Book Review: Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

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12406320Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor  

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Paranormal, Romance

Publishing Info: Kindle edition September 2011 by Hodder (first published 2011)

Pages: 448

Star Rating: 5/5

 

Back Cover Summary:

Errand requiring immediate attention. Come.

The note was on vellum, pierced by the talons of the almost-crow that delivered it. Karou read the message. ‘He never says please’, she sighed, but she gathered up her things. When Brimstone called, she always came.

In general, Karou has managed to keep her two lives in balance. On the one hand, she’s a seventeen-year-old art student in Prague; on the other, errand-girl to a monstrous creature who is the closest thing she has to family. Raised half in our world, half in ‘Elsewhere’, she has never understood Brimstone’s dark work – buying teeth from hunters and murderers – nor how she came into his keeping. She is a secret even to herself, plagued by the sensation that she isn’t whole.

Now the doors to Elsewhere are closing, and Karou must choose between the safety of her human life and the dangers of a war-ravaged world that may hold the answers she has always sought.

 

The first in a trilogy, Daughter of Smoke and Bone is a phenomenal book. The world is so imaginative and captivating, it didn’t take me long to fall in love with it. I very rarely give 5 star ratings, because I usually have something to criticise, even something small, or it just doesn’t blow me away enough to warrant 5 stars. I had no hesitation giving that accolade to Daughter of Smoke and Bone.

I didn’t know what to expect from this book from the rather mysterious summary. It certainly piqued my curiosity. I don’t want to say too much about the plot, because it’s not knowing what’s really going on that kept me hooked, so I don’t want to spoil that for anyone who hasn’t read it yet. Karou lives in the human world, but the only family she has known seem to occupy an ‘Elsewhere’ place that they won’t explain to her, leaving her in the dark as to why Brimstone, her guardian, sends her on missions to buy teeth. Karou is so curious about what he uses these teeth for, and I was compelled to keep reading to find out why too. What’s great is that it wasn’t predictable.

Without giving anything away, all I can say is that Laini Taylor managed to use some elements that I would usually consider bad craftsmanship on the part of a writer, and actually made them work. The romance didn’t feel forced, even though it was quite quick. It felt natural and the author wrote it so well that I was totally into the romance aspect of this book. A large section towards the end is completely flashback, which is generally frowned upon, but Taylor did it so well. The flashback was necessary. It wasn’t thrown in for the hell of it. It formed part of the plot and was necessary for the reader’s understanding and empathy for the characters. Taylor turned a story element that is so often done badly, and showed how you can make flashbacks work in the right scenarios.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone is unique, and that’s part of what makes it so good. Laini Taylor takes some elements we’re familiar with – magic, a human world unaware of some kind of other fantastical one, a forbidden romance, and so on – and makes it her own. This isn’t a cardboard cut-out YA paranormal fantasy.

I went through so many different emotions while reading this book. The characters are so easy to connect to, they’re written so well. They were at risk of falling into clichés but they didn’t. My heart broke more than once.

I fell completely in love with this book. The imagination, the creativity, the characters, it all just comes together so well. This is without a doubt one of the best YA books I’ve ever read. I don’t know what else to say about it without descending into rambling gushing about how amazing it is, so I will conclude. I can’t wait to read the rest of the series and hope it lives up to the very high standards set by Daughter of Smoke and Bone.

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Author Interview: LB Garrison

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Fractured Ever After Blog Tour

The next collection to be released by the Just-Us League is Fractured Ever After, to be released on 27th April 2019. The collection of fairy tale retellings will be the group’s seventh anthology. Author LB Garrison joins me to discuss his contribution to the anthology – ‘Beauty’.

Have you ever watched the stars on a warm summer night and wondered if someone was looking back? Thoughts of dinosaurs and aliens dominated LB Garrison’s childhood. Adult concerns came later, but never could quite crowd out the wonder.

A microbiologist by profession, and dreamer by choice, LB has always been an avid reader of science fiction and fantasy, and recently a writer of speculative fiction.

What inspired your retelling?

I wanted to take the basic story and change the characters so it didn’t end in a familiar way.

There are so many fairy tales to pick from. Why did you choose to retell Sleeping Beauty? And are there any other fairy tales you’d be interested in retelling in future?

Fairy tales are the basis of the fantasy genre and I’ve never written a story full of magic before. There is a certain wonder found in the fantasy that speaks to us even in the modern era. I wanted to pick a familiar story that was easily recognized and tell it in a different way. In this version, Sleeping Beauty isn’t so innocent.

I would like to try something from a different culture. There are many interesting stories from around the world that are largely unknown in the West. The settings and tales are unfamiliar, giving the story a different feel than you get from the medieval inspired chronicles we’re used to.

What aspects of writing and editing the short story did you find challenging, and which did you most enjoy?

Once I got started, I found the length the most challenging aspect. I wanted to keep adding more details, more character interactions and expand on the world. I enjoyed the dialogue the most. I get to know my characters and enjoy spending time with them. Quinn is one of my favorites. She is funny, shy and daring all rolled into one package.

I agree, the restrictive length of short stories can be challenging when you get really into the world! How did the experience of retelling a story differ from writing an original piece?

Retelling a story does give you ground rules. There are certain character roles and events that have to be included. In some ways, it is easier because you have an idea where the story is heading. It is also fun to use the reader’s expectation to surprise and, hopefully, entertain.

How long have you been writing for?

I’ve written fiction for about five years now, though it’s always something I’ve thought of doing.

What other projects are you working on at the moment?

I’m working with an editor on the final draft of my first novel, The Ghost and the Machine. It’s about a teenage girl who wakes on an alien world to find she’s the final weapon in a billion-year-old war against all sentient life. I’m also beginning the sequel, Mother of all AIs.

Fractured Ever After will be released on 27th April. You can pre-order now from Amazon.

Follow the rest of the blog tour:

April 6th – Jebraun Clifford hosts Kristy Perkins

April 10th – J. E. Klimov hosts Matthew Dewar

April 13th – Allie May hosts Alexander Thomas

April 20th – Lands Uncharted – Heather Hayden guest post

April 24th – A4A hosts Allie May

April 27th – Heather Hayden hosts Shannon Yukumi

Fractured Ever After Giveaway

Fractured Ever After + Encircled Giveaway

April 6th to April 30th

Grand Prize (US only): Two Paperbacks (Fractured Ever After and Encircled), book cozy + shoe ornament, 3D-printed bookmark (pick one design), set of four signed illustration prints

First Prize (US only): Two Paperbacks (Fractured Ever After and Encircled), charm bracelet, 3D-printed bookmark (pick one design), set of four signed illustration prints

Second Prize (International): Two Ebooks (Fractured Ever After and Encircled), 3D-printed bookmark (pick one design), set of four signed illustration prints

Third Prize (International): Two Ebooks (Fractured Ever After and Encircled), choice of 3D-printed bookmark (pick one design) OR set of four signed illustration prints

Enter the giveaway to be in with a chance of winning these awesome prizes!

Top 10 Tuesday: Things That Make Me Pick Up a Book

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This week’s Top 10 Tuesday is a pretty fun topic! There’s a lot of different factors that go into me picking up a book. Sometimes it’s an impulse buy because of a pretty cover and awesome back cover description, other times its because I’ve read lots of really good reviews of it.

Top 10 Tuesday was originally created by The Broke and the Bookish, but has now moved to That Artsy Reader Girl. If you’re interested in taking part click here.

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Cover – As much as I try not to be swayed by a cover, my brain just can’t help being drawn to colourful, pretty or unique covers.

Title – Some titles make me roll my eyes and I instantly avoid. Others just get your attention and draw you in like a fish on a hook.

Blurb – I often skim read the blurb on the back cover looking for something that I think I’d like, something unique or particularly compelling.

Concept – If I read the back cover blurb and it sounds like a rehash of plots or storylines that have been done that puts me off. So many blurbs just sound the same. When I read a back cover and it has a unique or interesting concept, that really gets my attention.

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First page – When I’m browsing I’ll often read the first page to see if it draws me in, but also to get a sense of the writing style.

Genre – I read quite a variety of genres but I definitely lean towards science fiction and fantasy so I’m probably more likely to pick up books in those genres.

Reviews – I sometimes make spontaneous purchases, but often I’ll buy a book because I’ve heard good things about it or seen positive reviews.

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The author – I read a lot of new authors, but also if I see a new book by an author I absolutely love, I’m quite likely to pick it up even if I don’t know anything about it.

Offers – I’m a sucker for an offer or a good deal. It’s just too hard to resist.

Special binding – For example a fancy hardback, thicker pages, illustrations etc. Especially for classics. I like having leather or cloth bound editions of classics.

What makes you pick up a book?

Top 5 Wednesday: Books I Thought I’d Hate But Ended Up Loving

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This week we have an interesting topic, as I often find my opinions on a book can change dramatically over the course of the story. I can go from loving it to hating it, or from hating it to loving it. Sometimes books start out strong, but sometimes you nearly give up on them but then they end up surprising you in the end. T5W is a group hosted on Goodreads, if you’d like to participate check it out here.

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1) The Princess Companion by Melanie Cellier – I was ready to dislike this book. I read it as part of a book club and was a little biased towards it before I started. Something about the description just didn’t grab me. When I started reading I wasn’t that invested either, but really got into it. I wouldn’t say I ended up loving it, but definitely enjoyed it more than I was expecting.

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2) The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh – The opening of this book didn’t hook me. I remember feeling like I’d been dumped right in the thick of things without any chance to connect to the protagonist. In some ways it was good that it got to the point, but it also meant that when Shazi was thrown into a dangerous situation right at the beginning, I didn’t have any connection to her character yet and didn’t feel invested in her fate. As the book went on however it definitely grew on me.

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3) Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead – A friend recommended this book to me a long time before I actually read it. I was expecting not to like it. I’d read so many YA paranormal books and been disappointed. So I was pleasantly surprised that I really enjoyed this one.

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4) You by Caroline Kepnes – The use of second person point of view is so rare that it felt really strange reading this book. I wasn’t sure I wanted to carry on. But actually, the second person POV was really effective and added to the creepiness. It was a bit slow in places but by the end I was hooked.

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5) Delirium by Lauren Oliver – Since I could tell from the description of the book that this would be a romance-focused dystopia (rarely my cup of tea), I went in bracing myself for disappointment. However it wasn’t as bad as I was expecting. I love Lauren Oliver’s writing style, which probably helped, and ended up liking this much more than I thought I would.

Book Review: Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

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23664731Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, Romance

Publishing Info: September 2015 by Corgi (first published 2015)

Pages: 308

Star Rating: 3/5

 

Back Cover Summary:

My disease is as rare as it is famous. Basically, I’m allergic to the world. I don’t leave my house, have not left my house in seventeen years. The only people I ever see are my mom and my nurse, Carla.

But then one day, a moving truck arrives next door. I look out my window, and I see him. He’s tall, lean and wearing all black—black T-shirt, black jeans, black sneakers, and a black knit cap that covers his hair completely. He catches me looking and stares at me. I stare right back. His name is Olly.

Maybe we can’t predict the future, but we can predict some things. For example, I am certainly going to fall in love with Olly. It’s almost certainly going to be a disaster.

 

I have very conflicted feelings about this book. On the one hand, it was really interesting to see the world from a different perspective in YA, but on the other I’m not sure about how Yoon handled the subject matter. The novel is told from the perspective of Maddy, who has SCID and has not been able to leave her house since she was a tiny baby. The house is adapted with air filters and she has a nurse stay with her all day.

In the first section of the book I really felt connected to Maddy’s character and got a real sense of her isolation from the rest of the world. Despite this isolation, she wasn’t unhappy. She gets on well with her nurse, Carla, and has a great relationship with her mother. I liked seeing her interactions with these two characters in the first half.

Accompanying the story are illustrations and charts which I felt really helped me feel part of Maddy’s small world. They added another dynamic, another way to see what’s going on inside the protagonist’s head. In another book I think they would have been a bit of a gimmick, but in this case they tied together really well with the story, adding another layer to the storytelling.

Then, her whole world changes when Olly turns up. Surprise surprise. I knew what I was getting myself into when I picked up this book, I knew it was going to be a romance. I actually think Maddy and Olly had great chemistry. What I didn’t like was that her character arc seemed to completely revolve around him, for the most part. There was too much emphasis on her life changing because she met a boy. Yes this is a big part of growing up, and especially significant for Maddy as she hasn’t been outside and had the opportunity to meet people. But too many of her decisions seemed to be about being with Olly, not about expanding her own horizon for her, it was all about them. There was also some lines that just made me roll my eyes like “I loved you before I knew you”, which doesn’t really make any sense and is just too cheesy.

Now we move onto my biggest issue with this book, and there will be some slight spoilers here because I can’t say what I want to about this book without giving anything away. The second half becomes a little unrealistic. Maddy reacted to the world far too normally for someone in her situation. I didn’t feel a connection to her because I didn’t feel I was truly seeing the world through her eyes. Almost every sight, sound, smell, sensation is new to her, and Yoon completely missed that.

I didn’t feel connected to Maddy anymore because Yoon wasn’t consistent enough with her portrayal of Maddy’s condition. Maddy has been used to managing her condition for her entire life. She is used to having her heart rate checked regularly, she’s used to having to be careful about what she eats and what she comes into contact with. But when she finally goes outside, out of the safe space of her house, that isn’t carried through.

I don’t know much about SCID or conditions like it, and can’t possibly imagine what it would be like living with a condition like that. I do however have a chronic illness which I have to manage pretty much daily, including keeping an eye on what I’m eating. I don’t understand how when she goes outside for the first time for an extended period of time how she can completely forget about all of that. I don’t care how carefree she is about the situation, when those kind of routines and adaptations you have to make to your life are so long term they’re ingrained in you. When Maddy and Olly go off they regularly ‘have a bite to eat’ or some such throwaway phrase. Yoon established she had to be careful what she eats at the beginning of the book, but there’s no sign of this later on.

How can Maddy not be even a little bit concerned about the things she’s eating and coming into contact with? Why is she not catching herself at the times when she’s used to having her health checks done and realising there is no nurse there to check them? That is such a fixed routine. Wouldn’t it be freeing not to have those checks? But also potentially creating a little anxiety from not knowing if her vitals are okay or not? Is she worried or does she feel relief that she’s free from those restrictions to her life? I don’t know, because Yoon ignored what she had set up in favour of happy romantic scenes with Maddy and Olly. I’m not saying Maddy needs to be worried all the time, but it just seemed unrealistic for her to go from living in a bubble, to acting like a fairly normal teenager who doesn’t have to worry about her health.

Then, my friends, we have the next big issue (big spoiler alert). It turns out Maddy isn’t actually ill! This is the big ‘twist’ in the book. It just felt like a cop out. It was so refreshing to see someone with an illness being represented in a YA book, as you very rarely see any characters who aren’t healthy. But then she isn’t actually ill. I wasn’t really happy with the fact it seemed like the author was using serious illness as a plot device. Maddy gets her happily ever after. She isn’t ill so she can go and be with Olly. Great. Except that’s not reality for people who genuinely have conditions like this. Something about it just felt wrong. This would have been a great twist if it was doing something new with a plot we’ve seen before. But you don’t see people with serious health conditions portrayed in YA, so I felt cheated that it wasn’t actually genuinely representing the experience of someone with SCID.

To conclude this very long review, there are many things I liked about this book, and many things I didn’t. I really enjoyed the first half, the great writing and illustrations worked well together to create a compelling story. I just feel very conflicted about the way the serious health condition was portrayed.

Book Review: The Rose Society by Marie Lu

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9780399167843The Rose Society by Marie Lu

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy

Publishing Info: 2015 by Penguin (first published 2015)

Pages: 397

Star Rating: 4/5

 

Back Cover Summary:

Once upon a time, a girl had a father, a prince, a society of friends.

Then they betrayed her, and she destroyed them all …

Adelina Amouteru’s heart is set on revenge. Now known and feared as the White Wolf, she flees Kenettra to find other Young Elites in the hopes of building her own army.

Her goal: to strike down the Inquisition Axis, the white-cloaked soldiers who nearly killed her.

But Adelina is no heroine. The leader of the Inquisition, wants her dead, and her former friends at the Dagger Society want to stop her thirst for vengeance. Adelina struggles to cling to the good within her. But how can someone be good, when her very existence depends on darkness?

 

The Rose Society is the second book in Marie Lu’s Young Elites trilogy. Having loved the first book, I was glad to find The Rose Society was just as dark and addictive. As the series doesn’t follow your typical protagonist, it makes the story so much fresher. It makes such a change from the hero-centric plotlines I am used to reading. Adelina is such a complex character, inhabiting neither the space of hero or villain. What makes the book so interesting is that Lu makes me sympathise with her. I understand exactly why she is doing what she’s doing, and it makes me think, is she really bad? Are the others really good? It makes it so exciting not really knowing if any of the sides are truly ‘good’ or ‘evil’.

Once again Adelina is really and truly the focus of the book. Told from her point of view, her internal conflict is such a big driving force for the story. Lu does such a good job of portraying what’s going on in Adelina’s mind. I truly understand her character and feel completely wrapped up in her wild emotions, in a deep way I don’t often find in young adult books.

However I once again found that the rest of the characters were sidelined because so much focus is on Adelina. I didn’t get this feeling as much as I did in the first book, thankfully. They were portrayed much better this time round and I like that they’re all flawed too in different ways, which makes them believable and human. Violetta is a really interesting character and I enjoyed seeing more of her in this book, as well as getting some more back story to Lucent and Maeve. Teren’s story is also very compelling.

Magiano was a great addition to the cast, as he has a bit more spark and playfulness than the other characters, which added a bit of something different to the mix. Another new side character was introduced, Sergio, who could have done with a little more attention from the author. I didn’t get enough sense of his personality, or really understand his motivations. I don’t think this is as much an issue in this book as it would be in others, as Adelina’s character arc is the focus point. It would be nice to have some other characters fleshed out more and given stronger arcs too though.

While the ‘final battle’ was completely enthralling, it was also a bit messy in places. I found it a little hard to follow at times and it could have been clearer what was happening in a few places. Lu did a great job with it though. It was a very large scale and ambitious sequence and she definitely pulled off the suspense and had me on the edge of my seat. I just would have enjoyed it more if it had been easy to follow all the way through.

The series is completely unpredictable because it doesn’t really follow the usual pattern since Adelina isn’t a typical ‘hero’ character. That makes it so tantalising and engaging because I’m really not sure how the series is going to end. Usually you kind of know that the good guys are going to ‘win’ in some way. With this series though, I don’t really have a clue what path Lu is going to take the characters down. I can’t wait to read the final book, The Midnight Star, and find out…

Read my review of book one, The Young Elites, here.

A Writer’s Journey – Part 2

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You can read part 1 of my writing journey here, or dive straight in with part 2.

In my last post, I told you about my early writings and how my writing developed over my teenage years. Finishing the novella was a significant moment and gave me so much more confidence. In 2013 I started work on a new book for the Extended Project Qualification. The project was alongside my second year of A-levels, so it was a very busy time. Most other people wrote essays, I could have written a short story. For some reason I decided to write a whole novel for a qualification I’d get an actual mark for, when I’d not yet finished a whole novel. Perhaps it was over-ambitious, but I had the belief that I could do it.

This was the first novel I planned out chapter by chapter, in the hopes it would keep me on track. And it worked. I finished it in three months. At the age of 17 I finished my first novel. Inspired by studying psychology, the book was about a girl who develops schizophrenia and her journey. It was more serious than anything I’d written before, although it was still in the young adult genre. I wrote it almost in a trance. The words just poured out of me. I’d never had a feeling quite like it before. It all came together, and somehow it just felt right. That book will always have a special place in my heart, and I would like to see it published some day. I haven’t touched it since then, because I knew I would need to develop my writing skills more and come back to it to be able to make it the best it could be.

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After completing my A-levels, I had a long summer in 2014 before starting my first year of university. And I took full advantage of that, fuelled by the elation of finishing my first book. Again, I planned out an outline and decided roughly what would happen in each chapter. It took two months for me to finish the YA science-fiction novel. I’d found the process that worked for me. Every writer works differently. For me, planning was definitely key.

The following year I wrote the second and third books in the trilogy. I’d reached the next big goal – finishing a whole series. After that I went back to the first book to redraft, as I’d changed some major elements after writing the second and third books. I dipped in and out of that, while writing poems and short stories as part of my assignments for the Creative Writing element of my degree.

The next big project was the dissertation. I had the choice to do an English Literature or Creative Writing dissertation. Choosing the writing route, I planned to submit an extract from an experimental literary fiction piece. Very different from what I’d worked on before.

After finishing university, I carried on redrafting the first book in the YA sci-fi trilogy. It needed work, but I felt it had potential and was worth dedicating the time to improving it and getting it to a standard that I would be happy to submit to agents. However, aside from university work, the trilogy was the only project I had worked on during that time.

That’s how I ended up writing a short story for the Just-Us League’s Of Legend and Lore anthology. Taking time out from my main project gave me the opportunity to write something and see it through to publication, and was probably a good idea. After that was finished and published, I returned to the trilogy with fresh eyes.

In 2018 I completed the seventh draft of the first book in the trilogy. It had now been four years since I wrote the first draft. It was a long time to work on one project. So now I’m having a break from it. I’m happy with the progress I’ve made, but it still needs some more work. It’s once again time to put it aside and work on something else so I can come back to it with fresh eyes.

Currently I’m planning a YA fantasy series, and I’ve learnt from previous mistakes. I’m going to do my most thorough planning yet, so I can hopefully iron out any major plot issues before I start writing and avoid having to do as major redrafts as I did for the science fiction book.

Where will my writing journey take me next? Hopefully one day to publication. My dream is to be a published author, to be able to write novels for a living. I’ll keep working to that goal.

Book Review: Ringer by Lauren Oliver

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36299564Ringer by Lauren Oliver

Genre: Young Adult, Science Fiction

Publishing Info: 2017 by Hodder & Stoughton

Pages: 502

Star Rating: 3/5

 

Back Cover Summary:

Like its ambitious companion novel, Replica, this far-reaching novel by powerhouse bestselling author Lauren Oliver digs deep into questions of how to be a human being in a world where humanity cannot be taken for granted.

In the world outside the Haven Institute, Lyra and Caelum are finding it hard to be human—and neither of them knows where they belong or who they can trust. When Caelum leaves without warning to pursue the dream of a place he belongs, Lyra follows him, convinced that together they will hunt down a cure for the illness that’s slowly consuming her mind. But what they uncover is a shocking connection to their past—even as their future seems in danger of collapsing.

After discovering the uncomfortable truth about her connection to the Haven Institute, Gemma struggles to return to her normal life. But when she learns that her controlling and powerful father has new plans for Lyra and Caelum, Gemma and her boyfriend, Pete, leave in the middle of the night to warn them of the danger they face.When an untimely accident derails them, they are mistaken for the escaped replicas and seized by strangers hired to capture them. The Haven Institute wasn’t destroyed after all, and now Gemma is the one behind the walls.

Lyra’s and Gemma’s stories can be read separately—with either story first—or in alternating chapters, but no matter which way you turn the book, the two distinct stories combine into one breathtaking experience for both heroines and readers alike.

 

Ringer is the second, and final, book in Lauren Oliver’s Replica duology. You can read my review of the first book here. Before reading, I wondered why it was called Ringer, and having finished I was still none the wiser. It seemed like they decided it should start with an ‘R’ and plucked a random word out the dictionary. So I looked it up, and a ringer is someone or something that looks like something else. Essentially another word to describe a replica. Interestingly, while a replica is exactly the same, a ringer seems to mean that they look very alike but are not exactly the same. This seems rather fitting, since Ringer explores the question of whether the replicas are ‘human’ and whether they can be distinguished from one another. So it’s actually a well thought out choice for a title.

For those not familiar with the series, Ringer (like Replica) includes the stories of Gemma and Lyra, with the book formatted as two separate halves that has to be ‘flipped’. They can be read one half after the other, either way around, or in alternating chapters. When I read the first book, I read Lyra’s story first then Gemma’s, whereas this time I read Gemma’s story first and then Lyra’s.

Unfortunately I found Gemma’s half a little boring, so it didn’t do a good job of drawing me into the story. I felt that not much happened and Gemma was put very much in the position of a reactive character rather than an active character. Things were happening to her, rather than her having any agency, which meant it didn’t feel like there was much drive in the plot.

I found Lyra’s half much more engaging. More happened and Lyra had a goal she was aiming for, so I felt more invested in her story than Gemma’s. It was really interesting seeing how Lyra’s view of the world is so limited due to being kept in Haven, and how she misinterprets people and situations because of the way she has been kept away from society.

Lauren Oliver has an almost poetic way of writing. She describes things in metaphor a lot, and the way she writes it, I understood everything she was describing. The way she writes her descriptions feels very immersive.

I liked the way the book explores questions of humanity and how we identify ourselves based on how others have identified us. To get the full meaning of the book, you really do have to read both halves, so you can’t appreciate the book’s overall effect and message until you’ve finished reading. I had much more appreciation for the complex story and concept Oliver explored after I’d finished the book than while I was actually reading it.

If you haven’t read it yet, I would consider reading it in alternating chapters. The main reason I didn’t read it that way was because I couldn’t be bothered with the faff of flipping the book over. However, I think it might make the story less slow to read it that way.

I only gave Ringer 3 stars, as I gave Replica 4 stars, and enjoyed the first book much more. There was more driving the first book, more tension and more to hold my interest. It is still an interesting concept though, and I’m glad I read the series.

Writing Romance: Snog, Marry, Avoid

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It’s Valentine’s Day! And it’s got me thinking about romance in fiction, so I’ve decided to write a fun little post about how romance and relationships are portrayed in YA literature. In this ranking system, Snog is something I like to see in books, Marry is something I love or think works really well, and Avoid is the kind of thing that I dread finding in books.

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Love triangles

When done badly, love triangles can completely ruin a book. When done well, they aren’t irritating and can actually be enjoyable. For a while I read so many love triangles that I absolutely loathed and became a love triangle hater, but over the years I have come to appreciate that most elements of a story aren’t bad, it’s all down to how to author handles that element. While I’m still not a fan of love triangles, I wouldn’t avoid them, because they can be enjoyable when written well. Conclusion: Snog

Slow burn

A romantic plot is so much more satisfying when two characters slowly build their relationship. When they learn things about each other as the book progresses and the author leaves room for their relationship to evolve and grow. Conclusion: Marry

Insta-love

This is one of my biggest pet peeves. Insta-love is so unrealistic, never mind boring to read about. I want to read a story where two people grow to care for each other, not where they slobber at each over across the canteen. Yes, there can be insta-attraction. But not insta-love. Conclusion: Avoid

The romance subplot

Romance subplots almost always crop up in YA fantasy and sci-fi books. I don’t have a problem with that. What I have a problem with is when the romance subplot ends up taking up too much page time. Sometimes the romance subplot even seems to become more important than the main plot. If I wanted to read romance I’d read a romance book, or a book that’s billed as a fantasy romance. Of course, romance subplots can be really effective though. Conclusion: Snog

Stuck together

There’s only so many times you can read a scene where two people get stuck in a cabin the middle of nowhere and end up having to share a bed, or trapped in any kind of space where they are forced to communicate and, sometimes, get a little physically closer than usual. My instinct is to say Avoid, but doesn’t everyone find a little guilty pleasure from those scenes? They can provide tension and really force characters to get to know each other. But it has been done so many times. Conclusion: Snog  

More than just romance

There has to be more to the main character’s life than romance. Even in romance fiction. A character can’t solely be defined by their relationship to one other character. They have to be rounded, have personality, and have hopes and dreams outside of their relationship. They need to have friends and family to interact with, not to ignore for a whole book just because the romance is the forefront of the story. Conclusion: Marry

Pairing up

It really irritates me in books when all the central characters, and sometimes lots of the side characters too, get paired up by the end of the book/series. As if everyone has to be in a relationship by the end in order to have a happy ending. I do like to see side characters get together and like shipping characters as much as the next person. But does every character have to get paired up? Conclusion: Avoid

Do you agree or disagree with my thoughts? What other romance elements do you love and hate? Let me know in the comments!

A Writer’s Journey – Part 1

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My writing journey, as far as I can remember, started when I was nine years old. I probably dabbled in writing before then, but there is a particular time that I really remember properly getting into it. For my grandparent’s 50th wedding anniversary all of their closest family met up during the Easter holidays in 2006, including me and my parents. To keep me entertained, I had a little green notepad, which I started writing short stories in. I still have this notepad! At the time I was very interested in Ancient Greece as we had been studying it at school, particularly myths. So I wrote my own myths and even drew little drawings to go with them.

The next thing I remember working on was a series of stories probably inspired by Tomb Raider: Legend, which was the first proper single-player action game I played. I wrote two ‘books’ in the series (they were very, very short, only a few pages).

Only a year later in 2008, I advanced to planning an epic fantasy series. Probably as a result of reading The Lord of the Rings. I spent ages drawing maps and characters. I wrote 23,000 words of the first book, which is a pretty substantial amount compared to my previous efforts. I dabbled in the other books in the series (they were connected but separate ‘parts’ of an overall series), and wrote around 42,000 words of the series in total over the course of about three years.

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I have folders full of notes from when I first started writing, along with old drafts I printed out

Over that period I also had many other ideas. Writing occupied much of my spare time, and I wrote notes for and started writing many other projects. The next ‘big’ one that I worked on for a substantial amount of time was called The Story with no Name Yet, which I started in 2009. It was called that for so long, because I never came up with a proper name for it! I wrote 52,000 words of the first book in the series (and was only a third through what I had planned, so it was going to be pretty long if I’d ever finished it!), which is the most I’d written for one book up to that point. Obviously the writing is what you’d expect from a 13-15 year old, but there are some elements of the plot which I might borrow at some point…

I also spent quite a while working on a paranormal romance story, as that was all the rage in the YA genre when I was in high school. I spent a substantial amount of time planning it, but only wrote about 30,000 words, which was only part way through the first book in the six book series I had planned.

Despite spending so much time writing, I hadn’t finished a book. It started getting me down that I kept starting, but never finishing anything. There are so many other ideas I haven’t mentioned. I never deleted anything, so I have folders full of ideas and part-written books saved on my computer.

So in 2012 I decided I needed to finish something. I set myself a more easily attainable goal – writing a novella. Still in the paranormal romance phase, I planned a story about an angel who falls from Heaven and is found by a human. Finished, it came to about 38,000 words. At the age of 16, I’d finally done it; I’d written a whole complete story with a beginning, middle and end. It was also the best piece I’d written. It still probably read like something a teenage would write, but it was much better than what I had written previously. Most importantly it gave me the confidence to believe I could finish a full-length novel.

Look out for part 2 of my writing journey blog post, which will take me from finishing my first novel to what I’m working on now.