Just Finished…Scarlet by Marissa Meyer

Scarlet

Fab, fab…fab, fab, fab!

When I read Cinder last year, I really liked the way Meyer blended the sci-fi / futuristic elements of the story within a loose framework of the original fairy tale – rather than sticking too rigidly to it and writing a simplistic re-hash. Looking back now, I think I preferred the second half of Cinder to the first, which is perhaps why I liked book 2 better than the first overall.

I have to say that the cover didn’t grab me in the same way that Cinder did – the cyborg foot in the slipper was what drew me to reading Cinder in the first place – to be honest, if this had been book 1 I’d probably have skipped over this one, as it doesn’t have the same intriguing originality of the Cinder cover. That said – even after the first couple of chapters, I had a feeling this was actually going to be better!

Scarlet is a great character, and splitting the novel between her and Cinder provided a nice variation and created a good pace throughout – I found it difficult to put this down and was always wondering where it was going to go next. Scarlet’s story – once she meets Wolf, street fighter and ex-Wolf gang member – is intriguing; as a character she’s pretty feisty and stubborn, which makes for interesting reading and contrasts Cinder’s gentler personality.

The interplay between Scarlet and Wolf is good – always wondering how much you can trust him and how the ‘Red Riding Hood’ fairy tale piece would come into play. Just like Cinder, the fairytale elements are subtly done and when you pick them out, you may find yourself smiling at them like I did – I loved the chase through the wooden forest – visually you could see it making a great scene in a film of the book.

I think the wider story, beyond the fairytale, comes into play more in this book. A lot of the groundwork from Cinder is now developing into a very full and interesting world. The escalation of the situation with Luna and also the glimpses of their society you get now indicate a much wider piece that is sure to come into play next time..

So…why does it get a 5* review? Well, I struggled to put the book down every time I had to; I would have picked up book 3 as soon I finished this one if I could! And I’m still thinking about the characters now and wondering where everything is going to go next….I can’t believe we have to wait until 2014 to find out!

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Just Finished…On a Foreign Field


This my first historical YA book in about a year, and this was a nice refresher.

Hazel writes about war and brotherhood really well, letting the dialogue and actions of her characters show the camaraderie and affection that exists between them. Reeve is interesting in his development, from being somewhat naive and idealistic as an English knight, to being more idealistic and honourable as a Scottish rebel, but more realistically so.

I liked the presentation of true brothers and loyalty between soldiers in this book – it felt quite realistic, and I do believe that people fighting for a cause they believe in, over and above a paycheck or lofty ideal, will be the stronger of the two. This definitely came through in this novel.

Wallace was an interesting character – I often found myself lost in the ‘domestic’ level of the story, watching the men going about their daily lives, that I forgot that some of the characters were significant historical figures. They were accessible and admirable at the most basic human level; they supported one another and valued brotherhood and security for their families above all else.

The historic backdrop is well presented: from the battles and lengthy breaks between them, to the villages and people they encounter. Hazel is very descriptive in her writing and I felt she built a strong world around her characters that I could visualise and relate to.

Overall rating: 4* This was an interesting read, with strong characters and for me, was a new take on seeing Wallace from an Englishman’s perspective. The historical notes and ‘add in’ scenes at the end of the novel are interesting for readers and writers alike, for understanding how historical research and facts became fiction.

Just Finished…Angelfall


I thought Angelfall was a really original take on the ‘angels on earth’ theme – I’ve read a few so far (Hush Hush, Forgotten Self) and this definitely leads the pack.

Set in a post-apoclyptic landscape, where angels have been the bringers of destruction – as you might expect from their biblical heritage, but which I’ve not seen used particularly in other angel books – Penryn is our feisty female protagonist, fighting to survive. I found her skills and behaviour plausible in the same way I did Katniss in The Hunger Games: her motivation is protecting her family; her skills come from having to survive a difficult environment, before she was plunged into the apocalypse. The relationship she develops with Raffe (an injured angel) is based on mutual need, and had good depth.

There’s plenty of action in the book, nicely tempered with the world building, so that you see how people have changed because of the apocolypse. Questions of humanity are raised throughout and examined well through secondary characters. There are also some pretty gruesome descriptions and troubling images – they fit with the plot and the events at the end of the world, although some readers might have wished for a more ‘fade to black’ approach…particularly in the big climax at the end.

One thing I especially liked was the presentation of the angels as just another species – so you can get agnostic angels!! – rather than fixing them into traditional biblical roles as you might expect. The angel culture and behaviours are also nicely examined and explained to fit with the author’s world.

Overall – this was a great read – it gets five stars because I struggled to put it down (when I had to) and went searching for the next book as soon as I finished (and was disappointed to find that there’s nothing out as yet!). I need to know what happens! Definitely recommended for fans of angel/demon books, as well as post-apocolyptic.

Changes

“If there is no struggle, there is no progress.” Frederick Douglass

Thanks for the advice Fred. I appreciate it – I really do – I just wish there was a little more progress, a little less struggle. Any advice on how to get that?

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During most of 2011 I was probably doing very little writing: I was having a very busy period at work as I recall and just got down to writing now and then when I had the chance. Once in a while I was probably sitting down with my dog-earred print out of Hope’s Daughter version 3, jotting in notes and re-reading for errors, but no significant work. It was only in September and October last year that I really got the chance to work on the book, finish it off and get it out there.

How has 2012 been different?

Because I released Hope’s Daughter at the start of the year, I found myself in a whole new world of blogs and readers, Goodreads and reviewers. It’s been a busy time 🙂

This year I’ve not just had to find time to write the next book and plan the others, I’ve been out and about trying to promote the first book; I discovered the wonderful world of book blogs, which have re-awoken the reader in me, and also meant that I’ve read a lot more than I have done in years. (Yep, pretty much watch nil TV these days, unless it’s out of the corner of my eye around a laptop or kindle). For the two blogs I started this year I’ve reviewed quite a lot, written content from an author perspective, as well as reader; run an author event in May and provided regular guest features on writing and books to (hopefully) inspire people a little. I’m also a mod for a group on Goodreads (a hermit one admittedly, who is probably very poor at getting stuff done, but I promise to be better!)

For my own writing, I’ve nearly finished the second book and am halfway through the third; I’ve designed the covers for the rest of the series so that they all work together, and made book trailers to go with most of them. There’s also ideas for two other stand-alone books that have popped into my head, which I definitely want to tackle after Ambrosia is finished.

What might 2013 hold?

I hope a little more writing of my books and a bit less elsewhere if I’m honest. Admittedly, trying to manage a couple of blogs, be good at social media (which I’m not very), keep up on Goodreads, read several books a week AND actually do any productive writing was probably a bit too much…but that’s how I get – I discover new things and want to do everything, see everything and get involved (think puppy and new tennis ball and that’s about right).

I’m hoping that Santa might have some time management skills and perspective in a little gift bag for me this year – I probably don’t need to do everything…and maybe the most important bit is to actually just get writing and let the other bits fall into place…?

Anyone, out there got this figured out better than me? 🙂 Happy holidays!!

Once Upon A Time…

…there was a boy named Balik and a girl named Cassie and they lived on board the Space Station Hope. But where did they come from?

 

People will always look for autobiographical elements to someone’s writing, perhaps in the belief that you can only “write what you know”. I’m sure for every writer there are elements of them in each book they write – it might simply be a single phrase you use or a description of how you feel about something, which you then put in the mouth of one of your characters. But I think writers must appear in their own books somewhere.

I can tell you honestly that I am not Cassie, but we have similarities… I don’t like silence when you’re with people: I’m definitely a nervous waffler; but with people I’m comfortable with and care about, I’ll happily be quiet. We both have sarcastic tendencies and similar taste in guys 🙂 We like the same school subjects and she probably got her mildly argumentative streak from me. But I don’t live on a space station (surprise, surprise), or rock climb in my spare time (I am clumsy to a point that would make Bella Swan appear graceful and coordinated), and my medical expertise is limited to a basic first aid qualification.

Balik is – unfortunately – not someone I’ve met personally. But some of his strongest personality traits are familiar. The “have to know how it works” thing is another little piece of me – not necessarily in the practical sense as my lack of co-ordination inhibits me there J – but I love learning about new things. His strength and protective nature, putting someone else before himself, is something I have seen in loved ones close to me and is perhaps the most desirable quality anyone could possess. Who wouldn’t want the warrior with a heart on their side?

So where did the rest of the story come from?

Before I began Hope’s Daughter I was stuck in a rut with another novel I’d been working on (I probably hadn’t done any real writing in six months or so) and knew that I wanted to start something new, just to get myself going again. I had also been through a bit of a sci-fi phase in my reading (lots of Philip K Dick and HG Wells among others) and so I decided to do a very short piece for myself in this genre, just to see what it was like. At first it was just the Married Quarter, Balik and Cassie – but once I was writing it the story kept growing: I would drive to work listening to music and would see scenes pulling themselves together in my head, like a mini-montage and the outline of a deeper story began to come together.

I’m not a sci-fi specialist by any stretch of the imagination and so when I started building the world Cassie lives in, although I knew what it looked like, I had to refer to other people’s versions of space stations and outer space colonies to understand where technology we have now, might genuinely take us in the not too distant future. Although some of this detail was edited out of Hope’s Daughter, some things remain like the body scanners (which are real today) and waste recycling systems – naturally The Rainbow Maker’s Tale, which is Balik’s story shows much more of these things J You know how he is!

Similarly – and quite scarily – Cassie’s answer to the exam question posed at the beginning of the novel is based entirely on newspaper articles I have read. Often I would grab a copy of the free paper on my way into work and each day there are odd little science snippets alongside the more prominent articles on which celebrity is doing what or bizarre news stories. These tiny, single sentence items usually reference research being done or scientific predictions being made, which if they prove accurate could well affect the whole world…and they are hidden in a small text box alongside a page of celebrity fluff, which says a lot about what people think of as important. I cut out and kept the one that first made me think about this:

 

Metro – August 5, 2009

GLOBAL WARMING WILL SEE ‘BILLIONS AT WAR’

Billions of people will go to war as they are forced to leave areas made uninhabitable by global warming, climate change expert Lord Stern has warned. Much of the world’s population will be put into ‘severe conflict’ unless temperature rises are tackled, he added.

 

Billions of people…Billions… That’s the whole world isn’t it? As post-apocolyptic views of the future go (zombies, global plagues, giant monsters from outer space) for me, this is the one I could actually imagine happening. I could imagine us sleepwalking into a devastating situation like this, brought about mainly through a lack of interest and co-ordination. Today’s science fiction being tomorrow’s science fact…? A terrifying thought.

There is obviously more to the creation of Hope’s Daughter, most of which I can’t share because of the spoilers! But it is surprising, even to me, when I go back to my notes and research from the beginning and see how a single idea became an entire book. It is interesting to see what changed – a lot – and what remains from the original concept.

Sliding Doors…

It’s interesting how life works sometimes and how random conversations or observations become bigger things…

Last week I was microwaving my lunch at work (as you do) and a woman from another office came into the kitchen. She had one of those fancy Kindle covers with a light, which I’d been wondering about buying and so we began chatting about that. Unsurprisingly, I asked “what are you reading?” and she began telling me about how she was writing a book (post-apocolypse, sci-fi-ish) and doing some mood reading for that by tackling Stephen King’s ‘The Stand’.

I’d only popped in to grab a quick five-minute lunch before heading back to the desk, but have now found myself with a real life writing buddy, which is really great as most of my writing friends are available only via email or Goodreads!

We chatted about our writing and general book stuff, and afterwards it got me thinking about the other little random moments that happen to you or that you read, which then end up in your writing…

In Hope’s Daughter and The Rainbow Maker’s Tale, Park 42 is the place they go to escape from life – to talk about things they don’t understand and try and find answers…Anyone who’s read ‘The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy’ will know that ’42’ is the answer to life, the universe and everything. Likewise, Park 17, very randomly is the name of a local industrial estate. When we were at high school, we’d sit on the grassland inside Park 17 (now more industrial units) and do the usual stuff that teenagers do: talk about rubbish with your friends; lie and watch the sun in the sky, because it’s the holidays and you’ve got forever to do nothing; and generally avoid doing anything productive.

 

Feeling Inspired…

I’m officially done on NaNoWriMo – 50, 265 words in twenty-nine (ish) days – phew! There’s lots more writing to be done and a whole load of editing, but still, this has been a great experience and quite inspirational in its own way. Just having something behind you pushing you *ahem* forcing you to write each day, actually reinforces what you can achieve. Perhaps it is too easy to say I’ve been busy at work, or must read someone else’s book or lose some time on Facebook…

One of the best things about NaNo has been the regular motivational posts they send you to keep you going. Of all these my favourite came on Day 2 (which I’ve copied below to share with you) and I think has probably given me the best idea for something I can take away and keep doing after November, because goodness knows you couldn’t keep rolling off 50k words a month indefinitely! (Sorry – going to go off at a tangent now) NaNo is a bit like speed walking – ‘speed writing’ if you like: when you speed walk, you look more silly than you would do normally, but you are driven and have a purpose for wiggling those hips in a slightly odd manner; speed writing is the same, you go a bit faster than usual, probably write some downright silly stuff at times, but you have a clear start and finish and it gives you something to aim for.

So, back to being motivated…Kate DiCamillo wrote one page every day – whether it was good or not, needed editing later or got deleted altogether…she wrote it. That’s what seems to be important about NaNo really – just get on and do it! Don’t flap, don’t edit, don’t procrastinate…just write it and sort the problems out later. Writing in this way can feel quite cathartic, especially if you’ve been sat on a book for a while (figuratively speaking, obviously) – you just put it down on the page, instead of leaving it turning over and over in your head.

So – I’m NaNo’d out for now – I’d definitely give it a go next year again, just to get a kick-start…but in the meantime, I’m now back to final edits on RMT…slightly less inspiring and creative, but altogether necessary 🙂 Hope you like Kate’s letter:

Dear Writer,

When I was 30 years old, I moved to Minneapolis and got a job in a book warehouse. My official job title was “Picker.” This meant that I went around the third floor of the warehouse holding a computerized print order in one hand and pulling books off the shelf with the other hand. I put all the books into a grocery cart and I took the grocery cart and wheeled it into an ancient, crabby freight elevator and went downstairs to deliver the order to the shipping department. Then I took the stairs back up to the third floor and started over again.

It wasn’t a challenging job. It didn’t pay much. I was on my feet all day long. My back hurt. My hands hurt. But I was happy. I was surrounded by books and by people who loved to read them. Also, for the first time in my life, I was writing.

I got up every morning before work (the alarm was set for 4:30) and wrote two pages before I went into the warehouse. And then, when I arrived at work at 7:00 to punch the time clock, I received my daily so-you-want-to-be-a-writer pep talk from a coworker.

Let’s call him Bob. (Even though his real name is Gary).

Bob wanted to be a writer, too. But he wasn’t writing. Every morning we had the same exchange.

Bob: “How did the writing go?”

Me: “Fine.”

Bob: “How many pages did you write?”

Me: “Two.”

Bob: “Do you think Dickens wrote two pages a day?”

Me: “I don’t know how many pages Dickens wrote a day.”

Bob: “Yeah, well let me tell you something, you’re no Dickens. So what’s Plan B, babe? What’s Plan B for when the writing doesn’t work out?”

For this question, I had no answer.

I turned my back on Bob, pulse pounding, fists clenched, and climbed the stairs to the third floor and started picking books.

When the alarm went off at 4:30 the next morning, I thought about Bob and that is part of the reason I got out of bed.

It is a truly excellent to have someone to believe in you and your ability to write.

But I think it is just as helpful to have people who don’t believe in you, people who mock you, people who doubt you, people who enrage you. Fortunately, there is never a shortage of this type of person in the world.

So as you enter this month of writing, write for yourself. Write for the story. And write, also, for all of the people who doubt you. Write for all of those people who are not brave enough to try to do this grand and wondrous thing themselves. Let them motivate you.

In other words, do it for Bob!

Your friend in writing, 
Kate DiCamillo

Kate DiCamillo is the author of The Tale of Despereaux (Newbery Medal), Because of Winn-Dixie(Newbery Honor), and a The Tiger Rising (National Book Award finalist).