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30 Apr 2012

Added to the blog fests...

Think it's starting to be an addiction? I've signed up to yet another blog hop event that I thought would be quite good for me.  ROW80 occurs 4 times a year.  It's currently in Round 2 from April 2nd to June 21st.  For 80 days you have your goals to achieve.  But I've been told it's okay to jump in at any time and the check ins are on Wednesdays and Sundays.  Wednesdays I take part in Road Trip Wednesday on YA Highway and Sundays are usually News to Novels but that can be bumped to Saturdays.

I'm going for small goals to begin with.  Just two of them that will be easy to manage and complete:

1) Finish the next round of editing for Beast Inside.  I'm aiming to finish for the end of May so I can take part in JuNoWriMo.  Which leads to goal number 2...

2) Complete JuNoWriMo.  One month and a 50,000 word target.  I managed NaNo so I'm confident that I can do it again.

You can get more info on ROW80 here if you're interested in finding out more.

Blog Me MAYbe starts officially tomorrow.  Tuesday's topic is: May I tell you something about myself? So I'll have to have a think about that.  I usually try to avoid talking about myself because, to be honest, I think there's really nothing interesting to say.  I quite like cooking so maybe I could post about that?

Any suggestions?

29 Apr 2012

News to Novels #15

Really sorry I didn't get round to News to Novels last Sunday.  That weekend left me with a terrible flu - dizzy spells, shivering and sweating at the same time.  Eurgh.  Wasn't any fun and I couldn't get off my arse to do a single thing. 

This week I've found some insane articles on a new fashion trend that seems to be picking up.  I was reading them and thinking how crazy it would be if this was actually the way fashion is going.  If you've read The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins the Capitol have a ridiculous taste in fashion trends with powered faces and dyed skin and hair.  It looks bizarre yet I could really see the fashion obsessed heading that way.  So if you're writing about the future and want some ideas for fashion and culture these articles may be of interest.  Or at least very amusing to read about. :)

The truth about THAT 15-year-old human Barbie from South London who (with her mother's approval) has become a disturbing internet phenomenon
Porcelain pale, her enormous sky-blue eyes are framed by thick, dark lashes, and her mouth is as perfect as a rosebud.  Her hair has been styled into tousled blonde bunches, which hang coquettishly either side of the ruffled collar of her Victoriana blouse.  You could be forgiven for thinking you are looking at a life-size china figurine. But Venus is a living, breathing 15-year-old girl, who chooses to style herself as a ‘living doll’.
Meet the real-life Barbies: Internet craze sees teenagers turn themselves into freakish living dolls
Young girls are fast becoming internet sensations not because of their vocal skills or dance moves, but because they resemble living dolls.  Staring doe-eyed at the camera, with cupids bow lips and a porcelain complexion Dakota Rose has been hailed a real-life Barbie.  Known to her fans as Kota Koti, she has amassed a global audience with her YouTube fashion and beauty tutorials.

21-year-old 'Real-life Barbie doll' seeks international fame... But does she even exist?Most little girls grow up playing with Barbie dolls. Some even want to look like them. One 21-year-old has become one, or so she says.  Valeria Lukyanova has become an internet sensation in her home country of Russia, claiming on her blog to be the most famed woman on the Russian-language internet.  Her doll-like features, long blonde hair and ‘perfect’ body make her look like a real life Barbie.

Millions of little girls across the world are smitten with Disney's beautiful princesses.  From Sleeping Beauty to Princess Jasmine and Belle, the images of these animated beauties, with their flaxen-haired, full lips and impossible proportions, have become iconic thanks to the popularity of the Disney films in which they star.  And now, thanks to the skill of U.S. photographer and Disney character artist Ryan Astamendi, their beauty has been brought to life.

Creepy, huh? Can you imagine all the girls of the future walking around like this?

What has inspired you in the news this week?

28 Apr 2012

Blog Me MAYbe

Blog Me MAYbe is a bloghop in May hosted by Sarah McClung.  I found this over on Juliana's blog and lept for it.  I know I struggle to balance work, writing, reading, and blogging;  I also have trouble with finding things to blog about that won't send a reader to sleep out of boredom.  I'll have a post in mind and think: is this actually interesting or will I end up curing insomnia?

My task for the two weeks:

I follow a weekly schedule for the whole of May to help me post regularly and have topics to discuss.  This isn't the type of bloghop where you have to follow every person that gets involved as well and comment on every post.  Go for it if you want to but the focus is helping you stick to blogging.

The schedule: (Information taken from Sarah's blog)

Mondays: May I tell you something about writing?
This can be anything writing-related. A post on craft. A post on your process. A snippet of your WIP, if you like to share. A book on craft that you want to recommend. Things you struggle with. Things you rock at. ANYTHING at all!

Tuesdays: May I tell you something about myself?
Pretty self-explanatory :) Share something about yourself that your followers might not know. Or maybe they do. It doesn't matter--this is just so people who read your blog can get to know you a little better.

Wednesdays: May I ask something about you?
Ask your followers something about themselves.


Thursdays: May I tell you something about someone else?
Make this post about someone else. A writing friend. A critique partner. A person from history who's fascinating. A character from a book. Anyone you want. :) Have a guest poster. Give an interview. Get creative! Just let the spotlight shine on someone else.

Fridays: May I share something funny?
Fridays = the starts of weekends! BOOYA. Reason to celebrate and laugh on it's own--plus, who doesn't want to see something amusing after a long week?

I hope this might be of interest to anyone else.  I linked Sarah's blog at the beginning of the post so you can sign up too, if you wish.  It sounds like it's going to be really helpful. :)

25 Apr 2012

RTW: Book of the Month

Road Trip Wednesday is a "Blog Carnival," where YA Highway's contributors post a weekly writing- or reading-related question and answer it on our own blogs. You can hop from destination to destination and get everybody's unique take on the topic.

This Week's Topic:

What was the best book you read in April?

Did well this month. :) I managed to get on with three books, now starting the fourth (Stardust) which I'd love to see if I get done by next Tuesday.  Usually I'm a slow reader, just getting through two in a month. 

On my reading list this April:

The Duff by Kody Keplinger
The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson
Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins (soon to be reviewed)
Stardust by Neil Gaiman (Still reading)
And the best book of April goes to... *drumroll*
The Duff by Kody Keplinger.

You can read the full review here so to summarise why I loved this book: Real people, an honest author, and overall a book I wish I had on my shelf when I was a teenager.  Just turning the pages and seeing everyone from the most popular to the invisible students having insecurities and feeling ugly would have helped me gain some confidence.  So I'd happily recommend this to any insecure teenager.  Whether intentional or not, this book provided a message: you're not the only one.

Join in on YA Highway's RTW! What's your favourite book of the month?

21 Apr 2012

Review: The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson

The day Louisiana teenager Rory Deveaux arrives in London marks a memorable occasion. For Rory, it’s the start of a new life at a London boarding school. But for many, this will be remembered as the day a series of brutal murders broke out across the city, gruesome crimes mimicking the horrific Jack the Ripper events of more than a century ago.

Soon “Rippermania” takes hold of modern-day London, and the police are left with few leads and no witnesses. Except one. Rory spotted the man police believe to be the prime suspect. But she is the only one who saw him. Even her roommate, who was walking with her at the time, didn’t notice the mysterious man. So why can only Rory see him? And more urgently, why has Rory become his next target? In this edge-of-your-seat thriller, full of suspense, humour, and romance, Rory will learn the truth about the secret ghost police of London and discover her own shocking abilities.

I think I set my expectations too high on this one.  After all the great reviews I've seen for it and the fact that it involves Jack the Ripper I was already fangirling over this book.  The premise sounded fantastic and intriguing.  A Jack the Ripper Ghost? This killer was a feared name as a human in Victorian London but think of how easily he could kill as a ghost.  Appearing anywhere at any time without being caught or even seen on camera.  How can you stop or kill someone who is already dead?

The character of Rory was interesting enough.  She was a quirky girl with some absurd family stories and a little habit of digressing sometimes with these tales.  She always found a way to relate the events happening to a story she had of a relative yet sometimes that got in the way of the plot.  But if this was all part of shaping who she was as a character then I believed it worked.  She's an interesting girl with an interesting life and stories that is hugely contrasted against her new life in London.  She ends up looking and seeming completely alien in a new country and vice versa.  I've never been to America so I wouldn't know how different it would be to live temporarily there or even in another country.  As a result I didn't know how to relate to what she was experiencing.  I wasn't too bothered by her but found her to be incredibly naive.  She didn't understand how terrifying it was for a serial killer to be on the loose, thinking it would be a good idea to sneak out on a night the Ripper was supposed to kill again.  I was also a little pissed off at the fact that she thought it was so cool the Ripper killings had made her school cancel hockey practice.  But sadly there are people like Rory in real life.  I was at school when the 7/7 terrorist attacks on London happened and I overhead some teenagers celebrating because for them it meant no school for the rest of the day.  It's sick but true.  People die and some jerks think its awesome because it gets something they hate cancelled. 

While I appreciated the author in doing her research of London and Great Britain sometimes the story read like a wikipedia page.  Kudos on really focusing to get the setting and atmosphere as authentic as possible but Johnson fell victim to info-dumping.  Whenever Rory started listing facts about London and Great Britain it always felt like her POV was being pushed aside and the author's voice was creeping in to show off how well she did her research.  I would have preferred more subtle ways of highlighting British culture and history.  I guess as an English reader who's lived in London I found it irritating because I was already aware of these facts.  I knew what GCSEs were, I knew that Wales had their own language, and I knew we could legally drink at 18.

I started to feel disappointed when I found out more about the Ripper.  When the ghost police came into the story the serial killer felt like he was being pushed into the background.  As soon as he was revealed he appeared less threatening.  He said he felt threatened but by starting the killings in the first place he brought on the attention himself and that's when the ghost police had to think about tracking him down.  I liked the whole mystery about him and the possibility that the Jack the Ripper was back.  But instead it felt like a supernatural version of Whitechapel when I got further into the novel and I was just reading a story that had already been done with the new addition of ghosts.

That being said I did love some of the ghosts.  The idea of them just walking around, stuck in limbo, was both eerie and sad.  All those times you think you're walking down the streets alone? You're not.  There's probably about five ghosts walking around next to you and watching you.  Most of the ghosts who were introduced became the stars of the show, more so than the characters who were alive.  They all had tragic backgrounds.  The actual nature of these ghosts was upsetting as some of them were so stuck in limbo they still felt the emotions they had just before they died.  Rather than haunting people they were haunted themselves.  The characters who were alive just didn't grab my attention as well and they weren't well-developed.  Charlotte, the Head Girl, is portrayed as Rory and Jazza's enemy although to be fair she's just ambitious and trying to do her job as Head Girl.  I didn't really get how she could be all bad.  Boo is a very loud, in-your-face character.  Callum is the anti-social douche who doesn't take to Rory.  Stephen is the quiet, serious one with a secret history.  Jerome just serves as the Love Interest and random kissing partner.  And that's pretty much everything about them.  They didn't have any layers. 

What was probably the strongest aspect of the book was the portrayal of a society experiencing a Ripper copycat.  It's sad but true.  We would go insane about it.  The media would turn the killings into the event of the year with story after story being published and shown on TV.  People would be both excited and fearful.  It would be used as a tourist attraction.  It's sick but I could see that really happening.  Some people would really get a kick out of it for the pure reason of being able to say "I was there and it happened here".  Jack the Ripper is an obsession and Johnson really emphasised that.

If you are interested in Jack the Ripper I'd recommend the series Whitechapel instead of The Name of the Star.  The first season of the TV series focused on a copycat Ripper and it was fantastic.  While the Ripper in this book is just taking advantage of the name rather than actually trying to be the Ripper Whitechapel deals with a really crazy killer.  That guy is the real deal. 

So I can't really say I'd like to recommend this.  I mean, if you want to still go ahead and read the book then go for it.  I'd never tell a person not to read a book because we all have our different likes and dislikes.  But overall I wasn't really blown away.  With the cliffhanger ending I may attempt the sequel.  I hate not finishing something but I won't go into it with high expectations. I'm also not going to rush for it either.

There are some questions I'd love to hear opinions on if you've read the book:

1) If you've had the experience of living temporarily or permanently in a new country did you find yourself feeling so alien like Rory did? Do you really notice the difference and strange, new ways?
2) If you're not a British reader what were your feelings towards the facts of London and British life Johnson kept throwing in? Did it get in the way for you or were you glad to have them in?
3) Does England really come off as being obsessed with tea? It was the only thing characters seemed to drink in the novel.

I don't even like tea. =/



19 Apr 2012

JuNoWriMo - Are you up for the challenge?

I've only just heard about this through Juliana's blog and it had me intrigued.  A June Writing Month? Sounds interesting.  I'll admit NaNo was quite a challenge and at times I felt absolutely exhausted.  But I had literally just started a new job and I think that might not have helped me.  Despite that I came away with a first draft - a terrible draft but I was so happy to have something finished.  I look back at it and think I actually liked NaNo.  I wasn't sure whether I'd participate this year but I thought it would be good for me in getting on with another project.  The more I think about NaNo the more I remember how motivated I was and how ready I am to do it again.  So when I read about JuNoWriMo I jumped for the idea.  I'm ready to take on another challenge and I'm too impatient to wait for November. 

So what is this writing month about you ask? Here are the links for them if you're interested :)

http://junowrimo.com/
Becca J Campbell - One of the masterminds.  The link leads to her blog post on JuNoWriMo.

I've signed up for it.  Will you?

18 Apr 2012

RTW- Prom Night (Without the murders)

Road Trip Wednesday is a "Blog Carnival," where YA Highway's contributors post a weekly writing- or reading-related question and answer it on our own blogs. You can hop from destination to destination and get everybody's unique take on the topic.

This Week's Topic:
It's almost prom season, and since we love to read and write about teenagers, we want to hear your prom stories!

Haha, oh prom! Do I have some memories of that night.  I never went to my year 13 prom because the ticket prices were ridiculous and I wasn't coughing up money for it but I went in year 11.  It was the end of an era for high school and people were either going to stay at my school's Sixth Form or move on to another college for their A*Levels.  This was the first time friends would be moving on to different places, starting to work towards their dream future.

I went with only a couple of my friends.  My other friends deemed themselves too cool for it and went off for their own night out.  But me, J, and S wanted to go.  While I hated high school I still wanted the experience and I'm glad I went.  I had so much fun.

The night started around 7 or 8 and when I first arrived, too shy to actually take off my coat at first - I witnessed a limo pulling in with about 4 or 5 boys standing out of the roof window.  They were cheering, laughing, hugging each other.  Yeah, completely smashed.  I met with my friend J at the entrance and we walked in.  Immediately we were greeted by one of the boys in our tutor group.  He smiled, welcomed us and gave us both a huge hug.  His breath stank of alcohol.

So most people were already drunk.  But it was still hilarious.  People we didn't know or even talked to much kept coming up to give us hugs and say how much they're glad to see.  We smiled, returned the hug and kiss on the cheek and walked away laughing our arses off. 

And even the sober people came up to say hello.  That was the best part of the night.  After all the fall outs, gang wars, and relationship issues for one night everyone had forgotten about them and was each other's best friends.  No-one was nasty to each other.  We all came up to greet each other and compliment each other on our dresses and suits.  There was only one goal in mind: to forget all about the GSCE stress and have a good time.

There was a bit of drama.  Prom wouldn't be prom without it.  There was the case of people coming with their dates and swapping for another by the night was out.  People who had recently broken up with their boyfriends and girlfriends were on the hunt for just one dance so they could make-out with another person.  Why? For revenge, to show they could move on, because they had actually moved on...

One boy was so drunk he had gone from cheery to violent and had to be kicked out.  It was only nine when that happened.

One guy apparently thought that I had all the candidate numbers for the exams we were about to take.  I had to explain (failing to keep a straight face) that I wasn't in charge of them and to see a teacher.  He must have been really happy with that answer because I got a hug, kiss and was told 'I love you!' Ironically this was a guy who was so quiet and serious in class.  An intelligent straight A student who never really did anything to bring attention himself.

You guessed it.  Drunk. 

I got asked to dance with two guys which gave me a confidence boost.  One just wanted to me to stop being a wallflower and dance with him.  The other asked me for a slow dance. 

I really must have gained confidence during the night because I ended up on stage with other classmates dancing to a Grease megamix and dancing in front of a huge audience.

I got involved in a mini mosh pit when Kaiser Chiefs came on.

Some of the songs I remember them playing:
3) Grease megamix

It was a brilliant night and I'll always remember it.  So if you have a prom coming up, even with bad high school experiences the night is worth it.  If a not-so-popular wallflower like me had a good time you will too.  Hey, I was even having a polite conversation with people who were downright nasty to me at school.  It's a strange night with unpredictable events. 

15 Apr 2012

News to Novels #14

After last week's morbid, crime obsessed post I wanted to find happier ones and got a few character inspiring ones and happy ending articles.  The first article:
Joy after 13 years of hell
A woman who suffered the heartbreaking loss of sixteen babies has at last given birth to a healthy girl.  Maria Pridmore, 32, endured 14 miscarriages, a stillbirth, and the death of her tiny son over thirteen agonising years.  But last night the overjoyed mum cuddled seven week old Mia Shannon and said: "This is like a dream come true."
It'd be a heartbreaking story at first.  A woman suffering so many losses of the children she had or was carrying.  But at least there's a happy ending to it and a healthy girl to raise and love.  Just like she always wanted.

A former fella may be Miss Universe
A transsexual model will be allowed to compete in Miss Universe - if she legally recognised as a female event officials announced yesterday.  Jenna Talackova, 23, was selected among 65 finalists for this year's contest in Canada.  But she was then disqualified because she used to be a male, she claims.  More than 28,000 supporters responded by signing an online petition accusing bosses of discrimination and demanding her reinstatement.
What I love about this story is how much support she received as a result.  While she was being held back because of her sex change and facing discrimination at least she found that she would not be alone in a battle to achieve her dream of entering the competition. 

Girl, 17, is youngest store boss
Proud Lucie Balchin is Britain's youngest shop owner - having bought a gift store just days after turning 17.  Lucie, who has 13 GSCEs, ditched plans to study for A*Levels to take over an ailing shop.  Mum Emily chipped in to help buy it after Lucie worked 96 hours a week juggling two jobs to save up £2000.
For young people today the thought of going to university is increasingly sounding impossible, purely because of the ridiculous tuition fees that have risen.  With universities charging up to £9000 for their courses some teenagers won't be able to attend.  The cost is too much and there are no jobs at the end of the degree for students to pay off their debts.  So to see someone take an alternative route and work hard to set up her own store is so inspiring.  I think teenagers can be pressurised into attending university because they're told it will open up more prospects for them.  Well, those prospects aren't even available so I think it's just as important to show teenagers taking different paths to be a success in life.  This would be a perfect story to highlight that.

Facebook pals pay for dying groom's wedding
A terminally ill dad will celebrate his dream wedding tomorrow - after Facebook members organised his £20,000 big day free.  The ceremony was sorted in less than four weeks after cancer stricken Tom Cooper announced his aim to wed lover Tammy Dale.  The pair planned the bash to give their two little girls lasting memories of the happiest day of their lives.  But they had to invite donations on Facebook after 25 year old Tom's deteriorating health saw him give up his job as a maintenance worker.
It's sad that he won't be there to see his girls grow up.  But the important thing is that he's lived out a dream before the cancer takes him away.  A tragic tale but he's been given the chance to have this happy memory - for him, his wife, and his daughters.

11 Apr 2012

RTW - One town

Road Trip Wednesday is a "Blog Carnival," where YA Highway's contributors post a weekly writing- or reading-related question and answer it on our own blogs. You can hop from destination to destination and get everybody's unique take on the topic.



This Week's Topic:
What images inspire/ represent your WIP or favourite book?

I'll go with my current WiP Beast Inside and show you some photos around Leeds that I've based the setting on. In the WiP Norton is a fictional West Yorkshire town, close to the city centre and I've based it a lot on Horsforth where I lived during university. Yet another place that I'm absolutely in love with purely because of the village feel it has. It still has most of the old houses that have been there when it was known as a village, all built with Yorkshire stone. 

Norton shares similar features to Horsforth.  It has a small Town Street where locals have the necessary supermarket, opticians, restaurants, pubs, charity shops, pharmacy etc and a couple of expensive clothes and gift shops.  There's a local museum where Caleb and Luca's mother works and only one high school and two primary schools; the high school is where their father works as a modern languages teacher.  Like Horsforth it's a former village that expanded and became known as a suburban town with bus routes going directly into the city centre and a small train station going straight to other towns around Yorkshire and also travelling to the city centre and city of York.

Town Street
Horsforth Station
There's a small woodland in Norton near where it enters the countryside.  These pictures inspired the attack on Caleb while he's walking the family dog with his friend, Josh.



And I have no idea what this is from but this is exactly what I want Caleb to look like when he's goes all undead and fanged up:


And Danny Glick's a big influence on the undead appearance too:


And there you go. :) A few pictures that inspired setting, scenes and Caleb Corelli as a pesky bloodsucker.  What has inspired your WiP?

10 Apr 2012

Inspirational Settings: York

I'd actually forgotten that I'd taken tons of pictures last August of York. Now, if there is ever place I would love to live it's York. It's absolutely beautiful. Seriously, London looks shabby compared to this city. York is located in the North of Yorkshire and for a little bit of background here's a description of it from Wikipedia:

The city was founded by the Romans in 71 AD, under the name of Eboracum. It became in turn the capital of the Roman province of Britannia Inferior, and of the kingdoms of Northumbria and Jorvik. In the Middle Ages, York grew as a major wool trading centre and became the capital of the northern ecclesiastical province of the Church of England, a role it has retained.

In the 19th century York became a hub of the railway network and a confectionery manufacturing centre. In recent decades, the economy of York has moved from being dominated by its confectionery and railway-related industries to one that provides services. The University of York and health services have become major employers, whilst tourism has become an important element of the local economy.

From 1996, the term City of York describes a unitary authority area which includes rural areas beyond the old city boundaries. In 2001 the urban area had a population of 137,505, while in 2010 the entire unitary authority had an estimated population of 202,400.
Taken from http://www.ghosthunt.co.uk/

What I love about York is how it keeps it heritage and shows it off with pride through buildings, museums, all surrounded and enclosed by the York Wall.  Walking through the city centre you're surrounded by crowds of people making their ways through The Shambles or snickelways, constantly stopping to talk photos of the magnificent architecture.  Dressed up Victorian men on stilts are walking through the streets, handing out leaflets to advertise their ghost walk.  They really take on the part cackling at you and daring you to come back as night falls for a spooky experience.

Newgate Market is busy with people searching the stalls while owners yell at you, trying to entice you with their products.  It's actually quite hard to walk through the streets as people bump and bash into you.  Every single time I've been to York I don't think the streets have been empty and quiet.  It's always crammed with locals and tourists.

You'll have a McDonalds or Burger King someway but if you're going to eat at York, the York Hogroast is my favourite place to go.  You can smell roast beef, ham or pork cooking with soft roast potatoes and sauces staring at you from the shop window.  If you thought you weren't hungry just passing this shop will get your stomach rumbling.


One of the most haunted pubs in the city
A Snickelway of York
The Shambles
The York Wall (part of it - it's very long!)
The ghostly history and medieval history could spur a thousand novel ideas for you. A truly inspirational setting and a beautiful place to visit. 
Here's the wikipedia link if you want to read more about it's history and a tourist website for more awesome sights to see and better quality pictures than mine. ;)

9 Apr 2012

News to Novels #13

Recently in the UK we've had a news article about schoolboy Daniel Bartlam, 14, who beat his mother Jacqueline, 47, to death with a hammer and then set her on fire.  It was claimed he was fascinated by a plot on the soap Coronation Street.  In this particular story arc there was a serial killer named John Stape.  One of his victims was bludgeoned to death and Bartlam was obsessed with this character and his murders.  Naturally it's spurned the annual article: People murder because of violent TV! This is because of video games!
One newspaper went ahead with noting down cases where people have murdered in the similar style to a horror film and I thought they'd be interesting to note down this week.  If you're thinking of writing crime and looking for ideas here are some true murder cases.

Dexter:
The American Drama Series about a forensic expert who doubles as a serial killer inspires the murder of a ten year old boy by his brother.  Andrew Conley, 17, strangled Connor in 2009, then drove to a park and dumped his body.  He told detectives in Indiana, USA, that he modelled himself on the TV killer and had been 'hungry' to murder for years.  He said of the mass-murdering TV character: 'I feel just like him'.

A Clockwork Orange:
There have been many alleged copycat crimes linked to Stanley Kubrick's 1971 film.  First a 16 year old boy - wearing white overalls, a bowler hat and combat boots just like character Alex in the movie - beat a younger child.  Then in 1973 a gang of youths in Lancashire raped a 17 year old girl Dutch girl while they sang Singin' in the Rain - echoing another scene.  In 2010 Ruby Thomas, 18, kicked Ian Baynham, 62, to death in London in a homophobic attacked likened to the controversial film.

Queen of the Damned:
Allen Menzies, 22, beat his best pal to death, drank his blood, and ate part of his head.  Menzies had watched the film 100 times and claimed the character Queen Akasha told him to murder Thomas McKendrick, 21.  During his trial Menzies of Fauldhouse, West Lothian, claimed he had to carry out the killing to become a vampire.  He was sentenced to life in jail in 2003 but killed himself in prison a year later.

Scream:
Two schoolboys brutally stabbed a 13 year old and left him for dead just hours after watching the horror film Scream.  Daniel Gill, 14, and Robert Fuller, 15, stabbed Ashley Murray 18 times in 1999.  He survived and was found 40 hours later at an isolated beauty spot outside Harrogate, North Yorkshire.

Other crime articles:

'Hero' is a murderer
A have-a-go hero who tackled an armed robber was last night starting a life jail term for murder.  Deivydas Jacikas, 21, was praised for stopping a jewel thief last year.  But eight months later he beat grandad Henrikas Baranauskas, 56.  The victim who had allegedly butted Jacikas' father suffered broken ribs and brain damage - and his family made the agonising decision to turn off his life support.  Jacikas, a Lithuanian of Peterborough admitted manslaughter but denied murder and was convicted at Cambridge Crown Court.  Police said he used extreme violence and 'showed no mercy'.

Killer Trucker
Trucker Robert Rhoades, 66, who had a torture dungeon in his lorry, got life for murdering a hitchhiking couple in Texas.

7 Apr 2012

Review - The Duff by Kody Keplinger

Seventeen-year-old Bianca Piper is cynical and loyal, and she doesn’t think she’s the prettiest of her friends by a long shot. She’s also way too smart to fall for the charms of man-slut and slimy school hottie Wesley Rush. In fact, Bianca hates him. And when he nicknames her “the Duff,” she throws her Coke in his face.

But things aren’t so great at home right now, and Bianca is desperate for a distraction. She ends up kissing Wesley. Worse, she likes it. Eager for escape, Bianca throws herself into a closeted enemies-with-benefits relationship with him.


Until it all goes horribly awry. It turns out Wesley isn’t such a bad listener, and his life is pretty screwed up, too. Suddenly Bianca realises with absolute horror that she’s falling for the guy she thought she hated more than anyone.

While the term 'duff' wasn't something I heard or used in high school I can look back to high school and remember feeling like a duff.  Bianca herself was an easy character to relate to.  Of course I felt less attractive than my friends.  And some outsiders were happy to tell me so as well.  I remember being cynical and naive, thinking that looks were the only things that mattered in relationships.  Funnily enough none of my friends were ever asked on dates with the boys in our year but I still thought they were more attractive than me.  Due to that I did have that 'fuck you' attitude to relationships, Valentine's Day etc.  I understood Bianca's feelings.  I knew why she turned her nose up at PDA and Valentine's Day.  Her reactions and bitter attitude were realistic and made sense.  I didn't feel her loathing was over the top.  It's a normal consequence of attending a very shallow place.  High school is a breeding ground for insecurities.  And Kody Keplinger did well to show that, not just in Bianca but in all her characters.  The main ones and the minor characters:

Bianca: Called the duff and starts to compare herself constantly to her two best friends.
Casey: Constantly seen by Bianca as a tall, blonde and beautiful cheerleader.  But Casey herself is insecure about her height.
Jessica: Again seen as tall, blonde and beautiful.  Yet started high school as a shy girl being bullied and used by older girls. 
Wesley: Has only befriended a gay teen because he doesn't want competition over girls with other boys.  It suggests that he's afraid a girl will reject him for another male friend if he had any despite his good looks.
Unnamed freshman: Experiencing the same bullying and treatment as Jessica did. 

It's a lesson that Bianca slowly learns throughout the novel.  That she isn't the only one with insecurities and she's not alone in disliking her looks.  It happens to every single teenager around her, even the ones who she considers beautiful. 

What I admired most about Keplinger's writing is how she isn't afraid to discuss sexuality and write about teenagers having sex, showing the positive and negatives aspects of these decisions teenagers make.  Bianca's made decisions in the past that have left her feeling regret and hurt but also happier and finding someone she wants to be with.  It's not a book that's glamourising teenage sex or preaching abstinence.  It's a book where sex just happens and it can be a positive or negative experience.  There can be consequences or happy results.  Exactly how the issue should be handled so kudos to Kody Keplinger.

At the beginning I did worry that the characters weren't going to be very rounded.  Jessica's character was built up quite slowly so at the beginning so she didn't seem very complex at the start.  She was a little ditzy and in the background most of time while a close friendship was built between Casey and Bianca instead.  But gradually more of Jessica's background and personality came through and there was reasons for her personality. 

Toby was one character that didn't seem to work well with the others.  I did feel his sole purpose was to be the Anti-Wesley and wasn't a character in his own right.  He did come across as the perfect, nice guy which there's nothing wrong with but even those who seem flawless have flaws.  I would have liked to have seen more sides to Toby. 

Wesley had his different sides, which I liked.  He had his troubles and insecurities and his close relationships - to his sister, to his only best friend Harrison and, at times, to Bianca.  While I hate arrogance and prefer Mr Nice Guy I could see why Bianca kept returning to him.  She could be herself around him, open up, and sometimes their personalities matched.  Bianca had to learn who, in the end, was right for her.  Nice guy Toby who made the effort or Arrogant Wesley who listened.  It was important for her to choose who she believed she was better suited to and she did. 

Overall, I think this a is must-have book for any teenager with insecurities.  Pick it up, read it and know that these worries are being shared with a million other teenagers around the world.  That popular girl who seems like such a stuck up bitch? Her parents may be divorcing.  That jock who doesn't seem all that intelligent and shallow? Sports may be the only thing he's knows he's good at and he achieves things through it.  That girl who sleeps around and wears too much make-up? She just wants to feel attractive.  Yeah, you probably don't like them and these people have been rude to you but at least you know you're not alone.


4 Apr 2012

RTW: Show me the love!

Welcome to our 123rd Road Trip Wednesday!

Road Trip Wednesday is a "Blog Carnival," where YA Highway's contributors post a weekly writing- or reading-related question and answer it on our own blogs. You can hop from destination to destination and get everybody's unique take on the topic.


This Week's Topic:
Who has helped you on your reading/writing/publishing journey?

I immediately thought of the friends I knew in high school.  When I was thirteen I told a close friend that I used to write stories when I was younger.  Her one question sparked that love of writing again: 'Why don't you write some more things?'

My friends were always supportive.  When they found out that I wrote they begged to see what I was coming up with.  So I started this supernatural series that can only be described as Buffy meets Spooksville and my friends would read the stories when they were finished.  And they liked them.  Looking back they were poorly written but despite that my friends were always encouraging, telling me to keep going and consider getting published when I'm older.  They helped me gain confidence in writing and showing it.  If it wasn't for them I'd probably still be writing in secret.

3 Apr 2012

Review: Cinder by Marissa Meyer

A forbidden romance. A deadly plague. Earth’s fate hinges on one girl...

Cinder, a gifted mechanic in New Beijing, is also a cyborg. She’s reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s sudden illness. But when her life becomes entwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she finds herself at the centre of a violent struggle between the desires of an evil queen—and a dangerous temptation.

Cinder is caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal. Now she must uncover secrets about her mysterious past in order to protect Earth’s future.
While I did put this book forward as my top book of the Month, I did have my ups and downs with it.  With every pro, came a con. 

First, kudos to Meyer for her imagination.  A cyborg Cinderella? I loved it.  It added a bit of sci-fi to a well loved fairy tale.  Cinder's identities and heritage worked quite well, still feeling like the poor, victimised and low status Cinderella we know from the fairy tale.  As a cyborg she was of low status with her stepmother taking away any human rights from her.  Her other identity is not exactly considered poor or working class but the background would certainly be looked down upon by the people of Earth.  Let's leave it there before I spoil too much although I do have to admit the twists were predictable.  At the end of the story, Cinder seemed to be too many people in one go. 

I've seen some reviews about the criticism of the other characters.  Lots of villains all around her while Cinder remains good.  Well, to be fair that's Cinderella.  The idea was to see an abused and poorly treated girl overcome all the negative characters in her life to finally get somewhere where she would be safe, loved, and treated like a human being.  Not everyone Cinder came across was out to get her.  There was Peony, her stepsister, who saw no harm in her presence, treating her like they really were sisters.  Iko, her android best friend.  Prince Kai who treats her normally from the start, taking an instant liking to her.  And Dr Erland who replaced the fairy godmother.  If you're expecting to see Cinder meet her personal Gok Wan it doesn't exactly happen like that.  She goes to the ball alright but the grease stained gloves and wrinkled ball gown is far from the glamorous moment we can see in the fairy tale.  Dr Erland acts as her fairy godmother through helping her discover who she is and can be.  In his own way he brings out a princess in her. 

I do feel that the story was more than a retelling.  It wasn't just modernised, using the plot of the tale to find a story.  Meyer had a story in mind and Cinderella merely helped inspire some aspects.  That's what Cinder felt like.  It was a story in it's own right without following the fairy tale step by step.

The weaknesses were in the world building.  We have a futuristic New Beijing with plagues, past wars, new celebrations and monarchs.  Meyer could have done more with it and really bring out a future culture, taking Chinese traditions and using them for her setting.  I didn't get a strong sense of the culture that I was reading about, wanting to know more about how people were living.  The rules, the customs, the celebrations.  I know there are characters with an important story to tell but Meyer lost an opportunity to really have fun with her world-building and get imaginative. 

Prince Kai was the strongest aspect for me.  I loved him and his own little plot.  He wasn't just a stereotypical fairy tale prince who is just there to whisk the poor heroine away and fight her battles for her.  He starts out in the story as a young boy who is slowly watching his father die and every second the emperor's life fades away the closer Kai gets to becoming emperor.  And that scares him.  He knows he'll be left with a country to rule, peace to keep, and negotiations to continue with the threatening Lunar race, specifically Queen Levana.  He shows his naivety but determination to do right by his people.  And he's easily lost and troubled by it.  What will he do? How can he do it? Meyer does well to show that Kai is, deep down, just a young boy with no idea how to rule. 

Cinder is fleshed out more, becoming more than a kindly servant girl.  She has an identity as a mechanic, skilled with her own business.  She provides for her unfair stepmother through her income, seeing her own money being taken away by Adri (the stepmother) and used for food, bills, etc.  Cinder has a voice, speaking up when she feels she is being unfairly treated and taking action to help herself or the prince.  I love that she's an active character, moving the story through her own actions and decisions rather than just letting the story and events come to her. 

When the story ended I wanted more.  There's still more to come with Cinder.  Where will she go? Will she stop Levana? Will Kai forgive her? Is there a relationship there? I'll definitely get the sequel to see the next set of events.  I can't wait!


1 Apr 2012

News to Novels #12

First on the list of finds: New human species?
New human fossil find rewrites China's history
Chinese archaeologists say they have found the fossilised remains of a primitive human species that lived about 2.04 million years ago in the Three Gorges Area of southwest China, the earliest ever found in the country.

Giant asteroid Vesta 'resembles planet'
The giant asteroid Vesta possesses many features usually associated with rocky planets like Earth, according to data from a NASA probe.

Sweeps, nomads, quacks and crawlers: The exotic down and outs of Victorian London captured on camera in the 1870s
Handy for anyone who fancies Victorian London as their story setting. :)