Manga Reviews

Lover's Doll - Mishima Kazuhiko

About the story: When Shin hears about a doll known as the "bloody doll" from his friends, he can't help but be curious. Instantly falling in love with the figurine he decides to buy it, but there are rumors about the doll and how it got its name. It can supposedly move and talk and some former owners even claim it drank their blood. Unfazed, Shin buys the doll anyway to find out that the rumors might not be as ridiculous as they sound...

My opinion: Manga story telling is interesting and well, different. And the ones I read are no exception. Most of these on this blog were from searching for shounen-ai, so boys love types. The one here was a bit weird in places. He buys this male doll and it comes to life, which is the basics of how the story line begins.  The characters were fun to read, especially the doll who had quite the personality. And with manga it's amazing what the writer can do with so little to work with and while the images help there is only so much a still frame image can add. So, to have just the story come through the dialogue and words written in the frames can be an astounding feat. I liked this one personally as a cute little boys love story. It's not sexual or graphic, for those interested or not interested in such. Just a fun little story about a boy and a boy doll.

Brave New World - Yamada Nari

About the story: Nikotama Souhei is transferring to a new school and vows to enjoy a new life, living a lifestyle true to himself...or herself, as the case may be. Adopting the name "Sara", Souhei heads to school in a girls' uniform, ready to grab life by the knads and twist. Sara's no pushover: bright, hyper and frequently violent. She's like nothing anyone at the school has ever encountered. Especially her sweet, upstanding classmate Naruse Kaito who finds himself knee-deep in Sara's "Brave New World".

My Opinion: A different story with unique main character. I enjoyed a couple stories about a boy who wanted to dress up as a girl in school, passing as one to those who may not have known before hand. This is one of two in particular and definitely stood out amongst the small crowd of ones I read. Sara is interesting and different for sure. I was thrown off at first because the character doesn't use first person when talking about him/herself. Instead, the character goes "Sarah wants" and such in third person when talking to others. And I'd wondered if it was just from the being in the female identity but nope: there is a part where Sara goes back to dressing as Nikotama for family reasons and also uses third person when talking about himself. So, that was a bit different. But Sara sure has quite the fireball personality. She's going out into the New World of hers and making sure people notice. Overall, a fun little story with some genderbending and light romance.

Sazanami Cherry - Kamiyoshi

About the story: Migiwa Kazuhiro has always been watching Ren, cute, admirable, and his first love. With all his courage, he finally managed to give her a love letter and confessed on a train, only to find that Ren is...!? (Spoiler coming!)

My opinion: This one is like Brave New World, only some difference, in particular the viewpoint because it's from the boy love interest's perspective. The boy gets the courage to approach this girl he has seen on the train and is in love with only to discover the one wearing the skirt he has admired is actually *spoils it* a boy. But he ends up getting to know and spending time with Ren, discovering things he never considered before and even has fun trying on a dress at one point. Also has family issues in the story, and a sister with a secret too. So, fun and tame story also with genderbending but less of a strong personality in this one.

Overall, if you haven't tried reading manga, check a couple out online. There are many different types and for the writers, it's possible to learn from different forms of story telling. Just remember, most read right to left (but a few on occasion read left to right. And have fun.

Have you ever read Manga before?
What are you favorites?

Rule 88 by Andrew Kaye (Flash Fiction)

A review on site, finally. As some may notice, this isn't going to be my usual Reading at Dawn review and for a couple of reasons. First, it's not a novel. Shocking, I know. While our main focus on this blog is the reading and reviewing of longer works, mostly novel length items, I do believe it's good on occasion to break that boundary. There is much we can learn as writers (or even readers who don't also write) from writing that is shorter than a novel or novella. I'll showcase this point in my next review as well because I'll be showcasing manga I read online. That and I need to post here on a regular basis more often. My apologies to my neglected blog. Next, this is also a review for an activity on Writing.Com known as the WYRM Gauntlet, so the review will be a bit different for that reason too. But I hope some readers find this review helpful.

First, a little about the publication who posted the story. Because if submitting it's always good to look at the publisher and what they have published already. It doesn't hurt to do the same as a reader because it may lead to finding more things to read you didn't know existed.  Here is their link:

Kaleidotrope is in its essence an eclectic e-zine(had print issues till 2011) that publishes a variety of short work including poems, nonfiction and fiction. Explained on the guidelines page, the e-zine "tends heavily towards the speculative — towards science fiction, fantasy and horror — but we like an eclectic mix and are therefore always eager to read interesting work that falls outside those categories. Man does not live on space ships, elves and ghostly axe murderers alone, after all." And as a result of such, we get a story like the one I will now review.

"Rule 88" by Andrew Kaye

 This is a flash fiction story, coming in under 1,000 words, about a hunting expedition that showcases a set of rules the hunters have to follow. While we don't get to know all the rules, a few are showcased in the limited word count to illustrate the world and situation of the story. The viewpoint character is a hunter and on an expedition with a couple of his buddies in a sci-fi type of world the writer has set up. Those are the basic details of the story. Who should read it? Well, that depends on a few things.

If you're a reader looking for a character driven story... this one might not be for you. While we have a main character listed per se, it's not quite what one often expects when they have a first person story. The characters in the story are the viewpoint character (nameless first person pov), buddies Aaron and Gordon, and Larry the hunting guide. While we are in the one character's head, that whole first person point of view aspect, whatever his name is, I hesitate to call him a main character because the story isn't really about him. The action and consequences don't happen to him. He has a want sure, they are all hunting and want to have a successful hunt, but it's not his problem in the story in the end. That is why I call him the viewpoint character but not the main character, he is watching what happens and in that way the reader watches what happens with him because he is just their outlet to see the situation.

If you expect lots of action, fights against antagonists, a being as the antagonist, lots of tension, or well females... this one might not be for you either. This isn't that kind of a story and some of that well, have to consider what one can do in less than 1,000 words.  To me, a novel writer, I'm in awe at what people can do with flash fiction and how they can make it sound like a finished story. All of mine end up as scenes for novels as my plot ideas are viewed as too big for the short word counts I try to keep them under. A writer can do great things in a flash fiction story, but we still have to remember that it has its own limits and skillsets. And if you really need a female in a story maybe you should read this and give this little hunting story a chance.

Who is this story for? Well, it's for those who are interested in flash fiction. A reader who likes a plot that is more focused on a situation than on a character and their problems. Those who are interested in a "what if" scenarios may also find this story intriguing because to me it feels like a story created from what if questions. I can just picture potential questions with this story. Ones like: What if hunting had strict rules that must be followed? and What if someone or something got in the way of a regulated hunt? To name a couple, there is another but I won't list it because I don't want to spoil the story for anyone. There is much to the story if one looks into everything the author managed to provide in a tight set of words. It's an interesting idea especially for those who go to different countries and such for hunting (like my uncle) and I could imagine him enjoying this story because of the situation it showcases.

For writers, I suggest anyone wanting to see how to show their world without taking up chapters of info dumping to give this story a read. Especially anyone who has specific sets of rules or codes of conduct they want to show without having to list them off. Kaye does a great job at showcasing the world with the few rules that get listed in the story and the limited description of the world the hunters are in. Granted there are spots in this story that feel a bit of a set up, the beginning in particular and one can argue that the story needed more action and less info in it, but novelist have the same problem in 10,000 words and Kaye manages pretty well in under 1,000.  Flash fiction is a challenge, especially when trying to show character, world, setting and everything without taking up the word count. I think this story is a good example of what a writer can be capable of showing. If you're interested in see an example of how to write this way, then I'd say "Rule 88" is one to give a read with an eye for analysis and learning

Did I like the story? It was okay. I'm not really the target audience per say but I did find the piece to be well written and somewhat interesting. While I'm not a hunter and I prefer character focused stories, I didn't have any problems reading this one. There was one part that distracted me a little, a mention of ten fingers and toys that seemed questionable, but other than that I read the story with ease and even enjoyed it a little. I liked the aspect of how the world is shown, the rules and the little character tidbits that were provided. On the other hand, I am not a fan of first person pov and personally I don't like when I don't know the pov character's name. It's a personal quirk of my own, I need a character name even in less than 1k words. But it's short enough that I didn't stop reading because of no name (as I did with a novel once). I do also see that some may not like this one because the viewpoint character is rather passive. Having the first person pov person just watch what happens does sometimes make a story feel like it might be lacking something to a reader. But it's well written and does have merit, overall as a flash fiction story.  I might find myself checking out the e-zine and looking for the author's other flash fiction work in the near future out of curiosity. I do enjoy a strange story every now and then and this qualifies.

Are you curious yet? Check out the story and see what you think. It's less than 1,000 words, so why not give it a try.

Divergent by Veronica Roth

Reviewed by Ashlee Burke

About the Book: "In Beatrice Prior's dystopian Chicago, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue--Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is--she can't have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself." - Goodreads

In Veronica Roth’s novel “Divergent” we are introduced to a society that is ruled by factions. The idea being that our current government was run down by war and famine and as a result people decided that they could save the human race from it’s flaws by living by 5 basic life principles. Those who blamed the world’s problems on selfishness formed Abnegation: a faction dedicated to being selfless. Those who blamed ignorance formed Erudite: a faction dedicated to knowledge. Those who blamed deceitfulness formed Candor: a faction dedicated to absolute truthfulness. Those who blamed hate formed Amity: a faction dedicated to peace. And finally those who blamed cowardice formed Dauntless: a faction dedicated to bravery and ruthlessness.

Each of the factions lives separate from another but have a function in society. For example Abnegation runs the government whilst Dauntless polices the walls and guards the city. Amity grows the food but Erudite design the irrigation and the hydroponics that allow more food for entire city as well as act as teachers for all of the factions. However there are people who do not fit into these five groups they are cast out and become known as factionless. They do not play into the story however until the sequel: Insurgent. In Divergent they are merely mentioned as foreshadowing ideas.

The main character in Divergent is Beatrice. She is 16 and as such it is time for her to choose her faction. She was raised with her parent’s in Abnegation but every child is tested at 16 to see which faction they have an aptitude for by being put through a series of simulations. They are then allowed to choose to stay with their family or they can switch factions. It is considered a great betrayal if you switch factions. Now this is an interested parallel from the story to real life because I do feel when you are choosing any career there is a pressure even if it is unspoken to choose a certain way of life. For Tris it was even more complicated due to certain events that happen during her testing. However at the end of the day she knows that she must follow her path and not one set down by her faction or her parents. Can she live with her choice? Better yet can she survive her choice?

This book is interesting on so many different levels. On the one hand you have a coming of age story of a girl who has to choose between following a well laid path or carving her own. On the other there is a lot of philosophical undertones when it comes to the factions. Are people really that simplistic that we can be broken down into one personality trait? Can really smart people be neither selfless, kind, brave or truthful? Is one better than the other? Is it better to be honest, brave, selfless, kind, or intelligent: no matter what it costs you to be any one of those things.

Divergent and its sequel Insurgent was on the "Top One Hundred Teen Books" article recently published by NPR and while I would strongly recommend it to teens. I would also recommend it to recent graduates who are choosing their place in life. It gives an interesting perspective on living a life chosen for you and choosing your own path and how sometimes doing the later is the only way to truly commit to the former.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Yeah, I'm a little late (okay, way late) to the party but I finished reading the Hunger Games back in April. I read it partly during my lunch hours at work, and now I can review the book.

From Goodreads: "Could you survive on your own, in the wild, with everyone out to make sure you don't live to see the morning?

In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. The Capitol is harsh and cruel and keeps the districts in line by forcing them all to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV. Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives alone with her mother and younger sister, regards it as a death sentence when she is forced to represent her district in the Games. But Katniss has been close to dead before-and survival."

My opinion: This is a pretty good book. I am normally not the biggest fan of first person point of view but in this case it really works. I do kind of wonder what it was like reading this book right after it came out instead of already knowing bits about the sequels. Reading it already knowing that she is in a sequel and so is someone else lightened the impact a little. The main character was likeable and easy to read about. The story has enough twists and turns to keep the reader interested in turning the page. I've always been a fan of young adult novels where the character has to struggle to survive but finds a way on their own to handle the situations they end up in. And the first person present tense flows well enough that it's almost hard to noticed it. Overall, a good book.

Recommendation: I recommend anyone who hasn't read this one to read it. Which probably isn't too many people.

Changes are coming

Hello all. Some of you may have noticed the blog is still a little slow but don't worry. We are in the process of making some changes and will be back to posting reviews on a more regular basis in the near future.

First is the sad change. The wonderful Denise (aka L'Aussie) is no longer going to be blogging here at Reading at Dawn. We will miss her posts and insights here. She can still be found over at her blog, and at She was a great influence and help with developing this blog. Thank you Denise, for all your hard work.

Second has to do with the rating system for reviews. While the rooster and suns images are awesome, after much consideration, we have decided to get rid of the rating system. While there is merit to it, we have come to the conclusion that the number ratings aren't what we want to focus on here. Instead, we will focus on just the review along with who we think will enjoy the book.

Finally, there is going to be a new reviewer on the blog and soon. So look for the new name and more reviews.

Many changes are afoot but soon we will be back to book reviewing as usual. Thanks for visiting our blog and we appreciate everyone who follows and those who comment. Have a good day.

Dearly, Departed, by Lia Habel

I'm a big steampunk fan, so, on my usual trawling through recommended books I found this. THIS being Dearly, Departed, by Lia Habel. THIS being steampunk meets zombies meets post-apocalyptic in one crazy sounding mash-up. THIS being the best book I've read all year.

Blurb: Love conquers all, so they say. But can Cupid’s arrow pierce the hearts of the living and the dead—or rather, the undead? Can a proper young Victorian lady find true love in the arms of a dashing zombie?

The year is 2195. The place is New Victoria—a high-tech nation modeled on the manners, mores, and fashions of an antique era. A teenager in high society, Nora Dearly is far more interested in military history and her country’s political unrest than in tea parties and debutante balls. But after her beloved parents die, Nora is left at the mercy of her domineering aunt, a social-climbing spendthrift who has squandered the family fortune and now plans to marry her niece off for money. For Nora, no fate could be more horrible—until she’s nearly kidnapped by an army of walking corpses.

But fate is just getting started with Nora. Catapulted from her world of drawing-room civility, she’s suddenly gunning down ravenous zombies alongside mysterious black-clad commandos and confronting “The Laz,” a fatal virus that raises the dead—and hell along with them. Hardly ideal circumstances. Then Nora meets Bram Griswold, a young soldier who is brave, handsome, noble . . . and dead. But as is the case with the rest of his special undead unit, luck and modern science have enabled Bram to hold on to his mind, his manners, and his body parts. And when his bond of trust with Nora turns to tenderness, there’s no turning back. Eventually, they know, the disease will win, separating the star-crossed lovers forever. But until then, beating or not, their hearts will have what they desire.

In Dearly, Departed, romance meets walking-dead thriller, spawning a madly imaginative novel of rip-roaring adventure, spine-tingling suspense, and macabre comedy that forever redefines the concept of undying love.

The Good: Zombies in the future mixed with steampunk? Yes please! Other than being original, the plot itself was fantastic. Fast paced, intriguing, and with a nice dose of romance. Speaking of romance, it was subtle, and didn't make you as squeamish as you might expect, considering its a zombie-human relationship:

“The fact that she made this beeline for me both warmed my soul and made me want to turn around, walk out the door, and find a cliff to fling myself off of.”

The Bad:I did find it odd that it's written from the first person perspective of about five characters, but given the writing style, it worked well so it's not really a "bad".

Extra tid-bits: There's a sequel! And I shall be eagerly awaiting its publication.

The Verdict: A wonderfully funny, riviting read for anyone who likes paranormal, zombies, steampunk, and/or romance. Highly recommended to all!

Writer's Block NZ's Verdict: 10/10

The Dead-Tossed Waves by Carrie Ryan

This is a sequel to The Forest of Hands and Teeth. If you haven't read that book yet, I'd recommend reading it first because even though the main character in that one isn't the main character in this book, it's her daughter. Knowing what happened in the first book will really help when reading The Dead-Tossed Waves. Here is the review I did last year for The Forest of Hands and Teeth: link.

From Goodreads: Gabry lives a quiet life, secure in her town next to the sea and behind the Barrier. She's content to let her friends dream of the Dark City up the coast--home is all she's ever known and all she needs for happiness. 

But life after the Return is never safe.

Gabry's mother thought she left her secrets behind in the Forest of Hands and Teeth, but like the dead in their world, secrets don't stay buried. And now, Gabry's world is crumbling. 

In one reckless moment, half of Gabry's generation is dead, the other half imprisoned. 

Now Gabry knows only one thing: if she has any hope of a future, she must face the forest of her mother's past.

Overall: I like the book. I didn't quite read it in 24 hours like the first book but it only took a couple of days for me to finish. While I kind of hoped there wouldn't be a love triangle and even though there is one, it didn't hinder my enjoyment of the story. While I've never been into zombie stories before, these are the only ones I've read actually, I really do enjoy the world and stories that Carrie Ryan has created. Since I'd read the first one quite a long time ago, I couldn't remember all of the details and I kept trying to find connections between the two. Some places I was right and others I mixed names up. We do learn more about the villages, the infection, and even get some answers to things from book 1.

Characters: The main character, Gabrielle (Gabry), is well written and complex. She has many different moments of weakness, strength, group strength and even selfishness. The other characters in the story all served their purposes in moving the story forward and giving the reader more information about the world they are within. It's also an interesting side to see of Mary because in the first book we followed her story and survival, but in this one she is the mother. She even admits to how she was selfish when she was younger, which I know some people had issues with when reading her story. So, it was different having the characters point out their own flaws in that way. Again there are two boys that the main character has confusion about and some of those parts lost me a little. Overall, they did add to the conflict as things around them continued to crumble.

Story: One thing that I think Ryan does in a way that I almost envy as a writer is how she manages to make things worse for her characters without it feeling like she just added it to for more tension. It felt right for the story. In both books, things always get worse up to the very end and secondary characters certainly aren't safe. It's hard to tell who will survive and that makes for a need to read feeling that I enjoyed.

It was a good book that many others will enjoy.

Dawn's Verdict: 8.5/10

The Time Traveler's Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger

This book has been sitting on my to-read shelf for a very long time, so since I'm trying to read more adult novels this year, I thought I'd finally open it.
Blurb: When Henry meets Clare, he is twenty-eight and she is twenty. Henry has never met Clare before; Clare has known Henry since she was six. Impossible but true, because Henry finds himself periodically displaced in time, pulled to moments of emotional gravity from his life, past and future. Henry and Clare's attempts to live normal lives are threatened by a force they can neither prevent nor control, making their passionate love story intensely moving and entirely unforgettable. The Time Traveler's Wife is a story of fate, hope and belief, and more than that, it's about the power of love to endure beyond the bounds of time.

The Good: I expected the jumping back and forth in time, and the alternating POV's to be confusing, but Niffenegger has truly created her own art-form here. It worked perfectly, and if I ever felt slightly lost, I just checked the chapter headings, which included the date and character ages. The plot is captivating, probably because the premise is so wonderful. Time traveling caused by DNA? Gold. The exploration of the protagonists, Clare and Henry, and there relationship is fun, sweet, and intriguing at the same time, as the novel raises questions on fate, and free will.

The Bad: I felt that the side characters and their relationships to the protagonists were sidelined, in particular Gomez, who is something of an antagonist, but isn't fully formed enough for a reader to feel any true feelings towards. In addition, Henry comes across as a lovely character from Clare's POV, but in several parts (particularly when he's younger) he's very unlikeable, and his growth from complete jerk to love-of-Clare's life material isn't really shown.

Extra tid-bits: 1) I feel that I should put a word of caution in here. There are several sex scenes in this novels, and I have found that most people who have given this novel a bad review, have done so because they were put off by this. If you are of a sensitive disposition in regards to sex in novels, then I recommend steering clear, but personally I didn't find it over the top.

2) I felt a little teary in parts, so if you want a feel-good read this might not be for you!

3) There has been a movie made, and I must admit that I saw the movie first. Because Eric Bana played Henry, and it was ERIC BANA, I may have been a little disappointed in the novel's portrayal of Henry, purely based on my own expectations.

The Verdict: A beautifully written, poignant love story. Highly recommended.

Writer's Block NZ's Verdict: 8/10

Afterwards, by Rosamund Lupton.

From Goodreads:
There is a fire and they are in there. They are in there...

Black smoke stains a summer blue sky. A school is on fire. And one mother, Grace, sees the smoke and rush. She knows her teenage daughter Jenny is inside. She runs into the burning building to rescue her.

Afterwards Grace must find the identity 
of the arsonist and protect her children from the person who's still intent on destroying them. Afterwards, she must fight the limits of her physical strength and discover the limitlessness of love.

I read a lot of books but Rosamund Lupton is one of my latest favourite literary authors. I first came across her poetic writing when I read her debut novel, Sister, a chilling tale set in London. (I reviewed it here...)

Afterwards is also a chilling tale, but this time the reader has to allow themselves to enter a world where two disembodied spirits are the protagonists. This is a leap for some readers and wouldn't appeal to everyone. Yet I found everything about this book - the cover, the writing, the plot, all magnificent.

I think the idea of the POV coming from a person the other characters can't see is a wonderful idea. And the main character sharing my surname didn't sway me at all! Here is a brief overview of the storyline. 

Grace Covey is at her eight year old son Adam's school’s sports day when she sees smoke coming from the school building. She is afraid for her children, a daughter and a son who are in the school. Panicked, she runs towards the school. She is relieved when she finds her son outside the building being minded by the daughter of a friend. Her relief is short-lived when she discovers her daughter, 17 year old Jenny, is still inside and Grace runs into the building, desperate to rescue her little girl. (You might wonder why she doesn't leave it to the firemen, but they have been delayed by the street parking of parents at the sports day and they cannot get their trucks into the grounds.)

Grace manages to find an unconscious Jenny on an upper floor and she drags her downstairs. Mother and daughter don't make it. Grace collapses before she can get both of them out of the building. They are
admitted to hospital, both seriously burnt and fighting for their lives. However, the real fight hasn't begun yet because it is revealed that the fire was deliberately lit. Grace believes that somebody is out to destroy her children and she is desperate to stop that person, whoever he/she may be.

Before the fire, life was beautiful and easy for the Covey family. They had it all - great marriage, beloved children even if Jenny was rather secretive about a stalker who actually threw blood over her. Is this the killer? 

Afterwards comes the fighting. Afterwards comes the time to appreciate the things that are truly important in life, to discover hidden depths of love and strength, especially of the bond between a mother and her children. Afterwards is the time when everything changes, forever. Afterwards is a time of sacrifice. How could their lives be the same afterwards?

I've already said I loved this story. I loved the mystery with so many possible villains and a very credible solution, although I was slow to guess. It's an absolutely gripping story with Lupton's characters captivating, and her dealings with emotions are both credible and heart-rending. 

This is one of those books I didn't want to ever finish, yet I read like lightning as the storyline had me in thrall. I can't wait for her next book.

L'Aussie's verdict: 9/10.

Your First Novel by Ann Rittenberg and Laura Whitcomb; Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook by Donald Maass


Today I am doing two different writing books. One I read years ago when I first started focusing on writing novels but over the past few weeks have been re-reading. The other is one I bought from amazon last year and have read off and on whenever I feel like checking it out. Both of the books work for the same audience but they are definitely different.

Having read a few writing books over the last 5 years, I have started to glaze over when reading them because there is only so many times I can read things like the difference between first and third person, who is a protagonist and other basic information. On the other hand, I am always learning something new.

Your First Novel by Ann Rittenberg and Laura Whitcomb

From Goodreads: In "Your First Novel," novelist Laura Whitcomb and seasoned literary agent Ann Rittenberg team up to provide you with the skills you need to write your dream novel and the savvy business know-how to get it published.

Section 1 - Writing Your Novel
This section focuses on, as you can tell, the writing end which is more than just the first draft. This is from preparations to writing to editing and more.

Section 2 - Publishing Your Novel
This section is focused on traditional publishing. Topics discussed included what a literary agent does, query letters, and publication day and beyond.

Throughout examples are provided by both authors to illustrate different points.

I purchased this book when I first started focusing on novels and for good reason since the title of the book is "your first novel." Also, what caught my attention about this book was it went beyond how to write the first novel to tips from an agent, which sounded cool and useful. The book discusses so many things in the less than 300 pages of the paperback book, so it might lack some in depth focus on all of the topics, however, it provides a broad basis for a writer to start with when learning to write. From there the reader could jump to a more focused book.

Reading the book over again, I find myself glazing over when reading certain section. Also, I sometimes skip the examples because they are small snippets of books I have never read. It's rare in a writing book to use something I've read as an example but there are a few. One thing that is fun about this book is that at the end of chapters there are recommended readings and some even have web sites and movies suggested. This is good for beginners but would also be a good refresher for veterans too.

Dawn's Verdict: 7.5/10

Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass

From Goodreads: Noted literary agent and author Donald Maass has done it again His previous book, "Writing the Breakout Novel," offered novelists of all skill levels and genres insider advice on how to make their books rise above the competition and succeed in a crowded marketplace.

Now, building on the success of its predecessor, "Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook" calls that advice into action This powerful book presents the patented techniques and writing exercises from Maass's popular writing workshops to offer novelists first-class instruction and practical guidance.

This is the first "workbook" that I've purchased as far as writing is concerned. I haven't actually read the book that inspired the workbook, so don't know if that factors into anything.

It is an extensive workbook but some of the topics were a bit lost on me, or so I felt. There are some things in writing that not everyone will do the same. For me, character building is one of them. I even noticed this when talking to a friend, as I looked up the section of the book because he was wanting help on developing characters. For now, all I've done is ponder some of the exercises presented in the book but I might try some of them in the near future.

This book is definitely something for a person who liked a hands on approach to learning. Reading advice on writing has its place but there has to be a time to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and this book is good step to learn how to do certain aspects of writing before taking that information to use it in a novel. It might be a good idea to check out the original book, Writing the Breakout Novel for those that are less of a hands-on approach type. This is not my favorite book on writing but it's something that I would recommend friends to at least look at and consider.

Dawn's Verdict: 7/10

In a Heartbeat by Loretta Ellsworth

I was trawling through my digital library for some adhub novels to read, but stumbled across this YA novel and decided to add it to my reading list. I'm so glad I did!

Blurb: In a Heartbeat explores the ties of family and the weight of regret when a mistake costs Eagan her life during a figure-skating competition. Left in the afterlife, reflecting on what she could have done differently, Eagan's still-beating heart is given to Amelia who has been waiting patiently for a transplant. When their thought, feelings, and dreams begin to mysteriously overlap, Amelia knows she must search for Eagan's family and find a way to give them all the closure they need move on.

The Good: Right from the beginning, In a Heartbeat deals with a really horrible idea - what if by hoping that you will live, you are actually hoping someone else will die? That's the dilemma Amelia faces, because the only way she can get a new heart is if someone else dies. That someone happens to be Eagan, a beautiful figure skater with her whole life ahead of her. I thought that this novel deals with the concept of life and death beautifully and I found Ellsworth's exploration of grief really touching.

The Bad: You know the entire story from the blurb--there are no real surprising twists, or extreme tension. But thanks to the character development, and the emotions this novel deals with, I didn't find it much of a bother at all.

Extra tid-bits: 1) I must admit, I could have been so taken with this book because it resonated with me on a personal level--my brother died when he was the same age as Eagan.

2) I cried at the end!

3) Caution: If you are not an organ donor yet, you may change your mind thanks to this book.

The Verdict: A touch, poignant tale of grief and the joy that can come from it. Highly recommended.

Writer's Block NZ's Verdict: 9/10

The Swallows of Kabul, by Yasmina Khadra and The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul, by Deborah Rodriguez.

Available from Amazon
 Both books I’m going to review share many similarities. They are set in Kabul, Afghanistan under the brutal rule of the Taliban. Yet the first is poetic and dark, told from the POV of locals caught up in events they neither understand nor have any control over. The second is told from the POV of a strong American woman living and working in Kabul, where every day could end in death.

The Swallows of Kabul, Yasmina Khadra. (Translated from the French).

I love this book. It is written with relentless poetic passion right from the first sentence:

"In the middle of nowhere, a whirlwind spins like a sorceress flinging out her skirts in a macabre dance; yet not even this hysteria serves to blow the dust off the calcified palm trees thrust against the sky like beseeching arms."

Set in Kabul under the brutal rule of the Taliban, this is an extraordinary novel. It takes readers into the lives of two couples. Mohsen comes from a family of wealthy shopkeepers whom the Taliban have destroyed; Zunaira, his beautiful wife, once a brilliant teacher, is now no longer allowed to leave her home without her mahram (male relative) or without donning the full chadari (burqa) which she refuses to do until events dictate she must. Then there is Atiq, a prison keeper who has secretly adopted the Taliban ideology and struggles to align these beliefs with his faith. His wife Musarrat is now dying of sickness and despair.

Mohsen wanders aimlessly throughout much of the book, as there isn't a lot to do under the Taliban, where Kabul is as silent as an unscreamed scream - no music, no theatre, no kite flying, no school, no laughing. During one of his wanders, Mohsen is drawn into the hysteria of an execution and to his shame he joins in the stone throwing, believing his stone is the one responsible for killing a desperate woman. This incident  is the catalyst that propels all four people to their destinies. 

There are many unforgettable scenes in this book, but there is one that I'll never forget and it has to do with the executions and women in burqas. What a twist! What a dazzling novel!

Certainly an adult novel. It is a horror story with the Taliban the blood-lusty demons. I wouldn’t encourage the squeamish or young people to read it.

Available Now: Random House RRP $32.95
The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul is the first novel from Deborah Rodriguez. She has lived and worked in Afghanistan for five years, so this novel has a veracity only possible with local knowledge.

It’s not chick-lit exactly; the settings are far too grim, but it is still a book for the girls. It is rich in culture, replete with fabulous detail about Kabul life (especially how life is for women), with the ever-present dangers of suicide bombers and the often terryifying life lived under the iron fist of the Taliban. But, really, it is the story of five very different women who find themselves living in Kabul, one of the most dangerous places on earth.
Sunny in name and sunny in nature is the brave American heroine, owner of the coffee shop. She ends up in Kabul to escape her boring life in the States and to follow the man who might be the love of her life. She falls in love with the city, the culture and the people, but there’s no escaping Kabul is a  place where danger is a constant. Sunny works hard to protect her coffee shop and her customers.
All of the female characters in the novel are strong, with a powerful story. Yasmina is Afghani, a young woman torn from her family to pay a debt (a common enough occurrence still in Afghanistan) and is abandoned, injured, on the streets of Kabul. Pregnant and widowed, her life is in danger until rescued by Sunny.
Isabel is a journalist from the UK, visiting Kabul in search of that Pulitzer Prize career-making story. But in following her story she endangers her own life and the lives of those around her, with tragic consequences.
Candace is a character who takes centre stage when she sashays onto the scene. A wealthy American, she is causing a scandal by leaving her diplomat husband and taking up (surprise, surprise) with her Afghan lover. She is besotted with Wakil, but there is more to him than his do-gooder ways.
Halajan is my favourite character. She is the oldest of the women, an Afghan born and raised in Kabul. She harks back to a kinder life before Taliban rule. She longs for the freedom women once had and rebels in small ways every day, closely scrutinized by her disapproving, zealous son. Her biggest rebellion – a hidden love affair – could end in disaster.
The coffee shop is the stage where these five women play out their lives. Here they all feel at home, they discover love, experience betrayal while relishing each other. The well-crafted characters are bold yet vulnerable to the effects of day to day life, like all of us. But the day to day details of life in Kabul are a little more complex than the everyday, but the intimate worries of women remain the same the world over.
The male characters were fabulous too. Ahmet is Halajan’s son – a devout Muslim who cannot understand or tolerate, his mother’s small rebellions. Hadi, the cook at the coffee shop, a quietly spoken, loyal father figure of a man, looks out for all five women. And Jack, the enigmatic American who might be more important to Sunny than she realises. Sunny's mysterious boyfriend is not even worth a mention, and I think this is deliberate on Rodriguez's part.
You’ll love this book. Who could not? It’s one of those books I was sorry to finish but I had to keep reading, rushing to the inevitable, shocking series of climaxes.

L'Aussie's Verdict for both books: 9/10

Happy Belated Birthday RaD

I know it's not regular post time but I couldn't let the occasion go without at least a small post to let everyone know. Reading at Dawn is a year old. Our first blog post was back on January 14th, 2011. So this message is a little late but that's okay. Happy blogiversary/b-day Reading at Dawn!

Thank you Denise (L'Aussie) and JJ (WritersBlockNZ) for all of your work with this blog. I appreciate you both and I wouldn't have made it to our first milestone without you.

The Silver Crown by Robert C. Obrien

This is a book that I started reading back in September... okay, by that I mean the second time reading the book was started in September 2011. I actually read the book originally back when I was in junior high. I decided to read it again because there were certain parts that I remembered and I wanted to get a peak at some middle grade books. It's interesting what I did remember and what I had forgotten.

About the Book: (from goodreads) "Ellen awakens one morning with a mysterious silver crown on the pillow beside her. What magic powers it possesses she has not yet discovered, but the sudden changes in her life are unmistakable: her house is burned down, her family has disappeared, and a man in a dark uniform is stalking her. Can Ellen ever find her family? Can she use the power of the silver crown to thwart the powers of darkness? What diabolical force hides inside the mysterious castle in the woods?"

About the Author: Robert Leslie Conly (also known by his pen name, Robert C. O'Brien) was an American author and a journalist for National Geographic Magazine. He is known for books including Z for Zachariah and the amazing tale of Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH.

Overall Impression: This is an older book but still rather good. There were parts that I remembered from when I first read it back in junior high-ish, since I can't remember exactly when I read it. I remembered perfectly the very beginning of the story, how she discovers the crown and the little pretend court she holds away from her house. I remembered the boy that the main character meets in the story who then travels with her and the mind control that they discover. But I didn't remember the cop killing that happens in the beginning and many other elements. Still enjoyed reading the story.

Second Reads: Like with reading any book a second time (and you'll get more about this when I review the first two books from The Wheel of Time series) there are interesting elements to reading a familiar story. Even in middle grade, there are things that I noticed now that I may not have caught onto the first time reading. But one of the things that makes a really good book is the ability to read more than once and still enjoy the story. Even though I've read the book before, I am older and all of that, there were still parts where I reacted and parts where I wanted to know what happened next. And that is a good sign.

Reading as a Writer: The main thing I felt that was different this time around wasn't so much my age, but now that I am writing and doing editing/acquisition for a small publisher, I look at books I read differently. I can't help but notice things, like a well planned "info dump" done in a way to make it fit into the story. Sometimes the phrasing distracted me a little bit when it came to certain sentences but those were very small moments and didn't happen very often. I see those things more now than I used to and that's okay.

Dawn's Rating: 9/10

Sushi for Beginners by Marian Keyes

2011 was a spectacular reading year for me: 108 books read in total. Most of them were YA, so my goal for 2012 is to not only read 112 books, but to aim to read at least 35 adult fiction novels. Therefore, I thought I'd start off with a review of Sushi for Beginners by Marian Keyes.

Blurb: Number one internationally bestselling author Marian Keyes works her magic once again in this charming tale of three modern women and their search for happiness.

Prada-wearing magazine editor Lisa Edwards thinks her life is over when her "fabulous" new job turns out to be a deportation to Dublin, launching Colleen magazine. No more jet-setting to the fall collections. No more fabulous parties and photographs in the society pages. The only saving grace is that her friends aren't there to witness her downward spiral. Might her new boss, the disheveled and moody Jack Devine, save her from a fate worse than hell?

Ashling Kennedy, Colleen's assistant editor, is an award-winning worrier, increasingly aware that something fundamental is missing from her life -- apart from a boyfriend and a waistline. And then there's her closest, oldest friend Clodagh "Princess" Kelly, who is apparently living the domestic dream in a suburban castle. So why, lately, has Clodagh had a recurring urge to kiss a frog -- sleep with a frog, if truth be told?

This novel is set in the fashion magazine industry, and I was primarily interested in this novel because I work in the media industry, and have had a lot of contact with magazine teams. However, in New Zealand it seems to be a lot more laid back than in Sushi for Beginners!

The Good: despite being chick-lit it had a fair bit packed into it, and I didn't once feel like the plot was dragging. It is set in Ireland, and the contrasting POVs between Lisa, from London, and Ashling from Dublin, were wonderful. There were a number of love triangles going on, and I'm happy to report that the results weren't as predictable as I'd assumed they would be. At times, it is a bitter-sweet tale, and although I'm a sucker for a happy ending, Keyes manages to keep away from the fairytale style ending often seen in chick-lit.

The Bad: Two of the characters, Lisa and Clodagh, were completely unlikeable, and my attitude towards them didn't improve much, even towards the end of the book. There were numerous in-scene shifts in POV that I found a little unsettling.

The Verdict: A light-hearted rom-com style novel, recommended for a lazy sunday at the beach.

Writer's Block NZ's Verdict: 7/10

JJ, WritersBlockNZ reflects on 2011

Happy New Year fellow readers!

2011 was a hectic year for me - you may have noticed that I dropped off the blogging scene for a while. This was all due to my baby girl, Kiera Marie, born 22nd July 2011. Despite having my hands full, I still managed to reach my goal of reading 100 books in 2011 (in fact, I read a few more than 100!).

Some of my favourites:

Best series read: The Hunger Games Trilogy, by Suzanne Collins

Best sequel read: Clockwork Prince, by Cassandra Clare

Best debut author: Rapture, by Phillip W. Simpson

Best sci-fi read: Across the Universe, by Beth Revis

Best fantasy read: Graceling, by Kristin Cashore.

Best contemporary read: If I Stay by Gayle Forman

Best cover: Supernaturally by Kiersten White

What were some of your favourites for 2011?

Happy reading for 2012!

Writer's Block NZ

  • Powered by Blogger.