Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Author guest post: Five Things I Love About Dystopian Fiction by Georgia Clark

I’d like to welcome the lovely Georgia Clark, author of YA contemporary novel She’s With the Band, and newly released dystopian novel Parched, to my blog today.

As someone with an invested interested in dystopian fiction,  especially given the fact that most of them deal with highlighting socio-economic, political issues, violence, rebellion and revolution in a manner that’s a lot more magnified than in most genres , I was thrilled when Georgia graciously agreed to feature on my blog.

In her post today, she tells us about the 5 things she loves most about dystopian fiction; and, having read the post, I have to say that I couldn’t agree more with her points. 

Without further ado, here within some information about the book, followed by her thoughts on dystopian literature.  

About Parched:

Parched is a riveting story about post-apocalyptic survival set in a time and place that pits the small number of haves against the have-nots.

After suffering the death of her scientist mother, sixteen-year-old Tessendra Rockwood leaves her life of privilege in Eden to join the resistance and the have-nots in the desertlike wasteland called the Badlands.

Together, in a fight against inequality, they uncover a shocking government plot to carry out genocide in the Badlands using artificial intelligence.

After witnessing devastation, sordid prisons, and corruption in the rebellion against tyranny, Tess must question her loyalties and risk her life to bring justice to Eden.

Add it to your TBR pile here.

Over to Georgia

Five Things I Love About Dystopian Fiction

The Social Commentary Factor
Like sci-fi, dystopian fiction is the bomb when it comes to casting a clear-eyed view on the problems of the present.

From the dangers of government control (Matched), the deadening effects of reality TV (Hunger Games), to the importance of love in our lives (Delirium), great dystopia is a cool insight into what your favorite author is critical of.

Thrills and Spills 
I love plot. I’m an action-adventure fan: take me on a journey, full of twists and turns; unexpected allies, terrifying villains, and true tests of courage and you’ve got me. I love dystopian fiction as it tends to be big, plot-based stories full of thrills and spills.

 I was keen to give this a crack with my novel, something that would appeal to readers who enjoy rebellions in far-flung places both familiar and strange.

So naturally I was pretty chuffed when my School Library Journal review said, "readers who eagerly followed the rebellions against Panem’s Capitol and Divergent's Erudites will root for Tess and her Kudzu allies.” Mission accomplished.

The Dark Side 
By their very definition, dystopias delve into the dark side. People are oppressed, governments have too much control, life is rough and tough.

My life is not rough and tough: clean water flows from my taps and the most difficult thing about finding fresh food is the lines at Union Square’s Trader Joes. Dystopians let me live in a world where I can see people be tested.

They let you wonder ‘what if?’. What if I was in the Hunger Games? (I would last approximately 3.5 minutes, so I’m really glad that I’m not).

Kickass Heroines 
In YA dystopias we find an abundance of strong, powerful, believable young women, who are not overly sexualized or defined by their relationship to men.

From Karou to Katsa, Clary to Lena, dystopia is a place we can find kickass girls on a journey, not just supportive girlfriends or one-note sexpots. I had fun creating the character of Tess for Parched, a 16-year-old heroine who stands up for what she believes in, despite the odds.

It’s A Wild and Wacky Place
My fifth reason for loving dystopia is simply this: it’s a wild and wacky place. From 1984 to Never Let Me Go to Margaret Atwood’s MacAddams trilogy, the genre is full of insanely imaginative tales that have what I think of as a literary ‘It’ factor.

Good dystopia feels fresh, exciting, and different. What are your favorite dystopias?

Let me know in the comments!

About Georgia:
Georgia Clark grew up in Sydney, Australia. She received a BA in Communications: Media Arts and Production from the University of Technology, Sydney.

After graduating, Georgia worked as editor of The Brag, a weekly music street press magazine.

She then became an online producer for an Australian soap opera called Home & Away and an online writer for Fremantle Media Australia.

Georgia moved to New York City in 2009 to pursue a career in teen and lifestyle journalism.

Her articles have been featured in various publications, including Cosmo, CLEO, Daily Life, Sunday Life, Girlfriend, and more. Georgia currently works as the senior digital creative at Showtime Networks, where she produces the award-winning SHO Sync app.

Despite refusing to own a smart phone, Georgia crafts a thrilling story of robots, renewable resources, and romance in her new futuristic fantasy novel Parched. After the death of her scientist mother, sixteen-year-old Tessendra decides to join a rebel group and risk her life to bring justice to the people living outside the utopian city of Eden.

In addition to her love for writing, Georgia is a travel enthusiast and has visited fourteen countries. She also enjoys improv, studies comedy at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater, and hosts a monthly show in the East Village with a team called Dreamboat.

For more information about Georgia, visit www.georgiaclark.com and follow her on Goodreads, Facebook, and Twitter.

Where you can find her online:
Twitter: @georgialouclark

Monday, July 21, 2014

Mini book review: The Distance Between Us by Kasie West

Welcome to another mini book reviews edition of my blog. For this section of my blog, I usually feature reviews of books that don’t really require them – books bought, books I’ve borrowed from friends and books I’ve taken out at the library.

Because they’re not must-review books, my format of these mini reviews differ in that I don’t work the summary into my review in my own words; instead, I feature the Goodreads summary, followed by a few thoughts on my reading experience.

In today’s mini reviews feature, I share my brief thoughts on The Distance Between Us by Kasie West.

About The Distance Between Us by Kasie West (HarperTeen)

Money can't buy a good first impression.

Seventeen-year-old Caymen Meyers learned early that the rich are not to be trusted.

And after years of studying them from behind the cash register of her mom's porcelain-doll shop, she has seen nothing to prove otherwise.

Enter Xander Spence—he's tall, handsome, and oozing rich.

Despite his charming ways and the fact that he seems to be one of the first people who actually gets her, she's smart enough to know his interest won't last.

Because if there's one thing she's learned from her mother's warnings, it's that the rich have a short attention span.

But just when Xander's loyalty and attentiveness are about to convince Caymen that being rich isn't a character flaw, she finds out that money is a much bigger part of their relationship than she'd ever realized.

With so many obstacles standing in their way, can she close the distance between them?

My thoughts:

What an unexpectedly charming and emotional read.

Don't let the cover fool you into thinking that this book is all fluff. Fluffy goodness there certainly is, but there's a surprising depth that explores what it means to live on the opposite side of the tracks in comparison to spending your days hosting charity functions within the halls of a mansion.

It's a book about how young adults are pressurised into being defined by how much they have or don't have.

It's a novel that explores the close bond between a mother and daughter; a relationship that's always been strong but threatens to unravel because of secrets and lies brimming beneath the surface.

Mostly it's about one sassy, prickly-peared, poor young heroine who wears her sarcasm like a fortress, and the sweet, but wealthy boy who gets under her skin in spite of herself.

There's certainly enough swoony and UST moments in this book, but the heart of this novel lies in the growth and development Caymen undergoes throughout the novel.

Throw in an awesome best-friend and a group of raggy-taggy rock-band friends and the result is a book that will hit your right in the feels.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Book talk: First world book problems

Being a book addict is, without a doubt, the best thing in the entire world. 

But, as we all know, being a slavish literary enthusiast certainly comes with its set of unique problems. I was chatting to some lovely folk on Twitter and in the office and somehow the topic of First world problems, in relation to books came up.

In no particular order, I’ve decided to share them here:

1.  The pain of having to deal with cliff hangers. And then being forced to wait for years before the next book in the series is being released.

2. Forcing yourself to put a book down because things like sleep, work and daily social interactions get in your way. Although sometimes (okay, most of the time), the need to look like a hungover rat with bloodshot eyes in the morning takes preference over putting the novel aside. 

3.  When publishers change book covers halfway through your collection of a specific book series. Now you have to buy a whole new set in order for them to match.

4.  When people who've watched the movie before they've read the book, suddenly start acting like they're experts on both. I hate to break it to you, but your opinion isn't worth much to those who've read the book first.

5. That moment when you have to deal with people who can see that you're reading, but still insist on talking to you anyway. No reader wants to be forcefully ripped out of the fictional world he or she's immersed in.

6. When you have so many unread books in your shelves, but you're not in the mood to read them and as a result have to buy a new one (oh, who am I kidding; there's always a good time to buy books).

7.  Dealing with people who hate your favourite book without having made the effort to read the book in order to form an opinion that's based on popular mass opinion.

8. Having to cope with separation anxiety issues the moment you (reluctantly) lend someone a book. 

9. When you visit the library or bookstore only to discover that they're closed due to stock take. Words can't describe the level of agony I feel when this happens.

10. That long waiting period you have to endure when a book you've ordered takes longer than day to arrive.

11. My lovely colleague Adele says it really breaks her heart that she can't read her Kindle in the bath. I know, it's utterly tragic (I'm not big on the reading in the bath thing, but I can understand where she's coming from).

12.  Laura, our lovely intern on the other hand, says she hates that she's forced to read a popular book the moment it comes out in order to avoid spoilers.

These are just a few of the struggles that I, and my colleagues, like to whinge about. What are some of yours? Please share – I’d love to giggle and nod my head in agreement. 

This column originally appeared as part of Women24’s monthly book club newsletter. Keen to receive this as a monthly newsletter in your own inbox? You can subscribe here.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Book review: The Classics edition: Grimm's Fairy Tales

Anyone who hasn’t read Grimm’s collection of Fairy Tales, hasn’t had much of a childhood. 


This review also appears on Women24.com, a South African women's lifestyle website where I manage, amongst other things, an online books section.

Grimm’s Fairy Tales by The Brothers Grimm (Vintage Classics)

What a marvellous little collection of tales.

Strange, creepy, romantic and filled with all manner of twisty things, Grimm’s anthology of fairy tales is one of those classics that should be on every fable and folklore lover’s book shelves.

Most of us are familiar with Disney’s treatment of stories like Snow White, Rapunzel, Cinderella and The Frog Prince - to mention but a few - but in this collection, The Brothers Grimm go back to some of the roots of these tales and present a version that is not only different, but that are also much darker.

In quite a few cases, some don’t even have the happily-ever-after ending that we’re so used to seeing.

Even more interesting is that, based on recently doing a little research on folklore (I adore anything fable, myth and legend related),  I discovered that in some cases, even the Grimm brothers had much better and  happier adaptations and endings for some of their  versions of these legendary stories.

And that’s saying a lot about two intellectual scholars who’ve never shied away from including murder and cannibalism in their tales.

But, more on that later - I’m getting ahead of myself.

This collection, published by Vintage Classics in 2013, features a diverse range of stories.

From the relatively well-known (Little Red Riding Hood, Brier Rose and Puss in Boots), to the rather obscure (The Juniper Tree, The Lettuce Donkey and The Singing, Springing Lark), these stories will take you on a journey that will leave you feeling at once both nostalgic and slightly sad that you missed out on so much subtext when you were younger.

While I certainly adored these narratives with my limited understanding of them when I was younger, reading them anew has certainly left me with an even deeper appreciation of these tales of yonder. 

Looking at it from a child’s still developing point of view, it’s rather easy to assume that fairy tales, as a rule, is all about brave knights, resourceful princesses and the happily-ever-after it generally contains.  And for me, it certainly did represent that.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with this impression at all, but I do think that as they get older, children should be made aware of the underlying themes and metaphorical threads that are interwoven in them.

My personal experience of this collection was one of reawakening; one where I was reminded that behind these folklore tales, a treasure trove of hidden meanings was (and is) just waiting to be found.

From wicked enchantresses, to singing larks, golden birds and magical beasts, these Grimm-told stories are filled with all sorts of fantastical imagery.  You’ll meet everything and everyone and discover that magic and goodness can be found just around the corner.

On the other hand, Grimm’s collection also tells us that dark deeds, enmity and cunning tricksters are just as prone to lurk about, and that some exist closer to home than anywhere else.

Exploring and incorporating themes of incest, murder, cannibalism and human folly in general, you’ll be astonished at just how much twistedness there are in these stories. 

My absolute favourite?

The Juniper Tree – this one’s probably one of the darkest  I’ve read in this collection, although I’m sure that I’ll probably discover more of their darker works in my quest to read every single Grimm story I haven’t read yet.

Interweaving themes of child abuse and murder with cannibalism and greed, The Juniper Tree is the story of a young boy who, loathed by his stepmother, is tricked into getting an apple to eat from a chest.

When he takes the apple, the stepmother closes the chest, lopping off his head in the process (You can see why this is one of the lesser known Grimm’s tales).

Trying to hide her cold-blooded act of killing from her husband, she chops up his body parts and feeds it to the family when he comes home from work.  His stepsister, however, is heartbroken with grief and saves his bones. She eventually wraps them in a handkerchief and buries him underneath the magical Juniper Tree.

What happens next is for you to discover, but suffice to say, you’ll be hearing the phrase: “My mother she killed me, my father he ate me” throughout the story.

Deliciously twisted, but also incredibly hopeful, this story is a reminder that love can triumph from beyond all planes.

I wish I could spend more time going through all the stories, but I’m sure that what you’ll get instead of a book review, is a novel-length discourse on each of these little gems. 

I will however make a brief mention of some of the stories that have stood out for me, the tales in question being:

Brother and Sister (a tale of two resourceful siblings who escape their evil stepmother),

All Fur (a young princess who flees from her father after he falls in love with her and demands to marry her)

The Singing, Springing Lark
( A young princess, an enchanted prince, a 7-year period apart and a wicked princess’s scheme. Here’s quite a lot that happens in this story, but the journey of the brave heroine will certainly have you rooting for her.)

Snow White and Rose Red (the version that involves an enchanted bear and one nasty, ungrateful, thieving dwarf), oh and…

The King of the Golden Mountain and The Lettuce Donkey (both decidedly sinister, although the one more so than the other because the ending is just so bluntly shocking).

See, there are just so many to mention here. The one thing I should add though is that if you’re looking for a book with a collection of fully developed and fleshed out stories, you won’t find that here.

These stories are written in a way that’s often choppy and abrupt, but strangely all the more beautiful for it. Many may even consider it somewhat simplistic, but I find that sometimes it’s these kind of reads that have the most pearls to offer.

If you haven’t read it yet, go out and grab a copy.

If you’ve read it before, but it’s been languishing in your shelves, dust it off and pick it up again. After all, there’s nothing like a book that reminds you that you’re never too old to be fall in love with your childhood favourites again.

And that is indeed what this collection of Grimm’s Fairy Tales ended up doing for me.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Book talk: Jennifer Ridyard

Today I’d like to welcome YA author, Jennifer Ridyard to my blog. As one half of the duo who wrote the dystopian novel Conquest, a book I enjoyed and recently reviewed, Jennifer is someone who is actually no stranger to my blog.

Last time I featured her, Jennifer wrote an awesome guest post on why science fiction isn’t just a guy thing (I’d highly recommend that you check it out).

In today’s spot, I chat to Jennifer about the concept behind Conquest, what it was like writing with John Connolly (co-author of the book, best-selling author of a popular crime thriller series and, her actual partner) and what’s in store for the next book.

For those who haven’t heard about Conquest before, you can check out my in-depth review which I posted here, and add it to your Goodreads pile.

If you have read the book, just a note of caution: there are one or two spoilery questions below (but don’t worry, I’ve highlighted it clearly so that you can just skip pass those if you’d like).

Welcome to the blog Jen!

Q1:  You’ve been a journalist for many years. When John first approached you with the idea of the book – a book about an alien girl being born on earth – what was it that made you say yes?

Oooh, it was probably my ego that made me say yes!

The story of how it happened entailed a bit of wine (him) and a bit of madness (me): he’d been on a boozy lunch-turned-dinner with a friend, and he’d been musing over the idea of a story told from the perspective of the first alien girl to be born on earth after the invasion, so when he got home at around midnight full of Dutch courage, he asked me.

He said he felt he couldn’t comfortably write a teenage girl – any teenage girl and even more so an alien teenage girl! – without some female input, and also he was very pressed for time, having other deadlines and books to write.

He was terribly nervous, and sweetly humble, and I was just so delighted to be asked, to be trusted that much by someone who is so solitary and efficient as a writer, and it felt rather like it validated my own (largely unsuccessful) attempts to write fiction. 

So I foolishly leapt in where angels ran screaming, because I’m no angel! Like I said, it was probably madness, because it was damned hard!

Q2:  How challenging did you find the transition from being a solo writer to being a co-author?

I found it pretty easy… at first. I think John struggled a lot more. As a journalist, I was used to working in a messy, open-plan office, with other voices and opinions and sub-editors and editors all having their say.

I was used to being part of a process. John’s background was in journalism too, but nearly 20 books in he is well used to working alone, unchallenged, and apparently I can be very challenging. Snigger. 

Q4:  What kind of structure did you and John employ when writing the book? Were you each responsible for different characters and character arcs?

Or did you write the book in such a way that you started where John left off?

He didn’t know what the book was actually going to be about because he just had the seed of an idea, but I told him I needed more than that.

I suggested he start it off, and then write a synopsis for the rest, so he went away then came back several weeks later with 14 000 words, a 2-page synopsis, and a frown on his face.

 As he said, this was not how he worked usually, and he’d found it difficult.

I then sat down, read through it all and off I went, type-type-type, rather delighted with myself as it grew to 70 000 words, with my own characters being born – like Fremd and Just Joe, and the people on the Highland march – and the ones he had created developing and changing, and I really started to see Syl and Ani as mine. Mine!

Q3: At which points during the writing process did you and John oppose each other the most? And how did you find a way to compromise on aspects in the novel that you didn’t agree on? 

When I agreed to write with him, I said that he would have the final say, being a successful, published novelist. That was my compromise, theoretically at least.

But sometimes I forget what an opinionated, bloody-minded person I can be.
As I said, I handed him back 70-odd thousand words, all chuffed with myself, and he said “Who on earth are you writing for?”

I was devasted: when he’d said “young adult” I’d taken that to be around 13 or 14, because it was at that age I’d taken to reading adult books, but he meant an older teenager, and what I’d done was too simplistic, too young.

He tore into my babies, beat them, reshaped them, and then handed me back his version of our completed book, now 120 000 words, and a much more serious, dark beast.

Not to be outdone, I then had a small slash-and-burn of my own, adding more lightness, humour and humanity (odd choice of words!) to it all – I hope! – and getting rid of some of the darker, denser prose at which he excels. I think. Well, that’s how I remember it.

It was tough though. It was very tough indeed. Egos were bruised. Wine was consumed. Weight was gained.

Q5: Speaking of characters, I thought Syl, Ani and Meia were phenomenal characters.

What I particularly found interesting is that Ani’s gift was an incredibly important factor in Conquest – something which is not often seen in supporting characters in most novels.

In fact, while we get subtle hints about Syl, it’s Ani that really rises to the occasion in one major rescue scene.  What made you decide to make use of Ani’s gift instead of Syl’s? 

The Chronicles of the Invaders is a trilogy, and there is some way to go still. Syl particularly needs room to grow and change as the main protaganist, which I suppose she can do best against the backdrop of more static, set characters, like funny, quirky Ani.

Also, Syl’s powers are darker, so are only being revealed as the darkness of adulthood encroaches on youth and innocence.

I suppose it could be a metaphor if I tried hard enough! I guess it just worked too: both of them were conceived on the same strange night, in the same starlit phenomenon, so it’s nice to know that they were both formed by it. Sometimes you don’t plan these things.

They’re just organic. 

Q6: You chose Scotland as the predominant setting of the novel. 

While there are certainly Illyri that dominates over many areas, the main focus is placed on what happens in Scotland, in particular the Highlands. Is there any particular reason for this?

Ah, wait for books two and three! We’re going off-world… 

Scotland, meanwhile, with its history of rebellion and occupation and its huge nationalism, seemed like fertile ground for a revolutionary, underground army, which is what we needed.

It has a beautiful, harsh, desolate countryside in its Highlands, the kind of wild place you can easily get lost. It has attitude in bucketloads. It has that Celtic fire. The only other option would have been Ireland, but that’s a bit close to home…

Sometimes you need to be a step outside to see in properly. Also, it has the rather fabulous sprawl that is Edinburgh Castle: who could resist that as a base?

Q7: If you could describe a country on earth that would be closest to what Illyri’s world looks like, which country would it be and why? 

Oh goodness, I couldn’t begin to tell you. The thing about Illyr is, like our own world, it has many different regions, many different climates (although generally it’s warmer and more humid, but it does have polar ice-caps), and many different geographical features.

It is not uniform throughout. There are cities that spill into the ocean, there are plants that reach to the storm clouds, there is a yellow sea, there is more than one moon, their sun moves slower so their days are longer.

The difference would be that the Earth has many governments, many countries, and no unity, whereas Illyr has one Ruling Council (however divided that might be), as is true of most science fiction. I doubt a world could invade unless it was unified.

Q8: Which character did you find the most challenging to write?  

The Illyri were much simpler than the humans! We were making their nature up, so they could be like us, but different… alien. 

With the humans, we all know humanity, and so we each bring our own expectations and understanding to our reading. When you’re creating what are essentially a new species, you get to play a bit more.

Q9: Let’s talk about the Nairene Sisterhood.

With the already existing problems between the Military and Diplomatic Corps, the two existing factions who have different ideologies about ruling earth, the Nairene Sisterhood only exacerbates the situation.

How did you come up with the idea of the Sisterhood and why did you decide to include them in an environment already teeming with hostility? 

The Nairene Sisterhood are at the very core of the hostilities…

The Sisterhood are (I think) a lovely thing that has become corrupted, a repository of all knowledge and a library of the history, science, art, philosophy, and all the collected wisdom of the ages for their people.

They are an ancient order, rather like nuns, existing before the civil war that split Illyr into the two camps of Diplomats and Miltary.
The idea was of a cloistered order, rather like the old religious orders of earth, focussed entirely on their stated purpose.

There will be a lot more about them in the second novel, so hold that thought.


Q10: Can you give us a little more about what we can expect in the next novel? Will we be finding out more about the invasion behind the invasion, so to speak?

Also (and I totally squirmed throughout the last bit of the novel), the parasitic organisms and how they came about in the first place?

SPOILER ALERT: Well, in the next novel Syl and Ani are on Avila Minor, the moon on which the Sisterhood reside, and Paul and Steven are off fighting in the Illyri battalions on other worlds, and we find out more about… well, I don’t think I should give anything away.

Suffice to say the canvas broadens, and the plot thickens!

Q11: And finally, can you tell us what it is that you love most about writing sci-fi for Young Adults? 

I really do LOVE writing for this market. I think the YA reader particularly likes a cracking adventure, and audacious characters, and a bit of romance and a healthy squirt of anger and war, all the things I like in a book.

It’s tremendous fun, but also a little terrifying because there’s nothing worse for a teenager than being told stuff in a prescriptive, diadactic manner, or treated with precious kid gloves.

You need to show them, not tell them (to borrow a cliché); you need to draw them in but you can never talk down to them – that’s the part you desperately  hope to get right, and I hope we did by treating our readers as complete adults, but adults who are not yet jaded, grim and cynical. Adults with hope and passion.

The best kind of adults, actually.

Thanks for stopping by Jennifer. I had so much fun compiling these questions!

About Jennifer
Jennifer Ridyard was born in England and grew up in Johannesburg, where she worked as a journalist for many years.

Conquest is her first novel.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Book review: How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr

It’s never too late to start (or restart) living the rest of your life.


This review also appears on Women24.com, a South African women's lifestyle website where I manage, amongst other things, an online books section.

How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr (Usborne)

I’ve always held the opinion that some of the best books are the novels that seem to have little to offer, but which result in you taking an unexpected journey into a story full of heart, introspection and battle-weary protagonists who discover that no matter how life treats you, glimmers of stars can still be seen in the dark.

For me, Sara Zarr’s How to Save a Life ended up being one such book.

I have of course, heard wonderful things about her novels, but having never read any of her work before I was understandably unsure of how I’d react to How to Save a Life. As a result, this book’s been sitting in my one of my shelves for months.

I finally decided to pick the book up, and am very relieved to say that this book touched me in a way that not many contemporary YA novels (with the exception of On the Jellicoe Road and The Sky is Everywhere) have.

There’s so many aspects of this novel to love, but I suppose what I really loved about the book is how honestly it handles the issue of teen pregnancy. How to Save a Life is a book that explores the confused feelings of alienation, loneliness and abandonment that both death and pregnancy bring.

On the one hand we have Jill.  Coming from a family that has it all, Jill was once a happy and well-adjusted young girl.

Then, her father dies and she’s never been the same. Everything that used to matter to her suddenly loses its meaning and as a result, she closes herself off to the world and shuts out everyone who cares about her.

Life’s about to throw her a huge curveball though, because Jill’s mother has decided to adopt a baby, and what follows is a journey filled with heartache, resentment and  an increasing sense of isolation as Jill’s mother starts doting on the girl whose baby she’s about to adopt.

Then there’s Mandy.

17-years old, pregnant and in a desperate situation, she decides to give her baby up for adoption. Coming from an emotionally and sexually abusive home, Mandy is willing to do anything to give her child the life she’s never been able to live.

When her life crosses the paths of Jill and Robin – Jill’s mother – things begin to change in a way that has unforeseen consequences, and suddenly, the solitary paths that each girl has been traversing, merge in a way that leaves everyone in an uncertain place.

And soon, the only thing that becomes clear is that the path to making the decision to live and making the decision to give up something precious, is harder than anyone could have imagined. 

My first thought, when I closed the last page of this book, was that I couldn’t believe that it took me this long to pick up a book written by this author.

My second?

Is that she knows how to create the perfect balance between not sugar coating the issues that come with dealing with death and pregnancy,  and offering readers an open-ended, yet hopeful conclusion that is both realistic and sincere.

Jill and Mandy are two characters who are both broken in different ways. 

We have Jill, whose grief is often displayed through veil of aggressive, unfriendly and abrasive behaviour. She’s a character who many would probably consider to be unlikeable, yet I personally found myself instantly drawn to her and sympathetic to her plight.

Granted, her behaviour throughout the book would probably make most people want to give up on her, but her palpable grief is one of the biggest reasons that made me feel for her.

 It’s hard to crawl out of the hole you’ve been unwittingly pushed in, but the progression that Jill makes from not making an effort, to “trying a little tenderness” (Her father used to tell her that when she was being mean), is incredibly heart-warming.

The glimpses of goodness that come through in the midst of her darkest period, shine through louder than all the times she shows her obvious discontent at the Mandy situation. Watching her come around in the end (subtly done, but it’s there and all the more powerful for it), will have you cheering from the side lines.

Mandy, for her part, is a very sweet character. Despite the abuse that she’s faced, there’s an incredible strength and innocence about her that speaks of having both a selfless and rather naïve viewpoint on life.

Her mistreatment at the hands of the ones who are actually supposed to love her most, is heartbreakingly poignant and will fill you with both anger and sadness.
Living with Robin and Jill while she’s waiting for the birth of the baby she’s promised them, is not an easy feat despite Robin’s inherent and overenthusiastic kindness.

She’s a character that is so unused to people treating her with anything other than disdain, that she finds it harder to accept the complete acceptance Robin has for her, while the more self-deprecating side of her finds it easier to deal with Jill’s attitude towards her.

There is a little romance in this novel, but it’s more of a sub-plot than anything else and wouldn’t have actually made a difference to the impact of this novel had it not been included.

Having said that, the dynamics in the relationships that are and come to be are incredibly interesting and I especially applaud her for boldly including a romance that crosses the racial divide (as common as that is today, it’s not half as common to see in YA novels quite yet).

How the story comes full circle, is something for you to find out, but know this: Sara Zarr’s writing is beautifully understated; her less is more approach to telling this story is what makes this novel such an incredibly powerful and moving book.

What I love even more is that she doesn’t spoon feed us with information; she leaves gaps for us to fill in and make our own conclusions. 

And at the conclusion of it all, what I’ve come to know is this: I went in with little expectation but came out having gotten to know two wonderful female protagonists who each had their own battles to fight and who both came out on the other side with the knowledge that it's never too late to start (or restart) the rest of your life.

Series Spotlight and excerpt: Declan by Rae Rivers (Book 2 in The Keepers series)

On the blog today, I’m spotlighting South African romance novelist, Rae Rivers.

Rae, who is published by HarperImpulse, has written two books in a paranormal fantasy series called The Keepers so far.

In this series we’re introduced to all manner of witchy, magical things where the book world focuses on powerful women who are witches and keepers, the men who are bound by blood to protect them.

Aside from that, she’s also written a contemporary romance novel,  Cat Got Your Tongue? , which you can read more about over here.

HarperImpulse have also published Sienna,  a prequel to the Keepers series, which you can download free from Amazon.

To add Sienna and the first book, Archer to your TBR list, head on over to Goodreads. In the meantime, you can find information about Declan, book 2 in the series, along with an excerpt from the book. 

About Declan:
“You lied to me, misled me, attacked me,” Declan murmured, dipping his head toward hers, “but what we had three months ago wasn’t fake, was it?” 

 Kate's gaze faltered to his lips, heat pulsing between them. But she didn’t deny it.  

Declan Bennett has zero tolerance for thieves. He and his brothers, the Keepers, are fiercely protective of their witch, Sienna, and their privacy.   

So when Kate Carrigan breaks into their estate, he'll be damned if he lets the little wildcat get away with it – especially after she seduced him three months ago, leaving him buck-naked in a New Orleans hotel.

Declan wants payback – and some answers.  

Before she was murdered, Kate's mother ingrained it in her not to trust anyone.  Kate’s magical powers make her a pawn in the war between good and evil, a war she’s always avoided. 

Declan is everything she’s been taught to fear, even if she can’t forget the memory of his touch that one night… 

Trouble is brewing as the powers of evil regroup - bolder and hungrier than ever - and Kate is forced to choose a side.   Hot romance, epic battles and action abound in Book 2 of The Keepers.

Read an excerpt below:

“You have two options, Catwoman.” Declan turned his eyes back to her. Although it was dark, she knew their colour. She’d never been able to shrug off the memory of those expressive blue eyes that sparked with intensity and mischief.

“And I’m busting at the seams to hear them.”

“Option one is where you surrender and explain why you’re here.”

“Not appealing. And two?”

Declan waved a hand at the door. “Or you can run.”

Kate narrowed her eyes. Not quite what she’d been expecting to hear. Although his tone was easy, he dripped with challenge.

But she couldn’t leave without the daggers.

“And you’ll be after me in a flash,” she said.

“Take it or leave it.”

Apparently, his love of mischief still thrived, the trait that had drawn her to him before – along with the fact that she’d marked him from the start.

They’d met in a New Orleans bar, where they’d shared flirty comments and copious shots of whiskey.

Then, she’d had the upper hand. She’d had a plan – which might have taken a detour thanks to the alcohol and his charm – but she’d retrieved what she’d needed and run. This was entirely different.

“We both know you won’t let me leave, so why the facade?” she asked.

“Call it curiosity. I’m impressed. And tonight I’m in need of a distraction.” A slow smile softened his features. “Besides, I like a good chase like the rest of them.”

“So what is this then, cat and mouse?”

“Call it what you like. It could be fun.”

“Sure, if you’re the cat.”

“Lucky for me that I’m no mouse.”

Check out the covers for the rest of the series:

About Rae
I’m an avid reader and writer with a passion for writing romance novels.

I live in Cape Town, South Africa, with my gorgeous husband, two beautiful children and a zoo of house pets.

Besides writing, I love family time, the outdoors, travelling, watching TV series, reading and chocolate.

For more information about my books, or me, please visit:

Twitter: @raerivers1

To purchase copies of her books, you can visit her books section on her website.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Movie review: The Fault in Our Stars

You’ll fall in love with this movie the same way Hazel fell in love with Gus: slowly, and then all at once. 

Disclaimer: This review first appeared on Channel24, one of Women24’s sister sites.

Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort, Laura Dern, Nat Wolff

Josh Boone

What it’s about:
Hazel and Gus are two extraordinary teenagers who share an acerbic wit, a disdain for the conventional, and a love that sweeps them on an unforgettable journey.

Their relationship is all the more miraculous, given that they met and fell in love at a cancer support group.

The movie explores the funny, thrilling and tragic business of being alive and in love.

What I thought:

Let me start off with a quote in a feature article I recently wrote about why you should read The Fault in Our Stars before you see the movie:

“...there are books...which you can't tell people about, books so special and rare and yours that advertising your affection feels like a betrayal.” 

There’s been a lot of hype about the movie. And judging by its box office performance so far (it’s been outperforming most of the movies showing in the US alone right now), it seems as if the mania around the movie has been quite justified.

For the most part, I made a point of avoiding any articles, features and reviews about it (with the exception of watching the trailer) as I wanted to go in with only my experience of the book.

For me, the craze surrounding this movie felt exactly like people were whoring out their affection for the movie (hence the above-mentioned quote).

Having said that, I can now tell you that the movie is more than worth watching.

Not only that, but if you’ve read the book, you’ll be thrilled to know that the film adaptation remains pretty true to the book and is just as gut-wrenching and heart-breaking as the novel. 

Admittedly, I found it rather bizarre to see Ansel Elgort and Shailene Woodley - who played the role of brother and sister in another recent blockbuster hit Divergent - cast in the lead roles, but quickly got over my misgivings once the movie progressed.

The Fault in Our Stars is at once charming, quirky and devastating.

It’s the kind of movie that will have you believing in the ridiculousness and romanticism of love, while also being brutally blunt in its reminder that life is filled with heartache and tragedy.

Ansel Elgort shines in his role as the adorable, albeit smart and cocky wiseass, Augustus Waters, while Shailene Woodley’s portrayal as Hazel Lancaster is tinged with a poignancy that really shines through during the most harrowing moments of the movie.

What took a while getting used to was the dialogue.

While the characters in the book speak with voices that are much older than their actual age, something which worked incredibly well in the book, I’m not quite sure that it worked as well for the movie.

For me, it felt almost as if the characters were performing a recitation, which resulted in moments of stilted awkwardness. It’s not all bad though; the times when the interactions between Hazel and Gus impress most are when their exchanges are sweet, sappy, playful and heartbreaking.

I adored the clever little speech bubbles that pop up on the screen when the two of them text each other; a device which gives the movie a rather manic pixie-ish vibe, which is rather appropriate considering that I view Hazel as being someone that falls into that category.

The settings of the movie (a good portion of the movie is set in Amsterdam as Hazel, Gus and her mother make the trip to meet Hazel’s all time favourite author), along with the musical backdrop (the music is absolutely exquisite by the way), also gives the movie that bohemian vibe that reminds me of the movie, Amelie.    

It’s here that love collides and bursts into full bloom until the impending doom of tragedy sets in. You’ll be on a rollercoaster ride of laughter, tears and more tears. The supporting characters (Isaac, Gus’s friend for example), shine just as brightly, but it’s really Hazel and Gus’s story that will stay with you the longest.

The Fault in Our Stars, while not perfect, is a beautiful rendition, one that’s worth seeing and one that will satisfy most lovers of the book.

Do yourselves a favour and go watch it. But don’t forget to take tissues with. You’re going to need them.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Author guest post: Why I adore the YA genre by Jodi Lamm

Today I’d like to welcome Jodi Lamm, author of YA novels, Titan Magic series to my blog today. In her guest post today, Jodi tells us about her love of YA – a subject that all lovers of this genre can so very well relate to.

There never seems to be a week that goes by without a negative article about young adult fiction appearing in every corner of the web, which is why I always love writing and featuring guest posts about how awesome the YA genre is and just how much there is to love about it.

And really, we all know that most people who have something bad to say about Teen fiction have limited to absolutely no experience with the genre.  In today’s post, Jodi not only responds to the question about why she writes YA, but also what she loves most about the genre.

Check out her post below, followed by info about her books.

3 Reasons I love YA fiction

The question people usually ask after they find out I write is, "What do you write?" And my answer is something like, "Well, my last book was a YA, Victorian fantasy about a girl who finds out she's a golem."

Then responses start to vary. Most people are interested and encouraging.

But sometimes, and more often than I would have predicted, people respond directly to the genre. More specifically, the YA part of the genre.

"Why would you write YA, when you could write adult books: thrillers, comedies, mysteries? Why not picture books?"
I don't know why, but for some reason YA is a no-fly zone for people who don't typically read it.

Honestly, I don't get it. I love YA, not exclusively, but it's a great treasure trove of literature, and I think people are missing out on some gorgeous stories by dismissing it.

With that in mind, I thought I'd list the top three reasons I personally enjoy reading and writing YA.

1. It's paced for my attention span
I love a good, long read every now and then. I love to baste my brain in a story for months on end, and I have. But I also like to read slowly.

I like to savor every word, and that becomes a problem when the book is a monstrous volume in the vein of Susana Clarke's Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norell (which was brilliant, but a tome nonetheless).

A faster-paced novel that isn't cutting on quality makes slow reading more feasible. I call these novels dark chocolate because they're so rich in language and feeling, you don't have to spend a year reading them to feel they truly made an impact on your life.

And to be honest, I've found as many YA books that fall into this category as books written exclusively for older adults.

2. I appreciate its love of storytelling.
While not universally true, in my personal experience, pure love of storytelling is easier to find in books for younger people.

I have my theories about why.

Mostly, they deal with the way academia has turned its nose up at genre fiction in the past, and how adults in general are better at being ashamed of "guilty pleasures."

Bells and whistles are lovely, and I'd be the last person to complain about hidden symbolism and meaning in a story (I'm sure I gleefully see it where it isn't), but when those bells and whistles are louder than the actual story, I get antsy.

Some of my fondest memories are of sitting around a campfire and telling ghost stories just for the joy of it.

YA (and MG even more so) is like this to me. The story is almost always bigger than its classroom discussion could ever be.

I love that, and I missed it enormously in college, where we would sometimes break from a lengthy, serious seminar on James Joyce to bond over our simple love for Harry Potter.

3. Why not?
I've never understood this new attitude we seem to have, culturally, that we mustn't take stories about younger people seriously. It really is the strangest thing. Since when is the age of a story's protagonist any indication of its quality or merit?

Was Lord of the Flies all fluff because its characters were adolescents? What about The Catcher in the Rye, which would probably be considered NA these days? And Frankenstein was written by a teenager, for crying out loud.

 These have all shaped our culture. They're both important and fun, which is totally possible, I swear. Now some might say, "It isn't the protagonist that makes it YA or MG; it's the intended audience."

To that I say, "So what? I was a child and a teenager, too.

I haven't forgotten what that was like. And most of my childhood and high school favorites still hold up today."

So those are my top three reasons for reading and writing YA. I'm not saying I'll never write a book for adults (or that I haven't already done so and trunked the thing), or an MG book, or even a picture book.

But right now, YA is a rich and varied super-genre I haven't begun to grow tired of.

About Titan Magic
Mute, heartless, and tormented by auditory hallucinations, Madeleine Lavoie never questions why her family has hidden her from the world.

But the night her brother casts her out, she learns the mysterious voice she thought existed only in her mind is no delusion, and no matter how hard she tries, she can never disobey it.

Now Madeleine must find her own voice in a cacophony of powerful tyrants, monsters, and gods.

If she fails, she will forfeit her life and the lives of everyone who loves her.

But if she succeeds, she may finally gain the ability to love someone in return.

Add it to your Goodreads TBR pile

Ebook: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo Paperback: Amazon, Createspace

About Jodi
Jodi Lamm is the author of the Titan Magic Trilogy and a little novel called Chemistry. She was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest, where she currently lives with The Other Lamm, three furry creatures, a parrot/evil overlord, and a variety of musical instruments. She writes for the love of storytelling.

She’s addicted to fantasy, ghost stories, and anything with just the right amount of eerie romance.

Check out her website here.
Follow her on Twitter.
Check out her Goodreads profile.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Author guest post: 5 important things you should know about the magical realm of Sunthyst (the book world in The Guardian’s Wyrd) by Nerine Dorman

Today I’d like to welcome South African author, Nerine Dorman to my blog. Nerine’s no stranger here as the last time she guest posted on my blog, she wrote a feature on 10 Indie/small press titles that she thinks are definitely worth reading.

This time around, the focus is on her and her latest book The Guardian’s Wyrd, a young adult fantasy novel set in the magical world of Sunthyst.

Now I don’t know about you, but when it comes to fantasy novels and fictional worlds created from scratch, I’m always interested to find out what the world is like, which is why Nerine has kindly agreed to write a post on what we can expect in her book.

Before we get on to the post though, here’s some information about the book to give you an idea of what it’s all about.

About The Guardian’s Wyrd
Sometimes having a fairytale prince as a best friend can be a real pain.

Jay didn't realise that sticking up for Rowan, the gangly new kid at school, would plunge him into the dangers and politics of the magical realm of Sunthyst.

But if anyone is up for the challenge it's Jay September.

With his trusty dog, Shadow, at his side, he braves the Watcher in the dark that guards the tunnels between the worlds, and undertakes a dangerous quest to rescue the prince.

It's a race against time - can he sneak Prince Rowan away from under King Lessian's nose and bring him safely back home - all before the prince's sixteenth birthday?

Or is Rowan's mother, the exiled Queen Persia, secretly trying to hold onto her power by denying her son his birthright?

Jay is ready for anything, except, perhaps, the suffocating darkness of the tunnels. And that howling…

Add The Guardian’s Wyrd to your Goodreads TBR pile.

Over to Nerine

Some of my regular readers will already know that my YA fantasy novel, The Guardian's Wyrd is out.

Many thanks to Tammy for asking me over today to share five important things you should know about the magical realm of Sunthyst where much of the action takes place...


Well, kinda. Okay, we call them wolven,  and they're not very cuddly.  Nor do they shift into human shape. Think of a 12-foot humanoid monster with a wolf-like head, sharp claws and a very bad temper... yup.

That's the wolven for you. Fortunately they're rare because the king's soldiers have warred against them for many years. This is good to know, because if you ever survive a wolven bite, you become moon-cursed, which is kinda like being a werewolf. Just try not to get bitten.


Sounds great, right? Maybe. There are small magics, like the goatherd who can speak to birds that will warn him if there are wolves nearby.

There are also big magics, like the royal architect who can construct buildings made out of solid amethyst. But all that magic comes with a price, and the bigger the magic, the higher the cost. Big, complex enchantments can easily blow up, so be careful.


Things aren't all wine and roses in the magical realm of Sunthyst.

Not only is the land recovering from a recent civil war that resulted in the exile of a queen, but there are magical beings like the Skree, and you sure as hell don't want to share a drink with them either.

They are tricksy shapeshifters who delight in causing chaos.


You've heard stories about faerie folk kidnapping humans? Well, if you ever wondered what happens to folk who go missing back home, loads of them end up in Sunthyst as slaves or indentured servants.

It's not cool, I know, but for all its wonders,  Sunthyst has its dark side of which you should be well aware, especially since you're from Earth. If you ever find yourself headed to Sunthyst, be sure to blend in otherwise you might just end up scrubbing pots for some wealthy noble who bought you at the market.


Yes, there's loads of stuff in Sunthyst that may prove hazardous to your health, but there's some pretty neat stuff too, namely unicorns.

But forget the gentle white beasts of fairytales. Unicorns here can bite, and when you see their fangs, you'll understand why hunters are very careful not to make them angry.

But don't worry. Unicorns won't eat people. Besides, most of them are cleverer than your maths teacher at school too. And it stands to reason, if there are unicorns, then here be dragons too...

About Nerine:
An editor and multi-published author, Nerine Dorman currently resides in Cape Town, South Africa, with her visual artist husband.

Some of the publishers for whom she has edited works include Dark Continents Publishing and eKhaya (an imprint of Random House Struik).

Her fiction sales include works to Dark Continents Publishing, Wordsmack, Tor Books, Apex Publishing and Immanion Press.

She has been involved in the media industry for more than a decade, with a background in magazine and newspaper publishing, commercial fiction, independent filmmaking, print production management and advertising.

Her book reviews, as well as travel, entertainment and lifestyle editorial regularly appear in national newspapers and online. A few of her interests include music, travel, history, Egypt, art, photography, psychology, philosophy, magic and the natural world.

She is the editor of the Bloody Parchment anthologies, Volume One; Hidden Things, Lost Things and Other Stories; and The Root Cellar and Other Stories. In addition, she also organises the annual Bloody Parchment event in conjunction with the South African HorrorFest.

She is also a founding member and co-ordinator for the Adamastor Writers’ Guild; edits The Egyptian Society of South Africa’s quarterly newsletter, SHEMU; and from time to time assists on set with the award-winning BlackMilk Productions.

Purchase The Guardian's Wyrd

Where you can find Nerine online:
Sign up for my newsletter
Stalk me on Twitter