greetings from st helena shona kaye

Greetings from the other side of the world!

 

I’m writing this from St Helena: a beautiful little dust-speck of an island in the South Atlantic, my birthplace and (not coincidentally) the setting for my first book, Blood’s Veil

 

Ain’t it pretty?

 

shona moyce st helena
Image © Shona Kaye

 

Epic views aside, when I said back in February 2018 that posts would ‘be sporadic‘, I’m fairly certain a year-long absence—from this blog and from UK life—was not what I had in mind at the time. Yet, I find myself still here on the island—back at home after fourteen years—in a new job and a new relationship… I won’t bore anyone with the details—you’re welcome!—but let’s just say if that last post in 2018 was a cliffhanger at the end of a book or movie, the (slightly dodgy) sequel features an all-new cast of characters, a completely different setting, and a haphazard mishmash of inexplicable (and let’s be real, at times, downright crazy) events. Quite frankly, even I have no real clue what’s been happening half the time.

 

Life sure knows how to knock you on your ass when you’re already confused about which way is up.

 

At the time, if a single person had so much as whispered the words ‘silver lining’ or ‘everything happens for a reason’ or [insert irritatingly optimistic outlook here], I’d have likely bopped them on the nose—and then some.

 

Honestly, though… they’d have been right.

 

As annoying as it is for a cynic like myself to admit, sometimes, things really must get worse before they get better, and enduring the first few months of hell back here on St Helena has proven to be more than worth it. It isn’t always ideal, it’s never perfect, and there are still days when life is nothing but a big confuddling mess. 

 

But… right now, I’m happier than I’ve been in a long time.

 

It brings this quote to mind from Irish novelist, George Moore:

 

A man travels the world over in search of what he needs and returns home to find it.

 

Until next time, here are a few photos from the last year on St Helena, including a couple of snapshots from the signing at St Helena’s public library last year. 

 

 

shona moyce st helena author

 

shona moyce st helena

shona moyce st helena

 

 

 

 

shona moyce st helena
Image © Shona Kaye

 

shona moyce st helena
Image © Shona Kaye

 

shona moyce st helena
Image © Shona Kaye

 

 

Up next…

 

 

  • A whole heap of book reviews for the hefty chunk of my TBR list, including Stardust and American Gods by Neil Gaiman, Half Bad and Half Wild by Sally Green, Gone Girl, Dark Places, and Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn, and The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins.

 

  • All-new blog posts, the first of which will include topics such as the link between creativity and mental illness, BS facts about writing, and on a more lighthearted note, more listicles (yay!) including the top ten polarising books and best-loved (and most hated) tropes. 

If you’re new to the blog, you can check out the archives here:

WRITERLY POSTS

Tips, tricks, resources, sob stories… battles with procrastination… intriguing, right?

BOOKISH POSTS

Everything bookish from characters and tropes to book faves, raves, and rants.

 

REAL LIFE POSTS

Embrace the world of fiction as much as you like, but sooner or later pesky real life beckons. More’s the pity, sometimes.

 

you can't go home again

THOMAS WOLFE FAMOUSLY SAID:

‘You can’t go home again.’

Of course, he meant that time and change doesn’t allow for such nostalgia… but nevertheless, Mr Wolfe (you bloody know-it-all) we ARE going home… again. We are moving back to St Helena. In just a few days we will have (hopefully) packed up and will be boarding a flight to leave England for an unknown amount of time and let it be known that I’ve bounced back and forth between sorrow and excitement and sheer bloody panic more times than either Gary or I can count.

But we ARE doing this. Together.

Some days I still find it hard to believe I’m married. Like any relationship, you stumble through the mundanity of daily life, you ride out the drama, and you continue hoping that the good will always outweigh the bad. It’s give-and-take, and not always in equal measure but you know that if there’s anyone that will get you from one day to the next, it’s this person. (Or Damon Salvatore.) Ups and downs are inevitable but somehow you stay committed and with every struggle you overcome, that once-delicate, rosy love between the two of you, solidifies into the very foundation you find yourself standing upon.

And yet, nothing tests the tether between two people more than grief. If you’ve ever lost someone you love, know this: watching someone you love slowly lose their loved one is, at least in my experience, fifty times harder.

Your gut instinct is to try and fix whatever’s broken but sometimes, like now, it’s all completely out of your control, and all you can do is watch and wait and try not to say anything too stupid.

I’ll admit: I struggled with my decision. It should have been a no-brainer. Of course, I should support my husband. But honestly, if this was a human decency test, I’ll admit that I was initially heading for failure. I was reluctant to leave this place. I’ve been here for fourteen years, my immediate family are here, my fur baby is here, and both my writing ventures and studies are linked to here. I miss St Helena all the time and when we visited last year, there were aspects of that trip I could never replace—seeing old friends, reuniting with family, beholding those epic fucking views I’ve yet to find anywhere else—but holidays are entirely different from uprooting and relocating, and the last time I lived and worked on St Helena, I was eighteen. EIGHTEEN!

You’d be surprised what kind of dilemmas your brain will conjure up mid-panic.

What if we don’t like it? What if we can’t adjust? Cockroaches have it in for me. Unlimited broadband doesn’t exist! What if I miss the British weather too much? (Lol JK.)

When all was said and done though, the one and only real question I had to ask myself was this: is all of that more important than what my husband needs right now? And the answer, obviously, is no.

SO, HERE’S TO THE NEXT CHAPTER.

It will begin with sorrow and grief but maybe it won’t have to end that way. Maybe we will settle on St Helena or maybe, we’ll return. Either way, sometimes life isn’t about knowing which choice is right or wrong but rather, knowing which choice you are able to live with. And whilst we get our shit together and overcome whatever lemons life throws in our faces, we can take comfort in the fact that as always, we have each other… and this view…

st helena view

Image by Shona Kaye (2017)

P.S. Blog updates will remain sporadic until we’re settled. But my fingers are still firmly crossed for a 2018 release of Immisceo: Undone.

Wishful thinking, perhaps? We’ll see…

writers block shona kaye

The debate on the existence of writer’s block is as long as it is tedious. There are those who would argue that it’s nothing more than an excuse for laziness but if you’re a writer, you’ll know these people and that statement are wrong. Yes, we all make excuses from time to time. When I sit down to write, I am often overcome with the urge to organise my entire music collection or—horror of all horrors—partake in housework. This is called procrastination, a term I’m sure you’re overly familiar with.

 

Writer’s block, on the other hand, is an entirely different beast.

 

And when it comes to defeating it, Google suggests a plethora of articles claiming to solve your dilemma. However, most articles will offer up poetic overarching statements like ‘let go of your fears’ and ‘forget about your expectations’.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with this. It’s actually good advice—but it’s vague as all hell.

 

By all means, DO let go of expectations and fear and doubt and worry; these things will only hold you back and cause you to censor yourself. But if you truly want to kick-start your creativity again after a period of inactivity, arming yourself with a few specific, practical tips is perhaps the best way forward.

Here are six practical things I do to trick myself out of writer’s block:

1. Cut distractions.

Put every device (including the one you’re using to write) on Airplane mode. Make your writing the ONLY thing in front of you and force yourself to put one word in front of the other. Even if you ignore the rest of this list, this tip alone can get the ball rolling. The internet is built to distract us. Shut it out. (And no—doing ‘research’ does not qualify as writing.) 

 

2. Hit fast forward instead of pause.

If you’re stuck on a chapter, jump ahead; you can always come back to the previous one. If the idea of this rattles your nerves and you absolutely MUST write in order, simply jump ahead within the scene. This may sound unhelpful but the difference it can make might surprise you. The beginning of a new scene plays havoc with my perfectionist’s brain so I avoid the pressure of constructing a perfect opening and skip it altogether. The ellipsis is your friend. Just add dot-dot-dot, hit enter, and write the first few words that come to mind. Keep going. Add an ellipsis every time you hesitate and focus only on the bits that are clear to you. By the time you reach the end of your scene, you’ll have found your writerly groove and will fill in those gaps with ease.

 

3. Write badly.

Give yourself permission to suck. Much like dancing like no one is watching, writing without censorship or editing of any kind will tap into your creative well. No author writes a perfect first draft. Write with abandon—write with the knowledge that the only pair of eyes to lay sight on this travesty will be yours. Use ALL the adverbs. Write monotonous drivel. Throw in XXX when real words fail you. Just tell the story. THEN go back and fix it.

 

4. Check that outline.

An outline is your map in the story wilderness. Just as you wouldn’t go on a trip without first finding out how to get there, don’t set yourself up for extra work and brain ache by skipping this important step. The story is important but knowing the structure and having a clear timeline of events by which to tell that story will save you a world of pain. I get it. I used to be one of those people who thought that writing a rigid and detailed guide would hinder creativity. It didn’t. And an outline doesn’t have to be rigid OR detailed. It can be as flimsy as you like. It can be as simple as listing the main events of your book. You can leave the ending wide open if that better suits your purpose and technique. But regardless of how much work you do or don’t put into the outline, having one will help you when you find yourself stuck or lost. And if you don’t already have an outline, make one. (Scrivener is perfect for this.)

 

5. Outline the current scene.

Like a micro version of everything I mentioned in the last tip, outlining on a smaller scale has helped me battle my way through stubborn scenes. Bullet-point everything. You know where your character was last seen and what she was last seen doing. So, what happens next? Your main outline should tell you as much or perhaps you’re winging it. Either way, once you know where she is to be seen next, bullet point your way through each step she must take. This might sound like a stupid or redundant move but it does help. With the main course of action in place, it becomes surprisingly easier to fill in the gaps and flesh everything out.

 

6. Read.

This final tip might seem like a bit of a cheat. Reading won’t increase your word count. At least, not directly. Sometimes though, we really do need a timeout from our writing projects. By using that timeout wisely—by reading, for instance—you’re refilling your creative well. It does work. I’m still constantly surprised when something as simple as a well-constructed sentence in a book will spark a new train of thought for my own work. Or sometimes, after finishing a beautiful story, I’m compelled and once again inspired to redouble my writing efforts. By no means should you ever wait for this inspiration—but if all else fails, and you’ve been sentenced to the writing bench, reading another author’s work will fire things up again. Writing requires imagination and there is no better way to develop and nurture and harness your imagination than by reading.

 

These tips have worked for me, time and time again, and I hope they might prove useful to others. I’d love to know what other methods actually work for the rest of you. Leave a comment and let me know your personal tricks for beating writer’s block.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

GENRE: Fantasy | PAGES: 246

My rating: ★★★★

The Ocean at the End of the Lane is intensely captivating. It reads like a dark fairy tale of sorts, packed with heavy themes such as truth and death and sacrifice.

The narrator is a nameless boy. We meet him first as a man returning to his childhood home of fragmented memories but the story is told in the distinct and engaging voice of his younger self. He recounts the events following his seventh birthday, which begins as a run-down of semi-normal every-day happenings before escalating to something disturbing then entirely other-worldly.

This child endures certain horrors no child should witness; it is dark and disturbing. Yet, the way everything is described is such that you cannot turn away. From the death of that kitten to the suicide scene, from the abuse at the hands of his own father to the battles with faceless horrors borne of the shadows, the story pulls you helplessly along, conjuring up a world that is equal parts stark horror and sheer beauty, constantly alternating between magic and harsh reality.

The three magical women the boy encounters, possess elements of both the Fates and the Maiden, Mother, and Crone ensemble. Their sense of timelessness and all-knowing power and truth came through and although their identity or purpose is never fully explained, the mystery of them is beguiling rather than frustrating.

The writing is beautiful—sheer perfection. Neil Gaiman makes poetry out of everything—even the mundane, and this tale is anything but mundane. It is fantastical and wonderfully weird yet somehow, the heart of the story keeps its feet firmly on the ground—the themes are as relatable as they are thought-provoking.

I thought: I’m going to die.
And thinking that, I was determined to live.

I loved this book. The Ocean at the End of the Lane is one of those rare oxymoronic gems, capable of both disturbing and fascinating the reader. It is uniquely imaginative and original while establishing and maintaining a keen sense of familiarity. Needless to say, Mr. Gaiman has yet another new fan and my to-read pile just got a little higher.

 

SEE ALL REVIEWS

 

the ocean at the end of the lane

 

Sussex, England. A middle-aged man returns to his childhood home to attend a funeral. Although the house he lived in is long gone, he is drawn to the farm at the end of the road, where, when he was seven, he encountered a most remarkable girl, Lettie Hempstock, and her mother and grandmother. He hasn’t thought of Lettie in decades, and yet as he sits by the pond (a pond that she’d claimed was an ocean) behind the ramshackle old farmhouse, the unremembered past comes flooding back. And it is a past too strange, too frightening, too dangerous to have happened to anyone, let alone a small boy. Forty years earlier, a man committed suicide in a stolen car at this farm at the end of the road. Like a fuse on a firework, his death lit a touchpaper and resonated in unimaginable ways. The darkness was unleashed, something scary and thoroughly incomprehensible to a little boy. And Lettie—magical, comforting, wise beyond her years—promised to protect him, no matter what. A groundbreaking work from a master, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is told with a rare understanding of all that makes us human, and shows the power of stories to reveal and shelter us from the darkness inside and out. It is a stirring, terrifying, and elegiac fable as delicate as a butterfly’s wing and as menacing as a knife in the dark.

writing tips shona kaye

We’ve seen them all, haven’t we? I’d need as many hands as a centipede has legs to count how many writing tips I’ve encountered and pondered over. Some were helpful; others weren’t. Most of what I know about writing I learnt from reading obsessively and spending an insane amount of time writing absolute garbage. Practice is vital: nothing makes for a better writer than writing itself—but still, even at the risk of adding to the mighty sea of advice, here are five of my own writing tips that I wish I’d known from day one.

 

Treat it like a real job.

Give your writing the time, effort, and respect as you would any other job. Show up or get fired. Develop a schedule. Stick to a routine. Write on a regular basis. Whether that’s a few hours in the morning before your day has begun or late at night when everyone else has ‘left the building’. Find what works for you. COMMIT. Treating it the way you’d treat a paid 9-5 job will beget dedication. The difference is this is something you’ve chosen because you are presumably passionate about it. Let that motivate you.

 

Use everything as research material.

I mean EVERYTHING. Had your heart broken? Lost a job? Grieving a loss? Been depressed? Harness that raw emotion and make it bow to your will. Draw on those experiences—the good and the bad (especially the bad)—and douse your writing with real and complex situations and reactions. This raw aspect of the human experience will make your story immersive and compelling, resonating with readers.

 

Forget the Muse.

It’s romantic as fuck to imagine ourselves as struggling artists. Like Shakespeare living by his pen, waiting for the beguiling Muse to whisper iambic verse into his ear. But Shakespeare likely knew the score—he was prolific as all hell. And to be a prolific, consistent, full-time writer means giving the Muse the middle finger—she’s tardy and unreliable. YOU’RE the writer. You’re the one that has to put in the hours and get the job done. Don’t wait for inspiration. Go and grab it by the balls.

 

Finish what you start.

We’re writers. We’re idea MACHINES. No sooner have we started one shiny new project do we have another idea beckoning at our writerly door. Ignore it. Tell it you’re not home. Send it to voicemail. Seriously. Ideas are brilliant but they’re a dime a dozen. They’re easy to come by. You know what isn’t easy to come by? A finished novel. So get writing. Create an idea bank and store that shit up. Treat it like a savings account and only dip in when you need to. When you’ve started a shiny new project, commit to it. Hell, marry it! And be faithful. See it through. Otherwise, you’ll end up with fifty-two incomplete files of three-chapter books, all of which have lost their sparkle. Completion is key.

 

Do it your way.

Yes, there are approximately 49 trillion rules out there for writing. By all means, learn some of them. But by no means do you HAVE to adhere to them. Do whatever works for you and for the story you have to tell. Then perfect it. Outside of grammar, punctuation, being well-read, and having a fierce grasp of language, there is no real rule to the art of self-expression.

 

What writing tips have worked for you? Which of them will you never get on board with? Let me know in the comments.

A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab

GENRE: Fantasy | PAGES: 400

My rating: ★★★

A Darker Shade of Magic has such a promising and intriguing premise. Parallel magical versions of the city of London? A mysterious magician of sorts who can walk between these worlds? Sign me up!

I went into this book expecting nothing but the highest form of original storytelling and while, to an extent, that is what I got, I couldn’t help feeling just a little disappointed.

A Darker Shade of Magic is, without a doubt, creative and original, but there was something about the story itself that, for me, lagged in more than a few places. While the concept of it is compelling, I found myself trudging through passages, waiting for everything to begin. Don’t misunderstand me—it is a very well-written book, but a lot of what we learn, particularly in the first half of the novel, feels like backstory. So much of it felt like a history lesson rather than a direct link to the characters in that present time and because of this, it lacked tension and suspense.

That said, once these stones of history have been laid, the magic of the story finally filters through. We finally get to see real connections between the characters—and those characters are well-drawn. I love Kell’s sense of family-oriented duty along with that undercurrent of curiosity and longing for who and what he really is. I love Lila’s strength and the subtle but defining change she undergoes as she aids him. But Holland is by far the most intriguing character for me. His complexity and grey morality make him the most interesting character in the book and I hope (can almost predict) that there’s more of him to come in future books.

The many mysterious details of the world are beguiling, rivalling the likes of the Harry Potter world, albeit on a smaller scale. And the distinctive feeling conjured up within each separate London is brilliantly executed, as is the description of magic.

Still, I just couldn’t fully connect with the book. While I enjoyed it and can appreciate certain elements, there was something about it that kept me removed from the story despite wanting the opposite. Perhaps book two and three will resonate with me a little better, having already set up the worlds in which Kell lives in book one.

Here’s hoping.

 

SEE ALL REVIEWS

 

a darker shade of magic

 

Kell is one of the last Antari—magicians with a rare, coveted ability to travel between parallel Londons; Red, Grey, White, and, once upon a time, Black. Kell was raised in Arnes—Red London—and officially serves the Maresh Empire as an ambassador, traveling between the frequent bloody regime changes in White London and the court of George III in the dullest of Londons, the one without any magic left to see. Unofficially, Kell is a smuggler, servicing people willing to pay for even the smallest glimpses of a world they’ll never see. It’s a defiant hobby with dangerous consequences, which Kell is now seeing firsthand. After an exchange goes awry, Kell escapes to Grey London and runs into Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations. She first robs him, then saves him from a deadly enemy, and finally forces Kell to spirit her to another world for a proper adventure. Now perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save all of the worlds, they’ll first need to stay alive.

best fantasy books shona kaye

Surprise! It’s NOT an ode to Queen. It’s another flaming list. 

I’ve said it a couple hundred times before and I’ll say it a couple thousand times more: I love a good list. But you know what I love even more than lists? Books. I can’t get enough of them. I could build a throne of all the books I own. I could crawl up into a fort made of books and lose myself in fiction for days. Have I made my book fetish clear yet? You get it, right? I love books and lists. I can stop banging on about it now.

So, this month, I’ve brought the two together again because I clearly have too much time on my hands—and voila: another book list. Specifically, the BEST books, and not just any books but the best fantasy books.

 

Ode to Fantasy

Now, I could no sooner choose a favourite genre or book than I could choose between Ian Somerhalder, Johnny Depp, and [insert your favourite eye candy here]. I want them all—all the men; all the books. That being said, there’s something special about Fantasy. To sum up what would otherwise be a very long and (for you) laborious declaration of love, I think Brandon Sanderson said it best: fantasy is all of that good stuff (romance, action, drama, etc, etc,) only WITH DRAGONS!

I am OBVIOUSLY paraphrasing here. Mr Sanderson is a damn sight more eloquent than this. But that’s the gist of it. Fantasy hits all the spots, checks all the boxes… I can’t think of a third… So…

 

On to the List!

Here are ten of the best fantasy books (probably OF ALL TIME), and because everyone and their pet crocodile have heard of the best fantasy books a bazillion times already, I won’t summarise any of these but I AM adding five of my personal favourites. (See my additions at the bottom.)

 

1. The Fellowship of the Ring (Lord of the Rings) by J R Tolkien

2. A Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire) George R R Martin

3. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (Harry Potter) by J K Rowling

4. The Eye of the World (The Wheel of Time) by Robert Jordan

5. The Name of the Wind (The Kingkiller Chronicle) by Patrick Rothfuss

6. A Wizard of Earthsea (Earthsea Cycle) by Ursula K. Le Guin

7. Assassin’s Apprentice (Farseer Trilogy) by Robin Hobb

8. Northern Lights (His Dark Materials) by Philip Pullman

9. The Final Empire (Mistborn) by Brandon Sanderson

10. The Colour of Magic (Discworld) by Terry Pratchett

 

Five of my Personal Favourites

uprooted

1. Uprooted by Naomi Novik

A loose retelling of Beauty and the Beast but with intriguing mythology and a beautifully vivid nature-based magic system. It follows a girl who is yet to learn who and what she is until she meets the Dragon.

See full review:
Uprooted

discovery of witches

2. A Discovery of Witches (All Souls Trilogy) by Deborah Harkness

A witch who doesn’t want her magic and a vampire older than the hills, time-travel through history to uncover the mystery behind a mysterious tome. This is rich with history and intrigue and is one of my favourite witchy books.

See full review:
A Discovery of Witches

shadow and bone

3. Shadow and Bone (The Grisha Trilogy) by Leigh Bardugo

Original storytelling with Russian elements, the Grisha Trilogy is rich with detail and depth. The fleshed-out world is refreshingly unique in both setting and story and is centred on an orphan girl who is thrust into power and magic.

See full reviews:
Book One: Shadow and Bone
Book Two: Siege and Storm
Book Three: Ruin and Rising

Witch Child

4. Witch Child by Celia Rees

A wonderful weaving of fiction and fact, set around the Salem Witch Trials and centred on a girl called Mary as she discovers who she really is and how to survive in her threatening world. Immersive and bewitching and unputdownable.

See full review:
Book One: Witch Child 

once burned

5. Once Burned (Night Prince) by Jeaniene Frost

Technically an action-packed paranormal series with witty, kick-ass vampires but with enough magic (particularly in the fourth book) to pass as fantasy. Easily my favourite vampire from one of my favourite authors, this crackling (punny!) series will have you binge-reading for days.

See full reviews:
Book One: Once Burned
Book Two: Twice Tempted
Book Three: Bound by Flames
Book Four: Into the Fire

Bonus

Lastly, if you haven’t yet checked out (or heard of) the fantasy romance series by yours truly, I’m adding it to this list, not because it comes anywhere close to the classics of the genre but because it does tick the boxes for magic and adventure in a faraway fictional land. (I visit this land on a basis far too frequently to be considered healthy or sane.)

I’ve added the synopsis below. Have a nosey. Check it out.

If you want to, that is. I’m not the queen or anything. Not today, anyway.

 

Immisceo: Taken (The Immisceo Series)

In the land of Nosiras, the Duciti’s word is law and their reign is absolute.

Luciana is a powerful witch: independent and wilful as she is strong. But when she is chosen by the Duciti to conceive an Immisceo witch to use as a weapon against Amara and her Outcasts, she has but two choices: obey with her freedom or without. When her Immisceo son is kidnapped, she will stop at nothing to get him back.

Nathaniel was born to the streets, then raised in an environment one rung down from captivity. Guarded by his older brother, he seeks freedom and adventure from his restrained life. Meeting Luciana will grant him one of these and will set him on a path which will test his ties of blood and love.

Caught between two enemies, Luciana and her unwitting companion are against the odds in their quest to save her son from a war that shouldn’t have been his to fight. In the hands of his kidnapper, Eli is as much a weapon as he would be in the Duciti’s—a weapon Luciana created. His life has been predetermined by those who would harm him, and Luciana must now right the wrongs she has dealt her son and save him from his fate—but at what cost?

Read the first three chapters here.

 

More about Immisceo

immisceo shona kaye

 

 

What are your all-time favourite fantasy books?

How many of the ‘fantasy classics’ have you read?

Let me know in the comments.

A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas

GENRE: Fantasy, Paranormal, Romance | PAGES: 421

My rating: ★★★

I desperately wanted to love A Court of Thorns and Roses. It’s a fantasy romance and a Beauty and the Beast retelling of sorts. There is such hype for the entire series to the point where I convinced myself it couldn’t possibly be anything but fantastic.

Sadly, for me, it fell a little flat.

Don’t get me wrong—it’s a decent story, compelling enough to keep me reading until the end and maybe even venturing into the rest of the series. But I can’t pretend I’m not disappointed.

Feyre is an underwhelming main character. She has potential; she’s a skilled hunter and a pretty decent human being—showcased in the provisions and sacrifices she made for her ungrateful family. But between her early stupid choices, her (sometimes) redundant narration, and her artist’s eye seeing the world ‘in colour’… she became—frankly—irritating. Yes. She’s a painter. She knows the name of ten different shades of blue. I get it. I don’t need it shoved down my throat.

The Beast—Tamlin—should have had the potential to make me swoon. He’s obviously gorgeous, he’s powerful, and so on and so on but there’s something not nearly as beastly about him as I’d been anticipating. Lucien, on the other hand, is a great character—and Rhys is even better. Both Lucien and Rhys have far more depth, and their complexities add intrigue. Even their personalities are more interesting than Tamlin’s, although I get that Tamlin is probably intentionally silent and brooding.

The author does a good job of setting up the world of the Fae. There was a little too much exposition for my personal liking, with side characters who served little purpose other than the relaying of important information to the protagonist. That said, the extravagant wealth and enchantment of the Fae world come through and the scenes in nature are written beautifully if a little overdone at times. I loved the different creatures of the world and I liked the setup of the various Courts with their corresponding seasons and magic. I also liked the simmering romance between Tamlin and Feyre. It isn’t as epic as I’d hoped for but all in all, it carried me through the book.

I’m in no hurry to pick up the next instalment in this series but the setup for the continuation of the storyline is intriguing enough to keep it on my to-read pile, and with much of the world-building out of the way, book two—and the subtle promise of the implications with Rhys—might make for an exciting follow-up to A Court of Thorns and Roses.

 

SEE ALL REVIEWS

 

  a court of thorns and roses

 

When nineteen-year-old huntress Feyre kills a wolf in the woods, a beast-like creature arrives to demand retribution for it. Dragged to a treacherous magical land she only knows about from legends, Feyre discovers that her captor is not an animal, but Tamlin—one of the lethal, immortal faeries who once ruled their world. As she dwells on his estate, her feelings for Tamlin transform from icy hostility into a fiery passion that burns through every lie and warning she’s been told about the beautiful, dangerous world of the Fae. But an ancient, wicked shadow grows over the faerie lands, and Feyre must find a way to stop it . . . or doom Tamlin—and his world—forever.

letter to my younger self shona kaye

 

Hello, Past Me.

It’s hard, isn’t it?

Life. Growing up. Discovering so many versions of yourself that you cannot fathom who you actually are.

So, you took the easy route and have begun to reflect what you believe people want to see in you but these versions conflict with one another. They rub up against each other like pieces of flint and we all know what happens then.

You want—so badly—to fit in, to measure up, to be loved and like a chameleon, you change your outer self to suit your present environment, your present company, your present need.

Stop it.

If you sit still long enough, if you pause for just a moment and take a time-out from the chaos of your next romantic adventure or the next dose of peer pressure or this week’s round of rebellion, you’ll figure it out. Amidst all the many masks and guises you’ve fashioned, you’ll find you in there somewhere.

But you’re not in the business of listening, are you? So bent are you on independence and free will, that you feel if something isn’t your idea, then it isn’t worth doing.

You’re wrong. 

But you’ll have plenty of time to realise this and you will.

You’ll wake up one day and not recognise yourself. And everything you perceive as hard will get that much harder, become that much more difficult to make sense of. You’ll begin to fear what’s ahead of you.

Don’t be afraid.

Face it. Charge headlong into what scares you.

Except I don’t really need to tell you that because this is what you’ll do. You’ll spend so long in what seems to be a perpetual state of confusion, that by the time fear beckons at your door, the certainty of it will be the very thing that beguiles you. And when you face it, when you finally discover what drives you, what matters to you above all else—and you will, as unbelievable as it seems now—everything will fall into place.

That’s not to say it will be easy. When we say things fall into place, it isn’t meant to be taken literally. ‘Nothing worth having is ever easy.’  The things you desire will not land in your lap but finding out what you desire and owning that desire is the first step to building it for yourself.

Have patience and be strong.

Every hardship you are yet to face—heartbreak, abuse, loss, mental illness—will build the very person you’re to become. It will feel as though the opposite is happening, of course. As if with every ounce of adversity, you’re being chipped away, one piece at a time. But know this:

You’ll get through it.

Despite feeling weak, you will somehow find the strength to keep standing, and the pain you feel will give you insight and understanding. It sounds like a steep price—and it is—but without it, you would not have half as much self-awareness or empathy or compassion. You would never know the breadth of what you’re truly capable of; maybe you never will.

Maybe we all spend our lives thinking we know how far we can be pushed while underestimating our resilience. When things get rough—and they will because that’s the way things are—remember this:

 

You are resilient. You can withstand the storm. The sun will shine again.

 

letter to my younger self shona kaye
Photo by Lori M. Sousa on Unsplash

Ruin and Rising by Leigh Bardugo

GENRE: Fantasy, Paranormal, Romance, YA | PAGES: 432

My rating: ★★★★

Ruin and Rising, the final book in The Grisha Trilogy, wraps up the series in a neat little bow. The story picks up right where we left off in book two and Alina, Mal, and their band of misfits have yet another dilemma to get out of and one last amplifier to track down.

I loved the friendships that developed in this book and both major twists were heartrending and superbly written.

Spoiler ahead!

The ending is… a happily-ever-after, I guess, if bittersweet. All the loose ends are tied, all is right with the world, and Alina gets what she’s longed for.

And yet—call me deranged—I longed for more. I longed for something else entirely. I longed for a completely different scenario—with the Darkling.

Despite his flaws and the horrors of what he’d become; despite the twisted manipulation and his hunger for power at any cost; despite all of his darkness, I wanted Alina’s balancing light to be his salvation.

So, while the series was wonderful and I enjoyed it immensely, the ending leaves me dissatisfied and a little disappointed. Although, clearly, I’m a hopeless romantic with some major psychological issues, so unless you’re like me, you have nothing to worry about. The World of the Grisha has become a fast favourite of mine and I’ve added Six of Crows (another series within the Grishaverse) to my to-read pile.

 

SEE ALL REVIEWS

 

  ruin and rising

 

The capital has fallen. The Darkling rules Ravka from his shadow throne. Now the nation’s fate rests with a broken Sun Summoner, a disgraced tracker, and the shattered remnants of a once-great magical army. Deep in an ancient network of tunnels and caverns, a weakened Alina must submit to the dubious protection of the Apparat and the zealots who worship her as a Saint. Yet her plans lie elsewhere, with the hunt for the elusive firebird and the hope that an outlaw prince still survives. Alina will have to forge new alliances and put aside old rivalries as she and Mal race to find the last of Morozova’s amplifiers. But as she begins to unravel the Darkling’s secrets, she reveals a past that will forever alter her understanding of the bond they share and the power she wields. The firebird is the one thing that stands between Ravka and destruction—and claiming it could cost Alina the very future she’s fighting for.

strong female characters shona kaye

Strong female characters are everywhere these days. Right?

Perhaps.

The Damsel in Distress has certainly screamed her last plea for help, and we hear a lot about Kick-Ass Females in both book and movie culture. But it seems to me that we all have a slightly different idea of what makes a woman ‘strong’.

I love a heroine who can fight her way through a room full of henchmen with nothing but a… nail file as much as the next person. (I’m kidding about the nail file. Totally kidding.) I also love a heroine who isn’t afraid to hold her own when faced with a douchey, retro-thinking side character or antagonist who hasn’t yet caught up with the rest of us.

But you know what I love more than that?

Inner strength.

I’m talking about a test of true character in the face of adversity. Or acknowledgement of a fatal flaw and the overcoming of it. Or belief in something no one else believes in and a willingness to stand up for the cause anyway—and triumphing. You get the picture right?

Let me preface what I’m about to say with this: there is nothing wrong with physical strength—hell, I want to be Wonder Woman when I grow up—and a female character who displays physical prowess is generally viewed as capable and fiercely independent. There are more and more women owning their physical capabilities as genderless and in their own right but for the longest time, this type of strength was measurable by comparing it to that of a man. Physical strength was (and sadly in some pockets of the world, still is) viewed as a primarily masculine trait or ability. And this type of strength is but one of many examples.

How many times have we seen (in all media) a woman portrayed/acknowledged as an equal based solely on her ability to fight or play sports or fix a car? That’s cool and all, but these are learnable skills for either sex; not a determining factor of a woman’s strength.

Female characters who demonstrate their ability to overcome the ‘Man’s World’ stigma are nothing short of empowering. But once again, it emphasises the divide between genders. I get that this is important for the sake of progress in equality but I still abhor the way we often use a previously ‘masculine’ skill or ability as a standard measure.

The strengths I appreciate and LOVE to see portrayed are those which are fundamentally HUMAN—without gender biases. For me, this type of strength, the kind which is definitive by character alone, is ten times more liberating.

Here are eight of my favourite strong female characters:

 

Chiyo / Sayuri from Memoirs of a Geisha

Chiyo’s strength is in her ability to thrive under the crushing hardships; to endure the limitations of her culture even when it means burying her emotions and denying herself fleeting happiness in order to survive long-term. She pursues her goals with a steely yet poignant determination to the height of success then finally an arrangement with the man she loves. 

“Adversity is like a strong wind. I don’t mean just that it holds us back from places we might otherwise go. It also tears away from us all but the things that cannot be torn, so that afterward we see ourselves as we really are, and not merely as we might like to be.”
― Arthur Golden, Memoirs of a Geisha

strong female characters - memoirs of a geisha
Vintage / Columbia Pictures / Dreamworks

 

Celie from The Colour Purple

Celie’s strength is an admirable and often unbelievable force. She is resilient yet pure. Despite having every opportunity to turn a ruthless cheek to the world, she doesn’t. Time and time again, I expect her faith to waver but she thrives beneath her misfortunes and comes out the other side stronger than ever with a wider understanding and acceptance of herself and the world she lives in.

“I think us here to wonder, myself. To wonder. To ask. And that in wondering bout the big things and asking bout the big things, you learn about the little ones, almost by accident. But you never know nothing more about the big things than you start out with. The more I wonder, the more I love.”
― Alice Walker, The Colour Purple

strong female characters - the colour purple
Washington Square Press / Warner Bros.

 

Elizabeth from Pride and Prejudice

Elizabeth’s strength is in her very nature. She is self-assured and principled, and despite the inhibiting time in which she lived, she never swayed from her individuality. She was not afraid to be who she was even under the scathing eye of society. Then, when her prejudices came to light, she readily acknowledged them, admitted and owned her errors, and ultimately overcame them.

“There is a stubbornness about me that never can bear to be frightened at the will of others. My courage always rises at every attempt to intimidate me.”
― Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

strong female characters - pride and prejudice
Penguin / Universal

 

Hermione from Harry Potter

Hermione’s strength is embedded in her fierce loyalty and friendship with Harry and Ron, and in her innate sense of what is good and right. She is not afraid to be the odd one out or stand for causes she deems worthy. By embracing and nurturing her smarts and ambition, she saves the day over and over.

“But from that moment on, Hermione Granger became their friend. Because there are somethings you can’t go through in life and become friends, and knocking out a twelve-foot mountain troll is one of them.”
― J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

strong female characters - harry potter
Bloomsbury / Warner Bros.

 

Elinor from Sense and Sensibility

Elinor’s strength is quiet and understated but nevertheless rock-solid. Her sense of propriety and responsibility is both a blessing and a curse and the way in which she bears her family’s hardships is nothing short of admirable. She is the glue that holds the Dashwood family together and although her practical approach leaves her wanting when it comes to matters of the heart, eventually, she strikes a balance within herself and takes a risk. Though she does find happiness, her inner struggle to open up is long and achingly tender, made more poignant by the contrast of her strength and wisdom in all other matters.

“…After all that is bewitching in the idea of a single and constant attachment, and all that can be said of one’s happiness depending entirely on any particular person, it is not meant — it is not fit — it is not possible that it should be so.”
― Jane Austen, Sense and Sensibility

strong female characters - sense and sensibility
Penguin / Columbia Pictures

 

Jo from Little Women

All the women in this book have strength in their own way. For me, Beth stood out for her unwavering compassion but Jo is my favourite. A little like Elizabeth Bennett, Jo is confident and candid and feisty; she is stubborn and leads with her passion—be that of heart or mind—and despite everything thrown at her, her strength is embedded in the fact that she remains true to who she is throughout.

“I’m glad you are poor. I couldn’t bear a rich husband,” said Jo decidedly, adding in a softer tone, “Don’t fear poverty. I’ve known it long enough to lose my dread and be happy working for those I love. . . ”
— Louisa May Alcott, Little Women

strong female characters - little women
Penguin / Columbia Pictures

 

Éowyn from Lord of the Rings

Her strength is in her determination. Éowyn plays her part in battle with admirable physical strength but her real strength is the fierce motivation she possesses. She wants to give her all to her cause and she’s willing to die to do so.

“What do you fear, lady?” [Aragorn] asked.
“A cage,” [Éowyn] said. “To stay behind bars, until use and old age accept them, and all chance of doing great deeds is gone beyond recall or desire.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King

strong female characters - lord of the rings
Mariner Books / New Line Cinema

 

Melanie from The Girl with All the Gifts

Her strength is in defying and overcoming the base instincts of who she has become in the horrific dystopian world she lives in. Instead of succumbing to her natural urges, she embraces the humanity within her despite the extreme odds, and in doing so, proves to both herself and those around her that strength of will can save us all if we have the nerve to risk everything.

“And then like Pandora, opening the great big box of the world and not being afraid, not even caring whether what’s inside is good or bad. Because it’s both. Everything is always both. But you have to open it to find that out.”
― M.R. Carey, The Girl with All the Gifts

 

strong female characters - the girl with all the gifts
Orbit / Poison Chef / BFI

 

Which strong female characters are on your favourites list? What strengths do you value?

Tell me in the comments.

Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo

GENRE: Fantasy, Paranormal, Romance, YA | PAGES: 401

My rating: ★★★★★

Siege and Storm is five-star worthy storytelling. Book two trumps book one. The pacing is faster, more thrilling and intense; the world-building is still luxuriously detailed but more subtle and controlled, and the characters breathe with life.

Alina steps up in this book and we get to see her embrace who she is. She possesses a newfound strength in this book and she wears it well. I love the rising conflict between her and Mal. I love the addition of chameleonic Nikolai. I love the intriguing but sinister allure of the Darkling.

In short, I loved this book. Even more than the first. I read it in a day and I’m about to pull an all-nighter for book three.

 

SEE ALL REVIEWS

 

  siege and storm

 

Darkness never dies. Hunted across the True Sea, haunted by the lives she took on the Fold, Alina must try to make a life with Mal in an unfamiliar land. She finds starting new is not easy while keeping her identity as the Sun Summoner a secret. She can’t outrun her past or her destiny for long. The Darkling has emerged from the Shadow Fold with a terrifying new power and a dangerous plan that will test the very boundaries of the natural world. With the help of a notorious privateer, Alina returns to the country she abandoned, determined to fight the forces gathering against Ravka. But as her power grows, Alina slips deeper into the Darkling’s game of forbidden magic, and farther away from Mal. Somehow, she will have to choose between her country, her power, and the love she always thought would guide her–or risk losing everything to the oncoming storm.

seven things I wish I'd known when I was younger shona kaye

Life is full of lessons. Unfortunately, there’s no handbook. And let’s be real: even if there was one, we probably wouldn’t read it. We’d struggle along anyway, convinced that we know the ins and outs without the need for instructions, setting up our lives like it’s nothing more than a bookshelf from IKEA. Still, there are a few lessons I wish I’d been privy to. It would have saved me time. It would have saved me all those years ‘in the trenches’ with nothing but my self-doubt for company. 

Here are seven things I wish I’d known when I was younger.

 

1. Take Chances

There are a million reasons not to try. You could fill a stadium with those reasons: What if it’s the wrong decision? What if you’re not good enough? What if you fail? If you never try, that’s the same as failure. Success is rooted in taking chances. Don’t wait for permission. You may not get it—nor do you need it.

 

2. Don’t Wait

It’s easy to put off doing the things you want to do simply out of complacency. Don’t wait until you’re ready. You’ll never be ready. Ready is a perpetually mythical state of being, much like the notion of ‘One day…’ It simply doesn’t exist. There’s only now.

 

3. Do the Work

How many times have you told yourself ‘I really want to XYZ, if only I had the time/skills/money/[insert excuse here]’? It’s a hard lesson to learn but despite the reasons we concoct for ourselves—often so legitimately constructed that we start to believe them—the only thing holding us back is ourselves. If you’ve got something you want to do, do it. Don’t invent obstacles. Instead, take steps to get to where you want to be. Inspiration won’t show up unless you do. Dreams won’t work unless you do. Do the work.

 

4. Don’t Live According to Someone Else

Family, friends, and society in general, all have an ideal when it comes to how we should be living. There is no shortage of expectations—and if/when you go against the grain, be prepared for some major backlash and guilt. But do it anyway. If you want something that is seen to be outside of the norms, this response is inevitable. Just remember: no one else can or should determine what you do with your time or your life. Live according to your wants and needs and let other people’s opinions take a backseat.

 

5. Don’t Let Fear Dictate

Fear of failure or even (mind-blowingly) fear of success can cripple you. Don’t let it. Acknowledge the fact that fear is an absolutely routine factor when undertaking something new. Be afraid—but don’t let it stop you; let it challenge you.

 

6. Embrace Change

Changes are inevitable. Don’t fight them. Changes—be it changes within yourself or someone close to you, or even changes in your circumstances—can leave you feeling lost or have you hankering for the past like a nostalgic dreamer. The past is gone. It’s okay to open yourself to new interests and new people. Treasure your old memories but allow yourself to make new ones.

 

7. Acknowledge Your Differences

It’s okay to be different. It’s okay to be the odd one out. From an early age, we’re programmed with the need to ‘fit in’. With adulthood comes a liberating sense of self that can override that need. Embrace who you are and nurture your individuality. Carve your own path.

Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

GENRE: Fantasy, Paranormal, Romance, YA | PAGES: 369

My rating: ★★★★

The World of the Grisha is rich with culture and magic. From page one, Shadow and Bone is enchanting—full of wonder and originality in the midst of a new, exciting setting rife with intrigue and danger. I couldn’t get enough at first.

Then, for me, the story lagged with too many chunks of scene-setting and description and I found myself disconnected with from the characters. This momentary lapse was short, however.

On coming back to it, the story gathered pace. Alina met new people, she struggled with training, she came into her strength, then made some plot-twisting discoveries. I was hooked once more and the initial overdone descriptive style gave way to a sprinkling of original world-building amidst an intriguing plotline. The rest of the book is brilliantly written and I devoured the final two-thirds in one sitting.

Alina is like most YA protagonists. She begins her journey as a somewhat weak average teenager and finds herself and her power along the way. She is innocent and naive but also likeable and believable, and by the end of this first book, she shows enormous intelligence and courage.

I love Mal. There’s an extra section at the end that showcases his character perfectly. A letter to Alina. He is honourable and strong and obviously the ‘perfect’ match for Alina. (Note the quote marks, please.)

Yet, my favourite character by far is the Darkling. He walks that thin grey line of morality and while the depth of his complexities seems to have only been touched upon, I’m hoping the rest of the series will do him the justice he deserves. I’m already quite in love with him.

‘Make me your villain.’ — The Darkling

 

SEE ALL REVIEWS

 

shadow and bone

 

Surrounded by enemies, the once-great nation of Ravka has been torn in two by the Shadow Fold, a swath of near impenetrable darkness crawling with monsters who feast on human flesh. Now its fate may rest on the shoulders of one lonely refugee. Alina Starkov has never been good at anything. But when her regiment is attacked on the Fold and her best friend is brutally injured, Alina reveals a dormant power that saves his life—a power that could be the key to setting her war-ravaged country free. Wrenched from everything she knows, Alina is whisked away to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the mysterious Darkling. Yet nothing in this lavish world is what it seems. With darkness looming and an entire kingdom depending on her untamed power, Alina will have to confront the secrets of the Grisha . . . and the secrets of her heart. Shadow and Bone is the first installment in Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha Trilogy.

shona kaye immisceo release and giveaway

Immisceo Release

The first book in the Immisceo series is finally out! I absolutely loved bringing Luciana and Nate to life and I’m so excited to be able to share this story with you. The World of Immisceo has been a joy to create and I hope you’ll enjoy living in it for a while. You can also explore the map of Nosiras or meet the characters before you dive into their story.

 

Since my opinion is understandably biased, here’s what one of my early readers have said about Immisceo: Taken:

 

‘If you like stories that involve a heroine’s quest for a just cause, a heroine with magical powers, and a lot of mild toned suspense, this book is definitely for you. The writing in Immisceo Taken is crisp and lean. It flows from one episode to another like in a good movie.’

 

immisceo taken shona kaye

In the land of Nosiras, the Duciti’s word is law and their reign is absolute.

Luciana is a powerful witch: independent and wilful as she is strong. But when she is chosen by the Duciti to conceive an Immisceo witch to use as a weapon against Amara and her Outcasts, she has but two choices: obey with her freedom or without. When her Immisceo son is kidnapped, she will stop at nothing to get him back.

Nathaniel was born to the streets, then raised in an environment one rung down from captivity. Guarded by his older brother, he seeks freedom and adventure from his restrained life. Meeting Luciana will grant him one of these and will set him on a path which will test his ties of blood and love.

Caught between two enemies, Luciana and her unwitting companion are against the odds in their quest to save her son from a war that shouldn’t have been his to fight. In the hands of his kidnapper, Eli is as much a weapon as he would be in the Duciti’s—a weapon Luciana created. His life has been predetermined by those who would harm him, and Luciana must now right the wrongs she has dealt her son and save him from his fate—but at what cost?

Available on Amazon

Or read the first three chapters here before you buy.

The second book in this fantasy series is underway. Stay tuned for upcoming snippets. 

Happy reading!

Giveaway

There’s still time to enter to win a free copy of Immisceo: Taken. If you’re on Goodreads, enter the giveaway before it ends on May 30th. Good luck!

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Immisceo Taken by Shona Kaye

Immisceo Taken

by Shona Kaye

Giveaway ends May 30, 2017.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

The Scarlet Thread by D. S. Murphy

GENRE: Fantasy, Paranormal, Romance, YA | PAGES: 384

My rating: ★★★★

The Scarlet Thread is fast-paced and utterly compelling, and more than that, it is steeped in rich Greek mythology.

Kaidance has the gift of the Fates. She spends years of her life detesting who she is. She is strong but she is unaware of her full potential. Still, she is refreshingly proactive. I love her voice. She is not as naive as most YA protagonists and her smarts are believable—linked to every experience she’s ever encountered in her short life.

The world she’s thrown into is like a step back in time—an immersion into Greek mythology. The characters are intriguing and their true identities are sprinkled throughout the story in a way that makes this book impossible to put down. The story is layered and compelling, centred not just on Kaidance but also that of a centuries-spanning war.

My only gripe is the cliffhanger ending but that’s purely because I’m desperate to know how this story plays out.

   the scarlet thread

 

My name is Kaidance Monroe, and sometimes when I touch people, I see how they die. After I saw my little brother’s death but failed to stop it, my parents abandoned me to a juvenile detention facility. I don’t let people touch me anymore. Not my fingertips, not my skin, not my heart. Just before I turned 18, I got a visit from a cute guy, who tricked me into giving up my secrets. He said I was special, but he wasn’t the only one searching for me. I barely escaped with my life. Now I’m in a mansion, learning how to control my abilities – abilities so powerful, even the gods are jealous. I didn’t mean to make anyone fall for me. Certainly not my would-be killer. And I never imagined how far he would fall.

tools for writers shona kaye

Writing a book is a long, hard process often requiring nothing more than imagination and sheer determination to see your story through to completion. If you have this outlook, great. You’re well on your way. Chances are however, you’ll want to make your story the best it can be, and even then, finishing the book isn’t even the hardest part. (I know, I didn’t believe it at first either!) After writing the damn book, there’s editing, proofreading, formatting, cover design, publishing, and marketing. Oh, and more editing. And unfortunately, there are a million ways in which it can go wrong during the process. Happily, we live in the digital age and have access to some amazing resources and tools for writers.

From the initial spark of an all-new brilliant idea through to getting your books into the hands of readers, there are millions of websites offering information on how to tackle it all. Sometimes, the range of information is more overwhelming and contradicting than it is helpful. I’ve been there. I’ve spent hours and hours sailing the sea of content. There are a ton of sites and tools for writers out there, claiming to change the way I write or publish or market my work.

Below are those I’ve found most helpful.

This list is broken into two sections: tips for writers and tools for writers. It is by no means exhaustive—I’m sure there are many sites I’ve overlooked or am yet to stumble upon—but this is what works for me. I hope some of you will find them useful too.

 

Tips for Writers

While I’ve read a lot of available content, nothing has been as helpful as these five listed below. I return to these websites time and time again and find them to be a helping hand on the writer’s rocky path.

 

1. NATHAN BRANSFORD

Nathan Bransford is a writer and former agent. His blog is a one-stop motherlode of writerly advice, from how to outline and plan a novel to the dreaded task of agent-querying and publishing. He tackles both routes: traditional and self-publishing, offering insight into the overwhelming task that is putting your book out into the world. I highly recommend his book How To Write a Novelread a review here.

 

2. JOANNA PENN FROM THE CREATIVE PENN

The Creative Penn is another treasure trove of resources. If you’re looking to self-publish your books, this is recommended reading, with tips on everything from editing your book to how to market it. Joanna Penn also has several books available (both non-fiction and fiction) and runs a podcast with helpful interviews. I recently read The Successful Author Mindset, which is a book on overcoming some of the inevitable obstacles as a writer, and I found it to be inspiring. She also hosts several live Q and A sessions on Facebook.

 

3. JOEL FRIEDLANDER FROM THE BOOK DESIGNER

This website was my go-to for book formatting tips. Until reading several posts on how to professionally format a book (both paperback and digital), I never knew just how many ways there are to get it wrong. Thankfully, with the plethora of advice from this website and a bit of patience and hard work, you can get your book looking not just ‘nice’ but professionally made.

 

4. DEREK MURPHY AT CREATIVINDIE

Creativindie is a recent find for me and I wish I’d discovered it sooner. Derek Murphy’s advice on book cover design is helpful and insightful, and it drove me to redesign the cover of my first romantic suspense novel. He points out that covers should make an emotional impact, which is not new information, but it IS something I initially overlooked, even as an avid reader. His site is packed with tips and secrets on cover design, publishing, and writing, and a primary feature is the innovative marketing advice. (If you’re an indie author, I would highly recommend reading: Book Cover Design Secrets and Guerrilla Publishing.)

 

5. NICK STEPHENSON AND YOUR FIRST 10K READERS

When Nick Stephenson explained funnel marketing, I felt for the first time that I had hope. Not only that, but implementing this method of marketing frees up time for the other parts of the writer’s job including, of course, writing. His methods will ensure that you aren’t spending wasted hours on social media or signing up for tweet blasts and the like. Not that those methods are inherently wrong or pointless, but put simply, building an email list and gaining a wider readership go hand in hand. Nick explains this in a way that made sense to even a marketing noob like me.

 

Tools for Writers

DISCLAIMER: THE WEBSITES MENTIONED BELOW ARE NOT AFFILIATED, ENDORSED, OR SPONSORED. I SIMPLY LOVE THESE TOOLS, I USE THEM ON A REGULAR BASIS, AND I BELIEVE THEY’LL PROVE USEFUL TO OTHER WRITERS.

When it comes to tools for writers, you may notice that this list is missing the gem of the writer’s arsenal. This is because the tool in question (and one of the best writing tools out there) is downloadable software as opposed to an online site. The brilliant writer’s-dream program I’m talking about is, of course, Scrivener (total god-send). There is a discussion entirely dedicated to this marvellous program here: Is Scrivener Any Good? (Spoiler: Yes.) For a list of other helpful tools for writers, keep reading. 

 

6. 750 WORDS

Need a writing boost? If you’re struggling to meet your daily writing goal or if you want to establish a habit of writing every day, this site is a fun way to do it. Writing might well be a joy for most of us, but it can still be hard to keep the momentum going day after day after day. This site gives you extra incentive. Is it silly? Maybe. Fun? Yes. Helpful? YES. You’ll be surprised just how much weight a stupid badge can carry. You get one badge for a daily streak. You get more if your streak is longer. Add to that, this site offers a distraction-free interface on which to write. No buttons, no links. Just white space for you to fill with unfiltered words. And if you’re a stats nerd, you’re in luck. The site also analyses your daily writing, including how you write, how often you got distracted, words-per-minute, feelings and themes, and a bunch more. I’ve used it for brainstorming and journaling but there are no rules. You can also export everything you write to a text document.

 

7. ONE LOOK REVERSE DICTIONARY

Ever stuck for the perfect word? Of course, you are, you’re a writer. But what about those moments where the word is on the tip of your tongue but for the life of you, you can’t think of it. You know EXACTLY what the word means and what you’re trying to sum up, but the word itself is failing you. One option is to stick in an X or an asterisk or question mark and return to it later. OR you could turn to your trusty thesaurus. But this nifty little search tool might be able to take it a step further. You type in a word or a phrase and voila! Words-R-Us. It can be a bit hit and miss, but hey, desperate times…

 

8. GRAMMARLY

Despite becoming infuriated with their incessant advertising on pretty much every YouTube video ever (and then some), I can’t deny how useful this program actually is. More than a basic spell checker, it does live up to the hype. While it’s no replacement for a human proofreader, it does detect most grammar, punctuation, and (of course) spelling issues, while doing double-duty as a thesaurus as well. Perfect for cleaning up those drafts at the end of a couple of rounds of edits (if only to avoid having to read your manuscript yet again). There’s also an extension available for Chrome which is great when posting updates or blog posts online or sending emails. You can also add the extension to Microsoft Word.

 

9. PACEMAKER

If you’ve ever participated in Nanowrimo, I don’t need to tell you just how much of an incentive a word-count tracker can be. This free online tool allows you to chart your daily progress not just in November, but every month of the year. It has a clever function that allows you to change your pacing—Bite the Bullet mode for those writers who like to get their words down in big chunks before the momentum wears off or Oscillating mode for alternating heavy and light workloads. Word-count goals can be set to automatically alter depending on your progress, keeping you on target and making sure you account for the days when your imaginary friends aren’t talking to you.

 

10. CANVA

Ever wanted to produce perfect images with your own branding and unique flair? Without having to wrangle the beautiful monster that is Photoshop and without producing something that looks like your cat went nuts inside the Paint program? If yes, go sign up with Canva for free. There are templates available for everything from blog post banners to social media images (all in the correct size for each platform) and even basic book covers. Canva’s drag-and-drop user-friendly site will have you churning out graphic after graphic, without giving you a headache.

 

11. EVERNOTE

Remember the days when scattered thoughts on Post-It notes gusted around you like a personal mini cyclone? No? Me neither. It’s been that long. These days, every wish and whim and million-dollar idea can be typed into remarkable programs like Evernote, a program designed for use on the web, or on your computer or mobile devices. It stores every note as a drag-and-drop document which you can store in separate notebooks or even notebook stacks but it does this on a single screen. The organisation level of this app is brilliant—it updates your notes on the fly. I don’t even have to hit save (does loving this make me ridiculous? I mean, it’s one tap!) Seriously though, Evernote’s synchronisation—not just when it comes to saving your work, but syncing between multiple devices—is fast and reliable. There are several apps out there offering similar functions, right down to the standard notes app on your smartphone, but for me, Evernote takes the cake.

Update, 2020: I’ve since migrated to Trello. Thoughts on this to follow.

 

12. TODOIST

My personal favourite (read: could-never-function-without-it). For me, this tool is my go-to for ideas, reminders, appointments, and (obviously) tasks to do, so for me, Todoist does double duty as a calendar. It’s the first thing I open in the morning (other than my eyes, that is) and yes, even before Facebook! *gasps all round* The app is available online but you can also use it on any device—the synchronisation between devices is seamless. It allows you to create projects, even a hierarchy of projects if your little heart desires, and each task can also contain sub-tasks if needed. I use mine for everything from blog scheduling, marketing, and writing tasks to the more mundane like domestic errands (yawn). My favourite function within the app is the ability to add recurring tasks by simply typing a short command. For example, I can type: schedule book review ev second tue. This simple addition on the end will set my task as recurring for every second Tuesday of every month. If I needed a specific date for every month until the end of time, it’d be as simple as: payment due ev 30. Handy, right? I used to think that keeping a to-do list was redundant—that in the time it takes to list something, I could have finished it. It simply isn’t true. Keeping a task list helps you put everything you need to do out of your head, allowing you to focus on one thing at a time.

 

I hope some of these tools for writers will prove as useful for you as they are for me. Let me know if I’ve missed any important ones and tell me what tools you can’t live without.

 

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The Successful Author Mindset by Joanna Penn

GENRE: Non-Fiction | PAGES: —

My rating: ★★★★★

The Successful Author Mindset is as insightful as it is inspiring. It is so inspiring in fact, that it might actually be a hug disguised as a book. It’s also a treasure trove of quotes from other writers and professionals that’ll make you feel as though you’re doing something right if only because you resonate with the things they say. (There are days when this is all I can hang on to.)

“I’m afraid of failing at whatever story I’m writing—that it won’t come up for me, or that I won’t be able to finish it.” — Stephen King

More than that, though, The Successful Author Mindset is, as the title suggests, a book that maps out and offers guidance on some of the inner pitfalls of writer life—common writer problems such as the need for validation, creative block, and the infamous champion of them all: self-doubt. Along with well-selected quotes from other creatives, each topic is also accompanied by an excerpt from the author’s personal journals, documenting her thoughts, before moving on to an antidote that might help others to move past these problems.

Joanna Penn’s advice has always been my go-to in terms of the helpful writing and marketing tips she freely shares on her website The Creative Penn. But this book is not a book of tips. Instead, this is a (much-needed) look at the journey of a writer—and the inevitable trials along the way.

We have to learn to self-validate, to understand that the writing process is the point, rather than the reception of our work or the rewards that may or may not come. We need to nourish ourselves with the practice of creation. — Joanna Penn

I’d recommend this to any writer feeling the strain of self-doubt or the fear of failure. Some of us are lucky enough to be confident about ourselves and the work we create. For the rest of us, thankfully, there are books like this one.

 

SEE ALL REVIEWS

 

 The Successful Author Mindset

 

Being a writer is not just about typing. It’s also about surviving the roller-coaster of the creative journey. Self-doubt, fear of failure, the need for validation, perfectionism, writer’s block, comparisonitis, overwhelm, and much more. When you’re going through these things, it can feel like you’re alone. But actually, they are part of the creative process, and every author goes through them too. This book collects the mindset issues that writers experience, that I have been through myself over the last nine years, and that perhaps you will experience at different times on the creative journey. Each small chapter tackles a possible issue and then offers an antidote, so that you can dip in and out over time. It includes excerpts from my own personal journals as well as quotes from well-known writers. I hope it helps you on the road to becoming a successful author.

Is Scrivener any good shona kaye

Have you heard of Scrivener yet? Or have you heard of it and are wondering: is Scrivener any good? 

Well, in short: it’s one of the best (read: unrivalled) writing tools there is. And if you haven’t heard about it on the writerly grapevine yet, first: where the hell have you been? And second: calm down—I’m not judging; I only began using it myself about two years ago. 🙂

Now, the sceptics among you are probably thinking:

A writing tool? A new-age techie piece of software that’s supposed to help you WRITE? Pfft. I spit on it. Charles Dickens didn’t use Scrivener and he did alright for himself.

Well… I hear you. In fact, I WAS you. Two years ago I came across an article about it and promptly ignored it. The second time it happened I checked it out… you know, for curiosity’s sake. Nothing else, of course. As far as I was concerned, the only thing I needed to write was my over-active imagination and a pen… I’d have written my entire novel on my arm if I’d had to. Of course, in this day and age when I say pen, I actually mean an over-priced laptop and two ridiculously over-priced Apple devices.

But yes, know that I ‘get you’. I, too, didn’t need fancy software. Microsoft Word was good enough for the last ten years so y’know, if it ain’t broke… Then someone shared a price deal: half-priced Scrivener!

I still don’t NEED this, I mumbled to myself as I clicked it. I’m a real writer.

Ha Ha - Nelson, The Simpsons
Source: Simpsons Wiki

What the hell did I know?

Scrivener has changed the way I write. The learning curve is a little steep and it isn’t a magical fix for writer’s block nor is it a fairy who will finish your novel overnight (wouldn’t that be great?), but Scrivener DOES have some brilliant features to make the writer’s job a little easier.

Here are eleven of many:

1. Organisation with the binder

Scrivener’s ability to organise your work will revolutionise the way you write. Gone are the days of highlighting chunks of words and cutting and pasting a scene into what you hope is the right place within your manuscript. Fifth time’s the charm, right? In fact, I remember actual cutting and taping during a hard-copy edit. *shudder* 

Scrivener allows you to simply craft each scene as a new text document and drag-and-drop at will. Whilst you can recreate a similar setup with separate documents in Word, the difference with Scrivener is that having each scene or chapter as a separate document doesn’t mean having to click away and open each file in a new window. Everything you need is within a single screen; you need only select your scene from the Binder to view it. Another advantage of this is being able to tackle your story in bite-sized chunks instead of being faced with a 50K-word-strong document every time you sit down to write. Every little helps.

is Scrivener any good shona kaye

 

2. Research Folder

This feature is an absolute gem. All that planning, and brainstorming, and collecting of pictures and random notes—there’s a dedicated place for it within Scrivener. Once again taking organisation to new heights, the Research section means you have all of your random brain-sneezes in one handy spot while still using a hierarchy of files/folders which are accessible on one main screen. I use mine for character profiles and images, world-building and maps, plotting, outlining, actual research notes, website clips and screenshots and videos—there’s no limit to what you can keep in this section and no limit on the type of media either.

is Scrivener any good shona kaye

 

3. Labels, Status, and Custom Metadata

Here’s where Scrivener shows off, and rightly so. For every scene or chapter you write, you can label it and give it a status. I use my labels for POVs (point of view) and my status refers to the stage in the writing process—to do; in progress; first draft; first revision, etc. If the idea of this bores you to tears, rest assured, it’s entirely optional. If you’re anything like me, rest assured, there’s more… Alongside labels and status, you can also customise metadata. Meta whatnow? Basically, you can create a custom label for anything you wish to track. For instance, within my current manuscript, I track characters and location. This might seem excessive but if I enter this information as I’m writing or editing, I can come back to it later and with only a simple glance in Outliner mode (see below), I know exactly where each scene is taking place and which characters are involved—without having to wrack my brain or read the entire piece. You could also set up something similar for time of day/week to easily track your timeline. The possibilities are endless.

is Scrivener any good shona kaye

 

is Scrivener any good shona kaye

 

4. Versatile Modes

Scrivener has a number of tools you’d have to otherwise recreate outside of your manuscript’s file. For instance, I’ve seen other writers create storyboards using post-it notes, corkboards, flashcards—you name it. This is great if the manual act benefits your creative process. On the other hand, if you do it because you believe there’s no other option, I have good news: Scrivener will do it for you. And you need only enter your information once to view it in a number of ways—or even side by side.

 

a) The Corkboard

This is brilliant when you’re beginning a new project. Simply create a new index card on your corkboard for each new event and plot point in your book. As you progress, you can add more, outlining entire scenes and dragging-and-dropping to your heart’s content.

is Scrivener any good shona kaye

 

b) The Outliner

Everything you’ve written on your index card is viewable as a synopsis of your scene. You can select which additional fields are displayed by selecting from the drop-down arrow for everything from Title and Synopsis to Word Count and Status. This is where all that custom metadata comes in really handy, creating an excellent overview of your entire project.

is Scrivener any good shona kaye

 

c) Scrivenings

If you really prefer to view your project in one long scary flow of words, there’s an option to do that. You still get the benefits of the Binder but with the familiarity of a Microsoft Word-esque interface.

is Scrivener any good shona kaye

 

d) Split View

For the writer who wants to have his cake and eat it, there’s Split View. Here’s an example of it—with a vertical split-screen between Corkboard mode and the Editor.

is Scrivener any good shona kaye

 

5. Distraction-free Mode

Speaking of work modes, there’s a handy little tool for full-screen mode. You can even modify your background with a picture of your own to keep you inspired. You can access a number of features in this mode, including the Binder for navigating between scenes, but ultimately, this is where you can knuckle down and bang out those words.

is Scrivener any good shona kaye

 

6. Progress bar

While you’re banging out words, Scrivener has a neat tool to track all that hard work—and provide a little extra motivation. The Project Targets function has two separate trackers. The first is for your overall project target and the second is your session target. For every session, the bar fills as you type, changing from red to green. Same goes for your overall project goal. This is a small feature which might not appeal to everyone but for those of us who love trackers, having one that’s already built into our writing program is cause for celebration. For me, word count trackers are like personal cheerleaders. Writing a book is a long, sometimes (be real, always) gruelling process; during the times it feels like I’m getting nowhere, trackers help to make my progress measurable. (I just recently passed my target for my current WIP: Immisceo, book one in a new fantasy series.) ← See what I did there?

is Scrivener any good shona kaye

 

7. Notes and Scratch Pad

Alongside comments and annotations (both of which work in similar ways to MS Word’s comment system), Scrivener also has a Notes feature at the bottom of the Inspector. For any given text document (scene/chapter), you are able to jot notes without affecting the text. You can also toggle between document notes (a single scene) and project notes (viewable from within any scene). Scratch Pad is brilliant in that all notes created here (in a separate smaller window) are stored independently, which means you can access them from within two or more separate projects. Handy for reference notes that pertain to multiple projects.

is Scrivener any good shona kaye

 

8. Snapshots

This is another feature within the Inspector. If you hit the + button on the Snapshots tab, it’ll save the current version of your scene (like a snapshot) before you whip out your ‘knife’ to begin carving. Does this seem redundant? Perhaps. But it also means that even after you’ve edited and/or deleted several paragraphs, even after you’ve saved and overwritten and backed up your project, you could still come back weeks later, having changed your mind, and be able to view or roll back to the initial version of that scene. Cool, huh?

is Scrivener any good shona kaye

 

9. Icons

This one might not be groundbreaking but I love it. Scrivener allows you to edit the icons of every document. There is already a lot to choose from (not all shown below) but you can also add your own custom icons. Within my research folder, I tend to choose icons based on the type of document—character, place, world, magic (custom-added). Within my manuscript, I find it handy to use icons alongside the status metadata. I do this with colour-coded flag icons or custom-added status icons.

is Scrivener any good shona kaye

 

10. Export Capabilities

Scrivener will export your work into multiple formats including MS Word docs, Mobi for Kindle, and ePub files. You can export your entire project, or you can select only certain documents for compilation. You can even compile a (detailed) synopsis based on your outline. When compiling your manuscript for ebook, you will need to tweak the formatting; and for print books, you will (like I did) probably need to do extensive formatting within Word (or InDesign). However, I’ve used Scrivener for KDP Mobi file output and it is absolutely error-free. So far. (Free tip: You might want to ignore that Times 12pt.)

is Scrivener any good shona kaye

 

11. iOS App syncing

Finally, as a bonus point: mobile functionality. The Scrivener app for iOS is relatively new and it has been a long time (apparently) in the making. It was well worth the wait. The app (I’m using it right now to write this post) is powerful and bug-free (so far). It syncs seamlessly with Dropbox so all your projects can stay up to date across all devices. While there are several features which, understandably, did not make the move to mobile, Scrivener iOS has all the main functionality of the desktop version and happily, it has put my novel at my fingertips whilst on the go (or—let’s be real—in bed). No more excuses!

is Scrivener any good shona kaye

 

is Scrivener any good shona kaye

 

So, is Scrivener any good?

Yes. It is a powerhouse of a writing tool. It can be daunting when you first venture in, and unlike most basic word processing programs, the learning curve is quite high. I’ve been using it for two years and there are still things I’m just learning to do or quite possibly, am yet to discover.

If you have it and you’re put off by the sheer number of functions, I’d say: muddle through anyway. The hassle is well worth it. Once you get to grips with it, you’ll wonder how you ever wrote without it.

You can get Scrivener at Literature and Latte.

For tips on using Scrivener, here are some helpful resources:

Learn Scrivener Fast 
Gwen Hernandez 

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Into the Fire by Jeaniene Frost

GENRE: Fantasy, Paranormal, Romance | PAGES: 389

My rating: ★★★★

Into the Fire. We meet at last. Despite a series-finale being eagerly anticipated, there’s always a hint of trepidation when first opening the book. You’re filled with questions and worries like, Will it satisfy the wait? Will it live up to the awesomeness of the rest of the series? Will everyone fucking die?

I am obviously a stupid little worrywart.

Into the Fire is yet another unputdownable firecracker from Jeaniene Frost.

The story picks up where we left off in Bound by Flames and once more, we plunge headlong into action and antics with Leila and Vlad.

I am (still) blown away by my obsession with Vlad. His character never fails to enthral me on every level, be it his engaging presence, his self-assured acceptance of everything he is (the good and the bad), or the sheer complexity of his past. The many layers of his personality are intoxicating and in this series finale, he doesn’t disappoint.

His love for Leila knows no bounds. It is all-consuming, selfish even—and Vlad makes no apology for that. It is who he is—no more, no less. He is still arrogant and controlling and volatile but it is rooted in the hardships he’s been dealt over the centuries. It doesn’t read as a gimmick or a cop-out or a romanticised flaw because it is a truly deep and multi-layered history. Everything he is is everything he had to become in order to cope, and instead of trying to change him, Leila embraces his flaws and loves him unconditionally.

It helps that she doesn’t squeak like a mouse in his presence either. She can hold her own, both with him and on the battlefield. Her strength shines in this book and her abilities reach new heights, even as enemies continue to use her as a weapon against Vlad.

A new element to the series is the inclusion of magic. It is refreshing and adds yet more excitement, further enriching the entire Night Huntress world and its mythology. I enjoyed Ian’s role in the story, too. He is funny and outlandish but his character adds more than comic relief—already there’s a visible and intriguing depth to who he is and I’m more than geared up for the upcoming spin-off series with him. (Night Rebel for anyone who doesn’t know.)

While I’m sad and disappointed that this is where Vlad and Leila’s story ends, their finale is epic and satisfying, and the series, as a whole, is one I’ll be rereading many times over.

 

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 Into the Fire

 

In the explosive finale to New York Times bestselling author Jeaniene Frost’s Night Prince series, Vlad is in danger of losing his bride to an enemy whose powers might prove greater than the Prince of Vampires’ . . .In the wrong hands, love can be a deadly weapon. For nearly six hundred years, Vlad Tepesh cared for nothing, so he had nothing to lose. His brutal reputation ensured that all but the most foolhardy stayed away. Now, falling in love with Leila has put him at the mercy of his passions. And one adversary has found a devastating way to use Vlad’s new bride against him. A powerful spell links Leila to the necromancer Mircea. If he suffers or dies, so does she. Magic is forbidden to vampires, so Vlad and Leila enlist an unlikely guide as they search for a way to break the spell. But an ancient enemy lies in wait, capable of turning Vlad and Leila’s closest friends against them . . . and finally tearing the lovers apart forever.

opening lines shona kaye

Despite the warning not to ‘judge a book by its cover’, I’d bet we’ve all been guilty of it more than a few times. A cover is a window of sorts into the book. It’s a test as to whether or not the book is worth our precious bookworm hours. Having passed that test though, there’s another favourite way to measure a potential new book: the opening lines.

You know you’ve discovered a gem of a book when you open it and find yourself hooked in a single sentence. You want to continue reading. Immediately. Opening lines are often the stuff of writers’ nightmares and rightly so since for readers, those all-important first words are the deciding vote when it comes to adding a book to the read pile or not.

Show of hands for those with To-Be-Read piles taller than the average human…

It’s about to get a little taller.

Here are fifty memorable opening lines from literature. The kind that will have you running to the bookstore. (Or you know, hitting up Amazon. 21st-century perks don’t come any better than that.)

Opening Lines from some of my Favourite Books

 

1. ‘Once upon a time, there was a prostitute called Maria.’ — Eleven Minutes, Paulo Coelho

 

2. ‘Our Dragon doesn’t eat the girls he takes, no matter what stories they tell outside our valley.’ — Uprooted, Naomi Novik

 

3. ‘You better not never tell nobody but God.’ — The Color Purple, Alice Walker

 

4. ‘It was no accident.’ — Ferney, James Long

 

5. ‘It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York.’ — The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath

 

6. ‘People ask, How did you get in there? What they really want to know is if they are likely to end up in there as well. I can’t answer the real question. All I can tell them is, It’s easy.’ — Girl, Interrupted, Susanna Kaysen

 

7. ‘I stiffened at the red and blue lights flashing behind me, because there was no way I could explain what was in the back of my truck.’ — Halfway to the Grave, Jeaniene Frost

 

8. ‘On the morning the last Lisbon daughter took her turn at suicide—it was Mary this time, and sleeping pills—the two paramedics arrived at the house knowing exactly where the knife drawer was, and the gas oven, and the beam in the basement from which it was possible to tie a rope.’— The Virgin Suicides, Jeffrey Eugenides

 

9. ‘All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.’ — Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy

 

10. ‘It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.’ — Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

 

Classic Opening Lines

 

11. ‘If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like… and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.’ — The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger

 

12. ‘Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul.’ — Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov

 

13. ‘It was a pleasure to burn.’ — Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury

 

14. ‘Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was a moocow coming down along the road and this moocow that was coming down along the road met a nicens little boy named baby tuckoo…’ — A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, James Joyce

 

15. ‘Call me Ishmael. Some years ago—never mind how long precisely—having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world.’ — Moby Dick, Herman Melville

 

16. ‘When Mr. Bilbo Baggins of Bag End announced that he would shortly be celebrating his eleventy-first birthday with a party of special magnificence, there was much talk and excitement in Hobbiton.’ — Lord of the Rings, J. R. R. Tolkien

 

17. ‘Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board.’ — Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston

 

18. ‘In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since. ‘Whenever you feel like criticising any one,’ he told me, ‘just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.’ — The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald

 

19. ‘I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.’ — I Capture the Castle, Dodie Smith

 

20. ‘It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.’ — 1984, George Orwell

 

21. ‘As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into an enormous insect.’ — The Metamorphosis, Franz Kafka

 

22. ‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.’ — A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens

 

23. ‘We slept in what had once been the gymnasium.’ — The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood

 

24. ‘Miss Brooke had that kind of beauty which seems to be thrown into relief by poor dress.’ — Middlemarch, George Eliot

 

25. ‘Mother died today.’ — The Stranger, Albert Camus

 

26. ‘All this happened, more or less.’ — Slaughterhouse-Five, Kurt Vonnegut

 

27. ‘Scarlett O’Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realised it when caught by her charm as the Tarleton twins were.’ — Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell

 

Modern Gems

(— and I use the term ‘modern’ loosely)

 

28. ‘Late in the winter of my seventeenth year, my mother decided I was depressed, presumably because I rarely left the house, spent quite a lot of time in bed, read the same book over and over, ate infrequently, and devoted quite a bit of my abundant free time to thinking about death.’ — The Fault in Our Stars, John Green

 

29. ‘The terror, which would not end for another twenty-eight years—if it ever did end—began, so far as I know or can tell, with a boat made from a sheet of newspaper floating down a gutter swollen with rain.’ — It, Stephen King

 

30. ‘124 was spiteful. Full of a baby’s venom.’ – Beloved, Toni Morrison

 

31. ‘A mile above Oz, the witch balanced on the wind’s forward edge, as if she were a green fleck of the land itself…’ — Wicked, Gregory Maguire

 

32. ‘Having placed in my mouth sufficient bread for three minutes’ chewing, I withdrew my powers of sensual perception and retired into the privacy of my mind, my eyes and face assuming a vacant and preoccupied expression.’ — At Swim-Two-Birds, Flann O’Brien

 

33. ‘The darkness behind my eyelids was thick and stank of chemicals, as though someone has poured black oil inside my head.’ — Ultraviolet, R J Anderson

 

34. ‘The night breathed through the apartment like a dark animal.’ — Reckless, Cornelia Funke

 

35. ‘Today I’m five. I was four last night going to sleep in Wardrobe, but when I wake up in Bed in the dark I’m changed to five, abracadabra.’ — Room, Emma Donoghue

 

36. ‘In the afterlife you relive all your experiences but this time with the events reshuffled into a new order: all the moments that share a quality are grouped together. You spend two months driving the street in front of your house, seven months having sex. You sleep for thirty years without opening your eyes. For five months straight you flip through magazines while sitting on a toilet. You take all your pain at once, all twenty-seven intense hours of it. Bones break, cars crash, skin is cut, babies are born. Once you make it through, it’s agony-free for the rest of your afterlife. But that doesn’t mean it’s always pleasant.’ — Sum, David Eagleman

 

37. ‘For the better part of my childhood, my professional aspirations were simple—I wanted to be an intergalactic princess.’ — Seven Up, Janet Evanovich

 

38. ‘I have lived more than a thousand years. I have died countless times.’ — My Name is Memory, Ann Brashares

 

39. ‘I, Lucifer, Fallen Angel, Prince of Darkness, Bringer of Light, Ruler of Hell, Lord of the Flies, Father of Lies, Apostate Supreme, Tempter of Mankind, Old Serpent, Prince of This World, Seducer, Accuser, Tormentor, Blasphemer, and without doubt Best Fuck in the Seen and Unseen Universe (ask Eve, that minx) have decided—oo-la-la!—to tell all.’ — I, Lucifer, Glen Duncan

 

40. ‘The circus arrives without warning.’ — The Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern

 

41. ‘I’ve been locked up for 264 days.’ — Shatter Me, Tahereh Mafi

 

42. ‘First the colors. Then the humans. That’s usually how I see things. Or at least, how I try. HERE IS A SMALL FACT: You are going to die.’ — The Book Thief, Markus Zusak

 

43. ‘Like most people, I didn’t meet and talk to Rant Casey until after he was dead.’ — Rant, Chuck Palahniuk

 

44. ‘The small boys came early to the hanging.’ — Pillars of the Earth, Ken Follett

 

45. ‘I’m pretty much fucked.’ — The Martian, Andy Weir

 

46. ‘There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife.’ — The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman

 

47. ‘They say the world is flat and supported on the back of four elephants who themselves stand on the back of a giant turtle.’ — The Fifth Elephant, Terry Pratchett

 

48. ‘It’s a funny thing about mothers and fathers. Even when their own child is the most disgusting little blister you could ever imagine, they still think that he or she is wonderful.’ — Matilda, Roald Dahl

 

49. ‘The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.’ — The Go-Between, L. P. Hartley

 

And finally, the quintessential sentence that has stood the test of time…

 

50. ‘Once upon a time…’ Grimm’s Fairy Tales, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm

 

What makes a good first sentence? What are some of your favourite opening lines? Share them with me in the comments section below so I can add a few more books to my ridiculous ambitious TBR pile.

love quotes

 

I would have written you, myself, if I could put down in words everything I want to say to you. A sea of ink would not be enough.

— Erin Morgenstern, The Night Circus

 

I love you as certain dark things are to be loved, in secret, between the shadow and the soul.

— Pablo Neruda, 100 Love Sonnets

 

Soul meets soul on lovers’ lips.

— Percy Bysshe Shelley, Prometheus Unbound

 

If all else perished and he remained, I should still continue to be; and if all else remained and he were annihilated, the universe would turn to a mighty stranger.

— Emily Bronte, Wuthering Heights

 

No amount of fire or freshness can challenge what a man will store up in his ghostly heart.

— F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

 

In all the world, there is no heart for me like yours. In all the world, there is no love for you like mine.

— Maya Angelou

 

He was my North, my South, my East and West, My working week and my Sunday rest.

— W H Auden, Stop All The Clocks

 

You don’t love someone because they’re perfect, you love them in spite of the fact that they’re not.

— Jodi Picoult, My Sister’s Keeper

 

I want to know you moved and breathed in the same world with me.

— F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Short Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald

 

This hole in my heart is in the shape of you and no-one else can fit it.

Jeanette Winterson,  Written on the Body 

 

Even when this world is a forgotten whisper of dust between the stars, I will always love you.

— Sarah J. Maas, Empire of Storms

 

The way her body existed only where he touched her. The rest of her was smoke.

— Arundhati Roy, The God Of Small Things

 

If I were to live a thousand years, I would belong to you for all of them. If we were to live a thousand lives, I would want to make you mine in each one.

— Michelle Hodkin, The Evolution of Mara Dyer

 

Do I love you? My god, if your love were a grain of sand, mine would be a universe of beaches.

— William Goldman, The Princess Bride

 

You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope… I have loved none but you.

— Jane Austen, Persuasion

 

Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind. And therefore is wing’d Cupid painted blind.

— William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream

 

The curves of your lips rewrite history.

— Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

 

To love or have loved, that is enough.

— Victor Hugo, Les Miserable

 

Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same.

— Emily Bronte, Wuthering Heights

 

No measure of time with you will be long enough. But let’s start with forever.

— Stephenie Meyer, Breaking Dawn

 

After all this time?
Always.

— J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

inner critic shona kaye

It’s something of a mystery how fictional characters are created. Sometimes they appear in fully fleshed-out scenes, doing ridiculous or unspeakable things. Other times, it begins with a stray thought or line of dialogue, revealing both character and story in serialised tidbits. 

Personally, I like to get to know my character before delving into their story. But often, I’ve found that regardless of how I envisioned his path, the character will go his own way, mapping out a story or subplot I never planned on.

When I started out, I was more of a pantser than a plotter anyway (which is writer’s lingo for ‘winging it’ vs. ‘getting your shit together’. No offence to the pantsers of the world.) My first book (a contemporary romantic suspense novel) changed as I wrote it, partly because I took sooooooo long to write it I actually grew up (debatable), and partly because I didn’t have the faintest idea of where I was going with the story.

The upside of this is that the story progressed organically. It became more focused on the underlying issues and emotions of its characters rather than the incredibly (read: embarrassingly) fluffy romance I’d initially started.

Of course, my main character changed too.

As I brought the two sisters of the book alive, the girl with the problems and the attitude (Brooke) became more interesting to me. I wanted to see where she’d take me, how she would deal with her inner turmoil, what made her the way she’d turned out to be when I saw her true colours in my mind’s eye. 

When I first got a glimpse of who she really was, I was intrigued and appalled. In that order. That all too familiar inner critic zeroed in on everything wrong with my creation and began hacking it to pieces. 

On the outside, Brooke is a beautiful young woman. Yet, underneath that, she is everything the human eye turns away from. She is a promiscuous, somewhat depressed, borderline alcoholic. Her introspective tendencies, the built-in need to suppress her emotions and shut out the world, is self-sabotaging, damaging herself and the relationships she has with those closest to her. 

I loved her damaged soul immediately but ultimately, I was worried that the story was too bleak, the topic too sensitive.

Then I wrote it anyway.

And I’m glad I did.

The work of the Inner Critic

Too often, writers censor themselves; paranoid, self-conscious, crippled by self-doubt and the reaction of the reader. If I’d paid too much attention to my inner critic or the presumed criticisms of an easily-offended would-be reader, Brooke might never have been brought to life. 

‘… if it were not written rather faster than the fastest typewriting, if I had stopped and took thought, it would never have been written at all.’ — Virginia Woolf, A Writer’s Diary

Imagine a world of literature written by self-censoring writers too afraid to write the stories that matter. There would be no books about illness and death, or crime, or war, or *gasp* all-out taboo. More to the point, the memorable and often treasured characters of these books would cease to exist. Every flawed or troubled character would have been wiped from the page or never written at all. There would be no Esther Greenwood (The Bell Jar), Holden Caulfield (The Catcher in the Rye), Hazel Grace Lancaster (The Fault In Our Stars) or Scarlett O’Hara (Gone with the Wind). OR, there might have been a happier, unburdened, 2D version of them. 

This thought doesn’t warm the cockles of my heart. Far from it. It reeks of false hope and lacks all truth because the real world is not all beauty. Side by side with the wonder that is our existence lies very real cruelty. A cruelty that breaks our fragile human bodies and spirits, while never quite extinguishing our innate sense of persistence and survival. This journey is a story in the making, and each of us, fictional or otherwise deal with strife in different ways. Not all characters are born to be Pollyanna.

As strange as it might seem to the non-writer folk, characters—on the whole—write themselves. I didn’t exactly plan to write a book with a central focus on the aftermath of abuse—but Brooke became so real to me that, at times, it was like she was whispering her story in my ear. For me, that is the magical part of writing.

So, if your current project demands a character whose story isn’t pretty, or easy to swallow, or whose actions or morals are a little (or a lot) askew—

Roll with it.

Embrace it. Enjoy it. Write the crap out of it. 

Don’t let your inner critic determine what you write. Stay true to your story’s characters.

The One Memory of Flora Banks by Emily Barr

GENRE: YA CONTEMPORARY | PAGES: 320

My rating: ★★★★★

Disclaimer: I received a free review copy of this book from the publisher. All opinions are my own.

HOW DO YOU KNOW WHO TO TRUST WHEN YOU CAN’T EVEN TRUST YOURSELF?

I look at my hands. One of them says ‘FLORA, BE BRAVE.’

This book swept me up in a wave of intrigue and compassion. Flora Banks is one of the best female characters I’ve read in a while—a powerhouse of inner strength. She just doesn’t remember who she is and what she’s capable of.

I loved Flora’s voice and felt an immediate connection with her from page one. The narrative is chilling—crafted with an alternating pace and clarity depending on Flora’s state of mind. At times it is fluent, teeming with such life that Flora’s spirit and tenacity radiate off the page. Other times, it is purposefully convoluted, repetitive—like actually stepping into the sweeping confusion of a seventeen-year-old amnesiac’s mind.

The repetition does not detract from the story; quite the opposite, in fact. It enhances it in that every subtle word change becomes a clue in the puzzle of Flora’s world. Because that’s what it is: an enigma that propels you from chapter to chapter, neither knowing nor trusting the words even as the story unfurls before you.

Flora’s unique personality, the Cornish and Arctic settings, the story as a whole—they are all refreshingly original and compelling. Add to that the cleverly crafted unreliable narrator and you have yourself an absolute must-read.

SEE ALL REVIEWS

 

  the one memory of flora banks

Seventeen-year-old Flora Banks has no short-term memory. Her mind resets itself several times a day, and has since the age of ten, when the tumor that was removed from Flora’s brain took with it her ability to make new memories. That is, until she kisses Drake, her best friend’s boyfriend, the night before he leaves town. Miraculously, this one memory breaks through Flora’s fractured mind, and sticks. Flora is convinced that Drake is responsible for restoring her memory and making her whole again. So when an encouraging email from Drake suggests she meet him on the other side of the world, Flora knows with certainty that this is the first step toward reclaiming her life. With little more than the words “be brave” inked into her skin, and written reminders of who she is and why her memory is so limited, Flora sets off on an impossible journey to Svalbard, Norway, the land of the midnight sun, determined to find Drake. But from the moment she arrives in the arctic, nothing is quite as it seems, and Flora must “be brave” if she is ever to learn the truth about herself, and to make it safely home.

christmas gift

So, you’re shopping for a book lover… Or you wanna treat yo’self… If so, it’s kind of a no-brainer that books will be at the top of your shopping list. But why not spice it up a bit? Go the extra mile.

Here are ten literary gifts to make you swoon. 

1. Literary merchandise

What better way to show off your book love than with a piece of merchandise adorned with a favourite quote or sentiment. I am loving this mug, this bag, and this necklace below. Sigh.

gifts for book lovers - jane eyre necklace
Via notonthehighstreet.com

 

2. More literary goodies

Or how about a quote print from a favourite author, like this one in watercolour from Jane Austen. 

Via Not on the High Street

 

 

3. Movie adaptations

Yes, we love books, and more often than not we’ll annoy you with outbursts of ‘the book was better!’ BUT there are some amazing film adaptations of our favourite stories. Some of my favourites include Lord of the Rings, Girl Interrupted, Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, and Practical Magic

gifts for book lovers - lord of the rings boxset
Via Amazon UK

 

4. Booklight

Need a sneaky bedtime-reading fix? Significant other too misguided to understand the call of One-Last-Chapter Syndrome? This booklight will help, and while hardly a new concept, this particular design is the dandiest I’ve seen in a while. It’s a bookshelf, booklight, and bookmark—all-in-one!

gifts for book lovers - lililite booklight
Via lililite.com

 

5. Bookends

When you’ve run out of actual bookshelves, you need a place to store your precious hoard. Those babies won’t stand up on their own. Here’s one option:

gifts for book lovers - bookends
Via theliterarygiftcompany.com

 

6. Library set

The only thing worse than not being able to show off your bookshelves, is showing off your bookshelves and having someone say: ‘Oo, could I borrow that?’ If you can’t get away with telling that person to ‘eff off’, this cute little library kit will at least put an end to all lending woes.  

gifts for book lovers - library kit
Via booklovergifts.com

 

7. Bookmarks

We’ll mark our page with anything. A ribbon, a receipt, our beloved pet (not really.) We also have an enormous collection of bookmarks and can quite easily concoct an excuse a reason for another… like this beautiful feather bookmark:

gifts for book lovers - feather bookmark
Via notonthehighstreet.com

 

8. Book List Journal

Maybe you’ve never heard of Goodreads, or perhaps you have but you simply love (or prefer) the act of handwriting in a journal (I get it). This journal is specifically for book lists: books you’ve read, by genre, by favourites, favourite spots to read… and so on. It’s a lovely way to document your reading history offline if you’re into that. 

gifts for book lovers - literary listography journal
Via Amazon UK

 

9. Kindle Paperwhite

Whether you’re aboard the electronic book train or not, this version of the Kindle is a beauty. Just LOOK AT IT. It’s practically a REAL book. Only without the weight and WITH a built-in nightlight. Add in a subscription to Kindle Unlimited and you’re golden.

gifts for book lovers - kindle paperwhite
Via Amazon UK

 

10. Finally, More Books. Duh.

There’s no such thing as too many books. If all else fails and you’ve reached the end of your Christmas shopping rope, get a hold of their To-Read list and have at it. Here’s mine. You know, just in case. (Wink-wink.) 

 

Happy holidays!

SMOKE IN THE ROOM BY EMILY MAGUIRE

Genre: CONTEMPORARY | Pages: 289

My rating: ★★★

Adam is lost in grief for his dead wife. Graeme is lost to despair for a world that can’t be fixed. And Katie is lost to depression. That’s a lot of hopelessness in one tiny Australian flat. Nevertheless, that despair is what made Smoke in the Room a compelling read.

I read Emily Maguire’s earlier novel,Taming the Beast, and fell in love with the gritty style of prose and her flawed central characters.

This one… it’s a good read. There’s a lot of truth in it and the characters, after a grotesque amount of binge drinking, gratuitous sex, and eating out of the trash, eventually (mostly) stumble their way into the light.

Katie, the main character, is as flawed as Taming the Beast’s protagonist. She’s a spirited young woman with an insightful (though bleak) view of the world but it took too long to see her fragility. Of course, she is troubled; it’s plain to see, but the initial lack of warmth in Katie’s character meant that I’d read over a third of the book before even liking her.

That said, after the slightly cold (but ridiculously intriguing) start, Katie’s vulnerability is slashed wide open. THIS I could connect with, relate to, and understand. I MARVELLED at the word-perfect emotion behind these characters as each of them faced their demons. The depiction of mental illness is so accurate it bites, and the blissful illusion of suicide is perfectly portrayed.

The book is gritty and edgy; the theme is dark and quite unforgiving. But once the wounds of these characters crack open, it is impossible to pause their story.

‘…depressed people are the ones with the realistic view of the world. It’s the rest of you that have filters. Soft filters that make everything seem nicer and easier than it really is. Maybe that’s all depression really is: life without a filter.’

 


smoke in the room book cover

 

The searing new novel from the internationally-acclaimed author of Taming the Beast, The Gospel According to Luke and Princesses & Pornstars. Summer, Sydney, and holed up in a tiny flat off Broadway are idealistic American Adam, weary activist Graeme, and wild, misunderstood Katie. Each is searching for answers to life’s biggest questions – why are we here; what is love; what constitutes betrayal – and thrust together, over an intense two-week period, they begin to form answers. In doing so, they must first confront their darkest demons, both within and without… Provocative, honest, brimming with sexual tension and crackling with intelligence, Emily Maguire’s sensational new novel cements her place as one of Australia’s hottest young talents.

 

Back in September, I spent three solid days shamelessly glued to the PlayStation with Uncharted 4. For those of you who aren’t gamers, Uncharted is a series of role-play action-adventure games featuring Nathan Drake—a wisecracking hunk of beefcake with a penchant for treasure hunting and getting himself into gun-fighting pickles. One could argue that video games can hardly be counted as ‘Book Chat’ material but the Uncharted franchise is so beautifully story-oriented that I’m letting this one slide.

The latest instalment (Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End) has the main protagonist, Nate, following the trail of real-life pirate Henry Avery, and his colony, in search of a ‘treasure of a lifetime’, all in the name of saving his long-lost brother, Sam. It’s a mashup (as always) of Indiana Jones and Die Hard (but with an even better storyline) and Nate is ridiculously easy on the eye—not to mention a stickler for an impossible mission.

Which got me thinking (not as rare an occurrence as you’d think): Nate’s flaws are plenty but they make him doubly attractive—and relatable—particularly handy since we can’t possibly relate to his knack for hurling himself willy-nilly off cliffs and the like.

So I decided to make a list. (I love a good list.)

Here are five of Nathan Drake’s character flaws commonly found in a host of other fictional characters from books, TV, and film.

1. OBSESSION

Number one on a LOT of lists, the flaw of obsession is hardly uncommon. Whether it’s a thirst for revenge or a fool’s errand in pursuit of riches or power, characters whose obsessions take command of their lives are aplenty. Nathan Drake is no exception. In earlier games, his reckless need to beat his opponents and uncover the mystery of whatever lost treasure he’s tracking drove him to extremes. In Uncharted 4, he’s finally out of the thief game, living a normal and oh-so-mundane life. This time, the lure of the treasure is second in line to the need to play the hero—and bail out his brother. Nonetheless, the obsession fogs his view, clouding his judgment in more than one instance, and leading him to do things he shouldn’t. Like lie. And steal. And murder people left, right, and centre…

“Let’s see… I ruined my marriage. Drove my best friend away. And now my brother’s gone missing. On the bright side: at least there’s no one around to call me an idiot.” — Nathan Drake, A Thief’s End (Naughty Dog)

Oh, Nate… You idiot.

Image Source

Other obsessive fools we (kind of) relate to:

Regina Mills (Evil Queen) from Once Upon a Time

Source

Captain Ahab from Moby Dick by Herman Melville

Source

Lady Macbeth from Macbeth by William Shakespeare

Source

 

2. ARROGANCE

So, obviously Nate is a… superfly guy. I know it, you know it, he knows it—and boy, does he milk it. His arrogance gets him into bigger trouble fifty percent of the time but more often than not, it’s his arrogance that gets him out of it in the end. Also, it’s charming as all hell.

Other arrogant bastards we love:

CAPTAIN Jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Caribbean

Source

Vlad Tepesh from The Night Prince by Jeaniene Frost

Source

 

Damon Salvatore from The Vampire Diaries

Source

 

3. OVER-PROTECTIVENESS

Of course, we all want someone in our lives willing to go the extra mile to protect us and make us feel all warm and cosy and secure at night. But when said person begins omitting truths (blatantly lying) and manipulating events to try to protect us, it can be, quite frankly, annoying. I’m more than capable of deciding whether to risk getting myself killed or not, thank you very much, Nate. I don’t need you to decide for me just to play the big hero… Oh wait, that wouldn’t be ALL bad, I guess… (well, there goes my girl power.)

Other over-protective control freaks we secretly want to hug:

Stefan Salvatore from The Vampire Diaries

Source

Edward Cullen from Twilight (I’m sensing a theme here…)

Source

(Young) Charles Xavier from X-Men: First Class

Source

 

4. SMART ASS-ery

The line is: ‘No one likes a smart ass,’ but I beg to differ. I LOVE a smart ass, but I should point out that this pertains only to the fictional world. Nathan Drake is a one-liner genius, resorting to quick wit and one-uppers against his foes even in the face of mortal peril. 

Flynn: “Found the ships though, didn’t I?”

Nate: “You couldn’t find your ass with both hands.”

— Uncharted 2: Among Thieves (Naughty Dog)

Other smart-asses we find hilarious:

Doctor Cox from Scrubs

Source

 

Chandler Bing from Friends

Source

 

Damon Salvatore from TVD

Source

I know! I listed him twice. Sorry. (Not sorry.)

 

5. GREY MORALITY

This is by far one of my favourite character flaws, whether it’s in a book, film or any other media. It’s so deliciously complex, and builds intrigue and excitement around the character. When it comes to morally grey characters, we find ourselves succumbing to their plea, empathising with their cause no matter how ludicrous, and no matter the cost. We tend to overlook their (often) criminal or unjust behaviour, making up ridiculous excuses: ‘I know he just killed nearly an entire army, but he HAS to save his brother, dammit!’ (Me, on Nate.) These folk really know how to spin our moral compasses.

Other morally grey souls we make excuses for:

Thorin Oakenshield from Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien

Source

 

Rumpelstiltskin (Mr Gold) from Once Upon a Time

Source

 

Damon Salvatore from The Vampire Diaries 


https://vampirediariesguide.com” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener”>Source

Last time, I swear.

And there you have it. My list of character flaw observations to justify the hours spent lost in the world of Uncharted when I should have been writing.

It was completely worth it. 🙂

What are your favourite flaws? Who are your favourite flawed characters? Who did I leave off the list? We all know who I didn’t leave off the list. (Still not sorry.) Let me know below in the comments.

One of These Things First by Steven Gaines

genre: MEMOIR | pages: 272

My rating: ★★★★

Disclaimer: I received a free review copy of this book from the publisher. All opinions are my own.

Memoirs have never been a favourite of mine, so I went into One of These Things First expecting a somewhat tedious time. As it turns out, Steven Gaines’ story and writing style both fascinated and moved me.

‘I saw him fleetingly, no more than a slow camera pan as he passed in and out of frame, but I knew him so intimately from that moment that I can still smell the sun on the nape of his neck.’

It is a poignant and fairly dark read but with enough humour to offer a change of pace. The book has been compared to Girl, Interrupted although Girl was far darker and more intense than this.

The book is fairly short but the story itself spans much of the author’s life, with the central focus on his fifteen-year-old self, leading up to, and during, his time at a psychiatric clinic. His struggle with who he is and how he is perceived is nothing short of heartbreaking.

The tone of the book is conversational as he recounts his memories and experience, but with such acute attention to detail that it makes even the mundane seem interesting. It is written in such a way that his interest, mild obsession even, with Mr Halliday or Mary, becomes infectious. And I love how his description of the people in his world conjures a vivid image in the mind.

One of These Things First is a story that I’m sure took a massive amount of courage to write. Acceptance among family, communities, or within general society is difficult, especially at the time these events took place. Self-acceptance is often a doubly hard, never-ending battle, and I’m glad there is a hint of it at the end.

‘There were women I loved, but not completely. No matter how wonderful the women I romanced were, I was driven by nature and design to love a man more.’

 

one of these things first book cover

 

In March of 1962, the author, who was fifteen-years-old, managed to “escape the hawk-eyed scrutiny” of three saleswomen in whose care he’d been left, went to the back of his grandfather’s store, punched the glass pane out of a window and sawed his wrists and forearms on the shards of glass remaining in the frame. Narrowly avoiding death, he was hospitalised and, on the brink of being committed to a state hospital, begged his grandfather to bankroll a stay at the exclusive, private posh Payne Whitney located on Manhattan’s upper eastside. With self-confessed delusions of grandeur, Gaines, as a patient, comes to understand that his homosexuality is the underlying cause of his suicide attempt. While he undertakes conversion therapy with a young psychiatrist, he becomes the willing apprentices of various celebrities who are also patients at the hospital. With a rare mix of poignancy and humour, Gaines shows an uncanny ability to conjure up a rollicking narrative woven with great moments of insight, separating himself from other memoirists by his sheer ability to tell a story.

books about witches shona kaye

The spooktacular holiday of All Hallows’ Eve is almost upon us and besides donning my slutty nurse costume (JK), I can’t think of a better way to get a headstart on the spooks than by curling up with a good book… in particular, books about witches. In fact, Halloween or otherwise, I’m always up for a witchy read in any shape or form—fantastical, historical, those who embrace their magic and those who want nothing more than to be ‘normal’ (Witches, please… normal is overrated).

Here are my seven favourite books about witches to get you in the mood for trick or treating.

  books about witches - a discovery of witches

A Discovery of Witches

Deborah Harkness

Loved this. The perfect blend of history and fantasy in both a modern and historical time setting with memorable characters, including a protagonist who struggles to accept her powers, and a charismatic vampire (in case it isn’t exciting enough already). Shadow of Night (the follow-up) is chock full of all the elements of the first book, throwing time travel into the mix alongside encounters with some of history’s greats. Brilliant series!

  books about witches - witch child

Witch Child

Celia Rees

One of my absolute favourites. This is yet another beautifully written story weaving together the fictional story of Mary of Salem with just enough historical elements to immerse you in the past. Written in journal entries, Mary’s story is captivating and is a must-read for fans of Salem witch stories.

  books about witches - macbeth

Macbeth

William Shakespeare

Now, I love me some Shakespeare (especially the Sonnets <3) but I’ll admit that I only read Macbeth in school… so, needless to say, I didn’t fully appreciate it at the time. Whether that’s my excuse or not, I’ll admit: as deep and tragic as the actual play is, for me, it’s those three witches who are truly unforgettable—and that classic cauldron chanting is unrivalled.

 books about witches - uprooted

Uprooted

Naomi Novik

My most recently discovered gem, Uprooted has become a fast favourite for me. A standalone adult fantasy with Beauty and the Beast elements, the storytelling is steeped in nature and the magic is breathtaking. Despite the fairytale elements, it is quite unlike any other magical story I’ve ever come across. Read my full and unashamedly gushing review here.

 books about witches - tim and the hidden people

Tim and the Hidden People

Sheila K McCullagh

I read this series as a child. Try to buy this online, I dare you, and the price will make your eyes pop. I can’t condone the staggering cost, but the stories, if you can get your hands on them are lovely. Maybe it’s nostalgia, maybe not, but these stories were undoubtedly my gateway for all things magical.

 books about witches - the witches

The Witches

Roald Dahl

Classic Roald Dahl. (The Twits is still my favourite.) As an adult, I love The Witches, both the book and the film adaptation, but it definitely scared me as a child. These witches are mean bitches. As always, though, his books are full of humour—unique and insightful; funny, twisted stories about (some) funny, twisted characters with brilliant morals at the heart of it all. The Witches is no exception and if you didn’t read it as a child, do it now. Your inner child will thank you.

 books about witches - wicked

Wicked

Gregory Maguire

A retelling of the Wizard of Oz, this is one of those stories that flips the switch and gives you an alternate point of view: the villain’s, with the Wicked Witch of the West as the protagonist, I’m currently reading this one and enjoying the storytelling immensely so far. I’m also a sucker for the morally grey, slightly misunderstood characters, and it doesn’t get any better than the Wicked Witch. (Exceptions may include Damon Salvatore.)

  books about witches - harry potter

Honourable mention: Harry Potter

J K Rowling

What witch list would be complete without mentioning the world of Hogwarts, School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. I’m still waiting for my bloody letter. Stupid owl has clearly gotten lost. The witches and wizards of Hogwarts and the world of Harry Potter are regulars on most book lists. The series is a phenomenal modern classic, and quite frankly, if you haven’t heard of this one yet, where the hell have you been? Get reading.

 

There you have seven—well, eight—witch tales to get you all fired up for October 31st festivities.

What are your favourite magic books? Who is your favourite witch? How many times have you hollered ‘Accio!’ in the last ten years?

Let me know in the comments.

Immisceo: Taken - book one in the fantasy series, Immisceo shona kaye

He had just laid the maps out in front of him when a chorus of high-pitched screams erupted outside. He turned toward the window where the velvet blue of dusk had been set alight in flashes of fire. Nate leapt up and peered down into the courtyard.

Five lifeless bodies lay sprawled on the ground, three slashed through with fresh gaping wounds and two of them charred beyond recognition, thick smoke still rising from the corpses. At the head table, Amara gripped Eli’s arm, his tiny hand outstretched and crackling with energy. A white flash of lightning sliced through the air and a sixth body fell; Amara smiled as the last of Eli’s special guests dropped limply to the floor, their gifts—bundles of clothing, caged hens, crates of fruit—scattered among the dead. The rest of the party trampled one another to reach the exit, screaming all the while as Garrett tugged Amara’s waist to draw attention to the boy wizard. Eli was bent forward, his body wracked with tremors.

Amara released her hold on him and the spark left her skin, curling back on itself into Eli’s small hand and devouring him, threading through him piece by piece, until his whole body was lit through with a bright white network of sparks.

Amara and Garrett took a step backwards, and all of the witches in the courtyard took a few forward. Nate craned his neck at the window.

Eli curled further forward as the spasms seemed to take hold. His eyes were wide, his face contorted.

Immisceo: Taken is the first book in a new fantasy series. 

Find out more Read the first three chapters

 

fearless books shona kaye

As a reader, I enjoy multiple genres of books, and picking a favourite is, for me, not just impossible but criminal. Having said that, there are a few that stand out. These books are the ones I nose-dived my way through; they hooked me at first word and had that can’t-eat, can’t-sleep effect. There’s also one other thing they all have in common: the storytelling is fearless. 

Here are my Top 3 Fearless Books

Is this not the world’s shortest list? Meh. My list, my rules. 😀

Fearless Books

Forbidden

“You can close your eyes to the things you do not want to see, but you cannot close your heart to the things you do not want to feel.”

 

This is one that would make the cut with its hands tied behind its back. I will rave about this story until I’m senile or dead. Never have I read a story that compelled me as much as this did to turn a blind eye to the norms of society. The author took a taboo subject—incest—and spun it on its head, with characters so real and relatable that I could do nothing BUT root for them, even though on a basic level I knew I shouldn’t have. The story has never left me, and I dare you to read it and let it haunt you too.

Full review of Forbidden

Fearless Books

The Tied Man

“The summer I met Lilith Bresson, I had begun to die. Not physically, you understand. I had never been that lucky. But each day a little more of my soul disappeared.”

 

I read this one only recently, and it is by far one of the most disturbing books I’ve ever come across. That’s not to say it isn’t good. The writing is brilliant; the fast-paced action, dry (dark) humour and the isolated setting really lend themselves to the atmosphere of the book. The real fearless quality though is in the characters and the extent of horror of the events. Never have I read something which made me cringe as much as this book did, yet I couldn’t have put it down if you’d paid me to.

Full review of The Tied Man

Fearless Books

The Bell Jar

“I felt very still and empty, the way the eye of a tornado must feel, moving dully along in the middle of the surrounding hullabaloo.”

 

A fairly modern classic, The Bell Jar is well-known and well-loved, and one of my all-time favourites. I can relate to so much of Sylvia Plath’s work and her only novel is no exception. The subject centres around the protagonist’s fledgeling writing career, and her struggle with mental illness (loosely based on Sylvia Plath’s own life). The style of writing is poetic (not for everyone) and Plath demonstrates that remarkable and elusive skill of taking a bleak and morbid situation and transforming it into compelling prose. This, to me, is as fearless as it gets.

Full review of The Bell Jar

So, fellow bookworms, what would you consider your favourite fearless books? Which of them has a permanent haunt spot in your life? Tell me in the comments… I swear I’ll give you credit for adding to this poor excuse of a list 🙂

fiction writing shona kaye

Writers are often asked if real-life events end up in their fiction writing or rather—if their fiction is actually based on true stories. In many cases, my personal answer to this is ‘I sincerely hope not.’ Can you imagine the horror of Stephen King’s daily life if that were true?

Instead of being based on true stories, fiction, as Mr King puts it, is: “the truth inside the lie.”

In the case of my book (a contemporary romantic suspense novel) and other books like it, the horror is entirely more subtle. The realism of it, the fact that it could happen—that it does happen—makes it terrifying.  

As for whether real life has an actual place in my books, Brooke’s situation in Blood’s Veil (no spoilers) is entirely fictional as far as I’m concerned, but my life experience whether through real events, literature or film, have all aided me in creating her and her story. I’ve lived with the crippling aftermath of sexual abuse and I’m no stranger to depression. Some of this seeps into my fiction writing — but it’s organic. I draw on this inner source of inspiration if the moment requires it rather than setting out to write what would essentially be a memoir.

Writing a character like Brooke allowed me to express a tiny fraction of my experience while keeping that much-needed distance, but I did this because it was true to her character. 

My current work in progress, Immisceo, is part of a fantasy series. There’s adventure, there’s magic, all in a fictional setting and bygone time—none of which I experienced (wouldn’t that be cool!?) Yet in every story, no matter how exciting or fast-paced or fantastical the plot is, as readers, we relate to the characters. If a character is a likeable dude on a noble life quest, we automatically begin to root for him. If a character is unspeakably evil, we immediately loathe them. If they’re somewhere in between—the anti-hero like Severus Snape from Harry Potter or anti-villain like Rumplestiltskin / Mr Gold from Once Upon a Time—we feel a certain kind of kinship with their struggles; it speaks to something within us all—the complexity of the human psyche.


“Has it ever crossed your brilliant mind that I don’t want to do this anymore?”

fiction writing


fiction writing
ONCE UPON A TIME – ABC’s “Once Upon a Time” stars Robert Carlyle as Rumplestiltskin/Mr. Gold. (ABC/KHAREN HILL)

 

This is where truth comes in. It doesn’t matter if we’re writing or reading about (or watching) a character struggling through the mundane day-to-day routine of a job he hates or battling a terminal illness; or one who is about to take on a fifty-foot dragon… what it all boils down to is emotion. A human connection with what we see before us.

Fiction Writing vs. Real Life: Blurring the Line

fiction writing
Source: imgkid.com

I’ve never fought a dragon before but I can I recall a time when I felt so scared I could barely breathe or a time when I had to attempt something for the sake of someone else—nothing life-threatening like a living, breathing dragon of course, but the fear and awe are emotions and experiences I’m familiar with.

 

“A little talent is a good thing to have if you want to be a writer. But the only real requirement is the ability to remember every scar.” Stephen King

Writers take those feelings, those memories, amplifies them tenfold, gives the character a whopping great sword and a pair of balls the size of Texas and—boom!

And while the action is fun and exciting, when we witness this as readers or viewers, the part we relate to is the fear, the adrenaline, the sheer wonder of the size of that scaly beast.

So, how often is truth found in fiction? My answer is: always—in terms of human emotion and experience, and everything that makes a story relatable. The rest is a wondrous product of the imagination.

how do I become a writer

What’s the best thing about being a writer?

My serious answer to this is that there’s nothing more fulfilling than doing what you love. My REAL answer is that there’s nothing more fulfilling than having a job where ‘pyjamas-all-day’ is practically required.

 

Why a writer?

It was never really about choosing to be a writer. I simply am one. I grew up in love with books and words and began writing my own stories as far back as I can remember. The only part I ever really chose was deciding to follow my passion and then dedicating myself to it.

 

Where do you get your ideas?

Everywhere. I don’t know if it’s a writer thing or a personality thing—maybe a little of both, but I find ideas for stories everywhere. From big life events and drama and dreams to people-watching from my third-floor flat window and eavesdropping during public transport ‘adventures’. (I’m a delight, am I not?)

Books are an endless source of inspiration. You should never, under any circumstances, copy the work of other writers, but reading books will undoubtedly spark a thought or an idea, and the wonderful notion of ‘what if’ will help that idea grow into something original and unique to you. The ideas are easy. There are perhaps too many ideas flitting around in my head. The more difficult part is knowing which idea is good enough to pursue. Which one is good enough to make a story worthy of the reader. Usually, it’s the idea that never leaves. If you can’t stop thinking about it; if it haunts your days and keeps you awake at night; if you feel yourself bursting with the need to get the story out of you—that’s the idea worth writing about.

 

Why did you self-publish?

In two words: Creative control.

Long answer: There is a plethora of content around, discussing the pros and cons of traditional vs. self-publishing. As far as I can see, there is no right or wrong path. It is as personal as writing is. For me, after months of research, I opted for the path that would allow me to keep my book rights, give my book an unlimited ‘shelf life’, and give me control over content, cover choices, and deadlines. And the biggest bonus of all? Time. The instantaneous wonder of self-publishing is the perk to end all perks, allowing writers to share their work with readers as soon as it is ready, with no gatekeeper deciding where and when or even if.

 

How do I become a writer?

Simple. Just write.

As Neil Gaiman said, it’s one word after another until it’s done. It’s that easy, and that hard.

Reading any and everything you come across is a necessity—how else will you ever know what makes a good story (and a bad one)? Classes and lessons on writing can be helpful but reading is fun, free, easy, and irreplaceable. Books are your most valuable tool and any writer worth his or her salt will tell you this. Reading will help broaden your experience, your vocabulary, and your appreciation for what makes a good book just that. However, the single most important thing I believe you need is perseverance. It is what I lacked in the early stages. It’s why it took me so long to finish writing a single book. Free tip? Never wait for inspiration to come knocking on your door. Inspiration will not plop you in front of your computer and dictate word after word. More than half the time, inspiration (fickle bastard that it is) doesn’t bother showing up until you do. Relying on a creative muse is a sure-fire way to prolong your work process. It just doesn’t work.

What does work is mustering the self-motivation to show up, do the work, and keep going. Keep going until you reach the very end of a single project, even when your muse is missing in action. Even when other ideas are beckoning—jot them down and file them away for later. Even when you’re knee-deep in housework and errands—it will all still be there when you’re done writing. Even when your spouse is wondering why there’s baked beans on toast for dinner, again. He’ll live.

When the idea of writing or editing has become your personal hell—and it will—as you read your manuscript for the twentieth time, remember: let nothing or no one deter you from your goal, especially yourself. Self-doubt is a part of the job description, and whilst often crippling, use it to your advantage instead and strive for improvement. Just keep going.

 

How do I self-publish?

Research, research, research. It’s the only way to truly know if self-publishing is the right path for you. If it is, thecreativepenn.com is a great resource for starting out, with everything from self-publishing tips to establishing your brand and marketing.

I use Scrivener for writing but there’s also a built-in function for exporting your finished manuscript as Mobi, ePub, Docx, and PDF files, which you’ll need to publish your work as an e-book and paperback. There are plenty of options other than Scrivener for this, some of which are free, like Reedsy, but I can’t fault the Scrivener software. 

Whilst publishing my first book, I found thebookdesigner.com to be a handy collection of articles on formatting the Docx file before converting to PDF, with brilliant tips on gutter margins, headers, pagination, and front- and back-matter. Even if you think you already know everything there is about good ol’ Microsoft Word, these articles will still prove useful for learning about the standard and correct layout of a paperback book (there was a hell of a lot more to it than I ever thought possible).

Update 2020: I’ve recently published newer editions of my work following a name change. Kindle Create has taken the legwork out of book design. Createspace has also moved over to Kindle, meaning you can easily publish both ebook and paperback versions of your work without the hassle it once involved, right from the Amazon KDP dashboard. Yay, technology, right?

Canva and Gimp are brilliant free tools for DIY cover design. Always check copyright when using images—Creative Commons images are your friend. Pixabay is just one of many sites with Creative Commons images for cover work, which do not need attribution and/or are free for commercial use. There are several paid sites featuring stock photography too, such as Shutterstock, but this depends on your budget. If you can afford it, hiring a professional cover artist is highly recommended.

Self-publishing is a lot of work (and don’t get me started on marketing!) but it is ultimately rewarding, and since I didn’t have any budget to speak of to hire professional help, my bonus is the sense of achievement for having done it all myself. Eventually.

 

Is it all worth it?

More than I could ever imagine. Doing something you love is always worth it and overcoming the inevitable obstacles on the way makes the reward that much sweeter.

 

Will it make me rich?

You’re in the wrong industry. If you’re looking to get rich, look elsewhere. Writers hardly ever strike it rich, especially in the beginning. The outliers like traditionally published Rowling and King or the self-published authors, like Hugh Howey and Amanda Hocking, took years to build what they have, and even then, there’s no guarantee of becoming like them in terms of monetary gain. That’s not to say it won’t happen. No one can predict the success of a book or its author. Rather than paying attention to market trends, I try to focus instead on crafting the best version of the story I want to tell, staying true to myself and that story, firmly believing (if a little naïvely) that if a book is engaging, and you have discovered some means of promotion, your work will eventually find an audience.

If you’re truly in this for the joy of writing, the riches are in the form of knowing your stories are reaching and resonating with readers. For me, that’s the real success. Everything else is frosting on an already delicious cake.

 

Recommended reading for writers:

On Writing by Stephen King
How to Write a Novel by Nathan Bransford
Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

Recommended websites for writers:

Nathan Bransford
The Creative Penn – Joanna Penn
The Book Designer – Joel Friedlander
Nick Stephenson
Jane Friedman
Anne R Allen
Jenna Moreci

 

“I would advise anyone who aspires to a writing career that before developing his talent he would be wise to develop a thick hide.”

—Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird

 

how do i become a writer shona kaye

As a side note to that piece of advice from Harper Lee, a thick skin is something of a neverending work in progress. It’s never easy but it is vital and honestly, the only tip I can share is the same I one I tell myself every day: be patient with yourself, be open to complete failure, allow yourself room for errorand complete derailment at timesbut always come back to the writing.

 

You Are Mine by Janeal Falor

Genre: Fantasy, ya | Pages: 370

My rating: ★★★★

You Are Mine is an engaging read with some interesting themes. Alongside the slow-burning (my favourite kind) romantic sub-plot, the central theme in this book is discrimination: of women, race, social status, even magical ability.

Set in a fantasy world within a time setting where the novelty of electricity is yet to wear thin, the protagonist begins her tale with a blood test with a difference. If her blood is potently magical, she will marry ‘well’ under an arrangement by her father, taking the traditional giving away of the bride to new extremes, with women traded from one man to another like cattle. Despite possessing magic, women have no worldly power—their only purpose in life is procreation and obedience.

When Serena’s original arranged marriage is upended, she is betrothed to another—an Envadi, Zade, native of the rumoured Barbarian race. His culture and his display of rare kindness and free will gives Serena a new lease of life, and she slowly begins to realise that the only barbarians in her world are men like her father.

I enjoyed Serena’s development as she progressed from a naive and fearful girl to a confident woman. Despite being strong for her siblings, oppression has taken its toll, leaving her mistrusting, often submissive, and in constant fear of men and the threat of punishment. 

The supposed crimes for which women are being reprimanded are as extreme as the punishments themselves, and the society in this world is outrageous. Yet, the concepts throughout the story—slavery, racism, oppression—are rooted in real-world history. I loved the overall theme, particularly since we get to see Serena stand her own against everything.

This is part of a series, one book for every sister in Serena’s family. Had there been a follow up in her POV I’d have been inclined to get it. As a standalone novel, the story is immersive and the ending, despite falling a little short in terms of the romantic element, is still, overall, satisfying.

SEE ALL REVIEWS

 

you are mine book cover

Serena knows a few simple things. She will always be owned by a warlock. She will never have freedom. She will always do what her warlock wishes, regardless of how inane, frivolous, or cruel it is. And if she doesn’t follow the rules, she will be tarnished. Spelled to be bald, inked, and barren for the rest of her life—worth less than the shadow she casts.

Then her ownership is won by a barbarian from another country. With the uncertainty that comes from belonging to a new warlock, Serena questions if being tarnished is really worse than being owned by a barbarian, and tempts fate by breaking the rules. When he looks the other way instead of punishing her, she discovers a new world. The more she ventures into the forbidden, the more she learns of love and a freedom just out of reach. Serena longs for both. But in a society where women are only ever property, hoping for more could be deadly.

writing shona kaye

1. Writing a book 

Having a half-formed idea for a story which you scribble about for several weeks/months/years, with no real clue about what you are doing until you have already done it.

2. Editing a manuscript 

Sitting in front of the computer in your pyjamas, pulling your hair out, whilst swearing and deleting stuff, wondering whether you even understand the concept of the written word.

3. Doing research for a book 

Alternating between Facebook, Twitter and your project, gathering notes and screenshots, with a Google search history that places you in the same category as a spy/scientist/historian/superhero/sex addict/crazy person/murderer [delete where appropriate].

4. Querying agents (for the traditional authors) 

Perfecting a letter that could get you elected as president. Emailing said letter to a literary agent, attaching your ACTUAL soul (the manuscript). Entertaining various mental states as you wait for rejection, then repeating the entire process. Times INFINITY. 

5. Building an author platform 

Standing in a small, holey bucket in a sea of internet content, screaming ‘Look at me!’ at passing seagulls.

6. Marketing a book 

Running yourself ragged, reading every article known to humanity on marketing techniques, then resuming your (one-sided) conversation with the seagulls.

7. Networking 

Connecting with fellow writers, then immediately comparing yourself to them, followed by curling into the foetal position.

8. Analysing book sales reports 

Compulsively checking book sales and sales ranking, and returning to the foetal position.

9. Requesting reviews 

Sending your book to other bookworms for free, so they can rip your writing to shreds in the public domain. (Or happily, NOT.)

10. Persevering 

Trying, failing, writing, rewriting, growing, learning. It sucks and it exhilarates you, in equal measures, but you do it anyway, because you love being a writer, and you cannot imagine NOT being one.

JUST. KEEP. GOING.

 

And if you’re looking for something a little less… ridiculous and a little more helpful, check out my FAQ post for writing tips that don’t involve seagulls. Visit that post here: FAQs: Why are you a writer? How do I become a writer? And more…

 

 

The Tied Man by Tabitha McGowan

genre: dark, erotica, romance | pages: 395

My rating: ★★★★

The Tied Man is one of those books that whilst reading it I couldn’t seem to get enough, yet when I’m done, I’m left wondering why I would voluntarily traumatise myself. It was a good read—but understand that by good, I mean that while it has a gripping storyline, this book will plaster images on the back of your eyelids that will never ever rub off.

The plot centres around Lilith and Finn. Lilith whilst busy going about her (pretty enviable) artist’s existence, is cornered into a situation beyond comprehension: a long ‘vacation’ at an estate that caters to the whims of the most twisted sexual deviants I’ve ever come across.

That’s nothing, I hear you say.

Wait for it…

That’s not the part which set my mind-boggling.

One of the live-in residents is a handsome but tragic Irishman. Finn. He is nothing short of a sex slave—used, abused, punished, and tortured, all under the questionable ‘contract’ he has with the estate owner, Blaine, and her many dubious clients.

I know, I know! Mentions of sex contracts these days brings forth images of Christian Grey and his whip, but Fifty Shades is like reading Enid Blyton compared to this book; and although the second Fifty Shades book (yes, shut up, I read all three) gets a little meatier in terms of actual plot (emphasis on little), The Tied Man outdoes this by a mile. Maybe five.

If this all sounds a bit far-fetched, don’t let it put you off. The plot is by no means thin, and these bizarre events have relatable circumstances. Firstly, Finn didn’t sign the contract for fun; there’s a legitimate and noble reason why he did. Secondly, Lilith didn’t just go along for the ride; she’s almost as trapped as Finn is, first because of Blaine, and then by her own unwillingness to give up on Finn. Lastly, the impressive writing and engaging protagonists keep the plot grounded, immersing the reader into the characters’ world.

I’ve read some spectacularly questionable stories before and I’m not easily shocked or repelled, and I’m definitely not easily offended by books, but this one… This one made even the likes of my warped mind cower in the corner—trembling. Yet, I’d recommend it to anyone who might enjoy torturing themselves with dark, twisted tales (fans of Comfort Food, Flawed, etc.)

I gobbled word after word—scene after gory scene—because at the heart of this disturbing story there is a nugget of beauty—HOPE.

‘The momentary discomfort was nothing at all compared to the realisation that she was finding refuge in my flawed embrace.’ — Finn

 

the tied man book cover

 

Lilith Bresson, an independent, successful young artist, is forced to travel from her home in Spain to the wild borderlands of northern England, to repay her feckless father’s latest debt by painting a portrait of the enigmatic Lady Blaine Albermarle.

On her first night at Albermarle Hall she meets Finn Strachan, Blaine’s ‘companion’, a cultured and hauntingly beautiful young man who seems to have it all. But Lilith has an artist’s eye, and a gift for seeing what lies beneath the skin. She soon discovers that Blaine is more gaoler than lover, and if the price is right, depravity has no limits. As the weeks pass, Lilith finds that she too is drawn into the malign web that her patron has spun, yet against the odds she forges a strong friendship with the damaged, dysfunctional Finn. In a dark, modern twist to an age-old story, Lilith Bresson proves that sometimes it’s the princess who needs to become the rescuer.

Please note that this storyline contains depictions of drug abuse, violence and non-consensual sex.

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

GENRE: FANTASY | PAGES: 448

My rating: ★★★★★

Uprooted was the perfect blend of fantasy and fairy tale. I loved it. The story begins with the brief history of the routine taking of a girl by the Dragon. Agnieszka eventually meets him, and under the flimsy rumours of all the village and all the taken girls before her, believes she should fear for her life and her virtue.

Our Dragon doesn’t eat the girls he takes, no matter what stories they tell outside our valley.

Instead, what awaits her is magic. She possesses it and so does the Dragon, and as she settles into her role as an apprentice, she learns that the real danger is the Wood—a living breathing entity which threatens her life and the lives of everyone in her village. The Dragon is a protector but so focused on the task he’s been given, he has, in his immortal existence, become cold and distant. Little by little, Agnieszka breaks down the Dragon’s walls and learns to embrace her power instead of fearing it.

The story has been likened to a loose retelling of Beauty and The Beast, and I can see the resemblance there in the most basic of elements—it was this that initially appealed to me—but this book goes above and beyond the fairy tale.

The magic in this book is beautiful. The element of it is brought to life with wondrous detail, steeped in the essence of the entire novel: nature. Nature and magic are fully intertwined; even spells are demonstrated as the growth of nature—an intricate blossoming of a flower or a ferocious eruption of moss and decay—the description is vivid and imaginative.

Agnieszka begins her journey as a fearful, cautious girl, reluctant to step into the spotlight. When she embraces who she truly is, she shows great strength—a wilful, stubborn bravery, and a tender understanding toward the often arrogant Dragon.

Her relationship with him is believable, realistically and beautifully written, evolving first into mutual respect and trust, struggling with their own misgivings before fully embracing and accepting their inevitable love.

This is one of the best books I’ve read this year and my only disappointment is that it is not part of a series—I would gladly jump back into this fascinating, beautiful world.
 

 uprooted book cover

Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted Wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life. Her people rely on the cold, driven wizard known only as the Dragon to keep its powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as falling to the Wood.

The next choosing is fast approaching, and Agnieszka is afraid. She knows – everyone knows – that the Dragon will take Kasia: beautiful, graceful, brave Kasia, all the things Agnieszka isn’t, and her dearest friend in the world. And there is no way to save her. But Agnieszka fears the wrong things. For when the Dragon comes, it is not Kasia he will choose.

From the author of the Temeraire series comes this hugely imaginative, engrossing and vivid fantasy novel, inspired by folk and fairy tales. It is perfect reading for fans of Robin Hobb and Trudi Canavan.

messages in books shona kaye

Why do we read?

Is it knowledge, personal interest, connection? Or maybe entertainment or story? The purpose of a book is neither fixed nor singular since often, a single book can serve multiple purposes, and give as many rewards. Of all the rewards a book can bring, the one which encompasses ALL of the above is enjoyment. Books give us pleasure. Yet lately, I’ve noticed readers who not only search for but expect messages in books; they consistently expect stories to offer up a philosophical theory or a nugget of wisdom.

Now personally, I love books that do this, but it isn’t a requirement—and it certainly has never been the reason I pick up (or put down) a book. Still, from what I gather from many other readers, it seems every book MUST have a message, and the message MUST coincide and adhere to every possible rule and opinion under the sun (preferably all without causing offence).

Why does every book have to carry a hidden message?

And why is there such a prevalent trend to assume that those books with messages are often sending the wrong one? 

Maybe we look for messages in books—more specifically, answers—to help us with certain aspects of our own lives, or maybe we need guidance, inspiration, or reinforcement of our morals. Whatever the reason behind this, I agree that stories can offer incredible insight and positive lessons that we can apply in our daily life.

The downside?

Whittling a book down to its underlying message is not always straightforward, or even necessary. A book might have more than one message, and these messages or themes might be conflicting.

Sometimes, a story is outside of the norms of society, with or without an intended message. For instance, the story might follow a character who plays on the wrong side of the track. Of course, you could argue that the story is a lesson on how NOT to live your life or deal with a certain situation, but maybe… perhaps… it’s just a story. Pure entertainment value.

Some stories are told for the sheer pleasure of it. These are usually the books bearing the brunt. The books that are often labelled as trash, or fluff; accused of offering no significant contribution to the literary world, for lack of message and moral, or for the inclusion of a perceived lopsided one.

It is worth remembering the all-important reason for reading.

Enjoyment.

A novel doesn’t have to be the next War and Peace, or the next 1984, or Great Expectations.

As readers, we each have our own standards, preferences—and most importantly—unique view of the world, and this can influence how we interpret the stories we encounter. What one reader might view as a positive message, might be just the opposite for another.

Even if an author intends to present a specific message, moral, or theme to the reader, there is no guarantee the reader will receive it as intended. This is the beauty and magic of words—they have the power to transform themselves in ways which are personal to everyone who reads them. One might argue that a great writer would carry a message with such strength and clarity there would be no room for mistaking its meaning. Yet—depending on a reader’s point of view, their level of understanding, their life experience—this great writing is still susceptible to a unique interpretation.

“A writer only begins a book. A reader finishes it.”

— Samuel Johnson

This phenomenal versatility of words and the power of storytelling is why the magic of books will never die. We as humans have spent centuries reading and analysing some of the most classic and precious of books, and yet, a new perspective, theme, or indeed, a message still can surface—even now.

On a smaller scale, think of your favourite book—the one you’ve read over, and over again. I’ll bet there are certain aspects which jumped out at you on your second or third reading, which might have been invisible to you the first time you read it. This is true for most readers.

Messages in books are not always concrete.

They aren’t set in stone. They change as we change, they alter as we seek new and different meaning. The only constant is the pleasure reading can bring, and sometimes, in the epic search for epic messages, this point gets lost along the way.

GIRL ON A TRAIN BY A. J. WAINES

GENRE: SUSPENSE | PAGES: 435

My rating: ★★★★

Usually, if I say I bought a book by mistake, it’s because I’m attempting to sell the not-so-believable tale of how my card liberated itself from my purse and threw itself at the mercy of the checkout at Waterstones. In this case, with Girl on a Train, it’s not a fib. I really did buy it by mistake. I’m THAT stupid. I thought it was the OTHER book about—get this—another girl on another train. Damn public transport.

My own stupidity aside, I wasn’t disappointed.

The story is great; full of suspense and mystery, with intriguing characters in the form of Anna and Elly, and a whodunit that masked itself until the very end. Yet, it is the imagery in this book that stands out by a mile. I’m not usually the biggest fan of description, but it was done so well here. It tackled perfectly the tricky matter of relaying painstakingly precise detail with as few words as possible, and the result is a vivid, image-ridden experience, plonking me directly into the growing obsession and heartache of the main character, Anna, and her connection to Elly.

My only gripe is that the pacing was the tiniest fraction too slow for my liking, with perhaps one or two metaphors too many, a distraction from the otherwise engaging story. Then again, that might just be my own impatience.

Overall, a great read, and a happy ‘mistake’.
 

 girl on a train book cover

Everything points to suicide – but I saw her face… Headstrong Journalist, Anna Rothman, knows what suicide looks like – her own husband killed himself five years earlier. When Elly Swift, an agitated passenger beside her on a train, leaves a locket in Anna’s bag before jumping onto the tracks, Anna starts asking awkward questions. But everything points to suicide and the police close the case.

Anna, however, believes Elly’s fears for Toby, her young nephew, missing since being snatched from St Stephen’s church six months ago, fail to explain the true reason behind Elly’s distress. Through a series of hidden messages Elly left behind, Anna embarks on a dangerous crusade to track down Toby and find Elly’s killer.

But nothing is as it seems and Anna opens a can of worms that throws into question even her own husband’s suicide – before the threads of the mystery converge in an astonishing conclusion.

BOUND BY FLAMES BY JEANIENE FROST

GENRE: PARANORMAL, FANTASY, ROMANCE | PAGES: 342

My rating: ★★★★★

As predicted, book three of the Night Prince series doesn’t disappoint. Who knew I was clairvoyant? Or maybe, Jeaniene Frost is just that good. Bound by Flames is brilliant.

Leila is even tougher than I gave her credit for, and she continues to impress me with her resilience, even though the villain is evil personified and events take a far darker, more twisted turn than before.

“Have you ever seen an animal skinned?” Vlad interrupted, his voice icily pleasant. “It’s a bloody, brutal business under normal circumstances, but imagine if the animal were alive and screaming. Then imagine that it wasn’t an animal, but the person you loved being repeatedly slashed and hacked so that their skin could be ripped away faster than it could heal.”

And it gets worse!

These horrific acts trigger the madman in Vlad, and every scene is riddled with tension. This is then brilliantly balanced with his openness later on, and with Leila, he finally tears down those last few walls. Any misgivings regarding Vlad (not that I have any) are finally rectified when he relays (in detail this time) the atrocities of his past, and it becomes even more apparent that his (ironically) cold exterior, and his arrogant and (at times) downright medieval attitude, all stem from not only his past but his most basic need to protect. There are many more moments where his vulnerability streaks through, and it’s beautiful, and yet his power in this book is phenomenal.

Some of my anger drained away as I stared into his eyes. They were green with fury, yes, but something else lurked in them. An emotion I rarely saw in Vlad. Fear.

“You aren’t just my weakness, Leila. You are my destruction, because if I were to lose you, it would finish me.”

Needless to say, I am a fangirling mess right now, since book four isn’t out until October.

Is it October yet?

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bound by flames book cover

Play with fire, pay the price.

Leila’s years on the carnie circuit were certainly an education. What she didn’t learn: how to be a vampire, or how to be married to the most famous vampire of them all. Adjusting to both has Leila teetering on a knife edge between passion and peril, and now the real danger is about to begin…

Vlad must battle with a centuries-old enemy whose reach stretches across continents and whose strength equals his own. It isn’t like Vlad to feel fear, but he does…for Leila, because his enemy knows she is Vlad’s greatest weakness. As friend and foe alike align against him—and his overprotectiveness drives Leila away—Vlad’s love for his new bride could be the very thing that dooms them both…

TWICE TEMPTED BY JEANIENE FROST

GENRE: PARANORMAL, FANTASY, ROMANCE | PAGES: 360

My rating: ★★★★

So. Good. While Twice Tempted is not as action-packed in terms of vampire ass-kicking, there’s a strong build-up of anticipation, particularly in the first half of this book. There were some slow moments in this one, lulls which weren’t present in the first in the series, but they were few and far between and didn’t for a minute detract from the enjoyment of the story.

Leila’s strength comes through in this second book even more than the first, and her independence and assertiveness are admirable and refreshing to read. She might be more accepting of Vlad than that which is humanly possible, but somehow it’s believable. Again, the complexity of Vlad’s character and Leila’s own apparent thirst for revenge helps her to understand him in a way no other woman has before, and in this book, she sees so much more of what makes him who he is—the good, and the very, very bad.

Vlad doesn’t fail to excite, and as more of his horrific past is unveiled, his depth becomes more and more appealing.

His smile was tantalizing and frightening, like being whipped and finding out you enjoyed the pain.

As a ruler, he is one shade shy of psychopathic and yet, underneath the brutality of his actions against his enemies, lies unwavering loyalty to those who follow him. And now, underneath his experience of century-sweeping loss, his love for Leila is a force onto itself, despite the fact that he believes she loves only a fraction of the man he really is.

“You claim to love me, but the man you love doesn’t exist.”

As a couple, their relationship has similar dynamics to Night Huntress Cat and Bones, (particularly when it comes to over-protection and jealousy—that’s vampires for you) but there’s not enough of it yet to even begin to scratch the surface of Cat and Bones’ chemistry. I’m hopeful though, since Vlad, for me, blows Bones right out of the water, and that’s not easily done. Vlad’s intensity—his energy—is unrivalled.

Overall, I’m thrilled by the whole series so far. Book three is lined up and waiting, and I have a feeling it won’t disappoint.

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 Twice Tempted

 

Dating the Prince of Darkness has its challenges…

Leila’s psychic abilities have been failing her, and now she isn’t sure what the future holds. If that weren’t enough, her lover, Vlad, has been acting distant. Though Leila is a mere mortal, she’s also a modern woman who refuses to accept the cold shoulder treatment forever–especially from the darkly handsome vampire who still won’t admit that he loves her.

Like choosing between eternal love and a loveless eternity…

Soon circumstances send Leila back to the carnival circuit, where tragedy strikes. And when she finds herself in the crosshairs of a killer who may be closer than she realizes, Leila must decide who to trust– the fiery vampire who arouses her passions like no other or the tortured knight who longs to be more than a friend? With danger stalking her every step of the way, all it takes is one wrong move to damn her for eternity.

ONCE BURNED BY JEANIENE FROST

GENRE: PARANORMAL, FANTASY, ROMANCE | PAGES: 346

My rating: ★★★★

Jeaniene Frost has done it again, by which I mean she has written something that consumes me to the point of not sleeping, and ultimately, has me drooling all over the Kindle Store for the next book in the series.

Once Burned was a riveting read, from start to finish, and despite the fact that in the beginning, I missed the Night Huntress element, it didn’t take me long to form an attachment to Leila. She’s no Cat (because come on, Cat rocks!) but Leila has the same headstrong, feisty qualities I’ve come to expect from Frost’s protagonists, and she definitely delivers. Even more satisfying, we get to see Leila’s inner strength and resilience develop throughout the book.

And did I mention Vlad? As in Vlad the Impaler, the original prince of darkness. The ultimate vampire, Dracul—with benefits.

vladtepeshnightprince

And he’s no brooder. I love me some of that angst and broodiness, but Vlad takes the game to a whole new level. He’s the opposite of broody. He doesn’t sit around pining over his lost humanity. He revels in it. And it’s freakin’ glorious. Something about the way he owns his vampirism, his abilities, and his power, it takes masculinity to new heights. And yet, there’s a softer side. He keeps it on a short leash but it’s there, and it has Leila (and me) yearning to crack his exterior. Not too much though, obviously, because who wants domesticity from a vampire, right?

Vlad trumps Bones in this series, and that’s saying a lot because Bones has been my go-to vamp for many a fantasy! He’s Buffy’s Spike and Vampire Diaries’ Damon Salvatore rolled into one. But with Vlad… His complex personality is nothing short of schizophrenic. (Yes, I just used that term haphazardly and I refuse to take it back.)

He’s complicated and multi-faceted to the point of frustration, but it lends intrigue and fascination. You can’t help but want to dig deeper and overlook the monstrosities of some of his actions. (Which doesn’t say a lot about me, but hey, I’m human. It’s my job to get lost in the grey area—particularly if there’s a vampire in it.)

Bottom line: this book is exciting, every bit as exciting as the NH series, and I cannot get a copy of book two fast enough. 

 

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 Once Burned

 

She’s a mortal with dark powers…

After a tragic accident scarred her body and destroyed her dreams, Leila never imagined that the worst was still to come: terrifying powers that let her channel electricity and learn a person’s darkest secrets through a single touch. Leila is doomed to a life of solitude…until creatures of the night kidnap her, forcing her to reach out with a telepathic distress call to the world’s most infamous vampire…

He’s the Prince of Night…

Vlad Tepesh inspired the greatest vampire legend of all—but whatever you do, don’t call him Dracula. Vlad’s ability to control fire makes him one of the most feared vampires in existence, but his enemies have found a new weapon against him—a beautiful mortal with powers to match his own. When Vlad and Leila meet, however, passion ignites between them, threatening to consume them both. It will take everything that they are to stop an enemy intent on bringing them down in flames.

 

Click here to jump to the Q & A

The response to the upcoming release of Blood’s Veil has, so far, been nothing short of overwhelming. You know that dream where you realise you’re stark naked in front of a room full of laughing and pointing strangers? No? Well, work with me here, and imagine it anyway, then multiply that feeling by six gazillion, and that’s about as naked as I feel having my words out there. It’s like I took off my clothes, my skin, and all that other crap, right down to the bare bone, and now my naked-ass skeleton is walking around town, petrified of every reaction. But… as terrifying as it was to put that first chapter out there in the big, bad void that is the Interweb, the near-seizure has been so worth it. You guys have been great. 🙂 Thank you all so much! 

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A huge thank you to Damien O’Bey and all at SAMS for the Q&A article on Blood’s Veil last week. Here it is below. You can also read it online at The Sentinel website

Blood’s Veil

Q & A with Damien O’Bey, The Sentinel, St Helena

Can you give us a brief description of the book, different from the synopsis?

Blood’s Veil is a story about two adoptive sisters, Ella and Brooke. They return home after a tragic death in the family, hoping to find closure. Instead, Ella finds her father in prison, and Brooke finds herself faced with her dark past. Brooke struggles to keep her grip on who she has tried to become, but the secret she keeps is threatening to unravel her identity and her bond with Ella.

What inspired the novel?

The inspiration for writing comes, ultimately, from a love of books. I’m a book nerd. If I had to narrow it down, I guess the idea for this book comes from my fascination with that grey area between right and wrong, between truth and lies. Blood’s Veil is a story about how easy it can be to see only what we want to see, particularly when it comes to family, and how difficult it is to separate the truth from what we feel or believe.

How long did it take, from start to finish?

It feels like I started it back in the Ice Age! The idea of it first came to me way back in my teens, but life got in the way more times than I can count. In hindsight, this was a good thing, since by the time I sat down and started working in earnest, I realised I had a completely different story to tell. That restructure took me over a year. Here’s hoping the next book won’t take as long.

What challenges did you face along the way, and how did you overcome them?

The biggest challenge has always been myself. Writing the first draft of a book can be easy, but that draft should never see the light of day. Rewriting, editing, and polishing it to within an inch of its life is what makes any book worth reading, and it has been both a joy and a nightmare. Working hard at it every day seems like an obvious thing, but I made the early mistake of ‘waiting for inspiration’, and more often than not inspiration just doesn’t show up. When I allowed myself to take it seriously, to view it not as a hobby, but an actual job, I got more done.

The first chapter is available to read for free online at your website. Have you had any feedback from readers?

The interest in it so far has been overwhelmingly positive. Thank you to everyone for your support.

Does St Helena feature?

St Helena does feature, yes. Ella and Brooke, and all main characters within the book are [fictional] islanders—Saints—and the story is set primarily on the island.

How can people on St Helena purchase the novel?

Blood’s Veil is available on Amazon from March 15th. I am also hosting a giveaway for a signed copyEntries for the giveaway close at midnight on March 16th.*

*Giveaway now closed.

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Read Chapter One of Blood's Veil shona kaye

With just under a month to go before the release date of my debut romantic suspense novel, you can now read Chapter One of Blood’s Veil online, for free.  Here’s a preview with the link to the rest below. Hope you enjoy it. *cue sweating, panicking, and chain-smoking*  

Happy reading!

 

bloods veil shona kaye

 

 

 

 

Prologue

Every night she waited. Silent, still. The limbs of her twelve-year-old body ached with the effort. Her heart hammered in the quiet of the room—drumming, chanting; a cruel, betraying boom that gave her away. Every night she wished for morning, for the light. It always came too late. Sometimes, she wished instead for darkness, wished herself part of it—wisp and smoke and shadow, able to sink into the night and escape. When she held her breath and shut her eyes real tight, she could imagine that escape—imagine she was somewhere else entirely. If she kept still long enough she could pretend this night would be different; that maybe, this night, he wouldn’t come for her—

But he always did.

 

Seventeen years later…

 

One

Ella was rooted to the spot. A scream carved an icy path inside her, from her head through every limb, with no release. Three seconds passed, three minutes—it could have been three hours—an immeasurable streak of sheer panic and hysteria. Then, it was suddenly still, as though a giant hand had reached out and smothered the world in shadow. Her breath caught in her throat, thick and heavy, like smoke. Her hand, foreign and white-knuckled with tension, kept a tight fist on the cordless black phone—the one thing that kept her tied to the centre of it all, to the cataclysmic news from the other side of the equator.

‘Ella?’ It broke Ella’s trance. ‘You still there? Hello?’

Aunt Mandy. Her mama’s sister… her dead mama’s sister.

Ella stared ahead, unseeing. ‘I have to go,’ she said, the words spluttering from her, coarse and splintered. She barely registered her own voice and swallowed repeatedly to soothe the scratchy burn at the back of her throat. ‘I…’

She stopped.

She didn’t know how to end that sentence. It was like everything she was certain of up until this point had disintegrated into dust. She had never felt more unsure or alone than she did right now.

‘That’s okay, my darlin’, I understand. You take care. And let me know about the arrangements… Call me anytime, y’hear?’ Her aunt paused for a long moment, waiting. Eventually, she hung up.

Ella didn’t move. The phone clicked dead then onto dial-tone as she stood there, unwilling, refusing, to process what she’d learnt. Her mind raced. Threads of thought
chased themselves like dead leaves on the wind. Slowly, a single question began to form. It was both simple and complicated at once.

Why?

She slumped against the living room wall. It just couldn’t be true. She couldn’t believe it. She wouldn’t. There had to be some kind of a mistake—someone, somewhere, had gotten things horribly wrong.

The phone started to wail, and she hit the end-call button fiercely, returning to the suffocating silence.

Mama… she’s dead…

The three words jarred her. She seemed to fumble around them for a while, feeling her way, searching for a weakness, a gap, a hole in the truth. But there was none, and when her mind wrapped itself around the finality of fact, something inside her broke. Her head filled with pictures and memories, and the crushing torment of knowing it was all she had left.

She shoved the phone back on its cradle with such force it wobbled and fell off, and she stared at it, not daring to touch it; it was contaminated with truth. It had snatched the world from under her feet, and all that remained was a heavy, sickening ache, and yet she felt that somehow, it was the last tie to everything that came before it. Blinking back tears, she slowly picked it up, clutched it like a small child to her chest, and cried.

*

Lying motionless in the cramped bunk of her cabin, Ella dug deep for the motivation to move. The vessel’s engine grumbled steadily somewhere beneath her, and morning was only just beginning to seep into the room. She eased herself off the top bunk, careful not to step on her sister, Brooke, snoring gently in the bed below.

She parted the heavy curtains. The dawn cast itself over the Atlantic, impossibly beautiful set against the recent tragedy of her mother’s passing; it seemed wrong somehow, that these two extremes could co-exist. She took a deep breath, forcing the raw grief back inside its box, trying not to lose her grip; losing herself instead to the pink-tinted sky tilting and realigning with each dip of the vessel. She’d forgotten how breathtaking it was to watch the day break over the ocean.

There was a lot she’d forgotten, and in just a few hours, stepping back on homeland, she was going to have to face the fact that her voluntary memory lapse was bringing her home just a little too late. She was determined never to forgive herself for that.

Travelling to an island which claimed to be one of the remotest places in the world took time, and there was only one way to reach Saint Helena—by sea, on an old Royal Mail ship. It had cost them two full weeks. Two weeks was a long time to have to sit around and grieve from afar, helpless and isolated. Still, a shorter time would have made no real difference. It was useless to blame an age-old journey plan for her own selfish mistake of not visiting when she’d had the chance. If she’d have kept her word, she would have seen her mama at least one more time. Instead, she’d put it off, time after time, always coming up with a feeble excuse; always accepting her mama’s gentle understanding on the other end of the phone-line, accepting it as approval.

And now… it was too late.

The guilt had always tugged and niggled, although up until now it had been small enough to shrug off; now, it was a life-sized weight around her neck that she couldn’t cast aside even if she’d wanted to.

She’d been on auto-pilot for the last fortnight, busying herself with anything she could, simply to avoid having to think; it was a little less painful to deal with in robot-mode, even if it was a coward’s way forward. Unfortunately, three days on the ocean gave her plenty of time to correct that; boredom was no friend to grief, or guilt.

Brooke seemed to be coping. Then again, Brooke had never been in the habit of adorning anything with her heart, let alone her sleeve, so Ella’s guess was as good as any. You never could be sure what was there under the surface with Brooke. She was more subdued than usual, and seemed to have agreed to the trip only so Ella wouldn’t have to make it alone, but maybe she knew Ella needed this, and needed her, even if neither of them realised how much. This would be the closest thing to closure either of them could manage, if there was any such simple thing.

Ella jumped as Brooke shifted suddenly in her sleep.

Stuffing her head under one of the pillows, Brooke let out an overly loud groan, more agitated than a premenstrual dragon.

‘Why are you up so early?’ she grumbled, her voice muffled by the pillow. ‘Close the curtains, will you?’

Ella smiled in spite of herself. Her sister made it easier to function; easier to fake normality. If there was anyone in the world that could keep her anchored and sane in all of this, it would be Brooke. Whilst everyone else tiptoed around Ella, magnifying what had happened, treating her like a delicate crystal ornament—she could trust Brooke to be herself. And whether or not Brooke knew this, it was exactly what Ella needed.

*

Brooke stood at the stern of the vessel and studied the surf trail as the ship slowly cut its path. The ocean was a piercing mid-day-blue mirror to the cloudless sky above, the heat bouncing off the water in a rippled dance. The wooden rails separating her from the inviting depths below were sun-warm and comforting against her bare arms. If she craned her neck at just the right angle, she was able to catch her first glimpse of ‘home’.

At this distance the island was little more than jagged shadow and rock, jutting up out of the water—misshapen teeth in the mouth of a sleeping dragon. Soon, she’d have no choice but to climb into that mouth. For now, it was still shrouded in haze, shimmering against the horizon like a mirage, and Brooke found herself wishing that were all it was; a mirage would have been easier than reality.

Too soon though, the ship pulled into the harbour, and the horn reverberated with finality. The short boat-ride to shore from the larger vessel was a whole lot more fun than Brooke remembered it to be, perhaps because an actual moment of joy had been so unexpected this close to landing. Sea spray and salty air aside, the uneasiness inside her grew. It had been stirring since leaving the airport in England.

She should have stayed. She should have kept herself away from all of this, not agree to come back; should have made her excuses and left it at that. But how could she have done?

She didn’t see the point herself, in coming home this long after Addie’s funeral, but she knew Ella wanted to, maybe needed to. She knew if there was ever a time she needed to step up and be there for someone else, it was now, for Ella.

Now though, as the boatman steered them all toward the harbour, her selfless act was looking really stupid. She wanted to leap overboard and swim all the way back to safety.

‘This is it,’ Ella said suddenly.

She looked smaller and more vulnerable than Brooke had ever seen her. Brooke aborted her wild ideas of escape, and reached for Ella’s hand, squeezing it.

‘We’ll be alright, El.’

Ella nodded, and smiled a weak but obviously grateful smile, and Brooke hoped the simple lifelong mantra of all families everywhere would be enough to console Ella somehow.

We’ll be alright.

It sure as hell didn’t have Brooke convinced.

One of the boatmen at the pier offered a hand as she stepped out onto the wet landing step. She looked around her, waiting for Ella to follow. The wharf was teeming with men in yellow hard-hats and overalls, not hard at work but just as she’d left them—filling the position of laid-back onlookers. A few of them she recognised. Some of them smiled, some ogled, and some weren’t bothered either way. They merely looked glad for a timeout and a smoke.

Ella reached her side and began unzipping the bulky life jacket, following the first boatload of twenty-odd passengers up the wide harbour steps in the direction of transportation to Customs. Brooke followed suit, her fingers fumbling and catching in the zip. They boarded the bus in silence, spoke only when spoken to during the clearance procedure in Customs, and then ventured towards the exit of the building.

Brooke cast a side glance at Ella; she was pale. Facing the crowd at the seaside during passenger arrivals was never easy on the passengers. The other side of seven years, they had been a part of the waiting crowd. Brooke had been, at least. Ella never had time for ‘that sort of rubbish’—watching people return home just so you could scrutinise them; judging how much they’d changed during their time away, by the clothes they wore, or the way they greeted someone—that was not Ella’s idea of leisure. It was a bit of an island tradition though, and true to form, when they left the cool, safe darkness of the building, and the sunlight hit them once more, so did the gaping assembly of people.

There were so many of them. Some were caught up in their own reunions, oblivious to two more passengers arriving. The rest, they were all eyes.

Brooke’s gaze automatically swooped to the spot where she’d sat as a teenager: a ‘front-row’ spot near a large, out-of-use storage building. She half-expected the same group of people to be perched there, stuck in a time loop of some sort. Instead, there were nameless faces, all along the building front and the half-walls, all the way up toward a flight of stone steps leading to one of the many hillside paths in the valley capital. To the right, yet more bystanders, spanning the width of the street. They had, as had always been the practice, formed a semi-circle around the gate of the Customs building, dotting themselves between parked vehicles, eagerly waiting like paparazzi for celebrities, or wild animals with barely-curbed appetites.

 

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ON WRITING BY STEPHEN KING

GENRE: MEMOIR | PAGES: 367

My rating: ★★★★

Stephen King has the writer’s toolbox of tips to end all toolboxes, all tips, and then some. He doesn’t offer vague and generic bullsh*t like most how-to books do. Instead, On Writing is packed with insightful, and more importantly, practical guidelines on how to improve your writing craft. He doesn’t beat around the bush, he doesn’t sugarcoat sh*t; what he does is gives it to you straight, and he insists that as a writer, you should be aiming to do the same for your readers.

The theme of faithful storytelling, of truth, runs through this book and all of the advice therein. As far as storytelling is concerned, there is no black and white—only story—and it is the writer’s job to tell it.

This book is one of those books you will wish you’d read ten years ago. There are moments in here where you read something and think: ‘Holy crap! I do that!’, and for a second, it occurs to you that you must be doing something right, if only because it’s happened to Stephen bloody King. And if that doesn’t get you going, there’s this:

“Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.”

That’s the kick up the ass we ALL need, right?

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft has become my dog-eared, thumbed-to-death reference/guidebook/bible. I haven’t read this just once—I’ve read multiple passages a thousand times over—and I doubt there will ever be another book on writing worthy enough to replace it. If there’s just ONE book you read on the craft, make it this one.

Needless to say, Stephen King has a new worshipping fan to add to his sky-high haystack. That dude rocks. (Now I just wish I had the balls to read his fiction. One day… *determined head-bob*)

“So okay—there you are in your room with the shade down and the door shut and the plug pulled out of the base of the telephone. You’ve blown up your TV and committed yourself to a thousand words a day, come hell or high water. Now comes the big question: What are you going to write about? And the equally big answer: Anything you damn well want.”
—Stephen King

 

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 On Writing Stephen King book cover

 

On Writing: A Memoir is an autobiography and writing guide by Stephen King, published in 2000. It is a book about the prolific author’s experiences as a writer. Although he discusses several of his books, one doesn’t need to have read them or even be familiar with them to read On Writing.

How to Write a Novel by Nathan Bransford

GENRE: NON FICTION | PAGES: 236

My rating: ★★★★

How to Write a Novel: 47 Rules for Writing a Stupendously Awesome Novel That You Will Love Forever is a no-introductions-necessary guide to (… wait for it…) writing a novel; a frill-less, uncluttered collection of straightforward tips and advice on the entire process of book-writing. From the beginnings of that record-breaking awesome idea that just popped into your writerly brain in the shower—right through to the air-punching end when you’re too glad to rid yourself of the stupid sleep-stealing, sanity-crushing THING posing as a would-be book. (Love. Hate. Thin line.)

‘Writing is not always fun. It shouldn’t always be fun. You’re not doing it because it’s always fun. The only reason to write a novel is because you have some insane fire burning inside that years of therapy have been unable to extinguish, and you fear how disappointed you will be with yourself if you never do it. Or, you know, because you really, really want to do it. You have to want it. You have to work at it.’
Nathan Bransford

Nathan Bransford‘s blog has been a writing bible of sorts to me since first stumbling across it. So the idea of THIS? A whole BOOK that combines his stellar advice and humour in a writerly collection of rules? 

Yes, please!

Whether you’re merely entertaining the idea of starting to write (you fool!), or you’re already off and running (I don’t hate you, I promise), this book is a happy, helpful must-read.

I’m presently coming to the end of the Revision Fatigue zone of my long one-book journey, (otherwise known as Rewriting Chapter One #792), but having read How to Write a Novel, it’s comforting to know that everything up to this point in my journey is, as far being as a writer is concerned, completely normal. Even the ‘borderline psychopathy’. 

Just kidding…

(I’m not kidding.)

‘There will come a time in the course of writing a novel where you would rather rip off your toenails and light them on fire than write one more word. This is normal.’Nathan Bransford

Bottom line:
If you are a writer…
If you want to be a writer…
If you used to be a writer, but your half-formed manuscript tortured you into the pits of despair…
this book is for you.

It offers up a plethora of insightful information, and honest, useful, realistic advice. This is easily one of my favourite books on the craft and with good reason. 

 

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How to Write a Novel

 

The most important thing to know about writing a novel is this: You can do it. And if you’ve already written one, you can write an even better one. Author and former literary agent Nathan Bransford shares his secrets for creating killer plots, fleshing out your first ideas, crafting compelling characters, and staying sane in the process. Read the guide that New York Times bestselling author Ransom Riggs called “The best how-to-write-a-novel book I’ve read.

write what you know shona kaye

Earlier this month, I came across a post thread in a writing forum commenting on the release of Stephenie Meyer’s new book, the gender-reversed Twilight, Life and Death.

The original poster implied that this was nothing more than ‘a lazy way to make more money of an already successful idea’. Before I say anything further, let’s make one thing clear: I love Twilight, but I have long been an avid reader of all types of literature, and as a reader, and a writer, I am fully aware of the flaws in the Twilight series. I am not, nor have I ever been a ‘Twi-hard’ fan (whatever that means), but I enjoyed the story—also, obsessive perv or not, I had, and still have, an unhealthy crush on the immortal Edward. That said, this post is not a defence of Twilight; it is an observation of the criticisms writers face, and my two cents on the subject (not that I can really afford it).

All jobs are tough in their own way; in the case of those in the creative industry—namely, the writer—the writing itself, as simultaneously joyful and irritating as it often is, is only the tip of the iceberg. The ridiculously frustrating journey from brain to page is nothing compared to acknowledging the personal experience your book might bring a reader. Personally, I love reading or hearing about multiple interpretations of a single story—it’s fascinating how much our values and social differences influence the way we perceive many things. You can read my post on the perception of ‘stupid’ characters here. 

Equally fascinating is the way these individual perceptions are received by others. 

Have you ever truly enjoyed a book, and like the proud nerd you might be, gushed about it to someone else, only to be ripped to shreds because the book, according to them, is just ‘utter crap’?

Or maybe you didn’t gush about it. Maybe you overheard a discussion about a certain book, and recognising the downright vicious criticism of it, decided not to mention your initiation into said book’s fandom…

If none of these applies—great.

It means you haven’t been subjected to someone whose concept of book standards goes something like this: ‘I didn’t like it; therefore it must be crap. Everyone, listen up: this book is crap. If you are seen reading it, I will assume you are an idiot.’ 

THIS ↑↑↑ is idiotic.

Case in point: I happen to hate exercise, but we all know that despite my intense hatred, exercise is, and will continue to be, a positive part of a healthy lifestyle (of which I am not at all familiar with, btw). If a percentage of readers hate a book, this does not—and should not—equate to the standard of the book. The remaining percentage who might love the same book will often speak for itself. 
This brings me to that forum post I mentioned. The original poster of the discussion—a writer—implies that Stephenie Meyer was milking the idea—trying to squeeze more money out of fans. Several follow-up comments even wondered how the book made any money in the first place.
 
Here’s the thing, though: 
No one is forced to buy a book—any book. Readers choose books because they happen to love them, or at least, think/hope they will. Assuming they don’t, there will be plenty of writer-bashing from reviewers without fellow writers having to chip in. When one writer calls another writer lazy, it makes me want to crawl under my desk and stay there, binge-eating ice-cream. We, as writers, are all in the same boat—okay, Stephanie Meyer has a much bigger boat, sure—a luxury yacht, probably, whilst we have a raft made by Tom Hanks and Wilson—but dammit, we KNOW the joy of finishing a manuscript… and we ALL dread the awful, inevitable backlash of bad reviews or bone-crushing criticism. We expect it from reviewers, editors, agents… from READERS. So why on earth would we want to add to all this dread, and start doing it to one another?

 

I can’t say whether I will ever read the new Twilight, but I disagree that re-writing it is just a ‘lazy way to cash in’. I don’t believe there IS a way to ‘cash-in’, and if there is, by Jeebus—please let me know what it is. Maybe I’m naive, but I feel a story has to actually be good to create a fanbase, whether through luck, marketing, or the actual storytelling. In this case, the interest of the fans speaks for itself.

write what you know shona kaye

The bottom line? 

If an author WANTS to rewrite their OWN STORY from the perspective of a bloody tree, it’s their call. Others may love it, hate it, buy it, or burn it—but more power to the writer for writing what they love regardless. 

Love or hate Stephenie Meyer—on this occasion, I salute her. 

Sky Song by Sharon Sant

GENRE: FANTASY, PARANORMAL | PAGES: 170

My rating: ★★

I hate giving two-star ratings but compared to others I’ve reviewed as 3-star, Sky Song just didn’t work for me. It was written well enough, and some parts were original and inventive. The rest, at least for me, lacked flow, pacing, and character depth. I found it hard to connect with the main three characters, and despite having an intriguing storyline, I could not immerse myself within it.

That said, it was intriguing enough to keep me reading until the end, so don’t be put off until you’ve tried it yourself.

 

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A strange-eyed boy with no memory of his true identity or real parents, Jacob could have no idea of the mortal danger he has been in every day of his fifteen years. Now that danger has found him and suddenly he doesn’t know who he can trust and what is real anymore. All he knows is that his new identity is almost as terrifying as the peril unleashing it has brought. Caught in the universal power struggle of an ancient race of beings and a destiny demanded of him that he does not want, he must fight to protect his own life and everyone he holds dear. But when the time comes, will he be strong enough to make the sacrifices that saving them will demand?

Eve: The Awakening (Eve, #1) by Jenna Moreci

GENRE: FANTASY, PARANORMAL | PAGES: 547

My rating: ★★★★

Eve: The Awakening is the debut novel from Jenna Moreci, and it is a HELL of a debut. The story follows the titular Eve, an advanced subspecies of humans named after the Greek chimeras. Eve has grown up an orphan after the cataclysmic death of her parents, sparking both her gift of telekinesis and the beginning of a lifelong battle to survive. Since the age of eight, she has braved her way through infamy, ridicule, bullying, and death threats, all whilst learning to control her gift, and dealing with the hardships of being an outcast—and then, just as she thinks she’s found a way to lead a normal life, in step a bazillion freaking aliens: Interlopers. Slimy, toothy, winged, giant-ass aliens all of whom are hell-bent on turning the human race against Eve and her kind, and then doing the world the ‘grand favour’ of eliminating chimeras in the goriest possible way.

And this is the joy-ride that is Eve: The Awakening.

The writing is superbly paced; it gallops through the story, high on adrenaline, crafting scenes of heart-pounding tension and unimaginable gore. If though, you think this is the only thing it has going for it, you’re terribly wrong—the book is laced with humour, upbeat drama, chemistry, and ultimately—the gem of every great book—it is littered with countless moments of raw emotion (no, I’m not crying—there’s something in my eye). The characters are well-rounded and fully developed, each so very individual, and I won’t attempt to sum them up here, as I cannot do them justice, but the ensemble of personalities and quirks are brilliant, and Eve, the protagonist, is as complex as they come. Through her, the book touches on broader themes such as discrimination and oppression, adding yet another layer of depth to the story.

I thoroughly enjoyed this from start to finish; the book has a compelling beginning, and though it slows in early chapters as we’re discovering Eve’s world, it isn’t long before we’re hurtling through the story again at chimera speed.

The only downside, as far as I can see, is that book two of this dynamic (see what I did there?) series isn’t yet available.

This is honestly the best book I’ve read since Jeaniene Frost‘s Night Huntress series (Halfway to the Grave), and I’d urge anyone to check out EVE, even if (like me) you’re not a hard-core fan of the sci-fi genre. EVE easily straddles several genres at once, and as well as being entertaining, moving, and all-around excellent writing, I’d recommend this regardless, if only to introduce you to the fabulous-ness that is Percy! Best. Character. Ever.

Seriously—read it. 

 

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Eve: The Awakening

 

Eve is an outcast. A chimera.
After years of abuse and rejection, 19-year-old Evelyn Kingston is ready for a fresh start in a new city, where no one knows her name. The esteemed Billington University in sunny Southern California seems like the perfect place to reinvent herself—to live the life of an ordinary human.

But things at Billington aren’t as they seem. In a school filled with prodigies, socialites, and the leaders of tomorrow, Eve finds that the complex social hierarchy makes passing as a human much harder than she had anticipated. Even worse, Billington is harboring a secret of its own: Interlopers have infiltrated the university, and their sinister plans are targeted at chimeras—like Eve.

Instantly, Eve’s new life takes a drastic turn. In a time filled with chaos, is the world focusing on the wrong enemy? And when the situation at Billington shifts from hostile to dangerous, will Eve remain in the shadows, or rise up and fight?

stupid characters shona kaye

Characters are important, if not the most important aspect of a good story; great characters have to be fully developed with appealing qualities, true to life flaws, and a host of inner desires, conflicts, motivations and goals. Just like all real-life folk. Recently though, a statement from another writer brought up the question of judgement of character. Stupid characters in particular.

So. Many. Stupid Characters.

He claims that ‘so many books are filled with stupid characters making stupid choices’, and I can see the point of his statement. On some level, I’m inclined to almost agree—almost. What stops me agreeing is this:

What exactly, in the eyes of the reader, makes for a good character?

Is it strength, and integrity, and intelligence? Quick wit, feistiness, charm? Does physical appearance play a part, if at all? And to what extent? Does the rise-of-the-underdog score more points with you, or do you prefer to witness the shallow-but-popular ass evolving into a relatable 3D hero? Does a heroine have to be the typical Mary Jane with an unknown destiny awaiting her, and lots of obstacles to rise above?

These are all common themes/tropes within stories (if a little limited).

Whether the book focuses on the main characters themselves, or whether it is driven by plot, every story will have a protagonist with at least one goal, and, as far as the author is concerned, a vast number of motivations and means by which to meet this goal. Authors are human too though, and they write the story they want to write, and read, (which is exactly as it should be.)

In doing this, they can often, unfortunately, piss off the reader. Getting from point A to point B can be done in so many ways that it is impossible to please every single reader; a character choice may seem poor or even dumb to one reader, yet may appear perfectly reasonable to another.

Let me give you a (ridiculously basic) example:

Snow White

stupid characters
Stupid characters and their stupid fruit.

The princess has fled for her life knowing someone wants her dead. She then sets up home with seven little men, and when a scary old lady offers her an apple, she accepts it and immediately takes a bite, no questions asked despite the fact that she is on the lam, and the woman is not only hideous beyond belief but a complete stranger.

Some would call her stupid, and naive; a little clueless. On the other hand, Snow is an innocent fourteen-year-old girl, with (apparently) a heart as pure as her namesake, thus she trusts easily, and wants to see the good in everyone. She doesn’t for a second believe that this little old lady would want to harm her.

A more recent example is… 

(Dare I?)

Bella Swan

stupid characters
Stupid characters and their stupid hiking trips.

Bella is an (apparently) average teenager whose love for Edward is all-consuming, and upon his leaving in New Moon, she all but gives up on normal life for several months at a time.

Some would call this stupid, and weak; a little melodramatic. On the other hand, Bella is a teenager, and we all know that fully grown adults are capable of drama, much less a seventeen-year-old. A breakup is tough on any of us, and Bella is no exception. Her love for Edward was written to be of such an epic scale that losing it would be like losing a part of herself; anything less than that would make the reader doubt the scale of their love in the first place.

If you’re thinking: ‘What a lame bunch of lame examples!’, first: get yourself a thesaurus; and second: let me offer up a third and final example—one who is not a teenage girl, nor a central character of a fairy tale / young adult romance saga: 

Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus

stupid characters
Stupid characters and their stupid inability to read the small print.

Doctor Faustus is smart; he is highly accomplished in the arts and sciences to the point of feeling dissatisfied with the mediocrity of what little there is left to learn. He is a fully-grown man, a well-established social figure in his time—yet what does he do? He makes a deal with the devil!

Pretty stupid, yes? Or no?

It could easily be assumed that voluntarily signing a blood-contract with a messenger from the depths of hell pretty much ‘puts the stu in stupid’ (technical term). Yet, whilst there is no question that his choices leading up to—and during—his deal did indeed lack judgment, Faustus was, on the whole, not stupid; self-centred, frivolous, arrogant to the point of self-destruction, and clearly prone to ‘silly’ decisions—but not stupid. His discontentment with life, his initial search for greater meaning—even power—are all too common in the real world, in some form or another; it may not justify his decisions but it does shed light on the reasoning behind it.

Snow White, Bella, and Faustus (jeez, weirdest dinner party ever!) demonstrate that regardless of character traits, flaws, and intentions, every reader is likely to interpret a character in a different way. What is dumb and weak to one person is to another, completely understandable, even to an extent, realistic. We all appreciate and admire smart people and smart choices, fictional or otherwise, but how drab would it be to always be faced with these know-it-all smart-asses, with their excellent lives, rubbing our Average-Joe noses in their success?

Certainly, despite good decisions, a smart character can have things in life go wrong for them as a result of an external source, but can you honestly say you’d enjoy reading the riveting account of how easy it was for them to overcome the obstacle thanks to yet another predictably smart choice? Shortest book ever—and not particularly entertaining; entertainment being the whole point of writing and reading in the first place.

My point is this: despite what appeals to us on a personal level when it comes to our preferences in the characters we write or read about, one thing we all are likely to have in common is that we want our characters to be as real and relatable as possible.

AND HERE’S THE THING…

Real people, smart or otherwise, sometimes make stupid choices.

Despite judgement—whether from other writers, readers, or haters—books with outwardly stupid characters making stupid choices will continue to sell because if you dig a little deeper, you’ll find a reason for a character’s moment of idiocy; and more notably, this moment of idiocy amidst the chaos of life is real and relatable.

just write shona kaye

This post was written around the time I decided to take writing seriously. Before that, blogging to me was nothing more than journaling. Writing was no more than a hobby and a pipe-dream. I continue to keep this post as a reminder to myself to keep going. I should also clarify that the title ‘don’t dream, just write’ is merely emphasising the need for action.  By no means should you or I ever give up the dream, whatever that dream may be.


Hello, Internet Diary of sorts… you trusty, patient fool, you! 

I only just went and broke the record for the longest waiting time ever between the first date and the ever-elusive callback—and you’re still bloody here! Brownie points for you, my friend. In total, it’s been about seven years now, since I first met you, and told you my name. Hell, I still had the name of my youth then… come to think of it, I still had youth itself back then and all. 2008… *looks wistfully into space* 

So—did you bloody miss me?

No, no you didn’t, did you? 

Ah, well. Let’s not hold grudges. I didn’t exactly keep my end of the deal, did I? See—the thing is: I had really good intentions and a really well-nursed dream, and I thought to myself: all I need to do is set this shit up, whack a few bells on this baby, and just like that, things will fall into place. It’s the perfect plan, I thought to myself like a smug twit. 

So… I sit myself down in front of my lovely white page, on my lovely standard template, and I sit and sit, and think and think, and my head is suddenly filled with sand—and the blank page looks a brighter shade of white the more I stare at it, and slowly, I start to realise:

I have no fucking idea what I’m doing!

Obviously, you can see just how well-adjusted I am, since it took me about six years to recover my writing mojo after that.

Of course, as you well know, Internet, I came back last October—and did little more than copy and paste pretty much every single book review I’ve ever done on Goodreads in those last six years. If I’m being honest—in the dating world, that would equate to what?—a few late-night booty calls maybe… at best… *sigh*

It’s not so much that the idea of an audience scared me since as an aspiring author I fantasise about this on a regular, if not daily basis—it’s just that everything I’ve written has been gathering virtual dust for years—yes, even MORE years than these last six slash seven—and when that dusty, old crap does see the light of day it’s usually so I can wrangle with it, draft some more—edit and revise until my eyes start to bleed and my sanity is at breaking point. 

THIS jiggery-bloggery on the other hand… this is different. This is odd. For the love of all that is good and chocolatey, I haven’t got a clue what I’m MEANT to be doing, let alone actually getting started on doing it!

What do I write about?—do I stick to my ‘field’, or do I be more personal? How should I write it? Should I be myself, and be open and engaging—or should I edit it to death, and try for professionalism? [Pah! Perish the thought!]

I don’t know where to draw the line on the bloodied-eyes scenario, and I struggle with the concept of that fine line between being myself and trying to keep it professional. Obviously, I should probably keep SOME cans of worms firmly shut, because quite frankly, some of that shit is just plain scary; yet, that which scares us is usually the very thing worth writing about. I guess I just need to find some balance, and sheer nerve… and I need to start thinking less about the ‘correct’ way to do this, and just bloody DO IT. 

So here I am. I’m here and I’m staying and I’m writing. 

Sometimes I’ll post serious topics because I do actually have a brain, contrary to everything this post suggests; and sometimes I’ll post crap, and if you don’t like it, people of Internet Land, I’ll just have to suck it up, won’t I? Because I’m a writer. And writers edit, and then they edit, and edit, and edit some more, until they suck a bit less, and dammit, if nothing else, this will be good development for that thick writerly skin everyone is always talking about.  

All of this, of course, is really only relevant on the off-chance that this blog ever generates interest in which case, if it doesn’t, the only real concern here is the fact that I’m about to cut a large chunk out of my time each week to ‘talk’ to myself.

Ah well, what’s one more step on the path to glorious insanity?

Overall, I would just like to say, Internet: I am sorry to have been a plonker and a chicken-shit of the highest order, but I am back now, and I’m about to be a brilliantly delightful, UNSMUG twit (yep, still a twit), and my dream: now pulled out from under the bed—watered, fed, dusted, given an enema, etc—we are doing this thing! IN REAL LIFE this time, dammit!

Incidentally, prepare yourself—

Cans… opening…

Worms… EVERYWHERE.

 

Witch Song by Amber Argyle

GENRE: FANTASY, PARANORMAL, ROMANCE, YA | PAGES: 305

My rating: ★★★★

I read a lot of YA novels, and the beginning stages of this one made me believe it was too specifically aimed at a more teenage demographic. The early chapters seemed juvenile in part and lacked depth. I nearly abandoned it.

I’m so glad I didn’t.

The lacklustre start gave way to a host of well-developed main characters, and intriguing secondary characters, set in a wonderful (?)medieval world of magic. The plot has Senna at the centre, the last witch, standing against Espen and her followers to reclaim the witches’ natural power and affinity with nature, and free the rest of her kind. Senna develops from a naive and innocent young girl to a witch with a powerful song, and it is believable and relatable because of the struggles she endures to get there. Through loss and abandonment, she pushes past her fears and insecurities, despite them never fully leaving her. Her insecurity is a flaw which follows her throughout the book, but it is justified, due to her sheltered past, and the ill-treatment she receives as a witch-born.

Witch Song is a beautifully written book, with its magic based on the pagan tradition and style of nature. I’d recommend it to anyone who, like me, finds themselves drawn to books with old witch magic. 

 

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 Witch Song

 

Brusenna is the last.

All the other witches have been captured, their songs stolen and twisted from harmony and growth into chaos and death. She alone must stand against an evil much older and darker than anything she could ever imagine—an evil every witch before her has failed to vanquish.

Brusenna must be the first.

depression shona kaye

 

I’m at the edge again. That place you find yourself after battling with something larger than life to the point of giving in, lying back, and thinking: Do your worst, fucker. I’ve been there before—several times—more often than any of my closest friends may know, more than the busy-bodies from a small community can begin to fathom; hell—more than I can even admit to myself most days.

I hide from it; run from it. Running is my middle name. Always has been. (Not really, my middle name is Kaye with an ‘e’, and the only time you’d see me run is if I was on fire, which is the exact opposite of what someone who is on fire should actually do.)

At times like this, it’s so easy to feel like you have no one. In the middle of the night when you can’t stop crying, and can’t stop thinking and rehashing and obsessing, and you can’t sleep, and can’t relax—or by chance, you can sleep, but the nightmares come—everything else is so quiet that you want to scream just to make sure you didn’t go deaf, then, it feels like you’re alone.

At times like this, I feel like I’m losing it, (Yes, I said it, and I don’t care!) It truly feels like you’re losing the actual plot, and there’s no one left who can help you any more than they have done already. It doesn’t really get better, and it doesn’t go away. It merely hides for a while, and then jumps out and takes you hostage when you least expect it. 

depression

Except now I know to expect it. Which is (almost) worse. Every good day I have is tinged with the threat of a bursting overhead cloud-of-crap. Like Grumpy Bear—only more suicidal—and a lot messier.

‘There doesn’t appear to be any rhyme or reason to it. Some days you’re floating along quite happily, being really good at doing this living thing, when apropos of nothing you’re picked up like a rag doll and shaken, and you don’t know who’s picked you up and you don’t know why they’re shaking you or when they’re going to put you down or even if they’re going to put you down. You just know that you’re being shaken, and it’s awful, and you would do anything for it to stop but it just won’t stop. You wonder to yourself whether maybe this is it, this is the time it doesn’t stop and you keep being shaken about until it’s too much and you make yourself a little rag doll noose and end your little rag doll life. It feels like it’s never going to stop, they’re never going to put you down again, and you can’t think or feel anything but pain, and it hurts all over and you’re stuck in bed and immobile but on the inside, it’s like your entire mind is made of barbed wire and every single mental move you make rips open another gash in your already torn-up body.  And then it stops. You’re dropped bodily onto the ground, and you feel like maybe living life is tenable again. It’s such a wonderful relief that it merits opening an entire paragraph with a connective, and you look back on that whole period you were being shaken and wonder what on earth all the fuss was about. Surely it can’t have been that bad? Five minutes into living again, you can’t remember why you were sad, and you can’t imagine it happening again any time soon. You go on your merry way, your myopia for the past the only thing preventing you from looking back and going truly insane.  Then, when you least expect it (because it’s always when you least expect it), it happens again, maybe for a reason this time. But it’s never completely gone. Even when you’re living a normal life, pretending to be a functioning human being who can Deal With Things, there’s this sheen over everything which takes away all of the world’s gloss.’

 Tim Squirrell on Depression

 Huffington Post

This is what it’s like on the edge. 

The Edge has almost become an actual place for me. A low, seedy little dive bar that no-one really likes to admit they’ve been to. I’m a regular. I’m the one in the corner, replaying the same pitiful song on a battered, old jukebox, between knocking back cheap whiskey and staggering off to pee. 

“There is no honest way to explain it because the only people who really know where it is are the ones who have gone over.”

Hunter S. Thompson

The sad reality of it all, during these times, is that I make myself a prisoner in my own house, trying and failing to distract myself, occupy myself… something, anything, to shake the fluctuating tides of numbness and pain. Sleeping is too difficult, yet getting out of bed is equally as difficult. Talking is too difficult, and the mere sound of someone else’s voice on top of the cacophony in my head is enough to make me cry and squirm like a cowering animal. Sometimes, I cry endlessly. Sometimes, I zone out. Sometimes I lock myself away with books, despite knowing that when it’s really bad, it’s too difficult to even read; the words on the page are nothing more than shapes and squiggles, and I give up after re-reading the same paragraph seventeen times over. Other times, I’m able to use books and movies and games to escape—so I do—and I ask not to be disturbed. Or I freak out when I am disturbed. 

Needless to say: my partner is a saint—an actual fucking saint—which is a good bloody thing, since both life at The Edge, and living with someone who frequently visits The Edge, is no picnic. 

Sometimes, when I visit, I don’t want to leave; I have to be dragged out kicking and screaming, and on very bad benders, I’m brought back slumped like a sack of potatoes over an unfortunate shoulder. When I’m there, it is as though the Real Me has truly gone to die along with three buckets of over-medicated sweat, and eighteen badly-sung choruses of ‘Things Can Only Get Better‘. When I come back to the real world, the land of the living, I can almost pretend it didn’t happen. It’s written off like a blip. I apologise as necessary, I bundle my guilt into a creaking, overstuffed closet, and everybody tries to move on.

No-one wants to talk about The Edge… and that’s where it all goes wrong. It really is. There should be a fucking rule:

Everyone should talk about it. 

I have depression.

Dammit, I HAVE DEPRESSION. 

I don’t expect sympathy. Hell, I don’t even expect understanding. What I’d really like, though, is acceptance, and tolerance. 

Not just for me—hell, no. I want this for every sufferer, for every family member and friend of every sufferer; the feeling of being able to talk about exactly how you feel without judgement, and without having had to make a bloody appointment with a health professional to do so. To be able to discuss it as freely as people discuss the common cold—wouldn’t that be bloody fantastic. Not that I’m in the habit of harping on about common colds, just so you know. It’s more about the misconceptions of mental illness. It’s almost taboo… Mental health has come a long way, sure, but that god-awful stigma is still there. The whispers, the derisory comments… the blatant disrespect, even disbelief:

‘Maybe she’s making it up?’

‘Maybe he’s just lazy…’

‘There’s no such thing as depression…’

‘Pull yourself together!’

‘I get depressed all the time—I still ‘get on with it’.’

These things, small as they may seem to an outsider, a bystander—a non-sufferer—can become very crippling. It makes you feel small and ashamed, even more so than the depression itself has made you feel. It makes you want to do one of two things: hide away from the world, or put on that ‘brave face’, and pretend that it’s all okay

Depression - Black Dog
Illustration from ‘I Had a Black Dog’ by Matthew Johnstone

The trouble is, with depression, isolation is the enemy, and quite frankly, putting on the brave face is quite likely the very thing that escalated the illness in the first place. Whatever your trigger—whether this was a physical trigger or a traumatic event, a bereavement, an overwhelmingly stressful situation, all of the above, none of the above—an altogether different experience that became the catalyst for the downward spiral of depression and anxiety—putting a brave face on it, and smiling through the pain, and striving on, forward-march, hoping that if you cover it up with that mask long enough, it’ll fuck off on its own…. exactly that, is what doesn’t help.

I know this because it’s exactly what I did. It’s what I went through; it’s what I’m going through, still. Yet, instead of being able to talk about it in the same way others can discuss their illnesses with no fear of judgement, I bottled it up. I have yet to meet someone with similar struggles as those I have, who hasn’t felt this way.

Depression is a very real thing, a very real illness, and yet in some form or another, there’s a wall of idiots prepared to tell you otherwise. Imagine a person with a broken leg being told to ‘pull himself together’: ‘Don’t be a moron! You’re making that up! Your leg isn’t broken. Now—WALK.’

Nope. Never happened, and not likely to happen. 

So, this is my stand. Right here, on my public blog (with a readership of two… sister; cat; (and I’m pretty sure the cat pretends to read it)), I am making a stand.

I am standing on my fucking soapbox like an imbecile, and saying it aloud: 

I have depression. It is an illness. I will not be ashamed.

Sure, it won’t solve the problem, and it won’t change the world’s opinion, but just maybe, it might change my outlook. Affirmations can be powerful. So I’m doing this for me, and maybe the next person who reads this (other than the aforementioned sister/cat), will feel inclined to make the same personal commitment and—

To everyone who has a similar battle, be proud.

Yes, proud. We have just made it through another day, and we’re still fucking here. Still fucking miserable… but hey, tomorrow is another day.

So here’s to tomorrow—bright and breezy, full of partially fake smiles and occasional sarcasm. And if you’re lucky… a small handful of wonderful people at your side who love you exactly as you are. Black dog‘, and all. 🙂

The Girl with All the Gifts by M. R. Carey

GENRE: FANTASY, PARANORMAL, SUSPENSE | PAGES: 

My rating: ★★★★

Dystopian thriller. Zombie apocalypse. Sounds familiar? Yes, I suppose it does. It’s been done, over and over, and I’ve usually steered happily and carefully in the other direction. The Girl with All the Gifts, however, is not one of those books. It is a dystopian thriller, and there are hungry flesh-eating, zonked-out crazies, but then, there’s also Melanie.

Melanie has a unique take on the world in which she lives – her daily life consists of being forcibly strapped to a wheelchair, and manoeuvred between a bare cell and a classroom filled with kids ‘like her’, where she learns Maths and English, and hears of the stories of the past, including Britain’s past: the world as we know it. The country has broken down, fallen into ruin, and Melanie believes that she is one of the lucky few being kept safe inside her ‘home’; safe from the ‘hungries’ outside the base fences.

MILD SPOILER AHEAD…

What she doesn’t know is just how similar she is to the very creatures the fences keep out. She is Test Subject Number One in a desperate last-resorts research program to save the human race, and the world Melanie dreams of beyond those fences are so much farther from her reach than she realises. Despite intentions of those around her, Melanie breaks free and learns, little by little, who and what she is, eventually surpassing the expectations of all who would have her condemned. Her Pandora-like unleashing of ‘gifts’ onto the world is, at its least, a brave and carefully-calculated move to prolong life, and at most, poetic justice for the innocent.

This fresh, new angle on zombies is wonderfully written. Not only does this book open up a closed door into the other side of zombie fiction, but it explores the concepts of a developing child and her bond with those around her. The type of restraint Melanie displays in the face of her most basic, animalistic instinct is usually only ever depicted in tales of true love of the romantic kind; here, the nurturing and unconditional bond shared between Melanie and her teacher, Helen, is akin to that of a mother and child, and it is refreshingly original in this sense.

Overall, if you want to dip your toes into zombie-infested waters, don’t hesitate to try this one: it is thrilling and horrifying, and emotionally heart-wrenching all at once, and best of all, it shouldn’t give you too many nightmares. 

 

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 The Girl with All the Gifts

 

Melanie is a very special girl. Dr. Caldwell calls her “our little genius.”

Every morning, Melanie waits in her cell to be collected for class. When they come for her, Sergeant Parks keeps his gun pointing at her while two of his people strap her into the wheelchair. She thinks they don’t like her. She jokes that she won’t bite, but they don’t laugh.

Melanie loves school. She loves learning about spelling and sums and the world outside the classroom and the children’s cells. She tells her favorite teacher all the things she’ll do when she grows up. Melanie doesn’t know why this makes Miss Justineau look sad.

The Girl with All the Gifts is a sensational thriller, perfect for fans of Stephen King, Justin Cronin, and Neil Gaiman.

image - graffiti excerpt writing prompt - let me out - asylum

‘Imagine the crazies that lived in this place…’ Zach stepped over the debris, and into the abandoned 1920s asylum.

‘That’s fucked up, Zach, even for you,’ Hayley said, following him inside, scrunching her nose at the faint smell of rot.

‘Why? Cos it’s true?’

‘The stuff that went on in places like this was unreal—unjustified.’

‘Yeah, yeah,’ Zach said. ‘Hold this, would you?’ He handed her the backpack, taking a single aerosol can in his hand, and began tracing an elaborate tag in fresh red spray paint on the nearby wall — Z.H. — in a well-practised design of angles and flourishes.

‘Why do you do that?’

Zach shrugged, stepping back and admiring the handiwork in his initials. ‘It’s art.’

Hayley snorted. ‘Let’s look around.’

They made their way into a long corridor of empty doorways, peering in each one as they went, trying not to think too hard about the rooms’ former occupants. Over fifty years of desertion and yet Hayley could swear the smell of chemicals and despair still clung in the air.

‘Christ, look at this one!’ Zach had trudged ahead and stood to marvel at the room at the far end of the building.

Hayley reached it and blanched at the sight. Rusty equipment lined the back wall; a large dentist-like chair stood like a proud centrepiece, spewing stuffing from its filthy blue cover; an overturned stretcher, broken trolleys, and even yellowed paperwork littered the floor. Most disturbing of all were the chains—long, solid rusted links hung from wall-fixtures, shackles dangling, open and threatening, like hungry jaws.

‘Fuck…’ Hayley couldn’t move.

The room stank of decay and ruin; the layer of dust and debris on everything was so thick she could have been looking at a sepia photograph, yet it chilled her. Her skin crawled, and the sudden gush of air that swept through the hall made the papers on the floor flutter and crackle like leaves.

‘It’s like Fifty Shades on crack, huh?’ Zach laughed.

‘Don’t!’ Hayley protested. ‘It’s not funny.’

Zach nudged past her and started shaking his spray can; the rattle and clang of the ball inside of it echoed through the hall.

‘Do you have to? Here?’ Hayley asked him, annoyed. ‘No one cares about your ‘art’.’ She made speech marks in the air with her fingers.

Zach shrugged again, and Hayley sighed, plucking up the courage to step inside the room. She trod carefully towards the scattered papers—patient records, she realised—and picked a handful up. At the sound of the spurt of spray paint in the hall, she looked up, watching as Zach’s quick hand formed mocking, shaky letters in shiny, wet crimson.

She gasped.

No sooner than the breath had passed her lips, did the rumbling start overhead. Hayley screamed. She threw the papers down, starting towards Zach, but she never reached him. The ceiling thundered down upon the two of them, a dust-cloud of rubble and ruin, the entire end of the building collapsing, folding in on itself and crumbling like it was made of ash. When the air finally settled, only two walls were left standing; one with the shackles, swaying almost imperceptibly in the breeze; the other, joined only by the half-collapsed door frame, bore the words:

LET ME OUT.

 


shonamoyce

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Shona Kaye is a self-proclaimed weirdo, proud bookworm, and author of Blood’s Veil and the fantasy series, Immisceo. Blogging here about books, writing, and occasionally, real life. Read more…

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Ultraviolet by R. J. Anderson

GENRE: FANTASY, PARANORMAL, ROMANCE, YA | PAGES: 410

My rating: ★★★★

Ultraviolet — beautiful, and poetic, weaves the story of a girl with the phenomenal gift of synesthesia. The writing crackles across the pages and the senses—like sherbet, like fireworks; an emotional explosion of the every-day as we’ve never seen it. Yet, everything Alison encounters with her unique sensory system is so expertly translated onto the page, that her ‘super-power’ becomes relatable.

I am in awe of the delicious detail, and the originality, and never have I been more surprised at the direction a book takes. This genre-straddling twist is effortless, quite spell-binding in fact, and I’m certain that no review anywhere could do this book justice without spoiling the ending.

This genre-straddling twist is effortless, quite spell-binding in fact, and I’m certain that no review anywhere could do this book justice without spoiling the ending.

ulltraviolet

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 Ultraviolet

 

Once upon a time there was a girl who was special. This is not her story.

Unless you count the part where I killed her.

Sixteen-year-old Alison has been sectioned in a mental institute for teens, having murdered the most perfect and popular girl at school. But the case is a mystery: no body has been found, and Alison’s condition is proving difficult to diagnose. Alison herself can’t explain what happened: one minute she was fighting with Tori — the next she disintegrated. Into nothing. But that’s impossible. Right?

LOST GIRLS BY CELINA GRACE

GENRE: ROMANCE, SUSPENSE | PAGES: 294

My rating: ★★★

Lost Girls is a slow, but intriguing read, with excellent psychological detail as the story follows Maudie into the depths of her own mind, and the secrets of the past buried there. The plot-twist is double-edged and refreshingly unexpected, and Maudie’s self-development is strong and endearing all at once.

  Lost Girls

 

Twenty three years ago, Maudie Sampson’s childhood friend Jessica disappeared on a family holiday in Cornwall. She was never seen again.

In the present day, Maudie is struggling to come to terms with the death of her wealthy father, her increasingly fragile mental health and a marriage that’s under strain. Slowly, she becomes aware that there is someone following her: a blonde woman in a long black coat with an intense gaze. As the woman begins to infiltrate her life, Maudie realises no one else appears to be able to see her.

Is Maudie losing her mind? Is the woman a figment of her imagination or does she actually exist? Have the sins of the past caught up with Maudie’s present… or is there something even more sinister going on?

Lost Girls is the new novel from the author of The House on Fever Street: a dark and convoluted tale which proves that nothing can be taken for granted and no-one is as they seem.

Up From the Grave (Night Huntress #7) by Jeaniene Frost

GENRE: FANTASY, PARANORMAL, ROMANCE | PAGES: 372

My rating: ★★★★

On finally completing this series with Up From the Grave, I had to hold off writing a review for a couple of days for fear of gushing like the book nerd I am. Yet, several days later, I am still full of nothing but gushing love for Cat and Bones and the Night Huntress world, and I’m having to read two books alongside each other just to fill the gaping book hole left in my soul. (I’m nothing if not dramatic.)

On a more serious note—as if being stuck in book limbo isn’t serious—book seven of this series did not disappoint. There was the usual action, the usual Cat vs. villain scenario (although this villain had his introduction in the previous part), and whilst there aren’t as many toe-curling scenes featuring Bones (aka Buffy’s Spike – yum!) as in previous books (hello, married life), there is that same distinct connection between him and Cat, which by this point has developed and escalated into something altogether more magical than vampire sex. (Did I just say that? I take it back.)

I loved the addition of Katie (even though I could see it coming a mile off), and I liked Cat’s changing instincts surrounding this; it was written in such a way that this transition into her new role was smooth and natural.

Something I did not see coming was this:

SPOILER AHEAD!

“A shock wave knocked me off Bones and sent me sprawling against the other side of the pier. Concussion grenade, I mentally diagnosed. One amped up enough for vampires. Madigan had really upgraded his toys, but before I could scramble back to Bones, I saw something that froze me into immobility. A line appeared in his blood- spattered cheek, dark as pitch and snaking across his skin like a crack in a statue. Then another line appeared, and another one. And another. No. It was the only thought my mind was capable of producing as black lines began to appear all over his skin, zigzagging and splintering off into new, merciless paths. I’d seen the same thing happen to countless vampires before, usually after twisting a silver knife in their hearts, but denial made it impossible for me to believe the same was happening to Bones. He couldn’t be slowly shrivelling before my gaze, true death changing his youthful appearance into something that resembled pottery clay baked too long in an oven. My immobility vanished, replaced by terror such as I’ve never felt. I vaulted across the pier, snatching Bones into my arms while my tears joined the rain in soaking his face. “NO!” Even as the scream left me, the changes in him grew worse. His muscular frame felt like it deflated, the hard lines of his body becoming rubbery before they began to shrink. I clutched him tighter, sobs turning my tears scarlet, while something started to hammer in my chest. It felt as though I were being pummelled on the inside with hard, steady blows. My heartbeat, a part of me registered. It had been silent for almost a year, but now, it pounded more strongly than it ever had when I was a human. Another cry tore out of me when Bones’s skin cracked beneath my hands before sloughing off onto the wooden planks. Frantic, I tried to put it back on, but more flesh began to peel away faster than I could hold it together. Muscle and bone peeked out from those widening spaces, until his face, neck, and arms resembled a gaping slab of meat. But what tore through me like a fire that would never stop burning was his eyes. The dark brown orbs I loved sank into their sockets, dissipating into goo. My scream, high- pitched and agonised, replaced the scrambling sounds of soldiers setting up position around me. I didn’t try to stop them. I sat there, clutching handfuls of what now looked like dried leather, until all I could see underneath Bones’s bullet- riddled clothes was a pale, withered husk. Dimly, I heard Madigan yell, “I said no silver ammo! Who the fuck fired those rounds?” before everything faded except the pain radiating through me. It made the agony I felt when I’d nearly burned to death a blissful memory. That had only destroyed my flesh, but this tore through my soul, taking every emotion and shredding it with knowledge that was too awful to bear. Bones was gone. He’d died right before my eyes because I insisted on taking Madigan down my way.”

If I read this once, I read it at least five more times before I would allow myself to believe it and try to move on. Even then, I was unwilling to let go.

By the time I got to p.149, I was a ridiculous, teary mess. Read the book—you’ll see.

Needless to say, this whole series is on my ‘favourites’ pile. It’s easy reading, feisty, witty, and jam-packed with supernatural action and chemistry. The heroine is strong and sassy and knows how to handle herself (yay, feminism!), and best of all, these non-sparkling vampires know how to bite.

 

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 Up From the Grave

 

Lately, life has been unnaturally calm for vampires Cat Crawfield and her husband Bones. They should have known better than to relax their guard, because a shocking revelation sends them back into action to stop an all-out war…

A rogue CIA agent is involved in horrifying secret activities that threaten to raise tensions between humans and the undead to dangerous heights. Now Cat and Bones are in a race against time to save their friends from a fate worse than death… because the more secrets they unravel, the deadlier the consequences. And if they fail, their lives—and those of everyone they hold dear — will be hovering on the edge of the grave.

One Grave at a Time (Night Huntress #6) by Jeaniene Frost

GENRE: FANTASY, PARANORMAL, ROMANCE | PAGES: 389

My rating: ★★★★

Whilst book five was slightly disappointing because of a distinct lack of raw connection with Cat and Bones, book six, One Grave at a Time, puts the series back on form.

Once again, Cat and Bones are up against yet another cunning enemy, this time in the form of Kramer—a powerful ghost, disillusioned writer of the historic Malleus Maleficarum, and cruel, twisted rapist and murderer. He has haunted the plane of the living for years, yet annually, on Halloween, he has the ability to cross over into a corporeal form, allowing for his centuries-old ritual of the torture and burning of women, under the archaic system of witch-hunting.

Of all of the villains in this series so far, I enjoyed reading this one the most, perhaps because of my own interests surrounding the witch trials and the unspeakable history of the crimes against those women.

Cat, as always, puts her own (undead) life on the line to hunt down this madman, in yet another lightning joyride from Jeaniene Frost. 

 

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 One Grave at a Time

 

Having narrowly averted an (under)world war, Cat Crawfield wants nothing more than a little downtime with her vampire husband, Bones. Unfortunately, her gift from New Orleans’ voodoo queen just keeps on giving–leading to a personal favor that sends them into battle once again, this time against a villainous spirit.

Centuries ago, Heinrich Kramer was a witch hunter. Now, every All Hallows Eve, he takes physical form to torture innocent women before burning them alive. This year, however, a determined Cat and Bones must risk all to send him back to the other side of eternity–forever. But how do you kill a killer who’s already long dead?

This Side of the Grave (Night Huntress, #5) BY Jeaniene Frost

GENRE: Fantasy, Paranormal, Romance | PAGES: 357

My rating: ★★★

Jeaniene Frost continues to distract me from everything else I should be doing, although I have to admit that part 5 in the series was not as great for me as those before it.

There’s still plenty of action and the writing is superb as always, but unlike the others, this book was a little dull in some places. There are some great scenes, don’t get me wrong, but things don’t seem to pick up until about halfway through. Whether this is simply because of the general plot of this book, or whether it is a reflection of the characters’ developing maturity, I don’t know—perhaps a bit of both—either way, it was slightly disappointing after eating books 1 to 4 like a ravenous book-beast.

I also found myself somewhat distracted by the new additions to the story, in particular, Kira, and Denise’s new ‘situation’. For anyone who read the side novels involving Spade and Denise, and Mencheres and Kira, this wouldn’t be a problem. Maybe it’s my own damn fault for rushing on with this series instead of branching out and getting the full overall story; I just didn’t have enough of an interest in these side characters to read full novels based around them alone. It would have made more sense to read the Night Huntress books 1 to 4, then go to Night Huntress World First Drop of Crimson and Eternal Kiss of Darkness before reading this book as suggested on the author’s site. Oops. (Presumably, the rest of the bookworm community aren’t as stubbornly stupid as I am.)

Overall, this won’t stop me from continuing with the series, but I am hoping book six captures more of what drew me to this series in the first place, zoning back in on Cat and Bones.

 

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  This Side of the Grave

 

Danger waits on both sides of the grave.

Half-vampire Cat Crawfield and her vampire husband Bones have fought for their lives, as well as for their relationship. But just when they’ve triumphed over the latest battle, Cat’s new and unexpected abilities threaten to upset a long-standing balance . . .

With the mysterious disappearance of vampires, rumors abound that a species war is brewing. A zealot is inciting tensions between the vampires and ghouls, and if these two powerful groups clash, innocent mortals could become collateral damage. Now Cat and Bones are forced to seek help from a dangerous “ally”; the ghoul queen of New Orleans herself. But the price of her assistance may prove more treacherous than even the threat of a supernatural war . . . to say nothing of the repercussions Cat never imagined.

Destined for an Early Grave (Night Huntress #4) BY Jeaniene Frost 

GENRE: Fantasy, Paranormal, Romance | PAGES: 355 

My rating: ★★★★

After having read several reviews that led me to believe the fourth instalment in this series was less than average, I went into this one partly prepared for disappointment. Happily, it never came. Destined for an Early Grave is just as brilliant, in my opinion, as the previous three books.

**Spoiler Ahead**

Cat and Bones are back on form after book three’s absence of steamy scenarios and chemistry. Cat’s transformation is edgy and original and full of surprise, and her relationship with Bones is put to the test in even more ways.

Jeaniene Frost has done it again, and this is turning out to be one of my favourite series ever.

 

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  Destined for an Early Grave

 

Her deadly dreams leave her in grave danger.

Since half-vampire Cat Crawfield and her undead lover Bones met six years ago, they’ve fought against the rogue undead, battled a vengeful Master vampire, and pledged their devotion with a blood bond. Now it’s time for a vacation. But their hopes for a perfect Paris holiday are dashed when Cat awakes one night in terror. She’s having visions of a vampire named Gregor who’s more powerful than Bones and has ties to her past that even Cat herself didn’t know about.

Gregor believes Cat is his and he won’t stop until he has her. As the battle begins between the vamp who haunts her nightmares and the one who holds her heart, only Cat can break Gregor’s hold over her. She’ll need all the power she can summon in order to bring down the baddest bloodsucker she’s ever faced . . . even if getting that power will result in an early grave.

Halfway to the Grave BY Jeaniene Frost

GENRE: Fantasy, Paranormal, Romance | PAGES: 358

My rating: ★★★★

EDIT: Having now devoured the series, Halfway to the Grave is the gateway book into one of my favourite paranormal series EVER. 

Catherine – otherwise known as Cat, Cathy and Kitten; also known as a half-breed, with a penchant for killing other vampires after having discovered that she is the product of a vampire rape. With her prejudice against all of the undead fully drummed into her by her mother, and Cat’s own self-loathing of her very being, she hunts the vampires by night, hoping that someday she’ll cross paths with the one whose blood flows through her.

Instead, she finds Bones: master vampire, hundreds of years old, and more than a match for Cat’s skills, he corners her into a deal: she can live, and hunt, but only on his terms, as part of an ongoing eleven-year search of his own.

This book was refreshingly and amazingly jam-packed with action and chemistry.

Cat is strong and feisty; her temperament makes her unpredictable, and her internal narration is funny, sassy, and a real joy to read. Her spunk gets her into dangerous fixes, yet it is truly liberating, in a generation of fragile-humans-in-the-paranormal-world, to see her get herself out of them, for the majority of the time.

Bones, as the male lead is charismatic and charming, keeping all the mystery and danger of everything a vampire should encompass—a little remnant of Buffy’s Spike. His English wit and vampiric allure is pleasurably more-ish, and set against Cat’s own fiery nature, it is a truly exciting combination.

I loved this book immensely. Each character is well established, and the conflicting prejudices of both species—human and vampire—and then the eventual mingling of the two, really adds interest. I admired the way the author does not hold out on the characters’ fitting opinions on topics in society—politics, religion… It is so refreshing to read something that doesn’t hold back in a bid to cause as little offence as possible. This made the characters really come to life; it added realism.

The ending was left wonderfully open, without being frustratingly so, and I just cannot wait to continue with this series—certainly the best so far—in terms of action, romance, humour, sex, and all things supernatural.

 

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  Halfway to the Grave

 

Flirting with the Grave…

Half-vampire Catherine Crawfield is going after the undead with a vengeance, hoping that one of these deadbeats is her father – the one responsible for ruining her mother’s life. Then she’s captured by Bones, a vampire bounty hunter, and is forced into an unholy partnership.

In exchange for finding her father, Cat agrees to train with the sexy night stalker until her battle reflexes are as sharp as his fangs. She’s amazed she doesn’t end up as his dinner – are there actually good vampires? Pretty soon Bones will have her convinced that being half-dead doesn’t have to be all bad. But before she can enjoy her newfound status as kick-ass demon hunter, Cat and Bones are pursued by a group of killers. Now Cat will have to choose a side . . . and Bones is turning out to be as tempting as any man with a heartbeat.

The Complete Peanuts, Vol. 8: 1965-1966 by Charles M. Schulz

GENRE: Graphic Novel / Comic, Humour | PAGES: 323

My rating: ★★★★

peanuts image 1

Peanuts, in a word, is CLASSIC. It really is.

I never tire of it. This is the first full volume I’ve read all the way through, and yet I would happily build my collection of Charles M. Schulz’s work in its entirety.

Snoopy is my personal favourite; loud, obnoxious Lucy a very close second. Honestly, though, it’s impossible not to love the whole damn bunch of ’em.

Wit, irony, and Peanuts’ shining glory of presenting— amidst the comedy—real-life issues, all combine to make a world you want to visit again, and again. The stories are clever, cute, rolling-on-floor-laughing, but mostly I find them touching.

Schulz takes all of life’s little lemons, and through the miniature ‘old souls’ that form the Peanut gang, gets us chuckling-drunk on the lemonade.

peanuts image 2

 

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  The Complete Peanuts, Vol. 8

 

We are now in the mid-1960s, one of Schulz’s peak periods of creativity (and one third of the way through the strip’s life!). Snoopy has become the strip’s dominant personality, and this volume marks two milestones for the character: the first of many “dogfights” with the nefarious Red Baron, and the launch of his writing career (“It was a dark and stormy night…”). Two new characters—the first two from outside the strip’s regular little neighborhood—make their bows. Roy (who befriends Charlie Brown and then Linus at summer camp) won’t have a lasting impact, but upon his return from camp he regales a friend of his with tales of the strange kids he met, and she has to go check them out for herself. Her name? “Peppermint” Patty. With an introduction by filmmaker Hal Hartley.

His Witness (Vittorio Crime Family, #4) by Vanessa Waltz

GENRE: Dark, Erotica, Romance | PAGES: 380

My rating: ★★★

His Witness turned out to be a (surprisingly?) good read, full of action and grit, and more than its fair share of sex (to an almost annoying extent). (Hold up, I did say almost.)

I couldn’t connect with Tommy at the beginning with but he really did grow on me as details of his introduction into the mob was revealed. Melanie, the lead female was written with sass and strength, although because of this I didn’t buy into the sudden submissiveness of her character as much as I did with other books of this nature.

Having said that perhaps this was the point – she didn’t need to or maybe couldn’t be ‘broken’ because, on some level, she’d wanted Tommy all along. She submitted by choice, which given her former predicament, was for her, empowering in its own way.

I’m not a fan of mob/Mafia reads in general so won’t bother checking out any of the other related stories, but as a stand-alone, this was a decent way to spend a few afternoons, and the twist at the end was a nice add-in.

The warning on the book is not just for decoration though, so would-be readers: be prepared – not only for the borderline torture BDSM scenes but also the scenes of mobster violence, which has a disturbing Dexter-like quality.

Hats off to the writer, for making me squirm.

 

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  His Witness (Vittorio Crime Family, #4)

 

He kidnapped me.

He was charming, powerful, intoxicating. Accepting his advances might be the last mistake I’d ever make. He was a dangerous man, and the fact that he made me feel alive couldn’t hide that I danced with death.

I made my choice, and he made his.

Now I’m trapped in his basement, completely at his mercy. Day after day, he toys with me for his own amusement. Pleasure and pain, pain and pleasure. The two have are [sic] so linked now that I can barely tell them apart and I’m beginning to crave both.

Worse, I’m beginning to crave him.

One for the Money by Janet Evanovich

GENRE: Humour, Romance, Suspense | PAGES: 290

My rating: ★★★

Stephanie Plum is a brilliantly ‘real’ woman. The scrapes she gets herself into however are something else entirely. It makes for an action-packed, fun-filled read. The mystery element is contemporary and intriguing, well thought out, and written even better. Each character in the story is a life force of its own—realistically flawed, sufficiently developed—and after this exciting start to the series, I’ll definitely be checking out the others, and not just for Morelli.

  One for the Money

 

Stephanie Plum is down on her luck. She’s lost her job, her car’s on the brink of repossession, and her apartment is fast becoming furniture-free. Enter Cousin Vinnie, a low-life who runs a bail-bond company. If Stephanie can bring in vice cop turned outlaw Joe Morelli, she stands to pick up $10,000. But tracking down a cop wanted for murder isn’t easy… And when Benito Ramirez, a prize-fighter with more menace than mentality, wants to be her friend Stephanie soon knows what it’s like to be pursued. Unfortunately the best person to protect her just happens to be on the run…

I Take This Woman by S.K. Quinn

GENRE: Suspense | PAGES: 360

My rating: ★★★

I Take This Woman is an excellent book in that it casts a very real and disturbing glimpse into the world of Thai sex-trafficking and trading.

The different perspectives each really adds depth and insight—from that of the well-intended journalist and the misunderstood male partner to the two step-sisters on opposite ends of the Thai-bride spectrum.

The story was hard-hitting and well-told without being overly graphic, and it ends with hope, which in this case, is sorely needed.

  I Take This Woman

 

Three mail-order brides killed on their first wedding anniversary. A fourth missing bride approaches one year of marriage. One week to find her. Three mail-order brides have turned up dead – exactly one year after their wedding day. All the brides met their husbands at the same place, a marriage agency that offers a catalogue of women for men to buy. Documentary maker, Ruby Philips, is desperate to uncover the truth before another girl is killed. But with only days before the next bride reaches her one-year shelf life, can Ruby find her in time?

Who is Sarah Lawson by K. J. Rabane

GENRE: Suspense | PAGES: 420

My rating: ★★★

Who is Sarah Lawson is enjoyable and intriguing beginning with a woman stepping into her home to find it already occupied by a family who claims she is someone she isn’t. The premise is outrageous but it is handled well enough to suspend disbelief.

The story was well thought out and the characters well developed. The ending, however, felt rushed and anticlimactic, and the grammar errors throughout were frustrating and could have been avoided. That aside, the book could easily have been a four-star read.

 

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  Who is Sarah Lawson

 

How would you feel coming home to find a family living in your house who call you Sarah, tell you your brother’s name is Andy and insist that you should be ashamed of calling the police for help? My name is Rowena Shaw and I’ve never seen any of them before. They are total strangers. It’s Thursday and it’s just the beginning.

Flawed by Kate Avelynn

GENRE: Dark, YA | PAGES: 336

My rating: ★★★★

Dark and disturbing—two words I’d associate with Flawed

Two more words: compelling… captivating.

Whether I’m drawn to this kind of story because of who I am, or whether it is the story itself that pulls me in is, quite frankly, entirely beside the point.

I loved this book. Love seems so wrong a word, given the content of the novel, but there it is: I love it. I ate the words off the page like a rabid animal and I make no apologies for it.

This book, like Tabitha Suzuma’s Forbidden deals with neglect, abuse, and— #OMG —incest.

If the idea of reading about that touchy topic doesn’t make you run for the hills, and you begin the story like the brave reader-adventurer you are, you are already halfway to the point of awe that I’m at, because from the get-go, Sarah, the protagonist, demands to be heard.

Her voice is strong. Even though her situation renders her weak, her inner strength makes you care for her and connect with her.

James, her brother, becomes a hero the moment he sacrifices himself to his father’s violence to save her; and then he saves her again, and again, and again.

It didn’t matter that I already knew what he would morph into; I was so caught up in the tragic events under their unhappy roof, that their pact, their bond—of safety, protection, unity, and love—was seriously all that mattered.

Like Forbidden, when it reached the point of no return, even though you KNOW there is no such thing as a grey area in this, you (or rather, I) find the behaviour… reasonable.

Yes, I damn well said it. Reasonable!

Faced with paternal abuse, neglect, and violence, an abused and otherwise absent mother, a sheltered, fragile, terrifying existence… it doesn’t seem terribly difficult to believe that the lines of love between the two people who find solace and comfort in one another, would begin to blur.

What makes Flawed so much darker however, is that unlike Forbidden, the lines have blurred only on one side—James’.

**Possible Spoilers Ahead**

As her protector, James is fiercely possessive and increasingly controlling. He loves her to a heartbreaking degree, and he wants so badly to fix everything that is wrong in their lives. It comes from a place of love, but having solved everything with his fists from the age of eight has made him volatile, and often almost as dangerous as their father; yet, he never lays a forceful hand on Sarah. At least, not yet.

Sarah struggles with her own feelings for her brother—often confused by certain emotions that pass between them. He became her only source of love and companionship—her protector and her comrade. They have had only each other for a very long time and when she begins to look elsewhere and becomes aware of the oddness of their intimate (though not sexual) relationship, James’ entire sense of self seems to crumble.

Their initial pact as young siblings—never to leave one another—is under threat when Sarah eventually falls for James’ best friend Sam. Sam leads Sarah to doorways she never knew existed; in spending time together, Sarah’s confidence grows, and her eyes seem to open for the first time.

For the first time, she becomes afraid of her brother, who would (and does) do absolutely anything for her, except let her leave or love someone else.

As reasonable as the development of inappropriate emotions is, (in my warped head, at least) there is no excuse or explanation for manipulation, particularly manipulation of a mind as fractured as Sarah’s.

We all know how this will end—yet even then, the author manages to surprise shock.

I have nothing but praise for the entire book; and nothing but admiration for the writer brave enough to tell a story as dark as this one.

Five brilliant stars.

 

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  Flawed

 

Sarah O’Brien is alive because of the pact she and her brother made twelve years ago — James will protect her from their violent father if she promises to never leave him. For years, she’s watched James destroy his life to save hers. If all he asks for in return is her affection, she’ll give it freely.

Until, with a tiny kiss and a broken mind, he asks for more than she can give.

Sam Donavon has been James’ best friend — and the boy Sarah’s had a crush on — for as long as she can remember. As their forbidden relationship deepens, Sarah knows she’s in trouble. Quiet, serious Sam has decided he’s going to save her. Neither of them realizes James is far more unstable than her father ever was, or that he’s not about to let Sarah forget her half of the pact…

A Life Less Broken by Margaret McHeyzer

GENRE: Dark, Romance

My rating: ★★★

A Life Less Broken begins with a warning—an alert for distressing content. Rightly so; there are several scenes throughout this story that made me cringe, and I don’t wince easily.

The sexual violence described is horrific, and the author writes these scenes well; it packs a full punch, not just for the shock factor either.

The author also manages to create a believable space inside the main character’s head—Allyn is tormented on a daily basis, living and reliving everything that happened to her—and I felt as though this was done carefully, and realistically.

This is my praise for the book—this, and the ending (I do love an ending such as this one).

My issues with the book are… oh, man…

To sum it up, I guess my main issue is bloody Dominic.

He’s a nice guy, yes. He’s smart and kind, he’s noble and generous, and he obviously cares for Allyn—just don’t get me started on doctor/patient ethics—but my God, he is NOT funny—boy, doesn’t he try. He is also just a little too…. verbose… but hey, that’s just me, maybe.

If you think Edward Cullen can convince a girl how his every move gravitates towards her, you ain’t read nothing, yet.

This man is smack-your-head-and-groan OTT in his constant, repetitive, (almost-TOO-supportive), never-ending declarations of love and adoration—and he hasn’t got a hundred years of vampirism to blame it on.

I get that he falls for her, that he admires her strength and inner beauty—and that’s wonderful—but as much of a sucker as I am for a good, all-consuming, against-all-odds love story, I could not, for the life of me, get on board with this one and I’ve rooted for some pretty ‘out-there’ couples (think Forbidden ).

For me, and this is just my humble opinion, the connection between Allyn and Dominic seemed too staged. It did not seem to happen naturally enough. It was too quick, too easy, too convenient. For all the brilliant realism in the rest of the book, it (unfortunately) came undone with this. 

Add to that, the ‘squirminess’ (actual scientific term) of replacing Allyn’s crippling fear with the love-crutch of her doctor, and I couldn’t help but notice every flaw.

That said, I still enjoyed it on the whole (disturbing as that seems) and I particularly loved the epilogues—karma and comeuppance: my favourite.

Read it if you like books such as Living Dead Girl,  Such a Pretty Girl, or hey,  Twilight.

P.S. I still love Edward.

 

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 A Life Less Broken

 

On a day like any other, Allyn Sommers went off to work, not knowing that her life was about to be irrevocably and horrifically altered.Three years later, Allyn is still a prisoner in her own home held captive by harrowing fear. Broken and damaged, Allyn seeks help from someone that fate brought her. Dr. Dominic Shriver is a psychiatrist who’s drawn to difficult cases. He must push past his own personal battles to help Allyn fight her monsters and nightmares. Is Dr. Shriver the answer to her healing? Can Allyn overcome the broken? Contains distressing content. Only suitable for 18+. Standalone.

The Seven Devils by Sara Danvers

GENRE: Paranormal, YA | PAGES: 300

My rating: ★★★

The beginning of The Seven Devils is enough to draw the reader in; the tension, the trauma—I was immediately moved by the protagonist.

Then it becomes a bit of a chore. The second quarter of the novel felt rushed and unrealistic (and not in a supernatural way, but rather in terms of human interaction.) I found it hard to believe that someone suffering from physical and psychological abuse would so easily allow a strange male into her house after having known him for the extent of just one afternoon, regardless of her obvious desperation for connection.

I almost gave up. I almost stopped reading, having become frustrated with this issue, and with the numerous grammatical and typo errors throughout.

And yet, Ellen had hooked me enough in the beginning, for me to continue with her story.

By the time we see Neil for who he truly is, flaws and all, I was rather gripped by his secrets, and their relationship—despite the open and rather frustratingly, lacklustre ending.

Apparently, there will be a book two and whilst I’m not on the edge of my seat with impatience, I do intend to follow up on their journey.

 

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  The Seven Devils

 

After nearly being drowned by her alcoholic father, 17-year-old Ellen, her mother, and her brother move across the state to start over. Ellen soon meets Neil, a gorgeous loner with a bad reputation. Her classmates warn her to stay away, but he seems to be the only one who understands her. Besides, the rumors about Neil are too far-fetched to be believed. When she is threatened by Derrick (a jealous classmate) it becomes clear that there is more to Neil than meets the eye. In this sexy page turner, Ellen must discover Neil’s dark secrets and learn to stand up for herself before the plot hatched against her unfolds.

How to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran

GENRE: Humour, Romance | PAGES: 357

My rating: ★★★★

How to Build a Girl is Georgia Nicholson meets Bridget Jones with lots of swearing and lots of sex. It’s funny, insightful and engaging and has only reaffirmed my crush for Caitlin Moran’s work.

 

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  How to Build a Girl

 

My name’s Johanna Morrigan. I’m fourteen, and I’ve just decided to kill myself. I don’t really want to die, of course! I just need to kill Johanna, and build a new girl. Dolly Wilde will be everything I want to be, and more! But as with all the best coming-of-age stories, it doesn’t exactly go to plan… A Number One Sunday Times bestseller in hardback and now Number One in paperback, from Caitlin Moran, the award-winning and Sunday Times bestselling author of How to Be a Woman. (Selected by Emma Watson for her feminist book club ‘Our Shared Shelf’)

The Seven Steps to Closure by Donna Joy Usher

GENRE: Romance | PAGES: 410

My rating: ★★★

The Seven Steps to Closure started so slowly for me that I almost gave up on it; thankfully I didn’t. By the time Tara, the protagonist got on that plane to India, I’d completely warmed to her, and when Matt was introduced, things took a delightfully funny and romantic turn, and I couldn’t help but enjoy it. This was a lighthearted and very funny read, particularly handy whilst in ‘book limbo’.

 

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  The Seven Steps to Closure

 

Tara Babcock awakes the morning after her 30th birthday with a hangover that could kill an elephant – and the knowledge she is still no closer to achieving closure on her marriage breakup. Things go from bad to worse when she discovers that, not only is her ex-husband engaged to her cousin – Tash, the woman he left her for – but that Jake is also running for Lord Mayor of Sydney. Desperate to leave the destructive relationship behind and with nothing to lose, she decides- with encouragement from her three best friends – to follow the dubious advice from a magazine article, Closure in Seven Easy Steps. The Seven Steps to Closure follows Tara on her sometimes disastrous- always hilarious – path to achieve the seemingly impossible.

 

Welcome to the Thirties Club. Here are a few pointers.

I’m turning 31 in a few weeks. After nearly a year of this ‘Flirty Thirty’ charade, here are my two cents pence.  

 

3 Things you’ll miss when you’re 30

1. Your 20s

Obviously. You’ll look at those ‘crazy kids’ with (mature, dignified, adult) annoyance, yet secretly, you’ll yearn, with something akin to nostalgia, for those reckless, carefree days. You’ll know you’ve reached this point when several conversations start with sentences such as: ‘When I was young…’, and ‘Back in my day…’

 

2. Getting ID’d

Okay, so for the blessed amongst us, this may or may not be true. Perhaps you’re still having to flash your ID at bouncers or the nice lady at the Co-Op. For us regular folk, this occurrence has dwindled at an alarming rate since the age of 24, and whilst I hate to be the bringer of bad news and whatnot, it is highly unlikely that it will ever happen again, now that you’ve reached your third decade. Never mind—in three more decades, you’ll get to flash your very own bus pass.

 

3. Freedom

You’ve been free all your life, I’m sure—not necessarily free from the restraints of modern society perhaps, but let’s be glad that you’re not (one assumes) in prison. That said, when you turn 30, you will, without knowing why, feel those social restraints tighten a little more. It’s not that you can’t do the things you did in your 20s, but if and when you do behave like a devil-may-care, brazen-faced flirt on a Saturday night (or a Tuesday night for that matter), you feel as though everyone in the room ‘expected more’ of you because you’re neither a) a teenager in ‘discovery mode’, nor b) a twenty-something fun-freak making the most of your youth. You’re 30. It’s a slap in the face with the cold, wet fish of reality. Ah well, at least you’re prepared, and just in case your restraints become a little snug in the future too, it’d do well to note: they loosen up nicely with the right amount of alcohol.

 

Besides, it’s not all doom and gloom ahead… 

3 Things to look forward to when you’re 30

1. Cake

It’s your birthday! Of course you’ll have cake. That’s a rule, it might even be the law.

 

2. Hangovers

I’m not talking about the kind you’re used to; the kind you get pre-30. No, this hangover is the mother of all head-popping, projectile-vomiting, liver-shrivelling, oh-lord-I-think-I-might-be-dying morning-after experiences. Pre-30, you boast the coveted talent of drinking ’til you drop, only to resume partying in a few hours, with a full day’s work thrown in the mix. You handle your drink—you’re no lightweight, you’ve got stamina—a right little party animal. Post-30, you’re lucky if, after a full-on night out, you can haul yourself out of your bed of pain without doing yourself a mischief—and two days later you’re still recovering. If you’re really lucky, like me, this post-30 hangover will hit when you’re 27, cos I’m über-advanced and clever like that.

 

3. Wisdom

It is common knowledge that all humans are supposed to become wiser with age. If thirty years worth of mistakes and trials have brought you no reward thus far, fear not; reaching the grand milestone of 30 will have you reaping benefits. The amount of wisdom will however depend quite a bit on how much of the stuff you had to begin with, and how well you apply it. I can’t help you there—I’ve had the majority of my wisdom removed via excruciating dental treatment. What’s everyone else’s excuse? Still, this gives me, and anyone else who missed out on this batch, something to look forward to when we reach 40, since you get a wisdom top-up then, too, apparently.

 

What things do you miss the most, now that you’re 30 or over? Or if you’re under 30 (you jammy bastard!), what do you think you will eventually miss the most?

On a happier note, what’s the best thing about it?

bucket list shona kaye

Alternative title: All the crap I want to do before I kick the bucket. 

Updated May 2020

Personal goals 

  • Accept all aspects of myself; be open to change.
  • Establish healthy boundaries and respect the boundaries of others.
  • Be a better version of myself.
  • Kick depression‘s ass.
  • Make a difference somehow.
  • Keep on making a difference. See things through. Be fearless.
  • Moderation.
  • Identify 100 things that make me happy.
  • Learn to forgive.
  • Stop following the ideals and plans of others if they don’t work for me
  • Find out more about my ancestors/heritage/family tree 
  • Build some savings 
  • Pay off my loan 
  • Clear credit card debt
  • Set up a home 
  • Write a letter to my past self about all the lessons I’m still learning.
  • Write a letter to my younger self
  • Set aside time for the things that matter to me: reading, writing, relationships, introverting. 🙂

bucket list shona kaye

Discover & Learn

bucket list shona kaye

  • Visit the British Museum.
  • Take an art class.
  • Learn to play chess.
  • Learn sign language.
  • See a tiger up close.
  • Swim with dolphins.
  • Learn to play a new instrument.
  • Learn a second language.
  • Learn to say ‘hello’ in 50 different languages.
  • See a legendary musician.
  • Explore past life regression. Not kidding.
  • Get a palm reading.
  • Take a salsa class.
  • Attend a rock concert. Or ten.
  • Read the complete works of Shakespeare. Only a handful to go. LOL.
  • See a Shakespeare play at The Globe.
  • See Phantom of the Opera.
  • Volunteer or campaign. 
  • Get involved with safeguarding and awareness for victims of abuse/rape.

Professional goals 

bucket list shona kaye

  • Finish writing a novel.
  • Publish a novel. 
  • Keep writing.
  • Keep learning. Complete a degree. Don’t. My choice.
  • Make art.
  • Find a job I love.
  • Be my own boss. 
  • Own a studio for writing/art. 
  • Start a club/group (online).
  • Be part of a writing community. 
  • Try NaNoWriMo. 
  • Do an activity for charity
  • Make a living from writing. PA!
  • NYT bestseller list. Double PA!

Fun goals 

bucket list shona kaye

  • Jump into the ocean fully clothed.
  • Kiss a girl.
  • Own a herb garden.
  • Drink from a coconut.
  • Fly a kite.
  • Learn to juggle.
  • Sing at a karaoke.
  • Have a threesome.
  • Go to a drive-in movie.
  • Sleep under the stars.
  • Shower under a waterfall.
  • Ride in a hot air balloon.
  • Go paintballing.
  • Drive a quad bike.
  • Ride a motorbike.
  • Love someone I shouldn’t.
  • Ride a roller coaster.
  • Skinnydip.
  • Have sex on a beach.
  • Watch the sunrise.
  • Donate used books.
  • Quit a job I hate.
  • Fly a plane.
  • Scuba dive.
  • Plant a tree.
  • Fast for 3 days.
  • Start a collection.
  • Sew something.
  • Get a tattoo.
  • Have a spa weekend.
  • Donate blood.
  • Solve a Rubiks Cube.

Travel goals 

bucket list shona kaye

  • See the Northern Lights.
  • Go to Disney World, Florida.
  • Visit Cuba.
  • Sip Sangria in a Spanish courtyard.
  • Visit San Francisco.
  • Visit London.
  • Visit the Caribbean.
  • Set foot on all seven continents — Antarctica, Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia, South America, North America.
  • Live in a foreign country.
  • Go travelling for a month.
  • See the Great Barrier Reef.
  • See the Grand Canyon.
  • See the Pyramids.
  • See the Colosseum.
  • See the Taj Mahal.
  • Smoke a joint in Holland.
  • Ride a gondola in Venice.
  • Visit Stonehenge.
  • Stay on a remote island. 
  • Take a ‘love photo’ with the Eiffel Tower in the background.
  • Have an adventure — throw a dart at a map or spin a globe and point, and travel to the place marked!

 

bucket list shona kaye

What’s on your bucket list?

 

 

 

 

The Hazards of Skinny Dipping (Hazards, #1) by Alyssa Rose Ivy

GENRE: Romance, YA | PAGES: 249

My rating: ★★

The Hazards of Skinny Dipping was an easy read; predictable fluff for the brain on downtime, but nevertheless very enjoyable. The middle section was the best; it was here that the central characters seemed to have more vigour. Apart from this, they could have been fleshed out a bit more. I found Juliet to be overly sensitive, but perhaps this was an intentional flaw. All in all, not the best but not the worst either. The synopsis for the book actually states that it is not claiming to be about deep love or self-discovery and so, to that end, it ‘does what it says on the tin’.

  The Hazards of Skinny Dipping

 

This isn’t a deep book about first loves or self-discovery. If you want a book like that, I’d be happy to recommend one, but I don’t have that kind of story to tell. Instead my story is about rash decisions and finding out that your dream guy is bad in bed. It’s the story of when I finally went skinny dipping, and how my life was never the same again. Oh, and it’s also the story of my freshman year of college and realizing Mr. Right might have been there all along.

The End of Everything by Megan Abbott

GENRE: Contemporary, YA | PAGES: 246

My rating: ★★★★

The End of Everything is beautiful and disturbing all in the same breath! I loved this book. The writing was amazing—it reminded me a bit of Sylvia Plath’s style. There were some sentences I had to re-read just to fully absorb and appreciate the poetry within the prose.

The protagonist’s voice was strong, mature, and surprisingly insightful for a fourteen-year-old, yet without being too advanced so as to make it unbelievable. The author did a fantastic job of capturing this middle ground.

The storyline was amazing—suspenseful and full of intensity throughout.

I can’t fault it in any way.

Simply brilliant!

 

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  The End of Everything

 

A close-knit street, the clink of glass on glass, summer heat. Two girls on the brink of adolescence, throwing cartwheels on the grass. Two girls who tell each other everything. Until one shimmering afternoon, one of them disappears. Lizzie is left with her dread and her loss, and with a fear that won’t let her be. Had Evie tried to give her a hint of what was coming, a clue that she failed to follow? Caught between her imaginary guilt, her sense of betrayal, her own powerful need, and the needs of the adults around her, Lizzie’s voice is as unforgettable as her story is arresting.

Depressive Illness: The Curse Of The Strong by Tim Cantopher

GENRE: Non-Fiction | PAGES: 128

My rating: ★★★★★

I read Depressive Illness: The Curse Of The Strong in bursts. Every time I picked it up, it presented me with a gift. I feel like I’ve done myself a huge favour simply for having read it. The author and doctor, Tim Cantopher, has a brilliant no-nonsense voice, and more to the point, that voice comes from a place of sound understanding.

Never before have I come across something, or someone for that matter, who could sum up this illness in a way that didn’t feel belittling or judgmental. It’s usually one or the other. To be perfectly honest, I’ve never made it past chapter two in any other self-help book for depression. I’ve found them either too patronising or lacking any kind of understanding.

This man, however, this author, I want to write him a damn thank-you letter or something! He really gets it. Really and truly.

“‘Oh, no! It’s Monday morning. I don’t want to get up. It’s too early, the week is too long, I’ve got too much work to do and I need a holiday. I feel so depressed!’

Every Monday morning starts this way and I refuse to rise until I am running late, but after a while I drag myself grumpily out of bed and start my week. I have never been good at Mondays and it takes a while for my mood to pick up through the day. It isn’t that I don’t like my job; I do, very much. It is just that I like rest and recreation even more and on a Monday morning, the next opportunity for these pleasures seems an awfully long way away.

Everyone has suffered spells of low mood of this type at some time or other and some people think that this means everyone has suffered from depression. It doesn’t, or at least, not clinical depression or depressive illness. The truth is that clinical depression is a horrible illness of which most of us, thank goodness, have not the faintest inkling. This is one of the many trials sufferers from the illness have to face: people looking at them knowingly and saying, ‘Oh, yes, I’ve often had that. I find the best thing is just to pull myself together and get busy.’

No, you haven’t, so stop making things worse with your ill-informed advice. If you really want to help, try to understand that sufferer of this illness is going through torment of a pretty awful kind.”

Anyone who has ever suffered from this illness will appreciate the approach of this book. It allows for reflection and it offers up more advice and support than I could ever have hoped for. If you find yourself faced with well-meaning but desperately clueless folk, or a therapist who pushes you too hard, too soon, or friends and family who want you to ‘pull yourself together’ — READ THIS.

Seriously. It will help.

 

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  Depressive Illness: The Curse Of The Strong

 

In contrast many books on depression, this text takes the view that those most susceptible to depression are people with strong personalities. Being naturally conscientious and reliable, they tend to carry on under great stress, where weaker people would simply give up. In the end the burden becomes too much and they succumb to depression rather like a rubber band which will snap if stretched too far. The work attempts to explain the cause of depression and how it can be treated – by looking after yourself, antidepressant treatments and talking therapies.

Forgotten by Cat Patrick

GENRE: Romance, YA | PAGES: 280

My rating: ★★

This brilliantly original idea of forgetting the past and ‘remembering’ the future is what made me desperate to read Forgotten. I have to say: I feel a little disappointed. The execution of this fabulous idea wasn’t as fabulous as it could have been, or rather – as fabulous as I was hoping.

The writing is fine, and there are several moments throughout the story that had meaning to them, but on the whole, I felt as though there was room for so much more.

The characters were a little under-developed and the love story, which I think was meant to be portrayed as being intense, came off as crush-like. That said, the mystery towards the end of the story really kicked things up a notch. Had this been an equal part of the overall book, the story would have been a lot stronger.

I guess I should bear in mind that this book is for a young adult audience but on the other hand, I have read several YAs and loved them. Overall, I give this a 2 or maybe 2.5-star rating. I liked Luke, and the mum, and I loved the memory issue, but this one was certainly not one for me, which is a shame really as it had the potential to be incredible.

Nevertheless, I am still looking forward to reading The Originals by this author.

 

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  Forgotten

 

Each night when 16 year-old London Lane goes to sleep, her whole world disappears. In the morning, all that’s left is a note telling her about a day she can’t remember. The whole scenario doesn’t exactly make high school or dating that hot guy whose name she can’t seem to recall any easier. But when London starts experiencing disturbing visions she can’t make sense of, she realizes it’s time to learn a little more about the past she keeps forgetting-before it destroys her future. Part psychological drama, part romance, and part mystery, this thought-provoking novel will inspire readers to consider the what-if’s in their own lives and recognise the power they have to control their destinies.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

GENRE: Classics, Romance | PAGES: 392

My rating: ★★★★★

In a recent urge to watch any and all period dramas I could get my hands on, I was, on reaching the end of my collection, forced to resort to off-screen measures. Having started and not finished Wuthering Heights more times than I care to admit, I opted for Miss Austen, and I am pleased to say, I read, finished, and thoroughly enjoyed Pride and Prejudice (more than I thought possible).

I have always struggled with the long-winded mannerisms in classic novels, but there was something about this book that overrides that. I love Elizabeth’s spunky nature, and Wickham’s villainous charm and needless to say, Darcy’s transformation under the influence of his love for another is by far, the best bit of it all. Jane Austen writes with wit and irony, and with a real knack of placing the reader so bewitchingly into the lives of her (justifiably) well-known characters.

 

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  Pride and Prejudice

 

When Elizabeth Bennet first meets eligible bachelor Fitzwilliam Darcy, she thinks him arrogant and conceited; he is indifferent to her good looks and lively mind. When she later discovers that Darcy has involved himself in the troubled relationship between his friend Bingley and her beloved sister Jane, she is determined to dislike him more than ever. In the sparkling comedy of manners that follows, Jane Austen shows the folly of judging by first impressions and superbly evokes the friendships, gossip and snobberies of provincial middle-class life.

Welcome To The Working Week by Paul Vlitos

GENRE: Humour | PAGES: 345

My rating: ★★★★

Welcome To The Working Week was brilliantly funny. So dry and witty, and down to earth.

The way it was written was in the form of emails in and out of Martin Sargeant’s email account, in much the same style as Holly’s Inbox, if anyone has read that. (I started it but didn’t finish, but plan to go back to it now that I’ve read this, to compare the two.)

The format of the story is clever. It relays just enough information of actual events to the reader without actually reading any of that action as it’s happening, but we do get a clear insight into the character’s themselves through their communication with one another. It works marvellously!

There’s a lighthearted little story here, with massive doses of humour. Reads like a funnier, more clever (and obviously male) version of a tech-savvy Bridget Jones, and will make you laugh out loud whilst reading it. *stifles giggles on public transport*

 

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 Welcome To The Working Week

 

‘Welcome To The Working Week’ is the debut novel by Paul Vlitos. He offers a flinchingly funny look at modern life and the friends, flirtations and foolishness that keep it running.

What’s Left of Me (The Hybrid Chronicles, #1) by Kat Zhang

GENRE: Paranormal, YA | PAGES: 352

My rating: ★★★

I really enjoyed What’s Left of Me. It was added to my reading list for originality (and the Z in my Author A-Z Challenge) — and after an even-paced start, it really took off around the middle! 

The story read like a movie, in that it actually kept me on the edge of my seat.

My only complaint comes in at about a third of the way through the book; I can’t pin it down, but there were just parts of the writing that felt rushed or unpolished. The writing strengthened as the story gained momentum, however, and I became so engrossed that the single flaw lost significance.

I started this book on a stand-alone basis but having read it now, I will definitely be checking out the rest of the series.

 

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  What's Left of Me

 

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.

Drip Drop Teardrop by Samantha Young

GENRE: Paranormal, Romance, YA | PAGES: 166

My rating: ★★★

If Drip Drop Teardrop had been fleshed out a little more, it would have been, quite simply, an amazing book. Instead, it felt a bit rushed, a bit glossed over and there were several typos I tried not to see.

That aside, it was very original and entertaining. I found myself so drawn to the two main characters; despite the shortness of the story itself, the author created a well-rounded protagonist; Avery’s strength shone through and her fears were believable. I love that she essentially saved herself and that her choice was her own.

And given the choice—flawed but beautiful Brennus—who could blame her. 

 

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 Drip Drop Teardrop

 

Avery hasn’t had it easy. When she was ten years old her parents died in a car crash. Now nine years later her Aunt Caroline is the only family she has left. And Caroline is dying. So when Death comes knocking (quite literally) in the form of the damaged and dangerous, Brennus, Avery makes a deal with the reaper in order to save Caroline.

Brennus is an Ankou. One of the many, once mortal men and women, who were given the choice to become an immortal in exchange for ferrying the dead over into their afterlife. Nine years ago Brennus took Avery’s parents and tried to take Avery, but she fought him and won. Amazed by her strength Brennus followed Avery and has watched over her. Now he knows Avery is the one to offer him freedom from his obligation to the dead. And he’ll stop at nothing to have her.

The Lives She Left Behind by James Long

GENRE: Fantasy, Romance | PAGES: 472

My rating: ★★★★★

Bloody BRILLIANT! The Lives She Left Behind is the follow-up to the phenomenal Ferney.

It. Is. Brilliant! It really is!

Sixteen years on from the birth of Gally’s daughter, a troubled young girl called Jo finds herself drawn to the Somerset village of Pen Selwood.

The ancient, magical bond of a centuries-old love pulls Jo’s true self through her fears, and back to the root of it all–back to Ferney.

Beautifully written and steeped in history, this book is easily as good, if not better, than the first one!

 

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 The Lives She Left Behind

 

In a Somerset village, a teenage boy confronts a teacher with a story he should know nothing about. The boy’s impossible knowledge uncovers memories Michael Martin has done his utmost to forget – and soon propels him into danger. As Martin confronts his past once more, three girls arrive in the village of Pen Selwood, one of them drawn by an ancient instinct to find a man called Ferney. Her actions reignite a love story, an instinct that cannot be broken, irrespective of the hurt and danger it brings to those around them…

A Nomadic Witch (A Modern Witch, #4) by Debora Geary

GENRE: Fantasy, Paranormal, Romance | PAGES: 263

My rating: ★★★★

I am enjoying the A Modern Witch series even more as it goes on.

I love the Witch Central base formation over the course of the last four books. It really lends a Disney quality to the series. The characters are even more well-rounded than in the beginning and it feels like I’ve come to know them.

Moira is the grandmother of all grandmothers; Nell is a fierce and fiery superwoman, and Devin–ahh, Devin… sigh…

Really, those three are my personal favourites, but every one of Geary’s creations now resonates with true, individual character.

This book, A Nomadic Witch, saw development in Marcus, perpetual grump with a big but broken heart, having lost his twin brother to the Mists forty years earlier.

The arrival of a baby from the Mists that only he can care for opens a channel into the pain he has tried to bury since he was five, and he learns to love the witchling as his own. The problem is that she is a traveller of the Mists just as his twin was and now he has to fight to keep her safe or risk losing himself again.

I liked the fact that this book didn’t shy away from his pain. As light-hearted as the series is, I feel it gave it so much more depth; part of the reason I also really liked A Reckless Witch.

I haven’t downloaded the others yet… as much as I love them I find the continuous new characters a little tedious; I intend to complete the series eventually though after a little break away from the Disney movie warmth.

*Having angst-monkey withdrawal symptoms.*

 

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  A Nomadic Witch (A Modern Witch, #4)

 

Spring brings a traveller to Nova Scotia – a tiny babe who will turn Marcus’s life upside down and reincarnate the horrifying events of his past. Can Marcus find his way through the pain to love and healing? And can the witching community finally learn to keep their astral travellers safe? A Nomadic Witch is book four of the top-rated A Modern Witch series. Light contemporary fantasy with a good dose of humour, a little romance, and characters you won’t want to leave.

A Reckless Witch (A Modern Witch, #3) by Debora Geary

GENRE: Fantasy, Paranormal, Romance | PAGES: 304

My rating: ★★★★

One word: Devin! I have such a crush on the reckless, free-spirited man-boy! He becomes an honorary brother to the titular Reckless Witch in Geary’s third installment of the A Modern Witch series.

Excessive ‘cookie eating’ and ‘punk witchling’ name tags aside, I have only good things to say about this series so far. And they’re getting better every time. If you’re in the mood for a lighthearted, heartwarming read with humour, family values, and modern magic thrown into the mix—this is it.

I’m hooked. And I’m usually a drama junkie, angst-monkey. But I just can’t help myself. 🙂

 

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 A Reckless Witch (A Modern Witch, #3)

 

With great power comes great responsibility. So says the tradition of witching. One teenage witch missed that lesson… As a child, Sierra Brighton traveled the world. She swam with the baby whales, danced in storm funnels, and lived in complete magical freedom. And then Momma died and Sierra ended up in foster care, an unhappy and very secret witch. Fetched by Nell’s spell, she’ll no longer need to do magic on lonely beaches – but can Sierra learn to use her power safely? Or will her reckless blood put Witch Central at risk?

Flat-Out Love by Jessica Park

GENRE: Romance, YA | PAGES: 389

My rating: ★★★

I started Flat Out Love because I’d reached a reading lull. I wanted something that was easy and not at all serious, and happily, I got what I came for.

This book is a great read if you’re looking for something that you don’t have to really think about too much; it was easy, the way it is written is done with flow and good pace and it’s light and witty. It has a slightly more serious undertone to it, which gives the story the depth it needs, but this doesn’t consume you in any way.

Flat Out Love is perfect for lazy Summer afternoons.

P.S. I think after this, I might also get myself a Flat Finn.

 

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  flat out love

 

Something is seriously off in the Watkins home. And Julie Seagle, college freshman, small-town Ohio transplant, and the newest resident of this Boston house, is determined to get to the bottom of it. When Julie’s off-campus housing falls through, her mother’s old college roommate, Erin Watkins, invites her to move in. The parents, Erin and Roger, are welcoming, but emotionally distant and academically driven to eccentric extremes. The middle child, Matt, is an MIT tech geek with a sweet side… and the social skills of a spool of USB cable. The youngest, Celeste, is a frighteningly bright but freakishly fastidious 13-year-old who hauls around a life-sized cardboard cutout of her oldest brother almost everywhere she goes. And there’s that oldest brother, Finn: funny, gorgeous, smart, sensitive, almost emotionally available. Geographically? Definitely unavailable. That’s because Finn is traveling the world and surfacing only for random Facebook chats, e-mails, and status updates. Before long, through late-night exchanges of disembodied text, he begins to stir something tender and silly and maybe even a little bit sexy in Julie’s suddenly lonesome soul. To Julie, the emotionally scrambled members of the Watkins family add up to something that … well… doesn’t quite add up. Not until she forces a buried secret to the surface, eliciting a dramatic confrontation that threatens to tear the fragile Watkins family apart, does she get her answer.

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty

GENRE: Contemporary | PAGES: 476

My rating: ★★

Mixed feelings about this one. What Alice Forgot was an enjoyable read but there were parts of it that didn’t seem well-blended enough into the story. Does that even make sense?

First, I have to admit: I just didn’t like Alice. She was just… someone I couldn’t bring myself to care about. 

Her sister, Elisabeth was different. I enjoyed reading Elisabeth’s pieces so much more. She was real and believable.

As the story progressed I learnt to tolerate Alice. She kind of grew on me. And I liked where she was taking her life after being jolted back into it with no directions or user manual. Somewhere along the way, I wanted to slap her again but maybe it had more to do with the memory loss than it did to do with Alice on the whole. Who knows?

Not the best read but entertaining enough. My lacklustre review sums it up without me having to babble on and on, so I’ll give this an average 2.5 / 3 stars and leave it at that.

 

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  What Alice Forgot

 

Alice Love is twenty-nine, crazy about her husband, and pregnant with her first child. So imagine Alice’s surprise when she comes to on the floor of a gym and is whisked off to the hospital where she discovers the honeymoon is truly over — she’s getting divorced, she has three kids and she’s actually 39 years old. Alice must reconstruct the events of a lost decade, and find out whether it’s possible to reconstruct her life at the same time. She has to figure out why her sister hardly talks to her, and how is it that she’s become one of those super skinny moms with really expensive clothes. Ultimately, Alice must discover whether forgetting is a blessing or a curse, and whether it’s possible to start over.

Stolen: A Letter to My Captor by Lucy Christopher

GENRE: Dark, YA | PAGES: 304

My rating: ★★★★

This book made me question my own state of mind!

Apart from being really well written and engaging, it also left me with that rare and lingering ‘book aftermath’…

Gemma, the book’s voice, is taken—stolen—at an airport in Bangladesh by someone who looks vaguely familiar to her. She wakes up in a room of a house in the middle of the Australian desert and discovers that there is nowhere to run to.

Her captor Ty is a self-sufficient man of the land and introduces her to his ideal way of life, and also his idea of how she fits into it all.

Throughout, the book paints a vivid picture—the heat of the desert, the intensity of Ty and his many issues, the confusion of Gemma as she learns about her kidnapper and herself.

Once again, as with Forbidden and Comfort Food, I found myself having an odd reaction to the events within the story.

While I obviously knew the situation was wrong, I couldn’t deny the fact that I saw their connection and willed it to deepen and develop.

Being based around the relationship and events of a kidnapper and his victim, there was always a huge amount of room for Stockholm Syndrome. I kind of expected it.

But it never really came.

Even though Gemma cared for and maybe even fell a little bit in love with her kidnapper, and even though she was dependent on him for her survival (and her sanity to a certain extent) I personally don’t think she suffered from the syndrome. When she finally understands what she is feeling, it seems genuine, rather than a direct response to the kidnap situation.

Overall, my thoughts on this book are hugely positive; it was a rather gripping read and also food for thought (which is always good).

On a closing note, I should point out that if anyone suffered from Stockholm Syndrome during this tale it would be me. It simply has to be me because without a technical term to back me up I would only have the basic acknowledgement of having a serious Jones for the disturbed (but delicious) Ty.

 

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  stolen

 

It happened like this. I was stolen from an airport. Taken from everything I knew, everything I was used to. Taken to sand and heat, dirt and danger. And he expected me to love him. This is my story. A letter from nowhere. Sixteen year old Gemma is kidnapped from Bangkok airport and taken to the Australian Outback. This wild and desolate landscape becomes almost a character in the book, so vividly is it described. Ty, her captor, is no stereotype. He is young, fit and completely gorgeous. This new life in the wilderness has been years in the planning. He loves only her, wants only her. Under the hot glare of the Australian sun, cut off from the world outside, can the force of his love make Gemma love him back? The story takes the form of a letter, written by Gemma to Ty, reflecting on those strange and disturbing months in the outback. Months when the lines between love and obsession, and love and dependency, blur until they don’t exist – almost.

The Secret Diary of a Sex Addict by Amber Stephens

GENRE: Erotica | PAGES: 352

My rating: ★★★

Not a bad read. The Secret Diary of a Sex Addict is reasonably well written, kinda witty in places, and of course, very steamy.

Each erotic scene was given from a different person’s point of view. The fact that each person was in the addict recovery group lent itself to the overall story which had a bit of an actual plot (that’s more than I can say for some erotica!)

The number of typos in the Kindle version irritated me endlessly though, and the way the ending just kind of comes out of nowhere doesn’t do the book any favours; it just felt a bit like the author ran out of people and addictions and couldn’t think of where to take us next.

Other than that, I enjoyed it. 

  The Secret Diary of a Sex Addict

 

Shelley Matthews is married to her job as a journalist at a glossy women’s magazine. Which is just as well as she hasn’t had sex for over a year. But when her editor decides a re-vamp of the magazine is needed, Shelley is forced to go undercover – as a sex addict

Room by Emma Donoghue

GENRE: Contemporary | PAGES: 321

My rating: ★★★★★

Room is… good… By good, I mean not just good but lunch-skipping, sleep-depriving, don’t-fucking-disturb-me good. In fact, good doesn’t cover it. Great doesn’t do it justice either. There isn’t a word for how I feel about it.

It is excellently written from page one, the opening sentence:

‘Today I’m five. I was four last night going to sleep in Wardrobe…’

I was instantly drawn to the story this five-year-old was about to tell.

There were several times I paused to wonder how a child of his age could know so much yet so little, and then there was a moment before starting to read when I wondered whether a story from a child’s viewpoint would just be bad news: patronising at worst, sappy and sentimental at best. But man, am I ever glad I read it anyway. I stand—no, I sit, exhausted from the journey that is Room—corrected.

It wasn’t patronising, or sappy or sentimental. It was just plain overwhelming and quite simply, the whole damn thing just worked. And as for this sharp, intelligent boy… I realised that those bits I questioned, were mere moments I hadn’t quite placed myself in, as a child… an innocent, clean-slated, unbiased child.

How could I? Therefore who the hell was I to damn well question what he felt or how and why or how much he knew or understood? I just let it be.

Within minutes of starting, I was hooked on the story, captured by this child and his energy for the life he lived, in Room.

As the story progresses you learn more about his Ma, her own story, her own trauma and battles against what is; yet as many stories as I’ve read of others in her situation, I have never come across anything quite so unique as this. And it is because of Jack.

He is a born storyteller, taking us all along at a gallop.

Somehow this original pint-sized protagonist is ten times more powerful exactly as he is than if he were a bellowing giant on a mountaintop.

If you haven’t read this yet, please DO. If only to meet Jack. Once you do, you will not forget him or his tale in a hurry. 

 

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Room

 

Jack is five, and excited about his birthday. He lives with his Ma in Room, which has a locked door and a skylight, and measures eleven feet by eleven feet. He loves watching TV, and the cartoon characters he calls friends, but he knows that nothing he sees on screen is truly real – only him, Ma and the things in Room. Until the day Ma admits that there’s a world outside… Told in Jack’s voice, Room is the story of a mother and son whose love lets them survive the impossible. Unsentimental and sometimes funny, devastating yet uplifting, Room is a novel like no other.