Book Review: All the Bright Places

atbpUrgh, writer’s envy is a terrible thing. And I felt it on basically every other page, if not more, of this book. There’s just so much I love about the surprising and original writing. And the characters are just so vividly drawn, not just Violet and the amazing Finch, but so so many others as well – their families, their school friends, even the bit parts are so solidly depicted. The love story is so well paced as well, so compelling. Literally could NOT put it down. I think this is one of the most relatable and sensitive depictions of mental health issues I’ve seen, as well as giving a fresh, original and realistic take on it. Totally jealous, and am simultaneously excited for the movie and fearful it won’t live up to my high expectations.

Book Review: I’ll Give You the Sun

fullsizerenderI was transported to the rugged California coast by this beautiful novel, which tells the story of twins Noah and Jude, coming of age in artsy surf town Lost Cove. The POV swaps between the twins and between two distinct timelines, one before the series of tragic events that drove the formerly very close siblings apart and one after. We’re left to piece the story together pretty much as they do, since the assumptions they’ve made and the secrets they’ve kept from each other mean that they only each know half of the story.

It’s not an easy task to deliver two distinct and unique voices within one book but Nelson is pitch perfect. Both protagonists are artistic free spirits so their descriptions are unusual and original and poetic, rendering the novel into life as if it itself was one of the paintings that are so vividly evoked within its pages. The love stories are believable and realistic while also being transcendent and beautiful. The entire cast of characters are interesting, engaging and deeply flawed, fleshing out the bones of the twins’ family, history and community, the whole of which is brought to life with an honesty that is deeply moving.

An engaging, page-turning plot, sumptuous prose and a cast of fascinating characters – one of the best books I have read this year and one that stays with you, long after you read the final words.

Book Review: In the Dark, In the Woods

itditwWell, this book got me into a lot of trouble.  I started reading it one night and literally could NOT stop until it was almost light and I realized I’d better get some sleep.  Then, in the morning, when I should have been doing other things, I snuck away to a hammock to finish it, re-appearing at lunchtime.  Since I was supposed to be spending rare quality time with them, my husband and kids were not happy about this turn of events and I was placed firmly In the Doghouse.  But, you know what, it was worth it.  This book is THAT GOOD.

Castley Cresswell and her five siblings live in the woods under the strict control of their father, whose non-specified religious zeal keeps them prisoners to his cruel ministrations.  This doesn’t stop the siblings taking every opportunity to escape and wonder the woods at night, seeking experience of the world around them as adulthood beckons and an inevitable (and petrifying) tension builds.

Where do I start?  I mean you have the characters – the tough, funny, snarky, vulnerable Castley, the ethereally beautiful Caspar, the rebellious Mortimer, their terrifying father, the list goes on – all so well drawn and vividly rendered that, even though there’s a fairly extensive cast I never once had to stop and remind myself of their identity.  Then there’s the setting – so beautifully evoked that for the time I was reading the book I was THERE in the haunting darkness of the woods, the tumbledown repression of the house, the eerie strip malls, the intimidating high school hallways and grounds.  The atmosphere is so unsettling and dark throughout that, even though this is set in our modern day world, it rarely feels like it.  Early on, everyday things like coldsores and late night corner shops are imbibed with such horror that we as readers are able to see them through Castley’s confused and tainted eyes.  As the story progresses, we share completely in her alienation from the “normality” which surrounds her but which she is unable to be a part of.  And her voice is so strong that we are unquestionably able to see it from this perspective and feel what it would be like to be in her shoes, as one of the weird and feared, but also fascinating and charismatic, Cresswell siblings.  Descriptions of George and several other of the high school interactions were so witty and accurate I actually did LOL.  And, oh man, I was just so in love with Caspar – is that weird?  Maybe it is.

Eliza Wass has written a unique and enthralling book – dark, funny, beautiful and terrifying by turns – which kept me gripped and captured my imagination completely.  Her writing is original and unusual and many of her descriptions and images left me wishing I had thought of them first.  I have already begun to highly recommend this book to everyone I meet, and this is set to continue (starting now).  If you haven’t already – read it.

Q & Eh?

13597599_1031562760245621_1846780594_nAt the launch event for the Dutch version of TLODB, Eenzaam en Extreem Ver Weg, I Skyped in and did my first ever live Q&A with readers. I was really looking forward to it and it was actually pretty awesome to get to “meet” the bloggers who had read my book and answer their questions.

What I wasn’t completed prepared for was how hard the questions would be. Or perhaps just how hard I would find it to answer them without the kind of thinking time I usually require.

I’m not known for my fast reactions. I even failed the Spanish “physical fitness to drive” test twice for having too slow a reaction time (a fact which is made more astonishing by the fact that the examiner then told me that nobody had ever failed it before). I think this is also the reason that, while I can read and write in Spanish pretty well after seven years in Spanish speaking countries, I still can’t speak it very well. My brain just doesn’t work quick enough to provide the right words when I need them.

And this is exactly what happened to me at the Q&A. Questions I’ve been asked before were pretty easy to handle but the totally new ones utterly floored me in the pressure of the situation. Don’t get me wrong they were GREAT questions – I just really wish I could have done them justice. Here’s a couple of the ones I found particularly hard to answer on the spot, plus the answers I WOULD have given had I had time to consider my responses:

Q: If you were an inhabitant on Ventura – would you accept your arranged marriage or would you rail against it like Seren does?

My answer (with thinking time): It depends. I’m #teamdomingo so I think if I’d got matched with Dom I’d be like – jackpot! But seriously, I think if I was put in the position that Seren is in, where she has this accidental brush with real love, I would find it just as difficult as she does to put that aside and sacrifice something so precious in favour of doing my duty. I’m a firm believer in freedom of choice and free will, and I think being able to make my own choices, and my own mistakes, would be worth a lot of trouble to me.

Q: Many people think there are hints of a love triangle in the book – is this where the series is going?

My answer (with thinking time): A lot of readers have asked me about this and I guess I can see where it comes from, especially with the way the book ends. I don’t believe in spoilers, so I won’t commit to this fully, but I will say that, even though they are done quite a lot, I am still a fan of the love triangle. They’re great drama if they’re done well and the dynamics of the relationships are believable. Having said that, the last thing I would want is for the Ventura Saga to be predictable, so you’ll just have to wait and see on that one. (Actually this answer is pretty similar to my off-the-cuff response, so maybe I did better than I thought!)

Q: If you could take one of your characters and put them in another YA book, which one would it be and why? (This is a particularly interesting question, but SO HARD!)

My answer (with thinking time): I would probably take one of the characters that I didn’t feel I got to spend enough time with, but who interested me, like Jonah, or maybe Ronaldo or Annelise. It would be fascinating to give them a second chance at life in a new setting and see how they would develop. As for what book I would put them in, it would have to be completely different – maybe something contemporary or fantasy, just to give them the chance to go in a different direction and put them out of their comfort zone.

If you want to know what my (possibly slightly rubbish) answers were on the night, plus some fairly decent answers that I managed to come up with to different questions, follow this link to watch the video from the night itself.

Book Review: Across The Universe

Across the UniverseI read this after someone posted on Goodreads about it maybe being similar to TLODB. I kind-of felt like I had to read it, but now I have I’m glad I did.

I definitely opened the book with more than a little trepidation and fear that I might have committed a vast but accidental form of plagiarism, but my fears were quickly assuaged. Even though the setting of the book is definitely similar (a spaceship with a population of a couple of thousand on a several hundred years long space mission), the plot, atmosphere, characterization and themes are actually very different.

The Godspeed is on its way to an Earth-like planet in order to set up a colony, and the story is told from the dual perspectives of Amy and Elder. Amy was brought aboard with her scientist parents, cryogenically frozen, but defrosted early in a mysterious mishap. Elder is the leader-in-training of the on-board population, an agrarian civilization under the control of the unpredictable Eldest.

Beth Revis does a great job of world-building; the Godspeed and its civilization and cast of characters very quickly come to life, as do the more sinister aspects of the necessary adjustments that have had to be made over the course of their journey.

One thing I particularly loved was the truly visceral depiction of the cryogenics – both Amy’s freezing, her experience of being frozen and her defrost had the dark quality of a particularly vivid nightmare or horror film, and actually put me in mind of a Stephen King short story I read a long time ago and was too appalled by to ever forget.

While TLODB combines the genres of sci-fi and love story, Across the Universe combines sci-fi with crime, in that there is a case in need of solving at the core of the story. I think this is a combination that works well and makes for a page-turning read. The love story was only a sub-plot at this point but it is definitely being lined up for further development as the series continues. I’m definitely going to have to read the next to find out.

BTW I know I’m pretty late to the party on this one, but I’m sure glad I finally turned up.

A Blog on a Vlog

I was recently asked to make a video for on my thoughts about why sci-fi is popular. Obviously I made a bit of a hash of it. I mean, I’ve never done anything like that before so I ended up recording it about eight hundred times before I could manage to say it all without massive pauses and loads of umming and ahing. It was only later I realised that what I really should have done is just edited those out. Doh. Well, you live and learn. And now I have my own YouTube channel I guess I might as well try my hand at a few more.

Here’s the link in case you want to hear me rambling on and sharing my thoughts about why sci-fi is particularly popular at the moment.

Book Review: The Long Way To a Small Angry Planet


TLWTASAPI was recommended this book on #ukyachat but really had no idea what to expect.  I loved the title and of course I’m a HUGE sci-fi fan, so I was looking forward to finding out what the buzz was about.

In TLWTASAP, Becky Chambers introduces us to a vast, complex, multi-racial interconnected universe in which economic, political and cultural differences have been overcome to form a fragile alliance between many of the planets, systems and alien races. This is explored in both macro scale and micro scale, in the form of the multi-racial crew of the jobbing tunnelling ship The Wayfarer, a diverse and quirky band who have accepted their differences and fallen into a close camaraderie. They land the high-paying job of their dreams, but over the time and distance it takes them to complete it, they discover that it is not without its drawbacks.

The morals and ethics of war, the greed and inevitable fate of the human race, differing philosophies and notions of love, family and friendship – there is just so much in this book to think about and discuss. I found myself thinking that there was more than one story here, that there were, in fact, potentially dozens of spin-offs I would be interested to read. For this reason I was not surprised and was happy to find out that this is the first in a series.

The dazzling world building put me in mind of Iain M Banks’ Culture sci-fi series in its epic scale, diversity and solid rendering, and will ensure that any reader is keen to revisit this world. A fantastic and highly original book with action, tension, depth and heart.

Found in Translation

Screen Shot 2016-07-04 at 18.21.10July 1st saw the release of the first translated foreign language version of The Loneliness of Distant Beings – Eenzaam en Extreem Ver Weg – in Holland.  So far, the Dutch publishers, bloggers, readers (well just about everybody involved) have been so positive and responded with such enthusiasm and I am super excited to have been translated into a language I don’t even slightly understand so that I can reach a whole new set of readers.  Can you imagine how hard it is to translate a whole book?  Crazy.

On the left is the quote card the Dutch publishers produced with a book club who sent my book out in the monthly box to their subscribers.  There were two hundred of these cards that traveled all the way to Spain for me to sign, before heading back to Holland and into the homes of new readers.  A few of them even made videos of them”unboxing” and then posted them online (apparently this is a thing).  Obviously I have no idea what anyone is saying in these videos but I still think they’re very cool:

Tonight I will even be dropping in to an event over there (sadly only via Skype) but I am really looking forward to meeting (sort of) some of my readers over there.  Wish me luck!


First Contact, Moral Ambiguity and Passion in the Vacuum of Space

LODB 5As John Green once said (I think):  

“Dear authorial intent,

You don’t matter.”

And he’s completely right.  I mean, it ultimately matters very little what I intended when I was writing my book.  What matters far more is what each and every reader picks up on/gets out of it/takes away with them when they read it.  But since this is my blog I thought I’d allow myself a bit of a ramble about what my intentions were with TLODB.  And my alter ego <school librarian> suggested I went even further than that… so I ended up writing this blog post which, now I look at it, pretty much resembles a York Notes/Cliff Notes/Shmoop style study guide to my own book.  So here it is for your delectation.  You’re welcome, readers, you are welcome.  

On my setting…

I work all day and only write at night, so I spend a lot of time alone under starry skies, which I think is why I ended up writing about space.  Added to this, when I started writing TLODB I had just moved to a new country (for the third time in seven years) so there was something in the disassociation of the Ventura experience that I could relate to.  I’m the same age as the Voyager Probe (of golden record fame) so I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of space travel and the quest to make first contact.  This may be why I love science documentaries and podcasts almost as much as I love space movies like the massively underrated Contact, as well as Interstellar, and Gravity, and all-time favourite sci-fi tv show Battlestar Galactica (noughties not seventies).

So there were all these ideas I wanted to explore: are we alone in the universe?  What will we do if we’re not?  How will we overcome the barriers that stop us from being able to travel these massive distances?  Basically I just kept asking myself these questions until I had built the basics of the world I wanted to set my story in – which ended up involving maps, diagrams, even sometimes some advanced (compared to my skill level anyway) maths.  

However I realise now that what came to me first about Ventura was its mood – I wanted it to be grungy, low tech, cold and dark – this is no shiny, white, Apple Inc version of our future.  It had to feel authentic; it had to feel real and visceral.  I wanted my reader to be able to picture themselves there completely.  Ultimately this story is personal and emotional, and only through making this distant and alien setting feel concrete and truthful would it have impact.  The human relationships and struggles had to feel real in this unreal setting.

On my writing style…

When I was just a teenager myself it was angsty, voicey, freeform books like The Catcher in the Rye, On The Road and Less Than Zero that inspired me and made me even more sure that I wanted to write. I found books like that exhilarating to read and just adored how viscerally and vividly their main characters are rendered because the entire book is written as if it was them talking directly to you, in their voice. I have now realised that writing this way does mean being prepared to take risks, and to make sacrifices.  As a writer you have to constantly ask yourself: but would she say that?  Is that a metaphor she would use?  Is that a parallel she would know to make?  And if the answer is no you just can’t use it, even if it would have been beautiful.  Fully committing to rendering a character so faithfully can eventually lead to you bringing them to life in the fullest way, but the side effect of this is that that some of your readers may not appreciate what you’re doing, and may have preferred you to refine and beautify your prose in the more traditional way.  That’s just a risk you either are or aren’t prepared to take, and whether its responded to positively or not is just a matter of taste and not much else.

On my characters…

As a writer I am all about moral ambiguity.  I adamantly did not want Seren to be a chosen one, or the now ubiquitous gun-toting kickass revolutionary.  I wanted her to be flawed, reckless, impulsive, sarcastic, snarky, sad and weak.  But I also wanted her to be brave, loving, passionate, and honest to a fault.  In short, I wanted her to be a REAL person, a real girl.  An ordinary girl who ends up doing extraordinary things, not because she always makes good choices or does the right thing, but because she fails and makes mistakes, but never gives up or stops trying, no matter what difficulties she faces.

Seren struggles with her mental health in a way that’s pretty understandable in her circumstances.  There are SO MANY shades of grey with mental health, so many ways to suffer with it, so many ways to define a struggle.  We’re kind-of all struggling with it to greater and lesser degrees and in any one of a million ways distinct and unique to us.  What I wanted was for us to see that Seren is more sensitive and vulnerable to depression, and to anxiety, and so life on the Ventura is especially hard for her.  But I also wanted it to come across that the thing that makes her weak/dangerous in the eyes of her family/those in power, is actually the very same thing that makes her special.  Like most sensitive people, she sees things differently, she feels things acutely, and this is partly what takes her life in an interesting direction.

I had very specific ideas about how I wanted Dom to be – I wanted him to be a good boyfriend, fully deserving of Seren’s love, but still far from perfect.  I wanted him to seem like the first person Seren has ever fully been understood by and been able to talk to, but also to be a doorway into new realisations for her – a connection to nature and to the ‘real’ life she is unable to experience and longs for so keenly.  This is why I had him work with animals, why he is a musician and also, partly, why I wanted him to be Spanish.  It’s not a culture generally associated with space travel, so having Ventura be of Spanish origin was a leap.  But I live in Spain, and before that I lived in Costa Rica in Latin America.  I am fascinated by the blending of culture and languages that I see, but also I love the Latino/Spanish culture – it’s so warm and relaxed and romantic and free – family and the good things in life are so often the priority.  The idea of evoking this within the restrictions, confines and claustrophobia of the Ventura was interesting – and I thought would lend something extra to Dom.    

I strived to imbibe a certain moral ambiguity into my other characters too – no one of them is entirely good or truly bad – and all are left with the space and ability to surprise us with the choices they make.

On my themes…

I always knew that TLODB was going to be about first love.  What better contrast to the coldness of the regime on Ventura than the pure passion, heat and impulse of first love?  And I always wanted Seren to be a very active participant in this – not to view herself as the prey of a predator the way a lot of female characters in YA do.  I wanted her to be full of desire, to be passionate, to want as much as she is wanted.

But mostly, and unsurprisingly, in my mind TLODB is largely about loneliness.  A lot of teenagers are extremely lonely – I know I was.  It’s a time in your life when you have, necessarily, become somewhat detached from the family you grew up in and yet you are still some years away from forming the one you will create yourself.  And in TLODB this is mirrored in the quest of the Ventura itself – as a race we humans are so lonely, so desperate to know we are not alone, that we are prepared to risk it all to journey out into the unknown in our own hopes of making contact.

Which, in fact, is a little like writing a book.  TLODB is out there and its themes and messages are open to interpretation by those who read it.  I’ve had readers tell me all sorts of things they got from reading the book that I hadn’t realised were there – most recently that TLODB, somewhat ironically, feels like a love letter to the glories of the ever absent and much pined for Earth.  Like a lot of good sci-fi, questions of free will, what makes us human, whether our personalities decide our fate, and even existentialism are all in there too, but it’s up to every individual reader to decide what they find… or don’t.

That’s the joy of sending something out there into the big wide universe to make contact… you never know who you’ll reach, or how.LODB 4

Less Than a Week To Go…

LODB 2Less than seven days until publication day and I am excited/nervous/ecstatic/terrified. Also: a little sleepless, completely distracted and vague, permanently nauseous.  Pretty much just an edgy, cheerful zombie.