Saturday, 5 September 2015 / 2 Comments

Review and Author Guest Post - Rachael Craw - Stray Blog Tour

Title: Stray
Author: Rachael Craw
Publisher: Walker Books
Date of Publication: 1st September 2015
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher

I am so, so happy to be part of the Stray blog tour. Stray is the second book in the Spark Trilogy by Rachael Craw, a sci-fi series about genetically modified humans who are Shields, the ultimate body guards. The downside of this modification is that it also produces Strays, who are the ultimate killers.

Today, as well as my review, I have a guest post from Rachael which features lots of fabulous gifs, which makes a nice change for this blog!

At the end of the post you'll find the links to the other fabulous stops on the tour. There are two or three a day, so it's as fast paced as the book! Please check them out.

If you haven't yet read Spark, the first book in the trilogy, you can find my review here. This review may contain spoilers for Spark, so proceed with caution!


It's hard to remember hating anything as much as I hate Affinity; a bone-deep loathing for the faceless unknown and the concrete walls of my own DNA. Evie is a Shield: designed to kill in order to protect, and the Affinity Project have finally come for her. But Evie isn't ready for the sinister organisation to take control of her life, her body, her mind. She isn't ready to follow their rules about who may live and who must die - not when it condemns the innocent. She has one option: risk losing everything and everyone - including Jamie - and run.


Stray opens a short while after Spark ends. Evie has recovered from her injuries, and she and Kitty are heading to the school dance. Unfortunately, neither of them realise the effect that alcohol has on Evie's enhanced metabolism, and things get a little out of hand before Jamie needs to take her home. This opening injects some much needed lightness, and romance, into what quickly becomes an action packed thrill ride of a book.

Evie has plans to free her newly found brother, but Affinity are not going to make it easy. Neither is Jamie, who is worried about the possible threat to Kitty. Evie will have to choose sides and risk those she loves most in order to uphold her principles.

There are more surprises for Evie in this installment, as well as her fair share of heartbreak. Spark managed some surprising revelations and Stray continues in this vein, with twists and turns aplenty.

There are some great new characters introduced in Stray, in particular The Proxy, who is a strange and chilling character.

It really is best to read Stray in as few sittings as possible. My reading of it was quite disjointed, and because the action is quite fast paced at times, it took some effort on my part to get back into the story. So if you can devote a block of time to reading this all in one go, I would highly recommend it.

Anyway, enough of my words, on to Rachael's!

Dark Dealings, Killing Your Darlings

Editing is ruthless, blood-thirsty work. In the first round removing whole scenes, chunks of dialogue, sometimes even characters feels like mass-murder. Later in the editing/proof reading it’s the surgical stroke of the scalpel looking for perfect form and function.
Did you know: in the original version of Spark Evie had a dad called Derek and there was a super hot Irishman named Gabe Nicol who was potentially a cooler for Evie in the same way Helena is for Jamie? Derek and Gabe got cut. In fact the first four chapters of Spark got cut. Those chapters were set in Evie’s family home in Pennsylvania after her mom’s (April’s) funeral. Her father spiralled unable to cope with April’s death and Miriam campaigned for Evie to come and stay with her. There was even a lawyer with news of an impressive inheritance for Evie, her mom had quarter of a million dollars stashed away for her that Derek had no clue about. Where did this money come from? Miriam knew. She didn’t breathe a word.

Other cuts from Spark included a team of private security ex-military contractors that Leonard Gallagher employed after the second attempt on Kitty’s life. A mortifying turn of events for Evie but also a relief. I loved these guys, they were surly and hilarious and Jamie had his hands full managing them on the Gallagher estate as they waited for the Stray to strike again. There was a guy called Captain Campbell who taught Evie how to throw knives. He was great. Hiring the team was one of the big breaches in protocol that would get Jamie and Miriam in trouble with the Affinity Project once all the details came out.

All of these cuts worked to make the story stronger, more focused, tighter paced. I didn’t regret a single one though it was tough letting Gabe go. Stray came under the same sharp scalpel. I wrote the first draft in the same year I wrote the first draft of Spark so by the time I came to rewriting it a lot of time had gone by. My writing had changed, the cuts I made in book 1 had a roll on effect into book 2 (Derek featured in Stray too) and I found it hugely challenging. In many ways I wish I had been brave enough to ditch the whole manuscript and write fresh but I was too scared to give up the security of a fully formed story. Of course, I look at Stray now and I love it but it was tough going.

In Stray I had a few supporting characters within the Affinity Project I culled into one. A research scientist with a great deal of clinical enthusiasm like a modern day Igor got the cut. It was during the rewrite that the character of the Proxy arrived on the page unexpectedly. The Proxy is a powerful telepath raised within the AP and used by the organisation in interrogations among other things. She didn’t exist at all in the original version of the manuscript and once she arrived she took over the whole story. I love her creepiness and the tension she creates in the reader of both sympathy and loathing.

Editing book 1 was initially an emotional shock. Cutting those first four chapters was like cutting my heart out. They were easily the pages I had rewritten the most and invested the most time in perfecting. It seemed crazy that years of writing would be sacrificed and come to nothing. When it came to editing book 2 I was already eyeing characters up with cold ruthlessness asking, is this person necessary, do they advance the plot, would the story be stronger without them? Whatever made it to the printer and whatever ended in the trash none of it was in vain. All of it contributed to the developing of my craft and was therefore worthwhile.

Stray Blog Tour

September 1
Happy Indulgence | Diva Book Nerd
September 2
Behind the Pages | Cassie the Weird | YA Midnight Reads
September 3
Liz McShane Blog | Imaginary Misadventure
September 4
Fictional Thoughts | Genie in a Book
September 5
Kids Book Review | Books for a Delicate Eternity | Nicole Has Read
September 6
Loony Literate | Book Nerd Reviews
September 7
Striking Keys | Very Dark Horse

Connect with Rachael:
@RachaelCraw | | Subscribe to Rachael's newsletter 
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  1. Thanks for sharing Rachael and Nicole! It's interesting to hear from authors about what they've had to cull and the impact it had on them and the end product!

  2. Awesome review Nic and couldn't agree more with how action packed and fast paced Stray was, I LOVED it!

    I can only imagine how difficult it would be to cut out such a large chunk of your work, I would have loved to have seen a bit of Evie's life prior to Miriam actually. Maybe a novella is in order? I certainly hope so. Awesome tour stop Nic, and thanks both for sharing <3


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