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Wednesday, 27 April 2016


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!

Thursday, 7 April 2016

Chosen - Book Review


Chosen - Book Review
Lucy Coats
YA Historical Fantasy
(Cleo book #2)
UK Publisher: Orchard Books

Synopsis:

Two warring deities, one Pharaoh’s throne… and the beginning of the world’s greatest love story.

Tryphena is dead, evil Berenice and her dark demon God hold the Pharaoh’s throne - so Cleo must flee the city of her birth and seek out her patron goddesses before it’s too late to save Egypt. Not only must she make her way across the desert to restore Isis’s power, but her goddess also commands her to raise two armies before taking a ship across the Great Green Sea to find her exiled father in Rome. The weight of royalty is increasingly heavy on Cleo’s shoulders - and impossible, scary decisions lie ahead…

Review:

Now in possession of the sacred map, Cleo flees into the desert to free her Goddesses and restore their power. Only then can peace reign once more throughout Egypt. But with her evil sister, Tryphena dead, and Benenice and her demon-possessed husband in control of the double-throne, bringing back peace and prosperity to the land will not be as easy as Cleo thinks.

Now charged with raising an army, and tasked with returning her father to Egypt so that she may take up her place as his queen and rightful co-ruler, Cleo must now declare war on sister. But first she must travel across the seas to Rome, where both her heart, and her destiny await…

I really enjoyed this book! The second and final part of a duo, the story depicts the fictional life of a young Cleopatra, and through Cleo’s eyes, Lucy Coats really brought the ancient world to life. With prayers, customs and a few facts spread throughout the text, it was an educational as well as page turning read. 

Cleo has changed a lot since we first met her. After finding her courage and surviving trials brought about by both man and Gods, she has developed confidence and a regal air, giving her a commanding presence. Although beneath her tough exterior, she is still the uncertain, humorous, dancing girl we first came to love. Yet watching her make this transition from timid mouse to leader of a rebel army, it was glorious. 

Her romantic relationship with Khai also added charm to the story, especially with the arrival of Mark Antony, Cleo’s destined mate. However I liked that this story was still fundamentally about Cleo and Khai, and the sad acknowledgement that while Khai will always be by Cleo’s side, her fate is too great for him. Yet he will always be her first love.

Cleo’s best friend Charm was also there as a sound voice of reason, and with the arrival of new characters—she also found a love interest of her own in Iras. A quirky, warrior woman with a sharp wit and quick tongue. Not only did the romance between the two feel natural, but it was a relationship I wholly supported, even though it came as a surprise to both the reader… and Cleo herself :)

Otherwise the plot moved at a good pace with plenty of action and intrigue. Also with much of the story taking place in a war zone, it was inevitable that some characters would die, however it certainly ups the tension when you don’t know who will and will not make it.

However I still think that it is the younger end of the YA market who will enjoy this book the most. As I said in my review of the first book, CLEO, the language used by the characters is very modern and is easy to relate to. Lucy Coats also dips into the shady topics of periods, ancient toilet systems and the sheer awkwardness of being a girl, that I’m sure many non-male readers would appreciate.

All in all - a great historical read that girls of all ages would enjoy.  4 stars! I can’t wait to see what Lucy Coats will throw at us next :)

Monday, 4 April 2016

The Secret Life of Daisy Fitzjohn - Book Review


The Secret life of Daisy Fitzjohn
Tania Unsworth
MG Adventure
UK Publisher: Orion Children’s Books

Synopsis:

Eleven-year-old Daisy has never seen the outside world.

She has lived with her mother in their family home, the splendid but crumbling Brightwood Hall. But when one day her mother doesn't come home and a strange man arrives at the house, Daisy must use her wits to survive.

The enthralling story of a young girl’s physical and mental journey is beautifully imagined by Tania Unsworth, and readers will be completely transported by the unique magic of Daisy’s world. 


Review:

When her mum leaves one morning and never returns, eleven-year-old Daisy Fitzjohn has no idea what to do. She has never stepped one foot outside her family’s estate of Brightwood Hall, and the only ‘people’ she knows are the portraits that cover the walls. 

So when a strange man appears with plans to turn her home into a high-end-spa, Daisy must do everything in her power to stop it from happening. But that man has darker intentions, and with only her wits and the house rat, Tar, to help her, Daisy will need all her courage if she is to survive long enough to find her mum…

This was nice little read, and one I think girl’s under eleven would really enjoy. Full of adventure and the fantastical elements of the main characters imagination, this is a story of family, magic and one girl’s determination to stay alive.

Daisy is a fascinating heroine. Having grown up with no real people but her mother for companionship, she talks to everything with a lifelike shape. Portraits, topiaries, animals and even the characters from books—yet they also talk back. However the story is written in such a way that it is impossible to tell of these conversations are actually happening, or are just in Daisy’s imagination. It is this aspect that makes this story magical. 

However since most of the characters in this book come from Daisy’s head (at least I think they do) they make for a interesting and random bunch. A talking rat, the old shrubbery horse, the people in the paintings and of course, a guide/explorer from Daisy’s great uncles journal. Not only do each of the characters have unique personalities and traits, but they all offer their own (often unhelpful) advice on how Daisy should handle various situations. All in all, they are quite comical.

However this book also has more sinister elements that made the book extremely interesting. Daisy’s mum, traumatised by the loss of her family, has kept Daisy hidden from the real world. And because the Fitzjohn family were so wealthy, with a huge house and lots of space, it made it possible for Daisy’s mum to literally shut out the world and live in limbo with her daughter. 

In this story we now see how her mum’s illness has impacted upon Daisy’s life, and making Daisy unable to deal with the real world. However this story is also about Daisy finding her courage as her eyes are opened to life outside of Brightwood hall.

Combined together, all these elements make for an intriguing plot that putted along at a nice pace. Overall, a nice, pre-teen read for those who love delving into anothers imagination and having an adventure. 3 stars!

Sunday, 3 April 2016

Travelish Tales... Vigil in Vietnam


Travelish Tales...




As many of you know I like to travel, and since moving to China back in 2013 I've managed to see many places in and around Asia. However wherever I go, I always keep a written journal and I've decided its long past time I shared some of these stories with you all.

So in no particular order, every month I will pick a random country and share with you one the strange days I had exploring it. 

This month I chose Vietnam, for no other reason that this was where I was this time last year. Isn't that crazy?



Sunday, 5th April 2015 - Vigil in Vietnam


Dressed in heels and a skirt too short to be considered proper, I was horrified to discover that my boyfriends suggestion of a “romantic midnight walk” was actually an evil ploy to get me to a graveyard. But Hang Duong Graveyard in Vietnam is not your typical haunt for ghosts and ghouls. 

Mollified by the females pilgrims in their shorter skirts and even higher heels, I reluctantly joined in the masses that flooded in from all across Vietnam to make this midnight vigil. Paying homage to Vo Thi Sau—a nineteen year old girl who became a martyr after her execution during the Vietnamese war—I joined the line to go pray before her shrine.

Fires burned to either side of her grave and people lined up with offerings of all shapes and sizes. Everything from flowers, fruits, chickens and chocolate cakes, to what looked like a three-piece-suit, were all laid atop Vo Thi Sau’s place of rest. These offerings were later taken one by one to the fire where they were burnt. I was particularly saddened to see the chocolate cakes go up in flames. However I had no time to mourn there loss, for suddenly I was before the shrine. 

Handed a huge pile of incense, I obediently lit the bundle and immediately lost about half the incense trying to wave out flames. Unsure what to do next, I quietly asked a teen girl beside me what I was supposed to pray for.

“Anything,” she said, “Although most pray to see Vo Thi Sau’s spirit, or to have her visit your dreams in the night. To have her appear will bring you good fortune.”

Ever the tactful one, I replied, “You want me to pray for a dead girl to visit me in the night?” Thankfully she didn't seem to understand my sarcasm and only nodded her enthusiasm. 

Closing my eyes, I prayed instead for Vo Thi Sau to find peace and happiness in the afterlife. Feeling foolish, I also added that if she did feel the need for living company, to check out six senses spa resort, who’s guests I’m sure would be happy to see her. I didn't mention I would be sleeping on the other side of island. 

Heading home, my boyfriend and I meandered through the many graves, each honoured with a single candle and sticks of smouldering incense that lit the night like fire flies. Awed by the eery beauty of it, I grudgingly admitted to my boyfriend that the grave site was indeed a place worth seeing.

That was the moment I felt a tap on my shoulder. Turning, my eyes were forced closed against the sudden gust of wind, and when I could see again, a chocolate cake wrapper lay at my feet. My boyfriend and I laughed, but I walked a little faster and made my boyfriend drive our motorbike the scenic route home, just in case Vo Thi Sau was following. 

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

March in Review


(I didn't take any photos this month - so here is one my mum sent me of our dog, Bracken - isn't she cute?)

March in Review

Hey people, how is 2016 treating you all so far? Are your shelves filled with good books? Your days full of sunshine? Is your tummy bursting with chocolate eggs?  I sincerely hope so!

As for me, I sort of achieved these things. I recently treated myself to a book buying extravaganza on my kindle. The sun is slowly burning away the smog, and the mini-egg survival parcel my mum sent out last week has been fully demolished. Life. Is. Good :)

So today I thought I would share with you some life-updates. Mostly a few personal achievements and a couple of crazy happenings. Otherwise, it’s been just another not-so-normal month in China. 

Achievements this March:

*I can now bench-press 22kg! Ok, so I can can only do 5 reps, but I’m pretty sure I’m the strongest woman in my gym :)

*A whole afternoon was spent mastering the art of baking lemon-drizzle cake. After all, I  have to do something to balance out all my gym time.

*Also I finally found the courage to send out some queries on my manuscript. Never have I agonised so much over an email, and I sent out 5! 

I then spent the last few days constantly refreshing my inbox before I finally remembered… It’s easter weekend in England. Everyone is on holiday. Duh! 

Reading:

I’m actually between a few books right now (yes, I’m one of those strange people who have about five books on the go at once) but I managed to finish two.

*Sphinx Queen by Esther Frisker - A fictional take on the younger years of the famous Egyptian Queen Nefeteri. This was the second and final book featuring Nefeteri’s adventures, and while I ultimately enjoyed it, sadly I really didn't like the ending.

*The Dreamsnatcher by Abi Elphinstone - Loved this book! A review will soon be following—and this one also counts toward my British Book Challenge :) 

On the blog, and potential future posts:

Thanks to a failing VPN connection it was hard to post things this month. However at the beginning of March I was lucky enough to be part of Maria. V. Snyders Blog Tour. She answered many of my questions regarding the inspirations behind her writing—if you haven't already you can check out that post HERE.

There are also two book reviews. Demon Road by Derek Landy & Knights of the Borrowed Dark by Dave Rudden. If you are interested you can click on the links to see my thoughts.

Otherwise I came to the conclusion I don't really post enough on this blog. At least not in a very social way… and I have to wonder when I became so anti-social. With that in mind, I’m planning some new posts to share with you my travels, my writing frustrations & motivations, and probably my thought on various topics. Hope you don’t mind!

Chinese Randomness:

So as some of you may have seen on twitter, I had shrimp cross my path. Yep, that’s right, a shrimp.

I was walking home from work, just another normal evening, when the sight of this small creature stopped me dead. It walked across the alley in front of me and my boyfriend, taking its time, doing it’s shrimpy-little-thing, as if it was perfectly for normal for it to be wandering the streets of China. 

I can only guess it escaped from one of the many seafood restaurants dotted about my neighbourhood. I hope it found a happy end…

Otherwise, teaching English is always fun. The kids expressive themselves the best way they can and its often very entertaining. One thing that made me smile this month was one little boy asking me about my grandfather. After I explained my grandfather had died many years ago the little boy patted my hand and said, “Your grandpa is game over? My fish is game over too.” My heart melted. 

And that just about raps up my month. So how is life treating the rest of you?

Saturday, 26 March 2016

Knights of the Borrowed Dark - Book Review


Knights of the Borrowed Dark
David Rudden
MG Fantasy
Knights of the Borrowed Dark book #1
UK Publisher: Puffin

Synopsis:

Denizen Hardwick is an orhapn, and his life is, well, normal. Sure, in storybooks orphans are rescued from drudgery when they discover they are a wizard or a warrior or a prophesied king. But this is real life—orphans are just kids without parents. At least that’s what Denizen thought…

On a particularly dark night, the gates of Crosscaper Orphanage open to a car that almost growls with power. The car and the man in it retrieve Denizen with the promise of introducing him to a long-lost aunt. But on this ride into the city, they are attacked. Denizen soon learns that monsters can grow out of the shadows. And there is an ancient order of knights who keep them at bay. 

Denizen has a unique connection to these knights, but everything they tell him feels like a half-truth. If Denizen joins the order, is he fulfilling his destiny, or turning his back on everything his family did to keep him alive?

Review:

This was a wonderful debut novel, full of fantasy, fighting, action and adventure—it is a book that will easily be enjoyed by both boys and girls alike. 

When eleven-year-old Denizen Hardwick receives a letter to say he will be spending the weekend with a long lost aunt, he is instantly suspicious. Having spent nearly all his life in Crosscaper, a bleak orphanage along the Irish coast, Denizen knows that outside of storybooks, relatives don’t just turn up out of the blue. Not without a reason. 

So when he and his aunt’s driver are attacked on the road, set upon by a hideous monster, Denizen eyes are opened to world he never he never even knew existed. A world his parents were determined to keep from. Because Denizen is the descendant of knights, knights tasked with battling back the creatures of darkness. But the knights numbers are dwindling, and now Denizen must make a choice. To join the fight as his ancestry demands, or return to the orphanage, and pretend the world is not on the brink of destruction…

There were so many things I loved about this book. It's vivid settings, the engaging plot, a cast of diverse and interesting characters. This story had it all, but what really grabbed me was the sheer fantasy behind the evil creatures. Shadows composing bodies from whatever earthly material at their disposal—I thought that was genius and it read really well.

Ultimately going into the book, I wasn't quite sure what to expect. I guessed there would be a secret society (and there was) and some fighting of evil monsters (there was plenty of that too) yet ‘Knights of the Borrowed Dark’ was different to anything I’ve read before. Not only were the bad guys unique, but Denizen read exactly as what the blurb portrayed him. A normal boy who suddenly found himself in the middle of a not normal situation. 

That really helped make the book for me, as I felt Denizen’s reactions were realistic. He fought hard to achieve his goals, and although he let others into his heart, he maintained his initial independence and didn't go through a total personality change. By that, I mean he was still himself at the end of the book, just a stronger and wiser version. 

In terms of the other characters, I enjoyed how they all came with a bit of backstory. I quickly grew attached to them, enough so that I generally worried for each of them during the battle scenes — and this I must really praise the author for. It is rare that I am moved to care about so many people during the course of one book. It normally takes two or three books before my heart will ache for the secondary characters too.

Otherwise the book was also very action packed and had a plot full of feelings. There were pinches of humour, dashes of sadness, plenty or surprise, some thrills and an overall creepy undertone that would send any readers imagination soaring. 

All in all, a spectacular debut that will be loved by all ages. 5 Stars!

Saturday, 5 March 2016

Night Study Blog Tour - Maria. V. Snyder on Inspiration




I adored Night Study. It is a truly fantastic book that adds even more depth to an already amazing series. It has left me thirsting for more and I can't wait for the next book! In the meantime, you can check out my review on Night Study HERE.
However as part of the Night Study Blog, I am lucky enough to have the amazing, Maria. V. Snyder here on the blog today to talk about her inspirations. 

So without further ado, here we go:

1) when your writing do you take any inspiration from music, or do you prefer to work in silence?
MVS: I do listen to music when I write.  When I first started writing, I didn’t as I would get distracted and, instead of writing, I’d listen to the lyrics.  When my dog died, my office was way too quiet (she snored), so I started to listen to classical music.  However, it wasn’t conducive to my fast-paced plots so I switched to pop songs.
2) The study books have a truly amazing cast of characters. Are any of them loosely based on real people? Any quirks or habits, perhaps even some one liners taken from friends or family?
MVS: There are a few characters loosely based on real people.  Rand the cook in Poison Study is based on my brother-in-law Randy who loves to cook.  Margg is a person I worked with long ago and hated.  Janco’s energy comes from an equally energetic friend on my volleyball team.  And I based Opal’s mother in the Glass books on my own mother (shhhhh don’t tell her!).   I’ve stolen a few quirks and habits from my friends and family, but I won’t name names as I don’t want to get into trouble ;).  Also when I meet people, they are always a potential source for either a character or the name of a character as I’m always looking for good names to use.
3) similarly are any of the settings inspired by actual places? For instance the commanders castle in Ixia, is that based on a real castle or time period? 
MVS: Not in the Study and Glass books.  I purposely didn’t set my story in a certain time period because I didn’t want readers to say, “They didn’t use the word “intell” in the middle ages.” Or “They didn’t have needles in the 17th Century.”   It’s a true fantasy world.  
4) How do you come up with such fabulous plot lines? Does your inspiration come from quiet walks in the woods? while cooking dinner? Or does everything just flow from your fingers when sat the computer? 
MVS: I’ve sparked on story ideas from a variety of sources.  I get ideas from the newspaper, magazine articles, books, TV shows, and movies.  It can be from something that comes up in conversation, from dreams, or from something my children say or do. Traveling has also sparked a number of ideas.  I tend not to lack for ideas just time!  However, the details and characters of a story’s plot develop as I write.  But I do my share of zoning out in the shower and while I’m otherwise engaged. I don’t think a writer is ever “off.”  We’re always open to the world around us, just in case.
5) Can you share with us which authors fired up your love of fantasy? Who are your role models? 
MVS: The first fantasy book I read was On a Pale Horse by Piers Anthony, and then I read his Xanth novels, starting with A Spell for Chameleon.  Those books hooked me on fantasy and I tore through everything I could find from Ursula K. LeGuin’s Earthsea trilogy to LOTR.  
As for my role models, I really enjoyed reading Barbara Hambly, David Eddings, Glenda Larke, Mercedes Lackey, and Marion Zimmer Bradley. They inspired my strong female protagonists.
6) When you were pursuing a career as a writer, what or who was your biggest driving force pushing you along the road to publication? 
MVS: I started getting serious about my writing when I was home raising my children. I’d quit work as an environmental meteorologist to stay home and during that time I wrote my first novel, Poison Study.  I thought it might be good enough to be published and I really didn’t want to go back to work when my youngest went to school full time.  So I was determined to submit the book to every publisher!  My husband was also very supportive and was happy to be a single parent a few weekends a year so I could attend writing conferences and take writing classes.  Without him, I wouldn’t be an author.
7) finally, on the topic of inspiration, is there anything else you would like to add? Such as do you believe in waiting for the muse to strike? Or will you write everyday, even if it feel like each word is tearing out pieces of your soul?
MVS: I use to write when the muse struck, but having deadlines turned me into a daily writer.  I started keeping track of my daily word count and I noticed that whenever I took a few days off from writing, my numbers dipped when I returned to my computer, but as the week progressed, my numbers increased.  It’s like a cold engine, when you first turn the key, it chugs and isn’t very efficient, but when it’s warmed up, it runs smoothly.  I write five nights a week and take the weekends off unless I’ve a deadline looming.  And I will admit, some nights it is very difficult to get words onto the page and I have to accept it’s a bad night and go to bed early.

Thanks so much Maria for your time today :) Be sure to check out the next stop on the tour tomorrow over at The Book Binge.