Wednesday, 30 March 2016

March in Review


(I didn't take any photos this month - so here is one my mum sent me of our dog, Bracken - isn't she cute?)

March in Review

Hey people, how is 2016 treating you all so far? Are your shelves filled with good books? Your days full of sunshine? Is your tummy bursting with chocolate eggs?  I sincerely hope so!

As for me, I sort of achieved these things. I recently treated myself to a book buying extravaganza on my kindle. The sun is slowly burning away the smog, and the mini-egg survival parcel my mum sent out last week has been fully demolished. Life. Is. Good :)

So today I thought I would share with you some life-updates. Mostly a few personal achievements and a couple of crazy happenings. Otherwise, it’s been just another not-so-normal month in China. 

Achievements this March:

*I can now bench-press 22kg! Ok, so I can can only do 5 reps, but I’m pretty sure I’m the strongest woman in my gym :)

*A whole afternoon was spent mastering the art of baking lemon-drizzle cake. After all, I  have to do something to balance out all my gym time.

*Also I finally found the courage to send out some queries on my manuscript. Never have I agonised so much over an email, and I sent out 5! 

I then spent the last few days constantly refreshing my inbox before I finally remembered… It’s easter weekend in England. Everyone is on holiday. Duh! 

Reading:

I’m actually between a few books right now (yes, I’m one of those strange people who have about five books on the go at once) but I managed to finish two.

*Sphinx Queen by Esther Frisker - A fictional take on the younger years of the famous Egyptian Queen Nefeteri. This was the second and final book featuring Nefeteri’s adventures, and while I ultimately enjoyed it, sadly I really didn't like the ending.

*The Dreamsnatcher by Abi Elphinstone - Loved this book! A review will soon be following—and this one also counts toward my British Book Challenge :) 

On the blog, and potential future posts:

Thanks to a failing VPN connection it was hard to post things this month. However at the beginning of March I was lucky enough to be part of Maria. V. Snyders Blog Tour. She answered many of my questions regarding the inspirations behind her writing—if you haven't already you can check out that post HERE.

There are also two book reviews. Demon Road by Derek Landy & Knights of the Borrowed Dark by Dave Rudden. If you are interested you can click on the links to see my thoughts.

Otherwise I came to the conclusion I don't really post enough on this blog. At least not in a very social way… and I have to wonder when I became so anti-social. With that in mind, I’m planning some new posts to share with you my travels, my writing frustrations & motivations, and probably my thought on various topics. Hope you don’t mind!

Chinese Randomness:

So as some of you may have seen on twitter, I had shrimp cross my path. Yep, that’s right, a shrimp.

I was walking home from work, just another normal evening, when the sight of this small creature stopped me dead. It walked across the alley in front of me and my boyfriend, taking its time, doing it’s shrimpy-little-thing, as if it was perfectly for normal for it to be wandering the streets of China. 

I can only guess it escaped from one of the many seafood restaurants dotted about my neighbourhood. I hope it found a happy end…

Otherwise, teaching English is always fun. The kids expressive themselves the best way they can and its often very entertaining. One thing that made me smile this month was one little boy asking me about my grandfather. After I explained my grandfather had died many years ago the little boy patted my hand and said, “Your grandpa is game over? My fish is game over too.” My heart melted. 

And that just about raps up my month. So how is life treating the rest of you?

Saturday, 26 March 2016

Knights of the Borrowed Dark - Book Review


Knights of the Borrowed Dark
David Rudden
MG Fantasy
Knights of the Borrowed Dark book #1
UK Publisher: Puffin

Synopsis:

Denizen Hardwick is an orhapn, and his life is, well, normal. Sure, in storybooks orphans are rescued from drudgery when they discover they are a wizard or a warrior or a prophesied king. But this is real life—orphans are just kids without parents. At least that’s what Denizen thought…

On a particularly dark night, the gates of Crosscaper Orphanage open to a car that almost growls with power. The car and the man in it retrieve Denizen with the promise of introducing him to a long-lost aunt. But on this ride into the city, they are attacked. Denizen soon learns that monsters can grow out of the shadows. And there is an ancient order of knights who keep them at bay. 

Denizen has a unique connection to these knights, but everything they tell him feels like a half-truth. If Denizen joins the order, is he fulfilling his destiny, or turning his back on everything his family did to keep him alive?

Review:

This was a wonderful debut novel, full of fantasy, fighting, action and adventure—it is a book that will easily be enjoyed by both boys and girls alike. 

When eleven-year-old Denizen Hardwick receives a letter to say he will be spending the weekend with a long lost aunt, he is instantly suspicious. Having spent nearly all his life in Crosscaper, a bleak orphanage along the Irish coast, Denizen knows that outside of storybooks, relatives don’t just turn up out of the blue. Not without a reason. 

So when he and his aunt’s driver are attacked on the road, set upon by a hideous monster, Denizen eyes are opened to world he never he never even knew existed. A world his parents were determined to keep from. Because Denizen is the descendant of knights, knights tasked with battling back the creatures of darkness. But the knights numbers are dwindling, and now Denizen must make a choice. To join the fight as his ancestry demands, or return to the orphanage, and pretend the world is not on the brink of destruction…

There were so many things I loved about this book. It's vivid settings, the engaging plot, a cast of diverse and interesting characters. This story had it all, but what really grabbed me was the sheer fantasy behind the evil creatures. Shadows composing bodies from whatever earthly material at their disposal—I thought that was genius and it read really well.

Ultimately going into the book, I wasn't quite sure what to expect. I guessed there would be a secret society (and there was) and some fighting of evil monsters (there was plenty of that too) yet ‘Knights of the Borrowed Dark’ was different to anything I’ve read before. Not only were the bad guys unique, but Denizen read exactly as what the blurb portrayed him. A normal boy who suddenly found himself in the middle of a not normal situation. 

That really helped make the book for me, as I felt Denizen’s reactions were realistic. He fought hard to achieve his goals, and although he let others into his heart, he maintained his initial independence and didn't go through a total personality change. By that, I mean he was still himself at the end of the book, just a stronger and wiser version. 

In terms of the other characters, I enjoyed how they all came with a bit of backstory. I quickly grew attached to them, enough so that I generally worried for each of them during the battle scenes — and this I must really praise the author for. It is rare that I am moved to care about so many people during the course of one book. It normally takes two or three books before my heart will ache for the secondary characters too.

Otherwise the book was also very action packed and had a plot full of feelings. There were pinches of humour, dashes of sadness, plenty or surprise, some thrills and an overall creepy undertone that would send any readers imagination soaring. 

All in all, a spectacular debut that will be loved by all ages. 5 Stars!

Saturday, 5 March 2016

Night Study Blog Tour - Maria. V. Snyder on Inspiration




I adored Night Study. It is a truly fantastic book that adds even more depth to an already amazing series. It has left me thirsting for more and I can't wait for the next book! In the meantime, you can check out my review on Night Study HERE.
However as part of the Night Study Blog, I am lucky enough to have the amazing, Maria. V. Snyder here on the blog today to talk about her inspirations. 

So without further ado, here we go:

1) when your writing do you take any inspiration from music, or do you prefer to work in silence?
MVS: I do listen to music when I write.  When I first started writing, I didn’t as I would get distracted and, instead of writing, I’d listen to the lyrics.  When my dog died, my office was way too quiet (she snored), so I started to listen to classical music.  However, it wasn’t conducive to my fast-paced plots so I switched to pop songs.
2) The study books have a truly amazing cast of characters. Are any of them loosely based on real people? Any quirks or habits, perhaps even some one liners taken from friends or family?
MVS: There are a few characters loosely based on real people.  Rand the cook in Poison Study is based on my brother-in-law Randy who loves to cook.  Margg is a person I worked with long ago and hated.  Janco’s energy comes from an equally energetic friend on my volleyball team.  And I based Opal’s mother in the Glass books on my own mother (shhhhh don’t tell her!).   I’ve stolen a few quirks and habits from my friends and family, but I won’t name names as I don’t want to get into trouble ;).  Also when I meet people, they are always a potential source for either a character or the name of a character as I’m always looking for good names to use.
3) similarly are any of the settings inspired by actual places? For instance the commanders castle in Ixia, is that based on a real castle or time period? 
MVS: Not in the Study and Glass books.  I purposely didn’t set my story in a certain time period because I didn’t want readers to say, “They didn’t use the word “intell” in the middle ages.” Or “They didn’t have needles in the 17th Century.”   It’s a true fantasy world.  
4) How do you come up with such fabulous plot lines? Does your inspiration come from quiet walks in the woods? while cooking dinner? Or does everything just flow from your fingers when sat the computer? 
MVS: I’ve sparked on story ideas from a variety of sources.  I get ideas from the newspaper, magazine articles, books, TV shows, and movies.  It can be from something that comes up in conversation, from dreams, or from something my children say or do. Traveling has also sparked a number of ideas.  I tend not to lack for ideas just time!  However, the details and characters of a story’s plot develop as I write.  But I do my share of zoning out in the shower and while I’m otherwise engaged. I don’t think a writer is ever “off.”  We’re always open to the world around us, just in case.
5) Can you share with us which authors fired up your love of fantasy? Who are your role models? 
MVS: The first fantasy book I read was On a Pale Horse by Piers Anthony, and then I read his Xanth novels, starting with A Spell for Chameleon.  Those books hooked me on fantasy and I tore through everything I could find from Ursula K. LeGuin’s Earthsea trilogy to LOTR.  
As for my role models, I really enjoyed reading Barbara Hambly, David Eddings, Glenda Larke, Mercedes Lackey, and Marion Zimmer Bradley. They inspired my strong female protagonists.
6) When you were pursuing a career as a writer, what or who was your biggest driving force pushing you along the road to publication? 
MVS: I started getting serious about my writing when I was home raising my children. I’d quit work as an environmental meteorologist to stay home and during that time I wrote my first novel, Poison Study.  I thought it might be good enough to be published and I really didn’t want to go back to work when my youngest went to school full time.  So I was determined to submit the book to every publisher!  My husband was also very supportive and was happy to be a single parent a few weekends a year so I could attend writing conferences and take writing classes.  Without him, I wouldn’t be an author.
7) finally, on the topic of inspiration, is there anything else you would like to add? Such as do you believe in waiting for the muse to strike? Or will you write everyday, even if it feel like each word is tearing out pieces of your soul?
MVS: I use to write when the muse struck, but having deadlines turned me into a daily writer.  I started keeping track of my daily word count and I noticed that whenever I took a few days off from writing, my numbers dipped when I returned to my computer, but as the week progressed, my numbers increased.  It’s like a cold engine, when you first turn the key, it chugs and isn’t very efficient, but when it’s warmed up, it runs smoothly.  I write five nights a week and take the weekends off unless I’ve a deadline looming.  And I will admit, some nights it is very difficult to get words onto the page and I have to accept it’s a bad night and go to bed early.

Thanks so much Maria for your time today :) Be sure to check out the next stop on the tour tomorrow over at The Book Binge.




Wednesday, 2 March 2016

Demon Road - Book Review


Demon Road - Book Review
Derek Landy
YA Paranormal
UK Publisher: Harper Collins Children’s Books

Synopsis:

Full of Landy’s trademark wit, action and razor sharp dialogue, Demon Road kicks off to a shocking opener and never lets up the pace in an epic road-trip across the supernatural landscape of America. Killer cars, vampires, undead serial killers: they’re all here. And the demons? Well, that’s where Amber comes in… sixteen years old, smart and spirited, she’s just a normal American teenager until the lies are torn away and the demons reveal themselves.

Forced to go on the run, she hurtles from one threat to another, revealing a tapestry of terror woven into the very fabric of her life. Her only chance rests with her fellow travellers, who are not at all what they appear to be…

Review:

This was an interesting read as I really enjoyed most of the story, but found there were many times throughout the book when I couldn't relate, or get along with many of the characters. However I loved the many ideas, such as un-dead serial killers, demons, evil children and killer cars, that were woven into this story. Each was presented in a fun and very unexpected way and these unique plot lines were what kept me turning the pages. 

When sixteen-year-old Amber discovers she is a demon, and that her parents are out to kill her, she is forced into a life on the run. Now driving across America, keeping only a few steps ahead of her crazy, out-for-blood parents, she encounters vampires, witches and even more demons — all who seem to want to kill her. Only by making a deal with the biggest and baddest demon of them all, can she hope to find safety. But the big, bad demon’s protection comes at a price, and unless Amber can pay it, her soul will be taken in forfeit. Now Amber must decide, just which kind of evil does she want to become, and how much will she sacrifice to be free?

There were many great elements about this book. The author has an imagination I can only dream of and I loved all the sub-plots and side-quests that hindered the characters in their journey. However the main plot, I didn't like quite so much, mainly as I didn't think the reactions of Amber’s parents were realistic since they seemed to blow hot and cold all the time. We want to kill you - maybe you should join us - no, killing you is easier - Nah, let's be a family! This back and forth between them I found a little tedious and by the end of the book, I found myself wishing for her parents to die just to end their indecisiveness. 

The setting of the book was also really good. During Ambers Road trip, we get to see through her eyes much of America and its ever changing landscapes - and there was always a few facts and interesting backstory thrown in.

But the characters. As I already mentioned, I had a hard time relating to many of them. For instance the heroine, Amber. Ultimately I liked her, especially toward the end of the book when she was beginning to accept her demon-self and the perks that came with having horns and fangs. However in the beginning I found her excessively naive and thought she caused so many problems that could easily have been avoided.

Then there was Glen, the extremely chatty Irish guy. I understand he is meant to be an annoying character, but by the end of the story, when annoying should have turned to endearing… I still found him annoying. Mostly for me, the issue was his speech didn't read realistic and it tore me many times from the story. Admittedly however, I did sort of learn to drown him out by skim reading his lines (A sin, I know! And not something I usually do) but in this case, it helped make the book more enjoyable for me personally.

Milo on the other hand, I loved. A man of few words with an awesome, and completely demonic car — he was somewhat of a saving grace, especially as without him I’m pretty sure both Amber and Glen would have been dead by chapter ten. 

All in all, this was a difficult book to review. Ultimately I think the pros outweighed the cons, and I would be interested to read the second book. However I think younger teens would enjoy this more than older teens, mainly as I think the characters themselves had a younger mindset - thus leading to many mistakes, but a more exciting adventure. 3.5 stars!

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

February - Books, Queries and Cambodia

February - Books, Queries and Cambodia


(Angkor Temple 2016)

Hey all - so February has been a pretty awesome month for me. I had a fantastic ten days in Cambodia which I have to say, is one of the nicest countries I have been to yet. It had the beauty of Thailand, better souvenirs that Vietnam, more temples and statues than Sri Lanka, and fresh air that China can only dream of. And stranger yet, no one tried to swindle us - the people of Cambodia are lovely! 


(Rabbit Island - Kep 2016)

So between sightseeing and beach lounging, I also managed to get lots of reading done! Look out next month for the reviews. 

Books Read

Time Travelling with a Hamster by Ross Welford - Loved this! 
Demon Road by Derek Landy
Knights of the Borrowed Dark by Dave Rudden
Chosen by Lucy Coats
Queen of Always by Sherry D Ficklin 
The Secret Life of Daisy Fitzjohn by Tania Unsworth
The Captive Prince Part 1 by C.S Pact


(Angkor Temple 2016)

On top of reading, I am also now 2/3 of the way through editing my own YA novel - and after a tortuous three months or writing and re-writing my query letter, I think its done. Now to add some spit and polish to the dreaded synopsis and I can finally begin querying agents! Cross your fingers for me.

Other News

I tried making chocolate and peanut-butter brownies - and they are the best thing ever!
I hit my weight goal at the gym (Hence the Brownie Reward)
I got a pay rise at work - yay!
I also got shortlisted in a photography competition :)


So all in all, February has been a good month :) How about everyone else?