Dystopian Apocalypse A-go-go

Well, it’s been a depressing (?) few weeks of reading and viewing for me..

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After reading the post-apocalypse dystopian trilogy The Testing I descended into a world of zombies, desolation, crazy governments and plucky teens (for the most part).

Whilst on holiday I read the last two books in the Pittacus Lore ‘Lorien’ series, which I’ve read in fits and starts over the last few years. I have to say after a couple flatter books in the middle of the series it really finished well – I went straight from one to the other, eager to see how everything works out (or not!) in the end. I’ll have to take the time to do a full review of the series at some point as it is a great, action-packed YA series.

On the return flight, I watched Alligent, the last in the Divergent series. From here you may know that I didn’t really get on with Tris in the first book, but I thought I’d give it a second chance and tried book two… It still wasn’t for me – the writing wasn’t bad but I didn’t feel that the factions premise held up well. In some ways the films got me through the story better, but the third was a let down again for me – the rationale for the factions and experimenting really didn’t seem that strong, it was a bit like the faction idea wasn’t thought through fully to the end of the series before the first was finished. I liked Tris better in the films than as narrator, but in the last she was ridiculously naive and several stock dystopian elements seemed to be thrown in, with no signficant enhancement of the story.

On the flight out, I’d downloaded eight hours of The Walking Dead to watch… It was a long flight and I managed to get through most of them. I’ve been power watching season four and five since we’ve been back home and now half expect it to be normal for the knock on the window to be a walker, or that sharp garden tools should be carried at all times – you know, just in case. I’ve got a few more episodes to go now, it’s been a much better series for me than the third, where I lost a bit of my affection for characters. There’s some really good development and focus on individuals in these two seasons which has definitely got me back on the (zombie) wagon. (Oh, random image just struck me then, I wonder if you could use walkers to draw you along in a cart, using flesh on a stick as the carrot…? Kind of disgusting, but could prove a viable alternative to fossil fuel in post-apocalyptic Georgia…)

Zombies on the back-burner (well, just a bit) I watched the second Maze Runner film this week. I’ve not read the books, but I did like the first film and the slight Lord of the Flies feel to it. Second film was similarly enjoyable. I think the characters and story are stronger than Divergent and in the films they have some good people cast in the core gang. Not sure I’m 100% convinced on the back story to some of the things at the moment, but I can see how there might be some good reasons behind what you see in this film that will be fleshed out, so will hold off deciding for now.

That brings me up to my latest read, Legend by Marie Lu. I’ve seen this around the web FOREVER and so I’m way behind on getting to read it, but I saw it I the library last weekend and thought ‘why not?’ if it’s free. And so I’m about halfway through now, enjoying my latest bout of humanity scraping along to survive under the thumb of a reasonably oppressive seeming government. When their lead by a glorious leader who has pictures everywhere it doesn’t usually bode well, trust me – we’ve been there before in my adventures through the end of the world😉

i have to say, despite all of these outside influences , I’ve not really been feeling the creative spirit in me to get on with my own dystopian series, maybe finishing editing the kids book will perk me up… Less gore and guts (well, you’d hope so!)

 

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Just Finished…The Testing Trilogy

Maybe an odd few spoilers in here, so tread carefully, just as you might if you were going through The Testing yourself!🙂

In the last couple of weeks I’ve read the three books that make up ‘The Testing’ trilogy by Joelle Charbonneau. I think I downloaded the first book in the series a year or so ago, when it was on a free Amazon download day… I picked it up because it was pegged as being for ‘fans of the Hunger Games…’ and with a blurb like this, you can see why:

Testing

Keep your friends close and your enemies closer. Isn’t that what they say? But how close is too close when they may be one and the same? 

The Seven Stages War left much of the planet a charred wasteland. The future belongs to the next generation’s chosen few who must rebuild it. But to enter this elite group, candidates must first pass The Testing—their one chance at a college education and a rewarding career. 

Cia Vale is honored to be chosen as a Testing candidate; eager to prove her worthiness as a University student and future leader of the United Commonwealth. But on the eve of her departure, her father’s advice hints at a darker side to her upcoming studies–trust no one. 

But surely she can trust Tomas, her handsome childhood friend who offers an alliance? Tomas, who seems to care more about her with the passing of every grueling (and deadly) day of the Testing. To survive, Cia must choose: love without truth or life without trust.

See? Handsome boy from your home sector – check. Students chosen from outer colonies to come to the capital city for ‘Testing’ – check. Deadly competition and questionable morals amongst the candidates, check and check!

I think it was the reported similarities to The Hunger Games that made me avoid reading this for so long. I loved The Hunger Games: the competition, the rebellion, Katniss and Peeta (yep, Team Peeta, not the other guy – Katniss is the narrator and you never got the romance vibe from her in relation to him, did you?) The relationships between the characters as well, from Rue and Haymitch, through to Finnick and Mags – they all had good depth and realism, which I loved throughout that series and for me made it very strong.

Anyway, I’d not read any YA dystopian for a while and so I picked this up in the end and gave it a whirl – and it was worth it! Book one was good, book two was even better I thought – it moved further away from the Hunger Games-esque arena and built out it’s own world and plot.

After blasting through the first two books in this trilogy, I did stall a bit when it came to ‘Graduation Day’. I really liked the world built up in the first two books and in a way, keeping Cia’s world more compact (either controlled as part of the Testing, or built around her place at University) made her actions and the scale of the story realistic.

When we move to the final installment Cia doesn’t seem as ‘changed’ as she continually tells you that she is – this was something that started to grate on me a little in this final book. It felt like there was a lot more tell over show in this part and the characters that you were familiar with from books one and two began to feel a little more like cardboard cut-outs, despite the fact that you knew them already and could have seen their behaviours come out, rather than Cia telling you how she was interpreting things.

Overall, after two good books with plenty of pace and action, bounded nicely within the areas they were set inside, the third one fell flat. The various climactic elements left me a bit cold if I’m honest, which is a shame as the set up was good. I think for me – as some other reviewers pick up – things became quite unrealistic in the third book: the scope of what Cia got tasked with seemed inconsistent with the scale of everything else happening around her and her ever-present bag of magic tricks became a crutch. How could they be advance enough to manipulate genetics and do complex chemical engineering to revitalise their world, but not have anything more than basic communications, which a university student can apparently knock together in a workshop pretty quickly.

This is a good series and some comparisons to The Hunger Games are fair, particularly in the first book. But by the second it does stride out in its own direction, which I really enjoyed – the third book delivers many of the answers following the set up in the other books, it just didn’t grip me to the end as I hoped it might.

Overall I’d rate the series 4* – it is very readable and enticed me enough to buy the next two books in the series, having read the first one for free. I would have just liked something more, something different from the ending that was delivered.

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Just Finished…Fractured, by Dani Atkins

FracturedRandomly plucked from my Kindle list, mainly because the cover caught my eye, I got into this book straight away. Looking at the cover properly now, in full size and colour, it is just an even more perfect match for the story. Coming off the back of several quick ‘fluffy’ reads, I was ready for something a little more involved.

Much of the story of Fractured is told from inside main character Rachel’s head, which can sometimes make things feel less instant and pacy, but I didn’t find that with Fractured.

I’ve always liked the Sliding-Doors-type stories, you know: if one small thing changed, what would be the repercussions of that and how far-reaching are they? I like seeing an author set up one thing, and then flip it on its head – Fractured definitely delivered this. The characters were well-formed in both of Rachel’s realities and the journey you join her on is at times heart-breaking and others uplifting. I’m not normally one for crying at books, but the way Rachel’s story brings you into the middle of what she’s experiencing, I don’t think you can avoid an emotional reaction.
There are lots of things to examine in this book, which I’ll not share because of spoilers, but I do think it is the type of novel that stays with you afterwards, making you examine human nature, relationships and how the mind has the capacity to work in ways I don’t think we’ll ever work out.

Overall, a great read, but beware – your heart-strings will be pulled. Rating 5*

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Just Finished…Fluffy Romances :)

You know how it is sometimes, you just want some easy reading, a little romance and some nice characters… Coming off the back of the very long All Souls trilogy and finishing the reasonably lengthy fourth book of Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles in a week (which I’ll post a review on soon), I needed something easy and fluffy🙂 And, that’s what I got with the books that I read in the last few days.

Grover Beach 19263535First up was US-set YA romances from the ‘Grover Beach Team’ series by Anna Katmore and Piper Shelley (not sure why only one author name appears on the cover…) The first one, ‘Play with Me’ had been a random free download from Amazon before Christmas. It’s a quick, neat story of first love and frustrations with male best friends, set in summer holidays at high school. Told in first person from POV of Lisa Matthews, there’s lots of sarcasm and banter between the characters, which makes for a fun read and the issues and action of the book seem nice and realistic. Definitely YA, with some language and romantic scenes that turn up the heat over and above a quick peck – but nothing that would have E. L. James worrying. Rating 4*

‘Ryan Hunter’ is the second book in the series, and tells the same tale from Ryan Hunter’s POV (surprising, eh?) It’s a nice twist on the first one and gives you some nice missing scenes that show the other side of the story from ‘Play with Me’ – oddly enough, having liked Ryan in the first book, being inside his head, I came away not liking him quite as much, but that’s often the same when you take away the romantic goggles that you’ve viewed a character through in  reading the first book. By the end of this, I was ready to move away from Grover Beach, but overall, they were really well written books, with good characters and some nice high school romance. Rating 3.5*

23452501My last fluffy read of the week was a novella by Kat Latham from the London Legends series. Unwrapping Her Perfect Match was a freebie download from Christmas – unsurprisingly, set during the holiday season.

For a novella, it was a good length and had great characters that had some decent depth and you were able to get drawn into the story quickly. It wasn’t a straight-forward cheesy romance, there were some nice elements that held the story together and actually aside from the romance elements it would hold together as a story in itself. A nice, fast read, perfect if you’re looking for a quick adult romance, with some definite adult scenes and quite a lot of swearing – one of the MCs is a rugby playing giant of a man, don’t expect him to say “Oopsy Daisy” just because he’s British🙂 Rating 4*

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Freeing Balik…

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/624860

For a while I’ve been debating doing a free release on one of my books – if nothing else, I’m more interested in having people read what I’ve written than making my fortune from it (although that would obviously be nice too – being a full time writer would be lovely!)

So, as I’m coming towards the end of Cirque de la Nuit I’ve decided to move away from the Amazon route I’d gone with so far and have opted to do a permanent free release for The Rainbow Maker’s Tale. As it can be read either before or after Hope’s Daughter, I thought it might be a good place to start.

So, if you fancy reading it and haven’t picked it up in the past – now you can, on more formats than ever🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Can you picture it?

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Yes. But, can you hear it, touch it, taste it and smell it…?

It’s one of the biggest difficulties I’ve found in learning to write a book: slowing myself down in sharing the story, so that the reader can really come into the scene and be a part of everything that’s happening. We’re always being told to ‘show,  not tell’, aren’t we?

Even now I find it tricky to get this right. No one in the real world goes into every new room and smells it, touches and looks at every tiny detail – if they did, they wouldn’t venture very far in life! A lot of these things happen automatically and unconsciously – you wouldn’t want your characters to behave unrealistically and wander through every scene like Sherlock Holmes (well, unless they are a Sherlock Holmes-esque character I suppose). But, at the same time, there has to be depth, texture and realism in the worlds you build inside your books – otherwise they are a very empty place for your characters to exist.

In general, I tend to find that when I’m writing, I see the scenes like moments in a movie: I get the dialogue and the action sequences, the overall arch of the story and then I fill in the rest. Sometimes, I naturally must be working through a scene more slowly the first time I write, as the character will pick up some of these sensory textures and I don’t even remember writing them. Other times, when I’m doing a final edit, I’ll find myself with the questions on a jotter next to me, to remind myself: what does it smell like, what does the food taste like, how do things feel against the skin of my characters?

It doesn’t have to be every paragraph or even every page I don’t think, just a dash here, some detail there. A little like the camera zooming into close up on my scene for a few seconds, before expanding to a wider shot where the main action happens. I suppose I think of these elements like seasoning: some passages need strong flavours – lots of herbs and spices – to bring it to life; others need very little because the dialogue and action gives you everything you need. Over seasoning your writing would be as bad as it being too bland.

If you’re looking for more tips on ways to ‘season’ your writing, there’s a couple of good articles here for you to delve into:

Use All Five Senses to Enrich Your Writing

The Write Practice – Unlocking Your Senses

 

 

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Just Finished…The All Souls Trilogy…

A Discovery of WitchesIt’s taken a while to get to reviewing this series, as once I’d started the trilogy with A Discovery of Witches back in September 2015, I then bought the other two books and thought I would do a review for the trilogy as a whole.

In fact, this first book had been on my kindle since March 2012 waiting for me to get around to reading it! There’s nothing like trawling your old purchases to find something new to read, when you’re looking for inspiration – I think this may be the theme for most of my reading this year, as I started off in January reading the first in Cassandra Clare’s City of Bones series and am currently partway through the first Beautiful Creatures book by Garcia and Stohl. I’m only about six years behind the reading curve on those then!🙂 I added a lot of books in 2012 and as quite a few of them are still there, bouncing around in digi-book purgatory in my kindle, I began to feel bad getting anything new before I released them.

Anyway, back to the book…

A Discovery of Witches lands you right in the middle of academic and book lover nirvana: it’s set in the beautiful libraries and colleges of Oxford, as American Professor Diana Bishop attempts to ignore the fact that she’s a witch to get on with her research without magic. When a strange book lands on her desk during her work, one filled with magic and questions, she deliberately dismisses it – sending it back to the archives, so that she can continue to ignore her magical abilities.

What I loved about this first book, which I would rate 4*, was the world-building and background premise to the magical world of ‘creatures’ that Harkness describes. The first few hundred pages flew by as I learned about daemons, vampires and witches in this world – what made them different, their characteristics and behaviours, and how all this came together in a meeting between genetic science and mythology. It was great. The characters introduced were also intriguing and drew me in to the story and mystery that was obviously being laid out.

There was a lull in the middle of the book for me – something that I found in each of the books in the series if I’m honest – where I was reading and reading and it didn’t really feel like there was much happening, significant character development or action. There was quite a lot of tea making, wandering around buildings described in lots of detail, and day-to-day happenings I wasn’t too fussed to be reading about. I love a good cup of tea, but when your protagonist is making them every few pages in considerable detail, you’re really not that bothered. All three of the books are long-ish (579 pages for this one) and I would have said a good 100 pages or so of exposition could have been lost without detriment to the overall story. After the lull in the middle, it finished with a bang – which had me heading to Amazon to grab the next two books, so that I could find out more about the characters and world I’d invested in.

Shadow of Night So, book two lands: Shadow of Night. Funnily enough, the lull for me in this one came at the very beginning – perhaps because I’d closed one book and opened the other immediately. Here the main characters have used Diana’s powers to ‘time-walk’ into the past to Elizabethan England, to the home – and former life – of her vampire partner Matthew. After a slightly slow start, the world-building picks up, as does the action and Diana – a historian – throws herself into this interesting world. Sixteenth century London is described in fantastic detail, with historical features mingling with the world of creatures set up in book one. We learn more about magic and the issues of the present, as we journey with Diana in the past. Spellbound as a child, to protect herself from her powers, she has always thought she was a poor excuse for a witch and thus focused on academia as her strength and not witchcraft. Now that she has found what was done to her as a child, she has to learn about herself and witches from the beginning, in an unfamiliar world. This was my favourite book in the series – the mixture of worlds and travels through history, living and breathing the places Diana and Matthew pass through, as they continue to unravel the mystery started in A Discovery of Witches. After the initial lull, the rest of the book flew by and I read it in a few days.

The Book of LifeThe Book of Life, brings us back to the present and the huge cast of characters assembled during the first two books now converge in the present day as Diana and Matthew continue their search for answers.

The book started well, but maybe 200 pages in it began to drag. I know loose ends had to be tied up, but just as in book one, there were long chapters of exposition that weren’t adding to the story for me. Also, after the majority of the first two books being written from Diana’s POV (first person) this book moved around a lot more – jumping into other characters heads, re-telling scenes in the third person. I didn’t find the jumps confusing, but just felt that if first person was good enough for the majority of the book, surely there were ways of conveying what was done here, without a quick and easy 3-4 paragraph jump out, to jump back. It felt lazy somehow, and with the detail and story-telling of this series, Harkness is not a lazy writer.

Anyway, there was a long lull and so I found it hard to keep reading in the sporadic moments I’d get. It felt like something I had to get through in order to finish the story and get my answers. In the end, you do get the answers – some are quite satisfying and delivered well; others, particularly action elements, could have been much more exciting. I started the book in September and have just finished it this morning.

So, overall – I’d probably be around 3.5* for this series. There are some great elements to the story and the complexity of the ‘creature’ world-building is excellent. There are characters that you buy into and want to know how their stories develop. But, the pace in several areas is just too slow – you shouldn’t be feeling that you need to ‘power through’ to the good bits. I’ve read several reviews for the books that compare them to Twilight – an adults version, if you like – and I can appreciate that. If Bella had gone off to uni and met her vampire around the age of 34, instead of 17, it probably would have been a very similar tale. My feelings about the drag in the books are very similar to the drag I experienced reading Breaking Dawn, with random characters appearing in an endless stream, leading up to the most anti-climatic battle ever. Action scenes and pace are not Harkness’s strong points either, but she can write depth and history and weave a huge tapestry of a new world that you can absolutely believe is realistic. Maybe just a bit less tea making, wandering in gardens and being coddled by other creatures in rooms described in minute detail; and when you get the violent climax of a three book series, don’t skip over it in a page or two. It was all a bit Finnick: *reading, reading, reading – turn page* “Wait a second!” *turns back a page* “Did Finnick just die?”

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