Books Books

The Lunar Chronicles

I mentioned in my latest blog how I was originally sceptical regarding the quality of a finished NaNo product. After all, writing fifty thousand words within a single month is a lot, and given one of the core tenets of NaNo is not editing what you write until the month’s finished, I found it hard to believe that the finished product would be as good as something someone took their time to write.

Hardly the first or last time I’ve been wrong. Today’s review, in honour of National Novel Writing Month, is the Lunar Chronicles, by Marissa Meyer. Not only did Meyer win NaNo, and go on to later publish a book from what she’d written, but during November 2008 she wrote three novels in a single month, which she later edited, and finally published, as the first three novels in the Lunar Chronicles. Knowing that made me eat my thoughts in regards to quality of a NaNo novel.

Of course, I know that much of the work that goes into a novel is done in the editing stages, though as a perfectionist who likes to get things write the first time, it can sometimes be hard for me to accept that. Yet I want to be an editor, involved mainly in that process. Yeah, I know I’m weird and illogical.

I have yet to read Fairest, but last year I bought Cinder on a whim. Once I’d finished it, I immediately had to go out and buy Scarlett, Cress, and Winter. I may have a bit of a problem when it comes to buying books. What can I say, I like to support fellow authors. While enjoying their wonderful words.

When I reviewed The Selection series, by Kiera Cass, I mentioned how I regretted judging the books by the covers, which is what lead to me taking so long to get around to reading them. The same thing happened with this series. Except, instead of expecting some sappy romance, I was expecting… Well, Twilight. The focus of red on the black cover for a Young Adult novel series gave me flash backs. Eventually, however, I bit the bullet, and I’m very glad I did.

On the scale of genres, I usually sit very far on the fantasy side, though now and then it’s nice to dip my toe into science fiction. I found that Meyer managed to blend both genres together perfectly. While there was a lovely science fiction setting, there was some classic fantasy tropes which worked together quite well. Then again, when you’re retelling fairy tales, the tropes are easy enough to fit in there.

I found the characters all amazing. As with Richelle Mead’s Glittering Court series, she manages to create four unique and strong heroines. Each heroine is strong in their own way. They all have their own goals and motivations, which are entirely different from each other. There’s Cinder, a genius mechanic cyborg, who also happens to be the lost Lunar princess. What starts for her as a pull towards a handsome prince, becomes a fight for the freedom of the people on the moon, whom she barely knew to begin with.

Scarlett lost her grandmother, and fell for the Big Bad Wolf. She stands up for the side of right, and for those who can’t stand up for themselves. While not the mechanical genius that Cinder is, she’s pretty handy with a gun.

Cress is a genius computer whiz, who grew up isolated on a satellite. She becomes attached to Cinder and her Prince, and dreams of her own handsome rogue saving her.

Finally, there’s Winter, the loving Princess, who’s equally loved by her people, although hated by her step mother (what is it with fairy tales and step mothers?). She has a strong attachment to a childhood friend, and an aversion to the glamour that is popular among Lunars.

The series is wonderfully written, with a cast of captivating characters, a compelling plot, and a fantastic setting.

I highly recommend it, and will almost certainly read it again at some point.

Not bad for something where three whole novels were written in the space of a single month.

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Stress and NaNo

National Novel Writing Month, or NaNo for short, is an absolutely wonderful experience. I can hardly recommend it enough. When I first heard about it, I was quite sceptical how can something that someone writes in a month be any good? But that’s not the point the point is encouraging people to write every day, and to get into that habit.
It’s a great habit to be in as a writer. Sadly it’s not one I’m in at the moment. I’ve mentioned previously how I’m currently feeling quite overwhelmed with stress. I had initially been looking forward to NaNo, as I have for the past few years. The NaNo community in Brisbane, which I am lucky enough to be a part of, is truly wonderful. We have some fantastic Municipal Liaisons (MLs) who provide us with sugar, and cheap coffee, as well as organise memorable events. From the Kick Off party, to the Thank God It’s Over party, November is usually a fun month where I churn out the words. For the past few years I’ve managed to go above and beyond the 50,000 that designates “winning” NaNo. Last year I even managed to double that word count.
This year, however, I have been struggling hard. I usually enjoy writing, though now it’s a struggle to come up with words and ideas. I have a story in mind, with an idea of where it’s going to go. This has never failed me before. However I feel so overcome with stress at the thought of writing, that I can barely bring myself to do it.
I’m not going to win NaNo this year. Which is fine. I have accepted this, and in doing so felt at least one cause of stress leave me. It’s sad that something I truly do enjoy can be a cause of such stress, but that’s sadly something I have to live with.
I was first diagnosed with depression when I was 18. Of course, being more aware now, I know that I was suffering for a few years before that. The anxiety diagnosis came later, and was more or less lumped into my depression. Again, it’s something I was struggling with long before the diagnosis. Knowing can make a huge difference though.
Of course, knowing why I am struggling to put words together doesn’t help me put them together. Even though I have given up trying to “win” NaNo this year, writing is still coming hard for me. I want to write. I have a novel I’m working on which I’m actually excited about. I have an idea for a visual novel, which I’ve started working on, and again am extremely excited about. However I look at tge words I’ve written, and I simply cannot find a way to continue.
Thankfully, the Brisbane NaNo community is truly wonderful. Even though I doubt that I will be able to write anything, I know that I will still feel so welcomed and supported at write ins. Sadly I haven’t been able to make the last few, though there’s one tomorrow I intend to go to.
I’d like to spend a quick moment now expressing my adoration for any of you with similar issues. It might not be writing. It might be spending time with your friends. It might be playing a game you like, or going to work. Often times we experience those moments we want to give up, or points we just can’t pass. Today, I managed to write this blog, despite how hard words have been to put together for me lately. Tomorrow, while I doubt it, I may just end up writing something at the write in.
Never be afraid to admit when you’re overwhelmed. Sometimes we all need to take a step back. We need to breathe, and take things one step at a time. I know I won’t win NaNo, and even writing this blog feels like a big step for me write now. That being said, here it is in black and white.
Just breathe and relax. Sometimes, a smaller goal might be necessary. Even when you’ve managed tougher ones before.

Books Books

Eliza and her Monsters

I’ve mentioned earlier in a previous Books Books how I was subscribed to Owl Crate, a service which would deliver a book to my door every month. Unfortunately, I’ve had to cancel my subscription for the time being. However, while I was subscribed I enjoyed quite a number of the books I was sent. It is one of those books that I’d like to talk about and share with you today.

I had no idea what I was in for when I first held Eliza and Her Monsters. I was definitely not expecting the roller coaster that Francesca Zappua took me on.

Eliza was a wonderful character, who suffers from anxiety and depression. It didn’t take me long at all before I connected with Eliza. An artist first and writer second, she had a blog she updated regularly with a story of her own creation, which had become quite popular. Of course, no one knew that it was actually shy little Eliza who was the artist in question. No one, save for two of her best friends, who she only really knew online.

I related to Eliza very heavily. Even if I’m miserable at art, and don’t have a crazily successful webcomic. I relate because like me, Eliza is a creative person, who uses her creativity as a way to get away from things sometimes. An escape from the world. Like me, she has created a world that she knows backwards and forwards, and characters she knows better than the people she lives with.

As a writer, I could definitely relate. Much as, as an anxious and depressed person, I could relate with her on that level. Eliza wasn’t diagnosed at the start of the book, but France wrote her so well that it came through clearly anyway. At least, it did for me.

Because I related so much to Eliza, I soon became desperate to finish the book, to find out what would happen, how this was going to go. Not going to lie, I had a bit of a sleepless night, with a fair bit of gross sobbing as certain things went down.

[Spoiler alert] When it came out without Eliza’s wishes that she was the author that everyone was obsessed with, she broke down. I also felt like I was breaking with her. The writing was so beautiful that I felt as though I were there, that my boyfriend and friends suddenly hated me. [End spoiler]

I was sobbing in the middle of the night, because the writing and characterisation was so perfect. I related so much to Eliza at that point. I understand how hard it can be to open up about things. Particularly big things. It seems easier to just keep it close to your chest, to never let it out. I’ve never had a secret as big as Eliza’s, but I’ve had moments where things have come out that I’ve been trying to keep in. It can be devastating, no matter how small it is, no matter how supportive people around you might be. It can be hard to have something like that come out.

Eliza wasn’t the only character I came to love in this book. Wallace was an absolute sweetheart. Then there’s Eliza’s family. Her brothers were wonderful, but I think I have to give some parent of the year awards to her parents. Certainly, they weren’t the best to begin with. They had some typical problems that parents of teenagers in Young Adult novels seem to have. They didn’t really understand their child, for one. However, when shit went down, they soon realised their mistakes. They fixed their ways, and worked hard to understand their child more. Zappia also did well to make it quite clear that it wasn’t purely the parent’s fault. Eliza wasn’t particularly open to her parents, to begin with. Yes, this is one of the things that a good parent aught to be aware of with their teenage children, and try to work around. Because, let’s face it, teenagers rarely talk to their parents. They’re almost never completely open with them about how they feel. I know I certainly wasn’t.

The ending was absolutely beautiful. I couldn’t have asked for more. It was so real There was no “she was fixed, everything was perfect.” Instead, Eliza started working on her problems.

Another thing that made this book so beautiful and special was the art that Zappia shared throughout it. Art from Eliza’s webcomic Monstrous Sea. With it, there was also shared some of the backstory and facts about the webcomic. There were some beautiful quotes which had meaning not only within the webcomic and the novel, but which has more meaning beyond that.

“There are monsters in the sea,” and “You found me in a constellation.” There are so many other beautiful quotes, both those that were in the webcomic which Eliza and other characters reflect on throughout the book, and in the book itself. These two are simply some of my favourites. And I may need to choose between them one day as to which will be inked permanently upon my body. One day.

I will most certainly be reading this book again, and I cannot possibly recommend it enough for everyone else to read. I cannot understate how much I loved it. It was positively beautiful. It made me ugly cry late at night while desperate to finish. I loved the art, the characters, and the story telling so much. Everything about this book was absolutely beautiful, and even though I know I’ll cry when I read it again, it’s going to happen.

Books Books

The Selection

I had seen The Selection series by Kiera Cass around for years. Not going to lie, for a good while I judged the book by its cover. The beautiful girl in the lovely dress—it looked beautiful, but rather turned me off of the series. Until, one night, unable to sleep, I decided to purchase the first book on my phone while I was sleeping over with no books. I didn’t end up sleeping at all that night.

The first book surprised me by how much I enjoyed it. The story was wonderful, the characters were engaging, and the romance? It swept me off my feet. It was a weird story to read for me. Not because I had spurned it due to its cover for so long. Or even because I read it on my phone, when I’m a firm believer in reading physical books for the most part. The weirdest part about reading this book for me was the main character’s best friend.

America Singer, the protagonist, became friends with Marlee, another girl up for the selection. This was the first time I had ever read a book where a character had the same name as me—and spelled correctly, too! That may have even been one of the reasons I ended up finishing that book that night. That, and it was honestly just a wonderful book.

After reading The Selection, I naturally had to go out and buy the rest of the series. Each book was just as engaging. It amazes me how a book series that is almost entirely based on romance can remain as engaging as this series did. Don’t get me wrong—I’m no stranger to romance novels, or series. I can be a fan of them when done well, like this one was. However, I usually prefer my romance to be more of a background thing.

I prefer an element of suspense with my romance, which some books purely dedicated to romance take away. Your main character and their love interest are introduced, and it seems incredibly obvious that despite whatever else might happen, they are going to end up together.

There was an element to that in this series, of course. However, the character dynamics, and everything else, still had me absolutely hooked, desperate to finish the book, and the series, to find out what is going to happen next.

The concept of rags to riches is an old one, prominent in many of the world’s favourite stories and fairy tales. From Cinderella, to Harry Potter, going from a poor background, a nobody, to something else, has fascinated people for many years. No wonder, when so many of the world are among the poorer class. The fantasy of being able to wake up one day and find yourself pampered, and cared for after years of looking after yourself (and others) is one that many people hold onto. Inevitably, we all seem to strive toward this dream. Whether it means working hard, buying lottery tickets, or reading whatever we get our hands on in the attempt for some brief respite.

It’s a beautiful dream, and one that Cass realises wonderfully. The cast of characters are all wonderful and engaging. The romance was wonderfully written. The whole series was stunning.

I will definitely be re-reading these books one day.

Books Books

The Witch’s Kiss

Just a quick book review for today. I do promise that they won’t always be quick. I often stroll through bookstores, either looking for something specific, or simply looking, and picking up anything that catches my eye. The Witch’s Kiss, by Katharine and Elizabeth Corr was one such book which happened to catch my eye, once upon a time.

The book was… Interesting. I loved the premise, however I found that the romance was quite forced. At least, that’s how it felt to me. There were some times as well when some of the characters felt a bit flat to me in general. I found this quite unfortunate in what was otherwise a very promising book for me.

Now, don’t get me wrong. The story was intriguing, and when they weren’t a bit flat I did quite like the characters. So, naturally, when I finished it, I bought The Witch’s Tears as soon as I saw it. Likewise, I bought The Witch’s Blood as soon as I found it, which is the third and final book of the series.

It seemed to pick up for me in the second book, with the introduction of more characters, and a romance which seemed to progress more naturally in my mind.

Overall, I did enjoy the story. There were some lovely twists and turns in each book, which actually surprised me, and that doesn’t happen as much as I would like it to.

However, due to the flatness that some of the characters express sometimes, I think I’m going to be classifying this series under one that I may not necessarily read again.

Books Books

The Glittering Court

It hasn’t taken me long at all to fall slack with my attempt at posting a blog a week. I have been aiming to post on Tuesdays, as well as a book review on Fridays. This week, however, I have been feeling overwhelmed and stressed from uni, and otherwise absolutely horrible. I will try to discuss this in a blog next week. Until then, however, I will continue with my book review, and hope that I can at least keep this part up.

When I find an author I like, I stick with them. I try to get my hands on everything I can. It’s part of why it took me so long to start getting around to reading Terry Pratchett’s Discworld. Now, I am a fan of a lot of authors. I try not to keep up to date on every single one. If I did so, I would simply never have any money. Instead, I’ll usually keep my eye out for them whenever I’m in a book store.

It is in this way which I first came across The Glittering Court. I’d been introduced to Richelle Mead years earlier, when my friend let me borrow her copy of Vampire Academy. I was hooked. It didn’t take me long to find Succubus Blues at my local library. I bought every book in the Bloodlines series as it came out. There are still some books of hers that I haven’t started yet, but I am certain I will get there one day. Those books aren’t important at the moment however.

The Glittering Court series is wonderful. When colonising a new world, the rich and elite try to train young women into perfect wife material, to more or less auction as commodities to the rich and powerful of the new world. The girls all get the opportunity to better themselves, to start a new life, and to help out their family. The first novel introduces us to three very strong independent women who clearly signed up for the glittering court for different reasons, although we only had proper insight into Adelaide and her reasoning.

Adelaide joined to escape an arranged marriage, so that she could make her own choices, and live her own life. A noble playing the part of a peasant trying to learn to play the part of a noble, Adelaide is charming and irreverent.

Mira, whose story is told in Midnight Jewel, the second novel, is a strong woman who is determined to find her own independence, to help out her brother, and to stay true to herself.

Tamlin, whose story is told in The Emerald Sea is introduced as perhaps one of the most stubborn, strong willed people who have ever lived. She is determined to make a life for herself, and for her family, and she will stop at nothing until she gets the comfortable life that she and her family deserve.

All three women are beautiful and strong, with their own clear voices, something that I know can be hard to achieve at times. The three stories happen simultaneously, while each girl is in her own world. While Tamlin’s ship went far off course, Mira is busy sneaking out to help freedom fighters at night, while Adelaide spends much of her time simply trying to keep her love’s outlawed faith a secret. While the same story happens over the top of all three, each story is very much its own, another very skilful thing. While there are recognisable parts in each book, you don’t find yourself bored and wanting to skip over because “you know what happens”. Instead, you find yourself intrigued to see what the other character sees, what they feel, how it affects them and their secrets.

Each book has its own level of romance, adventure, and intrigue. Even when we know the secrets that the girls are desperately hiding from each other, there are further layers of mystery to be unwrapped which each character shares their side of.

I love being surprised and taken to an entirely new world by a familiar author. Even within the same world and overarching plot, there were such wonderfully different intricacies of each story that I would definitely find these books worthy of rereading.

Books Books

Kingmaker Chronicles

I mentioned in my latest blog/Books Books how I recently read the first book in The Kingmaker Chronicles by Amanda Bouchet, and had to go out and buy the next two in the series. I don’t know if I can do this series justice in my review, but I can try.

I couldn’t tell yo how long I had A Promise of Fire before I started reading it. I may not have mentioned in the blog that accompanied the last Books Books that I have a bit of a problem when it comes to buying books. I’m certain I mentioned that I tend to buy books a lot, but that’s only part of the problem.

The other part is that while I do read a lot, I don’t always read every book I buy. At least, not right away. I fully intend to read all of the books I’ve bought. Eventually. When I was still buying four Discworld books a month, I would wander through the bookstore, and buy a book that caught my fancy, while placing the next four books on order. Then when they were in, I’d buy them, along with another book that caught my fancy. Sometimes, I would read the book that caught my fancy right away, other times they went to… the shelf.

The shelf doesn’t exist because I don’t want to read the books. Instead, it’s where books that I’m interested in reading will sit until I’ve read the books that caught my attention more recently. The books on the shelf are never bad, I’m simply more taken by something else at the time. Often, as is the case here, when a book finally makes it off the shelf and into my hands, I find myself so enamoured that I simply must consume it as quickly as I can, and continue on to consume anything else that there is to do with it.

When I went down to Melbourne recently, I brought four books with me. There was the one I had just started reading (The Witch’s Blood, by Katharine and Elizabeth Corr), Mirage, by Somaiya Daud, which I discussed last week, Bitten, by Kelley Armstrong (which I still haven’t gotten around to reading. I have much of the series, and will eventually get there) and finally, A Promise of Fire.

I finished the first book shortly into my stay, and began Mirage. I didn’t end up starting A Promise of Fire until just before my flight back home. I was happily surprised that I spent more time being social down in Melbourne than reading books. At least that means I didn’t end up finishing all of my books and not having anything to read for my flight home.

I was enamoured very quickly. Catalia was simply a wonderful character and Bouchet a brilliant story teller. I was soon drawn into Thalyria, alongside Cat as she was kidnapped by Beta Sinta, and his team.

Sometimes when a book introduced a number of characters who are often seen together, I find it can be difficult to distinguish between them. As great as the book might otherwise be, it can be disappointing to find two characters who could easily merge into one and not be missed. I initially found myself worrying, when Flynn, Carver, and Kato were all introduced along with Griffin. Griffin clearly stood out as the love interest, so I worried that the other three might blend together.
This was definitely not the case though, which I was very pleased to discover. Each member of Beta team was incredibly distinct, all the way throughout the series. (SPOILER ALERT: Oh Gods, I’m crying at the loss of Kato. Such a pure soul.)

Amanda Bouchet promised fire with the first novel, and Gods did she deliver! Clearly she must be a Magoi herself, for when she used that name, she must surely have been compelled by magic to deliver.

The story was engaging, with wonderfully unique characters. Thalyria was a fantastically built world with a recognisable pantheon of Gods (who may just happen to be my favourite pantheon already). All public domain characters were written brilliantly, without betraying their true characteristics, which is always good to see.

The love story was beautiful, and didn’t make me roll my eyes, which is always a plus. I often find myself bored with love stories, because often fantasy books feel that they need one when it’s not absolutely necessary for the story to make sense. In this case, the love story was integral to the story, but it also wasn’t the only thing that the story rested upon, making it that much better in my mind.

Another thing I love about a good book is that it leaves you with a strong message. There are quite a few strong messages from this series which I took away, and would like to share with you reading this now.

One that is strong in a lot of fantasy media is the concept that family doesn’t end in blood. This concept is in Harry Potter, with Harry and Hermione being all bar adopted into the Weasley family even before they became official members. It’s also particularly strong in Supernatural, with Bobby at one point saying “Family don’t end in blood, but it doesn’t start there either.” Family isn’t what you are born into. Harry’s blood family may be the Dursleys, but the family of his heart is the Weasleys. Sam and Dean may be blood brothers, but their father wasn’t the best, and the rest of their family is those who they gather around them. It’s Bobby. Jo and Ellen. It’s Charlie, Claire, Jody and Alex.

It’s prominent in another fantasy series that I’m in love with at the moment lately, The Medoran Chronicles by Lynette Noni. It’s there in Vampire Academy, Bloodlines, Succubus Blues, and The Glittering Court by Richelle Mead. I’m finding it in the Vimes or other Watch books by Terry Pratchett. This is a message which I love and find incredibly true.

I have a good family, but my friends are also my family. I care about them and love them, and will always be there for them. Family doesn’t end with blood, and it’s always nice to see a book pull this message off well and without trying to sound preachy about it.

Similarly, and another message that’s prominent in a lot of fantasy novels, including the ones that I’ve mentioned, is that caring for people, and having people care about you, makes you stronger, not weaker. Again, Bouchet manages to get this message across without sounding preachy about it, which is always amazing.

Another message that is important that I took away from this series was that people can be contradictions, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Cat is a wonderful contradiction. She doesn’t want to care for anyone, but when she does she cares hard. She doesn’t want to have responsibility, but when she does she carries it on her shoulders with pride.

I know that I feel like a contradiction myself so often, and it’s just lovely to see that being reaffirmed in a novel, particularly one that I found as lovely and beautiful as this series. Amanda Bouchet is an absolute master craftswoman, and I look forward to reading more from her.

As I mentioned in my previous review, I will rate books more by whether or not I would read them again. I would, and one day I certainly will, absolutely read this series again.