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30 Jan 2014

Book Review: This is Not a Test by Courtney Summers

It’s the end of the world. Six students have taken cover in Cortege High but shelter is little comfort when the dead outside won’t stop pounding on the doors. One bite is all it takes to kill a person and bring them back as a monstrous version of their former self. To Sloane Price, that doesn’t sound so bad. Six months ago, her world collapsed and since then, she’s failed to find a reason to keep going. Now seems like the perfect time to give up. As Sloane eagerly waits for the barricades to fall, she’s forced to witness the apocalypse through the eyes of five people who actually want to live. But as the days crawl by, the motivations for survival change in startling ways and soon the group’s fate is determined less and less by what’s happening outside and more and more by the unpredictable and violent bids for life—and death—inside. When everything is gone, what do you hold on to?

This book focuses a lot on the emotions of each surviving character and their development in an end of the world situation. How the zombie apocalypse has affected them and how they feel about surviving. These are young teens who are worried they may be the only ones left in a world where zombies roam the streets and continuously bang against the barriers of the high school they are taking shelter in.  And when situations arise where the group may have to consider taking their chances in an infested neighbourhood are they even capable of working together to survive?

Sloane's quite a depressing narrator. She was trapped in an abusive home and now she's trapped in an equally violent world. It's got to her and when you meet her in the story she's already suicidal and wanting to give up. There's not much character development to see really.  The Sloane you get at the start of the novel is the Sloane you still have at the end.  She's already made her mind about her fate and nothing really changes that.  I was quite sad to see a character who had already given up and was intent on doing so all the way through.  I would have liked to have seen some change in her character.  Maybe a little bit of determination or develop better relationships with those around her. 

For anyone wanting a fast paced zombie novel this isn't one. The majority of the book is spent in the high school where the characters constantly argue with one another, blaming each other for past events and pretty much getting irritated by each other. So it's a little slow throughout the majority of the book and when the finale comes everything suddenly speeds up. Characters are dying left, right, and centre and then... that's it. It ended a little too abruptly when the action had just started and you're left hanging, wondering what happens to the surviving characters.  For a book that wanted to focus more on characters than a zombie apocalypse you don't really get that.  I didn't really connect with any of the characters.  Their personalities seemed developed already and we were just following on, far away from where their story might have actually begun.  It did make me wonder if Summers started the book at the right point.  Maybe it could have been made longer so we at least saw a difference in each character and took this journey with them. 

29 Jan 2014

What's Up Wednesday

What's Up Wednesday is a weekly feature created by Jaime Morrow and Erin L. Funk. Perfect for readers and writers who want to share what they've been up to on a weekly basis and right now the place to share your goals.

1) What I'm Reading
Ash is still a slow read.  I'm about 100 or so pages in and we've finally got to the castle.  I'm really hoping as soon as we set foot in there the haunting begins.  I've also been reading Miss Cole's Space!Story manuscript which I'm definitely enjoying more.  I think this is the first Sci-Fi book I've read and I love it.  Makes me want to read more!

 2) What I'm Writing
I've written a bit more on Beast Inside and these chapters  are definitely the last few scenes.  I don't think my characters could gather the strength for more vampire trouble.  Once these chapters are written and finished I can focus on the third draft I've started on the computer and type everything onto a document.  Almost another step closer!

 3) What Else I've Been Up To

I've passed my Literacy Skills Test so it's just my Numeracy to do and my place at uni is official! Lots of revision is going to be needed so I may be silent at times.  I really need to improve my maths skills otherwise my place is gone.  I think I'd actually go into a coma if I failed and lost my place after all these exhausting interviews!

 4) What Inspires Me Right Now

I went to Horsforth last week with some friends to Toby Carvery and I loved walking around the little town that inspired the location in Beast Inside.  It just brought back all that excitement and love for the story.  I wish I could have just walked around, taking loads of photos and picturing where the events of BI would be happening. 
Photo credit

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       File:Paradise Place, Horsforth, Leeds - - 127014.jpg      
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28 Jan 2014

Book Review: The Madman's Daughter by Megan Shepherd

In the darkest places, even love is deadly.

Sixteen-year-old Juliet Moreau has built a life for herself in London—working as a maid, attending church on Sundays, and trying not to think about the scandal that ruined her life. After all, no one ever proved the rumours about her father's gruesome experiments. But when she learns he is alive and continuing his work on a remote tropical island, she is determined to find out if the accusations are true.

Accompanied by her father's handsome young assistant, Montgomery, and an enigmatic castaway, Edward—both of whom she is deeply drawn to—Juliet travels to the island, only to discover the depths of her father's madness: He has experimented on animals so that they resemble, speak, and behave as humans. And worse, one of the creatures has turned violent and is killing the island's inhabitants. Torn between horror and scientific curiosity, Juliet knows she must end her father's dangerous experiments and escape her jungle prison before it's too late. Yet as the island falls into chaos, she discovers the extent of her father's genius—and madness—in her own blood.

Inspired by H. G. Wells's classic The Island of Dr. Moreau, The Madman's Daughter is a dark and breathless Gothic thriller about the secrets we'll do anything to know and the truths we'll go to any lengths to protect.

From the blurb of The Madman's Daughter I wasn't really sure what to expect from the story but I assumed it was going to take place after the original story by HG Wells. When it came to the point in the book that Juliet finds her father is alive and they pick up a castaway in Edward Prince I realised that this wasn't going to be the retelling I was interested in.

In fact, to be honest, it wasn't a retelling at all. I've read The Island of Dr Moreau and all I was reading was a rehash of the same plot and same events with a daughter thrown in and Edward Prendick turning into Edward Prince instead. I was a little disappointed because this is what I expect in fanfiction, not a published story. I was hoping for something new.  In the end I didn't think much of the story purely due to a huge lack of originality.  Montgomery was in the same role as Well's Montgomery except made much younger and attractive.  The same goes from Edward Prince.  I think as a writer you can create a better inspired character that involves more than simply changing the surname from Prendick to Prince.  Shakespeare might have gotten away with that back in the day but in the end, it is still not an original character.

There was so much potential for the plot but the main focus was clearly the love triangle between Edward, Juliet, and Montgomery. Shepherd can do horror, twists, and gore but it's all pushed to side so Juliet can frequently switch from Edward to Montgomery in her affections. And she obsesses about it throughout the whole novel.  I found it quite tedious and more desperate for some action and interesting plot development rather than wondering when the next kissing scene was.

The novel overall could have been so much more but sadly it didn't reach it's full potential and I think Shepherd could have come up with a more original retelling. The book ends in a cliffhanger, ready for more stories to be told but I don't think I'll pick up the sequel.

27 Jan 2014

Walk The Plank: Space Adventure!

Walk the Plank is a flash fiction challenge organised by the YA Buccaneers.  Each month a theme is set and your goal is to write flash fiction on that theme.

This month's theme is Adventures in Space.  The rules are:
  • The story must be based on the theme.
  • The story has to be 200 words or less.  This is excluding the title.
For an extra challenge:
  • For an extra challenge begin your story with the words: "I never thought I'd see"
  • And end your story with the words: "Hopefully it's not too late!"
  • Use exactly 200 words.
Pirate Legends
I’d never thought I’d see another planet.  Another galaxy.  We’d barely escaped the Nexus with a dent in our docking bay and three of our men left to float lifelessly in the black pit of space.  We’d managed to start hyperspeed before the Empire caught up to us and whoosh! The Nexus disappeared.  Our home galaxy was far away from us now.  I’d never see that red sky on Mallum again.  I wouldn’t look up and see those three large moons in the night, brightly glowing with those gorgeous shades of blue and violet.  

It was all gone.  Couldn’t really call Mallum home anymore.  A planet I was never going to see again.
Maybe I was asking for too much.  I had just pillaged my way through every planet in the Nexus.  Stealing treasures and weapons with Captain Ryce and the crew of the Rose Anne.  Anything we needed for exploring the whole of space and seeing the many wonders and legends we had only heard about in stories. 

One tiny problem… it was all criminal behaviour.  Whoops.  The Empire was a bit angry at us.

Never mind them now.  We had a new galaxy to explore. Legends to see.

21 Jan 2014

Book Review: The Iron King by Julie Kagawa

Meghan Chase has a secret destiny; one she could never have imagined.

Something has always felt slightly off in Meghan's life, ever since her father disappeared before her eyes when she was six. She has never quite fit in at school or at home.

When a dark stranger begins watching her from afar, and her prankster best friend becomes strangely protective of her, Meghan senses that everything she's known is about to change.

But she could never have guessed the truth - that she is the daughter of a mythical faery king and is a pawn in a deadly war. Now Meghan will learn just how far she'll go to save someone she cares about, to stop a mysterious evil no faery creature dare face; and to find love with a young prince who might rather see her dead than let her touch his icy heart.

I'm in love with this world.  Kagawa has a world building ability I envy and you get lost in this dazzling yet dangerous world of the Fey.  There are the usual tropes that come with paranormal romance: the quiet girl next door, the dorky best friend who is secretly in love and the brooding main LI who you know is going to win.  Never mind that, there's a lot about the book I liked enough to keep reading and buying the next few books.

Meghan Chase's life is already pretty rubbish.  Especially with the recent prank pulled on her at school.  And to make things worse her brother is taken by the faery realm.  Can't a girl get a break? The book had me thinking of an 80s classic.  I don't know whether this was intended by the author or not but I was getting some Labyrinth vibes in my head which had me a little giddy, I'll admit.  Totally had David Bowie as Oberon too.  If The Iron King is optioned for an adaptation can we PLEASE have David Bowie as Oberon? I don't care how old he is.

This fey world Meghan finds herself into completely changes her perspective on her whole life.  The disappearance of her father, her heritage, and even her best friend, the amazingly hilarious and adorable Puck.  I don't do teams in PNR but... team Puck.  All the way.  I'm not a fan of love triangles and this one didn't make me change my opinion on them but if I have to root for one of the guys I'd go for Puck.  Ash really didn't hook me in and I really disliked the relationship between Meghan and Ash.  He was psycho in this.  Admitting he would willingly kill her and she's starting to get a little bit of drool hanging from her mouth? No.  Just no.  If a guy came up to me and said he's going to kill me I'd be getting in there first.  After I've castrated him.  Not a fan of Ash.  Could have done without him.  Or at least make him a proper villain so Meghan hated him instead of going all 'humina humina' on him. 

What I liked about the world was how it was being affected by the modern, human world.  The fey are powerful but there was a bigger power threatening them.  And it's thanks to us and our changing technology.  A race that can be killed with iron and the one thing that has to develop? Crap.  So Meghan has to find her little brother, avoid the loonies that are the Winter Fey, battle the growing Iron Fey race, and learn how to survive with all the sneaky fey around.  I did like how she got used to dealing with faeries, learning how to use loopholes in deals to get the information she needed.  I'll give Meghan this, she's a character with some brains.  And she was active.  The plot didn't move her, she moved the plot and when it came down to the final showdown it was Meghan who had to face the Big Bad by herself, saving others instead of having to be saved herself.

Overall I was intrigued enough to keep going with the series.  Not quite bad to be honest.

20 Jan 2014

Inspirational Settings: Durham City

I've never had the opportunity to go to Durham before.  Located further up North from Yorkshire, I imagined a huge, bustling city.  I don't know why.  But I finally went up during News Years at Darlington and I can see why a lot of people fall in love with it and why many people choose to study there.  It's a quaint little city.

Compared to Leeds and York I'd say Durham is just a bit smaller,
filled with winding, cobbled hills that lead up to Durham Cathedral and Castle that sits on the right top, overlooking the town centre below.  The streets take you round in a circle, crossing bridges over the River Wear with the market square right in the middle of the city.

Like York, Durham is rich in history with the Cathedral and Castle still standing.  The magnificent buildings can be seen from almost anywhere in the town centre, and they say the view is amazing if you walk all the way up the Cathedral.  After trekking up the hills you get to a square with the Cathedral, library, and Castle all in one location.

Durham loves its little independent shops, hidden away in basement and attic rooms around the city.  From vintage to books and crafts they were situated in little alleys with crooked stairs leading up or down to the little corners these shop owners had settled in.  There's also a small indoor market at the market square with a variety of stalls, my favourite being a Medieval stall.  It's tiny but unique. 

15 Jan 2014

What's Up Wednesday

What's Up Wednesday is a weekly feature created by Jaime Morrow and Erin L. Funk. Perfect for readers and writers who want to share what they've been up to on a weekly basis and right now the place to share your goals.

1) What I'm Reading

Got a bit further into Ash by James Herbet.  It's quite slow paced, getting to the spooky location so I'm hoping once the MC is actually there things are going to start happening!

 2) What I'm Writing
Editing for Beast Inside.  On this current round of edits I'm almost at the end.  Then it's continuing to get this second draft onto a word document.  Already I have an idea on what to add in for the next round of editing.  I would love this to be the year I look for betas.

 3) What Else I've Been Up To

I've started a free course on forensic science.  This website Future Learn holds free courses lasting a various number of weeks from universities around the UK.  I thought it would be quite interesting to learn about and also use it as research if I ever decided to give crime fiction a go.  I've also signed up to two other courses: England in the Time of King Richard III  and How to Read a... Mind.  The latter is a cognitive science course looking at how we react to fictional characters and why.  I thought that would be pretty interesting as a writer.

Also had some good news this week.  I've finally been accepted onto a PGCE course! If all goes well and I pass my literacy and numeracy skills test I'll hopefully be studying Early Childhood Education in September. :) One step closer to becoming a teacher!

 4) What Inspires Me Right Now

Getting onto this course has been inspiring.  It's an awful feeling when you've had rejection after rejection.  Even though people tell you otherwise and stay positive for you, you can't help but feel like you want to give up.  You do take it personally and it's tempting to stick to that mindset that none of your dreams are going to happen.  It was a strange feeling seeing that offer appear because all of a sudden it was really happening.  I could be waking up in September ready for classes instead of work.  It's the end of being a teaching assistant and pretty soon I'm going to be the one standing in front of the class, responsible for up to thirty children.  It's given me a bit of a confidence boost and now I'm more determined than ever to make this the year I feel ready to query my WiP.  If we're all lucky we may get snapped up immediately.  But if not we have to remember that even though it's not happening right this second we're all going to be authors someday.  Some things just take more time than others.

End of cheesy speech.  How's your week been? :)

14 Jan 2014

Book review: To Die For by Christopher Pike

It's the perfect weekend...for murder.

A snowbound ski resort.
A tropical beach paradise.
Who wouldn't want to spend their vacations in these dream places?

For two different groups of friends, though, the dreams will quickly turn to nightmares.

On the ski slopes, dark suspicions arise among six girls who may be hiding a deadly secret.

At the beach, a tight knit crew must confront their ugly past...or suffer violent consequences in the present.

In both groups of friends, not everyone is who they seem, and someone is very bloodthirsty....

Christopher Pike's To Die For brings two books in one: Slumber Party and Weekend. Both go well together with the theme of past secrets and tragic disasters between a group of friends. The settings for both books are in very isolated places where the truth about a certain past event finally come out.  Definitely better off being published together otherwise reading these as pure individual stories would have felt too similar. Yet still, both also failed to get me remotely interested in any of the characters and the events. When I was younger I probably would have devoured these stories but YA has come a long way since the short, cheesy YA horror and since reading them again 90s horror isn't as great as I remember.

Both stories have an issue with telling rather than showing. A lot of the characters' personalities were simply told to the audience through the narration rather than letting us find out through body language or habits, etc. The characters were also very typical. Nothing unique or complex about them. They were all the stock characters you could think of. The bitchy frenemy, the goofy sidekick friend, the serious, paranoid one. Not one of them in the books stood out.

While I wasn't hooked on either I think I preferred Slumber Party to Weekend. The end of Weekend felt quite anti-climatic with everything being wrapped up nicely with a bow. The villain wasn't who you thought they were and one of the friend's actions didn't seem to have any consequences. Once the situation was over everyone acted like nothing had happen. Slumber Party was more psychological and I would liked to have seen Pike explore more of the culprit's mind. Those little glimpses we got of their true character were enough to give us a basic idea of what they're like but the rest was left for our imaginations.

13 Jan 2014

Once Upon a Time: Why it works for me

I've discussed one aspect of Once Upon a Time before when I praised Rumpelstiltskin's character.  But the show is halfway into it's third season now and it's without a doubt my favourite television programme at the moment.  It's the show that has me looking forward to Sundays and what lies next for the characters.  I'm definitely hooked. 

So why has it worked for me? Why has it kept me on my toes, changing my emotions with the flick of a switch, and determined to see some sort of happy ending for everyone? Well, not everyone.  Unless they have more planned for Peter Pan in the next half of the season he is definitely an evil, little sod. 

For starters I loved the twist on fairy tale characters and how the writers can merge a couple of well known characters into one.  For example Rumpelstiltskin is merged with the Crocodile from Peter Pan and Beast from Beauty and the Beast. It works really well and helps give the characters more layers.  In some ways they stay true to their fairy tale characters.  Snow White can be the purest one of all with her optimistic look on life and keeping that hope that good will win.  But at the same time when she is forced into hiding by the Evil Queen she also manages to be quite the sneaky thief and an impressive archer. 

The Evil Queen has her moments where she is willing to sacrifice her loved ones to get her own selfish happy ending.  But when you find out about her wicked mother's past and how she was manipulated into becoming the Evil Queen you actually start to feel sorry for her.  And when you see how her love for adopted son Henry pushes all selfish thoughts aside you can see a character who wants, above all else, to be loved.  Especially by her own child who encourages her to redeem herself.

I love a story or a programme that can have me loathing a character one minute and then making me feel sorry for them the next.  As a writer I admire that.  I'm in total awe of other writers and authors who can flip my emotions and opinions around like that.  I love to see a heroic character have shades of grey and a villain who can be vulnerable.  Sometimes I don't know who to trust and that's why I'm hooked.  I want to see what's next for the characters.  Whether they're going to go all the way in redeeming themselves or turn to the dark side.  I want to see if they're all able to work together to save a loved one or their home from an even bigger threat and if all works out.

Have you seen Once Upon a Time? What other shows have you feeling this way and completely inspired? :)

8 Jan 2014

What's Up Wednesday

What's Up Wednesday is a weekly feature created by Jaime Morrow and Erin L. Funk. Perfect for readers and writers who want to share what they've been up to on a weekly basis and right now the place to share your goals and track your progress for Ready. Set. Write!  

1) What I'm Reading

Ash bu James Herbert. I didn't realise this until I read up about it that I've accidentally picked up the last in a trilogy.  So far it doesn't feel like I'm missing out on key plots.

 2) What I'm Writing

Just been concentrating on editing.  I'm nearly towards the end of this draft for Beast Inside and then it's just going over again and typing it all up onto the computer with anything I think I can still add to it.

 3) What Else I've Been Up To

I've done all three interviews at uni for my PGCE so I have a tiny bit of my life back.  Now it's just more mock tests for driving and studying for my Literacy skills test.  I'm a tad tested out.

 4) What Inspires Me Right Now

I haven't got round to it yet but I really want to get the time to watch Ginger Snaps. It's one of my favourite horrors and inspired the idea of making Caleb and Luca brothers.  I'm listening to the playlist constantly and watching other films that also helped to inspire the story to keep me working on it.