Suspense and a world of world-building – the epic ‘An Ember in the Ashes’

AnEmberInTheAshes.pngYet another book that I’d heard rave reviews about and was forced to wait until I had time to be devoured by it.

Once again, not disappointed.

‘An Ember in the Ashes’ by Sabaa Tahir is an epic book. It has its occasional flaw, but the strength of the characters and the poetry of the writing is so much I just pushed those issues to the side and kept reading.

The characters are older (19 and 20) and the readership should reflect this. There is torture and an uncomfortable rape culture. But if you can stomach that, then the book is a gem.

Totally awesome bits…

  • Narrator changes
  • Real, 3D characters
  • Intricate world-building
  • Diversity and inclusivity

Let’s go through in more detail…

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A total YA package – the clever and crisp ‘Spark’

SparkI’d heard a heap of good about this book, earning it a place in Swifty the caravan on my latest holiday.

I was not disappointed. This is classic YA.

It’s fab to see a debut book that is so polished. ‘Spark’ by Rachael Craw ticks all the YA boxes. Happily it does so without the sort of contrived staging that would drive me to make a list of all the ticks it ticks as I tick each off. If you get my drift.

…?

Anyhoo… Let’s look at what I think worked for this one.

What rocked?

  • Straight-into-it structure
  • Super-solid world-building
  • Intrigue with some good ol’ fashioned whodunnit
  • Off-limits romance.

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Recommended reading for all teen girls – ‘Risk’

Risk.jpgReviewing this top-notch read has been a long time coming. And when I say long, I mean years.

I first heard about ‘Risk’ by Fleur Ferris before it was published. Here in West Oz, SCBWI have an annual event where we basically invite a few publishers over and then maroon them on a small island with us for several days.

Back in 2015 the publisher was from Random House. And she was talking up this book. If we wanted our YA to be published, she told us, this book was our benchmark.

The tantalising first chapter on the web hauled me in, but the book wasn’t out at the time. And somehow it just stayed on my TBR…

Until now.

My library recently bought a brand-spanking shiny new copy that jumped out and grabbed me as I wandered past the shelf. And approximately seven hours after checking it out, I was reviewing it.

Because this brilliant book dragged me in and held me.

It frightened me.

It made me cry.

And it made me consider internet restrictions for the teenager my daughter will become in less than a decade. May it be a very long eight years.

So, what was so great about it?

  • The balance between fear and reaction
  • The background knowledge of the author
  • The characters

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A super start to a defo non-fairytale fairy series: ‘Valentine’

Valentine.jpgPhew! First semester is over, so it’s back to the (fun) books for me! I couldn’t resist reaching for a novel I’ve been aching to read since it first came out – ‘Valentine’ by Jodi McAlister.

Great cover (don’t you think??!), great premise. Four kids, all born on Valentine’s Day… but which one is the changeling? Add a dash of love-hate romance and you have the perfect recipe for YA enjoyment.

And so…?

This book does truckloads of stuff right. The characters and location feel so real. The start is amazing. All those midnight animals creeping around keep building the suspense.

And whoa… because if there aren’t at least two Valentines who can trace their lineage back to a bit of fairy magic, then I’m not a madcap children’s writer. Unfortunately, I have to wait for the next book to find out if I’m right. Continue reading

Get our boys reading! – ‘The Ruins of Gorlan’

ra_ruinsofgorlanIf you love unabashed epic middle-grade fantasy, you’ve probably heard of John Flanagan. Between the Ranger’s Apprentice series and Brotherband Chronicles, I count nineteen books. Each and every one with a totally awesome cover.

Today I’m heading back to where they started, in 2004 with ‘Ranger’s Apprentice Book One: The Ruins of Gorlan‘.

Hang on one book-devouring second…

Nineteen books in just over twelve years? And another one due this year? That is, hands down, awesome work. Bravo Flanagan!

So, what did I love?

  • Positive relationships
  • Incorporation of bullying
  • Mystery
  • World-building

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How to create and maintain suspense: the riveting ‘Black’

Black.jpg

I read this book in one sitting. NOT because it’s short (it’s actually 276 pages). NOT because I was reading-deprived after a month of writing (which I was, but that’s not the real reason). NOT EVEN because I didn’t want to go to bed before I figured out what super-scary stuff was going down that would otherwise give me nightmares.

No. I read this in one sitting because it’s that damn good.

I lent it to an author friend and she couldn’t put it down either.

Black‘ by Fleur Ferris is totally worth reading.

Obviously, me being me, I then wanted to figure out why this book was unputdownable for two sleep-deprived children’s writers.

Roughly speaking, it’s split into two almost equal parts. Part One, where we’re anxiously trying to figure out what is happening and waiting for it to all go bad. And Part Two. Where it goes bad, and we’re caught up in Ebony ‘Black’ Marshall’s fight to regain herself. I understand what makes the second part tick. I can write action and up the stakes and have people fight for their lives.

But the first part of the novel is a brilliant study in creating suspense.

I knew I had to work out how Ferris had done it. Want to know too? Read on.

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