me, holding pointy things in case I try to follow, but hear me out. 

I’m waking up with a purpose to get things done.
And those things, writing, reviewing, even a sneaky hour of reading…

THEY ARE ALL THINGS I ENJOY!

And somehow, waking up has become enjoyable too.

I used to generally wake up between 10am and 11am (Ok, ok, admittedly 2pm somedays) but my point is, I now have so many more hours in my day. And I’m putting them to use.

All in all - Mixing up the way I write, from the tools I use to the time I get up, even the place I write, has really changed my level of productivity. 

Mixing things up has been a good thing.

And it all happened because Chinese air-con sucks!

So tell me, what are your writing habits like?

:)

Thursday, 9 June 2016

Riders - Book Review


Riders - Book Review
Veronica Rossi
YA Paranormal
Book #1 in Riders
UK Publisher: Tor Teen

Synopsis:

Nothing but death can keep eighteen-year-old Gideon Blake form achieving his goal of becoming a U.S. Army Ranger. As it turns out, it does.

While recovering from the accident that most definitely killed him, Gideon finds himself with strange new powers and a bizarre cuff he can’t remove. His death has brought to life his real destiny. He has become War, one of the legendary four horseman of the apocalypse.

Over the coming weeks, he and the other horsemen—Conquest, Famine, and Death—are brought  together by a beautiful but frustratingly secretive girl to help save humanity from an ancient evil on the emergence.

They fail.

Now—Bound, bloodied and drugged—Gideon is interrogated by the authorities about his role in the battle that has become an international incident. If he stands any chance of saving his friends and the girl he’s fallen for—not to mention al of humankind—he needs to convince the skeptical government officials the world is in imminent danger.

But will anyone believe him?

Review:

Having really enjoyed Veronica Rossi’s “Through the Ever Night” trilogy, I was really excited to pick up RIDERS—and it didn't disappoint.  Action packed with an  intriguing storyline, this book was a really great read.

After surviving a death-defying accident, eighteen-year-old Gideon Blake awakes in hospital to find his wounds miraculously healed, his temper high, and a strange cuff attached to his wrist. And now, he has a strange but pretty girl telling him he is War, one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse. 

Soon joined by his three other brethren, Famine, Conquest and Death, the four of the them now have the heavenly task of protecting a sacred key from demons. But when the horsemen fail and are taken captive by the government, everything now rests on Gideon being smart enough to convince his captors that the world is in great danger—and that he, and the rest of the apocalyptic horsemen—are actually the good guys. But will they believe him in time..?

It’s been ages since I read a book with a male protagonist— and I thought Veronica Rossi pulled it off very well. Combined with military, magical, and pure boyish elements, I thought RIDERS was a quite a refreshing read. 

Gideon was a really likeable hero, very macho and real in his reactions to the fantastical. I liked the simple direction his thoughts went in, and since the story is all from his view point, the military style run-downs describing people and scenery were direct and to the point. It also made following the action scenes very easy. 

In terms of the other characters, I’m really hoping to see more character building in the next book. I felt that we didn't get to know most of the other characters properly, especially Death and Conquest, both of whom didn't come into the story until nearly midway. I’m also hoping book two will have some much needed, bro-bonding time. 

But the horses… I loved the horses! Actually the whole package of manifesting weapons, armour and shadowy/dusty/fiery/star-blinding mares and stallions was spectacularly done. Also I was moved by the fact that it was Riot, Gideon’s horse, who really broke through Gideon’s shell of grief and anger. 

In terms of plot the story felt very mission like. The characters always had an objective, were always on the run from bad guys, and everything was very much go, go, go. However I think having the story from Gideon’s perspective really helped slow the action down, giving it a perfect pacing as he sort to rationalise and justify everything before taking action. 

My only criticism is that I never felt the URGENCY that was clearly fuelling the characters along. While I really enjoyed the story,  I didn't feel the characters really cared about protecting the key from the bad guys —partly because everyone seemed to withhold important information. Rather, all the action seemed to be based around the four of them staying alive. The all important key more or less took a back seat until the end of the story.

I think that’s why it took me so long to read this book—I found it easy to put down—however it was also a nice book to come back to. But it took me nearly 3 months to read this story since I would only read a couple of chapters here and there, usually in-between reading other things. It wasn't until the last third of the book that my attention was truly hooked and I managed to finish it.

But I most definitely will be reading the second book, and despite taking a while to finish, I did enjoy this story. It was something a little new and different. All in all, 3.5 stars!

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Queen of Tomorrow - Book Review


Queen of Tomorrow - Book Review
Sherry D. Ficklin
YA Historical
Book #2 in the Stolen Empire Trilogy
Publisher: Clean Teen Publishing

Synopsis:

Sophie - now Catherine, Grand Duchess of Russia - had a tough first year at the Imperial Court. Married at sixteen to Grand Duke Peter, heir to the throne, and settled in their own palace, things are finally looking up. As a new day dawns, she thinks only of securing her future, and the future of their country, during one of the greatest political upheavals of her time. Fighting desperately against forces trying to depose the Empress Elizabeth and put the young Prince Ivan on her throne, Sophie soon finds herself in the middle of a war brewing between her beloved Prussia, and her new empire. But even as she navigates the fragile political landscape, she quickly realises that she has only begun to discover the tangled web of deceit and infidelity woven over the lavish court Oranienbaum Palace.

When a strange and delicate alliance forms between the young couple, she glimpses a future of happiness, only to see it lost in a moment at the hands of those who still seek to end her life - and prevent her reign. Out of favour with the Empress and running out of options, Sophie will have to sacrifice her own innocence on the altar of Russia if she is to save the nation and herself. To survive, she will have to do the unthinkable, betray those closest to her and become something greater and more dangerous that she ever imagine she could be … a queen.

Review:

I really enjoyed this book. The second in Sherry. D. Ficklin’s Stolen Empire Series, I found this story to be just as delicious as the first. 

Now married to Peter, heir to the Russian throne, Sophie must discard her childish dreams and step up into her role as Catherine, Grand Duchess of Russia. But her husband, Peter, is a monster, and when their enemies destroy the hard-won peace gained between the couple, Catherine must fight to keep herself from spiralling into the darkness.

As Peter makes plans to set Catherine aside, Catherine begins to make alliances of her own. Hatching a treasonous plan that will ensure her own future, as well as the continued prosperity of her new nation, Catherine prepares to commit the most dangerous of all sins. If she survives, she will emerge a queen. If she fails, she will lose her life.

This was a short but delicious read. In it we see how the months of married life and ruling have changed Sophie. No longer meek and innocent, she has grown into a true court lady and discovered the art of intrigue and subtly. However she no longer knows who to trust and with plots and deceptions lurking around every corner, we get to see her sharp mind in action as she struggles to remain several steps ahead of her enemies.

However entangled in a forbidden romance with the Empresses ex-lover, Sergei, we also see that at the core, Sophie is still just a young girl with a yearning to be loved. She never asked for this courtly life, and it was heart wrenching to see how so many people sort to manipulate her for their own ends.

Having said that, all the secondary characters are brilliant, each in their own cruel, vindictive way. They are the kind of characters you hate, but love for how they keep the reader on their toes.
Everyone from Sophie’s husband, Peter, to the Empress, Peter’s lover Elizavetta… even Sophie’s own mother works against her. You really can’t ask for better drama.

Yet while there are many things going on with the plot, the pacing itself isn't fast, however it dances along at a steady beat. The reader also has plenty of time to take in the scenery, absorbing the beautiful descriptions that really set the scene of this glittering court.

Also with its cliff hanger of an ending, I can’t wait to begin book three, Queen of Always. I’m desperate to see how Sherry. D. Fickling will conclude this story. A truly epic read, I give Queen of Tomorrow 4 stars!

Friday, 3 June 2016

The Dreamsnatcher - Book Review


The Dreamsnatcher - Book Review
Abi Elphinstone
MG Fantasy
(Dreamsnatcher book #1)
UK Publisher: Simon & Schuster Children’s UK

Synopsis:
Twelve-year-old Molly Pecksniff wakes one night in the middle of the forest, lured there by a recurring nightmare - the one with the drums and the rattles and the masks. The Dreamsnatcher is waiting. He has already taken her dreams and now he wants her life.

Because Moll os more important than she knows… The Oracle Bones foretold that she and Gryff, a wildcat that has always been by her side, are the only ones who can fight back against the Dreamsnatcher’s dark magic. Suddenly everything is at stake, and Moll is drawn into a world full of secrets, magic and adventure.

Review:
I really enjoyed this book. A fantastical middle-grade read, The Dreamsnatcher takes the reader deep into an enchanted world. With magic, riddles and a family of quirky gypsies, it was impossible to put this book down. A truly fantastic debut by the amazing Abi Elphinstone!

The story follows twelve-year-old Moll Pecksniff and her wildcat, Gryff, as they try stop an evil witch doctor from stealing the old magic of the forest. But as more and more witch doctors appear, the dark forces grow stronger… and thanks to an ancient prophecy that states Moll and Gryff are the only ones capable of stopping this evil, they are now the witch doctors main targets… 

I was really drawn in by the world building of this book. The atmosphere of the gypsy camp, the creepiness of the witch doctors lair, both really captured my imagination. It was virtually impossible to put this book down. Each chapter was short, action packed and full of intrigue and mayhem. A truly delicious read. 

Moll is a spunky, tough talking heroine. She hides her doubts behind a witty facade and I couldn't help but like her immediately. In this story we see her bravery, loyalty and determination to protect all that she loves. I can’t wait to meet her again in the second book.

The other characters are all a motley, mismatched cast of strange and interesting people. Earthworm tamers, fortune tellers, joint-dislocating men… lets just say Moll’s gyspy family certainly won’t bore you. I also like how you see just enough of each character to develop compassion for them which made the show-down at the end all the more dramatic.

But the Evil Doers… wow. Skull made a truly fantastic villain. His description, his personality and the dismal eeriness of his lair, everything was written so well. The creatures he created, the whole idea of the dreamsnatch (manipulating people as they sleep), not to mention  the cryptic riddles and prophecies surrounding him… Skull not only kept Moll on her toes, but he kept the plot moving forward too. He and the other witch doctors really added spice to the story.

All in all this is a gripping, fast paced read that would be loved by anyone in search of a good adventure, with a bit of fantasy and magic thrown in. 5 stars!

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Paper Hearts - Book Review


Paper Hearts Volume 1: Some Writing Advice
Beth Revis

Synopsis:

Your enemy is the blank page. When it comes to writing, there’s no wrong way to get words on paper. But it’s not always easy to make the ink flow. 

Paper Hearts: Some Writing Advice won’t make writing any simpler, but it may help spark your imagination and get your hands back on the keyboard.

Practical advice meets real experience.

With information that takes you from common mistakes in grammar to detailed charts on story structure, Paper Hearts describes:

  • How to develop character, plot and world.
  • What common advice you should ignore.
  • What advice actually helps.
  • How to develop a novel.
  • The basics of Grammar, Style and Tone.
  • Four practical methods of charting story structure.
  • How to get critiques and revise your novel.
  • How to deal with failure.
  • And much much more!

Review:

As an aspiring writer, I found this book incredibly helpful in every way. It boosted my morale, gave some insightful advice and offered a level of comfort that I have yet to find in other “how to write” books.

Rather than just jumping straight in with Do’s and Don’ts, the first thing Beth Revis shares is her own road to publication. She explains how it was her DREAM to be traditionally published, and no matter how bleak the future sometimes seemed, she stuck to her goal. It took her ten years, ten manuscripts, lots of money in classes and critiques, not to mention bucket loads of time and dedication—but she made this dream happen. If that’s not inspiration for you, I don't know what is.

However what I really liked about this book is how Beth Revis repeatedly emphasises that there is no right or wrong way to write. Paper Hearts just shares the methods of writing that worked for her—and she stresses that every writer must find their own path/style. Also she admits that not every book she writes is the same, and often her own styles and methods change, so it’s important to experiment.

Also while this book does cover grammar, characterisation, and has picture charts that can help with developing plot, everything is written in a very friendly way. Never once did I feel like I was being told what to do, but rather everything was put forward in a suggestive, “you should give this a try” kind of way.

In terms of content, I thought the advice itself was pretty invaluable. If I had this book when I first started writing I know it would have made my life a whole lot easier. Even now, it reassured me that I am doing many things right, although it also made me see there is still much of my writing that can be improved upon. 

What also grabbed was the the depth the book went into. Ways in which you can find critiques partners, how to give and receive feedback, as well as many frequently asked questions in regards to ideas, pacing, resources…. this book really did have it all. 

The only thing that may be an issue for some writers, is that Beth Revis writes YA and often the examples she uses are geared for those audiences. However I really think this book would be useful regardless of what genre or age band your writing for. This is definitely a book all aspiring writers need on their shelves!