Friday 5@5

friday-55This weekly meme is hosted by NovelKnight, so many thanks to them for the idea and be sure to check them out. In their own words:

Friday 5@5 is a weekly feature to wrap up the week with a fun (and short) list because we know y’all want to get on with your weekends!

This week’s prompt:

Characters that would be in your squad

Can’t I just have all of them? Pretty pretty please?

Alright, I’ll try and narrow it down, but I’m going to have to have some combined entries on here or my five slots would be taken in the space of two books!

The Dregs Six of Crows & Crooked Kingdom

Seriously, the combined skills of these six has to make them an essential part of any squad! There’s no way to single out one or two of them… they come as a package deal.

Everyone from Shades of Magic

Shades of Magic seriesAnother squad who come together or not at all. How could anyone possibly choose between Kell and Lila? Or Alucard? Or even Holland? And it wouldn’t be fair to leave Rhy behind, even if his… um… talents aren’t quite in the same league as the others (sorry!). Aside from the obvious magic, this lot make the cut for sheer determination, ferocity and refusal to give up.

Hermione Granger

You can forget about Harry – Hermione’s where it’s at in this series. This girl’s got brains, spellwork and courage in abundance. Leaving aside the fact she would probably disapprove of every single other member of the squad and their methods (looking at you, Kaz Brekker. Oh, and you too, Lila Bard).

Glass SwordCal Calore

I just want him along, alright? Alright? Good.

FlashfallOrion

She might not be the cleverest, or the most powerful, but she’s loyal to the core, fierce as hell, strong and resolute, and if anyone can keep such a disparate bunch of egos together, Orion can.

 

Do you agree with my choices? Have I missed someone? Let’s chat in the comments.

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Friday 5@5

friday-55This weekly meme is hosted by NovelKnight, so many thanks to them for the idea and be sure to check them out. In their own words:

Friday 5@5 is a weekly feature to wrap up the week with a fun (and short) list because we know y’all want to get on with your weekends!

This week’s prompt:

Books you read based solely on the cover

Would you look at that, I actually managed to post it on a Friday this week. Cover buys are so definitely a thing. Shallow? Me? I’ve been lucky with them, in the most case – the recent ones, anyway, have been good reads as well as eye candy for my shelf. Also, I blame bookstagram. Entirely.

Queen of the Tearlingqueen-of-the-tearling

Simple, dramatic, dripping with ominous symbolism. What’s not to love?

Firebird trilogy

Look at them. Do I have to say any more? And this was definitely bookstagram’s fault; they’re so photogenic they were all over everyone’s feed and I couldn’t resist.

 The Mortal Instruments

tmi-spinesThis is possibly the most shallow of all. I read these because everyone was talking about them, and because I’d watched the City of Bones movie and quite liked it (don’t judge), and everyone said the books were better. But I read them as ebooks from the library, and had no intention of buying them – I enjoyed them, but didn’t love them. And then they were re-released with some really stunning cover art. And the spines. The spines did it. When I saw the box set for cheap while I was out buying Christmas presents, it just kind of… jumped into my trolley.

red-queenRed Queen

Is anyone sensing a theme here? If Queen of the Tearling was dripping with symbolism, this time we have a crown that’s literally dripping. With blood. Yup. Of course I wanted to read it. I’m a lovely person in real life, honest.

the-diabolicThe Diabolic

Okay, cheating slightly. I haven’t read this one yet. But it’s sitting on my shelf, because I bought it after loving the cover too much not to.

Friday 5@5

My first 5@5 post! This weekly meme is hosted by NovelKnight, so many thanks to them for the idea and be sure to check them out. In their own words:

Friday 5@5 is a weekly feature to wrap up the week with a fun (and short) list because we know y’all want to get on with your weekends!

This week’s prompt: Books with animals on the cover

Wow, this was harder than I expected without breaking into my old kidlit books. But here we are with my top 5 (Shh – I know there’s 7. I’ve lumped series books in together)

Six of Crows/Crooked Kingdom

Is this cheating? I kinda feel like it is, but that’s definitely a crow on both covers, so I’m going with it. These were probably my favourite reads of last year (as you might have gathered if you read the last couple of wrap-up posts!)

Ink and Bone

A butterfly’s an animal, alright?!

Green Rider/First Rider’s Call

Oh, wow, I loved these books. The series went seriously downhill after, but I can’t leave these off the list.

Temeraire

Another one where I kind of lost interest in the series, but when I read the first book I was blown away by how different it was.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

My favourite HP book with a Hippogriff for the win!

 

 

Have you read any of these? What did you think? What others would you put on the list?

January wrap-up: What I Read, What I Wrote and Why I’m Still Rubbish at this Blogging Thing

Books read in January header imageIn which I forgot December

Hang on a minute, you say. Isn’t this supposed to be a monthly update? Wasn’t the last one back in November?

Well, I can see how you might expect monthly wrap-up posts to happen once a month, and you have quite correctly spotted that it is in fact two months since I posted one. Ahem.

May I please direct you to the final bit of the post title: Why I’m Still Rubbish At This Blogging Thing

There’s only so many times I can apologise for failing to keep this updated, surely. But here, have another one. Sorry, December, I forgot you. Sorry, readers, I get so anxious about not having decent topics to post that I end up posting nothing. I promise I’m trying.

So, what was I doing instead of blogging?

Well, I read some stuff. Anyone surprised? My reading fell by the wayside for a huge part of 2016 and I really regretted it by the end of the year. So I’m making a conscious choice to give myself more reading time.

More books, more mixed

It was always going to be hard to live up to November’s brilliance. There’s good reads, disappointing reads, tears and tantrums, and maybe a tiny bit of fangirling. I’ve also been trying to broaden the range of what I read – though YA fantasy is always going to be my staple diet and spiritual book home.

The highlights:

A Million Worlds With You on frosty grassA Million Worlds With You was the final book in the Firebird Trilogy… Hang on. I never told you about the Firebird Trilogy! It’s glorious, sweeping, dimension-hopping, sci-fi romance! I’d shove it at you to read right now if I wasn’t surgically attached to them. And the covers are the most astoundingly drop-dead gorgeous things in the world. AMWWY had upped stakes, personal conflicts and world-destroying ones, and some seriously heart-stopping moments. Overall, the trilogy is beautifully written, and I love the fact the friendship and family relationships are as important as the romance. All three books waver between 4 and 5 stars in my, as usual, indecisive rating system.

Ah, Crooked Kingdom. YoCrooked Kingdom with fairy lights and character bookmarksu may recall me going a little overboard in praise of Six of Crows in November? This is the final part of the duology (and I’m so not ready to say goodbye). The scheming, the violence, danger and surprise, the diverse, brilliant, complex characters (and their ships), and the humour are all back with a vengeance. Aaaaaand… Wylan’s POV! The only one missing from SoC, who just happens to be my favourite. Sadly, I got spoiled on some of the plot twists, so while I was still gripped as events go severely wrong for the Dregs (or where apparent disaster is all a part of the plan) I can only imagine how crazily tense and terrifying they would have been otherwise. Also, Chapter Fourteen, I hate you. Alright, that’s a lie. You broke me, but I love you for it. 5 stars, and Crooked Kingdom joins Six of Crows as a favourite of all time.

Flashfall hardcover bookFlashfall by Jenny Moyer was the standout of January – 4 stars. It’s YA sci-fi/dystopian, and when I say dystopian, I mean everything in this world is deadly and out to get you – we’re talking some incredible, unique worldbuilding. The characters are some of the most precious little tough guys and gals you’ll ever meet. Orion (protagonist) is my new bookish girl crush. She’s strong, determined and recklessly brave without being a cliche. Dram is ruthless and stubborn – and utterly adorable. It was breathlessly fast-paced from the first to the last page, the death toll was brutal (and wow did some of them hit hard!), and the sense of menacing danger was everywhere. It’s hard to believe this is a debut book. The skill in weaving the worldbuilding and character development into the action without slowing it down was incredible. It didn’t get 5 stars because by the end of the book, we’d been shoved into so many new situations one after the other that it undermined the initial vivid clarity, and the climax had a smattering of not-entirely-explained outside help for Orion. Minor points, slight irritations that didn’t spoil the story. The wait for Flashtide has begun.

And the rest:

Frostblood by Elly Blake – 2.5 stars. A quick, pleasant enough YA fantasy read, but too many cliches for me. And there was a huge, obvious info-dump which was apparently the whole reason for a diversion that had NO CONNECTION TO THE REST OF THE PLOT at all.

The Children of Earth and Sky by Guy Gavriel Kay (adult fantasy) and The Emperor’s Bones by Adam Williams (literary-ish historical fiction) were both DNF’d. I won’t go so far to say they were bad books – they weren’t my style. This is where trying to read outside my favourite genre(s) falls down a bit.

Three Dark Crowns by Kendare BlakeThree Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake – YA fantasy, 3 stars. Great concept, good characterisation, if patchy in places, and a quick read. After a slow start, it had some intriguing developments and I always enjoy not knowing who to trust! I wish the writing style had lived up to the deliciously dark premise and I didn’t like the many, scattered POVs, but I’m attached to some characters (Arsinoe! Jules! Pietyr – don’t judge!) and invested enough to want to know what happens next.

The Young Elites by Marie Lu. YA fantasy – 2 stars (partly because I found the audiobook frustrating). It took too long for much to happen, it didn’t deliver on the promised darkness, and it didn’t help that I loathed the main character. The writing style grated (Too. Much. Description.) and there was a lot of repetition. The twist at the end was unexpected and unexpectedly heart-wrenching, but overall – meh. Sorry.

What about that writing thing, though?

I don’t want to talk about the writing.

I mean, obviously I do. It’s kind of the point of me being here. But I might mumble my update this month and hope you don’t hear it, because #shame. I was aiming to finish the first draft of The Hunt by the end of December, with around 110,000-125,000 words. I always overwrite and then cut down in revision, not the other way around.

And now January’s done as well, so even if I didn’t meet that goal I should definitely have finished by now, right? Right?

The muffled weeping you can hear is me wondering what the hell I’m doing calling myself a writer. I managed roughly 25,000 words in each of December and January. Now alright, Christmas and visiting family accounts for some of that. And I did deliberately choose to read instead sometimes. But mostly it’s because the story kept getting stuck. I think I’ve unstuck it, and I’ve reworked half the plot and it’s going to be better than the original plan, but… Yes, that heavy sigh was me as well.

I’m coming up to the last quarter of the book, but soooo slowly. Aside from being hugely disappointed in myself, I’m starting to wonder what I’m doing wrong when I outline. I meander hopelessly without it, but expending the time and effort upfront is surely supposed to result in a first draft that looks something like I expected? Not one with half a different set of characters, a love interest who refused to be anything of the sort, and a whole load of action and conflict I hadn’t foreseen at all. How much time would I save if I could grasp this version (or at least get nearer to it) at outline stage instead of halfway through a draft? Cue exasperation.

Also, I can’t stop spawning new ideas. I’ve written the rough outline and key plot points of a new trilogy that I’m desperately trying to ignore until I’ve at least got the first draft of The Hunt out of the way.

Music. Music is good.

Yes it is. It doesn’t defy me like my drafts do, and if I don’t like a song I’ve only invested 3:42 minutes of time and very little emotional energy in it. Here’s some more samples of The Hunt’s playlist. I’m going for creepy – do you think I’ve managed it?

Time for a chat? I’d love to hear your thoughts on the books I’ve been reading (but please, keep it spoiler free for everyone else) and compare writing experiences.

November wrap-up: What I Read, What I Wrote and Some Other Stuff

Glass Sword, Six of Crows and A Darker Shade of Magic eBook

NaNoWriMo 2016 winner's badgeIn which I win NaNoWriMo

It’s not about the winning, of course. NaNoWriMo is about challenging yourself to do the seemingly impossible – write a novel in a month. Even if I hadn’t hit the target, I’d have a lot more words than I did at the start of November, and stuck to the discipline of writing every day, even if it’s only a little, to keep the word count climbing inexorably upwards.

But I’ve gotta admit, it’s nice to see the big winner banner come up on the screen!

This year was my second NaNoWriMo and though I didn’t beat last year’s total I did manage a respectable 57,954 words. Utterly failed to meet my personal goal, which was to get close to 100,000 words and the first draft complete. But then I always knew that one was going to be a challenge. So I’m still going on the draft, and now aiming to finish by the end of December.

It didn’t help that I was mid-revisions for Abriny when NaNo started. I couldn’t get it out of my head to start the new project fresh. I ended up writing about 6,000 words on Abriny when I should have been NaNo-ing. Some backstory, scenes for a new (not so much new as resurrected) POV character, notes on how the ending might go if I chop the last 50,000 words and move them to book 2. If I didn’t get it all out of my head and on to paper, they’d just clog up the space I should be using to think my way into The Hunt.

img_20161130_141936Three of the best books I’ve read this year

What, I had time to read during NaNoWriMo? I clearly wasn’t fully committed.

Reading has always been a huge part of my inspiration, so instead of getting stressed and fuzzy brained from staring at a stuck plot point for days on end, I figured it was a better use of my time. I think the occasional disengaging helped, on balance. Self-care, people. Writing is good, but not at the expense of your mental health.

Plus, you know, I read quick. But back to the books themselves.

Glass Sword is the sequel to Red Queen, by Victoria Aveyard. It was a long time since I’d read book one, so while I remembered the plot, I wasn’t entirely ready for how the book would punch me in the feels. Repeatedly. It’s not a nice read. If you’re looking for something cosy and escapist and on balance happy, this is not it. But damn it’s good. No punches pulled. It’s hard to like Mare sometimes, but her reaction to everything that happened in Red Queen, and the direction she takes, were so well-written and believable. Oh, and it has an evil cliffhanger to end all evil cliffhangers. I’m dithering between 4 and 5 stars and I haven’t actually been able to formulate my thoughts into a proper review. I guess I might just have to re-read it.

A Darker Shade of Magic was my first V E Schwab book. Within a few chapters I was asking myself a) why and b) what took me so long? The storytelling is amazing, the plot never lets up, the worldbuilding is glorious. I’m completely in awe of how she manages such vivid characterisation (including the setting, which was a character in its own right) with every single word, sentence and paragraph. The characters are brilliantly flawed, believable and relateable, especially Kell, who’s too precious for words. In fact, if you remember me raving about Throne of Glass, ADSOM has not only gone straight onto my all-time favourites list but Kell and Rhy have replaced Chaol and Dorian as my favourite fictional friends/brothers. It was another one where I couldn’t get my thoughts in order for a review – 4-5 stars.

In any other month, ADSOM would have been my favourite read. But this month, I read Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows. Yeah. 5 stars. 5 million stars.

I actually couldn’t think of a single thing wrong with it. That has NEVER happened. If you don’t know (and why not?), it’s a fantasy heist story with six main characters who all have secrets and various reasons to mistrust each other. They’re morally dubious, complex, sometimes downright nasty, and despite all of it I still found myself rooting for every single one of them. Their individual voices are wonderfully distinct, even the ships are to die for. (I’m a fangirl at heart. So bite me.) It’s a deliciously dark, twisty, intricate plot, with multiple antagonists and there’s barely time to draw breath as plans within plans are revealed, disaster after disaster strikes the crew, and the the tension ratchets up. And despite all that, it’s still laugh out loud funny in places.

ADSOM and Six of Crows are also excellent for diverse rep – both have PoC & LGBTQIA+ rep in the main characters, and in Six of Crows one of the main characters is disabled.

So in summary, if ADSOM and Six of Crows aren’t already on your TBR, they need to be added right away. At the top.

Bookstagram is insanely addictive

Did you know I have an Instagram account? I do sometimes post about my writing life on there, but I’ve got sucked into bookstagram. The whole bookstagram community is lovely and welcoming, and let’s face it, who doesn’t like to look at pictures of pretty books being pretty? So in November I decided to do a couple of monthly challenges, which means posting at least once daily, and I am officially addicted. My family think I’ve lost it. The kids like to get in the pictures, but on the plus side they also help tidy up, cos let me tell you, doing a photo shoot to set myself up for several days of posting means books and props strewn EVERYWHERE.

And for some reason in December I’ve decided to do not one or two monthly challenges but FIVE of them. Eeep. ADSOM and Six of Crows crop up a lot, funnily enough.

And finally some musical inspiration.

So my NaNo novel this year was a YA fantasy called The Hunt. About three days in, I discovered it did not want to be written to the general epic writing soundtrack I’ve always used. Because, you know, even an unwritten first draft defies me.

So I had to pull together a book-specific playlist at short notice. It’s still not got many songs on it, but here are a couple that sum up the tone I’m aiming for very nicely.

Bones by MS MR

Ender’s War (from Ender’s Game) by Steve Jablonsky

Happy reading, writing and holidaying, people. Thanks for stopping by & though it’s not time for New Year’s Resolutions yet, I promise to try harder to keep this blog updated.

Anyone else still working on finishing their NaNoWriMo novel? Let’s chat in the comments.

Writing inspiration for April

Notebook saying Inspire Me April 2016

Notebook saying Inspire Me April 2016April has been another busy month – I did my first Camp NaNoWriMo and churned out 66,653 words of Abriny‘s first draft. That’s the best monthly word count since I started monitoring, only 350 short of my total from NaNoWriMo last September. So I’m pretty chuffed.

And now the end is in sight. I’m coming into the last few chapters, hiking up the action (and romance) towards its conclusion.

And it’s utterly terrifying. Because once I’ve written those fateful words “THE END” I’ll have to take a long hard look at what I’ve accomplished and decide whether it’s any good. Gulp.

In the meantime, here’s the soundtrack, reading-track and art-track to my successful month of drafting. And if you’re interested in the Camp NaNoWriMo experience and how it was for a newbie, sign up for blog notifications or follow me on Twitter as it’s going to be my topic for the next few posts.

Music

This has become my go-to piece when I want to create a moody, creepy atmosphere, a sense of impending doom or a character having to make choices they are intensely uncomfortable with. And there’s one particular character who’s generally on the receiving end, bless him. I do like to make my favourites suffer – doesn’t everyone?

It’s Decepticons, from the Transformers soundtrack – I actually remember seeing this in the cinema, aeons ago before kids and the attendant lack of time, money and energy cancelled my entire social life. Hey, more writing time, right?

And some romance for a change – there’s been a lot of romantic scenes this month, and trying to do heartfelt moments to a soundtrack of frantic action doesn’t work out the best. We’re still in the bittersweet, trying and failing to reach out to each other stage, so Falling Slowly from the musical Once creates the perfect mood. Here’s the full version of the song, from the soundtrack:

But I actually fell in love with the song when I saw Jay and Aliona’s rumba to it on Strictly Come Dancing last year. It was so damn beautiful, even though I’m not usually a fan of the rumba, and I’m so glad they won. (I digress, but, you know. It’s Strictly. And the emotion they put in the dance, when you consider Jay isn’t an actor and how shy he was at the beginning of the show… You’ll just have to excuse the gushing).

Books

Despite the heavy drafting month, I got through a lot of reading in April. Again, mainly on the library’s eBook system. Including the entire Divergent trilogy, Ice Like Fire by Sara Raasch and The Shepherd’s Crown – Terry Pratchett’s very last Discworld book (sob).

e6d71434558c16c27b6e1f00575b490c
Divergent trilogy by Veroncia Roth.

None of them really grabbed me. You have no idea how sorry I am to say so; I love reading, I love books, and usually I can find something to be enthused about. It takes a lot for me to actively dislike a book, and I wouldn’t say it’s the case for any of these, but… Yeah. Can’t really claim any of them have inspired me.

I’m wondering if the more I write, the more picky I get in my reading. It’s as if problems which wouldn’t have bothered me before – hell, wouldn’t have been problems at all – can no longer escape my writer’s spider-senses. At least I’m not the only one with this problem – Gail Carriger’s blog this months features a post on exactly the same inability to turn off the editor’s red pen.

Divergent is worth reading despite its problems – it was well-written and fast-paced and pulls no punches. You probably already have, though, right? I mean, I’m sure I must be the only YA-reading person on the planet who hadn’t actually got round to it yet.

Ice Like Fire – I really wanted to like this one. I like the characters, I like the action, and I LOVE Mather, but I just couldn’t get into it. Maybe it’s middle book syndrome – I’ll still be going back for Frost Like Night when it’s published to find out how it all ends.

Pinterest

I’ve talked before about characters taking over. I’m sure it happens to every author. And all the non-authors all think we’re crazy, but we know better.

Closing in on the end of the book is really a bit late for one to be playing up. Only he is. He’s always been one of the most important secondary characters, but he seems to have decided that

a) I haven’t shown enough appreciation of how awesome he actually is, and

b) I haven’t even begun to realise the amount of trouble he can get himself (and consequently his best friend, my MMC) into. Yes, the same MMC whose soundtrack is comprised of creepy Decepticons music. He suffers.

So this month’s Pinterest inspiration is dedicated to a couple of Pins that reflect his new, irritatingly well-developed personality:

 

As always, if you come across anything inspiring (especially music – I’m always collecting new tracks) please share in the comments.

Writing inspiration for March

Monthly inspiration blog series - March 2016So, it’s the beginning of April. When the hell did that happen?

I have been very lax, this March, posted hardly anything. My only excuse (I’ll let you decide whether it’s a good one or not) is that I have been writing. Quite a lot, actually; 54,700 more words on Abriny’s draft (more if you count the lost words from the tiny bit of editing I allow myself mid-draft). It’s like NaNoWriMo all over again.

Actually, it is NaNoWriMo all over again, because April is Camp NaNoWriMo. Like last November’s NaNo, it’s the first time I’ve signed up, but that’s a whole other post. I’ve got a target for another 50,000 words this month but I’ll try and fit a bit more reliable blogging around it.

So, without any further waffling, here are some snippets of the inspiration behind my March wordcount – I hope they give you a boost like mine.

Music

Instead of a Spotify discovery or something picked from someone else’s playlist, my top soundtrack this month is one I found from actually watching a film. I know, right? When did I find the time to do that?

I cheated. I’ve been sneakily persuading my kids to watch the animated films I like, instead of Frozen for the fifteen-millionth time or whatever Nickelodean spin-off is flavour of the month. So, from How to Train Your Dragon:

I actually love the whole soundtrack to this film, and I’ve saved half of it on various playlists. But this one, Test Drive, is my favourite. It’s epic and uplifting and glorious and when it came on during the film when Hiccup and Toothless make their first real flight together, I knew I had to go hunt it down.

You may recall last month’s raving about the Throne of Glass books, and particularly no. 2, Crown of Midnight. Well, it so happens that Sarah J Maas posted her playlist for CoM on Spotify this month (cue over-excited fangirl screaming) and I found this:

And finally some non-soundtrack music by Fall Out Boy, which I stumbled across completely by accident.

Books

I’ve been making use of my library’s eBook system. Well, trying to. Irritatingly enough, a lot of things I particularly want to read they don’t seem to have *pouts unattractively*. But, I did manage to get The Infernal Devices by Cassandra Clare. If anything I enjoyed them better than her original The Mortal Instruments series, which is what the current Shadowhunters TV series is based on.

The Infernal Devices
The Infernal Devices books by Cassandra Clare

TID is set almost 100 years earlier, in London. As usual with Cassandra Clare, the romance is beautiful, so well written, and somehow the different era seems to suit it perfectly, making it a sweeping backdrop to the demon-killing action. And if you have been enjoying Shadowhunters, you’ll find a few familiar characters popping up…

Pinterest

I use Pinterest to storyboard. It’s been a bit of a quieter month in March – and a lot of the Pins I have found are not for Abriny but for later books in the series or completely unrelated ideas. This one, though, is for a specific scene I haven’t got to yet:

 

As always, if you come across anything inspiring (especially music – I’m always collecting new tracks) please share in the comments.