Monday, 10 December 2018

Paper Girl - Blog Tour

I haven’t left my house in over a year. My doctor says it’s social anxiety, but I know the only things that are safe are made of paper. My room is paper. My world is paper. Everything outside is fire. All it would take is one spark for me to burst into flames. So I stay inside. Where nothing can touch me. Then my mom hire a tutor. Jackson. This boy I had a crush on before the world became too terrifying to live in.

Jackson’s life is the complete opposite of mine, and I can tell he’s got secrets of his own. But he makes me feel things. Makes me want to try again. Makes me want to be brave. I can almost taste the outside world. But so many things could go wrong, and all it takes is one spark for everything I love to disappear...

About the Author
Cindy lives at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, and loves using Colorado towns and cities as inspiration for settings in her stories. She's the mother of three girls, who provide plenty of fodder for her YA novels. Cindy writes speculative fiction and YA fiction, filled with a healthy dose of romance. You'll often find her hiking or listening to any number of playlists while she comes up with her next story idea.

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Paper Girl was a sweet, beautifully written story. Zoe suffers from severe agoraphobic anxiety and hasn't left her family home in a year. Jackson is homeless despite his high flying public persona. The two interact in their mutual escape of online chess and their virtual and real world collide when Zoe's mum hires Jackson to be here tutor. It might sound twee and more than a little cliched, but you'll be so swept up in Zoe's paper world that you won't hold it against the book.

The descriptions of Zoe's paper world were awe-inspiring. It was an interesting touch for her character - I would pay money to see that paper galaxy! - and I absolutely loved the chapters of her online chats with Jackson. Neither knows who they're speaking to so they're free to be as honest and open as they like which made for a nice contrast as the two gradually opened up to each other. I did enjoy Jackson's chapters a little more than Zoe's though, simply because I've read plenty of contemporary YA books from the pov of a female character suffering from mental health issues, but far less from the pov of a male character experiencing homelessness.

It was nice to read a book where the author didn't go for a "love cures mental illness" cop-out which is what I was fearing. Zoe herself does plenty of hard work with her therapist to overcome her fears and take her first steps towards normality and the book is refreshingly pro-therapy. There's no quick win or big revelation that causes Zoe to suddenly "get over" her issues; mental health recovery takes times and hard work and Paper Girl doesn't shy away from that fact. That said, Zoe's recovery was more than a little rushed and she was seemingly comfortable in situations that would give a person without agoraphobia anxiety. Still, the author had a story to tell and struck a pretty good balance between realism and storytelling.

Paper Girl is a strong debut - with an absolutely gorgeous cover! - and a must-read for fans of contemporary YA.

Wednesday, 12 September 2018

Author Interview - Helen Scheuerer

To celebrate the release of Reign of Mist, book two of the Oremere Chronicles, I chat to author Helen Scheuerer about her writing process, favourite authors and dealing with bad reviews.

The Book
The realm’s darkest secret is out.

The cruelty of the capital and the power-hungry King Arden have scattered Bleak and her companions across the continents. On the run in a foreign land, Bleak finds herself tied to some unexpected strangers. When the answers she yearns for are finally within reach, she must face the hard truths of her past, and take her fate into her own hands before it’s too late.

Meanwhile, secrets and magic unravel as a dark power corrupts the realm. Bleak’s friends are forced to decide where their loyalties lie, and who, if anyone, they can trust.

But one thing is certain: war is coming, and they must all be ready when it does.

Intriguing and action-packed, Reign of Mist is the second instalment in Helen Scheuerer’s epic YA fantasy series, The Oremere Chronicles.

You can read my review of Reign of Mist (spoiler alert; I loved it!) here.

The Interview

A lot of series’ suffer from “second book syndrome” which you seem to have avoided! How hard was it writing this book compared to Heart of Mist?

It feels surreal looking back on the challenges of writing the second book now… At the start, I thought it was going to be easier; I knew the world, I knew the characters far better than I had before starting Heart of Mist. However, after the first draft, I started working with my beta readers and realised just how much work there still was to go. I’m so so lucky that I got such honest feedback from my betas because the book wasn’t nearly ready for publication. It definitely suffered from second book syndrome at one point! With my betas’ suggestions and encouragement, it took another six months at least to rework the manuscript. It felt much harder to finish than the first book!

If you could go back in time and give your past self one piece of advice before starting the series, what would it be?

Haha, hindsight it such a bitter sweet thing! For me, I always thought I had planned the series quite well. Turns out, I hadn’t even scratched the surface. I wish I had of taken more time before putting pen to paper to plot not only the first book, but all three. Writing the second, and now third book, has been an exercise in problem solving thanks to my lack of extensive plotting!

Putting your book out in the public domain must be pretty daunting. How do you deal with the reactions to your book, either positive or negative?

Ahhh… Honestly? It really depends what day you ask me. I like to think that I’ve developed a thick skin over the years, but some days you can feel more fragile than others. Daunting is definitely the right word there.

It’s always wonderful to receive a good review - there’s nothing that brightens my day more than that. As for the bad… Most of the time I try to either a) take feedback on board, some reviewers are constructive in their critiques! or b) laugh it off, or c) don’t read them at all!

Your cast of characters is getting pretty long and your world map must be huge! How do you keep track of everything and everyone when you’re writing?

Haha, don’t remind me! When I started writing Heart of Mist I just had a list of characters and where they were from. Nowadays… You’re absolutely right, the cast just keeps growing. Now I have spreadsheets to keep track of names, origins, who they’re related to, who they’re friends with and any physically distinctive traits like scars and unusual eye colours.

Who’s your favourite character in RoM to write and who’s your favourite character to read?

Ohhhhh that’s a great (and difficult) question! This is another one that really depends on the mood, as well as the extent of the plan I’m working off, but… I actually quite like writing from Swinton’s point of view. I love writing the banter between him and Fi :)

As for my favourite to read… I do love Olena. She’s underestimated by all those around her (except Dash) but then she comes out with these burns that leave everyone in shock… I love those quiet girl-power moments.

What are some of your favourite fantasy books or series when you’re taking a break from writing?

I love a bit of SJM (Sarah J. Maas). She’s my guilty pleasure author. Hot fae guys, kickass action and all the sass in the world. Her books are the perfect escape material.

I also love V.E. Schwab’s Darker Shade of Magic trilogy and Sabaa Tahir’s An Ember in the Ashes. Authors like them leave me in absolute awe at the depth of their characterisation and worldbuilding. Their books are definitely something to aspire to.

Where’s the strangest place writing inspiration has struck you?

Generally if I’m feeling stuck on a particular scene or plot point, and am feeling quite frustrated about things, inspiration tends to strike when I’m doing something mundane, like doing the dishes or cleaning the apartment. Actually just this morning I had a bit of a plot breakthrough while I was refilling the soap dispensers…

What’s the best and worst part of writing a book?

There are so many highs and lows when you’re writing a book, which makes this question really hard to answer. I think for me, particularly being an indie author, one of the worst (or hardest) parts of the process is finally deciding when the book is ready. As I’ve mentioned, I work with a great team of beta readers, but at the end of the day, the one who draws the line in the sand and says the book is finished and ready for readers is me. I find that incredibly daunting.

As for the best part of writing a book? The days when your imagination is soaring and your fingers are flying across the keyboard… There’s absolutely nothing better than that feeling. The feeling of having created, of worked hard and having something to show for it at the end of the day.

I know you won’t leave us on that ending! What’s next for the Oremere Chronicles?

Haha, I do love a good cliffhanger! Well to be honest, all I can really say without spoiling things is that the third and final book will be out in 2019.

I’ve also been publishing prequel e-shorts to the series, there are currently six available for free. Readers can sign up here to receive them. The plan is to publish three more in before the third book is released, so readers can still get their Oremere fix ;)

Sum up Reign of Mist in ten words or less.
Action-packed, intriguing, suspenseful and addictive (hopefully!).

 Reign of Mist is on sale now!

The Author

Helen Scheuerer is a novelist from Sydney, Australia, and the Founding Editor of Writer's Edit. She has university degrees in both creative writing and publishing. Her #1 bestselling YA fantasy novel, Heart of Mist is available now. She is a full-time author living by the beach.

The Prequels

There are six (yep, six!) free (also yep, free!) prequel novellas available which you can get from Helen's website. Happy reading!

Monday, 20 August 2018

Ash Princess

Theodosia was six when her country was invaded and her mother, the Fire Queen, was murdered before her eyes. On that day, the Kaiser took Theodosia's family, her land, and her name. Theo was crowned Ash Princess--a title of shame to bear in her new life as a prisoner.

For ten years Theo has been a captive in her own palace. She's endured the relentless abuse and ridicule of the Kaiser and his court. She is powerless, surviving in her new world only by burying the girl she was deep inside.

Then, one night, the Kaiser forces her to do the unthinkable. With blood on her hands and all hope of reclaiming her throne lost, she realizes that surviving is no longer enough. But she does have a weapon: her mind is sharper than any sword. And power isn't always won on the battlefield.

For ten years, the Ash Princess has seen her land pillaged and her people enslaved. That all ends here.

I’ve read this book before. So have you. It may have been called something else but the pieces are all here. The heir to a fallen throne, her people in hiding/slavery. The evil overlord king who took said throne. A secret rebel in the heart of her enemy’s stronghold. The childhood friend and hot newcomer/prince love triangle. Vague magic. 

I had the exact same problem with Frostblood, Snow Like Ashes and Red Queen. The author seemed so busy trying to cram every cliche in the YA playbook into her story that the story itself fell short. Every box is ticked but it all feels obligatory, not organic. The characters do the "right" things and spout the "right" dialogue, but they're dull and lifeless. The world and history is standard fantasy fare, but it feels sketched not shaded. The plot takes you from A to B, but there are no surprises along the way. I guess I can't lambast an author writing in a genre for sticking to the "rules" of that genre too closely, but it would be nice to read something new.

The story wasn’t engaging. There was some potential in the Kaiser keeping Thora as a political prisoner and taking her people’s rebellions out her, but aside from a few mentions this was pretty much glossed over. I’m not saying I wanted to read torture scenes reminiscent of a Saw movie, but this thread was one of the few things this book had going for it to differentiate it from the YA pack, so I was disappointed that it only garnered a few mentions and a fade to black. I mean, if the point was to show Thora’s people that their rightful queen has been reduced to nothing more than a subservient slave, being punished every time they stepped out of line, why do her punishments all seem to take place behind closed doors? Why were her scars only displayed at the Kaiser’s dinners which were, presumably, occasions where his allies would be present? It felt like a suitably twisted idea, but the execution was fumbled when that idea ended up on the pages.

Thora herself was a hard character to read, which didn’t help the story click with me. The author flits her between a Stockholm syndrome afflicted victim to quietly calculating rebel on a whim, which makes it hard to see her as a believable character. One moment we’re supposed to believe she’s been conditioned to keep her head down to stay alive, the next we’re being asked to swallow the idea that she’d plot political assassination behind her jailor’s back with nothing more than a little prompting from three new guards who claim to be rebels. It didn’t feel like Thora had much of a character arc if that side of her had been present, albeit hidden, from page one. Her painfully telegraphed relationship with the Prince (or Prinz as its spelled in this book for some reason) Soren lacked any sort of chemistry, and no real reason is ever given for him being willing to betray his father and his kingdom for her. Professing love doesn’t cut it for me. I want to hear the banter, see the sparks and feel the heat, and I got none of those things. 

The writing style felt oddly flat to me. I can’t quite put my finger on why, but it never drew me in. It never swept me away into the story. Things happen and people say things, but I always felt like I was watching from a distance. The best books put you right there with the characters, in that world. Ash Princess didn’t do that for a single moment. 

Overall, Ash Princess is fine, and that pretty much sums up my issue with it. There’s nothing new here, nothing unique or particularly enthralling. It’s just … ok. It offers everything you’d expect a YA to offer and nothing more. If you’re looking for a quick and easy read that’s not going to turn your world upside down then give it a go, but if you want anything more than that you’d best look elsewhere.

Thursday, 16 August 2018

The Azrael Initiative

Best friends Kayla Falk, an engineering student, and Olivia Bellamy, who is studying nursing, are nearing the end of their college career when terrorists attack their university. Through a combination of cleverness, bravery, and luck, the two manage to foil the deadly plot. A mysterious man from the United States government, Mr. Hightower, sees their potential and attempts to recruit Kayla and Olivia for a program to take on ISIS. They initially refuse, but another terrorist attack that strikes close to home pushes them to change their minds and join the Azrael Initiative.

After several months of hard training, the two women are dropped into Al-Raqqah, the capital of ISIS, in Syria. Once there, they must blend in with the locals as they strike from the shadows to kill ISIS leaders, destroy their facilities, and free captives. As Americans deep within enemy territory, they know that they will be killed if discovered. As women, they also know that they would suffer before death. Walking the line between vengeance and justice strains their relationship. As they work to resolve their differences, the symphony of brutality around them ultimately pushes them closer together and forges them into the warriors that they were meant to become.

Read the first three chapters of The Azrael Initiative.

The Azrael Initiative isn't my usual read. I like a bit of fantasy YA and a bit of contemporary YA, but this book falls somewhere in between. It's certainly not fantasy, but it's not exactly contemporary either. Even so, I ended up really enjoying it. The writing style and overly simplistic plot weren't to my tastes (more on that below!) but I loved the strong friendship between Kayla and Olivia that was at the heart of this novel. After a bit of a slow start, the story gets its hooks into you. There are some sections (no spoilers here!) that really hit hard. Both girls are well written and their friendship was the bedrock of the story. Families don't get enough of a look in in a lot of YA books, so the girls' close bond with their families and each others was touching. The book also correctly (imo) posits that family isn't always blood and real family is the people you choose to surround yourself with.

The author deserves kudos for having the nerve to tackle such a thorny subject. It would have been easier to set the book in an alternate world or create a fictional enemy but he didn't take the easy road and I do admire that. However this caused a bit of an issue for me. Kayla and Olivia are basically recruited as child soliders and trained/brainwashed to blindly attack the enemy they're pointed at. Kind of like ISIS then? The problem is, they're guilty of exactly the same thing they're trying to prevent. Their own overseer outright states that "our agents will work to instill fear in ISIS using any means necessary." So, become terrorsits themselves? Kayla deals with terrorists killing her family by going out and killing terrorists, who presumably have families of their own. It's all very black and white, but this story really would have benefited from some shades of grey. One particular scene in which Kayla brutally stabs a suspected terrorist to death before remarking that people "like him" remind her of the people that killed her family, while straddling his still warm corpse, is staggeringly tone deaf.

This book definitely would have benefited from a stricter edit. There are countless surplus paragraphs and information that add nothing to the story that really should have been cut. On the whole though, this book was an entertaining read. Although the execution of the morally complex story wasn't faultless, I admire the author for not taking the easy road and I absolutely loved the strong female friendship between Kayla and Olivia.

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About the Author

K lives in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, where he works as a software developer. In his spare time, when he isn’t writing, he enjoys reading, working out, playing video games, and spending time with his wonderful fiancee, Bobbi. Some of his favorite authors are Tom Clancy, George R. R. Martin, and Sarah Maas.

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