Tag Archives: fiction

Review: What’s Left Of Me

katzhangBook: What’s Left Of Me by Kat Zhang

Series: The Hybrid Chronicles, Book 1

Genre: Fiction/Young Adult/Sci-Fi

I should not exist. But I do.

Eva and Addie started out the same way as everyone else—two souls woven together in one body, taking turns controlling their movements as they learned how to walk, how to sing, how to dance. But as they grew, so did the worried whispers. Why aren’t they settling? Why isn’t one of them fading? The doctors ran tests, the neighbors shied away, and their parents begged for more time. Finally Addie was pronounced healthy and Eva was declared gone. Except, she wasn’t . . .

For the past three years, Eva has clung to the remnants of her life. Only Addie knows she’s still there, trapped inside their body. Then one day, they discover there may be a way for Eva to move again. The risks are unimaginable-hybrids are considered a threat to society, so if they are caught, Addie and Eva will be locked away with the others. And yet . . . for a chance to smile, to twirl, to speak, Eva will do anything

I’ve been aware of this book for a long time. It’s eye-catching cover has been a regular on my ‘favourite YA covers’ lists, and I only loved it more when I realised there were two faces hidden in the cover.

(To some readers, this may be obvious. For others, here’s an explaination: there’s the face staring at the camera, and the way that image has been cut makes a silhoutte of a girl on the right, head tilted to stare up at the top-left)

I got the chance to read it after winning a copy from Joanne over at Once Upon a Bookcase. She said it was one of her favourites, and I can definitely see why.

“What’s Left Of Me” feels a lot more like traditional sci-fi (like the works of Phillip K Dick, for example) rather than modern dystopian YAs. It takes a high-concept idea — a world where everyone is born with two souls, and one soul had to die when they hit their teenage years — and takes time to explore it.

The plot isn’t the point here. Sure, it’s still got action, adventure and speedy YA pacing, but that isn’t the aim of the story. It’s an exploration of the concept, and secondly an exploration of the characters. I loved that. It goes against YA genre tropes in a very subtle way, and this makes it one of the most thought-provoking YA sci-fi novels I’ve ever read.

First line: Addie and I were born into the same body, our souls’ ghostly fingers entwined before we gasped out very first breath.

Emma Maree Reviews: Blood and Feathers

Today, for their Road Trip Wednesday question for bloggers, YA Highway asked: What’s the best book you’ve read this August?

Well, read on to find out all about it…

 

Book: Blood and Feathers by Lou Morgan

Series: Blood and Feathers , Book 1

Genre: Fiction/Adult/Urban Fantasy (IMO, it’s perfectly suitable as YA crossover fiction too)

Alice isn’t having the best of days. She was late for work, she missed her bus, and now she’s getting rained on. What she doesn’t know is that her day’s about to get worse: the epic, grand-scale kind of worse that comes from the arrival of two angels who claim everything about her life is a lie.

The war between the angels and the Fallen is escalating; the age-old balance is tipping, and innocent civilians are getting caught in the cross-fire. If the balance is to be restored, the angels must act – or risk the Fallen taking control. Forever.

That’s where Alice comes in. Hunted by the Fallen and guided by Mallory – a disgraced angel with a drinking problem and a whole load of secrets – Alice will learn the truth about her own history… and why the angels want to send her to hell.

What do the Fallen want from her? How does Mallory know so much about her past? What is it the angels are hiding – and can she trust either side?

If you’re familiar with my novel Rebel Against Heaven you might guess that this story is very, very up my street. And you’d be  very, very right.

I preordered this book on the spot after reading that description, waited impatiently for it to arrive, then brought it with me from Nairn, to Inverness, to Stornoway and all the way back beforepassing it on to my dad.

The hierarchy laid out in Lou Morgan’s universe is gloriously detailed, with angels split into choirs under each Archangel with powers related to their choir. As a lady who’s spent far too much time with her nose in books about angelic mythology, the amount of effort put into Blood & Feather’s worldbuilding was great to see.

I had trouble empathising with the leading lady, Alice. She seemed to make a lot of decisions without even hinting at her motivations beforehand, leaving me to follow behind her in the dark without a clue what she was up to. But the other characters more than made up for this. The flawed angels are a world apart from their biblical counterparts, with kind-hearted but battle-hardened alcoholic Mallory, a disgraced angel, being the closest to human while cold, aloof angel Gwyn is his apathetic opposite.  The conversations between Alice and the angels were sharp and witty, keeping the story going at a great pace.

I loved the world created here, and I’m excited to see where else Lou Morgan takes this story in the sequel.

Emma Maree Reviews: Insurgent

US Cover

UK Cover

Book: Insurgent by Veronica Roth

Series: The Divergent Trilogy, Book 2

Genre: Fiction/Young Adult/Sci-Fi/Dystopian

One choice can transform you–or it can destroy you. But every choice has consequences, and as unrest surges in the factions all around her, Tris Prior must continue trying to save those she loves–and herself–while grappling with haunting questions of grief and forgiveness, identity and loyalty, politics and love.

Tris’s initiation day should have been marked by celebration and victory with her chosen faction; instead, the day ended with unspeakable horrors. War now looms as conflict between the factions and their ideologies grows. And in times of war, sides must be chosen, secrets will emerge, and choices will become even more irrevocable–and even more powerful. Transformed by her own decisions but also by haunting grief and guilt, radical new discoveries, and shifting relationships, Tris must fully embrace her Divergence, even if she does not know what she may lose by doing so.

This review will contain spoilers for Divergent. You can view my original spoiler-free Divergent review here.

Back when I reviewed Divergent I was quite unhappy with the book, and not for the normal reasons — the writing was flawless, and the action was gripping. I kept the review free of a lot of that annoyance, thankfully, but the issue still weighed on me…

It was about Al. Al’s this big, bullied Dauntless trainee from a troubled home who falls for our main girl Tris. Tris is happy being good friends with him, but his romantic feelings make her uncomfortable and she tries to avoid facing them. Then Al messes up and helps some of the more popular guys attack her in the middle of the night. He leaves when he realizes things are getting serious, but not before he’s smashed their friendship to smithereens.

Afterwards, Al tries to apologize. He’s clearly in a bad way, and Tris sees this, but she refuses to forgive him even when he shows that he’s really torn-up and desperate. At this point, I’m seeing all the warning signs and making a face a bit like NoNoNo cat.

Al kills himself. Tris doesn’t react to this with any kind of sympathy, in fact, she gets outright annoyed when they hold a service honoring him. And this angered me. I’m touchy about how mental illnesses and suicide is handled in fiction, and I felt like the book was deliberately taking an anti-suicide viewpoint completely opposed to my own feelings as a reader. It alienated me from Tris, it even made me uneasy about the author and hesitant to pick up the second book.

But I picked up Insurgent, and you know what? It made me feel so much better.

The two big issues I had with Divergent where Tris’ apathy over Al’s suicide and some confusion over the worldbuilding, and Insurgent really digs into both of these. Tris’ realizes she messed up by not forgiving Al when he begged for it, she regrets her actions, and we get to explore some of the deeper, more problematic elements of a world where everyone’s divided by their strengths.

Insurgent really is fantastic: the combat is well-researched, the injuries play out realistically, the politics and strategies are interesting without getting boring, and the main pair Tris and Four have this powerful argument-fueled relationship where they both have to try and balance out each other’s differences. This is the first book in the series where I’ve really, truly liked Tris as a character, and supported her actions, and it was great fun watching the story unfold.

Insurgent was a great example of how to improve on a first novel without slowing down the action. Now I’m really looking forward to the third book in the series.

Emma Maree Reviews: Divergent

Book: Divergent by Veronica Roth

Series: The Divergent Trilogy

Genre: Fiction/Young Adult/Sci-Fi/Dystopian

In Beatrice Prior’s dystopian Chicago, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue—Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is—she can’t have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself.

During the highly competitive initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris and struggles to determine who her friends really are—and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes fascinating, sometimes infuriating boy fits into the life she’s chosen. But Tris also has a secret, one she’s kept hidden from everyone because she’s been warned it can mean death. And as she discovers a growing conflict that threatens to unravel her seemingly perfect society, she also learns that her secret might help her save those she loves . . . or it might destroy her.

Divergent is set in a world where Society has divided into five factions in order to avoid war in the future. This is a bit of a love-it-or-hate-it concept, and I’m on the side of the room that loves it and the way it slightly echoes Harry Potter houses.

I particularly loved that Dauntless, the daredevil faction designed to protect the city from an unknown enemy, is visibly falling apart and straying from its roots. It did push past believability at times, though. Jumping from a moving train across a drop that actually kills a new initiate on your first day felt unrealistic. Punching each other into unconsciousness to prove you’re brave felt unrealistic. Blatantly ignoring a murder felt unrealistic.

A possibly fatal jump (with a net at a bottom) and computer simulations forcing you to face your fear made sense. They tested initiate’s nerve while still being in a controlled environments for trainees. But if you’re taking actions that are going to kill your new members, your system is broken.

It takes a lot for me to actually stop and say ‘this feels unrealistic’. It means the world-building isn’t holding up enough for me to believe life could be this bad, and it makes it harder to relate to the world and the characters. It didn’t stop me from enjoying the book, but it frustrated me.

The story is loaded with action and adventure, and the main character Tris is a really awesome, strong young woman whose struggles and conflicting thoughts are clearly shown as she tries to adapt to a very different new life.

The smart ways Tris dealt with people being harsh and cruel towards her was brilliant, and she’s refreshingly different from other YA protagonists in that she can be self-centred, manipulative, and cold. To the point where her viciousness towards a genuinely nice, but troubled character made me want to put down the book.

But on the flip side, there were so many things I loved. The book is very ‘clean’ – it’s hugely violent, and filled with action and romantic tension, but there’s no swearing or sex. I think this might be due to the author’s religion, hinted to be Christian in the acknowledgement, but the book has only minimal subtext and I really like how well the book managed to stay within the lines.

The romance is sweet and slow-moving, with no love triangle in sight, and the plot had more than enough twists and turns to keep me on the edge of my seat.

Despite all the conflicting feelings I had about the story, I was hooked from start to finish. I love the action, the adventure, and the world enough that I can look past my issues. It’s far too easy to overthink a story when you get that wrapped up in it, I think.

I’d recommend this book to any fans of YA dystopian fiction who like the concept of the world being split into factions, and who enjoy action-packed plots like The Hunger Games and City of Bones. I’m looking forward to picking up the second book in this trilogy, Insurgent, which comes out this year.

February Book of the Month

Today, for their Road Trip Wednesday question for bloggers, YA Highway asked: What was the best book you read in February?

This is, without a doubt, Veronica Roth’s “Divergent”.

I’ve actually been completely conflicted about this book–I got so immersed in the world that I over thinking elements, which meant I started over thinking my review, so I froze up and stalled and avoided hitting ‘publish’ on the review because I was blowing up everything out of proportion.

And that’s how I know I loved it. I got ridiculously, unconsciously invested in the world.

I’ll pop the review up tomorrow. 🙂

What did you choose for your response? Drop a link to your answer in the comments!

 

Emma Maree Reviews: The Graveyard Book

Book: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Genre: Fiction/Young Adult/Childrens/Paranormal/Horror

After the grisly murder of his entire family, a toddler wanders into a graveyard where the ghosts and other supernatural residents agree to raise him as one of their own. Nobody Owens, known to his friends as Bod, is a normal boy. He would be completely normal if he didn’t live in a sprawling graveyard, being raised and educated by ghosts, with a solitary guardian who belongs to neither the world of the living nor of the dead. There are dangers and adventures in the graveyard for a boy. But if Bod leaves the graveyard, then he will come under attack from the man Jack—who has already killed Bod’s family . . .

If you’ve ever read Gaiman’s “American Gods” (and you should) you’ll have an idea of what to expect here. Neil Gaiman is a goldmine of mythology and history, and his knowledge leaks into the pages. Everything is infused with accuracy and research, everything is referencing old gods and famous moments in history. They call it a kids book, but as an adult reader you can get so much more out of all his subtle little nods to history.

The story starts out with each chapter being a self-contained ‘snippet’ from the main character Nobody’s life in the graveyard, following him as he grows up and makes friends with witches, steps through portals into other worlds, and deals with a teacher who might not be all that she seems.  Towards the end of the story, all the individual sections start to come together as the man named Jack picks up Nobody’s trail once again…

Neil has a real gift with characters. The Graveyard residents are made memorable with only a few lines of text, and they’re all so likeable. I didn’t even realise how attached I was to these characters, until 2am on Christmas Day rolled around and I was still reading, still desperate to know what happened next and what these poor characters were going to have to go through.

This is a great fantasy novel – an easy, fast-paced read with a lot of depth and appeal to all ages.

GUEST POST: Lauren Kate on Editing

In between college and when I went to get my masters degree in creative writing, I worked as a fiction editor at a publishing house in New York. I learned about all the journeys a manuscript takes on its way to becoming a book—from its cover design, to the strategic selection of its publication date, to the marketing that gets it picked up off a shelf and into the hands of the right readers. As an aspiring writer, the most valuable lesson I learned during my days at the publishing house was the power of focused revision.

Writers are touchy. And writing feels very personal. Getting a twelve-page revision letter from an editor is enough to send many writers back to bed for a week. I had new writers call me crying after I’d sent them what (I thought) was a very positive and encouraging revision letter. And I can understand that fear. In high school and even college, I loathed the idea of revision. When I was finished with an essay or a short story, it was over, done. I’d completed it to the best of my ability. I never wanted to look at it again. That was then.

These days, I see revision as the moment when my stories really begin to sing. Every first draft feels impossible for me. Every revision gets the book closer to what it always wanted to be. Revision is FUN. You just need a little help from your friends and separate file to keep all the scraps you’ll have to cut (maybe they don’t belong in this book, but surely you can write them into your next one). Here are some tips I try to write and revise by:

  • Don’t revise while you’re writing. I could revise all day long and never write anything new. I make myself draft forward, instead of going back in to revise. I do that all the way through until I’m completely finished with a first draft. Then I have a foundation. Then I can go back in and make it better and have fun.
  • Once you’re finished with a first draft, take some time and space off. A week is good, a month is better. Don’t even open your document. Take a breather. Read some books. Do the things you’ve been abandoning while you were finishing that book. Let your mind breathe, marinate.
  • When you’re ready to dig back in, read the whole thing once. I load it on my Kindle, but before I had a Kindle, I would just read it on the computer (changing the font to something else, which makes it feel, bizarrely, like you’re reading something completely different—Try it. It works.) Read the whole thing in as few sittings as you can. Make notes on what stands out as working really well or not at all.
  • Based on the notes from your reading, take a stab at revision. Are there scenes you can’t see clearly? Flesh them out. Is your character feeling something on page 26 that doesn’t ring true in the larger context of the book? Reevaluate her emotional landscape. Are you bored? Trim the word count 10%! (A daunting but excellent rule of thumb) Did you laugh out loud or cry? Pat yourself on the back.
  • When you have one or two revisions completed on your own and you think your manuscript is really good, that probably means it’s time for someone else to take a look. Find a friend who you can swap stories with. If you don’t have writer friends, join a book club or a writing group to make some. I’ve done that in every new city I’ve lived in. Expect your reader to come to you with suggestions. Accept that your book is not perfect and will benefit from taking your readers’ questions into consideration.
  • Don’t follow advice from someone who doesn’t understand what you’re going for.
  • Do follow advice from someone who pushes you further than you thought you needed to go. There should be a voice in the back of your mind that says, “ohhh, this sounds really hard but it might be just the thing this story needs to be great.”
  • Go back to your book and make it better.
  • Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
  • Never give up—not after the first rejection letter or the hundredth.
  • In terms of publication, all you need is one person to say “yes.”

Lauren Kate is the bestselling author of “The Betrayal of Natalie Hargrove”, “Fallen”, “Torment”, and the newly released “Passion”! You can find out more about her work on her official site.

Aren’t these editing tips fantastic? I had no idea Lauren had a job as a professional editor, but it really shows in these expert tips! I’ve already been working to apply them to my work, and I hope they come in handy for all your aspiring writers.

Emma Maree Reviews: “Passion”

Lauren Kate’s “Fallen” series is one of the most popular reviewed series here on the blog. Thanks to Random House, I got hold of an early copy of the latest book in the series, “Passion”, for review.

“Every single lifetime, I’ll choose you. Just as you have chosen me. Forever.”

Luce would die for Daniel. And she has. Over and over again. Throughout time, Luce and Daniel have found each other, only to be painfully torn apart: Luce dead, Daniel left broken and alone. But perhaps it doesn’t need to be that way. . . .

Luce is certain that something—or someone—in a past life can help her in her present one. So she begins the most important journey of this lifetime . . . going back eternities to witness firsthand her romances with Daniel . . . and finally unlock the key to making their love last.

Cam and the legions of angels and Outcasts are desperate to catch Luce, but none are as frantic as Daniel. He chases Luce through their shared pasts, terrified of what might happen ifshe rewrites history.

Because their romance for the ages could go up in flames . . . forever.

Time travel is the latest addition to the “Fallen” series, playing an integral role in “Passion” as Luce hops around time trying to find some of the answers behind her curse. I love time travel, so I enjoyed Lauren Kate’s take on it.

With a unique set of rules preventing interaction with their past selves, both Daniel and Luce visit various different decades, and see their own past selves. The settings and cultures are only visited briefly, but Kate shines at them – showcasing culture and colourful characters, even if each location only features for a small amount of time.

She takes Luce from war-torn, snowy Moscow to 19th-century England; from Tahaiti islanders who mark themselves with elaborate tattoos to a Tibetan palace; even to a Mayan tribe with some terrifying rituals (my favourite scene).

It is important to realise that this book is both prequel and sequel – or else you might have the same niggling annoyances I did. The story arc didn’t seem to develop as much as in earlier books – the plot begins with Luce travelling through time to find answers, and that remains her objective for most of the book without any real detours. I could have definitely used a few more twists, but the last act of the book brought in some strong reveals and foreshadowing for the final book, “Rapture”.

As with “Torment”, there’s steady improvement in the writing – new characters, like the loud-mouthed gargoyle Bill, add some witty lines and a change of pace. The dialogue is sharper with some funny exchanges between Luce and Bill, and Luce takes a lot more control of her situation than we’ve seen her before. The world-building is also clarified – we find out more about the Announcers, shadows that are used to step through time and space, and there are some new rules about time travel and some exciting hints about Luce and Daniel’s curse.

I did miss some of the other characters – especially Cam. Cam’s awesome – but “Passion” does a solid job of filling in the back story and setting the scene for “Rapture”, which looks like an action-packed end to the series.

“Passion” is out on the 23 June. You can read our reviews of Lauren Kate’s other novels by clicking here, and we’ll have some exclusive editing advice from the lady herself on Friday.

You can pre-order it with free shipping almost anywhere in the world from the Book Depository, in Hardback or Paperback.

Disclaimer: A copy of “Passion” was provided for this review by Random House.

Emma Maree Reviews “If I Stay”

This felt like a very fresh book to read, for a lot of reasons. It’s filled with references to classical music and classic rock. It uses flashbacks to tell a lot of the story without slowing down. Most importantly to me, the main character Mia didn’t speak like a teenager. The 17-year-old cellist thought like an adult, acted like an adult, fell in love like an adult. It all made her so much easier to relate too, while the difficult situations she had to deal with in her life kept the focus on how young she still was.

When her entire family die in a car crash Mia is left with a choice: stay and be with her the boy she loves but with her parents and little brother dead; or leave, avoiding the pain and taking the chance to be with her family.

The story is broken up into sections of time, with flashbacks in-between telling the story of Mia’s life before the crash. The hospital scenes are told expertly, and the both past and present contain a huge amount of memorable characters –  Mia’s boyfriend, an up-and-coming guitarist trying to balance his relationship and his tour schedule, her punk rock parents, her drummer little brother, her grandparents, and a long line of relatives and friends.

While at first she’s quite detached from events, Mia goes through all kinds of emotions after the crash – her grief, her anger, her self-doubt and her loves all form vital parts of the story. The decision of whether or not she should stay is never clear-cut, because you can tell how much she loves her boyfriend and her grandparents, and how much she loves her parents and little brother.

Sometimes gruesome, sometimes funny, and always honest – Gayle Foreman’s “If I Stay” is a novel that will stick in your mind long after you’ve finished it.

Click here to read my review of the sequel, “Where She Went”.