NaNoWriMo Is Here

Yep, we have reached that time of year some writers love, and some absolutely dread with every fibre of their being. A few times in the past, I’ve sworn off doing NaNoWriMo – “I don’t have time this year!” – but by the first, an idea has festered in my brain and demands to be written. This year, I actually am resisting the temptation, because I do have a lot going on that will, unfortunately, keep me away from my own writing anyway. I’d rather use what time I have to work on going stuff, than force something else in which will just end up sitting in a virtual drawer until I eventually, one day have time to edit it.

Anyway!

As it is the first day of NaNoWriMo2019, I thought I’d share a few tips and tricks and a bit of advice that’s gotten me to the 50K word goal in the past.

1. Remember: It’s a First Draft!

This is important. The point of NaNoWriMo isn’t to end the month with a polished, ready to submit draft. It’s to get the ideas and characters down on paper, and give you something to work with. If you find yourself struggling, not sure what to do next, throw in a flashback. Use the opportunity to explore the characters a little. Write those aspects of them that will get cut later on – those little bits you should know about the character, but the reader doesn’t need to see. And if still get stuck, do something random – aliens appear in the room, a unicorn emerges from the woods, Godzilla starts attacking the city. See what your characters do if put in an unusual situation, and it might help work through writer’s block.

2. Use Dialogue

To extend the word count, use dialogue. Have a character who speaks formally, not using a single contraction – I have instead of I’ve, it is instead of it’s, do not instead of don’t. Maybe a character says like, well, ummm errr I dunno a lot? Little marks of speech like that, again, will help with the word count, and maybe you’ll find out a bit more about the characters, too.

3. Use Music

If you are able to write to music, use that to your advantage. Put on some fast paced, tense music, and it might help your fingers flow that little bit fasted across the keyboard.

4. Change Font

Yep! One thing I was really surprised at by switching from Times New Roman to Comic Sans when drafting was how much flowed out. Like a switch turned in my brain, unleashing a bit more creativity.

5. Get Ahead

On the days where you can, don’t just stop at the target word count. Use the time you have, get as many words down as possible. If you can double your word count on one day, it gives you more leeway later on. Even if you can only write 100 or 200 more words, it all adds up.

6. Don’t Panic About Word Counts

And if you can’t hit the word count every day? Don’t panic! Even if you only write 10 words on some days, you’ve written ten words! Don’t fall into ‘I ONLY’ or ‘I JUST wrote … words’. Life can get busy, and you may fall behind, but 50K isn’t the only goal of NaNoWriMo. If you end the month with something to work with, you’re still a winner!

7. Have Fun!

Seriously! NaNoWriMo is a really great time to unleash your creativity and really play around. Get involved as much or as little as you like, take part in sprints or use prompts or just do your own thing – whatever your preferred approach, don’t forget to take breaks, to look after yourself, and enjoy it! Go wild with your novel, and have fun learning about the characters and worlds you’re creating.

Are you taking part of NaNoWriMo? Any tips you’d like to share?

Rose – Rami Ungar – Book Tour

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Welcome to my stop for the Rose book tour, the horror fantasy novel by Rami Ungar, and thanks so much for the invite from Blackthorn Book Tours. See my review below for this gripping novel.

About the Book

Rose wakes in a strange greenhouse, with no idea how she got there, her memories missing, and her body transformed. As she struggles to discover what happened to her, she finds she now has buds sprouting from her, her skin is green, and she has somehow gained roots, requiring her to settle in soil every so often to feed off the nutrients.

Enter Paris, claiming to be her boyfriend, who explains Rose was involved in an accident the night before, and he found a way to bring her back. She’s in his greenhouse, and Paris tells her how completely in love they are, and how he’s going to protect her – she has nothing to worry about.

My Review

The reader is drawn into the situation, gripped by the events happening to Rose, and Ungar does an excellent job of ensuring the reader never quite knows what to think, leading them through twisted corridors and constantly second-guessing everything.

The majority of the novel is set in just Paris’ apartment and his greenhouse, but Ungar does great things with the space, making the reader feel as penned in as Rose, but never losing them with the containment. And when the novel moves, it really moves, dragging the reader along with the characters, increasing the pace and tension with every step.

It’s hard not to feel for Rose, trapped as she is and unable to interact with anyone, as her memories slowly start to come back. And it’s hard to get a handle on Paris, the impression being that perhaps in their previous life together, he wasn’t that great of a boyfriend.

The twists and turns in the novel feel natural rather than jarring, and the tension is kept high throughout, without feeling like its all just too much. Overall, I really enjoyed this book, and definitely recommend it to any horror/fantasy fans.

The Author

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Rami Ungar knew he wanted to be a writer from the age of five, when he first became exposed to the world of Harry Potter and wanted to create imaginative worlds like Harry’s. As a tween, he fell in love with the works of Anne Rice and Stephen King and, as he was getting too old to sneak up on people and shout “Boo!’ (not that that ever stopped him), he decided to merge his two loves and become a horror writer.

Today, Rami lives and writes in Columbus, Ohio. He’s self-published three novels and one collection of short stories, and his stories have appeared in other publications here and there. Rose, his first novel with Castrum Press, will be released June 21st, 2019.

When he’s not writing your nightmares or coming up with those, he’s enjoying anything from the latest horror novel or movie to anime and manga to ballet, collecting anything that catches his fancy, and giving you the impression he may not be entirely human.

Don’t Forget
You can read my previous reviews about Rose on Goodreads and on Dead Head Reviews
Make sure to check out the other stops on the tour, too.
Copy of Blackthorn Book Tours resetnts (1)

Circe – Madeline Miller [Books]

circeSometimes, you read a book that is so wonderfully and beautifully written, with heaps of description aiding the characters and plot, that it feels like you really are transported to the novel’s location.

Circe is, without a doubt, one of those books.

Circe is the daughter of a Titan and a nymph, but lacks the power of her father and the beauty of her mother. As she grows, however, it becomes clear she has a different kind of power, one which frightens even the powerful Olympian gods. Circe is exiled, and makes her home on a small island. There, she develops her powers as a witch, and pays attention to the people who wash up on her shore, meeting various figures from across Greek mythology.

This book is vivid. We are taken through Circe’s childhood, flashes coming at us in quick succession (as immortals grow quickly), and get to see the world around her, her father’s palace, as well as her grandfather’s, and the area she and her brother claimed as their own, where Circe would meet her first mortal. Everything is completely and utterly through her eyes, allowing us to see what she sees, feel what she feels, in a truly unique perspective. We get fully inside Circe’s head, but are still allowed a reader’s perspective, reading between the lines and perhaps grasping things more than her, or before she is able to.

There are many characters in the book familiar to those with even a passing knowledge of Greek mythology, as well as characters perhaps not as well know, but still rooted in the sources. We get glimpses of heroes unlike the ones we know from myths, seeing them this time through a woman’s eyes, rather than as part of epic poems constructed by men. Perhaps the strongest achievement of the book is through Circe’s emotions. We feel her sadness, her fury, and her happiness, throughout each stage of her life. And each scene is coloured by this, with language used to its fullest.

Overall, Circe is a beautiful retelling of ancient stories, offering a new point of view on familiar tales, and is an excellent read. I will definitely need to get hold of Song of Achilles, and will be picking up any of Miller’s future novels.

 

Spin The Dawn – Elizabeth Lim [Books]

spin the dawnFirstly, look at that cover. It is absolutely stunning, and I spent ages just looking at both before and after reading Spin The Dawn.

This novel is the story of Maia, a young woman who wants to become the best tailor in the land. However, standing in the way is the fact she is a woman, and so is left to simply ‘help’ her father – despite doing most of the work – while her brothers go off to war. But when her father’s presence is requested at the palace, to compete in the search for an Imperial Tailor, Maia disguises herself as a man, takes her brother’s name, and goes in his place.

Reflection, the Mulan book for Disney’s Twisted Tales, was written by Elizabeth Lim, and as it is my favourite of the series, I had extraordinarily high hopes for Spin The Dawn. These hopes weren’t just met – they were exceeded, far beyond anything I expected.

Maia is a strong, young woman, willing to do anything for her family, but keen to achieve her own goals as well. She’s determined, ambitious, and resourceful, and though she starts a little naive when she arrives at the palace, she soon proves herself among the other tailors. As if Maia herself wasn’t enough to draw the reader in, from the moment she arrives at the palace, the mystery and intrigue surrounding the competition, the other tailors, the Emperor and his bride-to-be all work to keep the reader engaged throughout the first half of the novel.

And then there’s Edan. The court enchanter, Edan keeps a particular eye on Maia, and perhaps doesn’t fully believe her disguise. She is determined to avoid him, but keeps finding herself in his path.

Spin The Dawn is a romantic fantasy, combining various elements to create a rich, beautiful, and enthralling tale, one that proves absolutely impossible to put down. I, for one, cannot wait for the sequel.

GOODREADS

AUTHOR WEBSITE

AMAZON UK AMAZON US / BOOK DEPOSITORY

 

The Wicker King – K. Ancrum [Books]

wicker kingReceived this as a gift from my lovely boyfriend, because he heard me raving about The Wicked King  (which he got me for Valentine’s Day) and got confused. But this was on my wishlist, so I still really wanted to read it.

And, you know what? I loved it.

August and Jack have been best friends for years, and remain so, despite their vastly different friendship groups. Jack’s memories aren’t always real, and he relies on August to confirm events, but it soon becomes apparent that Jack is seeing something else, experiencing hallucinations that are now intruding on his day to day life. He enlists August’s help, in order to fulfil the prophecy of The Wicker King, and the two try to prevent Jack’s ‘other world’ from being destroyed. But August is torn, unsure if what Jack is seeing is real or not, only knowing that what they are doing is dangerous.

I read this book in two days.

Even for shorter books, that’s unusual for me. But the book itself was easy to read, flowed really well, with chapters broken by images, letters, notes, or mixtape lists.  They all added in some way to the plot, or gave deeper understandings of the characters. I read this book so quick because it was, in some ways, an absolute joy to read, with the relationship between August and Jack, and the people around them. In others, I was desperate to find out what would happen next, if they would be okay, if something was about to happen to disrupt their world/s.

The book focuses on these two characters, but there’s a lot of people around them, too, fully fleshed, fully realised people who pop in and out of both August and Jack’s lives, including absent adults, and well meaning teens who don’t really know what they’re doing.

The question of whether Jack’s visions are real is present, subtly, throughout, and handled really well. I found myself honestly wondering about them, even when August didn’t, and at some points, I had as much faith in Jack as August did, though I also kept hoping both sought extra help, outside of each other.

Overall, this is a really well written, fast paced book that explores mental health and relationships in an engaging way, drawing you completely into the world Jack and August inhabit. Strongly recommended by me.

Any books you’ve enjoyed recently, that explore similar themes? Or have you read The Wicker King? I’m always happy to see what other people thought!

The Doll Factory – Elizabeth Macneal [Books]

the doll factoryThe Doll Factory is author Elizabeth Macneal’s debut novel, telling the story of Iris, a young woman who earns to escape the doll shop she is trapped in, and who wants to paint. A meeting with a pre-Raphaelite painter changes her whole life, but there are other dangers, lurking in the shadows.

The novel is told from three different point of views. Iris, Albie, a loveable street urchin with no teeth, and Silas, a creepy, strange man who runs a shop of ‘curiosities’. In parts, the story reads like Dickens (in a good way), completely plunging the reader into the underbelly of Victorian-era London, allowing us to see the dregs of society alongside the fairly well-off painters, as the site for the Great Exhibition is built, and the PRB try to gain some small measure of critical acclaim.

Honestly, this book is beautiful. The language is gorgeous and an absolute pleasure to read. I have to admit, I don’t often read Historical fiction. Not because I don’t like it, I just don’t seek it out, and I tend to lean more towards books with elements of fantasy or horror. But I am so glad I read this one. There are some very small horror elements in there, combined with aspects of thriller, and they all come together to create a rich atmosphere, really bringing the setting to life.

Although the characters are Victorian, and very much rooted in that era, they have a relevance to the present, as well. Iris is constantly holding back parts of herself, scared of what people will think, fretting about being alone with men, and Silas…Silas will be all too recognisable to anyone who’s ever had an unwanted ‘admirer’.

I would seriously recommend picking this up. Vibrant characters and settings in an atmospheric world, London on the cusp of change as much as Iris is, and an absolute pleasure to read.

Find out more about the author and book on Elizabeth Macneal’s website, including links as to where to buy in the book in the UK & USA.

The Queen of The Tearling – Erika Johansen [Books]

queen of the tearling.jpgDear friends,

One thing I want you to understand, is I will never disguise my feelings about a book on this blog. I will, however, always try to find the good in something. But if I say I liked a book, I liked it. If I gush about how great it is, I absolutely loved it. If I disliked it, it’s going to be clear. And if you felt differently about a book than I did, I would love to hear from you – I’m always open to discussion.

That said, if you passionately love this book and cannot hear a bad word said against it, it might be a good idea to turn away now.

I did not like this book.

I struggled with this book, and it is one of those rare times I considered rethinking my do not DNF policy.

The Queen of the Tearling is about Kelsea, a young woman in the Tearling, who due to her heritage, has grown up isolated with no one around but her foster parents. One day, a group of men come to whisk her away to the capital and crown her queen. But they are being pursued by the Caden, a group of assassins hired by her uncle, who wants her dead before she can be crowned.

So far, so yeah this sounds interesting, right?

It didn’t take me long into the book to discover I probably wouldn’t like Kelsea. She feels really bland, and makes massive judgements about the people she sees. Speaking of which, the book is very, very focused on appearances. All the men in the guard are handsome and young, despite the fact most of them have been in the guard since Kelsea was a child. People seem to age really slowly in the Tearling, for some reason – actually, almost every man (except the bad guys or slightly-bad-guys) are described as handsome. Kelsa herself keeps moaning about how plain she is, but I really don’t understand how one would think themselves plain if they’ve never seen anyone else? Also she has no mirrors, just sees herself reflected in water, and that’s not really a great one to judge appearance?

I’m not saying Kelsea has to be beautiful, or even ugly. But it just reads a bit odd, and honestly, the plain female hero obsessed with books…it’s been done. A lot. And Kelsea doesn’t really add anything to it at all.

Oh! And one of the men in her guard happens to be black. We know this, because Kelsea seems him and IS SHOCKED. She has (gasp!) never seen a black man before. But…she’s never seen ANYONE before? Like, again, her whole life has been lived in complete isolation. Oh, except in history books. She remembers that.  She has definitely seen black people in history books about…the slave trade.

And (I might be misremembering) I can;t recall anyone else’s race being mentioned again. So either he gets a special mention for being the first, or…no one else in the Tearling is black? I don’t know, but considering it’s the future, and people are descended from the Brits and Americans, it would be REALLY BLOODY WEIRD not to have anyone else who isn’t white. Speaking of which, why British-American? What happened to the other countries? Oh, except Europe. Because they came separately and have a completely different country right next door. Coincidently, all the doctors and medical supplies were on the same ship, which sank. So medicine is poor.

Which brings me to some other points. They made a crossing, from somewhere, but to WHERE, EXACTLY? Is this a different planet? Or did they find some other continent, and kill whoever lived there? None of this is explained or hinted at, and there’s really not a lot of indication as to why things have regressed so much. Don’t get me wrong – I love when worldbuilding makes you think you’re somewhere else, but it turns out (GASP) it’s the future! The problem is, this doesn’t do that. There is literally no reason to not explain these events, or where they are. It’s outright stated – not even hinted at – that this is in our future. There’s mention of Harry Potter and The Hobbit. Revealing that this was another planet would have made it more interesting, I think, but maybe that was revealed and I missed something? I dunno.

And why do people live for so long?

The book builds up the mysteries of who is Kelsea’s father and who is The Fetch but there is literally no pay off to these. To any of these! Three huge questions and by the end of the novel none of them were answered. If one of them was, I’d have found that mildly satisfying, but them all being left makes me feel like it’s a ploy just to get people to read the next one.

Honestly I could rant about this so much more, but I’m not going to. I wanted to like this book. I really, really did, but I struggled so much and as you can probably tell from the above, there were a lot of things that just nagged at me.

I would definitely not recommend this book, unfortunately. But that’s just me, and looking on reviews, it seems to be a book you either love or hate, and of course this is all just completely and utterly my own opinion.

Still, if you have read this book, I would absolutely love to know what you thought. And I promise my next review will be less ranty.

On The Come Up – Angie Thomas [Books]

on the come upWhen I read Angie Thomas’ debut novel, The Hate U Give, I knew this was an author I was going to follow for a long, long time. I was super excited when I heard about her next book, On The Come Up, and honestly, I almost squealed in excitement when I spotted it in my local bookshop.

On The Come Up is the story of Bri, who wants to be the greatest rapper the world has ever seen. To try to get her start, she competes in rap battles in the ring, and from there, the story moves forward, showing us this young, strong, argumentative, passionate girl with a powerful voice, who the world wants to silence.

There are certain elements similar to The Hate U Give, a couple of similar themes and elements, and the books are set in the same area, but they are still vastly different. I’ve seen some people say Bri was harder to like than Starr, but I didn’t find that to be the case. I adored Bri. Like Starr, she felt completely and utterly real. A teenage girl, just trying to get along in life, juggling school, social life, her passion, and boys. There were a number of times I wanted to reach through the page and hug her, and there’s little about her personality I didn’t relate to.

When it comes to character voices, Angie Thomas has an amazing gift. Bri practically sings off the page (well, raps…) and it’s so easy to imagine her talking, rapping, thinking. Small touches emphasise her character, as we see the world through her eyes, as we witness the world around her, through her.

Overall, On The Come Up is a brilliant, fantastic novel, about ambition and voice and power (and being powerless), and once again Angie Thomas had me completely hooked right from the very first page until the last. I will be eagerly awaiting her third novel. If you haven’t already, I strongly suggest reading both The Hate U Give and On The Come Up. You really won’t be disappointed.

The Fever King – Victoria Lee [Books]

 

the fever king

Before I get into this, I just want to mention I received this book from Ashleigh (@edwardanddamon on Twitter), after winning it in one of her monthly giveaways. You should definitely go check her out because she’s awesome.

In a future version of the USA, Noam, the bisexual son of undocumented immigrants, survives an outbreak of a disease that leaves some survivors with the ability to do magic, although what kind of magic varies from one person to another. He is taken to a training centre, and put under the watchful eye of the charismatic, mysterious Calix Lehrer, former king, alongside Calix’s ‘son’, Dara.

I wanted to like this. Maybe my expectations were a little bit too high, but the premise sounded brilliant, and the writing itself is good – certain sentences were a joy to read, and some scenes were really gripping. But by the end, it just felt like there was too much crammed in, too much going on. The cast of characters is a little too big, filtering in and out, the other students a little flat compared to the actually well done characterisation of Noam and Dara.

Calix himself just read as untrustworthy, and it was hard to see why Noam trusted him so much, why he felt so willing to go along with everything.

Plot-wise, again, there were some really good elements here, but a lot got crammed in, and the moment one thing picked up, the plot seemed to take a sharp left turn into something else. There were some confusing moments, some really ‘huh?’ moments, and the ending…the ending to me just felt a little contrived, a touch rushed, with everything being a little too coincidental at certain points, and confusing at others. More than once, I found myself going back to reread a paragraph or two.

This is definitely not a bad book, nor is it badly written. The fault – to me – lays in too many ideas jammed into a fast paced scenes, with slower, meandering interruptions throughout where the students do nothing but sit around, repeated quite often, when it feels like the pace should be faster, coupled with too many characters. I really would have liked to have seen more of their training, maybe an example or two of their classes, and what life was really like for the students in this school, rather than just skipping over the interesting parts to show them in the same room or in Calix’s study.

Now, the important question. The Fever King is the first in the series, named Feverwake, and at the end I had to ask myself – will I read the next one?

The honest answer is… (drum roll please) probably yes, actually. Like I said, Lee isn’t a bad writer, and I think the next book will likely show lots of improvement, plus, by this point, I do feel invested in the story. So maybe, despite the things I disliked about it, the book has done its job, after all.

The Near Witch – V.E. Schwab [Books]

the near witchI only recently started reading Victoria Schwab’s novels. I started with City of Ghosts, then read A Darker Shade of Magic, shortly before going to an author event in Waterstones, Cardiff, where I picked up the next two Shades of Magic books and The Near Witch, money being the only thing stopping me from picking up everything else.

From the moment I started City of Ghosts, I absolutely fell in love with the writing. All the books I’ve read are vastly different, but carrying the same talent.

For anyone not aware, The Near Witch was Schwab’s first novel, which went out of print, and has recently been re-released.  Which is honestly a brilliant, great thing, because this book is an absolute delight.

For any fans who have read later books, it is well worth reading The Near Witch. There are some elements sprinkled throughout which feel like they have taken root, and branched out into other books, such as the Shades of Magic series.

The Near Witch takes place in the town of Near, where Lexi lives with her sister and mother. The people are afraid of anything unusual, including the witches who live on the town’s edge. A stranger appears one night, and shortly after, children start disappearing.

Near is described so well, it’s easy to imagine the town, and it really comes to life with the various characters dotted here and there, as Lexi explores and tries to discover exactly what happened to the children. Atmosphere plays a key role, and even the weather itself feels like an additional character, helping or hindering the characters as they move along their journeys.

The characters all feel real and fully realised, including Lexi’s family and Cole, the stranger. And as to the disappearance of the children, the reader is kept as on their toes as Lexi, trying to work through the puzzle and figure out if a fairy-tale really has come to life.

Overall, I loved The Near Witch for the same reasons I loved City of Ghosts and the Shades of Magic trilogy. For the atmospheric settings, the colourful characters, and the intriguing plot. Highly recommend this book for anyone who loves a good, haunting novel.