Book review: Hallowed by Cynthia Hand

I’m not going to lie. In the last couple of months I’ve become a little disillusioned with both Paranormal YA and sequels. The books tended to be so samey, the sequels disappointing. However seeing as how I loved Cynthia Hand’s Unearthly last year, I was willing to give second book Hallowed a chance. Am I pleased I did? You bet ya I am.
Warning: Possible spoilers for Unearthly. If you’ve already read that then you’re safe
Hallowed picks up just weeks after Unearthly ended. Clara is coming to terms with the fact she appears to have failed her purpose and struggling to make sense of it. But when she starts getting a new vision, it becomes apparent she’s going to lose someone she loves and her purpose isn’t over yet. Clara realises there’s much she still needs to learn, both about herself, her mother and the black wings whose threatening presence is always in the background.
So yeah, I was a little sceptical going into this one. In my recent experience, sequels rarely live up to the amazingness of the first book but Hallowed so did. Something about Cynthia Hand’s writing is just so addictive. Once in, I can’t get out; I get completely lost in the story and reading her books is an absolute pleasure.

What I love about this particular series though is how the focus isn’t just on the main characters but their whole family and wider circle of friends. Sure Clara is the main player, but her strength comes from those around her. In this book we find out much, much more about her mother Maggie and other angel-bloods. I really like the world Hand has created which is complex, mysterious and exciting. Things quite often turn out to be not quite as they seem, and Clara’s brother Jeremy in particular starts displaying some interesting traits. I’ve a feeling he’s going to really surprise us in the next book, which as yet is unnamed. Angela also intrigues me. There’s definitely more to her and in Hallowed it feels like foundations are being laid for a big reveal yet to come. 
I can’t talk about this series without mentioning Tucker and Christian. I have to hand it to the author, she’s managed to take the predictable and annoying love triangle cliché and keep me interested. Very interested. In Unearthly I was firmly team Tucker. In Hallowed, I’m not so sure. I want to still be team Tucker, but man does Christian come into his own here. Now I know the love triangle thing can be a bone of contention, but you know…if it’s done well I love it. And Cynthia Hand does do it well.
While Hallowed isn’t the most action packed novel you’ll read, it is a book of revelations, revealed secrets and intrigue. It’s left me wanting to know more and eager for book three. It also reduced me to tears at one point. Sad just doesn’t come into it. A heartbreaking situation is written with such delicacy and emotion I could barely see the words through my brimming eyes. 
My one regret about Hallowed is that Wendy is reduced to a sideline character and I missed the normalcy of her relationship with Clara and her wicked sense of humour. I felt of all things, Clara could have done with a bit more Wendy in her life in this book. It’s a shame that the truly human character in this series becomes less important than the angelic ones.

Wendy niggle aside, Hallowed was an amazing, emotional and captivating book and has smashed my run of disappointing sequels. This is without doubt one of the best YA series out there and one I’d recommend without any hesitation. 


Published by Egmont (UK) January 2012
Thanks to the publishers for providing a copy for review.

Blog Tour: Cynthia Hand’s Seven Tips for Writers

Today is our stop on Cynthia Hand’s UK blog tour to celebrate the release of Hallowed (Book 2 in the Unearthly series). Over to Cynthia…
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Cynthia Hand’s Seven Tips For Writers…
1. Write. I know this sounds like a no-brainer, but there are plenty of people out there who call themselves writers who simply don’t write (which is good for me, competition-wise, hee hee). I did this for a long time. It’s romantic to call yourself a writer, to “wear the black beret,” as I call it, and look like an intellectual artsy type. What is not romantic is to sit down every day all alone and sweat and stare at the screen and painstakingly put your words to the page. But that’s what you have to do, to truly become a writer. Write! 
2. Write every day. Your brain is like a muscle that you exercise. If you give it a writerly work-out every day, writing will get easier and easier. I’ve been doing this writing thing for a long time, but even I get mentally flabby if I let too much time go by between writing sessions. I operate best when I take some time to write every day. 
3. Set a goal for yourself. When I was first writing Unearthly, my goal was to write EVERY DAY NO MATTER WHAT until I had my book finished. I shot for 1,000 words a day, which is around 3 or 4 double-spaced pages. Some days I hit that goal easily, and wrote 2,500 words, and some days I got busy with something else and wrote 100 words. But that’s okay because I held fast to my WRITE EVERY DAY rule.  
So often I meet people who want to be writers, but they are overwhelmed at the idea of writing a 300 page (or 400, in my case) novel. I always tell them, if you just wrote 250 words a day, (that’s one page) you could have a novel in a year. 

4. Write about what you love. I know it’s tempting to write toward the trends. You hear that the next big thing in publishing is going to be aliens, so that’s what you should write, right?  
Nope. Not unless you happen to be fascinated with/in love with the idea of aliens. Write about what you love. If you don’t love aliens, your work is not going to be very passionate, and that will hurt you in two ways: a) it’s really hard to write a book, and if you don’t love it, chances are you won’t finish it, and b) even if you miraculously pull off a book about aliens, unless the real fire is there, chances are it’s not going to be very good. Which means you probably won’t get it published, and if you do get it published, or self-publish it, then it probably won’t sell too well. Put your heart in your work, and you are so much more likely to succeed. 
And another thing: usually by the time you hear about a trend in fiction, that boat is sailing. Meaning, unless you write your aliens novel really, really fast, by the time you finish your novel all the publishers will already be super saturated with alien books and it will be very difficult to sell. So write what you love. 
5. Read. This too is a no-brainer, but I think it should be said. And said again: read. Not only will reading be another kind of work-out for all those little neurons in your brain, but reading will tell you what the current climate of publishing is. It will show you what’s being done, so you can gauge how your own story might be different, and how it might be the same, which will be essential if you have to write up a comparable titles section in a query. (Read both in the genre you want to write in and outside of it, so you don’t get tunnel vision.) The year I wrote Unearthly I read over 70 young adult books. I wanted to know my market. This was wonderful fun, because the books were awesome, and I came to quickly understand what I wanted my own book to be about and how I wanted it to pull away from what was already on the shelves. It also introduced me to a bunch of amazing and talented authors. Read, read, read! Because seriously, if you don’t love to read, you probably don’t have any business being a writer. 
6. Study. This is a step a lot of would-be writers skip, or don’t know that they should focus on. They think if they just read books, that should be enough. To this I say: remember that writing is an art. When a person wants to be a great painter, yes, they look at other people’s paintings. But they also STUDY: technique, theory, history. They grow, not only in their ability to put paint on a canvas, but in their knowledge of the craft. That’s what writers need, too: knowledge of the craft.  
Now, by study, I don’t mean that you have to get a formal education in writing. I did, and it was very helpful, but I don’t believe you need a university to study writing. By study I mean: read books about craft. There are a lot out there, and some of them aren’t any good, but there are several great ones. I have a writer’s library bookshelf on my Goodreads page where I keep a list of these books. Also, as study, join a crit group or a writing workshop. You can learn so much simply from watching others struggle to do the same thing you’re trying to do. Do exercises. Go to conferences. Go to readings. Ask questions. Consider yourself a student of writing like a beginning flutist considers himself a student of music. 
7. Play. Have fun! Writing is magic. It’s fun. Don’t take yourself so seriously that you miss out on the fun of spending the day with your characters, the joy of coming up with a new, fresh way to say something, the sheer awesomeness of discovering your story. So allow yourself to experiment, and try new things, new genres, new perspectives. Writing is work but it can also be play.

Find Cynthia: 

On Facebook: Cynthia Hand
On Twitter: @CynthiaHand

Checkout the rest of the blog tour (which has some AMAZINGLY posts!) Details below

Read my review of Unearthly
Check back tomorrow for my review of Hallowed (which by the way is awesome!)

Book Review: Unearthly by Cynthia Hand

Unearthly is the debut novel from Cynthia Hand. It was published by Egmont on 2nd May and the book is 448 pages long. Thanks to the publisher for providing a copy for review.

Plot
Clara Gardner knows she’s half angel and that having this blood running through her is what makes her so different from everyone else. She is faster, smarter… well, more everything really. Although all of this sounds great, being half angel means that Clara actually has a purpose in life. Every angel was put on the Earth for one particular reason but fulfilling that purpose is the hard part. No angel knows exactly what it is until the time is right, making it difficult to do anything about it.

Clara knows that her purpose is drawing closer. She has dreams and visions of a burning forest and the back of a teenage boy’s head. These visions lead Clara and her family to a new town and to a new school where she realises that the guy in her visions are Christian, the high school heartthrob. While Clara knows that she is supposed to save Christian from something, her heart and head are telling her two different things. First, she thought that Christian was the guy for her but then Tucker comes into the picture and she has to decide which part of her feelings to follow. Will Clara be able to fulfil her purpose or choose to follow her heart instead?

What I thought
I had heard a lot of great things about this book around different blogs but I put off reading it for quite a while. I didn’t want a book that I was looking forward to so much to let me down but luckily, once I did get around to reading it, I wasn’t disappointed.

I really liked the fact that Clara knew who and what she was from the very beginning. There wasn’t all of the mystery that there is sometimes with someone finding out what they are but I didn’t think that this was a bad thing. It meant that the story could get into full swing straight away instead of having a massive lead up for nothing. The thing with Clara is that although she is half angel, she is as much a real teenager as you are ever going to get. She struggles with her feelings about a lot of things and has all of the same problems as a normal teenager, only Clara has the added problems of being half angel at the same time. Cynthia Hand has done a fabulous job of writing the teens in this book due to how perfect she has gotten the speech, thoughts and actions of all those involved.

Clara is feisty, charismatic and extremely likable. Throughout the book, she is torn between doing what she knows is right and what she wants to do in many different situations and this made me like her a whole lot more. This is a character that is far from perfect and nothing comes easy to her. Infact, everything is probably a lot harder for her due to being half angel as she has a lot more to live up to. When it comes to Clara’s purpose, you don’t actually get to see what it is until right at the end of the book. The mystery aspect surrounding this was exceptionally written and I loved being able to try and guess throughout as to what she was really supposed to be doing.

As the object of Clara’s visions, I thought that Christian would have been around a lot more. Even though the majority of the girls at school see him as a god, I didn’t see the attraction to begin with. Yes, he is good looking but his personality wasn’t the best to begin with. Christian took a lot of getting to know better before I could really see why people liked him so much. He is quite charismatic and knows he has a good thing going on with his bitch of a girlfriend but he also has a habit of being around Clara more than he probably should. As I slowly got to know Christian better, I could see that he had secrets of his own and I couldn’t wait to find out what they were.

Now, Tucker on the other hand, I immediately loved. He’s the guy who gets Clara all confused. Tucker is cheeky, playful and outgoing but most of all, he is so nice. As Clara just wants to be a normal teenage girl, Tucker was great for her because he really is a normal teenage boy. He has no special abilities, he has obvious flaws and loves being a general guy and doing things like hiking and fishing. He has a fantastic personality and it shines as soon as I got to meet him. There was just something about Tucker which I couldn’t help but love from the start and hope for a happy ending for him although I couldn’t see how it would be possible, seeing as Christian is always in Clara’s visions. YA books are full of love triangles but this one unlike any of the others.

The angel lore that Unearthly brings is strong and very complex but amazing at the same time. There are different levels of angels, different types of wings and different things that angels have to and can do. So much detail has been put into the background of these angels and because of that, Unearthly is probably the best book that I have read about angels. There are a lot of exciting aspects when it comes to these angels and as the book continued, I was constantly surprised at the new things I got to find out. I hope, as the series continues, that more and more about what they are capable of is revealed.

On the whole, Unearthly is well paced with a good build up. The plot is exciting, fresh and unexpected the whole way through but it still has something for everyone. With a balanced mix of love, romance, mystery and action, I was hooked from page 1 right up until the massive shocker of an ending. Angels have been done many a time before but certainly not like this!! Book 2 just cant come quick enough now!


Book Review: Unearthly by Cynthia Hand

In the beginning, there’s a boy standing in the trees . . . .
Clara Gardner has recently learned that she’s part angel. Having angel blood run through her veins not only makes her smarter, stronger, and faster than humans (a word, she realizes, that no longer applies to her), but it means she has a purpose, something she was put on this earth to do. Figuring out what that is, though, isn’t easy.
Her visions of a raging forest fire and an alluring stranger lead her to a new school in a new town. When she meets Christian, who turns out to be the boy of her dreams (literally), everything seems to fall into place—and out of place at the same time. Because there’s another guy, Tucker, who appeals to Clara’s less angelic side.
As Clara tries to find her way in a world she no longer understands, she encounters unseen dangers and choices she never thought she’d have to make—between honesty and deceit, love and duty, good and evil. When the fire from her vision finally ignites, will Clara be ready to face her destiny?
Unearthly is a moving tale of love and fate, and the struggle between following the rules and following your heart. (From Goodreads.com)

I’ve read a fair few Angel themed books over the last year, so it was going to take something pretty special to blow me away. Fortunately, Unearthly was just that. Beautifully written, captivating and with it’s very own twist, it was everything I’d hoped for and more. 

In Cynthia Hand’s debut novel we meet Clara, who is aware she is part Angel and has a purpose to fulfill on earth. I liked how this time we have a lead character who already knows what she is, there’s no journey of self discovery here as such and despite her awkwardness, she’s a strong solid character. She’s incredibly believable and easy to relate to too, suffering the same insecurities as other teens despite her super powers making her good at everything. This is used to cause conflict in Clara’s life as she attempts to hide them and not stand out. In fact Clara is played down quite a lot in this book and comes across as pretty much a very ordinary girl, which makes the fact she is special all the more exciting.

One of my favourite aspects of the book was the relationship between Clara and her small but tightly knit family. Her Mum is wise, caring, cool and a little bit of a pain in the butt all at once She’s a woman (or half Angel) with quiet strength and fierce loyalty to her children. I love how she isn’t over looked as a character. Given a fascinating back-story of her own, she isn’t just the ‘required parent’ but very much a part of this story. I also really loved the interactions between Clara and her younger brother, Jeffrey. I thought the sibling relationship was portrayed fantastically, reminding me of my own with my brother.

I also LOVED the Love Triangle in this book. Usually I find it very easy to pledge my allegiance to one side or another in love triangles. This time though my heart shifted between charismatic Christian and broody cowboy Tucker. Actually, the cowboy bit may have just swung it in the end 😀 While there’s nothing particularly new about this tug of love, it is well written and builds nicely.  It will certainly get your pulse racing with it’s 2 for 1 swoonliness and what more can you ask for really? 

Unearthly was more than I expected and has easily won it’s place as one of my top angel themed books. With a fresh take on Angel Mythology and a mysterious plot revealing some unexpected twists it’s addictive reading. I flew through it in one sitting and left thinking ‘wow!’ And luckily it doesn’t stop there, the ending sets up nicely for a sequel, Hallowed, due for release next year. Final thoughts on Unearthly? It’s Divine…and I highly recommend it!




Published by Egmont (UK) May 2011
Many thanks to the publishers for providing a copy for review.