Review: Rebel of the Sands

I love a good adventure story; it’s what I enjoy writing and reading.  Far off worlds, heroes on the run, a bit of romance and rebellion and villains on a power trip.  I love it!  So, Rebel of the Sands – with its starry-skied cover and swirling sands – reached out from the shelf and got me from the get-go.  Between the covers it’s story of saloon shootouts, sand and ancient magic, and although it’s little tropey in places (y’know, small-town, tomboy heroine forced on the run with an attractive, streetwise stranger – nothing wrong with that, of course! I enjoy tropes when they’re well done) – the setting is unique.  It’s Arabian Nights meets the Good the Bad and the Ugly, and I loved that premise. 🙂

Amani is trapped in Dustwalk; a town on the edge of the desert in a world where women have no voice.  Desperate to leave, she enters into shooting contest dressed as boy in order to earn the money she needs to get the hell out of Dodge – uh – Dustwalk.  A crack shot, she has a chance – until she meets Jin.  When the Sultan’s Army storms into town, Amani and Jin ride out on a stolen horse into a dangerous desert full of magic.

Although I mostly enjoyed Hamilton’s story – the writing was very good – I hate to say that a lot of the mythology washed over me.  Djinni, Buraqi, Gallan, Mirajin, Albish, First Beings, Destroyer of Worlds… I struggled to really take it all in and really understand it.  Don’t get me wrong, I liked what I was hearing, but only in the same brainless way that I like, I don’t know, hearing someone speak French.  They could be telling me I stink and I’d still lap it up with a goofy, misty-eyed grin.  As a result I kind of lost my way a little in the middle and didn’t really connect with what was happening.  Or where things were happening; I felt like a map of the world I was attempting to immerse myself in in the front cover might have helped.

I also didn’t 100% click with Amani. She reminded me a lot of Fan Fic self inserts; a smart-mouthed, stunningly beautiful girl who can hold her own against the boys (who all fancy her, obvs!)… But no real depth.  I wanted a little more vulnerability.  Because of this I didn’t really believe her romance with Jin.

(Also – and obviously not the fault of the author – frustratingly, the softcover edition I had was riddled with typos)

Long story short, I enjoyed the book (particularly the setting)... but wasn’t as swept off my feet by it as I’d hoped.

Review: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

I’m one of those writers who’s a terrible reader.  Actually, let me rephrase that.  I read a hell of a lot, but it’s just that I tend to gravitate more towards non-fiction (you’ll probably know by now that I’m a massive history nerd/know-it-all – and that’s an understatement), I read reference books that’ll help with whatever I happen to be writing about.  But, fiction?  It’s gotta be good to grab my attention and pull me away from thinking about my own book, my own worlds and characters (I should be writing!  I need to keep writing!).

I’d been wanting to read Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children for a while, but when I saw that the film was coming out I decided that I needed to get a wiggle on and so I picked it up (in Costco of all places!).  I was expecting a children’s book about children with remarkable abilities (in the same vein as Harry Potter etc.), but I wasn’t expecting it to captivate me in the way that it did.  Tim Burton is directing the film – which is completely unsurprising as the book is just his sort of measure of weird and wonderful.  🙂

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Review: ‘Big Magic’ by Liz Gilbert

I am a terrible writer.  Not because I can’t construct a sentence or create breathing characters or weave a plot with as many twists and intricacies as a Turkish rug.  Actually, I’m pretty good at those things (most of the time… I think). What I’m God-awful horrendous at is the whole process of writing.  Inspiration burns brighter and hotter than nuclear fusion one minute and then fizzles the next, I work slowly and constantly backspace what I’ve just written because, dammit, it’s just not quite good enough – and do you know what?Maybe that’s because I’m just not quite good enough.  Fear bullies me at every single stage of the process – which is crazy, because writing is something I absolutely love.  If I’m not doing it, I’m miserable (and as a result, tend to make those around me equally as miserable…).

I picked up Big Magic because I wanted a little creative liberation – and I wasn’t disappointed.  Once I cracked the spine, I finished it in two days.  The book essentially tackles the issues and insecurities artists face from the conception of an idea, right through to realisation. Even though a lot of what Liz says is stuff that I think I already knew, really deep down, I needed to hear it – and she packages those lessons in such beautiful stories (from her own journey and those of close friends and colleagues) that writers and artists can relate to and understand in fluid, clear prose.  It’s tough love, with a sympathetic voice.

Liz completely rejects the whole idea of a tortured artist and those who whinge about being martyrs to their talent.  You get nothing out of it at the end of the day.  She explains her theory that ideas for art, books, music have their own energy and whiz around trying to find a suitable host.  They bestow their gifts!  The moment that artist and host are united she describes the feeling as like falling in love, but that at exact moment the artist makes a contract with the idea, vowing to see it through to its end.  If the artist breaks that contract, the idea will leave and never return – worse, it’ll go on looking for a more agreeable host.  She recounts her experience with an idea she had for a book, about a secretary who finds herself in Brazil during the 1960s.  She tells how she was completely consumed with the idea and set about researching and writing notes in a blaze of inspiration – but when real life got in the way, she abandoned it.  A couple of years later, she finds that a fellow writer has begun writing a strikingly similar book herself.  She sees this as proof of Big Magic at work; that ideas can become ‘frustrated’ with their host and move on.  Now… I don’t know if I agree that ideas flit around searching for writers, but I love the warning behind it: if you don’t hustle and get the work done, then someone else will.

I found her notes on FEAR most helpful.  As someone who is constantly haunted by fear (and not only in the creative sense of, “I’m never going to be good enough”), I found it comforting to read her opinions on dealing with fear during the creative process.  She describes the writing process as being like a road trip with two friends; fear and creativity.  You need both of them on that journey – fear is an instinct after all, it’s important – but for the most part fear doesn’t have many interesting things to say.  It says “NO” more than anything else and will attempt to control everything from the songs on the radio to the turns you take along the way.  So she says that fear should go in the back seat; it’s welcome to come along on the journey, but it’s not allowed a voice.  Creativity sits shotgun, always.

You can probably tell, I loved it.  If you’re in danger of becoming a ‘tortured artist’ then you need to read this.  I loved Liz’s firm, yet calming tone and I feel like the things she had to say really changed how I’ll approach my next book.  I’m in discussions with an idea and I’ve pleaded with it not to leave me just yet… Do you think ideas understand how stressful moving house is?