Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Review: Hex Hall

Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins

Title: Hex Hall
Author: Rachel Hawkins
Series: #1 of Hex Hall

Genre: Young Adult, Urban Fantasy, Supernatural School
Age restriction? 12+

An immensely fun read, with everything you'd expect from a supernatural boarding school book plus a great voice and lots of humour.

Description: Three years ago, Sophie Mercer discovered that she was a witch. It's gotten her into a few scrapes. Her non-gifted mother has been as supportive as possible, consulting Sophie's estranged father--an elusive European warlock--only when necessary. But when Sophie attracts too much human attention for a prom-night spell gone horribly wrong, it's her dad who decides her punishment: exile to Hex Hall, an isolated reform school for wayward Prodigium, a.k.a. witches, faeries, and shapeshifters. ...more

REVIEW: This was such a fun read! I thoroughly enjoyed it, and the book delivers on everything it promises.

Sophie was a character that I truly treasured - vulnerable, scared and insecure yet trying to hide behind sarcasm and jokes. There were many times while reading a book that I actually laughed out loud.

Sure, there is a kind of "plot-by-numbers" feel and you've probably read the same story a million different times (starting with Harry Potter), and the characters, while pretty much stock (your "cool-but-evil" trinity, your "hot, popular and hates you" crush, your "misfit BFF", even your "strong and sexy ranger-type") but the dialogue is fresh, the writing absolutely sparkles and exploring this well-known plot through the eyes and thoughts of the indomitable Sophie was a blast.

As far as escapism fiction goes it doesn't get much better than this!

Who would like this book: If you're looking for a quick, fun read that's exactly what you expect, only with more fun and theatrics, this is the book for you. If you're looking for something different from or more than the standard New Misfit at Supernatural School tm  yarn, don't bother.

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Weekend Writing Write-Up - 29 May 2011

This week's writing progress:

1. My current WIP: Urban Fantasy-ish first (does it count as UF if there's no romance?) draft of a first novel. I'm currently 53,055 words in, and it's gearing up towards the climax. How exciting!

That's a net increase of 8,000 words since last week, which is fabulous! I've been making sure to write at least 1,000 words per day, regardless of how rough my days actually were (and recently it feels as if there aren't any other kind!), and it's making a huge difference. 

I still hadn't been brave enough to actually read what I wrote, though. I'll leave that for the first editing round six weeks after finishing it! At current projections, the draft should be done by 20 June 2011, which is so exciting!

2. My next project: The plotting is coming along - I've sketched out the three main story lines using the Story Structure by Dan Wells which made it super-easy. Now comes the timing and the scenes. I'm going full-out outline on this one, just to see if that's something that could work for me.

3. Blogging:  I think I did OK this week, yay! Posting every day went well. It helped that I had some great books to review, and already scheduled two reviews for next week. Go me!

4. Other Writing Stuff: Read some intriguing articles this week. The ones I found most useful for my current self are:

For a comprehensive list of the articles linked on #amwriting this week, see Elizabeth S Craig's blog Mystery Writing is Murder. You should totally also check out what not to do as a writer. Although I don't agree with everything, there's some good food for thought.

So, how did your writing week go? Link up so that everyone can see!

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Review: Spirit Thorn

Spirit Thorn (A Tale of Parallel Worlds)Spirit Thorn by Zacharias O'Bryan

Genre: YA, science fiction, fantasy
Age restriction? None. "Clean" fiction.
Pages: 92
Edition: Kindle
Published: August 7, 2010
Publisher: VeraVoz, LLC

An intellectual and pretty abstract read - I just couldn't get into the plot or the characters.

Description: Do parallel worlds exist? Searching for proof, Professors Rodger & Cassie Swift vanish. Kestrelle, a spirit girl claiming to know their fate, tells their son Braden he must brave a whitewater, tooth-sprouting river into a land where wise vultures predict the future and blue minds inhabit lava caves. Only two powers can help: Kestrelle's Blood Thorn and Braden's vine-painted guitar.

REVIEW: I wish I could give half-stars, because while Spirit Thorn doesn't quite merit three stars for me, I feel kind of bad giving it only two.

So, story synopsis: Braden's parents, who were world-renowned physicists working on incredibly complex and provocative research regarding the physics behind parallel universes, disappeared without a trace year ago. Determined to find out what happened to them, Braden concocts an elaborate plan to recreate the exact conditions of the night his parents vanished, hoping to join them. Instead, he is pulled into a race to save not only his own world, but possibly all worlds.

I loved the premise of this story and kept hanging on, hoping that eventually things will start making sense, but it just didn't.

Maybe I'm just not the intellectual target of the book? This book assumes a basic knowledge of complex physics and physics theories, like String theory. Braden himself is intellectually superior to anyone else his age and his parents had tutored him in these matters since he was little, so there isn't really anyone to explain the foundations of these concepts to those of us who do not, in fact, understand basic physics.

While the plot and pacing are carefully executed and maintained throughout, it was difficult for me to follow along with the action and the plot felt weak to me. Things seem to happen without any explanation or motivation, which made both the character arc and the action arc of the story incomprehensible to me.

The writing, while beautifully evocative at some places, was quite abrupt at others and to me it felt a little heavy on the dialogue and a little light on the exposition. It does discuss advanced and probably intruiging theories regarding space, time and things like that, although I couldn't really relate to or follow along with those discussions.

It was easy to identify with Braden's character initially, though Kestrelle remained distant and alien to me (which may have been the author's intention). Braden's growth throughout the events is not really shown, though, and the unfolding of the plot was just too staccato and abstract for my personal tastes.

Who would like this book? Young adults and adults with a love and appreciation of physics and sci-fi or fantasy.

What do YOU like to see in a book review?

So I've been wondering this for a while now. Often, I find myself wishing that people would write shorter reviews (haha, this from the person with reviews that go on forevar!), or at least a review summary, and include specific information of what I'm looking for. I've also found myself liking the pros and cons bullet lists, but I don't know if I'm just weird that way.

I've added a poll to the sidebar, please vote vote vote!

Friday, 27 May 2011

Friday Fives #2 - Internet Distractions

The wonderful people at Paperback Hangover has this funky notion of providing a list of 5 things writerly and/or readerly every Friday. This week's prompt is:

The FIVE most distracting things on the Internet....

So, in order from least distracting to most, here are my five:

5. KOL
Yes, I am completely addicted to Kingdom of Loathing. As in absolutely, irrevocably and delightfully.

If you are not familiar with the game, it's a browser-based game that satirises traditional RPG type games while offering a very complex and hilarious world to get lost in. It may not look like much, but it's great fun and the community is incredible. Highly recommended but beware: it's addictive!

4. Gmail/Chatzilla
I spend a surprising amount of time chattering away on the internet, especially considering how private and shy I am in meatspace. I've built up a solid network of online friends, and it's sad but true that you are more likely to reach me (meatspace me, that is) by way of e-mail than by phone or dropping in on me. This is despite the fact that I spend most of my time in front of the computer - I simply don't open up if I don't feel like visiting, and I almost never do!

3. Twitter
It's the hashtags! Like mentioned previously, strenuous scientific studies have revealed that the best hastag in the world for writers and those interested in writing is #amwriting so I'm mostly hanging out there. However, there are so many tags, so many people, so many interests!

2. Goodreads
Yeah, well. What can I say. I'm a bibliophile before anything else, so I spend a LOT of time here reading up on books and reading and the reading world.

1. Blogs and blogging! 
Easily 85% of my computer time goes into blogs and blogging. Reading blogs is something like a compulsion with me, although as I mentioned I'm not really very social, so I don't usually comment. I mostly frequent blogs about things that are important to me, like skepticism, feminism, writing and reading.

I also get lost among hyperlinks very quickly and suffer dramatically from the "follow the white rabbit" syndrome - you know how it goes. You go somewhere, thinking 'Okay, just quickly reading this,' and before you know it three hours and thirty webpages have passed and you have no memory of exactly what links you followed to get to a mama cat hugging her kitten from a serious blog post on writing and structure.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Review: Game of Thrones

Title: A Game of Thrones
Author: George R. R. Martin
Genre: Adult, Fantasy
Age restriction? R. Deals with very mature themes like incest, prostitution and other material unsuitable for young readers.
Series: A Song of Fire and Ice #1
Pages: 831
Edition: Mass Paperback
Published: August 4, 1997
Publisher: Bantam Publishing

REVIEW SUMMARY: This book is not for everyone. It is entirely character-driven, and it jumps between the P.O.V.s of a HUGE cast of characters, which can be confusing and sometimes abrupt. However, I have never read a book with more realistic characters - there is no character that is the Good Guy, no Bad Guy that doesn't also have a heap of redeeming and endearing characters.

Though not without its flaws, a compelling and highly enjoyable and provocative read with incredibly well-developed and real characters driving the story.

Please note that I haven't watched the TV series yet, so this is a review of the book alone.

DESCRIPTION:  In a world where seasons last for years or even decades at a time, at the end of the longest summer ever recorded, Winter is slowly approaching at last - and not only the season! The kingdom of Westeros is in a world of trouble, though most of them do not know it. Far to the North, beyond the Wall, strange and supernatural forces are stirring, while to the South, an exiled princess comes into her power and gathers her forces to reclaim the throne that was usurped from her family. 

REVIEW: Following a vast cast of characters, A Game of Thrones chronicles both the political and social games played for the acquisition and conservation of power and the personal lives of the various players in this game. 

The main focus is on the Stark family, Wardens of the North and descendents of the Old People, who reside in their citadel in the far North just below the Wall, Winterfell. Neddard Stark is a man of honour, integrity and loyalty, so when his boyhood friend and king asks him to come south to become his Hand after the death of the previous Hand, Ned has no choice but to agree. Leaving his sons (one of whom was grievously injured when he discovered a deadly secret while the King visited at Winterfell) and devoted wife behind, Ned and his two daughters must join the King's party at King's Landing, where feasting and tournaments drain the treasury more every day, corruption and betrayal are part of the day-to-day court mechanics and the population is becoming increasingly impoverished and desperate. Further, the courts at King's Landing is seeping with poison and no one is who they seem to be. Soon mired in politics he is ill-suited to navigate with his honesty and integrity intact, Ned finds himself fighting for his own life and the lives of his daughters while his wife must fight for those of their other children. 

Ned's bastard son, Jon Snow is sworn into the Brotherhood who guards the Wall; an oath for life where desertion leads to death but remaining to serve may lead to even worse. The undermanned and overwhelmed contingent of soldiers is made up mostly of criminals forced to take the life-long oaths as a form of community service, and most of them no longer believe in the dangers that lurk in the Northern snows - that is until Jon's uncle, Ned's Brother, who is First Ranger, leads an expedition beyond the wall to find out the whereabouts of a previous expedition... and never returns.

What I like the most about these books is the complexity of the characters. There is not one character that you can purely loathe or purely love. Everyone is doing what they think are the right thing, even though the consequences to others are devastating sometimes. Even though the cast is HUGE, each character has their own, unique personality with flaws, strengths and moments of great weakness and stupidity as well as moments of great strength and nobility.

I don't want to spoil the book too much (if I hadn't already ;p), but the complexity of these characters and their interwoven stories, told from the varying limited third person POV really makes this book and this series unique and incredible.

There are some flaws, though, no denying that. The chapters are sometimes more like paragraphs, and since each paragraph takes you into the POV of a different character, it takes a while to get used to the abruptness of the transitions and keep track of the million side-plots.

There is also a lot of brutality, injustice, gratitious sex and misogyny and other unpleasant subjects (including rape and infanticide) that are addressed in various ways throughout the story, which can become truly upsetting and triggering. It is certainly not everyone's cup of tea.

Also, if you are a believer of easy morality, moral absolutes and a "good guys are good and pure and wear untarnished white and bad guys are evil and irredeemable and rotten to the core" kind of reader, this is CERTAINLY not the series for you.

That being said, reading this book and living through these incredibly diverse and real characters and the complexities of things like morality, accountability, and power was one fantastic experience - an experience that left me a better and more empathetic and tolerant person.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Waiting on Wednesday #2

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

This week's WoW for me is one that will hopefully be released within the next week, which just heightens the anticipation even more. So without further ado, I present:
Ultraviolet by R. J. Anderson

Once upon a time there was a girl who was special.

This is not her story.

Unless you count the part where I killed her.

Sixteen-year-old Alison has been sectioned in a mental institute for teens, having murdered the most perfect and popular girl at school. But the case is a mystery: no body has been found, and Alison's condition is proving difficult to diagnose. Alison herself can't explain what happened: one minute she was fighting with Tori -- the next she disintegrated. Into nothing. But that's impossible. Right?

This books sounds positively riveting, doesn't it? Working on my novel has highlighted what a fine line it can be between the paranormal and slash or supernatural and mental illness, so this is absolutely PERFECT for me right now. I can't wait to read and review it.
What are you waiting on?

Monday, 23 May 2011

Review of A Modern Witch

 Title: A Modern Witch
Author: Debora Geary
Genre: Adult, Urban Fantasy,Contemporary
Age restriction? Nah, although it is an adult book with some few adult situations. Maybe PG13
Series: A Modern Witch #1
Pages: 430
Edition: Ebook
Published: Mar 13, 2011
Publisher: Fireweed Publishing

Fun light reading, but not much substance and kind of "meh".


 Goodreads - Can you live 28 years without discovering you're a witch?

Lauren is downtown Chicago's youngest elite realtor. She's also a witch. She must be - the fetching spell for Witches' Chat isn't supposed to make mistakes. So says the woman who coded the spell, at least.

The tall, dark, and handsome guy sent to assess her is a witch too (and no, that doesn't end the way you might think). What he finds in Lauren will change lives, mess with a perfectly good career, and require lots of ice cream therapy. (more)


Lauren, an upcoming real estate agent with a normal life, has lived all her life without knowing that she's a witch. Nell and her brother Jamie write some website code slash spell to find witches browsing the internet, but they don't count on it picking up someone like Lauren, who has no clue about her witchy powers. Now her powers need to be confirmed and Lauren finds herself having to confront this new reality.

My thoughts while reading the book:

While I quite enjoyed reading A Modern Witch, I also found myself frequently confused and it took me a really long while to get orientated. This is coming from a veteran of starting epic fantasy series at the second book, so it's actually quite a significant setback.
  •  By the third chapter, still not involved in the characters or understanding the world. Most of these were trying to sell a house (yawn) or talking to some older witches about some pretty uninteresting and unexpository things via a chatroom interface. More yawn. 
  • Also, omniscient third person seems like a very wrong choice for this novel - so much distance and confustion! Or was that a slip up?
  • I like the shifting P.O.V. per chapter for characters. I think the previous POV omniscience was a slip up, which is egrarious in any case
  • Nope, scratch that. It seems we're head-hopping. I hate that.
  • Characters not really coming off as unique, though I like the premise of trolling for witches on the net through magic.
  • Nicely written, the prose sings at places. Love that.
  • Ugh, what's with the lack of conflict? We're at chapter six and still nothing!
  • Well, it had its funny moments. Also, pretty sweet.
So, final verdict: I didn't dislike it, and it was a fun read although I doubt I'd read it again. I also probably won't be checking out the rest of the books in the series. I guess it was just too heavy on the chick-lit and too light on the paranormal, at the end of the day, despite being all about witches and witchy powers.  Quite the contradiction.

Maybe it's just not what I expected? However, it seems that there are plenty of people who love it, and the writing is pretty awesome, so a solid three butterflies.

    Sunday, 22 May 2011

    More Incredible Giveaways!

    So if I were you, I'd head right on over to these wonderful and generous book bloggers to check out the awesome giveaways they're hosting:

    • My Bookish Fairy Tale is also having a Blogoversary! Check out her awesome giveaway.

    • Down the Rabbit HoleYou should also head down to Down the Rabbit Hole immediately - not only is it an incredible blog (seriously, why aren't you following it?) they're having a 1000 follower giveaway. One Thousand Followers! Incredible!

    Deranged Book Lovers 6-Month Almost 500 Followers Giveaway - International! Thanks for the giveaway and congratulations!

    Evie ~ Bookish 500 Followers Giveaway! Also international, how awesome! Many congrats, and thanks for the giveaway


    Bloody Bookaholics are hosting a HUGE giveaway with over 40 books being given away! Wow! What are you waiting for, get over there and enter, and remember to thank them!

    Weekend Writing Write-up


    So I thought it would be fun to have a weekly feature about what you're writing and how you're doing with it. Lemme know in the comments; I'm also considering making this meme eventually.

    This week's writing progress:

    1. My current WIP: Urban Fantasy-ish first (does it count as UF if there's no romance?) draft of a first novel. I'm currently 46,000 words in, so just about in the middle. Added 10K words this week, despite my job actively trying to kill me and my studies sucking up my time like a brainsucking zombie from outer space, so yay me!

    Of course, I think what I've written up to now is utter crap and I'm too afraid to go back to it to check it out since I'll get bogged down on trying to rewrite it which will lead to an endless shame spiral of guilt about not writing new stuff and then more guilt about writing such crap in the first place.... But I hear that's not uncommon.

    2. My next project: I've started thinking about how to structure the plot for this one. I don't know how to classify the genre yet, but I'll get there.

    3. Blogging:  None done this week. Boo, hiss. Sorry about that, I really need to do better.

    Did I mention my job trying to kill me and my studies being a zombie? Yeah, there are always a million and one excuses, right? Still, I'm thinking of getting rid of the studies part of the equation for now, so this coming week I'll totally make it up to you, I promise.

    4. Other Writing Stuff: I've discovered two significant writer resources this week that I just have to share with you. First is the incredible five-part course on Story Structure by Dan Wells - great stuff, even if you're a pantser! Secondly, I have done hours of research (that could have been spent blogging, but shh!) and can now categorically state that the best hashtag in all of twitter writingland is: #amwriting. Seriously, check it out!

    Now, tell me all about how your writing week has gone!

    Saturday, 14 May 2011

    Incredible Giveaways!

    Bookish Brunette
    So, The Bookish Brunette is holding a giveaway to celebrate reaching 500 followers! You should totally head on over and sign up, and tweet and retweet and all those fun stuff. 500 followers is nothing to sneeze at, so: Congrats, BB, and thanks for the giveaway!

    There's also a MAJOR giveaway going on at Confessions of a Bookaholic, to celebrate her Blogoversity.  She's holding so many giveaways, it's impossible for me to decide which to enter. Check out her Blogoversary post for details and contests.

    Review of Zoo City

    Title: Zoo City
    Author: Lauren Beukes
    Genre: Adult, Urban Fantasy, Sci-Fi
    Age restriction? YES - rated R. This is a gritty and raw book, dealing with adult themes. Not for sensitive or young readers.
    Series: None
    Pages: 416
    Publisher: Angry Robot; Original edition (December 28, 2010)

    WINNER of: The Arthur C. Clarke Award for the best Sci Fi book of 2010.


     Incredible and virtually flawless. Buy and read ASAP!

    Description: Zinzi has a talent for finding lost things. To save herself, she’s got to find the hardest thing of all: the truth.

    I have the full description up on an earlier post, if you want to check it out, and I also blogged about this South African author winning the Artur C. Clarke Award (which is a HUGE deal!) and how inspiring I found that.

    However, I want to make it clear that I'm not just lovin' on this book coz it was written by my South African countrywoman, although that is awesome and inspiring in itself. Not at all. This is a mind-blowing read, although I'll admit that placing it in the Sci Fi genre seems a bit odd to me, since this is a textbook example of excellent Dark Urban/Contemporary Fantasy in my opinion - one of precious few!

    Review Summary: I have rarely read a book that I so thoroughly enjoyed and admired - and this comes from someone with a degree in Literature working postgrad in Classics!

    Full Review: Zinzi December is in a heap of trouble, and not just with the police. She's got a guilty conscience, gets forced by poverty and desperation into working for an even guiltier group of people, trying to uncover a guilty secret before the guilty get her killed or locked up.

    Zoo City is not only an incredible adventure and first-rate Urban Fantasy, it also regards issues of prejudice, muti (South African traditional medicine controversial for its occasional use of human body parts), substance abuse, immigration, poverty, crime and punishment and what people are willing do for success and money. However, it regards these issues with so light a hand that you almost don't notice yourself thinking about these things until a few days later.

    Using a first person present tense narrative is something that takes guts in spades, something which very few writers can pull of successfully, but Lauren Beukes rises to the challenge with seemingly effortless ease and grace. I think that the frequent breaks in the narrative by way of newspaper reports, magazine articles and other informative pieces provide just the correct amount of distance and explanation to keep the story fresh and fast-paced without feeling overdone or fake. The present tense gives this story a feeling of immediacy and urgency, while the first person draws you right into the thoughts, secrets and actions of the protagonist, Zinzi - and what a brilliant protagonist she is!

    Zinzi is an amazingly complete and compelling character - smart, intelligent, cynic and brave, she's flawed, in some ways very deeply so, but these very flaws strengthen her credibility. Zinzi grew up comfortably as a member of one of South Africa's emerging black upper-middle class, to go to university and become a respected journalist and develop a nasty drug habit. However, as she says, that is her Former Life, before she had Sloth.

    In this alternative version of Johannesburg in 2011, those who have committed a crime find their guilt manifested in the form of a symbiotic animal magically tied to them (or at least, that's one theory; the appearance of aposymbiots is rather recent, still being studied and not fully understood) and granting them minor, mostly useless gifts, called shavi.

    The animals are referred to as mashavi and with an Animal comes the Undertow - a cloud of blackness that will sooner or later swallow and/or obliterate the Animalled person. You can never be certain of when the Undertow will take you, for take you it will, eventually. The only thing you can be certain about is that if your Animal dies, the Undertow will come for almost instantaneously; yet while your Animal remains alive you're still living on borrowed time.

    Some of the examples of shavi mentioned includes being able to find the scene of a murder, being charming, shielding from magic and inciting or heightening lust slightly. Zinzi's mashavi is Sloth, and her shavi is to see the connections people have to their "lost things" - small objects of personal value to the person in question that may or may not be currently lost.

    Zinzi can see either the person with a cloud of the objects important to that person tied to them in a way which she describes as "a thread" between the person and the objects. So, it follows that when touching an object that's important to someone, she can feel the "thread" pulling the object back to the person, and then it's just a matter of following the sometimes frustratingly frail thread and finding the person who lost something for some quick cash and the ability to eat that night.

    Now "Animalled" and therefore marked as a criminal and possibly dangerous to the rest of society, struggling to find work, acceptance and absolution, Zinzi's living in the most dangerous of neighbourhoods surrounded by the most desperate denizens of society and making ends meet (and trying to repay her drug debts) by writing letters for 419 scams and hoping to stumble across things people lost that are valuable enough that the person would pay her for returning it.

    This is how she ends up being suspected of murder, being contacted by dodgy individuals working for a huge-name music producer with a questionable past and looking for a teenaged superstar that no one must know has gone missing. As if that's not enough, her lover just found out that his wife and children didn't die in the DRC civil war, as he had thought, with the always-present additional threat of the Undertow.

    I do have some very slight criticisms, mainly because I'm a detail-oriented control freak: I'd have liked to know what exactly the aposymbiosis is - is it a manifestation of guilt? If it is, why is it that some sociopaths who feel no guilt over their crimes still find themselves Animalled? And if it's not, why is it that only those guilty of the most grievous of crimes have one? And who decides what makes up those crimes that deserve an Animal?

    Also, why are all the Animals written in Capital Letters? I don't know about you, but when I see Capital Letters strewn around like that, I hear the words spoken in the booming voice of a Cecil B. Demille version of God, although I'm fully willing to admit that that is my own issue and has absolutely nothing to do with the merits of the book. Still, it's a bit jarring to read about this one's Cobra and that one's Butterfly and that one's Hyena, etc. with constantly booming echoes.

    I will also admit that I was at first slightly uncomfortable with the thought of a white woman writing the personal narrative of a black woman, especially in this society of ours in this time we find ourselves.

    Lauren Beukes explains it beautifully and sensibly in a guest post for The World SciFi Blog, arguing that when we write, we are basically always writing the other, using our imagination to fill in the gaps of that which we didn't actually live and experience, but which our characters did.

    This is a completely valid point of view which makes a lot of sense and which I fully support, although I myself would not yet feel comfortable writing in the voice of a black person in South Africa (which is most probably a personal failing!), given my historical and very often very largely invisible privileges that came with growing up white mostly in post-Apartheid South Africa (including but not limited to: being able to study by electricity, living in a house, never going to bed hungry, never having to go without blankets and sweaters and shoes winter because there just isn't money to buy it, etc. etc. which, unfortunately, is still the predominant experience of most South Africans in a society in which the chances of your suffering abject poverty increase dramatically the darker your skin is), but I truly admire Lauren for her braveness, integrity and dedication in worrying, in her words, more about whether Zinzi was Zinzi enough than worrying about whether she was black enough.

    Despite these nitpicks, I thoroughly enjoyed the book. It was not only a great read, it was a thoughtful read, without shoving its thoughtfulness down your throat or hitting you over the head with it at all. The writing, too, is beautifully crafted with some unexpectedly hilarious and unpretentiously sensitive and touching moments. The setting comes alive through Lauren Beukes' incredibly vivid descriptions and the slums of the city of Johannesburg almost becomes its own character in this book, which I found delightful (and envy-worthy! How many writers can do that, seriously?).

    I don't know what else to say about without spoiling the book, so I'll stop here and just say: this book, although not for the overly sensitive or young, is amazing, if you're willing to deal with some hard facts of reality when reading. The characters are full and real, the setting is so familiar (at least to me :) ) and yet so filled with new and strange things that it remains eternally fascinating, and the story is a fast-paced edge-of-your-seat whirlwind which will keep the adrenaline pumping to the very last page. Also, I'd just like to add, I thought the ending was amazing. I'm hard pressed to think of another character that I loved and admired as much as I loved and admired Zinzi in those last couple of paragraphs.

    Read it as soon as you possibly can - and please let me know what you thought of it! Even if it is months or years later and you absolutely hated it, I truly want to know.

    This is a book I'll be reading again and again and again, and I hope the same is true for you.

    Wednesday, 11 May 2011

    Waiting on Wednesday!

    "Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted here, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

    My WoW book is:

    Continue Reading!

    Above by Leah Bobet. Slated for release in 2012, here's the Goodreads infos:

    Matthew's father had lion's feet and his mother had gills, and both fled the modern-day city to live in underground Safe, a secret community of freaks, ghost-whisperers, and disabled outcasts hidden beyond the subways and sewers. Raised underground, Matthew is responsible for the keeping of both Safe's histories and the traumatized shapeshifter Ariel, the girl he took in - and can't stop from constantly running away.

    But Safe is no longer safe: the night after a frightening encounter in the sewers, Safe's founder Atticus is murdered by the one person Safe ever exiled: mad Corner, whose coup is backed by an army of mindless, whispering shadows.   ...more

    Why I can't wait till 2012: This book sounds incredible. If I could pre-order it on Amazon, I would. It just sounds like such an exciting and challenging book, with (what looks like) strong themes and a compelling story to tell.

    Plus, how gorgeous is that cover?

    Review of Regina's Song

    Title: Regina's Song
    Author: David and Leigh Eddings
    Genre: Murder Mystery (?) with some stuff that could possibly be inferred to be hypothetical supe elements (?).


     Zero. I would have liked to go into the negatives here, in fact.

    Description: Regina and Renata are truly identical twins. They are so strikingly alike, even their mother can't tell them apart. Since their DNA is identical and their infant footprint records were lost by the hospital, no one can be sure which is which.

    This doesn't bother the twins. In fact, they're inseparable--until one of the young women is murdered. The other has no memory of the event, no idea who she is. In her near-total amnesia, she can remember only family friend Mark, who has always been a surrogate big brother to the twins. And Mark finds himself fearing that the effects of the trauma don't end with amnesia, for now a series of vicious murders terrorizes Seattle, accompanied by the howl of wolves....


    From the description, this book sounds like a zinger, right? I mean, what more do you want? Identical twins so identical that they frequently swop roles without anyone knowing! Their personalities so entwined that it's impossible even for them to say where one ends and the other begins! Then one of them is murdered!

    I mean, the possibilities here for good, compelling fiction (with or without supernatural elements - although I obviously prefer with) are virtually endless.

    To my vast disappointment, however, the book is not only composed entirely out of stale prose, canned dialogue, pre-packed stereotypes and cardboard flat characters, but there is just about no plot at all. The surviving twin gets released from a mental hospital because she wants to attend university; suddenly a mysterious spates of killings with victims that are known for their criminality turn up. Whodunnit?

    That's basically it, I'm very sorry to say.

    The premise and mystery of the twins and their twinhood and how the loss of it affects the one left behind is just not explored at all. Instead, it's basically a revenge story (which you already knew, right? I mean, do you need spoiler tags to know that the "murder mystery" part of the novel is the surviving twin hunting down the dead twin's killer, killing anyone she thinks it may have been coz they deal drugs sometimes until she actually gets the right guy?) told from the incredibly distant point of view of a person who is a family friend of the parents of the surviving twin.

    So through the eyes of Mark we follow Renata, the surviving twin, as she attempts to reintegrate in society. Mark is a postgraduate in English Lit, and at the beginning of the story he finds a student house filled with FIVE PEOPLE JUST LIKE HIM.

    I'm dead serious.

    Sure, three of them are girls and they all study different thingies, but they all agree on everything all the time, they use the exact same dialogue and phrases as the other characters, and even the same conversational tone! Constantly! It's like one person talking to himself, that person being the Prototypical Eddings Creation Tee Em, which is a smart-ass wannabe comedian with... no, that's about it.

    They all hold exactly the same views on just about everything, although it's just damn convenient that one of them is a philosopher, who can ask very deep, yo questions about the nature of personality and morality without ever really discussing these things, since everyone agrees with everything instantly.

    Also, luckily one of them is a lawyer, who can help Mark and the Surviving Twin(TM) out when legal troubles arise in a way which everyone agrees with and is perfectly happy with, despite it being, in my view, ridiculously unethical and immoral. Also, luckily one of them has a brother on the police force, very handily getting all the inside info that help them figure out who's committing the murders and how to get that person out of this damn mess they made.

    Also, one is a psychology major, so we handily have analyses on hand, all of them uncontested, naturally, explaining everything Renata goes through and the why the who what and etc. These things don't need to make sense or have any kind of underlying logical structure, because what this psych major tells us is what we all already know from living in the "real world" and its obsession with Pop psych and easy explanations, so obviously it's the true and only answer possible.

    Alright, I'm letting my snark get out of hand, but I was truly aggravated by this book. Not only are there no actual characters at all and no plot to speak of, there are no supernatural elements! No horror! No nothing! I mean, the cover of the hardcover version I have says right there, very explicitly: "A chilling story of a nightmare come true." The blurb has hints of wolves howling. I don't feel that an expectation of chills and/or explanations of the wolfy howlings are unreasonable here. Instead, we get none of those with a huge side-serving of Nothing Much Happening for Most of the Goddamn Book.

    We're just told that wolves and dogs howl when the murders are committed, and that Regina listens to some freaky music with wolves howling.

    Rage! Frustration! But back to the review.

    Even though the authors employ first-person narrative, readers are constantly kept at an oceanic distance from the main character (or who the main character, the one doing the action and driving the story, is supposed to be, at least) and you feel at best a bit of sympathy for the poor surviving twin while getting constantly irritated at the narrator and his incessant lame joking. You're also told by our narrator that yes, losing her twin was so horrible for Renata that she went mad and so on so he'll keep an eye on her now and again, all very sad, but hey, English Paper due and class to give, mysteries of Milton to talk about exploring, lame-ass comedy to perform. I'm trying very, very hard to think of what else the narrator does, but I honestly can't add anything to it.

    I'm so extremely disappointed in this novel mainly because I have such a soft spot for David Eddings. When I was something like 13, I saw a novel of his at the library and the cover so enthralled me that I picked it up. It was the middle book of a series (the Elenium, if I remember correctly), and that hooked me on fantasy for life. So I wanted this book to be good, and I was willing to like it even if it was just mediocre or slightly bad.

    It wasn't even that. It was awful. Truly, soul-wrenchingly awful. The only redeeming quality I can think of is that there are no spelling or grammar errors.

    Please avoid. Trees shouldn't have to die for this crap, and there are so many actually good books to read out there that you don't even want to waste the 5 or so hours that it takes to read through this book. That's time you'll never get back!

    Monday, 9 May 2011

    Thank you, xkcd

    On their latest comic, xkcd absolutely nails it.

    (Y)ou don't become great by trying to be great. You become great by wanting to do something, and then doing it so hard that you become great in the process.

    It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?

    It's Monday, What are you reading this week? is a weekly event hosted by Sheila at Book Journey to list the books completed last week, the books currently being read and the books to be finished this week.

    Strangely enough, I get most of my reading done throughout the week. This past week I have been mostly reading articles and books dealing with Virgil's Fourth Eclogue (you don't want to know, I promise), but I did manage to get through some truly awesome books that I can't wait to review!

    So, on my Currently Reading list is:

     Check out the short-form synopsis from the publisher's website: 

    Zinzi has a talent for finding lost things.
    To save herself, she’s got to find the hardest thing of all: the truth.

    I mean, it doesn't get more awesome than that. So, long backcover blurb:

    Zinzi has a Sloth on her back, a dirty 419 scam habit and a talent for finding lost things. But when a client turns up dead and the cops confiscate her last paycheck, she's forced to take on her least favourite kind of job -- missing persons. Being hired by famously reclusive music producer Odi Huron to find a teenybop pop star should be her ticket out of Zoo City, the festering slum where the criminal underclass, marked by their animals, live in the shadow of the undertow. Instead, it catapults Zinzi deeper into the underbelly of a city twisted by crime and magic, where she'll be forced to confront the dark secrets of former lives -- including her own. Set in a wildly re-imagined Johannesburg, it swirls refugees, crime, the music industry, African magic and the nature of sin together into a heady brew. 

    I'm about half-way through right now, and I can't WAIT to review it. Seriously, u guise, I am so excite!

    Continue Reading!

    What I finished last week:

    As well as:

    Review for these follow on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday!

    I also re-read one of my favourites, which I highly recommend if you like your fantasy and paranormal with a good dose of chuckles:

    That's about it - all I had time for last week, although I plan to read like a machine this coming week. So, what books have you read?

    Sunday, 8 May 2011

    Fantastic Giveaway at Paperback Dolls! Plus new layout.

    First off, many congratulations to the incredible people at Paperback Dolls - they are celebrating their first Blogoversary! Now if you are not already following them, I am astounded, because they are super fantastic. Anyway, way to go, may there be many, many many more, you guys rock!

    Now for the fantastic news: they are holding 5 - count 'em, FIVE - bookpack giveaways. Each bookpack contains FIVE books, which is just incredible.

    As if that were not enough, they are also holding an additional giveaway, found at the same post, where you can WIN A KINDLE. Y'all, I almost wet myself when I saw that. I cannot, cannot describe to you how dearly and desperately I desire a Kindle. Here in South Africa, they are way too expensive, but I dream at night of all the fabulous (and cheap! even for here in South Africa!) books I could read, if only I had a Kindle.

    Once again, Paperback Dolls, you rock so hard, thanks so much for this giveaway.

    Also - what do you think about my new layout? Is it too bland? For the record, this is how I avoid writing. I play in Photoshop. In this case, it was to avoid finishing a conference paper on Virgilian poetry for a Latin post-grad that I will not bore you with, I promise!

    Friday, 6 May 2011

    Friday Fives - Useful advice

    The wonderful people at Paperback Hangover has this funky notion of providing a list of 5 things writerly and/or readerly every Friday. This week's prompt is:

    The FIVE pieces of useful advice you have received as an aspiring writer... (in quotes, blog posts, websites, etc.)

    So, let's get started!

    5.) Write yourself notes about what's up next in your story. I've never actually read this anywhere, but it's something that I've found works wonders for not only my motivation to write daily, but also gives me at least some kind of illusion of having a grip on the story I'm working on.

    4.) Muzzle that internal editor. You know the one I mean. The one who won't let you go three sentences without saying 'Is "used" a strong enough verb there? And that adverb looks really uncomfortable over there'. Personally, the internal editor is my arch-nemesis in this first ever draft of a novel I'm working on (yes, I've never written a novel before, only shorts - see also point #5 re the illusion of having a grip). Right now, I'm concentrating on getting the words down so that there at least exists a first draft, which my internal editor can then have a ball critiquing the hell out of in the rewrites.

    Continue Reading!

    3.) Read voraciously and then write the stuff you like to read. You can't write if you don't read, it's as simple as that. For me, as with most authors I suspect, the love of reading came first. So I make time to read at least a book a week, maybe two if I can manage - and I only read books I adore reading.

    Hand in hand with this goes the point made by Laurence Block in his book Telling Lies for Fun and Profit  that if you are writing for a genre in which you have to force yourself through every book you read, you may need to reconsider your choice of genre. You can't produce a passionate, true story if you can't even finish a book that's almost like it.

    2.) Give yourself permission to write badly. The first draft doesn't have to be publish ready! You're allowed to suck! As long as you get those words on paper, it really doesn't matter. Let me put it like this: So you have a beautiful piece of literature inside of you that's going to change the world. However, as long as it is inside, you can't magic it into the world to make a difference, and no matter how good you are, your own writing seldom lives up to your expectations - at least if you are a relentless self-critic like I am.

    So first get something written, and then you can go ahead and make the writing better, fix the plot whatevers and make the manuscript shine because at least you have something to work with.

    1.) Apply ass to chair, no matter how painful.  You are only a writer as long as you are actually, day by day, producing new work. The job description is kind of in the word itself: a writer writes. If you don't write regularly, you cannot call yourself a writer. Together with this, I've found daily word-count goals invaluable. I keep the goal low, so that I can produce the minimum even on a rotten, stinking day where I just want to go hide under the covers of my bed and never have to look the world in the face again. I keep by it, even when (especially when) it feels like, as Stephen King so eloquently puts it, I'm just shoveling shit from a sitting position. Especially lately, I've really struggled to keep up with even this bare minimum I've required from myself, and would find one thousand and one excuses to try to get out of writing today (and excuses are a million a dime), mostly because quite frankly, right now most of what I write feels like crap.

    However, once again as Stephen King puts it so delicately: You can shit in one hand and dream in the other, and at least you'll have shit in one of your hands, while the other one will be eternally empty. Or something like that.

    So these are the pieces of advice that currently have the greatest influence on my writing. Feel free to share yours, or vicariously disagree with any of them!

    Thursday, 5 May 2011

    Review Thursday - Siren, by Trisha Rayburn

    Title: Siren
    Series: Siren (#1)
    Author: Trisha Rayburn
    Genre: YA Urban Fantasy


    I loved Siren, but it may be too slow-paced for some.


    Vacationing in Winter Harbor, Maine, is a tradition for Vanessa and Justine Sands, and that means spending time with the Carmichael boys. This summer, Vanessa is determined to channel some of her older sister’s boldness, get over her fear of the ocean, and maybe turn her friendship with Simon Carmichael into something much more.

    But when Justine goes cliff-diving after a big family argument, and her body washes ashore the next day, Vanessa is sure that it was more than an accident. She is more certain of this, when she discovers that her sister was keeping some big secrets and Caleb Carmichael’s gone missing. Suddenly, the entire oceanfront town is abuzz when a series of grim, water-related accidents occur, with the male victims washed ashore grinning from ear to ear.

    Vanessa and Simon team up to figure out if these creepy deaths have anything to do with Justine and Caleb. But will what Vanessa discovers mean the end of her summer romance, or even life as she knows it?


    Siren drew me in from the first page. Although the book started a bit slow for my tastes and some of the earlier transitions were truly awkward, I enjoyed reading about Vanessa and her fears for everything. The writing is a bit apprehensive and shaky to start with, but by the fifth or so page I wasn't even noticing writing flaws anymore. I was completely drawn in to this irresistible world and characters.

    Unlike some reviewers, I had no problem with the (lack of) parental concerns in this book - it features characters that have finished high school, so I didn't feel that the parents acted strangely at all.

    Vanessa is a truly sympathetic character who I felt I could really empathize with. With all of her self-doubts and insecurities and all I found her incredibly endearing and enduring. I found her romance with Simon completely believable and sweet - especially when taking into account what's exposed about their romance by the end of the book.

    The one serious gripe I have is that the mythology wasn't fully explained or fleshed out. Sirens are so fascinating (and pretty rare in genre novels too!), I would have loved to learn more about them and their lives, although I'm willing to concede that that may still lay ahead for a future book.

    I love a good bitter-sweet ending and I love my characters nuanced and not all-good and always right, so the choice Vanessa makes in the end both with regards to Simon and her heritage seemed real and satisfying, although I'm still not quite sure what exactly happened during the climax (F.R.U.S.T.R.A.T.I.O.N.!)

    I truly look forward to the next installment of this series, Undertow, set for release in Winter 2011 (OHAI Southern Hemisphere!), although I would suggest that you first read an excerpt of the book or loan it from the library before deciding to buy it - it may not be everyone's cup of tea. That said, however, this book and its sequels are definitely going to go onto my bookshelf!

    Sunday, 1 May 2011

    South African writer wins internationally sought-after prize for Sci-fi

    To my great surprise, I found out yesterday that South African writer, Lauren Beukes, won the prestigious Arther C Clarke prize for Science Fiction on 27 April. Coming completely from the left field and competing against established international names like Tim Powers, Ian MacDonald and Patrick Ness, her book, Zoo City was declared the "clear winner".

    While it's not only heartening that South African authors are receiving international recognition and all that, what I found most wonderful about this turn of events is that it introduced me to Lauren Beukes and her work.

    Before yesterday, I had never even heard of her, which I'll admit is something to be ashamed of. However, as soon as I heard the news and read a review of the book, I simply had to procure Zoo City and am currently greatly enjoying it.

    Many congrats, Lauren, and I look forward to reading more of her work in the future.

    Posting as an experiment to see how the layout works.

    SO here are some words and stuff, to see what it does.