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Saturday, 27 December 2014

Looking back at my writing year

I've been privileged to have read so many incredible books this year. Among my favourites have been The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith, The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton, Hideous Creatures by S.E. Lister, and Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies by Hilary Mantel. Thanks to my local library, I have been able to delve into so many different worlds upon which my imagination has thrived, and absorbed so much great writing that will hopefully help me in my own work. 

Speaking of which, it's crazy to think that I've put out two books of my own, completed some early drafts of a third (leaving to rest for a bit) AND started work on a fourth. I didn't think I'd be able to do so much, particularly since September when I started teacher training. I don't know if I'll be so lucky next year, when I know the course will get more intense, but I'm grateful for the time I have had this year to spend in other people's worlds as well as constructing my own. It makes me even more passionate that people, particularly students, come to value books and their imagination thrives as a result. 

I just want to thank everyone who has bought and read my books so far. I have cherished and appreciated your feedback and your sharing with the people around you, and I hope to bring you many more exciting stories over the years.

Empty Shelf/Mad Reviewer #46 - The Traitor Queen, Trudi Canavan.

The last in the trilogy of "The Traitor Spy", The Traitor Queen is a fitting end to the reader's second glance into the world of Kyralia, Sachaka and beyond.

The underworld of the largely cooperative Thieves - as much as rival thieves can be cooperative - is broken. The underworld is now largely ruled by Skellin, the rogue magician, due to his supply of not only magic but roet. Cery, Gol and Anyi find what solace they can under the Guild with Lilia, a new black magician and novice, helping out where she can. Cery, Gol and Anyi know they can't stay there forever, though, and they figure out a way to try and lure Skellin to them in order to trap him.

Meanwhile, in Sachaka, Lorkin has returned from Traitors' Sanctuary. Predictably, he won't tell the Sachakan king anything, so Lorkin is thrown in prison until his tongue is loosened. Black Magician Sonea is sent to try and treat with the king - as a Black Magician, she is the only Kyralian whom the Ashaki might respect, though she is still a woman - and she brings Lord Regin along as her assistant - to whom she has also been softening and forgiving since his cruelty in their novice days.

The Traitors also reveal that they are finally ready to conquer Sachaka as their own and throw off the chains of slavery, something they have been aiming for, for a long time.

As a trilogy, I thought it was fairly enjoyable overall. Maybe I had too high expectations because the Black Magician trilogy was so fantastic, but each story in this trilogy - particularly this one - seemed a bit more flat and struggling. The Traitor Conquest seemed a bit too easy, even with the battle in Arvice at the end. I think I mainly kept going because of the characters and wanting to see how their stories end, but that was still mostly out of loyalty to the characters I first got to know in the Black Magician rather than this trilogy. There was just something missing that didn't draw me in as much. Still, the end of the book wrapped (most) things up well, with glimpses into further changes in the world of Kyralia in particular.

Empty Shelf/Mad Reviewer Challenge #45 - Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn

It's no wonder the critics have been heaping praise upon this book. It's the kind of book that once you start it, you devour, not wanting to put it down for even a favourite meal - unless you can eat and read at the same time. 

The first part of the book is told from the point of view of Nick Dunne in real time and his wife, Amy, in diary form. On the day of Nick and Amy's five year anniversary, Amy disappears. Nick obviously involves the police straight away but it becomes very clear to Nick that something is not right. He and Amy had been having problems and the treasure hunt she leads him on through notes she left behind (a treasure hunt is something Amy always does on their anniversary) leads him to believe that she wants to give the marriage another really good go. However, all sorts of things turn up that start to point to Nick as a suspect - he bumped up her life insurance, he ordered thousands of dollars worth of stuff on many different credit cards, he didn't even know his wife was pregnant - all of these things he is completely ignorant of and denies where applicable. And from Amy's diary, we learn about their relationship - it began oh, so very sweetly but quickly turned sour when they lost their New York jobs, their New York house and had to move to Missouri to look after Nick's cancer-stricken mother. 

Then, BAM. The twist. Now, I already knew the twist because I had seen the film and heard others discussing it before the film came out. But if I hadn't known, I think the second part of the book would have hit me like a demolition ball. Because Amy is live and so very smug due to her plan of framing Nick for her murder. Her reason? Nick was cheating on her for over a year with one of his students, and she could not let him get away with it. An earlier plan of hers was attempted murder, but that didn't go far enough in Amy's justice system. She wanted to see him burn before being sentenced to death. 

The plot of this book is obviously fantastic, if deeply disturbing and nasty - particularly the ending - but what got me was the writing. This didn't seem like an ordinary thriller, like a series of fast-paced events simply strung together into a whole. Character wasn't sacrificed for the sake of action. Flynn did an amazing job of making sure every character was three dimensional and necessary, even when they weren't on the page. Case in point are the secondary characters such as Nick's father - he is everything Nick doesn't want to be, and even though we don't see him in action very often he looms like a shadow. 

One of the most interesting revelations came when I read the Q&A at the end of the book with the author. She was asked if Amy has any good qualities, and she said yes - planning, patience, that kind of thing. They're just taken to extremes in Amy's case. It really got me thinking - it is tempting to think of Amy as a 2D villain, but she is so much more than that. She is exceptionally skilled, intelligent, patient, with many other gifts, but her nature and the way she was raised means she wields those gifts in an immensely cruel manner. 

Neither is Nick the classic, hapless, cheating husband. He admits than when he met Amy he was pretending to be something she wanted him to be - as was she. But the pretending could only last so long and when they began to reveal their true selves it was clear they were like poison to each other. But after all of this, they're stuck. The reader feels for Nick, is scared for him - we would only be terrified as he in his situation - and yet there is nothing to be done. As Go, Nick's sister, says - they are addicted to each other. They couldn't part even if they tried. 

The book leaves interesting questions for the reader. How much of ourselves is real, and how much is pretend? Do we know the ratio that we present to other people? Are we ever comfortable to be completely ourselves, even with a partner of loved one? Most of the time we would want to say yes, but if we are honest with ourselves, that wouldn't always be the case. 

Empty Shelf/Mad Reviewer Challenge #44 - First Lord's Fury, Jim Butcher

The epic - and I mean, truly epic - conclusion to the immense Codex Alera series.

Tavi has overcome some truly remarkable challenges and tests since we first met him as a lowly country boy in The Furies of Calderon, most remarkably since most of them were without him having access to his furies. Since learning more and more about himself, what he can do, and the necessity of stepping into his rightful identity of First Lord, he has truly become a force to be reckoned with - something that no-one could ever have imagined of him, not even himself.

However, now comes the biggest battle of all. The war with the Vord has been waging for some time, but it is now or never. They have to be defeated, or Alera will be wiped off the face of the earth, leaving no trace but a memory, and even that will fade. Tavi - Gaius Octavian - knows it is up to him. He needs to get back to Alera from Canea as soon as possible. The legions are doing their best but even with the best of their tactics - and there are truly some amazing battles - the Vord simply outnumber them, headed up by the deadly, immensely powerful Vord queen. It all comes down to her - she must die, for without her the Vord masses are useless, or Alera will die.

 However, though the book is obviously battle-heavy it loses none of its potency in other areas. There are still so much to learn about the characters - Ehren, in particular, comes into the fore and we learn just how far Invidia Aquitaine will go to cling on to scraps of power - and the politics are still at play on both sides. The story is so huge and detailed on several complicated fronts through the familiar characters - though, again, Ehren takes part in the narrative itself -  it's remarkable to think how Butcher manages it, like a conductor of a great orchestra.

A fitting and triumphant end to a truly fantastic fantasy series. It's sad to say goodbye to it, in many ways.

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Empty Shelf/Mad Reviewer Challenge #43 - The Silkworm, Robert Galbraith

I can't remember the last time I eagerly anticipated the next in a series as much as this book. I loved The Cuckoo's Calling, Galbraith's fantastic debut, and wanted more of Strike and Robin as soon as I'd put it down. Thanks to my local library (yay for libraries!) I finally got my hands on it.

Strike has found himself with a lot more business since he famously solved the Lula Landry case of The Cuckoo's Calling and now even has a waiting list. However, when one day a woman invades his office asking him to find her missing husband he is faced with a dilemma. Potentially take on a case for free for someone he has no prior loyalties to, or shun her in favour of some better, well-paying client? He chooses the former and embarks on one of the more difficult cases he has come up against, delving into the exclusive, political, even dark world of publishing.

As with Cuckoo, the plot is well-paced, flows well, with more than a few parts finding me practically sticking my nose up against the book to make sure I didn't miss a thing. The scene of the murder, for one, is grotesque and horrifying but brilliant in its description. We meet a whole host of deliciously awful characters, as well as some who are downright pitiful, and get a deeper insight into Robin and Matthew's relationship. Who knows what will happen with them? As for the 'who-dunnit' reveal... maybe a more perceptive reader than me would have seen it coming, but it was excellently done and a thrilling surprise, not least because of the circumstances surrounding it (you'll know what I mean when you read it - I don't want to give anything away, here).

A hugely enjoyable read, and one of my favourite of 2014. Give me more, Galbraith!