Wednesday, 20 January 2016

War & Peace: Post One - Opening Thoughts

I wonder how many posts I will end up with on this by the end of the year? I started War and Peace on Thursday 7th January. These are my opening thoughts.

After mistaking the introduction for chapter one then spending five minutes or so flicking past prefaces and notes, I finally found the opening page. According to my kindle, this put me at 5% through the book. Here's hoping I get through the remaining 95% just as quickly!

My initial plan was to read two or three chapters before starting An Ember in the Ashes, but I've actually made it a few chapters into book two before deciding to pause. War and Peace is much better than I expected. I'm really enjoying it. I think this is largely due to the BBC adaptation currently on TV, which is making it easy to keep track of who is who and what is going on.

So far, one of my favourite things about the novel is Tolstoy's amazing skill at characterisation. In a few, carefully crafted sentences he gives you a clear insight into even minor characters, allowing you to imagine them quite clearly. It is truly impressive.

I'm also really enjoying the drama of the court: the gossip; the etiquette; the scandals.

Unfortunately, even starting book two only puts me 13% through the book, with 29 hours worth of reading time left. I've also just got to the first major 'war' section of the novel, so I've decided to give it a rest for a bit (maybe I should just read the peace bits?) This Buzzfeed article suggests it's "interesting until page 200, and then mainly turns into a doorstop" which is a little concerning! Although the same article recommends reading Ulysses, which I would never, ever advise, so I won't trust it too much.

I will definitely pick War and Peace back up once I've finished AEITA (possibly before as I can read it on my phone at anytime) and I'll post another update next month. Also, if you're not already watching the TV show, start now on iPlayer. You won't regret it.

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Popsugar Reading Challenge

I didn't do brilliantly on last year's challenge, but this year's list is too interesting not to try. You can see the list, with full details of the challenge here. I've also recreated it below so I can keep track of what I manage to read. I will put a line through the ones I complete. If there's a book title but no line, it means I know which book I'm planning to read to cover that topic, but I haven't finished it yet. 

A book based on a fairy tale {Winter}
A National Book Award winner
A YA bestseller {The Wrath & The Dawn}
A book you haven't read since highschool
A book set in your home state (I'm going to interpret this as London/SE England)
A book translated into English
A romance set in the future
A book set in Europe
A book that's under 150 pages
A New York Times bestseller
A book that's becoming a movie this year.
A book recommended by someone you just met.
A self-improvement book
A book you can finish in a day
A book written by a celebrity
A political memoir
A book at least 100 years older than you
A book that's more than 600 pages {War & Peace}
A book from Oprah's Book Club
A science-fiction novel
A book recommended by a family member
A graphic novel
A book that is published in 2016
A book with a protagonist who has your occupation
A book that takes place during summer
A book and its prequel
A murder mystery
A book written by a comedian
A dystopian novel (this one shouldn't be a problem!)
A book with a blue cover {The Rose & The Dagger}
A book of poetry
The first book you see in a bookstore (yay- shopping trip necessary!)
A classic from the 20th Century
A book from the library
An autobiography
A book about a road trip
A book about a culture you are unfamiliar with
A satirical book
A book that takes place on an island
A book that is guaranteed to bring you joy

Saturday, 9 January 2016

The Wrath and The Dawn

The Wrath and The Dawn by Renee Ahdeih



In a land ruled by a murderous boy-king, each dawn brings heartache to a new family. Khalid, the eighteen-year-old Caliph of Khorasan, is a monster. Each night he takes a new bride only to have a silk cord wrapped around her throat come morning. When sixteen-year-old Shahrzad's dearest friend falls victim to Khalid, Shahrzad vows vengeance and volunteers to be his next bride. Shahrzad is determined not only to stay alive, but to end the caliph's reign of terror once and for all. {goodreads summary}

I know you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but I would like to start by saying how pretty this book is. I'm not sure if you can tell from my picture, but the edges of the paper are feathered. It felt so nice to read. The cover image has a really clever effect too; TW&TD first caught my attention when Lauren DeStefano kept posting pictures of it on her facebook page. 

“I know love is fragile. And loving someone like you is near impossible. Like holding something shattered through a raging sandstorm. If you want her to love you, shelter her from that storm…And make certain that storm isn’t you.” 

The writing in this book was beautiful. There were paragraphs I read over and over again, they sounded so lovely. TW&TD is a YA twist on One Thousand and One Nights/The Arabian Nights. When her best friend, Shiva, is killed by Khalid, the Caliph of Khorasan, Shahrzad vows to seek revenge and offers herself as Khalid's next bride in an attempt to get close enough to kill him. However, it doesn't take long for a genuine relationship to blossom between Khalid and 'Shazi' (because plot) and Shazi finds herself warring between her desire for revenge and her growing feelings for Khalid. One of the overarching themes of the novel is revenge and the additional pain and suffering it can cause; all of the characters fall prey to its lure at some point in the novel. There were plenty of twists and turns along the way and some fantastic mini stories (I know there is a posh word for that, but my brain is refusing to remember it at the moment - I was thinking mise en abymes, but google is suggesting that they are something else). The ending was heartbreaking in a way that has left me desperate to read the next in the series: The Rose and The Dagger.

“So you would have me throw Shazi to the wolves?”
“Shazi?” Jalal’s grin widened. “Honestly, I pity the wolves.” 

Shazi was a great character: her feisty wit was fun to read and I always wanted to know what she would say next. The italics used to show her internal turmoil was a really clever touch and often vocalised criticisms I might otherwise have had as a reader over her feelings for Khalid. It was a clever way of presenting a difficult emotional situation and I wouldn't have believed Shazi's actions without it. 

“I will live to see tomorrow's sunset. Make no mistake. I swear. I will live to see as many sunsets as it takes. And I will kill you. With my bare hands.” 

Khalid was flawed, but still an intriguing hero and I am really looking forward to seeing him develop across the series. His possessive nature would have been grating if Shazi hadn't called him out on it whenever it reared its head. 

“No. I want someone who sees beneath the surface-someone who completes the balance. An equal.”
“And how will you know when you’ve found this elusive someone?” Shahrzad retorted.
“I suspect she will be like air. Like knowing how to breathe.”
Shazi and Khalid's relationship was my favourite aspect of the novel and was the source of some of the most electric language. The scenes between them were beautifully written. 

“What are you doing to me, you plague of a girl?” he whispered.
“If I’m a plague, then you should keep your distance, unless you plan on being destroyed.”
“No. Destroy Me.” 

If you haven't read The Wrath and The Dawn yet, I really recommend that you check it out soon. I hated having to put it down and can't wait to return to the stunning world Ahdieh created in May. 

Thursday, 7 January 2016

Christmas Books

Happy New Year everyone! I hope you all had a lovely Christmas break. I had a book filled Christmas, as you can see from the picture on the left and I can't wait to get stuck in to my 2016 reading list. I've already devoured the amazing The Wrath and The Dawn (review coming soon) and I think I'm going to start An Ember in the Ashes next as I've been waiting to read it for ages. But first, inspired by the stunning BBC adaptation of War and Peace, I bravely downloaded Tolstoy's epic onto my Kindle yesterday (completely free - classic ebooks are the best). I read Anna Karenina a few years ago and loved it, but I've been put of War and Peace by the size, so I've decided I'm going to try and read a few chapters each time I finish a book to break it up. I am hoping that breaking it up will make it more manageable and stop me from getting bored. 

With regard to my 2015 reading challenges: 

I (just) completed my goodreads challenge of reading 40 books. 

I read 3 1/2 out of 5 of the classic novels I planned to read last year, finishing Mansfield Park, One Hundred Years of Solitude and Tess of the D'Urbervilles. I will finish 1984 at some point; I got distracted mid way through by other novels and need to pick it back up. 

I read six adult novels, twenty seven YA novels, four short stories, two non fiction books and one play (not including all of the picture books I have been reading with my daughter throughout the year).

Five of these books are considered 'classics'.

Thirty were by female authors, so ten were by male (which is a less even split than last year, despite saying that I was going to be more balanced this year…)

I read 22 fantasy/dystopian novels and 11 contemporary (excluding the classics).

My reading highlights of the year include: discovering the amazing Louise O'Neill; starting Sally Green's addictive Half Bad series;  two Sarah J Maas books; as well as so many other amazing books. I'm not sure I read a bad one all year. Also, Bringing Up Bebe is a parenting must-read; I loved it. 

As well as all this reading, I of course did lots of writing. This included the bittersweet experience of publishing Air, finishing off the Elements of Power series. I'm hoping for lots of writing news throughout this year, provided I can stop reading for long enough to get some work done!

Monday, 16 November 2015

A Writing Update

As I said in my post last week, the main reason for my lack of blog posts lately (besides moving house, starting a new job and having an adventurous and sleep-shy one-year-old) is that I have been spending all of my free time writing. 

I had just finished my first detailed read through of Amber & Ice when I got another story idea which I was so consumed by I had to start planning it out at once. And once I'd planned it, I couldn't not start writing it immediately. Three months later and I have the first (very rough) draft of a new fantasy novel. I don't want to go into too much detail in this post, but I will tell you that it's set in the same world as the Elements of Power series, but features different characters. And no, it won't be called Earth, although it doesn't have a title yet. I feel like my writing has improved so much since I wrote Fire and this new novel has given me the chance to try and do a world and idea that I'm still very proud of a bit more justice. I'm not sure what my long-term plans are for it yet, but I had a lot of fun writing it and it's been  great exercise in learning how to plot more effectively. I now need to read back through it to determine if it's worth sharing with anyone else. 

Before I do that though, I'm finally getting back to Amber & Ice and am determined to finish my initial edits, no matter how many other story ideas I have (currently at a total of three). I still feel like there is a lot of promise in this idea, even though my first draft was really weak. The good thing is I have loads of ideas on how to make it better and I'm really pleased with how editing is going. The major problem at the moment is that I think it reads like YA, but with NA aged characters... Do I change up the story completely so the characters are in school rather than uni, or do I work on my extreme avoidance of writing romance scenes? If you've read the first draft on Wattpad, I'd love to know your thoughts! It also desperately needs a better title, but inspiration for that is still eluding me at the moment. 

That's all from me for this week - I need to get back to editing!

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Pop Sugar Reading Challenge

Hello! I'm sorry I haven't updated in ages. It's because I've been super busy writing, but there will be more on that in my next post. Today, I want to post an update on the Pop Sugar reading challenge I've been working on. 

A book with more than 500 pages {Casual Vacancy}
A classic romance {Mansfield Park}
A book that became a movie {Gone Girl}
A book published this year {The Red Queen}
A book with a number in the title (Fahrenheit 451}
A book written by someone under 30 {Queen of Shadows}
A book with nonhuman characters {Winter}
A funny book
A book by a female author {Gone Girl}
A mystery or thriller {The Cuckoo's Calling}
A book with a one-word title {Fangirl}
A book of short stories
A book set in a different country {100 Years of Solitude}
A nonfiction book {Bringing Up Bebe}
A popular author's first book
A book from an author you love that you haven't read yet {Paper Towns}
A book a friend recommended {The Secret History or One Hundred Years of Solitude}
A Pulitzer Prize-winning book
A book based on a true story
A book at the bottom of your tbr list.
A book your mum loves
A book that scares you {Asking For It}
A book more than 100 years old {Tess of the D'Urbervilles}
A book based entirely on its cover {We Were Liars}
A book you were supposed to read in school but didn't {An Inspector Calls - technically, I didn't have to read this when I was at school, but I did need to read it for work and managed to blag my way through a few lessons before I got round to it}
A memoir {The Guantanamo Diary}
A book you can finish in a day {7 Days}
A book with antonyms in the title {AWorld Without Princes - The School for Good and Evil #2}
A book set somewhere you've always wanted to visit {The Scorpio Races - I know it's not real, but I would love to visit Puck's island}
A book that came out the year you were born
A book with bad reviews
A trilogy
A book from your childhood {We're Going on a Bear Hunt}
A book with a love triangle {Half Wild}
A book set in the future {Only Ever Yours}
A book set in high school {To All the Boys I've Loved Before}
A book with a colour in the title {Red Rising}
A book that made you cry {Tess of the D'Urbervilles}
A book with magic {Half Bad}
A graphic novel
A book by an author you've never read before {The Winner's Curse}
A book you own but have never read
A book that takes place in your hometown {A Darker Shade of Magic - well, versions of it, anyway!}
A book that was originally written in a different language {One Hundred Years of Solitude}
A book set during Christmas
A book written by an author with your initials
A play {An Inspector Calls}
A banned book
A book based on or turned into a TV show
A book you started but never finished {Casual Vacancy}

There are quite a few categories I don't think I'm going to cross of this list and there are a few books I've read, but can't fit in anywhere. I've now read 38 out of the 40 books I set myself as a challenge on goodreads this year.

Friday, 10 July 2015

Easy Grammar

This is going to make me sound really weird, but I'm going to admit it anyway: I find grammar really interesting. I like the rules and the precision. But I'm also willing to admit that my grammar is far from perfect. I always seem to come across new rules, or I will suddenly understand something which had always confused me previously. Sometimes, it's just a matter of having things explained in the right way. Here are a few grammar rules and the explanations which suddenly helped me to understand them. {Warning: I take no responsibility for the fact that you can't unlearn these rules, and it will forever bug you when someone gets them wrong...}

If you can count it, use fewer. If you can't, it should be less.
Fewer cakes / Less love
Fewer students / Less work

I have a compulsive need to correct this one when I hear it misused, although I try very, very hard to keep the corrections in my head...

Is it Roxy and I, or Roxy and me? The simple way to work this one out is to substitute in 'we' or 'us'
We went to the beach = Roxy and I went to the beach.
It poured down on us = It poured down on Roxy and me.

I don't know if I missed this in school, or forgot it, but when I first wrote Fire, I had no idea how to punctuate speech. But  it's another really easy rule once you know it.
If you are following your speech with an action, put a full stop at the end of your speech.
If you are following it with a description of speech (she said / she muttered / he yelled etc.), you should use a comma.

Vocative case
Another speech related rule. If your speech is addressing someone (using the vocative case) put a comma before their name.
"I love you, Roxy."
"I will kill you, Cinaer."

This is another one where I don't understand why I didn't already know it, but you will quickly notice that not many people do. It isn't just necessary for clarifying speech in stories, it should also be used if you are addressing someone in an email, text or message of any kind. All those "Happy birthday Roxy" messages, they should really be "Happy birthday, Roxy." And once you know this it will bug you every. single. time. (Your're welcome!)

I'm going to leave the explanation of this one to Homer Simpson. It's more memorable that way and I don't think I could put it any better.