Monday, August 17, 2015

SA blog tour: A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J Maas - Q & A with Sarah


Today I’m thrilled to be part of the Sarah J Maas, A Court of Thorns and Roses SA book blog tour. 

Thanks to the publishers, I, along with a few other South African bloggers will be spotlighting A Court of Thorns and Roses throughout the week.


With Queen of Shadows just a few weeks away from being released, we thought that there’s no better time to remind you about her latest book, which is a departure from the Throne of Glass series, and ventures into the age old world of fairy tales and folklore. 

And trust me, it’s all as wonderful as it sounds.


There’ll be giveaways (yay!), reviews and top 10 lists, to mention but a few.   

In today’s first two stops though, I get a chance to chat to Sarah, and the awesome Nerine reviews the book on her blog.  Nerine has also kindly agreed to donate her signed copy for the purpose of one of our giveaways, so look out for more details on that to come.

In the meantime, here’s my interview with the lovely Sarah, followed by information about the book, and the rest of the tour schedule.

Thanks for joining me on the blog today Sarah!

A Court of Thorns and Roses has been described as a combination of Tam Lin (which just so happens to be one of my favourites), Beauty and the Beast and East of the Sun, West of the Moon.  How did your story evolve into one that draws inspiration from these specific tales?

To start off, I feel like I should confess that I’ve been a fan of fairytales for as long as I can remember.

My parents read me fairytales and folklore from around the world when I was young, and when I got older, I read any/all fairytale retellings I could get my hands on.

I’d always wanted to write a retelling of my own (The Throne of Glass series actually started off as a Cinderella retelling, and grew into something original instead), but when I got the initial kernel of inspiration for ACOTAR, there were no fairytales involved whatsoever.

I merely saw this snowy, bleak wood, heard the voice of this young huntress as she stalks through it for game, desperate to feed her near-starving family.


But when I asked myself who she was, who her family was, why they were near-starving, how they’d become poor…I recalled the original Beauty and the Beast legend, in which Beauty’s family was actually a merchant-class family, who had fallen into poverty after the father’s investments had gone poorly.

As soon as I made that link, I realized I had the perfect set-up for the retelling I’d always wanted to write! But rather than do just one retelling, I decided I wanted to blend some of my other favorite folktales—East of the Sun, West of the Moon and Tam Lin.


All three have similar elements, actually—though the latter two also have go-getter heroines who ultimately save their love interests from the clutches of powerful, wicked queens.

East of the Sun, West of the Moon probably provided more structure to the book than the other two—the first half is a love story/mystery, the second half pure adventure and action.

It’s from that folktale that I drew the most heavily, but in all honesty, despite this book starting off as a retelling, I still think of it as more of an original fantasy novel with nods to all three of those fairytales if you know where to look.


How different did you find the writing process with this novel in comparison to the books in your Throne of Glass series? What changed for you?

Honestly? Not much. Writing every book is a different journey and requires a slightly different process, no matter what series I’m writing in, but the core elements of how I write remain the same.

The only big difference for me was writing in first person—having to limit myself to only Feyre’s point of view and knowledge of things.

It required me to get creative about how she learned secrets/information that other characters knew and she didn’t (in third person, I can just switch perspectives to convey information the reader needs to know but some characters might not).

But in some ways, having two series with different styles of narration actually keeps things fresh/exciting. When I get sick of one, I can go work on the other. I never get bored. :)


What can readers who’ve read your previous books expect to encounter in A Court of Thorns and Roses? What do you think will surprise them most?

Oh, definitely expect another fierce, interesting, kick-ass heroine—and some pretty hot dudes! And there’s magic, and violence, and cool/creepy creatures.

But one thing readers might find surprising is that even though Feyre is physically capable (though definitely not as strong as Celaena), she is a quieter sort of heroine—she thinks before she speaks, is more emotionally-closed off, has massive trust issues, and still has yet to learn who she is and what she wants.

Another thing that might surprise them is that the book is a bit more steamy than my TOG series (i.e. no fade-to-black!). ;)


Can you give us a quick introduction to some of the characters we’ll get to meet in A Court of Thorns And Roses?

Well, Feyre I’ve spoken about already. But I feel like the three hot Fae men deserve *some* mention, so…

There’s Tamlin, the shape-shifting Faerie lord, who is very broody and snarly and has lots of secrets.

There’s Lucien, Tamlin’s second-in-command, who likes nothing more than to piss off Feyre and be endessly snarky.

And then there’s Rhysand, who….I won’t spoil who/what he is. ;)

I’ve read that you absolutely adore fairy tales. Does this mean that we’ll get to see more books inspired by fairy tales written by you? If so, which underrated fairy tale would you love to give your own spin on and why?


I certainly hope so! I have a feel other retellings floating around in the back of my mind (some already written, some just ideas), and I’d love to get the chance to tell them one day! As for which one… my lips are sealed. ;)

Thank you so much for your time! We hope you’ll come visit us in South Africa some day!

Thanks SO MUCH for having me!! I’d be honored to visit!

About the book (you can purchase a copy from Raru.co.za):

When 19-year-old huntress Feyre kills a wolf in the woods, a beast-like creature arrives to demand retribution for it.

Dragged to a treacherous magical land she only knows about from legends, Feyre discovers that her captor is not an animal, but Tamlin—one of the lethal, immortal faeries who once ruled their world.


As she dwells on his estate, her feelings for Tamlin transform from icy hostility into a fiery passion that burns through every lie and warning she's been told about the beautiful, dangerous world of the Fae.

But an ancient, wicked shadow grows over the faerie lands, and Feyre must find a way to stop it... or doom Tamlin—and his world—forever.

Add it to your Goodreads TBR pile.

About Sarah:

Sarah J. Maas is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of the Throne of Glass series (Queen of Shadows, Book 4, will be out in September 2015), as well as the A Court of Thorns and Roses series (out 5/5/15).

Sarah lives in Bucks County, PA, and over the years, she has developed an unhealthy appreciation for Disney movies and bad pop music.

She adores fairy tales and ballet, drinks too much tea, and watches an ungodly amount of TV.

When she's not busy writing, she can be found exploring the historic and beautiful Pennsylvania countryside with her husband and canine companion.


Tour schedule:

Monday – 17th Aug

Tammy @ The Book Fairy’s Haven: Q & A with Sarah

Nerine @ This is my world: Review


Tuesday – 18 August


Hannah  @ Fully booked reviews: Top 10 list


Wednesday: 19 August

Monique @ Paranormalsphere:  Review of ACOTAR


Thursday: 20th August

Kyra  @ Blog of a Bookaholic  - Review


Tammy  @ The Book Fairy’s Haven – Review


Friday: 21 August

Hannah @ Fully Booked reviews – Review

Giveaway post:  Win 3 copies of SJM - TBA

UPDATE: Due to some eye health issues, I've been unable to get around to posting my review and giveaway post. All will be resumed this week.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Book review: The Retribution of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin

The final and mind-bendingly twisty conclusion to a series that proved to be unpredictable right from the start.

The Retribution of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin (first published in 2014 by Simon Pulse, an imprint of Simon & Schuster)
 
Disclaimer:  A Shortened version of this review first appeared on Women24.com. 

Please note: As this is the conclusion to a trilogy, this review may contain spoilers for The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer (book one) and The Evolution of Mara Dyer (book two).

Let me start off by saying that I really loved this trilogy. It’s not every day that you find a trilogy where you barely find any fault with all the books in the series, and for me, The Mara Dyer collection is pretty close to perfection.

When I first started reading the series, I was initially under the impression that I was simply reading a suspense novel with a paranormal focus of the vampire/werewolf affliction kind.

What I encountered instead was a book series that really didn’t want to fit into any genre per se, but one which, if I was hard-pressed to describe, could probably be categorised as a contemporary suspense novel, with medical and paranormal overtones.

If you’re interested in books that explore genetics and ethics in the medical research industry, paired with an added dose of horror for good measure, then this trilogy will be right up your alley. 

Throw in an unreliable narrator, a dual-narrative structure weaving between past and present AND a mastermind manipulator and you have the recipe for a book that makes for the stuff of urban legends.

With this book being the conclusion to the trilogy, we find that things take a darker turn.  Mara and her friends are trapped in the medical centre which was meant to help her and others like her. Instead, what was supposed to be a rehabilitation centre quickly becomes a place in which she and her friends have to fight their way out of in order to escape.

As they run for their lives, it quickly becomes apparent that the madness they’ve just escaped is only the beginning of the hell they’re about to face. And with Mara already struggling with her inner demons, it’s not long before the group start wondering if the real danger isn’t Mara herself.

Fast-paced, gritty and gory, The Retribution of Mara Dyer had me enthralled from the get-go.

It’s a book that plays with voice and messes with your emotions. It’s a read that will having you playing conspiracy  theorist and one that will make you question everything you know about the human mind, genetic anomalies and that fine line between genius and insanity.

Mara has proven that she’s a character whose story, thoughts and reactions, constantly lead you down paths less travelled. Here you have a girl who has been through so much and gone beyond the realms of what any sane human should have to endure.

She’s come undone, but it’s the fact that she’s in the state that she’s left in that galvanises her into action. And it’s this that makes for such compelling storytelling. 

Michelle isn’t afraid of pushing her characters to the edge of the abyss in order to see just what they’re made of. With Mara, she takes things to a deep and dark level that I’m only just beginning to see more of in YA.

I knew things would even more twisted than before, but I certainly wasn’t expecting it to go into such detail.  Not that I’m complaining or anything.

I loved seeing how her relationships with her close friends and loved ones remained so strong throughout the book. 

We unfortunately don’t get to see much of Noah in the first half of the book, but when he enters the scene, boy, does he make an entrance. I certainly adored the relationship between the two of them and couldn’t help but feel for them given all of the opposition these two had to endure.

However, ultimately, this book isn’t about romantic relationships (yay for the very smexy moments between Noah and Mara), although it does include it.

No, The Retribution of Mara Dyer is a book that explores human nature in all of its complexities. It’s a battle of wits, control and a desire to play puppet master in the game of survival of the fittest, or in this case, the genetically enhanced.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Book talk: 5 stages of going through a book break-up

Disclaimer: This column originally appeared on Women24.com

Recently I’ve been reading (or attempting to read in this case) an urban paranormal fantasy novel.

The book had everything I thought I was looking for in a fun, light yet action-packed novel about my favourite kind of mythological creature.

Kick-ass heroine? Check. Snarky rockstar fairy way too big for his arrogant boots? Double-check. Interesting mythology that forms the backbone of the entire story?

Well, I can’t say for certain, because after about 105 pages in, I finally gave up the ghost with this one (There was a creepy spider-fae queen though. That much I know).

Now, I don’t know about you, but I’m one of those readers who hate giving up on a book.

Sure, I like to advocate that life’s way too short to suffer through a book you’re just not connecting with, but I find that advice often hard to follow myself. Having said that, there have been a number of books and series that, over the years, I simply had to toss aside out of pure grief and frustration.

The Big Book Break-up is what I like to call it.

What I’ve found is that whenever I’m going through one of these break-ups, there would be some emotional resistance that would form part of the process. Much like the 5 stages of grief, here are the emotions I go through whenever I’m in the process of breaking up with a book.


                                                    Image via: Giphy.com

1. The big book denial
This is the stage when I’ve usually gotten around to the first 50 to a 100 pages or so and am convinced that while things haven't gotten off on a great start, the story will get better. Oh the youthful optimism of this phase – it lulls me into a false sense of security every single time.

2. The “what’s wrong with me?” moment
Here’s where I start blaming it on everything but the book. I go from blaming it on my mood and reading settings, to wondering whether there’s something wrong with me (I especially start doubting myself when my friends are all about the love for the book in question).

See? It’s that “it’s not you, it’s me” scenario some couples like to play. Except in my case, I only come to the conclusion that it’s not me when I’ve reached the very last stage of fighting to hold on to a relationship with a book that should have ended (p)ages ago.

3.  Book bargaining
Ah, the point of negotiation. By now, I’ve reached a point where I’ve (usually) finally admitted to myself that the book in question may not be all that I was hoping it would be. Yet, something in me will hesitate because WHAT IF IT GETS BETTER? And what if there's a huge plot point I could be missing out on?

Fear of missing out is a huge curse for most book lovers and it’s one that rears its ugly head when I really don’t need it to. I mean, I could be reading a better book, for goodness sake.

Instead, my inner dialogue chooses this moment to pipe up and talk about all the possibilities that I could be missing out on, as opposed to the probabilities of a better book I could be focusing on instead.

4. Taking a break to read something else phase
If you're a stubborn book quitter like me, you'll know that by now, you've reached a stage where your need to finish the book is overriding the desire to move on to a new book. So, instead of giving up like you should, you decided to take a break and read something else in between.

In this case, the book that I decided to read, ended up being so much better than the one I’ve been relentlessly holding on to.

5. The big book chucking
And that, my fellow book darlings, is the very moment I decided to finally toss the book aside. I mean really, who needs that kind of torture?

You’d think I’d know this by now, but apparently I need to experience a better book every time to be reminded that a) life is way too short to read bad books and b) there are way too many books out there spend so much time trudging through a read that feels more like a chore than a brand new adventure.

How about you? What kind of stages do you go through when loving, loathing or giving up on a book.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Book talk: All the Sad Places (on books and the power they have to get you through some of the worst days)

Disclaimer: This column originally appeared on Women24.com

Books might not be able to completely cure depression, but they do get you through some of the worst times.

Emptiness. Numbness. Endless sadness. Never-ending feelings of apathy, malaise and melancholy.

These are just some of the feelings that many of us associate with depression.

It’s feelings most of us are familiar with and emotions we all need to talk about. But we often don’t because we’re either, a) not sure how to broach the subject or, b) scared that we will be made to feel ashamed of the way we’re feeling.

One of the most recent books that I’ve read is a book called All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven. It’s a novel that tackles the subject of mental health problems, with a strong focus on suicide and depression.

It’s a novel that’s drawn both praise and criticism; adulation for its unflinching and no-holds barred approach to the reality of what depression really does to a person, and disapproval because the tone of the book, in many parts, seems to make light of it.

I elaborate and address this issue in my review a little more, so I won’t be going into too much detail here.

What I can tell you is that this novel got me on so many levels.

Yes, it’s a book that doesn’t get it 100% right, but any book that can make you look beyond its flaws and leaves you feeling as if your life has just been made a little better for it (simply because you feel like someone understands), is a book that’s worth being one of my favourites of 2015.

One of the quotes that have stayed with me ever since:

“It's my experience that people are a lot more sympathetic if they can see you hurting, and for the millionth time in my life I wish for measles or smallpox or some other easily understood disease just to make it easier on me and also on them.”

That passage sums up everything about my battle with depression. It’s a feeling of hopelessness that travels around you because you’re sad for so many different reasons.

You feel sad and guilty and you want to make it easy on the people around you, but can’t because, you don’t understand your own illness yourself.

I love this book because it shows that you can put up a normal front and still be dying from the inside. I love it because it depicts the good days and the bad. But mostly, I love it because it’s honest enough to tell us that sometimes the battle is so hard that it never seems like you’re ever going to win.

This book hit me hard, but I’m glad, because in many ways it brought me comfort, the way so many books that don’t touch on the topic of depression, already do.

And that’s the thing about books like All the Bright Places and books in general. As long as they keep me reading, then I know that I can get up and face another day.

It doesn’t have to be a perfect day, just as long as it’s another day. Because the day that I know that I can’t pick up a book to read, is the day that would mean I’ve given up completely.

What books have helped you through difficult times?


Monday, June 22, 2015

Book review: All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven (first published by Penguin Books, a division of Penguin Random House, in 2015) 

Disclaimer:
Review first appeared on Women24.com. 

You can
purchase a copy of the book on Raru.co.za

Trigger warning: Suicide


Keep a box of tissues at hand because Jennifer Niven’s All the Bright Places will rip your heart to shreds. 

This book, already one of the most hyped about of the year, takes a look at depression, mental health and suicide amongst teens, and explores the stigma associated with illnesses that can’t be seen, but is felt on so many levels.

I’m no fan of the hype monster, but given that I was interested in this book even before it started, I simply had to pick it up when it arrived on my desk.

Needless to say, my experience of this book was decidedly jarring.

Yet, despite my initial ambivalence towards it, I can certainly say that this is a novel that will stay with me for the rest of my life.

In fact, I think my battle with it actually enhances the reason why I’m considering it one of my top favourite reads of 2015 so far.  

Death. Bereavement. Avoidance. Depression. Suicide. Hope.

If you’re looking for a read that will be filled with the jollies, you are not going to find it here.

Despite the book’s initial fluffy tone - something which I, at first, found very unsettling, especially given the fact that the book starts off with a boy who saves a girl from jumping off the bell tower of her school - All the Bright Places isn’t so much a happy read as it is a thoughtful, exquisite and heartbreaking treatise on what depression does to a person.

When Violet and Finch first meet, both of them find themselves at the edge of the bell tower at their school.  Somehow, Finch talks Violet out of jumping from the ledge, despite the fact that he himself counts his living days.

When they’re paired up for a school project that requires them to discover the wonders of the city and state they live in, what starts off as an accidental meet-up will transform them both; one for the better and one whose world will be changed irrevocably by the events that follow.

While the book is narrated from the perspective of both Violet and Finch, I feel as if this is more Finch’s story than Violet’s, something which I really appreciated because it is so rare to see books that deal with male teenagers struggling with depression.

It’s like the book industry is buying into the myth that only girls suffer from depression. And while there are books that do feature young males suffering from any form of mental illness, the ratio in comparison to books that feature female protagonists with depression, is far lower.

But, back to the book.

As mentioned above, one of the biggest criticisms about All the Bright Places is that it many people think it seems to make light of depression. That the tone isn’t what it should be.

Here’s my thing though.

I think people who make this claim are also the kind of people who, I feel, would be more inclined to think of depression as only being a one-dimensional illness. 

An illness that should only be characterised by feelings of misery, despair and unrelenting sadness, all of which it is. 

A sickness that isn’t peppered with good and happy days. 

There’s this notion that depression doesn’t come in degrees.

As someone who suffers from depression, I beg to differ. I know that some people’s mental health problems are worse than others and I know those who have many good days in between.

All the Bright Places, I think, is a book that highlights that. There isn’t a rule that says you should only portray depression in one way. And for those who think that it is, well, consider the fact that to make this assumption would be insulting to the complexity of human nature.

This passage from the book couldn’t have put it better.
 “It's my experience that people are a lot more sympathetic if they can see you hurting, and for the millionth time in my life I wish for measles or smallpox or some other easily understood disease just to make it easier on me and also on them.”

Not only does it deal with the topic of how those who suffer with depression feel about their own illness, but it speaks of the fact that people somehow need to see a certain version of depression in order for them to believe it is real.

And that is why I could look beyond the so-called fluffiness to see the heart of this book. For those who want to give up on it, at least give the second half a chance – you won’t regret it. All the Bright Places is a book that speaks to us all in different ways and on different levels.

The characters, their stories and the words of this book will take you places. And it might not be your version of what it should be, but it does put you in the shoes of others in order to understand how they find (or don’t find) coping mechanisms to live through each and every day.

Read it. You won’t be sorry.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Book review: The Jewel by Amy Ewing

A harrowing read that deals with the subject of surrogacy as a form of servitude, in a society that is dominated by wealthy and privileged royals unable to bear children of their own. 

Disclaimer:
Review first appeared on Women24.com.

You can purchase a copy of the book on Raru.co.za
 
The Jewel by Amy Ewing (UK edition first published in 2014 by Walker Books Ltd)

The blurb of this book describes Amy Ewing’s novel as being, and I quote, “The Handmaid’s Tale meets The Other Boleyn Girl in a world where beauty and brutality collide.”

In reality, it feels a little more like Suzanne Collins meets Margaret Atwood.  That said, despite the similarities, Amy Ewing’s The Jewel is probably one of the most interesting dystopian Young Adult fiction novels I’ve read this year.

In fact, once the book actually diverges from the more familiar aspects of The Hunger Games, The Jewel ends up being a pretty engrossing novel that tackles a subject I haven't seen explored in the Young Adult fiction genre as of yet.

Surrogacy.

Not just that though, it deals with the surrogacy as a form of servitude in a society that is dominated by wealthy and privileged royals unable to bear children of their own.

It’s not hard to find yourself compelled by this book given that it starts off with the protagonist’s ominous declaration: “Today is my last day as Violet Lasting.”

That sentence is the start of our protagonist’s hellish journey, in which her name, identity, agency over her own body and freedom of choice is stripped away forever. This, all in the quest to continue the royal line for a royal Duchess who can’t carry a child of her own.

The Lone City is divided into 5 districts: The Jewel, The Bank, The Smoke, The Farm and the Marsh, which is the poorest in the circle. As you can tell, Hunger Games vibes at first.

Violet Lasting is just one of the many girls who finds herself being whisked off to be sold at an auction to become nothing more than a broodmare/baby incubator for the Duchess who purchases her.

What makes matters worse is that in the Jewel (which houses the various royal lines), rivalry is rife amongst the royal houses. The quest to produce the first child, in order to be closer in line to the throne, is a vicious one - Duchesses will resort to drastic tactics (even murder) to get what they want.

This means that not only are they surrogates, but they have to watch their backs all the time as one of the best ways to eliminate a threat, is by killing off the surrogates to ensure that pregnancy is no longer a possibility.

To top it off, these surrogates are in high demand because they have special gifts (known as auguries) that can enable them to manipulate colour, create something from seemingly nothing; and most importantly, enable objects to grow at a very rapid pace.

It’s when she meets another captive and loses her best friend to the surrogacy programme that Violet decides that she has had enough and would rather risk exile and even death, than be stripped of her identity and free will.

The Jewel is the first in a trilogy, one that I found myself enjoying a lot more than I thought I would.

What makes this book stand out is that it doesn’t shy away from highlighting the barbaric practices of this form of slavery.

This book is brutal in its depiction of the suffering that Violet and others like her have to endure. It excels at juxtaposing images of the Jewel as a magnificent place, all the while highlighting its cruel policies, politics and underhanded tactics to maintain control of the city.

While I found the romantic element of this novel annoying (simply because it falls victim to the instant love plot device), I found myself really gripped by the story and heroine’s plight to not just fight for herself, but for others in the same situation.

If you’re looking for a book that features a strong heroine fighting for agency, equality and for the right to make her own choices, this book is one that I’d definitely recommend. I can’t wait for the sequel.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Guest post: 15 ways to tell if you are a bookworm

I don’t know about you, but I never get tired of reading lists about being a book addict. Not only do they have me enthusiastically nodding along to every single point being made, but they always serve to remind me just how awesome it is to be such an ardent lover of books.

In today’s guest post, Tea Addict, a lovely friend of mine, shares her list of ways to tell if you’re a book worm.  I dare you to disagree with all of the points made.

1. You think vouchers to spend at a bookstore are an absolute win.  Family and friends stop asking what you would like for your birthday or Christmas as they already know the answer.

2. Your husband builds you a bookcase.  You couldn’t be more excited if he’d added a new level to your home.

3. When packing for a weekend away, you pack in a book (or two) before clothes.

4. Lending out your precious books almost causes physical pain.  You have devised a series of excuses when someone sees you reading and asks to borrow the book.  “Oh this book?  No sorry it belongs to my aunt’s friend’s cousin’s cat.”

5. You are one of those people who always has a book on them.  It is either in your handbag, or desk drawer or in your car.  You are never without something to read.  Ever.

6. You think libraries are beautiful.  You can spend hours in them and never get tired of going back. 

7. When a movie is based on a book, you are the person in the cinema whispering furiously “It wasn’t like that at all in the book.” People stop wanting to go to the movies with you when the film has anything to do with something you have read. 

8. You will only consider joining ‘serious’ bookclubs.  Where you discuss the book and the characters in-depth.

9. You make time to read.  It can be your busiest time at work but you make sure to dedicate some time to chill out with a book.

10. Books are a healthy form of escapism in your opinion.

11. The thought of being locked in a bookstore (with a comfortable chair and a kettle) is a secret fantasy of yours.  

12. Meeting someone who has loved a booked or character as much as you did is better than ice-cream.  With sprinkles.

13. You have your favourite authors but you are always keen to try something new. 

14. You think librarians are very fortunate people.  As are people who work in bookstores.  To be surrounded by books must be absolute bliss.

15. You are incapable of just browsing in a book shop.  Unless you buy a book (or two) you just don’t feel right.

What else would you add to the list? Do share yours – it’s always fun hearing from fellow bibliophiles.

Disclaimer: This post was originally featured on Women24.com.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Book review: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Welcome to another mini book reviews edition of my blog.

In today’s mini reviews feature, I share my brief thoughts on one of the best psychological thrillers I’ve read this year so far.

You can purchase a copy of The Girl on the Train via Raru.co.za


Summary from Goodreads (published by Doubleday, an imprint of Transworld publishers in 2015)

Rachel catches the same commuter train every morning. She knows it will wait at the same signal each time, overlooking a row of back gardens.

She’s even started to feel like she knows the people who live in one of the houses. ‘Jess and Jason’, she calls them. Their life – as she sees it – is perfect. If only Rachel could be that happy.

And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough.

Now everything’s changed.

Now Rachel has a chance to become a part of the lives she’s only watched from afar.

Now they’ll see; she’s much more than just the girl on the train…

What I thought:
Oh my aching soul. This review is going to be a jumble of tangled thoughts because I need to get these thoughts out of my head, and I need to get it out now (I may write a more coherent review at some point, but for now, my inner fangirl must come OUT).

The Girl on the Train is probably the best thriller I’ve read this year so far - and this by a debut author no less.

If you're looking for the kind of book that is anxiety-inducing, yet will force you to keep you reading, then you should look no further than The Girl on the Train.

Paula Hawkins has a remarkable knack for pulling you into the story; her messy, unreliable and brilliantly drawn characters leaving you perpetually unsettled and constantly on edge.

In fact, the portrayal of each character's neurotic obsessions and often paranoid delusions (are they really?), are so unnervingly real, you can't help but feel as if every single one of their doubts, fears and lingering suspicions have been imprinted on you, leaving you with the worst case of second-hand apprehension imaginable.

I am pretty sure I developed whiplash just from reading this book, as I was constantly chopping and changing my mind about the characters, their motivations and behaviour patterns.

Speaking of characters, if you’re going into this book expecting to feel any form of warm or fuzzy feelings for any of them, allow me to disabuse you of that notion.

They’re not the kind of protagonists you’d want to be friends with. Hell, these are probably the kind of people you wouldn’t want within reaching distance of you.

And yet, for all that, they do inspire sympathy, empathy and compassion in the reader... at least when they're not doing things that frustrate  you, or make you want to shake your head in pure despair at the level of absurdity of their actions.

Rachel, our heroine, in particular was a character I felt for on so many levels.

She's a complete and utter wreck. She teeters on the edge of self-destruction, and her alcoholism only adds to the fact that what she sees and experiences, is not conducive to her being a reliable witness.

And the more she tries to insert herself into the investigation that follows, the more questionable her behaviour becomes.

Still, in spite of the reckless and irresponsible things that she does, there was something about her that made me keep rooting for her to get to the bottom of the mystery, while at the same time, also had me hoping that she’d pull her act together. 

However, there is so much more to her story than meets the eye. And indeed, at the end of this book, I ended up seeing Rachel as much of a victim as anyone else.

Mostly thought, I saw her as a survivor, and one that was determine to do the right thing, even if it was at the cost of her sanity.

I did work out who the villain in the story was relatively early (and yet, I was still taken aback, that's how good Paula's characterisation of the culprit was), and watching this person unravel was as creepy, chilling and disturbing as some of the actions of the other suspects in the book. 

I won’t forget this antagonist, that’s for sure!

One of the most compelling, spine-chilling and thoroughly engrossing novels I've read so  this year so far, I know this is a book that will stick with many people for a long time to come.

After all, The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins is not just a book about secrets in the dark, but it's also a cautionary tale of what happens when lines between reality and illusion are blurred and already volatile situations are misconstrued, misinterpreted and taken apart before justice has even been properly invited to the party.

It’s a book that speaks to us about treading carefully with information, because what you think you see, is often not always what it actually is, and it’s a message (whether intentional or not) that is especially relevant in today’s society, where we’re so quick to judge and assume things about others – especially with the ease that social media networks allow us to.

Go out and get this book – it’s a corker of a read.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Book talk: Would you read a book by an author who has lied about the story?

Disclaimer: This column originally appeared on Women24.com

Earlier this year, and according to The Washington Post, a Christian book publishing house recalled a book called The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven by Alex Malarkey and his father, Kevin Malarkey, after Alex admitted to lying about his near-death and subsequent heavenly experience.

The book, Washington Post goes on to add, sold over a one million copies and chronicles the story of Alex’s divine encounters following a car accident that left him in a coma for two months.

There are, of course, many visceral reactions that have stemmed from his confession. What adds to the confusion is that Alex’s mother was allegedly unhappy with the book for months, and never agreed to meetings with the publishers.

I’m not surprised by this.

Not because the book’s been made out to be a lie, but because this isn’t the first time an author has lied about the contents of his/her books.

I mean, who can forget the memorable interview with Oprah Winfrey and James Frey, after it emerged that he fabricated details in his memoir, A Million Little Pieces (you can read a transcript of that interview, which includes a follow-up interview five years later, here)?

Then there’s Forbidden Love by Norma Khouri.

Now this memoir caused quite the scandal.  According to Listverse.com, in this book, Norma reveals an account of how she acted as middleman between star-crossed lovers, Dalia (from a staunch and traditional Muslim family) and Michael (a British officer who also happened to be Roman Catholic).

The inevitable happens: Dalia’s father finds out and proceeds to stab her multiple times. Norma, who obviously fears for her life because of her role in this, is eventually smuggled out of Jordan.

Except that this never, ever happened. In fact, not only did it emerge that this memoir was completely made up, but there’s actually proof that she wasn’t even in Jordan during the timeline of the events in the book.

Another more recent example is Zoella, popular YouTube blogger (she has over 6 million followers), who recently debuted the novel, Girl Online.  For up to months, this book has been marketed in such a way that it led her fans to believe that she was the actual author of the book.

Not long after the book was published, did Zoe (real name Zoe Suggs) and her publishers admit that she had a ghost writer.

Ghost writers are obviously nothing new (I mean James Patterson actually has a ghost writing factory as it is), but misleading your target audience into thinking that you wrote the book, especially when you are an online brand and persona who has specifically stated, and I quote from The Independent,  that it’s "always been a dream of hers to write her own novel," well, then things become a little murkier.

For me, this obviously begs the following question: if an author has revealed that he’s lied about a book he has written (even if it’s just some parts), would you still read it?

I’ve posed this question to my lovely colleagues and friends and there’ve been some pretty mixed reactions. Some flat out refuse to, while others, including myself, find ourselves a little more divided on the issue.

As a rule, I generally prefer fiction over non-fiction anyway, but isn’t fiction, in simple terms, a beautiful lie made to fit into a scenario that makes that untruth a fantastical reality (Although, historical fiction that aims for accuracy would probably be the exception here)?

And let’s not forget that often, in fiction, authors create characters that are unreliable narrators.

That said though, I get that readers get upset when they find out that information that is supposed to be factual has been exaggerated.  In fact, I’m definitely not immune to experiencing outrage when this happens.

No one likes being duped. And many readers feel betrayed by the author, especially if it’s a book that is a personal account that they can or do relate to (It’s particularly awful if an author uses abuse or addiction in any form to manipulate readers).

In fact, in these moments I think it’s safe to say that some people find it really hard to separate the author from the book.

Personally, I like to think that I fall into the category of people who would give the author at least one more chance (Unless the author is a complete and utter jerk about it).

We all tell lies at some point (and if you claim otherwise then that is a lie in itself); it’s just that some are found out, while others still lurking underneath the surface are waiting to find their way out.

I don’t judge people who choose not to read an author’s work because of the author’s fallibility; I just prefer to remind myself that I come with my own brand of flaws.

But, that's just me. What's your take on it? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Book spotlight: An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir + giveaway (US only)


It's been a while since I've done a book spotlight, so thanks to Rockstart Book Tours, I'm really happy to be able to feature  AN EMBER IN THE ASHES by Sabaa Tahir, which releases in the US today. I don't know about you, but I cannot wait to get my hands on a copy.

Below you can check out some info about the book, enter a giveaway courtesy of Penguin Teen, read a letter from Sabaa and view the book trailer.

Enjoy!

A letter from Sabaa Tahir.

Dear Readers,

Today, my “baby” AN EMBER IN THE ASHES is finally out in the world! From inception to pub date, this journey took eight years. And what a journey it was: writing, rewriting, revising, editing, querying, submitting; Meeting other debuts, bloggers, booksellers and librarians, and hearing their thoughts on EMBER. There aren’t enough superlatives to describe the radness.

And now, the book is here! I am so excited to see it in the hands of readers. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. To celebrate release day, I’m giving away two signed, first-edition hardcovers of the book. Details below!

All my best,

Sabaa

Title: AN EMBER IN THE ASHES
Author: Sabaa Tahir
Pub. Date: April 28, 2015
Publisher: Razorbill
Pages: 464
Set in a terrifyingly brutal Rome-like world, An Ember in the Ashes is an epic fantasy debut about an orphan fighting for her family and a soldier fighting for his freedom. It’s a story that’s literally burning to be told.

LAIA is a Scholar living under the iron-fisted rule of the Martial Empire.

When her brother is arrested for treason, Laia goes undercover as a slave at the empire’s greatest military academy in exchange for assistance from rebel Scholars who claim that they will help to save her brother from execution.

ELIAS is the academy’s finest soldier—and secretly, its most unwilling. Elias is considering deserting the military, but before he can, he’s ordered to participate in a ruthless contest to choose the next Martial emperor.

When Laia and Elias’s paths cross at the academy, they find that their destinies are more intertwined than either could have imagined and that their choices will change the future of the empire itself.


Check out the book trailer!



About Sabaa:

Sabaa Tahir grew up in California’s Mojave Desert at her family’s 18-room motel.

There, she spent her time devouring fantasy novels, raiding her brother’s comic book stash and playing guitar badly.

She began writing An Ember in the Ashes while working nights as a newspaper editor. She likes thunderous indie rock, garish socks and all things nerd. Sabaa currently lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her family.



Giveaway Details:

2 winners will receive a signed hardcover of AN EMBER IN THE ASHES. US Only.

3 winners will receive a hardcover of AN EMBER IN THE ASHES and a Sword Letter Opener! US Only.

Ends on May 9th at Midnight EST!

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