Monday, 29 June 2015

CONSUME BOOK REVIEW

Consume (The Clann, #3)Consume by Melissa Darnell

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


First off (the one negative) I do not like is that Savannah tends to give up quite easily and seems to fight only when prompted to do so. However, I do enjoy the fact that she has a strong set of morals and sticks to her beliefs stubbornly. The fights with Tristan - the way they butt heads now that they can actually be together - was endearing, though I couldn't understand how a girl who wanted something so bad could set it aside so quickly. There wasn't enough effort on the characters' parts to hold onto what they seemed to want for so long. Sure, there is an adjustment period after the kind of change that was affected at the conclusion of the second novel, but really? Come one. I get wanting the mother/father approval and having danger to worry about every time you so much as blink, but that's when you stop pushing away the hot guy you drooled over for years. Don't push him away. (Just my opinion) I think that there was enough obstacles for the characters to overcome - there was some great action scenes - without having to keep the relationship on the cusp of togetherness as it had been in the previous installments.

Savannah's struggle for her friends and family to accept her and be okay with her i.e. not terrified of her throughout the first three novels was well-plotted and I enjoyed how the author tied this up. The end was somewhat predictable; however, I enjoyed the twists Darnell threw in and look forward to the upcoming adventures to see how things continue for other members of The Clann. I gave this book five stars because, despite my "issues", it is a great series and still one of the best books I have read in a long time.



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COVET BOOK REVIEW

Covet (The Clann, #2)Covet by Melissa Darnell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


The second book picks up right where the first one leaves off. Within the first few chapters, I had tears in my eyes, which I assumed boded well for the rest of the story. The connection between reader and character(s) was well established, the flow was relatively fast-paced (necessary to remain immerse, IMO), problems we can all root for to be solved were developed . . . and then it just died off. At least, it did for me.

I found myself skimming through the pages even though nothing had really changed. Savannah continued to discover more about her new life as her whole world changed, the tension continued to build between her and Tristan, readers discovered more about her friends - and their other half's - and Savannah faced obstacles she only had herself to rely on to navigate out of. Maybe it was because it felt like Savannah didn't fight or because book one was so good - I couldn't help but notice the difference in formatting, either, which was a minor distraction.

By the end, though, I was able to fall back into the story. It was explosive. Because of the beginning and end, I would recommend this to friends and picked up the third novel to see exactly how Tristan and Savannah's story ends.



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CRAVE BOOK REVIEW

Crave (The Clann, #1)Crave by Melissa Darnell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I bought the first novel in this series during a grocery shopping trip a couple of years ago and set it aside - there's nothing I dislike more than having to wait for the next installment once beginning a series. Then I bought the second . . . and when I unpacked my books, I realized the third had been released (though I had to order it because it was out of stock).

It was worth the wait.

Sav thought she was just a normal, run-of-the-mill invisible girl with annoyingly loyal friends until she woke up after becoming black-out sick. I assumed, at this point, the story would take the cliché turns, but I was pleasantly surprised. Though I am not a huge fan of multiple POV's, I really enjoyed being able to see the story from both Savannah and Tristan's perspectives. Without it, the full depth of their shared history wouldn't be understood and their intense connection to one another would've felt cliché. Tristan is overprotective but understanding and Savannah, unlike other kick-ass dhamphirs, is vulnerable as she tries to figure out where her new curse/gifts will take her.

While these are motives reused, Darnell gives us a combination of old tales with a new spin. The fight these characters put up is admirable and I love the unexpected ending. Darnell's given readers a witty, keep-them-wanting-more love story that'll force you to pick up book two . . . even if you have to play hooky for a day to complete it.



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Monday, 22 June 2015

IGNITE ME BOOK REVIEW

Ignite Me (Shatter Me, #3)Ignite Me by Tahereh Mafi

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


I finished this series in a day, it was that addictive. Juliette's journey is astounding and the choices the author makes surprising. Although I can't say my favorites without giving away the end, I will say that it does not follow the "norm" and leaves room for a continuance (without leaving loose ends) should the author decide. Juliette's triumph isn't in how the series end, however, it's in the personal growth she's obtained simply by accepting who she is and following through with the choices she's made.

I love, love, love the metaphors in this series. I am an hourglass. The third book starts with such a powerful line, it's impossible not to fall for the poetic fluidity of the writing, though if I were reading it aloud, sometimes I would feel like I had a bout of OCD. My daughter is only six-years-old, so I would never let her read this because of the violence. However, in another six or seven years, I may just read it with her and edit out the sex so she can discover that there are strong, powerful females. I hope this is one of those series that are made into movies a TV series so I can watch it at least once a week.



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UNRAVEL ME BOOK REVIEW

Unravel Me (Shatter Me, #2)Unravel Me by Tahereh Mafi

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


This series just keeps getting better. I hummed and hawed over the first few chapters of the first book, but now I cannot get enough. Reading through these books is like watching a child grow up on the pages within the course of hours rather than years. Juliette's fears and the sheltered life she has led because of the Reestablishment are thrown aside as she discovers who she really is at Omega Point. From the staggered thoughts she had as a confined inmate of the so-called asylum to the complex strategies she implements - you would think it is almost two different people, and in a way it is. But even as Juliette strives to better herself, her new world-view makes everything else she's had to cling onto change. Her feelings, her perceptions, her strength. It's all in flux.

The author really does a brilliant job in portraying the issues Juliette has to deal with, especially the struggle within herself to accept who she is and what she can do . . . and learn to realize that you have to be true to you and it's okay if others can't accept that. Like school and jobs, there are stages in life, and not everyone you love will have a role in each phase you're meant to go through. I loved this just as much, if not more, than the first novel in the series. Beautifully written.



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SHATTER ME BOOK REVIEW

Shatter Me (Shatter Me, #1)Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I saw this book on Goodreads and ordered it online based on reviews already made, and was pleasantly surprised when it arrived sooner than the books I ordered via the Chapters store did. At first, it took me a while to get into this one. I thought that the editing was poor during the first few chapters i.e. run-on sentences, poor grammar, and the strike-outs kept tugging me out of the story. But as I forced myself to keep reading, this got better - or it stopped mattering because the story yanked me into the pages. More importantly, it made sense. The author wasn't being lazy, the author was making a point. This is the character's state of mind.

But Juliette is far from simple; she adapts to her lot in life. Juliette is a character who deals with what she is given as it is received rather than wishing for what she can't obtain. Her growth throughout the novel is shown as the world around her changes, and the way that the author portrays this in her writing is brilliant. I now love the grammar and punctuation errors because it represents growth and really sucks the reader into Juliette's frame of mind as events unfold. Tahereh Mafi has woven a very complex character who endures real-world problems - love, war, dejection - in an intricately designed world that's beyond anything I could comprehend having to deal with, yet it works because the world the author has created is something I could foresee happening based on the world today. When you add in the problems Juliette deals with because she can't touch anyone (with exceptions) without causing physical pain that can lead to death, this was a first installment I could not put down. In fact, it was causing physical pain impossible not to pick up the second book in the series, Unravel Me.



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Monday, 15 June 2015

LUX: OPPOSITION BOOK REVIEW

Opposition (Lux, #5)Opposition by Jennifer L. Armentrout

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I found this series on the shelves of a local Chapters store, and I am glad I finally purchased it. Normally I shy away from alien stories because I sometimes picture ET (not the best way to get attached to characters) and don't want the story to be better than Roswell (one of my favorite shows in high school), but I am glad I went against my gut this time, and even upset that the story had to end in the first installment of this two-part book. That said, I think that the ending was perfect. Without giving away spoilers, it closes many loose ends and sets the end up in a way that allows the reader to imagine what "could" happen next for their favorite characters, which is always a great way to say goodbye and leave the world an author created with their readers. The second story, like a prequel, is about Dawson - all the unanswered questions that Katy and Daemon had about what happened to him explored. I usually don't like to go back to the beginning with new characters, but this was an exception. Highly recommend.



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LUX: CONSEQUENCES BOOK REVIEW

Consequences: Opal & Origin (Lux, #3-4)Consequences: Opal & Origin by Jennifer L. Armentrout

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


I started this series by chance after seeing the books on the shelf at the store. While I was lukewarm about the first two stories because they reminded me of Roswell, I have to say that the next two did not disappoint. I liked them even more than the start of the series. Perhaps because the storyline forked away from what I expected to happen, I was more invested at this point in the characters, or the characters' problems were so much bigger, I couldn't help but connect. But whatever the case, I finished this and started Opposition all in a day.

In the third and fourth books, we get to find out a lot about the aliens heritage, what makes Katy so special, and the oh-so-sweet protective (and sexy and dangerous and vulnerable) side of Daemon. While there is much heartbreak and a lot of rivalry - even between friends - these installments are gripping in the love story they weave, all the while keeping the suspense and mystery of what's going on in the world they are fighting to survive in clear. There were moments when I found myself holding my breath for the characters, and as a reader, there is nothing better than being that sucked into a great story. I'd recommend this to anyone.



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LUX: BEGINNINGS BOOK REVIEW

Beginnings: Obsidian & Onyx (Lux, #1-2)Beginnings: Obsidian & Onyx by Jennifer L. Armentrout

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I purchased this whole series after humming and hawing during many trips to Chapters. Aliens aren't usually my thing, and I see a lot of reviews stating that this reminds them of Twilight, but it took me a while to dig in because it reminded me (in my opinion) of that TV series, Roswell - not that that is a bad thing. I used to be addicted to that show :)

The characters are well-rounded and likeable, and even the antagonist, Ashley, is endearing because she is the perfect little you-know-what. The love story was a bit predictable; however, I really liked the twists and turns that the author created in this world. The setting the author created was great. I especially like the fact that everyone seems to "know" that the aliens are somehow different, but they don't know how. In my opinion, I would imagine more than Dawson's girlfriend would have guessed or caught them being different, but that is the only nit-pick I had. Otherwise, by the end of the second story, I had to go buy the next installment right away. I would definitely recommend this book - and the series as a whole - to fellow readers.



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Monday, 16 March 2015

Writing for YA Audience

Writing for YA is a lot different than writing for children. I repeat, IT IS A LOT DIFFERENT! What a writer portrays for a twelve-year-old is not what they should portray for a sixteen or seventeen-year-old. Technically, anyone under eighteen is a child. Yes, okay. I agree. But they go through so many different stages. When I was fifteen-years-old, I moved out. When I was twelve . . . the idea of living on my own was foreign. Three years makes a big difference. So while this might not apply to all pre-teens vs. teens, when I write stories for the YA audience, I have to try to remember how I thought and felt when "I" was a young adult, and then try to look at the world today and apply it.

1. TEENAGERS ARE NOT CHILDREN! Why don't people realize this when writing/critiquing a story? Yes, I get why you avoid 'triggering' your audience. If you talk about death or suicide, you don't want to allow it to be okay. What if a young reader gets ahold of your work and then decides, "Oh, well, it was okay for this character . . . " If they went on to commit suicide because of that, how would the author feel? No, you definitely don't want to wade into that pool - life is too precious, especially when they haven't even lived yet. But, you also don't want to dumb down the story, either. Teenagers will put the book down if they feel like subjects are being brushed over because they can't 'understand' them. It's the equivalent to a parent using a condescending tone and saying they'll understand when they are older. So, I guess my rant on this can be summed up nicely into the following: don't brush over topics in YA/New Adult, but do not 'trigger'. If you are going to discuss suicide, bullying, promiscuity, etc., make sure that you let it be known these are not okay, and should not be construed as the 'norm'. I love a gritty book as much as the next girl (a true story is powerful), but I remember what it's like to be a teenager, and adult problems don't wait until adulthood to arrive. Just be careful in your message. Words have a powerful influence.

2. WORD CHOICE. First, text talking is for losers. Plain and simple, it's hard to read and annoying, and nobody - not even the teenagers who love to use it - will read a story full of text talk. Should you say 'okay' instead of 'acceptable'? Yes. But they do think/talk in coherent sentences that aren't broken up with 'uh...like so and so...' and 'like, totally'. Use a few more 'likes' in dialogue, but whatever slang you think they use, don't overdo it. (Like, I totally don't, like, reading like this.) Also, there is always a difference in dialogue vs. internal monologue i.e. 'thinking'.

3. SEX. Teenagers have sex. Period. But when we write about it, remember it's not Harlequin Romance. A little petting, some cuddles, and sweet talk - that's all they need. Make it real by including the feelings instead of actions. It has been done beautifully and can be done so again... and again... New Adult novels tend to be a bit more detailed, and they should be, as most people 'experiment' in college and their 20's, but still, keep it as 'less is more'. It's classier!

4. PARENTS/GUARDIANS. These guys usually aren't so present in the character's life. At least not so much as the character should be making the decisions/realizations of their conflict on their own. While it isn't right to undermine the parental figure, it is also necessary to promote YA characters as self-sufficient as possible. They don't have to break rules or curfews or the law to do this, either. If writing for the New Adult audience, sure, there aren't parents in college - high school is different.

5. LENGTH. While the novel length should be up to 80k (normal YA) or around 100k (Fantasy/YA), you can and should keep both paragraph and chapter length minimal. This gears readers for a fast-paced ride and easily enables them to just read one more chapter (we all say that). Really, though, young readers have busy lives. They need to have stop/start points, and they need to have them often. They also (sometimes) have shorter attention spans because of their oh-so-busy lives.  The trend is longer in Fantasy, though, so use your discretion...

Hopefully this helped someone shed some light on some of the distinct aspects of writing YA fiction. Follow the links and you will find a wealth of information within each header. If you disagree on whether these are some of the top five points for YOU, please leave a comment and tell me why :)

Cheers!

Sasha Leigh

Thursday, 19 February 2015

8 Ways to Grab Your Readers Heart with Emotional Scenes

One of the main immersive qualities that keeps readers turning pages is the author's ability to produce a unique voice, a pace that fluctuates while still remaining fluid enough so as not to jar the reader out of story, and its believability. By no means is this ALL there is - you can have a great story with mediocre characters that lack depth, or great characters and no story. For now, I aim to confront the believability, or at least one aspect of this concept: emotions.



If you ever listen to someone while they are upset, sad, or afraid, their voice changes. People who throw five six-syllable words together for a ten-word sentence suddenly speak as though they haven't graduated to a two-syllable vocabulary, some stutter, raise their voice, or even speak so fast that nobody can figure out what it is they are saying. It all depends on the situation and the person. But it isn't often that there will be forty-word sentences in an emotional scene, or purple prose spouting the beauty of a scene as though describing every petal of a rose.

Think of the Stages of Grief (I think of the 5-Stage model) when you are writing an emotional scene: denial, bargaining, depression, anger and acceptance. If you are aware of these, you can more closely predict how a character will respond so that it is believable (not just what you want them to do). Here are a few excercises to attempt if you are having trouble getting those emotions out:

1. Draw from your own memories. Write down situations you have been in using brainstorming, snowflake method, or even just making little pieces of paper which you later pick from a hat. One at a time, pick a situation and write about it. You can:

  • Freewrite -Write everything you know, from start to finish of the memory, without pause or edits;
  • Jot Notes - Make a bulleted list of the emotions the situations you have been in made you feel;
  • Again, brainstorm with words about those emotions; and
  • Use the Stages of Grief as an outline and identify what you felt during each stage throughout an emotional memory. This does not need to be restricted to death, but can outline the end of a relationship, a drastic life change, a relocation, and much more.
2. Watch TV. Discover which situations will provoke more emotion, what age group overreacts more than another (usually teenagers), and how they get over what they have been thrust into by the writers.

3. As a writer, this is one of your most important resources, but I put it as the third tool because the old, "Write what you know" cliche does have its place, and is important when you are attempting to write a scene powerful enough that your reader can't pull their nose out of it. Also, you can write while watching TV, so there's that.But we all have our favorite scenes in our favorite novels that we can't help but go back to, so do it again. Read it over and over until you can say with certainty what it is about the passage that has gotten you so hooked, and then try to incorporate the qualities that you admire (without copying). 

4. Now that you know the level of reaction, and which situations will be more likely to provoke a more intense outcome, figure out the dialogue. Do they moan and cry? Slur? Stutter? Or is the character(s) so traumatized, they shut down? A really great example of this, especially for YA, is The Vampire Diaries. Though it's not my favorite show, it does have some of the most believable dialogue once compared to the reactions/dialogue of teens.

5. Set a mood and stick to it. I've read some scenes where the emotion is on full-throttle, but the effect was broken by bouts of humor in between the protagonist declaring it's the end of the world and wishing they could be at the mall instead (needles to say, I didn't finish that book). Dry humor is sometimes okay within emotional scenes, if it fits with the character's voice, but don't overdo it or you'll lose the effect.

6. Remember your audience. If you are writing for children, you're going to fluff it up i.e. "Oh, Tommy was so sad . . ." But if you are writing for MG/YA/NA, your content can become more graphic with each age category. MG might get hit in the nose from a bully, and then go tell a teacher. YA might use a few swears in the same situation, plus a return swing, while NA could turn into a full-fledged bar brawl that, because they are now "in the real world", ends with having a sleepover with the police. Now escalate to an adult novel (Rated-R for violence, mature language and/or subject matter, or nudity), and you'll have to read the book between the cracks of your fingers as you cover your eyes and blush.

7. Surprise your reader (or character) and write what would be least expected to happened in a given situation. Abnormal situations with high emotion will provoke people to do things that they would not do otherwise. Use this as a tool to make your story more interesting.

8. As I mentioned above, most speech and action is stilted and short in an emotional scene; however, too much of this will drop your reader's interest, so mix it up every few paragraphs with a thought or two from the character. A gesture, short description, revelations, or a really good, incoherent ramble, could be used, as well, if implemented in SHORT DOSES.

As always, this list is not exhaustive for this topic. It is based on my own experiences as a writer, as well as what I have read from authors I admire. All writing takes practice, so work on it, and sooner or later you will find what works for you. However, if you're are ever stuck, try one of the above. Before committing an emotional scene for publication, make yourself aware of the "triggers" people may encounter upon certain subjects. While much of this is over-done, there are subjects that can trigger episodes, and for your readers' sake - and your reputation - make sure to put a warning on your written works, which can easily be worked into the blurb or copyright page.

Do you know of any other ways to provoke emotions in your writing? Acting out a scene with a friend? Improvization? Obviously, I write, so those aren't big on my list, but it would be interesting if they worked.

Cheers!

Sasha Leigh