Monday, 30 March 2015

YA Book Club: RED QUEEN Review

Hello, fellow YA Book Clubbers! Looking forward to reading your reviews, and a big thanks to Tracey Neithercott for hosting!

A FRIENDLY WORD OF WARNING: While my review doesn’t give away specific spoilers, certain plot points can probably be inferred from what I’ve written here, so if you haven’t read the book, you might want to skip my review.

Let me start by saying, I really, really wanted to love RED QUEEN. The description sounded awesome—red against silver blood, an mc with powers she shouldn’t have, a rebellion, a forced betrothal to a prince—but ultimately the book fell short for me. The following is just my opinion, and I hope I’ve offered criticism respectfully.  I don’t want to be negative, but I’m going to give an honest review. Also, sorry about the length, but I wanted to back up my POV.

World-building

Mare’s world had the potential to be fascinating but never felt fully realized to me. By the description, I though the book was fantasy, so I initially pictured something with a more historic influence. When things like electricity, TV screens, and other sci-fi details showed up, I was a bit confused. While I certainly think speculative fiction can be a blend of fantasy and sci-fi (obviously), the technical details in RQ didn’t seem to mesh with the Roman influence, which was never really developed a lot either.

I also didn’t get a sense of things like landscape, architecture, or how rooms looked. Characters seemed to be floating in a generic space much of the time, but more specific details would’ve helped me imagine the setting better. Similarly, I wanted a more thorough idea of the culture on both sides of the conflict beyond the fact that Reds were poor and downtrodden, and Silvers were mostly cruel, had powers, and were born into houses identified by particular colors.

I thought the conflict between the Reds and Silvers was a good basis for the story, but I would’ve liked more background on how this evolutionary divide was originally discovered. Along with that, I would’ve appreciated more information on the apocalyptic event that changed the world. We see the remnants of what I assume is our current world in the City of Ruins (that revelation felt very District 13 to me & the Bowl of Bones was reminiscent of the HG arena), but this setting and its occupants was never developed. Perhaps in book two?

More information on the war would also have been helpful. I wasn’t sure what they were fighting about exactly. If the author mentioned it, I don’t remember. The war itself seemed used as a way to oppress the Reds, but in and of itself didn’t serve much purpose in the plot. The Lakelanders were the enemy, but nothing was ever explained about them. A map in the front of the book would’ve helped sort out some of the places mentioned as well.

Characters

Unfortunately, I didn’t feel a strong connection to the characters. When the story began, I liked that Mare was on the prickly side—a rough around the edges thief trying to help her family survive—but once she got to the palace, that toughness faded. Even with her ability to create/control electricity, her survival instinct often took a back seat to relying on the princes for protection or being told what to do by the Scarlet Guard. I liked that she cared about her family and Kilorn and was willing to sacrifice herself to help them, but overall I didn’t feel there was much to know about her personally.

To me, the princes were all over the map. I wanted to love Cal. His character started off well, with the insinuation that he might sympathize with the Reds, but he was inconsistent—noble and compassionate one minute and cruel the next.  It was never really shown why he supposedly loved Mare either, problematic considering how much the rebels staked on his feelings for her in their big plan. This made the romance unconvincing for me.

While it’s understandable why Maven might come across as inconsistent, I think his personality waffled too extremely. At times he seemed cowardly, expressed in his physical demeanor, only to turn around and appear brave and unleash his temper. We were also never told anything specific about Maven personally, for example, what his likes/interests were. Cal was portrayed as a warrior with a passion for motorbikes, but we weren't given any such details about Maven. That was a tip off to me early on.

Plot

As I said above, I thought the dynamic of Reds versus Silvers was an interesting concept, especially that the group with supernatural abilities was in power rather than being oppressed. This seemed to flip other similar stories around (X-Men, Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi). However, the conflict never really went beyond the basics of Silvers keeping Reds under their thumb.

I liked what the Scarlet Guard brought to the story and also the revelations about red blood with silver abilities, but the big plot twist in the end didn’t come as a surprise. From the moment the royal family was introduced, I had my suspicions because of the dynamic there: Older son is king’s favourite and will inherit the throne, while younger son by a different (evil) mother lives in his shadow. What I don’t understand, especially considering Elara’s abilities as a whisper and Cal’s previous loyalty and dedication as a general, is why anyone actually believed the lie about how things went down. And why didn’t Cal point that out or defend himself?

One thing I thought was written particularly well is the way Mare questioned the actions of the Scarlet Guard and her own participation in their violence. It was realistic that Mare, sucked into all of this, would feel that way, especially once she began to realize not all Silvers were terrible people. This moral dilemma was a good addition to Mare’s character.

And while the romantic in me wanted Mare to end up with someone (and I’m sure she will yet in the series), it was refreshing and realistic that she didn’t make a choice about a love interest at the end of book one. There was no miraculous forgiveness for the sake of romance, rather an admission that there was too much betrayal for her to give her heart to anyone.

Overall

I know I’ve listed a lot of criticisms here, and I feel bad about that, but overall I wanted more from RED QUEEN because I think it had a ton of potential. Had certain aspects of the world-building and plot been fleshed out more or had the characters been portrayed on a deeper more personal level, I think it could have been phenomenal. Instead, and I cringe when I say this, it seemed like another Hunger Games clone. Those are my thoughts, and I hope they come across as more disappointed than belittling.

So what did you think?


Wednesday, 25 March 2015

What's Up Wednesday

As most of you know, this has been a busy year for me so far, and it’s about to get busier. I started homeschooling my son at a high school level this fall, which has been very demanding (although rewarding), and now my family is going through a huge transition as we prepare for a cross-country move. Because of all this busyness, I’m finding it harder and harder to devote time to writing. And I’m exhausted. So that means cutting back. While I’ve enjoyed hosting WUW with Jaime for the past two years, it’s a big time commitment, one I can no longer fit into my weekly schedule. I’ve loved getting to know all of you through WUW, and I really hope the connections we’ve made will continue through other means, but writing and family need to be my main priorities right now. Thanks for all your participation and best of luck with your writing endeavors!

Here’s a letter Jaime put together on behalf of both of us. I think it sums everything up nicely:

After a good deal of thought and discussion, Erin and I have reached the decision to wind down What’s Up Wednesday. We started this little blog hop in April of 2013, and it has been two years of making so many awesome connections with writer friends like you, sharing “what’s up” each and every week. You have provided accountability and encouragement to us on this writing journey, and for that we are more grateful than you will ever know.

You might be wondering why What’s Up Wednesday is coming to an end, so we figure you deserve an explanation: In short, we would like to place our focus more on writing and less on blogging. Over time, What’s Up Wednesday has strayed a bit from the writing and has moved more toward the other headings we have been using, which is fine, but this blog hop was always intended to be mainly about the writing. Always the writing. In order to get back to that focus on our WiPs, we would like to take part in more writing intensives as they crop up throughout the year. As most of these intensives include a weekly check-in post of some kind, we both feel that coupling these posts with a regular What’s Up Wednesday post is far too time-consuming. Time that could be spent on our WiPs and on that pesky little thing called family.

SO, while What’s Up Wednesday is drawing to a close, we still hope to touch base with you in a variety of ways around the interwebs through social media and the many writing intensives and other fun events hosted here and elsewhere. We hope to do a Month In Review type of post at the end of each month, but this will simply be an informal rundown of the reading, writing, and other life stuff we did over the course of the month. You’re welcome to join us, though there won’t be a link-up of any kind. Maybe a hashtag? We haven’t really thought that far ahead, to be honest.

Some writing- and reading-related things to look forward to on the horizon:

  • Tracey Neithercott’s YA Book Club → This month we’re reading RED QUEEN by Victoria Aveyard and will be posting our reviews and discussing it on our blogs on Monday, March 30th. You should join us!
  • The YA Buccaneers Spring Writing Bootcamp 2015 → Tentatively scheduled for April and May. Writing, goal-setting, accountability, and loads of inspiration. Sounds pretty much perfect, don't you think?
  • The Ready. Set. WRITE! summer intensive → Hosted by a group of ladies that includes Erin and me, this writing intensive runs from June right through August. Many of you have joined us in the past and we look forward to writing and revising alongside you again this summer. Stay tuned for further details!
  • Spontaneous writing parties on Twitter → There always seems to be a cluster of writers working on their WiPs all throughout the day and evening, popping onto Twitter and doing sprints together, keeping one another accountable. You should give it a try sometime!
  • NaNoWriMo → We’re sure you’re all more than aware of this November writing event.

Should you wish to continue doing What’s Up Wednesday, we invite you to do so. There will not be a link-up on our blogs, but you are welcome to keep posting with the WUW headings. If you should choose to do so, we would ask respectfully that you not give us attribution in your posts and that you would also discontinue use of the WUW buttons as we will no longer be moderating. (With regards to the buttons, as the images were paid for, there is the concern that this might open up legal issues pertaining to their use.) 

Again, we would like to thank you for taking part in our blog hop and for keeping us encouraged week in and week out. You are wonderful people! We hope to cross paths with you all, but if we don’t, we wish you all the best on your writing journey!



Wednesday, 18 March 2015

What's Up Wednesday

In case you’re new to WUW, it’s a blog hop created by my sister Jaime and me, intended to help writers keep in touch with one another. If you’d like to participate, please sign up on the linky below, and be sure to spread some writerly encouragement around to at least a few other people taking part. Also, please remember to link back to our host blogs and/or use one of the WUW buttons. Thanks!

What I’m Reading:

I’m supposed to be reading Sapphire Blue by Kerstin Gier and Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard, but I haven’t made much headway. Reading time has been super scarce lately. I need to pull up my socks if I want to finish on time for Tracey Neithercott's YA Book Club at the end of the month.


What I’m Writing:

In the last week, I’ve written about 4700 words. I recently had a breakthrough that’s making act 3 of my WIP more interesting and also more complicated. I’m trying my best to pull it off though. It just goes to show that no matter how much you plan, the  creative process still throws some surprises at you along the way. I’m getting very close to the end of this book, which also means the end of my trilogy, and while I need to hurry up and finish before we move, I’m not at all prepared for the emotional fallout of closing off this story and saying goodbye to these characters. In a word (my favourite word actually): Bittersweet.

My writing goal this week: Still going with my not so long term goal of working my butt off to finish before we move. I have around nine scenes left, some of which are pretty long. Who am I kidding? This whole freaking book is pretty long.

What Works For Me:

Working on my entire trilogy at the same time. I’ve heard differing points of view on this issue. Some say not to start writing the next book, because an agent/editor might want to make drastic changes. Others say it’s a good idea to write the whole thing at once so you can address any consistency issues before the first book is in print. Obviously, I’m in the second camp.

I decided early on that even if I didn’t have an agent or any publishing prospects, I wanted to power through and finish the entire story. I went with my inspiration and that's provided the motivation I needed to get this far. These characters grabbed hold of me in a way that I’ve never experienced before, and the thought of working on something new before their story was told just wasn’t an option for me. Not to mention, I recently discovered a smallish plot hole in book one (Envision) that needs to be fixed all this time later. I plan to reread the whole trilogy once I’m done revising Engrave and Enlighten, just to make sure everything is smooth, consistent, and plot hole free.

What Else Is New:

We celebrated my son’s birthday with cupcakes from our favourite peanut free bakery, 3D glow-in-the-dark pirate themed mini golf, and dinner/coffee with the in-laws. It was a fun day. Even managed to squeeze in a little book shopping. Because after packing 40 boxes of books for our move, you know I need to buy more.

The hubby and I finished season 2 of The 100. I’m not sure I’ve ever watched a show with so many plot holes or blatantly incorrect science (come on, at least try to convince us you did some research), but I’m STILL completely addicted. It also cracks me up that half the cast of Battlestar Galactica has been on it. Kind of funny seeing as The 100 is basically Battlestar-lite. My favourite character? Octavia. A badass girl played by a cool Canadian actress. Can’t wait for season 3 and to maybe check out the books sometime.

Other than that, it’s renovations and packing as usual. To those of you who passed along well wishes for my son last week, I should mention that the doctor decided against surgery at the last minute. I’m hoping that was the right judgment call, but I’m glad he didn’t have to go through the experience. Thanks for your kind thoughts and comments!

So what’s up with you lately?


Wednesday, 11 March 2015

What's Up Wednesday

In case you’re new to WUW, it’s a blog hop created by my sister Jaime and me, intended to help writers keep in touch with one another. If you’d like to participate, please sign up on the linky below, and be sure to spread some writerly encouragement around to at least a few other people taking part. Also, please remember to link back to our host blogs and/or use one of the WUW buttons. Thanks!

No WUW for me again this week. Today is my son’s birthday, and we just found out that he’s scheduled for surgery this Friday, so family time is top priority right now. Hope you all have a lovely week!




Wednesday, 4 March 2015

What's Up Wednesday

In case you’re new to WUW, it’s a blog hop created by my sister Jaime and me, intended to help writers keep in touch with one another. If you’d like to participate, please sign up on the linky below, and be sure to spread some writerly encouragement around to at least a few other people taking part. Also, please remember to link back to our host blogs and/or use one of the WUW buttons. Thanks!

Wish I could join you guys for WUW, but our house is in chaos, and I'm buried under an avalanche of boxes. Not so fun moving fact: We were quoted $0.83/pound for moving our stuff. Just one of our boxes of books weighs around 40 pounds. Not including everything else we own, we have 40 boxes of books. Eek! $0.83 x 40 x 40 = scary. All right, enough headache inducing math and boring moving details. Have a super productive week everyone!



Wednesday, 25 February 2015

What's Up Wednesday

In case you’re new to WUW, it’s a blog hop created by my sister Jaime and me, intended to help writers keep in touch with one another. If you’d like to participate, please sign up on the linky below, and be sure to spread some writerly encouragement around to at least a few other people taking part. Also, please remember to link back to our host blogs and/or use one of the WUW buttons. Thanks!

What I’m Reading:

This week I finished Blue Lily, Lily Blue. While I enjoyed the prose and characters (no surprise), this installment of the Raven Cycle was my least favourite out of the three. That being said, I’m eager to read the last book in the series and find out how everything wraps up.

Now I’m about three quarters of the way through Ruby Red, which has been a fun read so far. I also started rereading The Hound of the Baskervilles. My son chose to read it as one of his classics for English, so we’re doing our own little book club.

What I’m Writing:

This has been another tough writing week. I write at night, after my boys have gone to bed, but lately I’m exhausted by that time and it really shows in how the story is coming out. I wrote one full scene and part of another, but then I tore apart the partial scene and started over. I’m not someone who can just get the story out and leave the major work for revisions (I wish). I need to feel like I’m fairly close to capturing the scene how I picture it in my head and the overall feel of it during the drafting stage. That’s not happening these days though, which is frustrating.

My writing goal for this week: I’m going to keep plugging away on my not-so-long-term goal of finishing this WIP before we move. Not sure that’s going to happen, but I’m giving it my best shot.

What Works For Me:

Having a physical reminder to keep working on this story. I love agate, especially the blue kind, and it plays a role in my WIPs. I actually asked for a piece of it for Christmas, but it didn’t show up in my stocking or under the tree. The other day, while going through more stuff to pack in our basement, I came across my son’s old rock collection, which we hadn’t looked at in years. Lo and behold, there was a gorgeous piece of blue agate in it that I’d completely forgotten about. I’m not sure I believe in signs or good luck charms, but it felt like it turned up at just the right moment. So I’ve been keeping it by my laptop as a little piece of encouragement, and every time I see it, I’m reminded to keep pushing on.

What Else Is New:

The moving prep continues, and we got a ton done this weekend. I also spent a fair amount of time ogling historic houses on the internet. Seriously, even though it’s a little Big Brother-ish, Google Street View comes in super handy when you’re shopping for houses on the other side of the country.

On Friday, we took a break from the moving madness and finally went to see Big Hero 6. Kind of funny seeing as it came out on blue-ray a few days later anyway. It was just as awesome and fun as we were hoping it would be. Sci-fi, squishy robots, and super heroes? My kind of movie.

So what’s up with you this week?

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

What's Up Wednesday

In case you’re new to WUW, it’s a blog hop created by my sister Jaime and me, intended to help writers keep in touch with one another. If you’d like to participate, please sign up on the linky below, and be sure to spread some writerly encouragement around to at least a few other people taking part. Also, please remember to link back to our host blogs and/or use one of the WUW buttons. Thanks!

What I’m Reading:

I’m about three quarters of the way through Blue Lily, Lily Blue. While I’m savouring Maggie Stiefvater’s prose and characters as much as always, I'm finding the plot of this one a bit thin and meandering. Still enjoying it though.

I’ve also decided to join #RubyRedReread, although I’m actually reading Ruby Red for the first time. The series has been on my shelf for ages now, so this is the perfect reason to finally get to it. I’m hoping that will force me to take a few more reading breaks. So far I’ve only read just over two chapters, but I’m hooked.

What I’m Writing:

You know how timing always seems to be the worst? Well, right after finding out we’re moving 4000 km away, I was faced with writing what’s probably the most important scene in my whole trilogy. It was crazy hard and horribly sad (went through half a box of Kleenex while writing it) and I’m not sure how I feel about the result, but I got through the first draft of it anyway. Whew. I also wrote one more very short scene and started the next one. It feels like I’ve been working on this book forever now, and wrapping up the last third is going to be brutal because my brain is being pulled like Silly Putty in a thousand different directions. From here on in, every scene feels like good stuff and I really, really wish I could give it my undivided attention. No such luck though.

My writing goal: Rather than committing to a weekly goal, I’m just aiming to finish the first draft of Enlighten by the time we move, which will probably be later in the spring.

What Works For Me:

While sorting through never-ending boxes of junk in our basement, I came across a few crappy, old manuscripts from before I knew the first thing about writing a novel. Rereading them was both embarrassing and entertaining. They were loaded with clich├ęs, purple prose, heavy-handed messages, and just bad, bad, bad to the point where I was cringing and laughing and snorting on our rec room floor. There were a few promising nuggets buried in the mess but not enough to ever attempt finishing them, so I saved bits and pieces and the rest went in the recycling. It was encouraging to see how far I’ve come as a writer and just how much I’ve improved over the last few years, especially after dedicating myself to this like a job instead of dabbling.

What Else Is New:

On top of the usual homeschooling activities, I’ve been sorting through every last thing we own to decide what makes the cut to get dragged across the country with us when we move. That means a LOT of whittling down.  It’s amazing how much stuff one family can accumulate over the years, a good chunk of it purely sentimental and not overly useful anymore. We aren’t materialistic, but sometimes it feels like getting rid of memories. Has to be done though.

Friday evening, the husband and I treated ourselves to a break from renos and other moving prep and went on an early Valentine’s Day date. Nothing fancy, but it was relaxing. We tried out a new Irish pub and went to see The Imitation Game. Benedict Cumberbatch was predictably amazing in the lead role, and I enjoyed the WWII code breaking aspect, but the injustice done to Alan Turing left me sad and frustrated--which was, of course, the point. I highly recommend the movie.

Well, that was my hectic week. How was yours?