Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Book review: A Drop of Night by Stefan Bachman

About the book (Summary from Goodreads):
Seventeen-year-old Anouk has finally caught the break she’s been looking for—she's been selected out of hundreds of other candidates to fly to France and help with the excavation of a vast, underground palace buried a hundred feet below the suburbs of Paris.

Built in the 1780's to hide an aristocratic family and a mad duke during the French Revolution, the palace has lain hidden and forgotten ever since. Anouk, along with several other gifted teenagers, will be the first to set foot in it in over two centuries.

Or so she thought.

But nothing is as it seems, and the teens soon find themselves embroiled in a game far more sinister, and dangerous, than they could possibly have imagined. An evil spanning centuries is waiting for them in the depths. . .

A genre-bending thriller from Stefan Bachmann for fans of The Maze Runner and Joss Whedon’s The Cabin in the Woods.

Review:

 
Stefan Bachmann's A Drop of Night is a bit of a mixed bag for me.

On the one hand, we have a book that blends a hosts of genres (speculative, horror and historical) that shouldn't work, and yet does (this book is described as being a genre-bending novel so it actually really does it justice).

On the other hand, we have a book that leaves us in the dark until almost the very end, without throwing in much clues along the way - which I'd usually be fine with if it didn't feel like it was something that had an ending that felt like it was thought up at the last moment.

Despite my criticism though, and because I CLEARLY love contradicting myself, I found this book hard to put down, simply because I had to know how it would all play out.

I mean, given that the narrative is a dual-structured one that switches between the past and present, and features a feisty, angry teen who finds herself part of group who end up being trapped in an underground palace, fighting for survival - well, it's kind of hard not to be intrigued, right?

While I enjoyed watching it all unfold, I didn't find any of the characters all that memorable. I enjoyed reading how they (mostly) banded together to try and navigate their way through a booby-trapped palace filled with unimaginable horrors, and loved the fact that the girls here were no damsels in distress.

So, all in all, not a bad book - I just wish they could have introduced the main plot point of the book earlier - I think it would have made the book that much more believable. But, that's just me.

Interested in reading this? You can purchase a copy from Raru.co.za


Monday, July 3, 2017

Book talk: Should authors use their platforms to be outspoken about political issues?

It's been an age since I've updated my blog, and an even longer time since I've featured one of these discussion  topics. I've been struggling with my depression over the past few months, so the only time I really get to write is when I'm doing so for my job (and then cross posting my book content here).

Moving on... a while back a wrote a piece originally featured on W24 and in one of my book newsletters. In it I talk about authors being agents of change and asks the question: do we as readers have the right to ask them to use their voice to speak up when it comes to political and socioeconomic issues.


Check it out below:

The wonderful thing about social media platforms is that it gives you the chance to connect with people you wouldn’t normally have been able to simply chat to.

Ask any reader, book blogger or reviewer, and many will tell you that being able to engage with your favourite author online is pretty awesome.

Given that the platforms are available on a world wide scale, receiving a tweet to say “ thanks for reading my book,” is nearly as magical as being transported into the many fictional worlds our favourite authors create.

Most of my Twitter feed features many of my favourite authors and I can definitely tell you that as much as I follow them for information about their forthcoming books, writing advice and book recommendations, I also love hearing their thoughts and opinions on topical issues.

For me, fiction has always been a fantastic means to tackle issues that people would generally steer away from, so seeing this reflected in not only the author’s writing, and hearing  them speak out about it is something that has become increasingly more important to me.

With Trump’s presidency, I’ve seen more celebrities and authors take a solid stand about their political view points. Weirdly though, I’ve often seen a lot of people clapping back at them, telling them to take a seat because they’re artists not political analysts (no surprises here if you guessed that they’re Trump supporters).

Um, since when were people one-dimensional human beings only capable of doing one thing and having one thought at a time? And why can’t people have opinions about issues that will impact them and the rest of the world?

In fact, I always thought that the more outspoken a celebrity or author is on a topic, the better. If you have a huge and established fan base, there’s an unspoken sense of responsibility that rests on your shoulders to at least be vocal about issues that affect you and your fans.

No one is saying that they should never use their platforms to talk about their work and promote their books, but personally, I would prefer an author to be as vocal about topics on their platforms as they are in their books.



Words have power and the voice you have is a weapon you can use (I must credit that last sentiment to Angie Thomas, whose book The Hate U Give is exactly about this – it’s a must read). 

When I see authors remaining conspicuously quiet about issues like the refugee crisis, healthcare, racial injustice or discrimination against any other marginalised groups, I can’t help but think that they’re being complicit in their silence.

One of my favourite authors is in a position of privilege. I love her books and the fictional worlds that she creates is nothing short of phenomenal. She has more than 500 000 followers on Twitter – people who come from all backgrounds – rich, poor, black, white, gay, straight and transgender.

And never do I see even a tweet or retweet in connection with issues that impact their lives. It’s all about her work and her life.

It was Desmond Tutu who once said: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”

I understand that some people simply choose to use their platforms strictly for work, that they might be suffering from political fatigue, or that they fear backlash from people who simply do not agree with their views.

And goodness knows there are the kind of humans who lurk about on the internet, just looking and waiting for someone to harass into leaving social media networks completely.

I get that fear. In fact, I’m expecting someone to tweet me and tell me how dare I try to police author behaviour and who am I to dictate what they say on their social media networks. Me reminding them that this is simply an opinion-based column will undoubtedly fall on deaf ears.

Of course I believe that authors have the right to protect themselves from that kind of backlash, and I don’t think that authors alone can simply just change the world with a singular thought, but complete silence as a response?

It doesn’t sit that well with me.

I know that I would rather be uncomfortable with what an author is tweeting (because things I’m uncomfortable with make me think – and I’m always glad to be challenged even though everything in me is railing against a thought or opinion) instead of a serving of safe words that keep everyone happy.

But that’s just me.

And of course, I won’t simply stop following an author simply because he or she chooses not to engage with issues affecting the world, because at the end of the day it is their right to choose what to share and what not to.

I simply think a healthy balance of sharing work, writing and opinions about current affairs wouldn’t go amiss.

What are your thoughts on this?

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Book review: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

If you want to be a better ally to black people, do yourself a favour and get several copies of this book. One for you, and the rest for every one of your friends who has ever uttered the phrase “I’m not racist, but...”

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (first published in 2017 by Walker Books)

Review originally appeared on W24.

There are going to be a lot of people who will use the following words when recommending this book to you: “If you only read one book this year, make sure it’s this one.”

My advice to you? Listen to them (because I’m echoing their sentiment right now, and as a reader and reviewer who generally eschews reading a book because of hype, that’s definitely saying something).

We may only be three months into 2017, but I’m pretty convinced that this book will be on every bookseller and reader’s best of 2017 list, and for a very good reason.

The Hate U Give is simply brilliant. Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, this novel is not just a profoundly important novel providing social commentary on race, but it’s also one that raises the black community’s voice loud and proud by providing a marginalised community with an authentically black, vocal and strong female voice – one that we don’t see nearly enough of in fiction.

The story revolves around 16-year old Starr who is the only witness when her unarmed best friend is shot by a white police officer.

“Once upon a time there was a hazel-eyed boy with dimples. I called him Khalil. The world called him a thug. He lived, but not nearly long enough, and for the rest of my life I'll remember how he died.”

It’s a novel that sums up what it’s like for black communities to constantly deal with the systematic, insidious and hate-fuelled oppression they’ve been dealing with since the dawn of civilisation, and it’s one that I’m fairly sure will be eye-opening to many, even those who consider themselves the staunchest Black Lives Matter allies.

And if you’re wondering if there is a novel out there that can uplift black voices without demonising others (the way SOME white authors do), then The Hate U Give is a shining example of how to unpack issues of racial injustice, prejudice and oppression without spreading the message that hatred as a response is the go-to answer.

Oh, don’t get me wrong, hatred and anger at years of police brutality, racial profiling and discrimination is more than justified.

In fact, that is a bona fide response of black communities telling you that they’re sick of your racist garbage and one that we should never ever get to dictate, so even if that was evident in this book, my response would still be the same.

Justified. Justified. Justified.

We don’t get to police how they respond to their lived experiences, given the fact that a system of oppression has already done that for centuries.

“Sometimes you can do everything right and things will still go wrong. The key is to never stop doing right.”


My point is that Thomas doesn’t villify an entire race the way media and police officers tend to do through racial profiling.

And for every person who whines about how Blue Lives Matter and how this book is a tool for invalidating the work police officers do, one of the heroes in the story is a black police officer with a complex story, so do take your naysaying somewhere else. 

Also, The Hate U Give is not without its visceral and real response to injustice. There is valid anger. There is heartache. There is frustration and there are fighting and riots. 

This book speaks of a world of pain and anger and clearly shows that there is still a long way to go in order for black people to be regarded as human and for them to not be at the mercy of a judicial system that constantly fails them.

“The truth casts a shadow over the kitchen—people like us in situations like this become hashtags, but they rarely get justice. I think we all wait for that one time though, that one time when it ends right. Maybe.”


The wonderful and remarkable thing about this book is that it’s not without hope. It’s also not just a book that was written for a cause.

There are heart-warming and laugh-out-loud moments as you get to know the characters that dominate Starr’s world and life. Her relationship with her family and friends are solid and, at times, downright hilarious.

The interactions are well-drawn out and show that these are people who not only stand by each other in spite of past mistakes, but who support each other no matter what.

The community support in the neighbourhood Starr resides in is pretty phenomenal. Although there are residual tensions and gang violence, Angie Thomas manages to convey a strong bond and sense of community despite the problems they’re all facing.

She’s also matter of fact about the gang rivalry that plagues the neighbourhoods and expertly juxtapositions the struggle that Starr faces as she tries to balance the world she lives in with the separate life she leads when she attends her upmarket school (where most of her friends and the students are white).

When she witnesses the shooting, the trauma and fear that follows is pretty gut-wrenching to read. Post-shooting Starr is a nervous wreck and afraid to speak out. And who could blame her? When has speaking up and demanding justice ever gotten them anywhere?

But as the story progresses and the media starts twisting the image of Khalil into that of a nothing but a thug, Starr finds herself wanting to make a difference, regardless of the consequences.

There are so many layers to the book that I wish I could unpack, but I think that’s very much up to the reader to experience it.  What I can say is that The Hate U Give is a wakeup call for people who are blind to issues of racial injustice.

It’s educational, empowering, heartbreaking and speaks up loudly for an ignored, ill-treated and maligned community simply longing to be heard and to be viewed as equal humans.

Most importantly though, it’s a book about finding your voice and finding the light in a world where people simply put out the light without your permission.

Read it. It will change your life.

It changed mine profoundly

P.S. There is a reason this book is called The Hate U Give. Look out for some of the pop culture references in the book and you’ll discover just how apt this title is.

Buy a copy of The Hate U Give from  Raru.co.za

Monday, February 27, 2017

Book review: Caraval by Stephanie Garber


Two sisters are caught up in a legendary and magical game where the stakes are high, nothing is as it seems and elaborate performances have hidden motives and intentions.


Review originally appeared on W24. You can also purchase a copy of Caraval from Raru.co.za.

UK edition first published in 2017 by Hodder & Stoughton; US edition published by Flatiron Books

This book has been getting a lot of comparisons to Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus. It’s not a bad thing at all, especially considering that The Night Circus is one of my all-time favourites.

However, Caraval is one of those magical reads that shouldn’t just be compared to a book as it makes a strong impression all on its own. It’s a beautifully written novel that effortlessly blends elements of fantasy and magical realism to portray a world that’s almost phantasmagorical in nature.

It’s not merely a book that features elaborate acts of illusion, but it’s a novel that explores the strength of the bond between two sisters who are desperate to escape their cruel and abusive father.

Meet Scarlet and Tella – two sisters who couldn’t be more different. Tella is headstrong, impetuous and jumps headlong into situations before thinking about it. Scarlet, on the other hand is cautious and restrained, choosing to weigh all her options before jumping into any situation.

The two of them have never left the island on which they live, both for fear of their father’s reaction and because opportunities to escape have been far and few between.

Both Scarlet and Tella (Scarlet in particular), have dreamed of attending Caraval – a legendary game that takes place once a year, lasts 5 days and nights and offers the winner a chance to win a magical prize,  the likes of which they’ve never seen.
 
 When they finally get the opportunity to go to the island where the Caraval revelry takes place, Tella uses the moment to whisk Scarlet away from an arranged marriage that could do more harm than good.

When Scarlet arrives and Tella goes missing, Scarlet soon finds herself reluctantly teaming up with the sailor who brought her to the island in order to find Tella.

When the game begins, it soon becomes clear that the elaborate performances within the game are far more than they seem and that the game itself, is a lot more dangerous than Scarlet could have imagined.

Using both wit and cunning, Scarlet has to navigate trails filled with mystery and illusion, while trying not to lose herself to the magic of the game.

From bottled dreams, and sand made of snow, to gingerbread-shaped houses and fortune tellers whose tattoos predict the future, Stephanie Garber’s Caraval will launch you into a world filled with enchantments both charming and dangerous.

This beautifully written novel is such a feast for the senses, you’ll find yourself wishing that the things you encounter in this book, could be real. The synesthesia element attached to Scarlet’s emotions is an added dynamic that makes this book even more magical.

Caraval is a cleverly plotted book that is full of twists and turns and I must confess that everything I could have predicted about how the game plays out, was completely off base.

This unpredictable gem is a novel filled with hidden legacies, the cruelty of unrequited love and lushly descriptive scenarios that will seduce and draw you in.

Each person in this novel has a role to play in the game and the beauty of this novel lies in the fact that you’re never quite sure who is helper or who is villain.  Stephanie Garber is a gifted scribe whose turn of phrase is exquisitely lush.

The characters she’s created are wonderful to behold and I absolutely adored the genuine sense of camaraderie between the sisters, despite how very different they are.  I had my doubts about the younger sister’s affection at times, but Garber once again surprised me with another twist in the book that threw all of my doubts out of the window.

The ending of the book is nicely set up for a sequel and I’d be very curious to see how the girls fare following the feat that they pulled off.

All in all, if you’re looking for a book filled with magic, romance and danger at every possible corner, you definitely can’t go wrong with this book. It’s already one of my favourites of 2017.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Book review: The Call by Peadar O’Guilin

What would you do if you only had 3 minutes and 4 seconds to save your own life?

The Call by Peadar O’Guilin (first published in 2016 by David Fickling Books; review first appeared on W24.c0.za)

Peadar O’Guilin’s book is a novel I’ve been hearing about a lot over the last couple of months.

And with good reason because it features a strong-willed heroine, disabled by polio, in a battle to survive and prepare for The Call – an event that forces all those eligible to participate in a fight for their lives in the space of three minutes and four seconds.

Sounds, intriguing, yes?

Well, it’s certainly that and more.

For one,  disabled heroines in fiction are pretty rare. Disabled protagonists in dystopian horror novels? Practically unheard of, and something that immensely appealed to me.

Here we have a heroine who has everything going against her. She’s been crippled by polio and attends a survival training college where she endures being mocked by her peers and where almost everyone, including her own parents, bet against her chances for survival.

Blending a combination of Irish folklore and mythology, Peadar O’ Guilin’s The Call is a novel that is both a dystopian fantasy and a work of horror.

Training for the fight against the Sidhe (faeries who occupy the Grey Land), Nessa and her friends have to endure rigorous tests; from hunting obstacles to outwitting their classmates in a series of tests, all in preparation for the day they’re called by the Sidhe to fight.

The story takes place in post-modern Ireland in an area known as the Grey Land – a space occupied by trapped fairies, hostile plants and other deadly creatures. Nessa and her classmates’ training takes place in what’s left of Ireland, while the actual call transports them to the dangerous wasteland that is the Grey Land.

When the call happens, all that the individuals are left with are 3 minutes and four seconds to navigate their way through the land without being caught in the hunt that commences the very moment they arrive.

Those who are lucky to survive and get back to Ireland, are often changed in grotesque and unimaginable ways.

Peadar O’ Guilin’s The Call is quite a brilliant read. It’s a testimony to the perseverance of human nature and takes a look at what happens when the will to survive is stronger than the insurmountable obstacles before you.

It’s also a book that lulls you into a false sense of complacency.

It’s written in a way that at first seems targeted towards a very young audience, but it quickly becomes clear that it’s anything but that. It’s a book that’s brutal, intense and often gory in places, but that only highlights the strength of Nessa as a protagonist.

She’s resilient in the face of bullying, training and her take-no-prisoners attitude is both balsy and admirable. She refuses to be pitied because of her disability, and often uses her so-called weaknesses to blindside people who underestimate her.

She’s honestly one of the best heroines I’ve come across in fiction this year.

While the story mainly focuses on Nessa, we are given glimpses into the points of view of others who find themselves in The Call. It’s a grim and dark look at what happens when survival instinct kicks in and fight or flight takes hold.

Another aspect that I loved about this book is that the villains aren’t quite as black and white as you’d think they’d be. There are nuances that make this read more in-depth than it initially appears and the twists, turns and betrayals will make your jaw drop.

All in all, The Call had me glued to its pages and has me salivating over the potential for a sequel. I’d love to see where Nessa’s story goes next. 

Also, a huge shout out to the author for not using the protagonist’s disability as a mere prop to invoke sympathy and see her as “other”.

Read this book. It will give you goosebumps.

Purchase a copy from Raru.co.za

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Blog tour: Freeks by Amanda Hocking (review & excerpt)


Thanks to the lovely folk from St. Martin’s Press, I’m excited to be kicking off my book blogging year by being part of the blog tour for Amanda Hocking’s new book, Freeks.

I’ve read Amanda’s previous books, Switch (part of the Trylle trilogy) and Wake (part of the Watersong series), so I was really excited to try her new standalone paranormal fantasy considering that I’ve enjoyed her last books.

In today’s post, I share my thoughts on the book as well as an excerpt from the book. 

About Freeks 
Summary: Goodreads

First published in 2017 by St. Martin’s Griffin

Welcome to Gideon Davorin’s Traveling Sideshow, where necromancy, magical visions, and pyrokinesis are more than just part of the act…

Mara has always longed for a normal life in a normal town where no one has the ability to levitate or predict the future. Instead, she roams from place to place, cleaning the tiger cage while her friends perform supernatural feats every night.

When the struggling sideshow is miraculously offered the money they need if they set up camp in Caudry, Louisiana, Mara meets local-boy Gabe…and a normal life has never been more appealing.

But before long, performers begin disappearing and bodes are found mauled by an invisible beast. 

Mara realizes that there’s a sinister presence lurking in the town with its sights set on getting rid of the sideshow freeks. In order to unravel the truth before the attacker kills everyone Mara holds dear, she has seven days to take control of a power she didn’t know she was capable of—one that could change her future forever.

Add it to your Goodreads TBR pile.

Review:

I’ve always been fascinated with books that employed a carnival setting as a backdrop, which is one of the biggest reasons that Amanda Hocking’s Freeks appealed to me. Featuring a mish-mash of characters with different abilities, Amanda has created an intriguing world that will appeal to fans of paranormal fiction.

The one thing I’ve always felt comes across strongly in Amanda’s books is her writing style. While I generally prefer authors who prefer showing, as opposed to telling, I find it rather easy to overlook this in Amanda’s books because her ideas and stories are just so engaging and fun.

Make no mistake, Amanda knows how to tell a good story. And in Freeks, it’s no different.

While the story focuses on Mara, a seemingly normal girl who is part of a travelling carnival and sideshow, Amanda, through Mara’s perspective gives us hints and glimpses into the lives of the folk who form part of the show. 

From characters who are gifted with telekinesis to those with the ability to heal unusually quickly, we’re immersed into the lives of characters who, together, celebrate each other’s unique abilities and differences, while being aware that to outsiders, they’ll always be considered “freaks.”

What I particularly enjoyed about this book is that it deals with a topic that so many of us can relate to – being mocked or consider other because of something that makes you different.

In Freeks, we’re at once privy to people who will show up to the carnival to be entertained by the very people they consider subhuman, only  for them to turn around and spray paint nasty graffiti on the travelling homes of the folk who are working hard to make ends meet.

 Because they’re often met with ridicule and scorn, Mara and the rest of the performers are cautious and distrustful of the local townsfolk. On top of this, Mara struggles with feelings of fitting in and finding a place where she belongs – as much as the performers treat her like one of their own, she longs for a place where she can find some roots.

When she meets Gabe, local town boy from a wealthy home, she thinks she just might have an opportunity to experience something normal again. But, then people start getting hurt and disappearing, and soon, the entire carnival is unsettled by the unearthly energy and sinister presence they feel in the air.

I really actually loved how this story came together. In a small and Southern town where everything is more than it seems, Amanda Hocking’s story world really comes to life.

The description of carnival life is something I particularly enjoyed and something I would have loved to have seen being elaborated a little more on, especially when it came to the types of shows that were being performed by the different artists.

I’m also a big fan of the fact that this book is set in the 80s. Amanda’s love for this decade is clearly punctuated throughout the novel with nods to books, movies and records that will definitely be known to many of you.

The supernatural elements in this novel will also be quite familiar, but the twist Amanda spins on it and how it relates to the characters involved is another thing that really impressed me. Think magic and curses, inherited legacies and traps and you’ll have the gist of what this novel is all about. In fact, the last few chapters definitely make the novel worth reading all the more.

I do wish more attention could have been given to Mara’s developing powers, but perhaps that might be something Amanda intends to explore at a later stage perhaps?

Of course, this book wouldn’t be complete without a bit of romance, but personally, I wouldn’t have minded if there wasn’t a romantic angle. For one, this book does fall prey to the insta-love trope we see so often in YA fiction, but the chemistry between Mara and Gabe are at least tons of fun to read about.

Still, despite my minor issues with the book, Freeks is a fun-filled read filled with all manner of supernatural shenanigans that will delight folk who enjoy their books with an extra zest of magical paraphernalia and curious oddities.

Personally, I think it’s Amanda’s best book to date.

Buy links:

Buy your copy from
Raru.co.za
Macmillan
Amazon

Here’s a sneak peak from Chapter 5: Carnival

Unlike many of the other members of the sideshow, I didn’t have a specific job. My mom was a fortune- teller, Gideon did a magic show, Zeke had his tigers, Brendon and his family did acrobatics, Seth was a strongman. My best friend Roxie Smith was in two acts— she helped out Zeke, and did a peepshow revue with two other girls.

I had no talent. No special ability, making me essentially a roadie. I did what was needed of me, which usually involved helping set up and take down, and various menial tasks. I cleaned the tiger cages and emptied out latrines when I had to. It wasn’t a glamorous job, but it was crucial to our way of life.

Since Roxie worked with the tigers, Mahilā actually tolerated her. Roxie was helping me clean out the tiger cage they traveled in. The cage was open to a fenced-in enclosure Seth had built, so the tigers could roam as they pleased.

Safēda lounged in the grass, the sun shining brightly on her white fur. Whenever we stopped, Safēda seemed content to just lay in the sun, sleeping the entire time, but as the older tiger, it made sense.

Mahilā paced along the fence, occasionally emitting an irritated guttural noise in between casting furtive glances back toward Roxie and me. Her golden fur was mottled with scars from her past life in the abusive circus, including a nasty one that ran across her nose.

“So where did you go last night?” Roxie asked, her voice lilting in a sing song playful way. She was out in the run, using a hose to fill up a blue plastic kiddie pool so the tigers could play in it, while I was on my hands and knees scrubbing dung off the cage floor.

Her bleached blond hair was pulled back in a ponytail, and the sleeves of her white T- shirt were rolled up, revealing her well-toned arms. The cut- off jean shorts she wore barely covered her bum, and her old cowboy boots went up to her knees— her chosen footwear anytime she was at risk of stepping in tiger poop.

With fair skin, full lips, large blue eyes, and a dainty nose, Roxie was pretty and deceptively tough. Being a beautiful carnie was not an easy job, and dancing in the revue under the stage name “Foxy Roxie” didn’t help that. But she made decent money doing it, and Roxie never put up with anybody’s crap. I’d seen her deck guys much bigger than her and lay them out flat on their backs.

“I was just at a party,” I said as I rinsed the brush off in a bucket of bleach and warm water.
“A party?” Roxie looked over at me with a hand on her hip.

“How’d you get invited to a party so fast?”

I shrugged. “I was just exploring town, and I saw some people hanging outside of this big house party, and they invited me in.”
The UK edition of Freeks

“So what are the people like here? Are they nice?”

Safēda had gotten up and climbed into the pool, and then she flopped down in it, splashing Roxie as she did. Roxie took a step back, but kept looking at me.

“I don’t know. The people I met last night seemed nice, and they were superrich, so that bodes well for the town, I guess.”

“Like how rich?” Roxie asked.

“Like their house is practically a mansion.” I dropped the brush in the water and sat back on my knees, taking a break to talk to her. “It was the nicest house I’ve ever been in, hands down.”

“Is that why you spent the night there?”

Roxie understood my fascination with houses. Well, “understood” wasn’t the right word. It was more like she knew of it, but didn’t understand it all. She’d grown up in an upper- middleclass family, in nice houses with basements, and thought they were about as boring and lame as she could imagine.

“Partly.” I nodded. “It was a really amazing house. There were pillars out front, and the front hall was bigger than my trailer.”

“It’s just a house, Mara.” Roxie shook her head.

“I know but . . .” I trailed off, trying to think of how to explain it to her. “You know how you felt when you first joined the sideshow two years ago? How everything seemed so exciting and fun, and I was like, ‘We live in cramped trailers. It kinda sucks.’”

Roxie nodded. “Yeah. But I still think this life is a million times better than my old life. I get to see everything. I get to decide things for myself. I can leave whenever I want. There’s nothing to hold me back or tie me down.”

She’d finished filling up the pool, so she twisted the nozzle on the hose to shut it off. Stepping carefully over an old tire and a large branch that the tigers used as toys, she went to the edge of the run and tossed the hose over the fence, before Mahilā decided to play with it and tore it up.

She walked over to the cage and scraped her boots on the edge, to be sure she didn’t track any poop inside, before climbing up inside it.

“So what was the other reason?” Roxie asked.

I kept scrubbing for a moment and didn’t look up at her when I said, “Gabe.”

“Gabe?” Roxie asked. “That sounds like a boy’s name.”

“That’s because it is.”

“Did you have sex with him?”

“No.” I shot her a look. “We just made out a little.”

“What what what?” Luka Zajiček happened to be walking by just in time to hear that, and he changed his course to walk over to the tiger cage. “Is that what you were up to last night?”
“That’s what sucks about living in a community so small. Whenever anything happens, everybody knows about it right away,” I muttered.

Luka put his arms through the cage bars and leaned against it, in the area I’d cleaned already. Since he was rather short, the floor came up to his chest, and his black hair fell into his eyes.

His eyes were the same shade of gray as mine, but his olive skin was slightly lighter than mine. We first met him when he joined the carnival four years ago, and the first thing my mom said was that she was certain that we were related somehow.

Unfortunately, Mom knew next to nothing about our family tree to be able to prove it. All she could really tell me was that we were a mixture of Egyptian, Turkish, and Filipino, with a bit of German thrown in for good measure.

Luka had been born in Czechoslovakia, but he’d moved here with his family when he was young, so he’d lost his accent.

He had recently roped me into helping him with a trick. He’d stand with his back against a wall, while I fi red a crossbow around him. Originally, Blossom had been the one to help him, but she kept missing and shooting him in the leg or arm, so he’d asked me to do it because I had a steadier hand.

“So you made out with some local guy last night?” Luka asked, smirking at me. “Are you gonna see him again?”

“He’s a local guy. What do you think?” I asked, and gave him a hard look.

Luka shrugged. “Sometimes you bump into them again.”
“And that goes so well when they find out that I work and live with a traveling sideshow,” I said.

The floor was spotless, or at least as spotless as tiger cages can get, and I tossed my brush in the bucket and took off my yellow rubber gloves.

“We can’t all meet our boyfriends in the sideshow,” I reminded Luka as I stood up, and it only made him grin wider. He’d been dating Tim— one of the Flying Phoenixes— for the past three months.

“But you didn’t see Blossom anywhere in town last night?” Roxie asked, and Luka’s smile instantly fell away.

A sour feeling stirred in my stomach, and I looked out around camp through the bars of the cage, as if Blossom would suddenly appear standing beside a trailer. As I’d been doing my chores all morning, I kept scanning the campsite for her, expecting her to return at any moment with a funny story about how she’d gotten lost in town.

But so far, she hadn’t. And the longer she went without coming back, the worse the feeling in my stomach got. I shook my head. “No. I didn’t see her at all last night.”

“She’s gotta turn up, though, right?” Luka asked. “I mean, it’s not like there are really that many places she could’ve gone considering she has no money or car and she’s in a small town.”

The tigers were still down in the run, so I opened the side gate and hopped down out of the cage. Roxie got out behind me, then we closed the door.

“I should talk to Gideon,” I decided as Roxie locked the cage up behind me. “It’s not like Blossom to do this.”
“It’s not totally unlike her, though,” Roxie pointed out.

“When we were in Toledo six months ago, she dis appeared for a few days with that weird commune, and came back just before we were leaving, totally baked out of her mind.”

Blossom had grown up with parents who pretended to be hippies but were really just a couple of drug addicts. That— along with her unexplainable telekinesis— led to her dabbling with drugs and alcohol at a young age, before the state intervened and shipped her off to a group home.

My mom tried to keep her clean of her bad habits, but sometimes Blossom just liked to run off and do her own thing. That wasn’t that unusual for people who lived in the carnival.

“But if you’re worried, you should talk to Gideon,” Roxie suggested. “Luka’s right in that Blossom really couldn’t have gone far. Maybe you can scope out Caudry.”

“Since that sounds like a mission that may take a bit of time, can you help me and Hutch with the museum before you talk to Gideon?” Luka asked. “The exit door is jammed, and we can’t get it open, and Seth is busy helping set up the tents.”

“Sure. Between me and Mara, I’m sure the two of us can get the door unstuck,” Roxie said.

I dropped off the bucket with the other tiger supplies, and then followed Roxie and Luka away from our campsite to the fairgrounds on the other side of a chain- link fence.

We always stayed close to the rides, the midway, and the circus tent, but we didn’t actually sleep there. It was much better for every one if we kept our private lives separate from the crowds.

Copyright © 2017 by Amanda Hocking and reprinted with permission from St. Martin’s Griffin.
 

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Book review: Iron Cast by Destiny Soria

Quick note: Apologies from my side for my silence. 2016 has been a craptacular year and one that has seen me struggling a lot with my depression (more on that at some point), hence the slow updates in blogging.

Hoping to get back into the swing of things and I thought I'd start off by posting a review of a really great and fun historical fantasy novel I read not too long ago. Not only does it feature a diverse cast of characters, but the concept of the book is quite unique. I really hope to read more of this Destiny's work.
 
Iron Cast by Destiny Soria
Art, music and murder collide in this mesmerising tale set in pre-prohibition era Boston.

Iron Cast by Destiny Soria (first published in 2016 by Amulet Books)

Available from Raru.co.za

A supernaturally gifted young black girl working in a speakeasy during a time when the prohibitions act is on the verge of being ratified? Well, colour me intrigued.

Blending a combination of fantasy and history, Destiny Soria’s debut novel is a unique offering that explores what happens when two young girls find themselves caught up in a dangerous game where every illusion performed means one step closer to giving up on everything they’ve ever fought for.

Ada and Corinne are not only in danger of being out of work because of the impending prohibitions act, but they’re also persecuted for being hemopaths – people whose blood enables them  to create illusions through their art medium and thereby, in some cases, manipulate the emotions of their audience. 

Because they’re indebted to the owner of the Iron Cast, the club where they perform, Ada and Corinne often use their gifts to con the wealthier patrons out of money, in order to provide for both themselves and the rest of the folk who reside at the club.

When a con goes wrong and Ada finds herself in trouble, the events that follow set off a chain reaction that brings to light questions, betrayals and a fight that is bigger than the two girls could even begin to fathom.

What a jam-packed and unique offering in a genre that often falls back on popular and familiar tropes to tell a story.

While the book is by no means perfect (it took me a while to get used to the writing style and I’m still not sure if I can suspend my disbelief enough to be convinced that the illusions created through the use of their art have been executed convincingly), I found myself enjoying it for the engaging story and diverse cast of characters.

Ada and Corinne are two characters that couldn’t be more different. Ada is a black girl who grew up in the less than savoury part of town, while Corinne comes from a prominent family whose reputation is on the verge of only being solidified further due to an impending and seemingly politically motivated marriage.  

Ada is the steadfast one – the calm one who thinks things through before taking action, while Corinne is the impulsive one who rushes headlong into something with no thought for the consequences whatsoever.

Yet, together, the two of them make a formidable pair. If there’s one thing this book brings to the forefront, it’s the strength and bond of the friendship depicted between these two girls. It’s refreshing to see a book that places the value of friendship above that of the romance – and even though there is some of that in this book – it takes somewhat of a backseat.

There’s layers and depths to this novel that I also found fascinating. Not only does the book explore the underlying racial tension and elitism, but the fact that these girls, with their gifts, are also persecuted for their blood and talent and through means that are both scientifically primitive and involve torture, add an element to this novel that made this book that much more compelling.

The fact that it’s also taking place in an era before the prohibition act is set to be ratified plays a significant role, one that definitely leads to more than a few surprises.

All in all, if you’re looking for a book that delves into the heart of human nature, deals with betrayal and explores what happens when you’ve got nothing left to lose, Destiny Soria’s Iron Cast is a novel that will be right up your alley.

Review originally appeared on W24 (I often cross-post content just fyi)

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Bone Meal for Roses blog tour: When a setting becomes a character – guest post by Miranda Sherry

Thanks to Jonathan Ball publishers and Head of Zeus publishers, I’m delighted to be part of South African author Miranda Sherry’s blog tour for her brand new book, Bone Meal for Roses.

For me, book settings have always played an integral part to how I experience a novel. Granted, it’s not the be all and end all of the story, but it certainly plays a part in just how enriching and immersive a novel can be.

The more vivid a book’s settings, the better the reading experience. Sometimes, the best part of a book’s backdrop, is how recognisable or how familiar certain descriptions are. 

Bone Meal for Roses is appealing to me for many reasons, one of it being that it’s set in South Africa. Because it’s set in my home country, I thought it would be great if we could get Miranda to expand upon why she chose this as a setting for novel.

Before I hand over to Miranda though, here’s some information about Bone Mean for Roses (isn’t that title just gorgeous?): 

About Bone Meal for Roses

Poppy was six years old when she was rescued from her abusive mother and taken to her grandparents’ farm to recover. There, under a wide South African sky, Poppy succumbs to the magic of their garden.

Slowly, her memories fade and her wounds begin to heal. But as Poppy grows up into a strange, fierce and beautiful young woman, her childhood memories start to surface. 

And then a love affair with a married carpenter across the valley turns her world upside down.

This is a lush, lyrical novel about a young girl’s struggle to come to terms with her past.

Add it to your TBR pile on Goodreads

When a setting becomes a character by Miranda Sherry

Maybe I'm too fussy (fastidious, some might say), or perhaps I just like making life difficult for myself, but I'm one of those people who are incredibly affected by the way my surroundings look and feel.

For this reason, living in rental accommodation was a constant strain on my senses. A bedroom floor covered in that sort of school-blue carpet tile was enough to set my teeth on edge (especially offset by skirting boards varnished to a rich, baked-bean orange), but if this delight was paired with a set of 80s geometric print curtains in peach and mauve, my days would be haunted by an unshakeable feeling of unease.

In short, the space I'm in, what I see and hear and even smell, is fundamental to how I feel, and if my immediate surroundings are so affecting, then so too are the wider ones. Living and writing in South Africa is as much a part of my identity as anything else. 

I know this, because I've lived elsewhere, and while I did, I felt the distance like a wound. Being away from South Africa brought on a constant ache, a churning within that would not be calmed.

The word 'homesick' sounds sweet and nostalgic, and doesn't seem to have nearly the gravitas needed to carry the weight of that feeling.

Whilst overseas, away from the warmth (both temperature and temperament) of South Africa, after years of being too afraid to try, I began to write.

Now that I come to think about it, perhaps it was this yearning that pushed me to finally commit fingertips to keyboard, because the story I wrote was set in South Africa, and it wasn't very good. In fact it was, in retrospect, a big, angry longing to be in my home country again. I missed the place, so I wrote myself back there.

I set the story in the Joburg of my remembered childhood, with summer storms that turned swimming pools green overnight, paper thorns that hid in the grass and tortured the soles of my feet, and icy, winter mornings where the air was so dry that it seemed brittle in my throat.

I was back in South Africa when I sat down to write Black Dog Summer, my first ‘real book’. Drawing on that feeling I had had when I was so far away, I wanted to make the setting as vivid and alive in my story as the characters were.

I wanted anyone who read it to be transported to Joburg, in all its dark strangeness, its lushness and dryness, its wildness just beneath the skin of civility. I wanted the place to breathe.

And so, the story, about a dysfunctional family falling apart in the aftermath of a violent event, plays out amidst hailstorms and hadedas and Jacaranda trees dropping their purple flowers all over the streets.

The South African setting in Bone Meal for Roses is a different kind of character altogether, but no less fundamental to the story. In this book, a frightened child comes to live in a small corner of the Breede River Valley, where her grandparents have planted a secluded garden.

Surrounded by roses and lemon trees and lavender, within the embrace of the huge raw Karoo-scrub covered hills, the traumatised little girl begins to put down roots.

The valley, with its luxuriant vineyards and espaliered fruit trees planted in rows, could easily seem to be a picture-book idyll, but beside the cultivated bits, the landscape is harsh and strange, just like the broken parts of herself that the girl hides within, and just like turn her life takes when she starts to grow up.

 About Miranda

Miranda Sherry grew up in Johannesburg in a house full of books, and began writing stories at the age of seven. 

A few decades, and a variety of jobs - from puppeteer to bartender, and musician - later, she is now a full time writer. She continues to live in Johannesburg, with the love of her life, and her two weird cats.

Follow her on Twitter

Follow the rest of the blog tour by checking out the blogs below:


Friday, October 7, 2016

Guest post: 5 Harry Potter fan fiction stories to lose yourself in

And now, for something completely different and fun.

I’d like to welcome entertainment and culture writer, Cassie to my blog today. Cassie, who writes features for Culturecoverage.com, has stopped by to chat about a topic that’s both a guilty pleasure and indulgence of mine. Fan fiction.

Not just any fan fiction though. Fanfic from one of my favourite fictional universes – Harry Potter.

I could write essays on my love for HP fanfiction, but perhaps it’s better if I save that for another day and hand over to Cassie who is stopping by to tell us about the HP fan fiction that she highly recommends you check out (if you haven’t already, that is)!

With Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Parts One and Two and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, it may seem like we’re never going to see the end of the Harry Potter universe, even though Rowling has promised she’s not going to write anymore of Harry’s story.

Just because we’ve got Pottermore to fall back on, I can’t help falling in love with fan-made stories whenever I get the tinge to revisit Hogwarts, and since you’re readers of Tammy’s blog, I bet you guys are too. Now, while I admit these are personal favorites, and I have my opinion, I suggest you check these out and at least give them a chance!

1.    Bungle in the Jungle by jbern

I’ll admit I read this one because I loved the name, but “Bungle in the Jungle,” and it’s sequel, “Turn Me Loose” has turned into one of my favorite fanfic series of all time. 

Centering on a confident, independent Harry, these stories really capture the hero Harry truly is and all the hard work it took to turn him into the bold and brave character we know and love. His fights with Voldemort are intense to read and immensely satisfying. The curse-breaking storytelling is one of a kind and at the height of awesome.

2.    Dumbledore’s Army and the Year of Darkness by Thanfiction

If you, like me, ever wondered what the rest of Dumbledore’s Army was doing while Harry, Ron and Hermione were out hunting for Horcruxes or, more importantly, how Neville turned into such an awesome hero, then this fanfic is for you.

For the backstory of what was happening at Hogwarts during the Horcrux quest, “Dumbledore’s Army and the Year of Darkness” is your exposé with some of the best characters who never got enough spotlight in the books.

3.    Harry Potter and the Last Horcrux by Mike

I love “Harry Potter and the Last Horcrux” because it just feels so real, and I still think it’s one of the best fanfics ever written and certainly the best Harry Potter fanfic out there.

The great thing this story does is it expands the universe of the Wizarding World, and it describes exactly how the wizarding wars affected the Muggles (which is something that really interests me, being the Muggle that I am!). Full of magic, fantasy and the great storytelling we trust Rowling for, this is one fanfic I love as much as the original series itself—it’s that good.

4.    My Immortal by Tara Gilesbie

While it sounds like an Evanescence knockoff, the similarities between the popular song and Harry stop with the title. Widely regarded as both the best and the worst of Harry Potter fanfic everywhere, “My Immortal” is about a vampire witch named Ebony Dark’ness Dementia Raven Way who loves Good Charlotte concerts and hanging out with Draco Malfoy.

Sure, the crossover pop culture references may leave half of you rejoicing and the other half cringing, but all in all, “My Immortal” is a great read for laughs.

5.    Harry Potter and the Wastelands of Time by joe6991
 

For readers who think Rowling didn’t exhaust the magical creature arsenal, “Harry Potter and the Wastelands of Time” makes a deal with the devil—yes, the actual devil.

When Harry’s quest to fight Lord Voldemort leads him to make a trade of his soul for fearsome new powers, the battle with Voldemort gets deadly and leads Harry to make new enemies more fearsome than he could have imagined. The great thing is once you finish it, there’s a sequel in the making for avid fans.

For Harry Potter fans everywhere, I definitely recommend these fan fictions, and I hope you respond with recommendations of your own! I’m always on the search for the next great Harry Potter story, and I’m sure you are too.

Comment with your favorite fan fictions stories, and I’ll get to reading them right away!
 

*Reader tip! Since all of these are read online, you might have some trouble pulling them up if you’re not in the U.S. If you’re reading from international waters and can’t access these stories because of geo-blockers, try creating a secure, untraceable connection with a Virtual Private Network. It will let you access from anywhere!

About the Author: Cassie is a Harry Potter junkie and lover of all things Hogwarts. When not planning her next Harry Potter World adventure, she’s totally tied up with being a total book nerd! She hopes you enjoy these stories as much as she did!

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Book review: Summer Days and Summer Nights edited by Stephanie Perkins

A collection of short stories that capture the essence of summer in all of its tempestuous moods.

Summer Days and Summer Nights edited by Stephanie Perkins (first published in 2016 by Pan Macmillan)

Purchase a copy of the book from Raru.co.za

I’ve been a huge fan of Stephanie Perkins since I read her debut novel, Anna and the French Kiss. There’s an element of charming quirkiness that make her books adorable, relatable and oh so very swoon-worthy.

When she opted to do something a little different and ended up editing and contributing to My True Love Gave to Me: Twelve Holiday Stories, her very first anthology that focused on wintery Christmas romances, I became an even bigger fan.  

This time around, she provides us with the opposite: Summer Days and Summer Nights, a collection of summery short stories that captures the magic of love in all of its sensational and summery glory. In fact, I confess that when I first started reading this book, I was expecting a collection of feel-good, marshmallow-gooey stories to squee over for days.

What I got was that and then some more.

When we talk about summer, we often think of beach days and ice-cream, flip flops and surfing the waves. What we forget is how many layers there are to summer. From those swelteringly humid days, to the tempestuous thunderstorms resulting from the blistering heat, summer is a season that is far from  being one dimensional. It’s a lot like love: hot and steamy, with enough heat to make you burn (from either passion or heartbreak). 

And that is exactly what the marvellous list of authors (including Stephanie, who contributes a follow up to the story originally featured in the winter anthology) have showcased in their stories.

Here’s a quick round up of what I thought of each of the stories:

Head Scales, Tongue, Tail  by Leigh Bardugo (Rating: 3.5/5)

A gorgeous, if rather odd little read featuring river gods, monsters and a girl who isn’t sure whether or not her crush is completely human. If you’re a fan of stories with a magical realism feel to it, you’ll quite enjoy this one.

The End of Love by Nina LaCour  (Rating: 3/5)

A lovely female/female centric romance from Nina LaCour. A meeting with old friends results in a girl running into an old crush. The story feels a bit rushed (but that is inevitably the tricky thing about novellas), but it’s a sweet and beautifully written story. Nina’s writing is gorgeous.

Last Stand at the Cinegor by Libba Bray (Rating: 4/5)

A movie concession stand, two boys, an unrequited crush and a cursed movie makes for one bizarre and hilarious short story with a retro and supernatural feel to it. I’m definitely going to be reading more from this author.

Sick Pleasures by Francesca Lia Block (Rating: 3/5)

A bittersweet story  about the should have and could have been moments that is only all too relatable. It’s not very popular with a lot of readers but I loved the writing style of this story all the same.

In Ninety Minutes, Turn North by Stephanie Perkins (Rating: 5/5)

My favourite out of this entire anthology so far, Stephanie Perkins revisits couple Marigold and North following a break-up. You should definitely read the original story in the first anthology before you read this one.  I squeed all the way through it.

Souvenirs by Tim Federle (Rating: 4/5)
A story of self-absorbed theatre boys, amusement parks and sultry summer days. It’s beautifully written and reflects on the turbulence of summer and the fleeting nature of summer flings.

Inertia by Veronica Roth (Rating: 4/5 )

A story about the memories of summer and the spaces in-between. Of our perceptions, the bittersweet days of summers gone by and of summers lived-but-not-lived. It's only when Claire, the protagonist of this story, realises she's about to lose her best friend in the worst way possible, that she finally begins to work out that sometimes you have to push through the inertia to learn to live again.

Love is the Last Resort by Jon Skovron (Rating: 3/5)

An adorable tale of matchmaking shenanigans at a holiday resort. It features a diverse cast of  characters,  obnoxious and wilfully blind parental figures and an almost unrealistically sappy happily ever after ending.

Good Luck and Farewell by Brandy Colbert (Rating 4/5)

A happy-sad story of saying goodbyes and learning to make room for new hellos. It’s a tale filled with prickly and crackling emotions from two defensive protagonists who slowly learn that there's more to the story if they just listen.

Brand New Attraction by Cassandra Clare (Rating: 4/5)

Fun, action-packed, and set in a carnival with all manner of magical delights and creatures, Cassie  Clare's  short story has all of the perfect summer time vibes and romantic shenanigans you could ask for.

A Thousand Ways this Could Go Wrong by Jennifer E. Smith (Rating: 4/5)

A million points to Jen for featuring a male protagonist with Asperger's syndrome.  It's done beautifully, matter of factly and without being insensitive.  It’s a summer camp romance that is sweet and filled with misunderstandings, but Jennifer handles the communication between the two protagonists deftly and beautifully.

The Map Of Tiny Perfect Things By Lev Grossman (Rating: 3/5)


A weird, but delightful little story about being stuck in a time loop and trying to find the perfect moments when everything seems the same. It’s a tale that plays on our perspective and lack of appreciation of what we have, and features city trekking, map drawing and an adorable science nerd.

Disclaimer: This review originally appeared on W24.co.za

Purchase a copy of the book from Raru.co.za