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Review: An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green

cover of an absolutely remarkable thing by Hank Green

What I’m reading

An Absolutely Remarkable Thing

by Hank Green

I received this book free from the publishers in exchange for an honest review

I beginning-loved this book. But it beginning-tricked me.

I went from addicted, ‘just one more page’ reading sessions to thinking ‘who is this person and do I really care.’ I wanted moar robots but got pages upon pages about internet fame instead.

A third of the way through I forgot the main characters name, even though she’s called April May. Maybe that’s why I forgot it? Was it my brain rebelling? Her name put me off in the same way I abandoned (500) Days of Summer halfway through, despite everyone saying I’d love it. Too artificial-cutesy-whimsical. I can enjoy cutesy, but it needs to earn its place.

I think I was supposed to forgive April May some of her failings because she was ‘Quirky,’ but really I needed her to be strong enough a character for me to forgive her quirkiness.

I don’t think it’s a bad book, and when I checked the blurb it did say it’s a book about

“how the social internet is changing fame and radicalisation; how our culture deals with fear and uncertainty; and how vilification and adoration can follow a life in the public eye.”

I enjoyed some of the riffs about marketing, and I liked that the characters were older than most YA casts (post-college, first job, still uncertain about money & love). But the pacing was patchy, the theme over-wrought, and getting to the end was a slog. I understand why other people like it, but I was relieved to move on to my next read and I won’t be back for the sequel.

Setting

The New York of action movies, all bustling sidewalks and apartments too tiny to sneeze in. A city so full of wonder and activity that when a giant robot appears on a street one night, no one cares. Apart from April May…

Favourite character

Miranda, the scientist.  I recognised my own science-y friends  in how enthusiastic & unstoppably-inspired she gets. My BFF’s eyes light up when she talks about genes & she loses track of time, the same way Miranda gets excited about the strange, giant figures in NY.

What can I learn as a writer?

There are lots of writing books and classes who warn novelists not to mislead the reader about what kind of book they are getting.

Holly Lisle talks about Promises in her writing classes, Les Edgerton’s Hooked is a book all about controlling what you’re signalling with your first chapter, and my writing lecturer swore by Nancy Kress’ Beginnings, Middles and Ends.

I’m not saying Hank Green personally wanted to trick me, but a couple of tweaks to the start of An Absolutely Remarkable Thing could have re-framed my expectations in time for me to like it more.

File with

Not Transformers 😉

 

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Editing The Dream Feeders

A witchy bar in the mountains of Switzerland

Found this witchy bar in the mountains of Switzerland

Edits & self-doubt

I cautiously went back to my Dream Feeders edits this week, after 5 months away. That’s how long it took to go near it without flinching. Even after reopening the Scrivener project, it took 3 days for me to actually look at the contents.

And…

I think it’s going to be alright. I think I’m going to be alright. I think I can finish this without going mad. Maybe?

With fresh eyes, and a rested brain, this feels manageable. Big, and complicated, but not beyond my reach.

I can see how i got tangled up – the start of my edits list makes sense, and my optimism grew while reading it. ‘Hey, this might be more than just finishable, it might even be good!’

Then, blam! kerpow! my notes-to-self turn into a black lump of confusion & lostness, & I’m not surprised I ran away. I might just delete those notes, rather than try to unpick what I was trying & get trapped in the same messy worries as last time. Bravo, self-doubt, you did a tremendous job.

Reading: Borne, by Jeff Vandermeer

borne by jeff vandermeer, illustration by keith negley

Borne illustration by Keith Negley

I chose a Jeff Vandermeer novel for my holiday read, because I always get gripped & absorbed and can read for hours. I hate airports and there was a 4 hour train journey to follow the flight, so I took Borne.

I hadn’t factored in how creepy his stuff is though, & forgot that sometimes I’m obsessively page-turning Vandermeer stuff because I’m too terrified to look away.

So my holiday reading experience was an odd mix of stunning Swiss scenery past the windows – model villages, alpine flowers, snow topped mountains – and Vandermeer’s warped, dark-tech version of the future in my e-reader, alive with mutant children and giant, flying bears.

I finished reading on the midnight coach from Heathrow, and without spoilering I’ll just say that the shadowy, slippery landscape & lights of a late-night motorway (combined with very little sleep) was a suitably eerie backdrop.

Verdict: do read it (I rated it 4/5 on Goodreads), but maybe not in the dark…

Borne print (& other cool illustrations) available from Keith Negley at Society6

Writing advice I liked this week

The creative process will always have downs. It’s part of the cycle. Everyone gets them, and it doesn’t mean you are failing. The next part of the cycle will come along soon if you just keep going.

That’s my paraphrasing of Joanna Penn’s interview with David Kadavy on the Creative Penn podcast:

Joanna: ‘It happens every time and you have to go through that part…it is a cycle…this creative process, it has these stages and it’s not like you can skip any… One of those stages is fear and anxiety and it seems to happen wherever you are on the journey unless perhaps, you’re a sociopath.’

David: Yeah. ‘And if you are, then hey, go for it.’

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Blood Magic by Tessa Gratton

Blood Magic by Tessa Gratton coverJust noticed that I hadn’t cross posted this review here yet – whoops. This was written for Slacker Heroes and first posted there in April.

I’ve just finished (and loved) Sacrificial Magic and Beautiful Creatures so, given that this one also has spells and magic in it, it’s fair to say I’ve been in a witchy phase this year. Way more fun than vamps & weres.

Have just checked Goodreads and the sequel to Blood Magic (The Blood Keeper) should be out later this summer – fab. I’ll definitely be reading it.

Got any suggestions as to other spooky-dark stories I can try in the meantime? Let me know!

Here’s the review –

It’s been a month or so since I finished Blood Magic, and I keep being disappointed when I pick up my Kindle and remember that I’m reading something else now, that I’ve left that world and those characters. I’d say that’s a sign of a good book, wouldn’t you?

It’s the story of seventeen-year-old Silla, a girl whose hands are heavy with the rings her father gave her, one for every birthday since she turned nine. A father who committed suicide after killing her mother. Silla was the one who found their bodies, but she’s sure there’s more to the events than has been discovered. She’s looking for answers in the mysterious book that arrived after their death. A book of spells written in her father’s hand.

Silla’s not the only one whose parents had secrets. Nick, the long-limbed new boy, has memories he’d rather forget, but coming back to the town his mother grew up in is stirring up the past and linking him to Silla in improbable ways.

So, we’ve got magic, death and secrets straight from the start. Yum! I’m a sucker for some good ol’ runes and pentacles, and the spells and rituals in this were very satisfying, very cool. We also get crows cawing and circling and beautiful, tree-heavy graveyards. These images are recognisable and classic, but felt fresh and aren’t something I’ve read much of recently, outside of Stacia Kane’s Downside series (which is definitely for an older readership). It felt fresh for YA, and the writing is atmospheric and compelling.

The narration swaps between Silla and Nick and it drew me in really quickly. I loved the way Gratton describes Nick, “He was so gangly and tall. Like half-grown animals, when their paws are still too big, and their legs way too long, and you know they’re going to grow into it all eventually and be the handsomest thing you ever saw”. I think it sums up the gawkishness of teenage boys very well, and emphasises how these characters are nearly – but not quite – on the verge of adulthood. I don’t think Nick would really be that into me, since he goes for bird-thin, blood-covered, fucked up 17-year-old orphans and I am almost exactly the opposite, but I’d still be happy to help him with his homework. Silla’s a teenage drama student whose parents both died recently in a gruesome murder-suicide, so of course her chapters are a little over the top with purple prose, but it works. It’s authentic.

Silla and Nick fall for each other very quickly – that’s not a spoiler, since their feelings are clear from the start. At first the speed made me twitch – was this realistic? – until I remembered high school, and how emotions, friendships, love and hate really did move that fast. I don’t know how we managed to pack in so much drama between Double Maths, netball and French but believe me, we did. A whole social network could dissolve and reform in a day, and people were always dating someone else’s ex or crush or brother or something – who knows why, did we think there weren’t enough boys to go around or something? Anyway. I don’t think a teen audience or someone familiar with that would find the speed of the relationship or the intensity of their devotion hard to believe.

The power of the spells and the shadow hanging over these two grows stronger with every chapter and I raced through to the end, despite the novel’s length. I see from Tessa’s website that there’s a stand-alone companion novel coming out this year, and I’m already looking forward to reading it. Another sign of a good book. Pick it up, let me know what you think. And if you see a strange figure in a graveyard, just stay away from it, alright?

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Which Hunger Games character are you? Part II – the girls (Slacker Heroes post)

First published at Slacker Heroes.

I’m even more excited about the Hunger Games film now than I was last month. Since my invite to the premiere seems to have gotten lost in the post, I keep replaying the trailers and crying instead. It’s not that I’m sad, it’s just that the book makes me so goddamn emotional, and the same thing’s happening when I watch the preview clips.

I usually avoid movie adaptations, invariably preferring the novel, but something’s got me excited about this one and I think the fast-paced, life-or-death story will really work.  The stakes are high on every page of The Hunger Games, and Suzanne Collins made an art out of twisting the knife a little more with each sequel.

I never knew what was coming next, and I usually couldn’t even tell you what I wanted to happen – Katniss’s choices are heartwrenching, and I liked too many of the characters to choose who should get what they want. One thing’s certain – not everyone will get as far as Happily Ever After, and the film is going to be gripping throughout. Fingers crossed, anyway.

So, after last time’s ‘Which Hunger Games Boy are you?‘ quiz, are you ready for the girls’ turn? While the quiz is tongue in cheek, in truth,  the writing of every one of the female characters in this trilogy massively impressed me. Every one of them is strong in their own way, and that doesn’t meant they are all kick-ass or clever or morally admirable. Whether I’m cheering for the tributes or wincing at the ignorant vanity of the Capitol women, I always believed in that person’s character, motivation, history and right to be the way they are. Bravo.

1) What’s your hair like?

A) Shocking pink (today), artfully arranged with the utmost care. Appearances are extremely important.
B) Kept away from my face in a braid, the way my mother does it if ever I let her get close to me.
C) Thick, dark and girlish.

2. How’s your timekeeping?

A) I can’t bear to be late, and I expect the same high standards from everyone else.
B) I’m often late, after getting held up in the woods or trapped in trees. Who cares, anyway? We’ll all be dead soon.
C) Sometimes I get left behind because I’m so little and quiet, but I move so fast that I can always catch up.

3. It’s payday – let me take you out for a meal. What kind of dinner companion will you be?

A) I have superb table manners and I love to eat the finest delicacies of the Capitol. A little binge-purge behaviour means I can keep eating all night!
B) ‘My mother says I always eat like I’ll never see food again. And I said “I won’t unless I bring it home”. That shut her up.’
C) What, you mean I get a whole meal to myself? I’ve never had this much food before.

4. Guys describe you as

A) Maniacally terrifying.
B) Attractive but hard to reach.
C) Their musical kid sister.

Mostly As

You are Effie Trinket, relentlessly upbeat hostess of the reaping, there to applaud when the tributes are selected and then to escort them to the Capitol. You hope to improve the presentability of your charges, but are most often appalled by the behaviour of District 12′s ill-mannered tributes and their alcoholic mentor. You seem to wear a lot of wigs.

Mostly Bs

You are Katniss Everdeen, District 12′s female tribute. Your determination to survive has kept your family alive since the loss of your father, but can it help you survive the 74th Hunger Games? Your love life is about to get as much attention as your archery skills, much to your annoyance.

Mostly Cs

You are Rue, the tiny but speedy tribute from District 11. You are a valuable ally and loyal friend, and your enemies do wrong to underestimate you. You know a great deal about plants and nature, and you love music most of all.

 

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