Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Review: Sanctum by Sarah Fine




THE STORY

A week ago, seventeen-year-old Lela Santos’s best friend, Nadia, killed herself. Today, thanks to a farewell ritual gone awry, Lela is standing in paradise, looking upon a vast gated city in the distance—hell. No one willingly walks through the Suicide Gates, into a place smothered in darkness and infested with depraved creatures. But Lela isn’t just anyone—she’s determined to save her best friend’s soul, even if it means sacrificing her eternal afterlife. As Lela struggles to find Nadia, she’s captured by the Guards, enormous, not-quite-human creatures that patrol the dark city’s endless streets. Their all-too-human leader, Malachi, is unlike them in every way except one: his deadly efficiency. When he meets Lela, Malachi forms his own plan: get her out of the city, even if it means she must leave Nadia behind. Malachi knows something Lela doesn’t—the dark city isn’t the worst place Lela could end up, and he will stop at nothing to keep her from that fate.

MY THOUGHTS

The Basics:
Sanctum started off as a gripping read and although the plot and romance took a sour turn for me, the writing was easy to read and flowed well. I really liked the way Fine described the surroundings in the afterlife and the world created in Sanctum had so much potential. I enjoyed the action scenes the most because they were so intense. There wasn't any sense of going easy on the violence to spare the characters and that made it all seem much more realistic. Sadly, there wasn't enough action for me and too much time was spent on huge chunks of back story and love fluff.

The Disappointment:
After reading the sample of Sanctum I had really high hopes that Lela would be much like Rose from Vampire Academy. Lela's had a rough upbringing and Fine hints at some very traumatic experiences in Lela's life that has molded her into a tough no nonsense girl. Lela even has a parallel best friend named Nadia who is very much like Lissa from  VA. Sadly, I felt the same way about Nadia as I did with Lissa. That she was useless page fodder to gain sympathy and create depth that wasn't truly there. We're told from the first page of the book how amazing Nadia is but for most of the novel Fine doesn't really show me anything redeeming about Nadia. We learn that Lela feels as though Nadia saved her but after having read Sanctum I'm not sure what that was. At the point where Lela and Nadia meet Lela has already mostly gotten her life together so I guess Nadia may have saved Lela from loneliness? For the most part I thought Nadia was a selfish, whiny character who treated Lela like dirt for the first few scenes. As a reader, I still don't understand why Lela risked everything for Nadia.  Others have mentioned that this book deals with the issue of suicide but I don't really see that coming through. Nadia's reasons for taking her own life aren't really dealt with except in a superficial I wasn't as perfect as everyone thought I was kind of way.

Lela begins as such a strong willed character but half way through the book she does a complete one eighty turn and Sanctum becomes a gushy YA romance trope. Lela is meant to be street savvy but she makes a heck of a lot of stupid decisions and it seems that the ultimate goal of the villains in Sanctum is always to get in Lela's pants above their other evil plans. Even the so called good guys who are essentially dead can't resist having a crack. 

The only truly redeeming quality of the book is the world that Fine has created. It reminds me quite a bit of the Soul Society in the manga Bleach and had so much potential.  Though again I was disappointed by the lack of explanation about many facets of the world building and I still don't exactly understand what the Mizikin are. I tend to judge a book by how many times I fell asleep reading it or how many pages I've had to skip because the plot isn't going anywhere and sadly this is one where I had skip quite a bit. I'm not going to even go into the deus ex machina of an ending.

The Romance:
Insta-love. All consuming and without explanation. I can't even go into this without getting annoyed. The first time we see Malachi I was fist pumping because he was so badass and then two pages later he's been watered down. For the rest of the book Malachi turns into this moody, lovesick teenager who will risk everything he's worked decades for to save Lela. I place this romance on par with my distaste for Bella and Edward. Not happy.



THE RATING

2.5/5

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Writer's Corner: The Trouble With Dialogue



Wow, it feels like forever since I did my last Writer's Corner post. It's not because I've had less writing insecurities that's for sure. Amongst other things I've been struggling a lot with the dialogue in my books. I worry about the voice, the vocab and the inevitable Aussie vernacular that permeates my MS. Earlier this week I read THIS POST on the Novel Publicity website about the many ways in which dialogue can enhance your writing.
        It hit me after reading the article that all my characters whether young or old, rich or poor, male or female, all sound exactly the same. I can't seem to disengage from my characters to imbue them with their own sense of self. So invariably everyone turns into subdued caricatures with various levels of sarcasm to their speech. In other words, they are all me supplanted into a MS and given an overcoat of background.
        I hadn't noticed this so much until I started reading a few American western themed books with vivid characters who speak in their beautiful southern drawls.It made a noticeable difference to my enjoyment of the story. I just don't get it. I love different accents in real life but somehow this doesn't translate into my writing. Granted it's difficult to really have people with accents in a futuristic dystopian world where everyone is meant to be quite homogenized but still, I don't do it in the stories I write that are set in this modern age either. 
       Besides the fact that everyone sounds the same, I feel like I've fallen into the trap of using dialogue as a way to sneak in excessive info dumping. I admit to being one of those readers who love dialogue and I prescribe to the rule of more is more. But even I can admit that when the dialogue goes for two thirds of a page and it's all exposition, that it's probably excessive.
       So let's say I am dialogue deficient. How important is dialogue to your enjoyment of a book? Not just in terms of character distinction, but how much do you think is too much dialogue for a book? Can you forgive a book that has strange dialogue or is it a deal breaker?

Monday, 18 February 2013

Review: Unwind by Neal Shusterman


THE STORY

In a society where unwanted teens are salvaged for their body parts, three runaways fight the system that would "unwind" them. Connor's parents want to be rid of him because he's a troublemaker. Risa has no parents and is being unwound to cut orphanage costs. Lev's unwinding has been planned since his birth, as part of his family's strict religion. Brought together by chance, and kept together by desperation, these three unlikely companions make a harrowing cross-country journey, knowing their lives hang in the balance. If they can survive until their eighteenth birthday, they can't be harmed -- but when every piece of them, from their hands to their hearts, are wanted by a world gone mad, eighteen seems far, far away.

MY THOUGHTS 

First off, big thanks to Sherre of Beckoned by Books for recommending this book to me. I am speechless after reading this book. All words seem inadequate to describe how I feel so I'm just going to have to muddle through and hope that it all comes together as a coherent review in the end.

The Belief Suspension:
One thing I've noticed when reading dystopians is that I have a really difficult time suspending belief when the premise of a series hinges on the generalization of the entire human population. Notions like love being a disease and all women becoming walking wombs just doesn't cut it with me. Likewise, if I really let myself think about it, I can't seem to dispel the nagging voice in my head that keeps trying to remind me that there is no way the entire world would agree to unwinding. It seems a very implausible solution for both pro-choice and pro-life campers to agree that killing a child at sixteen is somehow okay just because their parts will be reused. And storking, where unwanted children are left on other people's doorsteps and if you don't get caught the family has to take care of the baby, is just downright idiotic. I could go on for a while about all the medically impossible parts of this book but what I'm really driving at is that despite it all, I was somehow able to suspend belief and just read the book for it's sheer entertainment value. Which is saying a lot considering I am usually the first one to call bullshit on a  lot of stuff in  books.

The Multiple POVs
I'm usually a complete multiple POV hater. I can't stand getting invested in a character and situation only to have it shift when the story is building momentum. Unwind is one of the few books I've read where the multiple POVs was a huge advantage. Especially during a particular scene close to the end where I believe being able to switch into secondary character's POV made the whole book all the more powerful. Shusterman is able to do something I don't believe many authors can boast and that is to create layered characters who you can despise one minute and then feel sorry for the next. No one is truly evil and that makes everybody's actions so much greyer.

The Romance
Some might say that there isn't enough romance in this book but I thought it was perfect. There was no angst, no misunderstood conversations masked as plot advances.  It was blissfully simple. A boy and girl like each other. There are is no confusion about it. I found this refreshing after trolling through so many DNF books. 

All The Other Stuff
Despite the fact that my rant paragraph is much bigger than my other paragraphs, I really enjoyed this book. I loved the non stop action and the fact that everything that could possibly go wrong did.I know there's a sequel to the series but Unwind ended so perfectly for me and had me thinking so long after I finished it that  I don't know if I could put myself through it again.


THE RATING
4.5/5

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

The DNF

Hey All,

So I've been a bit quiet lately. But just to prove I haven't been squandering my time away from the blogging world I've decided I'll start doing posts for some of the books I don't end up finishing. I've debated whether I should give them ratings anyway despite not finishing them because it's a little unfair of me. Then I realised it's my blog and I'll rate if I want to! Here goes:

Ash by Melinda Lo

I'd been looking forward to reading this book since the first day I started blogging and someone recommended it to me. It's meant to be a Cinderella retelling and that was the thing which drew me the most. Unfortunately, despite being well written and imaginative I just couldn't muster up the excitement for it. Then I came to the realisation that I haven't finished a single fantasy novel in a few years, even from much loved authors. I think I've just become too much of a dystopian girl to appreciate fantasy books anymore. Which is not the fault of the book but mine. 

The Rating: 3/5
 Awakening by Karice Bolton

This book makes Twilight read like War and Peace. I made myself slog through it because I have been doing a lot of research into books about angels. Biggest mistake ever. The plot reads like this.

1.Girl works at restaurant.
2. Boy is super hot and comes into restaurant.
3. Girl is reminded by sometime friend about recent murders.
4. Boy shows up at girls house after midnight without being told where she lives and invites her out.
5. Girl and Boy are in love.

Just no.

The Rating: 1/5
Catalyst: The Passage of Hellsfire by Marc Johnson

If I had been offered this book for review a few years ago I'd imagine it would totally be my thing. But as with Ash it has fallen prey to my preference for dystopian novels. The premise is not new but it does tick all the boxes for a coming of age epic fantasy. And what epic fantasy doesn't have a cool dragon in it? This one has been given the awesome name Cynder which was a standout part of the story for me. The worst bit is the heroes name: Hellsfire. Even though it wasn't quite my thing I would recommend it to those who enjoy epic fantasy.

The Rating: 3/5
The Earthquake Machine by Mary Pauline Lowry

To be honest, I went into this one without a clear understanding of what the plot was really about. It sounded interesting though so I gave it a go. The Earthquake Machine is well written and has a touch of the psychedelic but I think it's more of an adult book than a YA book which was what I had though it was. I enjoyed reading it as Lowry is one of those authors who has a way of making mundane every day things seem interesting. But in the end the plot meandered too much and I'm too dense to appreciate the underlying themes.

The Rating: 3/5

Touch of Frost by Jennifer Estep

After reading the first quarter of this book I had to stop lest I lose all faith in the sisterhood. I don't know if Estep hates women or if this is a disturbing YA trope that has gained popularity. Our heroine Gwen is constantly calling her female classmates sluts and whores because they dare to have a social life while she is constantly bemoaning how much of a loner she is. There is a reason for this. Every time Gwen opens her mouth she is a rip roaring bitch. I wouldn't want to be her friend either. For someone with the ability to touch an object and sense its history she refuses to believe that the other kids at her school are descendent from warriors and Gods. Because you know, she's the only special one. Don't even get me started on our Spartan hero who despite needing to sign mattresses to keep all his conquests in order, is painted as being dark, mysterious and hot. Do I need to point out the double standard?

                                                          The Rating: 1/5


Thursday, 7 February 2013

Raggedy Chan Book & Doll Giveaway!!


Hey All!

Author Camille Picott is celebrating the release of the illustrated version of her Middle Grade book Raggedy Chan. Raggedy Chan: An Illustrated Adventure is now live on Amazon for $1.99! From Thursday Feb 7th - Friday Feb 8th, you can download the book for free. This Middle Grade fantasy contains 40 full-color illustrations from artist Joey Manfre. To celebrate Raggedy Chan's release and Chinese New Year, author Camille Picott is giving away a limited edition Raggedy Chan book + doll set.

Book Description: Emma Chan-McDougal receives a special gift from her Auntie Gracie: a rag doll named Raggedy Chan. But Raggedy Chan is no ordinary doll. She is a beautiful Chinese princess who lives in a jasper palace on the enchanted isle of Kunlun. The peace of her island home is threatened when Drought Fury steals Winged Dragon, bringer of rain. Without Winged Dragon, Kunlun will wither and die.

To save her stricken homeland, Raggedy Chan sets forth alone. Her quest leads her to America, where she meets people who distrust her because she’s different. Can Raggedy Chan adapt to the strange ways of this new land and rescue her beloved dragon?

In this modern fairy tale, Chinese-American author Camille Picott draws on her heritage to weave a story of magic, adventure, and sacrifice. Raggedy Chan: An Illustrated Adventure contains forty full-color illustrations.

To enter, simply do your thing on the rafflecopter  widget below. Good Luck!

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