This is a really special post for me because it includes my first-ever author interview! I enjoyed April White's novel Marking Time so much and was super happy when she agreed to answer a couple questions. You can find that part below my review (which is very long but I'm not sorry because it's one of the best books I've read all year) and I also decided to do a giveaway for a kindle copy because I want more people to discover and love this novel - you're welcome ;)
So what's it all about...
Publisher: Corazon Entertainment
Format: kindle or paperback, 443 pages
Seventeen-year-old tagger Saira Elian can handle anything... a mother who mysteriously disappears, a stranger who stalks her around London, and even the noble English Grandmother who kicked Saira and her mother out of the family. But when an old graffiti tag in a tube station transports Saira to the 19th Century and she comes face-to-face with Jack the Ripper, she realizes she needs help after all.
Saira meets Archer, a charming student who helps her blend in as much as a tall, modern American teen can in Victorian England. He reveals the existence of the Immortals: Time, Nature, Fate, War and Death, and explains to Saira that it is possible to move between
centuries – if you are a Descendant of Time.
Saira finds unexpected friendships at a boarding school for Immortal Descendants and a complicated love with a young man from the past. But time is running out for her mother, and Saira must embrace her new identity as she hides from Archer a devastating secret about his future that may cost him his life.
The following review is based on a copy provided to me by the author in exchange for my honest opinion.
This review is so difficult to write because there is no way I can convey to you just how blown away I was by this book, especially without spoiling the experience! Marking Time was even better than I hoped, though it was also different from what I expected. The summary led me to believe that it started out in the present and then did a one-time move to the past, but instead our heroine, Saira, moves between the Victorian age and the present several times – it’s a time travel book! And honestly, the best one I have ever read. But it’s more than just that, it also combines this with vampires, shifters, and other types of gifted people unique to April White’s world. Need more? There’s also a boarding school for said gifted teens, and it now has a spot among my favorite imaginary places (can't beat secret passages and awesome architecture). Still not convinced? It’s a new take on Jack the Ripper, too. And nope, these elements do not jar with one another at all! They are all well-developed and contribute to the story.
Another thing that was wonderfully developed was the characters. Saira was such a refreshing heroine! Tough, with a big heart and a smart mouth. Self-reliant – so much, in fact, that part of her journey is about learning to trust others. Determined. She has her flaws and quirks but those only made her more rounded and likeable to me. Before you think that you’ve seen that type of heroine before, let me add that she is also a graffiti artist and does free running / parkour. Saira is a great combination of brainy and street smart, something I’d like to see more often. I connected with her pretty much immediately and was involved in everything that happened to her. She hasn’t had it easy in life but she used those experiences to grow stronger instead of succumbing to them or whining. Her story is not just about adventure though, it’s also about family, heritage, and love.
Now Archer… well. The thing is, Saira actually meets him twice: in the past, where he is a student who helps her navigate Victorian London, and in the present, where he is a much more mysterious figure. As you can probably guess from the description, something develops between the two of them. But slowly, and not without complications. I cannot go into more detail without major spoilers, but let me tell you that I was fully invested in seeing their relationship bloom and them having a chance at a life together! Which is why some parts of this book were so hard to read for me. I rooted for both of them so much! Yes, me. The girl who is critical of romance. But Saira and Archer’s connection was believable and not cheapened by insta-love. And then the stakes just got higher and higher and the plot twisted, and every turn wrenched at my heart – this book was so difficult to put down I had to keep reading despite the hurt!
There are quite a lot of secondary characters, but they, too, are memorable and I never had any trouble keeping them straight in my head. There are the teachers at Saira’s school, some of them particularly awesome like Mr Shaw, Saira’s grandmother, who makes her distaste for her granddaughter’s lifestyle obvious, and the friends (and foes) Saira makes at school. My favorite among them, though, is a street kid she meets in the past - ‘Ringo’ really stuck with me and I loved his interactions with Saira! The secondary characters have their own mini-arcs of development and never felt cookie-cutter to me. They really bring new dimensions to the story and add depth.
The most amazing thing though? The world building. If you’ve been following me for any amount of time, you know how I feel about world building. I can endure a lot of dislikes in a book if the world building is awesome. The world building here was off the charts fantastic!!! There was so much more to it than I had expected, and it is wonderfully thought-out! No inconsistencies. No weird coincidences – there is a reason for everything. The time travelling is believable, and I really liked the detail that no Clocker, which is what Saira’s people are called, can travel back into their own life time. That takes care of something that annoys me about many time travel stories, which is the whole ‘running-into-your-old-self’ thing. It’s simply not possible here. I also loved how the method of travelling ties into Saira’s other talents and personality traits. The idea of immortal personifications of ideas such as Time, Death, War, or Nature might not be completely new (it reminded me of the Endless in Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series), but the way it is handled and combined here is unique. I really loved finding out about the other descendants’ abilities and histories!
The Victorian age is, again, realistically portrayed in both its light and dark aspects, and I cannot even imagine how much research must have gone into it, from customs to social norms to information about Jack the Ripper to tube lines, the map of the city, and insane asylums. Despite all that, and all the other world building aspects that I cannot mention for spoiler-reasons and that I want you guys to discover on your own, we never get info-dumped. The information comes in gradually and in a natural way. There is enough for the reader to keep up on what’s happening but never so much that it’s overwhelming. It’s the perfect amount to want to know more and keep reading and make up your own theories.
The pacing was also spot on. The action starts right off the bat, which is something I enjoy. However, Saira is not in the dark so long that it gets annoying for the reader who already knows a bit more from the description. The pace is quick and made me want to just keep reading and reading and reading, but it wasn’t too fast. There are books that just leave you breathless or that feel rushed, neither of which was the case here. I was utterly engrossed and also enjoyed the parts of the book that were less on the action side because they established the characters or the world more firmly and let you catch a short break. Marking Time is well over 400 pages long, but it never felt that way, never dragged. I would not have cut a single scene. Even if I sometimes thought I had things figured out, I didn’t.
I want to gush and say so much more, but I can’t because I would give something away and deny you the pleasure of experiencing this book for yourselves. Because I really hope that you will. It’s so original and well-written and I don’t have a single complaint! There are all these little details that are picked up on again and molded into the whole of the story and enrichen it. I wanted to live in it. I know I sound like a silly, smitten person, but I did! This book made me laugh and cry and hope and fear, which I think is all any book can aspire to do. If you are fed up with the ever-same plots and structural relations among characters – read this book. It will surprise you, and hopefully touch you as much as it did me. I am so glad that there will be a sequel, which April White is aiming to release in November. This is one world and set of characters I am so, so not ready to say goodbye to! And I am not at all sorry for making this review as long as it is.
MEET THE AUTHOR
APRIL WHITE has been variously a film producer, private investigator, bouncer, and screenwriter. She writes in the morning before her chickens wake up, follows her husband to the ends of the earth (the Yukon, the jungle) when his work takes him there, and the rest of the time, lives in Southern California with her family, their dog, and said chickens.
What sparked the initial idea of Marking Time, and how did the book come about? You combine quite a few elements in a really unique way – was that the plan from the beginning?
My 18-year-old niece is an obsessive reader, pretty much like all the women in our family, and I was putting together a box of books to give her, using the “I’m buying it for Alexandra so I get to read it first” excuse. I read some amazing YA books I’d never heard of like The Thief, by Megan Whalen Turner, Graceling, by Kristin Cashore, and Daughter of Smoke and Bone, by Laini Taylor. These women were writing fantasy like I used to read in college, and it reminded me how much I loved the genre.
Some of those fantasy novels from college, like On a Pale Horse, by Piers Anthony and The Ivanhoe Gambit, by Simon Hawke inspired the mythology in Marking Time. There are certain rules for things like time travel and vampires that just make sense to me and in Marking Time I got to create a world where all those paranormal and mythological things I love actually exist.
I’m fascinated by history, especially historical mysteries. And like my main character, Saira, I love anything secret, hidden, or underground. So time travel through secret portals to the age of Jack the Ripper was exactly what I would want to read, along with a kick-butt heroine with a slightly snarky sense of humor, dad-issues, and self-reliance that borders on pathological. Basically, I put together all the elements of a story that I would want to read.
Why did you decide to self-publish, and what was your way/background as a writer?
I had wanted to be a storyteller since I was a kid, and I’ve been a screenwriter for ten years. But it was hard to work up the courage to finally write a novel. Like the old studio system in Hollywood, I felt the publishing industry had controlled content to the point where if they didn’t believe a book could hit big in the first three months, they weren’t willing to take a risk. The rise in independent publishing, especially via amazon, createspace and smashwords has definitely changed the game for writers. And with those options in my back pocket, spending two years pouring my heart, soul and dreams into my first novel didn’t seem like such a crazy thing to do.
I did try the traditional publishing route and submitting to an embarrassing number of agents, but the few who sent back personalized rejections really did me the biggest favor. “I love the original concept and your writing is great, but I just can’t sell a manuscript this long to a publisher.” In that first round of queries, Marking Time was 182,000 words long. I was able to cut it down to 151,000 words and those which were all really good cuts. But it was still too long for traditional agents and publishers to consider for a debut novel. So, after considering every possible way to slash a third of the book away, and with my self-confidence somewhere down around my ankles, I finally pulled the independent publishing card out of my back pocket. As soon as I made that decision to publish it myself, I got my confidence back, learned everything I needed to know about formatting, finally designed a cover I could love that didn’t relegate the book to the chicks-only market, and had it out on amazon within a month.
Do you have any writing quirks? (music, snacks, something that must (not) be present, location, ‘casting’ your characters…)
I am a compulsive snacker while I write, and I have to consciously reign myself in and just put a bowl of raw almonds on my desk, or I’d weigh 300 pounds. The best time for me to write is around 4 or 5am, long before anyone else in my house gets up. Then I write while my kids are at school, because after they get home I’m pretty much useless for anything creative the rest of the night.
I’m also fairly obsessive about getting details right. If the place I’m writing about actually exists and I haven’t personally been there, I do every kind of internet research imaginable so I don’t make glaring errors. If I’m not careful I can end up down internet rabbit holes for days, like when I did all the plant research for Mr. Shaw’s botany class.
What is important to you in a book, both as a writer or a reader?
I love strong characters who learn from their mistakes and don’t whine. There’s nothing worse than the totally obtuse girl who can’t believe the stuff is really happening to her. So I want to read about characters I can admire or relate to in some way, because books are investments of time and money, and why would I want to spend either on someone I don’t like?
Tell us a bit about Saira. She made it onto my list of favorite heroines! I loved that she did free running (parkour) and was a graffiti artist! Did she have these attributes from the beginning?
I’ve always been fascinated by graffiti artists and I think Parkour is about the coolest thing on the planet. It’s the way real people can move like super-heroes and it’s how I would want to move through a city if age, physical conditioning and fear were no object. The first thing I knew about Saira was that she was a time traveler. Graffiti and Parkour helped to make her a loner in the “normal” world, and get explained a bit by her unknown heredity in the world of the Immortal Descendants.
Apart from Saira, who did you enjoy writing the most?
Ringo was an unexpected surprise. I didn’t really plan him so much as have him walk up and introduce himself to me as I was writing. And Saira’s banter with Adam was fun for me too. There’s an ease and playfulness to their conversation that siblings might have that’s much different from the significance of Archer’s speech. Mr. Shaw’s classes were also fun to write because he teaches things my character and I both love to learn about.
Which parts of the book were the most difficult to write?
Action scenes are hard to write. In screenwriting the action writing is terse and direct – I can count on the stunt coordinator, director and actors to take what’s on the page and turn it into something exciting. But writing about Parkour when I’ve never been free-running in my life feels a lot like I’m just making sh*! up. I ran a lot of those scenes past my husband, who is a film and TV director, and he could always “see” how the scene would play in the movie, so I could write it more visually.
What has been your most treasured experience during the writing process or after the publication of Marking Time?
I had the opportunity to speak to nine high school English classes over two days about writing and publishing Marking Time. So I brought in every book I could think of that I loved, or that went into the formulation of the story/mythology/characters, and I spent much of the class time talking about everyone else’s books. Each of those classes, from Freshman Lit to the Senior Honors students were amazing to talk to, and the most gratifying thing of all was after every class there was a line at the front to write down the names of the books I’d brought with me. I seriously LOVE readers, and the most satisfying thing in the world is recommending a book to someone that they could love as much as I do.
Thanks so much for doing this interview, April! I loved hearing about your journey as a writer and I think your background in film really shows because there is a strong visual quality to your writing that I enjoyed a lot! Also, respect for getting up so early in the morning to write - I'm definitely too night-owly for that...
As for you, dear readers, I would love to hear your opinions on the interview, my review, or the premise of the book in general! Also, as promised you can enter the rafflecopter below to win a copy of Marking Time, to be gifted via Amazon by yours truly.
Rules: Open internationally to anyone at least 13 years of age who can accept a kindle gift via Amazon (B&N won't let me buy from them since I don't have a US address). I will email the winner and they have 48 hours to get back to me before I draw a new one. Only one entry per person/household. If you cheat on one entry, all of them will be deleted. Good luck!
a Rafflecopter giveaway