Saturday, 31 January 2015

Book Review: Insanity

INSANITY by Cameron Jace
4 stars
Verdict: Perfect if you're craving something a bit wacky.

After accidentally killing everyone in her class, Alice Wonder is now a patient in the Radcliffe Lunatic Asylum. No one doubts her insanity. Only a hookah-smoking professor believes otherwise; that he can prove her sanity by decoding Lewis Carroll's paintings, photographs, and find Wonderland's real whereabouts. Professor Caterpillar persuades the asylum that Alice can save lives and catch the wonderland monsters now reincarnated in modern day criminals. In order to do so, Alice leads a double life: an Oxford university student by day, a mad girl in an asylum by night. The line between sanity and insanity thins when she meets Jack Diamond, an arrogant college student who believes that nonsense is an actual science.


Throw your cats out the window, everyone, Insanity is here!

Warning: Most of this book is nonsensical. If you find a lack of logic frustrating, step away from the book before you get in too deep.

But if you love a mystery based adventure with zany characters and endless possibilities, then come take your first steps into Alice Wonder’s life.

This book is definitely something different. There’s nothing cliché or predictable about it, and I can imagine the author spent a lot of time trying to make sense using nonsense. I respect him a lot for creating something truly unique.

Is Alice crazy? Is she not? What it means to be insane is question in a way that will get you thinking, especially when mundane activities by supposedly normal people are twisted back around to feel strange. I know what to look out for the next time I ride a bus...

At first I thought there was no way I’d give this anything fewer than five stars, and that remained unchallenged for a while. When Alice steps out of the mental institute and into the real world, somehow the story goes completely nuts in a good way, but this is where I thought the novel peaked. Around half way into Alice's adventure, I found the nonsensical nature of the plot a bit of a novelty and soon grew tired of the way it was constructed.

Ah, that long middle section.

The problem with a world where almost anything imaginable can happen is that it’s impossible to predict or anticipate. Therefore I struggled to feel tension when situations got a little sticky. We know there will never be a moment where Alice is in peril because something nonsensical might happen and she’s okay; there's no point in guessing what will happen because the real twist won't be logical. For me, that meant my attention waned the more it went on, but I’d still highly recommend others to read it.

Despite the fact I’m from Oxford, my knowledge of Lewis Carroll was poor. I say ‘was’ because Jace adds in details about Lewis Carroll left, right and centre. I was a little sceptical of how much was fact and fiction (and if you read this novel, then you’ll know why!) but at the end I saw a note from the author. He sounds like a nice author, too. He researched Carroll thoroughly and even invites readers to discuss the book with him. Hats off to a friendly writer!

Nearer the climax, the story picks back up and finally links in a few past elements which help the story feel knitted together again. The ending opens up more questions than it answers, but I think I'll pass on the series. The questions it ended on weren't enough to hook me in, and I feel like book 2 make struggle with the same issues concerning tension and anticipation so I's rather leave Jace's world on a high.

Insanity has its fair share of twists and turns, unsolved mysteries, and shocking reveals so don't get me wrong - I enjoyed this novel a lot. I can’t help think if it was shorter, I would have preferred it a bit more. After all, there’s only so much madness I can take!

Source: Direct from author.

Friday, 16 January 2015

Dystopian Beta-Read: The Clearing

The Clearing is a 65,000 word dystopian horror centred around the question 'Why do the Sentenced run into the forest full of the Soulless?'

And it's finally complete!

I'm currently looking for a few more beta-readers. If you’d like to test it out, part 1 is on Figment and Wattpad. The response so far has been exceptional - I couldn't be happier. 

Drop me a message at in the comments or fill out the contact form. I crave your most honest opinions but don't worry - I don’t bite. I'm looking to make changes.

The manuscript has already passed through several individuals with different strengths and should feel fairly edited. However, if you spot a mistake, highlight it/comment/let me know whichever way you like.

Thank you so much to those who have already helped so far. I will remember all of you!

Similar books: The Forest Of Hands And Teeth, Wither, Hunger Games – I’m not claiming to be on par, just a similar vibe.

The Clearing Synopsis

Ruby’s father encouraged her as a child not to trust the Cult of Life or how they run the village. For his opinions alone, her father was Sentenced – thrown outside the gates and expected to run into the forest. But the only life that thrives outside the village boundaries is that of the Soulless: the undead who always know how to get their prey.

Now she’s sixteen, Ruby refuses to respect the Cult, inspiring the young to doubt their leaders and shooting an abusive follower with a blunted arrow. But most of all, Ruby stay inquisitive. Why does the Cult allow psychics to condemn villagers before they’re guilty? And why do the Sentenced run so willingly into the forest full of the Soulless? Her questions lead her into spot healthy strangers behind the gate, a truth the Cult will not tolerate.

Ruby is Sentenced before she can share what she’s learned. But unlike others before her, she refuses to run to her death – an act of defiance that she lives to regret.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Book Review: A Grimm Legacy

A Grimm Legacy by Janna Jennings
Verdict: 2 stars
Verdict: Middle grade, imaginative, but I’d recommend other novels.

Enchanted castles and charming princes thought to exist only in stories come to life in this classically twisted fairy tale that combines the timeless quality of folktales with the challenges of the modern world. 

The woods of Elorium appear ordinary to Andi… until the birds start to talk and elves answer doors. Whisked out of her world along with three strangers, Andi finds herself the reluctant guest of Mr. Jackson, a perplexing millionaire who claims to be able to help them get home. The secrets he harbors, however, make it difficult to know just who to trust.

When the group of teenagers discover that in this new world, fiction is anything but, and that they all have unexpected family ties to this fairy tale land, they must learn to rely on each other. The only way to survive evil fairies and giants intent on keeping them in Elorium is to rely on each other.

Faced with characters short on whimsy and bent toward treachery, Andi, Quinn, Fredrick, and Dylan are forced to play their parts in unfinished fairy tales. But in Elorium, happily ever after is never guaranteed.


Damn it. I wanted to love it. It’s fairytale themed which is one of my favourite genres. The cover is beautiful and magical, and the blurb caught my attention.

I really had to reign in the editor in me here. I found a lot of issues, even for a review copy. Before I get into it, I don’t take pleasure in disliking a novel and I bet the author is a lovely person. Right. Now for my highlights:

It didn’t take many pages for me to feel confused. The story whips by too quickly to really appreciate what’s going on. I didn’t care for the characters because there were too many and they were too busy with the constant new turmoil to have personality. I never thought a book could be too fast-paced, but this leaves out depth and tells way too much – because there isn’t time to show.

Ultimately, the confusion did it for me. I had to keep rereading. Vague sentences, emphasis in the wrong place, and just not enough to grip me personally.

The novel starts with four introductory chapters. Four. Each chapter recalls the four main characters’ lives the moment before they disappear. Alone, each story is interesting and ends in a mysterious way. But combined, I felt like I had just read the first chapters of four rather repetitive stories. I had done a substantial bit of reading but hadn’t had a chance to connect with any of the characters. I wouldn’t recommend using this structure in a novel.

I could have forgiven the choppy, four-prologues-long introduction and inevitable overuse of proper nouns in the prose if some sort of explanation was provided when the four finally meet. Instead, there’s an elf saying he has to take them to his master... eventually. The teenagers proceed to make themselves at home with no further description of where they are or what’s happening. They steal a car, crash, get frozen and turned into birds all within a few minutes of reading.

It felt like I was reading someone’s dream, where bizarre things can happen and events can leap forward with no back-links. I started to feel like I was losing the plot...

Similar to life, the loud characters are easier to remember. This meant that Andi was memorable whereas the rest blurred into a category that I fittingly named ‘the rest’. It’s not just that there were lots of characters, it’s that there were too many main characters with very different lives but not significantly interesting personalities or any defining characteristic.

And why must Quinn always be the one to get kidnapped? Is it because she clogs up the already named-packed narrative? Apart from adding some Indian heritage to this novel, she became a bland side character. I hope she becomes more defined in book 2 because she started so strong! And I did enjoy the fact she was a diverse character. The Brothers Grimm were German after all – it makes no sense for every character to be a white American other than the lack of diversity we see in the media (go Quinn!). Unfortunately, she was probably the least necessary of the four, and the book might have been easier to follow and connect with had she been dropped.

Around 50% in, and fed up of garden path sentences, I decided this book didn’t make much sense. If I regressed every time something was vague, confusing, illogical, or jumped around, then I would have never finished it.

So I changed tactic.

I used what I will now dub ‘the thick skimming technique’, where I kept moving forwards at a brisk pace whether it made sense or not, which is what the writing style tended to do on its own. If you’re a fast and light reader, then perhaps you’ll find this book very fitting. Its strength is definitely the pace.

In this fairy tale realm, I found the references to brands a bit distracting. Chanel. Louis Vuitton handbags. They even had cell phones. How? Why? How much contact with the regular world does Elorium have? It’s an unanswered mystery, and raises more questions than it answers.

Sometimes the plot did have obvious holes in it. Instead of stitching them up, we’re told in a clunky fashion that ‘but you can’t do that’. The author notices there’s a potential flaw and essentially tells the reader ‘no, that would ruin my plot’. I shrugged and got on with the story, but as I said before, it’s easier to skim this book than read it.

I hate the phrase ‘show don’t tell’ because it’s so vague and not always correctly used. But the connection between the four teenagers is forced. They only know each other for a few measly seconds before they’re familiar and know what is and isn’t ‘characteristic’ of the other. I didn’t know it wasn’t characteristic because I haven’t really met Fredrick yet.

And modifiers! Description should be more than just nouns and verbs with adjectives and adverbs in front of them. Most could be scrapped to no ill effect. ‘Exaggerated overreaction’ was a particular low point. If it’s an overreaction, we gather that it’s exaggerated.

The language often took odd turns. For a middle grade book, words like ‘perturbed’ and ‘unperturbed’ felt out of place (yes, both were mentioned and rather close together), especially as the rest of the lexis was simple. Lots of information was either ‘forthcoming’ or ‘no other information was forthcoming’. It felt like a robotic way of stating something that didn’t need to be said.

A Grimm Legacy did have redeeming qualities. I didn’t feel bored because, although sometimes I lost the plot, it moved on so quickly that I could pick it back up again for the next surprising event. The author must be a very creative spirit. It’s fast paced and entertaining at the very least. I also thought the chapter titles were clever. Strange quotes from the narrative were picked out which intrigued me to read on as well as showed the quirks of the novel. I enjoyed the quirkiness (where it worked). If only it worked more.

Essentially, I didn’t connect with it at all. I’ve read better novels sentenced around fairy tales. It’s awkward and a bit confusing, but mildly entertaining. I enjoyed skimming it more than reading it. I’m glad I didn’t request the sequel!


Saturday, 10 January 2015

Tips To Fix Your Superficial Action Scenes

I've read a few really entertaining opening chapters on writing sites lately. They've hooked me in with a thrilling chance, a daring theft, or an exciting fight scene. The only problem is I know I could connect with the characters and felt a little underwhelmed compared to what I could have felt.

They've all missed out on the crucial element of context. A few tweaks, and these could be strong opening scenes.

I call it superficial action. We know there’s excitement and adrenaline, but we don’t know much else. Although it can be a way to hook in readers and never let them go, don’t forget that chapter 1 should do more than just thrill. It needs to introduce the novel.

Surroundings. It’s all good having an action scene, but I want to understand why and where it’s happening too. Often you can hint to both just setting the scene. Is the fight in an arena? Or in the school canteen? Those are two entirely different stories.

Stakes. If I know why you’re running and why you fear being caught, I’ll be hanging on your every word, rooting for the character to keep going. Is the penalty immediate death? Or is there a bounty on their head? Are they even sure? Maybe they could take a good guess.

Beforehand. Did they just steal a packet of chicken nuggets from Tesco's, or were they innocently sitting in a tavern? This might not always seem like an important factor, but it can allude to why they've being chased or attacked – if they know why!

Who? Not only do I want to see some characterisation from your lead so that I can connect and remember them, I want to know something about their lives other than they happen to be involved in a bit of action right now. What's their family life like? Is this the norm for them, or out of the ordinary?

You don’t have to answer every question the reader has. This isn't an extensive list and some of these overlap.

What you want to do is give readers enough information so that they’re asking questions of their own that surpass the standard ‘what, why, when’s. Is his father’s abusive relationship with him the reason why he’s in this fight? Is a packet of chicken nuggets really worth being gunned down in the streets – and how did their get so hostile over frozen food?

And keep writing those eccentric action scenes. They’re a strong start to any young adult novel.

Cheers for reading!

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Book Review: Captive

CAPTIVE by A.J. Grainger
Verdict: 3 Stars
Recommend: Well, it's an alright YA read.

Robyn's dad is the British prime minister, and someone wants him dead. Now Robyn is being held captive - but who is really at fault?

The short pitch is the most accurate. I’ve read longer pitches which say things like ‘A list celebrity’ and ‘global corruption’... I know a blurb is meant to sell a book, but it’s always funny when you read the pitch after the novel and find that things just don’t match up. I would have enjoyed this novel a little more if I had just read that little short snippet. Either way, this is still an okay young adult thriller.

Robyn is a strong character. She may get held captive but she fights... in real life, that’s a risky game to play, but a character with a bit of umph is far more interesting than one who sits back and waits for the rescue.

My general view of it is that it felt fresh and gritty at times, cliché and fluffy at other. When that’s all balanced out, three stars felt fair.

Every so often a really creative metaphor would crop up which reminded me that this might by A.J. Grainger first novel, but she is by no means an amateur writer. Descriptions were often beautiful and vivid, but further into the book I found repetition of ideas. For example, I believe there were three instances of people’s legs forgetting what legs can do – a trick you can only really use once. A few metaphors sounded odd to me and some chapters were just written better than others. In particular, some of the discussions between the characters tended to waffle on; I guess that’s to help everyone understand clearly what’s going on, but repetition gets a bit tiring.

You can tell just from the fact it’s a young adult novel that there would be a bit of Stockholm Syndrome going on, and it only took a few chapters to get there. I enjoyed the connection between Robyn and her green-eyed kidnapper, but strangely found myself rooting for them to just be friends. The connection they shared felt situational – of course you’ll like a nice captor more than once that abuses you – but love? It felt somewhat contrived at times. I think young adult writers should appreciate that a strong connection between a female and male character doesn’t always need to end in romance. There’s more to a story than love, and this novel did a good job in showing that for the most part.

There’s a strong theme of owning your mistakes. One sole action does not define us, but how we handle it and what we do when similar opportunities come at our door. On this side of things, I really liked the ending. I like the message it portrays. It matched my values well, and offers a different message than most novels on the young adult market.

Unfortunately, the other part of the ending was a bit of a reader pleaser, except I felt like it missed the mark entirely. I felt at times that this was a novel written by someone who had the audience in mind, rather than staying true to the characters, plot, and message.

This is a strong three stars from me. This book is a good read. I personally wasn’t blown away by it. I wasn’t interested by the politics (which felt a bit generic), but much more thrilled by the action, the mix of tension between her and her different captives, the unravelling family life portrayed through the use of flashbacks. The plot definitely thickens as you read on – if only the characters didn’t goo up and had a bit more to them then I’d be able to rate it a lot higher.


Saturday, 3 January 2015

APPLE winners!

Happy new year, writers and readers alike! To start off 2015, it's time to announce the winners of R.A. Black's horror novel, Apple.

I placed all entries into a randomiser, and here are the two individuals selected to receive a paperback copy:
Nicole Mac Arthur

Luke Hulse

Congratulations! Expect an email from me very soon. I hope you enjoy Apple as much as I did, and don't forget to write a review.

For all of you who didn't manage to win one this time, you can of course purchase a copy through Amazon  You can also check out R.A. Black on Figment and Facebook or read her author interview. The details in her novel are particularly vivid. You can read her article, How to Leave you Readers Cold, Hungry, and Afraid, for tips on how to immerse readers into your world. Lastly, if you have no idea what Apple is and perhaps thought I was giving away iphones or something, maybe check out my review here.

Enter a gothic story of madness and cruelty, where the bonds of sibling loyalty are tested to the grave and beyond.

High on the hill, Cavington Hall lurks like a beast surveying its territory. Spoken of in hushed whispers, it is home to Doctor Charles Cavington, last of a family cursed by genius and insanity in equal parts. It has now become home to twelve year old Apple. A run-away, she is forced into the doctor's service as payment for saving her brother's life.

While Apple struggles to cope with her loneliness and isolation, the mysteries surrounding Doctor Cavington are growing. What exactly is his interest in the two siblings? Is there any truth to his strange tales of Guardians and Reapers, ethereal figures he claims are responsible for dealing with the souls of the dead?

And what is making that thumping noise in the locked nursery at night?