Monthly Archives: April 2015

ARC Review of Tracer by Rob Boffard (Awesome, action-packed sci-fi)

Review of Tracer by Rob Boffard

Rating 5/5

Blade Runner meets The 100.

IN SPACE. EVERY. SECOND. COUNTS.

Our planet is in ruins. Three hundred miles above its scarred surface orbits Outer Earth: a space station with a million souls on board. They are all that remain of the human race.
Riley is a tracer – a courier. For her, speed is everything. But with her latest cargo, she’s taken on more than she bargained for.
A chilling conspiracy connects them all.
The countdown has begun for Outer Earth – and for mankind


Action is one of my favourite parts of a book. I like reading a novel that feels like 24994516I’m watching a movie, but is also well-written, has solid characters and a gripping plot. Getting all of those things in a book isn’t easy. But Rob Boffard manages it in Tracer.

Tracers carry things from location to location on Outer Earth, a huge ship that carries all that remains of the human race. They’re like postmen, only sometimes the things they deliver aren’t exactly legal. Riley is a Tracer, and she ends of transporting one package that involves her in a vast conspiracy.

The idea of an action thriller set on a space-station is incentive enough to read this debut novel, but Boffard also packs in plenty of twists, some great characters and quality writing. The claim on the ARC cover that this is a ‘blockbuster’ is not an understatement. Rarely a chapter went by without a chase sequence or an explosion or some other gripping action set-piece. Each one is written tightly and the action never gets repetitive.

The narrative is divided into three voices, two of them third person, one (Riley) first person. Riley is the main character and she’s a tough, feisty heroine—somewhere between Katniss Everdeen and Deckard from Blade Runner. The villain is easy to hate—and there’s not just one. Boffard makes sure it’s hard to know who to trust and the tension from this is maintained all the way until the end.

The world-building is solid, even if it is a little bit vague at times. The ship itself, Outer Earth, is awesomely conceived, reminded me of movies like Event Horizon, Aliens and Blade Runner. Boffard makes the grit and dirt of the ship palpable, and it’s not difficult to imagine what life is like on board.

The writing is sharp and punchy, just like the pace. There’s description where there needs to be description and Boffard leaves it up to use to imagine things when that’s what’s needed. Sometimes sci-fi can be heavy on description, but Boffard strikes a good balance.

Like I said, this is a science-fiction, action thriller movie in book form. The pace is relentless (the definition of relentless) all the way to the twist-filled climax. The action comes thick and fast. The plot is gripping and twisty, and it’s hardly ever predictable.

This is the first in a series (not sure how many books), but it feels like a story in itself. There is something of a cliff-hanger, but it’s more an open ending. This is a satisfying read in its own right, but I’m looking forward to the sequel/s.

Some of the best action sci-fi I’ve read. Highly, highly recommended.

Tracer is released July 16th, and I can’t recommend looking out for it enough.

Thanks to Rob Boffard and Little Brown/Orbit for the review copy.

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To Plot or not to Plot?

To Plot or not to Plot?

Are you a Plotter or a Pantster?

Do you go into a story with a clear idea of beginning, middle and end and know everything in between? Or do you just know how to start and then see where the story and characters take you?

When he sits down to write a Jack Reacher book, Lee Child says he doesn’t have much of a clue where the story will go, he doesn’t outline. He just starts with a first line and sees where everything takes him. The Reacher books are proof that a book doesn’t have to be plotted beforehand to work.

But maybe that’s down to the writer.

The way I wrote once–I used to have a vague idea of where a story was going, but most of the time I’d just sit down and write and see what happened. I’m not sure if it worked. I finished stories that way, sure, but whether or not they worked was unclear. One thing I’ve noticed since I started plotting is that the stories aren’t as long now, and they feel… tighter, more solid somehow. Where before they were slightly disjointed.

Some writers, like JK Rowling, have a clear idea of where a book is going. Rowling details what will happen in each chapter of each book. Probably wise given how big and complex the world and cast she created is. Some writers don’t like to be controlled by a pre-planned plot.

I’m one of them. Half of one, at least. I like to know where the story is going for at least a couple or more chapters ahead. It depends on the story. Most books I have a clear idea of where things will finally end up, it’s just getting there that isn’t so clear. But as I write, I’m also thinking about what will happen next. Events that I’m writing in the moment inspire other events and other characters and plot twists.

I find writing down a structure for the plot limiting. It doesn’t seem as natural as just… writing.

The cool part about writing is that you’re sometimes clueless as to where the story is going beforehand, and finding out is part of the fun. Plotting can take the surprise away.

But an outline can also be a good thing. Some writers like the focus, because it keeps them on track, stops them getting distracted. And that’s true, knowing where I’m going makes sure I write consistently, every day. If I was too clueless I’d probably spend more time thinking about plot/characters more than I would writing. And I’d likely have writer’s block more often.


Being a plotter works for some, just like being a pantster works for others. But which are you, and why do you think you prefer being one or the other, or a mixture of both?


Ten Ways to help Create (and maintain) Pace in a Story…

Ten Ways to Help Create (and maintain) Pace

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Pace isn’t only about action. Pace is something that all books need to have so that the story doesn’t get too slow or stall altogether. Pace is tough to get balanced. Too fast can be as bad as too slow. And it can be hard to keep things moving all the way to the end.

I struggled with how to get it right, and I still don’t fully understand it. But I learned a few things from other authors, and ten of those things are below…


Sentence structure

This is probably my favourite way of boosting the pace of a story. I used to write long sentences, until I read Lee Child’s Reacher books and realised that playing around with sentence structure could speed things up. It doesn’t work for all sentences, but many can be broken up into two, or three, maybe even more if you look closely enough. Shorter, sharper sentences pack more impact and generate a sense of movement.

Dialogue (and avoiding adverbs)

Dialogue/conversations can move the pace along if it starts to flag. Rather than explaining what characters have planned or presenting exposition in info dumps, characters can be used to explain things through dialogue. And if it’s an argument or a witty conversation, pace can be built through dialogue too. Removing ‘he said’ ‘she said’ and ‘he said loudly, quietly, angrily’ also help to speed things up. As long as you identify the two or more speakers and their order of speaking, the he/she said’s aren’t necessary.

Chapter cliff-hangers

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This doesn’t always work, and it can get annoying. But it can also work well. Ending a chapter in a way that makes the reader want to read on to find out what happens next is a solid way of generating pace and momentum in the story—it also helps the chapters feel less disjointed, and more like they’re following into each other.

Thin out description

I used to describe everything—weather, clouds, cars, eyes until I realised it was (most of the time) pretty pointless. Stephen King has some good advice on description. (Paraphrasing) He says that description starts in the writer’s imagination but finishes in the readers’. Just give hints of things here and there and let the reader do the rest. Sparser description frees up sentences, makes them less awkward and smoother to read—thus generating more pace.

Have a clear structure

In some of the earlier stories I wrote, I had character moving back and forth all over the place. It doesn’t work for everyone, but having a clear structure/plot for the reader to follow will keep pace maintained. If characters are going forward, only to go back, the story can sometimes feel like it’s going nowhere.

Use set-pieces

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Like an action movie, books need set-pieces to add bursts of interest and sometimes to set off another strand in the plot. Fight sequences, car chases, or just an intense argument between two characters can be classed as a set-piece and most of the time they keep things moving. Set-pieces, particularly action and battles ones are one of my favourite things to write, and read. They offer interest and excitement and both of those things keep a reader turning the pages.

Active voice not passive

I used to use ‘was’ a lot, mostly without realising I was, and how much it took away from the momentum of a sentence. Bond was pulling out his gun doesn’t have the same impact or movement as Bond pulled out his gun. Was slows a sentence down, makes it passive, rather than active. Removing was isn’t always possible, but where you can it helps speed things up a lot.

Chapter length

James Patterson is famous (or infamous, depending on how much you like Patterson) for short chapters. But whatever anyone says about him, nobody can deny that his books have pace, and maintain it all the way to the climax of the story. Short chapters keep things moving, make sure a reader doesn’t get too stuck in the story, or bored with it. This isn’t always the case. A lot of high fantasy novels have long chapters—the Potter books have some of the longest chapters I’ve read, but Rowling still maintains pace. But shorter chapters can help speed things up if that’s what you want.

Use events

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The Percy Jackson books are probably the best example of this. Rick Riordan uses the ‘quest’ plotline. He takes his characters from one event to the next, hunting down objects or characters or places. It might get a bit formulaic at times, but using events to move characters from one place to the next helps to create pace—reading the Percy Jackson books is proof enough that it works.

Paragraphs

In some cases, paragraphs can be broken down. I used to write long-winded paragraphs because I didn’t know where to split them apart. But going with what feels right, gut-instinct, usually works. Avoid paragraphs (if it’s possible) that take up entire pages. Breaking them down can create momentum while squashing them together can make them read as heavy and slow.


Some of these ways to create pace will work in one story, but might not work in another. There’s probably no definite way, and I know I’ve still not fully grasped how to keep the pace moving. But the ways above have helped me better understand pacing a story.

Does anyone else have a way to maintain pace? Do you agree or disagree with any of the methods above? Or do you know of a book that gets pace down pat?

Avengers Age of Ultron movie Review

Avengers: Age of Ultron review

10 (11)/10

Sequels to movies are like sequels to books. Sometimes they’re not as good. Sometimes they’re just as good. And sometimes they’re better.

Joss Whedon had a crazy task on his hands with bettering The Avengers (or Avengers Assemble for those of us in the UK). It was a tough ask to deliver a sequel that could top the epicness of The Avengers. But… Whedon and the team managed it—and then some.

Age of Ultron doesn’t just rival its predecessor, it knocks it out of the park and keeps on knocking it out of the atmosphere. It’s that good.

Age of Ultron is a different movie to The Avengers, the team are already assembled, they know each other, and the opening sequence as they break into a fortress to retrieve (don’t worry, no spoilers here)… Whedon makes sure we know that the Avengers are now a fully working team. And that is the core of the movie. How do the Avengers work together. The plot has many more strands than the first movie. There is more going on (which is set up for the next instalment). But the main focus of the story is the Avengers working together, and how they hold up when someone is trying to break them apart from the inside.

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As well as that Whedon delivers another ‘earth at stake’ scale disaster with Ultron at its centre. Is Ultron a villain worthy to rival Loki? Hard to say, but Ultron is definitely a worthy adversary. And with James Spader’s awesome voice-work and motion capture behind the CGI, Ultron isn’t just a robot.

Like in The Avengers, Whedon balances the Avengers well, giving each of them separate stories, but allotting them (mostly) equal screen time. Hawkeye and Black Widow get a more solid story this time around, and through new additions to the cast (Quicksilver and his sister the Scarlet Witch) we get to find out (again, no spoilers in how) more about the Avengers past… maybe even their futures…

Whedon’s trademark humour is on fine from once again, and all of the characters, even minor ones (and the villains) get more than one witty one-liner. The plot is much more complex than in The Avengers, the world, story, characters all feel more solid. More strands are introduced and the movie feels much more substantial than the Avengers (which had a solid plot too, which tells you how good Age of Ultron’s plot is). Things are resolved, and things are left unanswered, ready for the next (two-parter) instalment, Infinity War.

The CGI is as high-quality as with all Marvel movies, but while there explosions and fight sequences aplenty, the CGI is mixed with enough real sets and physical effects to not be distracting. Whedon’s direction is all but faultless. There’s no choppy editing to make action sequences impossible to understand and the pace is relentless when it needs to be and a little steadier when the story is about the characters. And for a story about the potential annihilation of Earth, Whedon (on script duty as well as directing) makes sure the characters are the focus of the movie.

Overall, Age of Ultron is possible the best Marvel movie so far. Everything we’ve come to expect is present and correct: action, pace, humour, explosions—but Whedon and the team inject enough originality and make this different enough from The Avengers that it never feels like we’re watching the first movie with a few bits added. The only, tiny, fault is the soundtrack. The main Avengers theme that ran through the first movie and made action sequences more gripping isn’t used enough this time around. I didn’t leave the cinema humming the theme tune like I did last time—but I did leave with a huge grin on my face and feeling pretty damn satisfied.

Avengers Age of Ultron is out now in the UK, and hits cinemas May 1st in the US.

Review of Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas (Solid high fantasy)

Review of Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas

Rating 4/5

Legendary assassin, Celaena is released from incarceration to take part in a tournament to become the King’s champion. But as well as a deadly tournament to focus on, the assassin has to contend with a murderer picking off the contestants, magic that has been banned for years resurfacing, and enemies at every turn.

Joe Abercrombie raised my expectations high with the first two books in The Shattered Sea trilogy. And I put off reading Throne of Glass for a long time, after reading a lot of reviews that said the plot was focused on romance. But after reading Snow Like Ashes by Sara Raasch (a good, high fantasy read), I thought I’d give Throne of Glass a shot.

And I’m glad I did. The plot does focus on romance, but Maas weaves plenty of other mysteries to make sure romance is not the only focus. Anyone avoiding this book for the same reason I did can rest easy.

Some epic/high fantasy can be densely written, packed with long descriptions that slow the pace. Abercrombie and Raasch got the balance of descrption right on the money in Shattered Sea and Snow Like Ashes. And Mass gets it right with Throne of Glass. The world of Erilea is richly drawn and it’s easy to be drawn into the castles and landscapes. Maas handles action sequences well, too, and knows when to lay on the detail and when to make it subtle. The writing style is addictive and the pace benefits.

The characters are as interesting as the world. Celaena is a tough heroine, the world’s deadliest assassin. Maas keeps her past ambiguous, slowly revealing details, which adds to the other mysteries in the story. A bit too much time is spent talking about clothes for my liking, but it’s balanced with Celaena’s assassin instincts. The other characters are equally well-developed, each with their own agenda and secrets that are slowly revealed. The story is split between four main perspectives, in third person, and Mass makes sure the voices/character perspectives are distinct.

The mysteries and secrets continue all the way through the novel, and Maas makes sure the plot is never predictable. It’s hard to know who’s working against whom, who wants to kill who, and who the killer is. Throne of Glass is high fantasy mixed with elements of murder mystery and thriller. The tournament plot-line has become cliché in YA since The Hunger Games, but Maas adds plenty of other plot lines to make sure things are never boring.

The world building is solidly done, with places, names, customs and laws that make it easy to get pulled into Erilea. The glass castle where most of the novel takes place is vividly realised. Gloomy corridors, secret tunnels, libraries and shadows all help to build solid, consistent atmosphere.

Throne of Glass isn’t all it could have been. But this may be down to personal reader tastes. Maas spends a lot of time on the romance, the love triangle, and at times I wanted to skip the passages where Celaena worries about who likes who. But when the focus shifts to the murder plot-line, where other contestants are being picked off, the mysteries around the magic that the king has outlawed, and the fighting/action sequences, the story is gripping and fast-paced.

This is the first of seven books, and so some of the plot lines are not resolved or fully-developed. There is enough of an ending to this first book that it feels like a whole story. But I’m anticipating reading the sequels and finding out more about Caleana’s past and learning more about the banned and reawakening magic.

Overall, this is a tightly written, tightly plotted high fantasy. The pace jars in places because of the romance, but there is enough action, gritty fighting and mysteries to make up for any faults. This was a four out of five read for me, but those who don’t mind romance will likely find it a five out of five. Celaena is a solid protagonist. The world building is some of the best I’ve read, and I’m looking forward to Crown of Midnight (and the other four sequels).

Highly recommended.


I’ve heard good things about the sequel. Is Crown of Midnight better than Throne of Glass? Does anyone else think romance sometimes gets in the way of a good plot? 

10 Ways to Develop Characters…

10 Ways to Develop Characters…

I didn’t used to focus on character development when I wrote. I concentrated on action and cool set pieces. I didn’t used to care if characters were well-developed in the books I read either. But I read a few books where the characters were really strong, and I realised that character development was pretty important.

I wanted to write well-developed characters. Characters who felt real, who you could look up to or imagine being mates with. But I wasn’t sure how to do it. So I read some more. And I learned some more.

Character development is hard to get right—I’m not even sure if I’ve got it right yet, probably not. I didn’t want to develop my characters through exposition/info-dumping or just by their appearances, so I looked at the characters who were well-developed in books and tried to figure out how the authors had done it.

A few of the ways I learned to develop characters are listed below…


Test them

Katniss Everdeen is a good example of this. Suzanne Collins sends her into the Hunger Games and we see how she copes with surviving. Her character changes when she’s tested—she becomes harder and more ruthless. Give a character something to work for and they’ll change.

Give them choices to make

Which choices a character makes can also define and change them. Are they willing to sacrifice themselves? Do they put others before themselves? It doesn’t have to be a choice that big either. If a character stays and fights, they’re brave or foolish or both, if they run they’re cowardly or wise or both. Choices can determine character and personality.

Hurt them

See how they cope with physical pain. Does it make them stronger, ormake them give up? Or if it’s emotional hurt, how do they react if they’re family or friends are harmed or taken away? How they react to pain will also determine a character and personality.

Give them friends

Giving a character friends focuses more on shaping a character’s personality. It helps to develop they interact with other people, how they speak to them. You can also play around with how loyal a character is to their friends and what they’re willing to sacrifice/do for them. Does a character care more about their friends than themselves?

Give them enemies

Harry Potter is a good example of how an enemy defines/develops a character. JK Rowling made Harry and Voldemort similar in many ways. At some points we weren’t sure if Harry was turning into Voldemort—this happens literally as the stories progress. Seeing how Harry reacts to this develops his character. At first he’s disgusted, but then he becomes almost like Frodo and the One Ring. Harry craves the memories and power being connected to Voldemort offers. But in the end he doesn’t want to become like Voldemort and he fights against their connection. This shows strength of character, a development of character.

Dialogue

I used to hate writing dialogue. It was always stilted and unnatural. Then I realised that I was trying too hard. Letting dialogue come naturally worked better for me. I looked, listened to how people spoke in real life, and what they spoke about and translated that into my own writing. Dialogue determines a voice, and a voice is an important part of a character. Are they sarcastic, and what does that say about them? Are they blunt or miserable or talkative? Dialogue helps to figure out a character’s personality, and letting it come naturally is the best way to do that.

Quirks

Does a character have a mental illness, if so how does that affect them? It’s one example, but a mental illness gives you the opportunity to see how a character copes with it, whether it beats them or makes them stronger. It could be something smaller, too. Do they like comic books or cars, do they have a high IQ or a magical power? A quirk can make characters disparate, and that’s a good thing. But just the quirk alone isn’t enough. Play around with how a character deals with their quirk and it may help to develop character.

History

This is one of the main ways I develop character, and I try not to do it with exposition. Flashbacks work well. Has something happened in the character’s past that set them on the path their on? If someone they loved died, has that stayed with them, does it determine what they’re doing? Are they getting revenge for something in their past, or trying to make up for mistakes they’ve made? Or are they running from their past?

Goals

This could tie in with a character’s history. A good example is Katniss Everdeen. Her goal is to take down the capitol and kill President Snow, but it’s also to keep her family safe. This goal runs through the entire Hunger Games series, and the two goals—being both similar and different—define Katniss’s character. She is damaged by the games, but she wants to stay strong so she can achieve her goals and protect her family.

How a character works to achieve their goals also helps to develop them. What lengths will they go to get what they want? Who or what do they sacrifice on the way?

Let them come naturally

This is probably the most important point, because it impacts everything else. I used to try too hard with characters. At one point I listed things about them, but they didn’t seem as real when I started writing about them. Listing their personality traits, appearance etc. can work for some. But I found it limiting. Letting a character come naturally can work. Don’t try to force them.


There are probably many more ways to develop character, but the above are the ones I try to keep in mind when writing, and the ones I’ve picked up from books. Well-developed characters make a story better; they give a reader something to identify with. We follow a story when we read a book, but it’s really the characters we follow. So the more developed and real the characters are the better, right?

How do you develop characters? It’ll be cool to see if anyone agrees or disagrees with the ways above, or has any other ways they develop characters…

Characters who can’t catch a break…

Characters who can’t catch a break…

I put many of my characters through the wars—sometimes literally. I don’t think I’ve written a story where at least two of the characters don’t suffer serious bodily or emotional injury. I’m not if that’s because I enjoy it, or because it helps to develop a character. Probably somewhere in between. Because stacking the odds against a character, putting them through battles and torturing them can be a good way of changing/developing/testing a character.

There are plenty of characters who get a tough time of it. A few of the one’s who get particularly hard done by are listed below.


Harry Potter

Potter is probably one of the unluckiest characters in fiction. He loses friends and family, almost dies a dozen times himself, and has a destiny he can’t escape from, an enemy who will stop at nothing, all while he has the fate of an entire world resting on his shoulders.

Harry uses everything he’s lost to put in perspective the decision he has to make. And in the end it pays off.

Percy Jackson

Like Potter, Percy Jackson has a destiny, and it’s just as heavy on his shoulders as Potters. Percy Jackson loses friends and family too, and has enemies and monsters pursuing him pretty much the entire way through the five-book (plus spin-offs) series. He gets thrown around and stabbed and bitten in almost every chapter of every book.

Again, like Potter, Percy comes through everything by using his suffering to fuel his fight against his enemy.

Valkyrie Cain/Stephanie Edgley (Skulduggery Pleasant)

Derek Landy’s books are known for their action and fight sequences, and most of them involve Valkyrie/Stephanie. She gets stabbed, kicked, punched. In one book she is experimented on. In the later books she joins Potter and Jackson and has a destiny that predicts she will one day destroy the world. She loses friends and family along the way.

I’ve still got one more book to read in the series, but so far, Valkyrie’s suffering has only resulted in more suffering.

Katniss Everdeen (The Hunger Games)giphy (22)

Katniss Everdeen goes through the Hunger Games twice, then she’s pulled into a rebellion against the government. Shefinds an enemy in President Snow; all while becoming the symbol of the rebellion and having the fate of an entire country on her shoulders.

Katniss uses the suffering of the games to fuel her fight against the capitol.

The Baudelaires (A Series of Unfortunate Events)

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Count Olaf. There’s not much else to add. But as well as him, the orphans face off against other enemies at every turn–and leeches. What they go through is summed up well by the series title. A Series of Unfortunate Events—hard to think of a more apt title.

It’s hard to see what benefit the Baudelaires suffering has… Bringing them… closer… together?

John Cleaver (I am Not a Serial Killer, and the sequels)

As well as battling his own psychopathic tendencies, and urges to torture and kill people, John has to face off against a new threat/killer/supernatural being in each of the three (so far) books. As well as suffering some losses which I won’t spoil for anyone who hasn’t read, or got that far in the series yet.

But what he goes through helps him deal with his tendencies.


There are many more characters who get pushed to their limits in stories, it would need half a dozen blog posts to list the characters who suffer in A Game of Thrones and the rest of the Song of Fire and Ice series. But the characters suffer, for the most part, for a reason and it always results in their character changing or achieving something because of their suffering.

Can anyone think of any other character/characters who can’t catch a break?  

Review of Bruiser by Neal Shusterman (quality YA contemporary fantasy)

Rating 4/5

Bruiser/Brewster can take away the pain and injuries of people he cares about. Literally. He lives with his uncle and brother, isolating himself. But then he starts to get close to Bronte, and her family and finds it harder and harder to isolate himself. But his ability doesn’t just change him; it changes the people who know about it…

Neal Shusterman is fast becoming one of my favourite authors. Unwind and Unwholly were some of the most gripping YA science fiction I’ve read and Everlost is creepy and original. Bruiser is the first standalone Shusterman book I’ve read, and the fantasy/sci-fi elements are more subtle than his other books.

Bruiser is a solid book. As with all of Shusterman’s books the strongest element of Bruiser is the characters. Like Unwind, the story is separated into multiple perspectives, with a first person, present tense voice for each. Some books don’t pull it off, but Shusterman proves some can.

Each of the character voices are distinct and realistic and it’s easy to believe that these people could be real. One of the characters, Bruiser, speaks through poems and while it’s well-done and original, I didn’t enjoy these chapters as much as the ones where the other characters narrate. Its uncanny how accurately Shusterman gets the voice of a little kid right—Cody, Bruiser’s younger brother, sounds like a real kid.

The story/plot is why this book doesn’t get a full five rating. The plot isn’t strong enough. It might be personal, other readers probably see it differently, but I wanted to see more of Bruiser’s/Brewster’s gift, and what it could mean if the government took advantage of it. But Shusterman goes more subtle than that, and smaller, showing how Bruiser’s ability to absorb injury and emotions affects a small family.

The writing is top quality, as usual, and the pacing is fast despite not all that much happening. This isn’t a big novel like some of Shusterman’s other books. It’s set in a small town, with a relatively small cast of characters, and it stays that way. The possibilities of Bruiser’s abilities getting into the wrong hands are touched on, but never developed. And that works for the story, which is more about character and family. I would’ve liked more action and to see the bigger picture, but many readers will likely feel differently.

The story and characters are developed enough that I didn’t mind the lack of action, which also didn’t affect how fast this novel moves. The conclusion is ambiguous, but not a cliff-hanger and despite the questions it leaves it’s still a satisfying ending.

Overall, this is a solid book with solid characters, quality writing, great pace and some of the most realistic characters I’ve ever read.

Highly, highly recommended.


Has anyone else read any books where the characters are believable? And what are your opinions on books split into multiple perspectives?

Review of World After (Penryn and the End of Days #2) by Susan Ee

Rating 3.5/5

The first book in the Penryn and the End of Days series didn’t appeal to me at first—I expected another paranormal romance. I haven’t read Twilight, and I wasn’t about to read a book about angels. But then I found out that Sam Raimi (director of the Spider-Man movies and The Evil Dead) was developing the movie and it persuaded me to give the book a shot.

I’m glad I did.

Angelfall defied my expectations. It was more like a Rick Riordan, Percy Jackson book than a paranormal romance (but for those who don’t mind romance, this book probably has enough to satisfy you). Action at every turn, a lightning pace, some solid characters, weird creatures, humour, and an intriguing set up for the rest of the series.

After Angelfall, the sequel made it onto my to-read list.

Unfortunately, what I expected wasn’t what I got. Not exactly. The second book is twice the length of the first book, yet half as much happens as in the first book. Some call it second-book syndrome and World After suffers from it. There isn’t a lot of plot and though I like action, this book felt like a string of pointless action set pieces. Characters stumble from one fight sequence to the next without there being any real motive behind it.

I wanted to learn more about the Angels’ agenda—it is expanded on, but vaguely to the point that it might as well not exist at all—and more about the coming war. Second books should progress the plot, develop the story arc, but World After does neither of those things.

The writing is as strong as the first book. Ee knows how to generate pace and the action sequences are plenty and well-written. I sped through this book, despite not always enjoying it. Penryn is a tough protagonist, and the romance is fortunately light. Ee also writes horror well, and she doesn’t shy away from describing the gritty, violent details.

The world-building is well done and the settings have an eerie, desolate atmosphere. The flashbacks provided through Penryn’s connection to Raffe’s sword are also interesting, if underdeveloped. It’d be cool to learn more about the Angel’s world, where they came from.

Overall, this is a fast-paced, action-packed second book, but it feels thin despite it’s length. There’s little to no plot and the story isn’t as gripping as Angelfall. Ee’s writing style is addictive and sharp, though Penryn’s voice sounds younger than she’s supposed to be at times. The horror and action is constant and helps boost the rating. But the action and pace aren’t enough to make up for the fact that little happens in this book.

Sometimes it’s good to not know where a series is going. But at this point I’m a bit confused. This series is a trilogy, so I hope Ee can wrap everything up in End of Days and deliver a more satisfying sequel to Angelfall.

Recommended, but some may find it disappointing in comparison to book 1.

Thanks to Hodder and Stoughton for the free copy I received through Goodreads. 

Has anyone else been disappointed in a sequel, only for the next installment to make up for it? I’m still on the lookout for solid superhero fiction too, so if anyone has any suggestions I’d appreciate them…

Recommended, but some may find it disappointing.

How do you judge a book?

There are a few ways I judge a book and which help me decide whether or not I want to read it.


Covers…

UK Cover

US Cover

Some people go for covers. Not me. Not always. I learned a while ago that some books can have pretty boring, simple covers but what’s inside is the opposite. And it’s more common in the UK. For some reason US publishers have better covers than the UK. Percy Jackson is probably one of the best examples of this.

UK publishers often use photographs and stock images instead of original illustrations by artists/illustrators. Some people might not agree, but the original artwork for the US The Lightning Thief cover is a lot more cool and interesting than the stock images used for the UK covers.

Blurbs…

The blurb is probably the second thing a reader looks at, and getting it right is a tough task. I know because I wrote twenty versions of the blurb for the book I sent out while I was querying agents. It has to be short enough that the reader doesn’t get bored, but give enough idea of what’s going on to be enticing.

But some books don’t have blurbs at all. I’ve seen plenty that have a question or single line for a blurb, and sometimes that can be enough to grab my interest.

Probably the most successful I’ve come across, that made me buy the book without hesitating was Skulduggery Pleasant’s blurb. It’s short and sharp, just like the writing style.

Meet Skulduggery Pleasant: detective, magician, warrior. Oh yes, and dead. 

Author reputation…

Some books I buy without reading blurbs, looking at covers, reading the first page.

But that’s usually only when I’ve read something else by the author and really liked it. JK Rowling, Stephen King, Lee Child, Derek Landy to name a few of only a few. These authors could write a book about pretty much anything and I’d buy it.

The first page…

This doesn’t happen so much now because I buy most books online. But I used to read the first page or two of a book to get an idea of the writing style. Find out if it was too wordy or too young or old. I used to pass on books that started with lengthy description and had little action. Now I give a book a little more of a chance. But the first few pages of a book are where an author has to get it right on the money. The first few pages are all a potential reader has time to read standing in a bookshop or checking the ‘look inside’ pages on Amazon.

Quality of writing…

This could be a part of the first page, but many will read the first couple of lines and if the writing isn’t up to scratch it might put them off. Sometimes I flip to the halfway mark and read a paragraph or so, to see if the quality of writing is still as good as the writing that caught my attention on the first page.

The first line…

Like a blurb, the first line has to hook a reader. That first line is just as important as the first page. Save the title and blurb, the first line is the first thing a reader… reads.

So lines like…

Gordon Edgley’s sudden death came as a shock to everyone–not least himself. (Skulduggery Pleasant Book 1 by Derek Landy)

“There are places you can go,” Ariana tells him, “and a guy like you has a decent chance of surviving to eighteen.” (Unwind by Neal Shusterman)

It was a dark, blustery afternoon in spring, and the city of London was chasing a small mining town across the dried out bed of the old North Sea. (Mortal Engines by Phillip Reeve)

My mother thinks I’m dead. (Legend by Marie Lu)

…are the kind of lines that immediately pull you into a story. They don’t reveal everything. But that’s where the skill is. Offering a question or something to tease the reader works. First lines give an impression of what the book will be like, or they should if they can.

Length…

The length of a book used to be something I considered when deciding to read a book, and I’d bet good money I’m not the only one. Long books can be intimidating, where short books should promise a fast read. But when I started reading Stephen King, I realised that length had nothing to do with how much I’d enjoy a book. Under the Dome is almost a thousand pages long, yet it’s in my top 5 books of all time. It’s the same with 11/22/63 which could easily double as a door-stop.

I like short books, but I no longer reconsider buying/reading a book if it’s really long. I’ve read plenty of short books where nothing happens.


How do you judge a book before reading/buying it? Do you look at a cover and that’s enough, or do you read a couple of pages? Drop a comment below…

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