Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Book review: The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin (a repost)

Update: Recently reread this book because I'm finally reading The Evolution of Mara Dyer in preparation for The Retribution of Mara Dyer.

My opinion of the book is relatively unchanged and I'm really enjoying the second book in the trilogy so far.

Disclaimer:


An edited and slightly shortened version of this review appeared on Women24.com, a South African women's lifestyle website where I manage, amongst other things, an online books section.

The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer
What would you do when the line between reality and insanity begins to blur?

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


The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin (Simon Pulse)
Michelle Hodkin’s The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer is one of the most intense and creepiest books that I’ve read in a long, long time.

It’s a compelling and engaging story made all the more chilling by the fact the book, in some parts, are inspired by real events.

Having said that, you should probably know that The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer is not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. Once I read the book, I could actually understand why it’s been getting such a lot of mixed responses.

The reason for this is that, Mara Dyer, for all of its gritty and edgy storytelling, is not a straightforward read.

The book has a habit of moving between what’s real and what’s not, so much so, that you’re often left feeling utterly bewildered by many of the events that take place within the book.

Personally, I think this technique worked brilliantly for the novel considering the fact that we, as the reader, bear witness to just how Mara, the main protagonist of the story, unravels throughout the novel.

The book kicks off when Mara, who is a high school student, wakes up from a horrific accident in which her boyfriend,  her best friend and her boyfriend’s sister have all died after an old, abandoned building (once an asylum) collapses on them.

With no recollection of the events that led to the demise of her friends, doctors suggest that she and her family move to a new city to start over in the hopes of helping her to deal with her trauma, her memory loss and the constant reminders of what she’s lost.

But starting over is anything but easy for Mara. For one, the dead faces of her friends start showing up wherever she goes and, for another, she seems to have developed an ability to see people’s deaths right before they actually happen.

It’s not long before Mara starts skirting on the edges of a breakdown, questioning her own sanity as she tries to decide what’s real and what’s not.

To complicate matters even further, her new school’s resident bad boy (who may have a few interesting secrets of his own) refuses to leave her alone.

What’s happening to her? Is she going crazy? Is there something more sinister at hand and most importantly, what is her fractured mind trying to hide regarding the truth of the events that led to the death of her friends?

Call me twisted, but I get a huge kick out of reading books that mess with my mind. The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer? It’s definitely a book that plays on your senses and keeps you on edge throughout the entire novel.

The brilliance of this novel lies in the fact you as the reader, are every bit as unsure of where the lines between reality and hallucinations blur as Mara is. Just when you think things are clear-cut, reality shifts and makes way for disturbing revelations that are, in fact, not always hallucinations.

What’s even better is, that when you realise that some of the hallucinations are in fact an actuality, the book takes on a completely different dimension, adding a paranormal element that’s both insidious and fascinating in its pervasive and sinister creepiness.

In short, you’ll be reading every single page with an increasing impending sense of doom.

To be fair, I do think Mara is character that’s not necessarily easy to like. Personally, I loved her, but the fact that she’s a broken, angst-filled, tormented and at times, angry character who is given to bouts of woe-is-me moments,  won’t win her much sympathy with a few.

Also, you should be warned that because the subject matter is dark, and we’re dealing with the unravelling of a young girl’s mind, reading about the trauma she experiences, and bearing witness to some of the very weird events that happen around her, The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer does not make for a happy read.

Of course, I am a firm believer that books that border on the twisted side, should have a little light in them to balance things out and luckily for us, Michelle Hodkin more than obliges when it comes to the romantic element of the story.

Boy, were some of those scenes just swoon-worthy! And Noah Shaw, Mara’s love interest,  is a bona fide bad boy completely worth crushing on.

I love a good, realistic pacing of romantic moments between characters, and Michelle has managed to pace the romantic sub-plot in a way that’s funny, realistic, steamy and sweet.

Of course, the most interesting aspect about the novel is Mara. Her journey isn’t just interesting because she seems to be falling apart, but when the reason for the deaths of her friends are revealed, you’re left reeling because the twist that comes with the revelation is definitely not what you’ll be expecting.

Of course, the fact that she’s based on a girl that’s very real will have you wondering, just what part of the book is the closest to the truth and what part is fiction (Michelle is very clever in the sense that she doesn’t reveal all about what is true and what’s not, leaving the reader to decide between that which is fact and that which is fiction).

So, does the revelation about herself make up for the moments of Mara perceives as insanity?

Well, based on the cliffhanger ending, I’d say that the reader will only find out how Mara deals with everything she learns and has learnt about herself, in the next book, The Evolution of Mara Dyer.

Do yourselves a favour and get yourself a copy - this may prove to be one of the most disturbing and interesting books you’ll read this year. I can’t wait for the second one!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Author guest post: At the heart of climate fiction by Kat Ross

Today I’m featuring quite an intriguing post on a sub-genre of science fiction that everyone is probably familiar with, but which is rarely talked about in a way that other dominating genres are discussed.

Cli-fi. Or climate fiction, if you will.

While I do believe that cli-fi features a fair amount of elements that are similar to the dystopian sub-genre of sci-fi, climate fiction seems to focus more specifically on the impacts of climate change and it’s relation to the psychological effect it has on the human psyche.

Granted, dystopic fiction has this as well, but I’ve always found it to be much more action and plot-orientated than character driven.

At least, that is my basic understanding of one of the many differences between the two sub-sections within the science fiction genre.

Admittedly, this is a genre I don’t read nearly enough of (and as such, my understanding is rather limited – something I plan on fixing asap), which is why I’m so thrilled to have Kat Ross, author of the YA cli-fi novel, Some Fine Day, on my blog today.

In today’s guest post, Kat elaborates a little on the genre and tells us how her novel was borne out of her fascination with all things climate related.

Before I hand over to Kat, check out some info on her book below.

About Some Fine Day:
A generation ago, continent-sized storms called hypercanes caused the Earth to flood. The survivors were forced to retreat deep underground and build a new society.

This is the story that sixteen-year-old Jansin Nordqvist has heard all of her life.

Jansin grew up in a civilization far below the Earth’s surface. She’s spent the last eight years in military intelligence training.

So when her parents surprise her with a coveted yet treacherous trip above ground, she’s prepared for anything. She’s especially thrilled to feel the fresh air, see the sun, and view the wide-open skies and the ocean for herself.

But when raiders attack Jansin’s camp and take her prisoner, she is forced to question everything she’s been taught.

What do her captors want? How will she get back underground? And if she ever does, will she want to stay after learning the truth?

Some Fine Day is available for purchase on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. You can find more reader reviews on Goodreads.

SA readers - Raru has got this book for such a great price.

You can check out the trailer here.

Over to Kat….

On writing cli-fi

So I was reading The Onion (America's Finest News Source!) a few years back and they had a very funny and macabre story about a "hurriphoonado" tearing through the northern and southern hemispheres, and it got me thinking.

As a journalist, I'd covered climate change issues for almost a decade, and every year, the warnings from scientists became increasingly dire.

There seemed to be such a profound disconnect between what they—the smart people—were saying and what policy-makers were doing about it (ahem, such as the U.S. Republican Party's shameful denialism).

So I wrote a story that asks: what if we did nothing until it was too late? What if the worst-case scenarios actually come to pass?

In Some Fine Day, massive, permanent superstorms stalk the planet's surface, and the last remnants of civilization had no choice but to relocate deep underground.

This idea was partly inspired by H.G. Wells' Time Machine, in which he imagines a distant future inhabited by two species: the crude, violent troglodytes called Morlocks, and the innocent, indolent Eloi.

So many story ideas start with a musing "what if," and here was another one of mine: What if it were the other way around?

What if the technologically advanced race lived deep in the Earth, while the primitives were left to fend for themselves on the surface?

Not all cli-fi takes such a dystopian view of the future (see Margaret Atwood's MaddAddam trilogy).

But let's face it: the prospects right now aren't looking good.

Very few countries are stepping up to the plate on the kind of drastic emissions cuts that climate scientists say we need to avert disaster.

Although my book falls squarely into the cli-fi sub genre, I don't use the phrase "climate change" once.

I didn't think it was really necessary, and I didn't want to distract from the story. The last thing anyone wants to read is a preachy "issue" book—unless of course you've gone out to buy one on purpose!

As Atwood said recently, "It’s rather useless to write a gripping narrative with nothing in it but climate change because novels are always about people even if they purport to be about rabbits or robots. They’re still really about people because that’s who we are and that’s what we write stories about."

So in the spirit of books with a great storyline and characters, here's a few of my favorite cli-fi's:





 


 
Odds Against Tomorrow by Nathaniel Rich














The Carbon Diaries 2015, by Saci Lloyd














Survival Colony 9 by Joshua David Bellin










 


For even more suggestions, Goodreads also has a shelf devoted to climate fiction.

Thanks for stopping by Kat.

For more info on Kat, see below:


Kat Ross was born and raised in New York City and worked several jobs before turning to journalism and creative writing.

An avid traveler and adventurer, she now lives with her family—along with a beagle, a ginger cat, and six fish—far enough outside the city that skunks and deer wander through her backyard.

You can find Kat on Twitter and her website.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Book review: The Infinite Sea by Rick Yancey

The wildly successful follow up to Rick Yancey’s award-winning dystopian fiction novel, The 5th Wave. 

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


The Infinite Sea by Rick Yancey (published in 2014 by Penguin Books)

Please note: Given that this book is the second book in The 5th Wave trilogy, there will be some spoilers for the first book.

You can purchase a copy of both books on Raru.co.za

What a phenomenal, phenomenal sequel.  I loved the first book and as such, had high hopes that The Infinite Sea would be just as good, if not better than The 5th Wave.

And, boy, was I completely blown away!

While I do think that The 5th Wave is still slightly better than The Infinite Sea, the unpredictable plot twists, character motivations and alien machinations had me both savouring and devouring this book.

Every theory I had was blown out of the water.

Just when I thought it was headed in one direction, something completely out of left field would leave my jaw hanging.

For me, these are the best kind of books to read, because it shows that the author is truly thinking beyond the reader’s ability to predict obvious plot lines. 

Before I get into the nitty gritty details of this review, you have to know that this is not a series or trilogy that can be read as a standalone. You have to read the first book in order to be able to understand the events that unfold in this book.

Oh, and if it’s been a while since you’ve read The 5th Wave, I would highly, highly recommend that you give the book a reread before you dive into this one. 

When I first started The Infinite Sea, I quickly realised that while I knew the characters, I couldn’t remember some of the events and how each protagonist fit into the whole scheme of things, which is why I decided I needed to reread the book before I started on The Infinite Sea.

And I am so glad that I did, because it made it a lot easier to follow events in the second book.

The book switches between multiple points of view and reveals quite a bit of back story behind some of the characters - something I loved about the book, but which I know can be a little confusing.   

When we last left off, Camp Haven (the alien death camp where Sam, our main protagonist Cassie’s younger brother was being held), was completely destroyed by the human/alien hyprid Evan Walker.

With his help, Cassie, Sam and Ben manage to escape the death trap with Ringer, Dumbo, Poundcake and Teacup, and end up in a rat-infested hotel, taking some time out to regroup and allow Ben to heal properly after being shot.

From EMPs, to a global tsunami, viral plague and deadly silencers, this rag-tag group have, in spite of everything, managed to outwit and outsmart the lethal attacks systematically set out to destroy the inhabitants of earth.

In The Infinite Sea, our protagonists are faced with a whole new set of challenges. With Ben severely injured, Evan missing and presumed dead, the group decide that the next best thing to do would be to split up and send someone ahead in search of other survivors.

Except, everything goes to hell in a hand basket.

With barely any trust remaining between the humans, the youngsters soon find themselves being separated and fighting for their lives once again. 

And no matter how hard they try to avoid trouble, the others are onto them and are willing to sink to even lower depths to cleanse the earth of humanity for good.

Rick Yancey’s The 5th Wave books are really shaping up to be one of my favourite dystopian novels in a trilogy yet. 

Everything about this series is pretty phenomenal.

From the characters (he has some of the most well-rounded and kick-ass female characters I’ve ever come across in books), to his plot lines and twists (it’s really, really hard to predict what will happen in his books), Rick offers the reader a one-way trip into a world that will keep you reading right until the end of the page and longing for so much more.

His writing in this book is as excellent as it was in the first book - stark, yet beautifully lyrical – using contrast and juxtaposition that actually really works well in such a bleak setting.

He truly captures the essence of hope and hopelessness and despair and resilience of the human spirit in the midst of apocalyptic circumstances. 

And trust me, these are characters that have every single reason to give up, especially after they discover just what it is that the others are doing with young children.

Don’t worry. You get a pretty good idea of just how awful they are at the beginning of the book already.

Made you curious, didn’t I?

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Author guest post: Into The Dark; or Retellings for Children and Grown-Ups by Cat Hellisen + win a copy of Beastkeeper (Open internationally)

Today I’m thrilled to have the lovely Cat Hellisen on my blog today. Cat, whose book Beastkeeper, a middle-grade retelling of Beauty and the Beast, is officially out in the wild today (yay! Happy book birthday Cat), has kindly taken the time to write a guest post about one of my favourite topics of all time.

Fairy tales and retellings.

Because who doesn’t love a new twist on a good ol’ timeless tale that spans over and beyond centuries upon centuries?

And with Cat’s book taking a whole new approach to Beauty and the Beast, well, I thought it would be the perfect way to celebrate her book’s release by featuring a post written by her on her love of fairy tales and how Beastkeeper eventually took shape.

Before I hand over to Cat though, here’s some info about her fabulous new book (which I’ll be reviewing soon) 

About Beastkeeper
Sarah has always been on the move. Her mother hates the cold, so every few months her parents pack their bags and drag her off after the sun.

She’s grown up lonely and longing for magic. She doesn’t know that it’s magic her parents are running from.

When Sarah’s mother walks out on their family, all the strange old magic they have tried to hide from comes rising into their mundane world.

Her father begins to change into something wild and beastly, but before his transformation is complete, he takes Sarah to her grandparents—people she has never met, didn’t even know were still alive.

Deep in the forest, in a crumbling ruin of a castle, Sarah begins to untangle the layers of curses affecting her family bloodlines, until she discovers that the curse has carried over to her, too.

The day she falls in love for the first time, Sarah will transform into a beast . . . unless she can figure out a way to break the curse forever..

Add to your Goodreads shelf

Purchase a copy from the following retailers:

Exclusive books
Kobo
Raru

Over to Cat
Into The Dark; or Retellings for Children and Grown-Ups
As a child I was spoonfed stories and poems with my porridge. I drank in wonder with my morning glass of milk.

My family owned a fat book of nursery rhymes with annotations on meaning and origins, and a delightful collection of illustrated Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tales.

These books, with their bright words and eerie colour plates, were the diet I grew strange on. Naturally when I turned to writing, they curled through my own work; their tendrils drew my words together.

Even (especially?) as an adult, I've not left fairy tales behind.

A few years ago I took part in an online course (I'm a big fan of always learning, this is the one - https://www.coursera.org/course/fantasysf) and it was interesting to look back on the seemingly simplistic fairy tales collected by the Grimm brothers, and see just how dark and adult the imagery actually is.

Children can take a lot more darkness than we give them credit for. They are not simpletons with no understanding of the complexity of human relationships; they pick up on subtleties that adults assume they miss.

But at the same time, a child is not a mini-adult. They have their own, far stranger, take on day-today life. Their heads are still free, magic is still real. Neil Gaiman knows this – just read Coraline or The Graveyard Book.

My favourite retold stories draw on all that half-remembered darkness of childhood fairy tales.

Even at the heart of some least-likely candidates, the children's stories are waiting for us (read Clive Barker's Weaveworld as an example of what a fantastical horror writer for adults does with those fragments of buried tales and myths).

Retellings can also take a well-known classic and shine away the patina of stale repetition, and give us something new.

An excellent place to look for retellings of your favourite tales is SurlaLune (beware, this site is dangerous, you may end up never leaving).

Have a look for the tale that interests you, and find modern interpretations – here's an example using the Wild Swans, a story that horrifies and fascinates me in equal measure – http://www.surlalunefairytales.com/sixswans/themes.html.

Some feel like palimpsests, where only faintly under the new story can you see the traceries of the old, while others are more rigid in their interpretation.

When I set out to write Beastkeeper (A Beauty and the Beast, but only if you squint), I had no particular reader age in mind. I wrote a book I wanted to read. In my head, it was something of a meeting between Angela Carter and Diana Wynne Jones (both authors I really recommend you look into if you haven't already, as they are fantastic).

I began with an image of a 12-year-old girl watching her family fall apart, wanting so badly for there to be a spell, a miracle that could take her out of the reality....and then I gave her magic.

Not in the way she wanted it. I gave her wicked grandparents, parents who were beasts, curses that were driven by love and jealousy. I took a lonely girl and made her lonelier, and I watched to see what she would do.

However the tales are retold, we return to them because they are the secret dreams of where we began, ripe with poisoned apples, healing kisses, beastly humans and human beasts.

Through them we remember magic.

About Cat:
Cat Hellisen is an author of fantasy for adults and young adults. Born in 1977 in Cape Town, South Africa, she has also lived in Johannesburg, Knysna, and Nottingham.

She originally studied graphic design at Technikon Witwatersrand, before realising that she had no interest at all in the world of advertising.

She began writing seriously at age twenty-five but it was not until 2010 that she sold her first full-length novel, When the Sea is Rising Red.

Her children’s book Beastkeeper, a play on the old tale of Beauty and the Beast, is out now!

Where to find Cat online:

And now, time for a giveaway.

I’m offering one lucky reader a chance to win a copy of Beastkeeper. The giveaway is open internationally, but please do make sure that the Book Depository ships to your country, as that is where I’ll be ordering the book from.

All you need to do is leave a comment telling me what your favourite fairy tale of all time is, and why you love that specific tale so much.

Bonus entry if you also recommend some great retellings you’ve read.

Giveaway closes on 18 February.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Mini book review: Banished by Liz de Jager

Welcome to another mini book reviews edition of my blog.

In today’s mini reviews feature, I share my brief thoughts on Liz de Jager’s Banished. 

Summary from Goodreads (published by TorUK in 2014) 
Kit is proud to be a Blackhart, now she’s encountered her unorthodox cousins and their strange lives.

And her home-schooling now includes spells, fighting enemy fae and using ancient weapons. But it’s not until she rescues a rather handsome fae prince, fighting for his life on the edge of Blackhart Manor, that her training really kicks in.

With her family away on various missions, Kit must protect Prince Thorn, rely on new friends and use her own unfamiliar magic to stay ahead of Thorn’s enemies.

As things go from bad to apocalyptic, fae battle fae in a war that threatens to spill into the human world. Then Kit pits herself against the Elder Gods themselves – it’s that or lose everyone she’s learnt to love.

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


My thoughts:

What a fun, jam-packed with action little read. I've always been a fan of fairy books and Banished, despite its flaws (I feel as if this needed more of an edit as some sentences were rather clumsily constructed), proved to be right up my alley.

Kit Blackheart is probably one of the most phenomenal and butt-kicking female characters I've come across in urban fantasy - I often had to ask myself how this little daredevil was still alive, given all the unwise risks that she took.

There were quite a number of surprises in this book, and I particularly loved how Liz cleverly diverted my attention from figuring out who else was involved in the plot.

From the start Liz gives us an inkling of an attempted coup being plotted, but there is a twist that I admittedly didn't see coming (although, with hindsight, it's one that I probably should have seen).

The cast of supporting characters were certainly interesting in their own way, although Kit is definitely the one that stood out most for me.

Not quite sure how to feel about the romance between Kit and Prince Thorn, the fae prince she rescues (and mostly keeps having to rescue, although Thorn is definitely no shrinking violet), but it would be interesting to see how things develop in the second book and beyond.

The world building in this book is pretty incredible as well. There are all manner of fae creatures and Liz liberally peppers her book with information and history of said otherworldly beings at the beginning of almost every chapter.

My copy of Vowed, the second book in the Blackheart Legacy series is sitting on my desk waiting to be read, and I really hope it will follow the format that is employed in Banished.

All in all, Liz de Jager’s Banished is a book that's a) worth checking out, and b) worth continuing onto the next book.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Book talk: What's your favourite word?

What would stories be if they had no words to form them?

A lovely friend and colleague of mine recently wrote a post about her top 5 favourite words.  I couldn’t help but geek out when I read her article.

You see, as a bibliophile and word nerd, it’s simply not possible for me to love books and ignore the prose within them (yes, yes, I can all hear you saying ‘duh’, but bear with me, I do have a point to make).

Sure, we all read for the characters and the story and the adventures that liberate us from reality for the duration of the book, but what would those stories be if they had no words to form them?

And what would conversations be if we didn’t have them?

Words are beauty and cruelty. They can be used to mock, or be used to seduce. They can cajole, lure and manipulate, and they can move you to tears, evoke a sense of wonder and most importantly, breathe life into your imagination.

There is power and magic in words. And there is a good reason that the old saying about pen being mightier than the sword exists.

We have a pretty formidable weapon we can wield, and often we opt to use it to hurt and silence voices already struggling to be heard. 

In the spirit of all things wordy, I thought I’d share 5 of my favourite words. In no particular order, they are as follows:

 Gossamer
- a fine, filmy cobweb seen on grass or bushes or floating in the air in calm weather, especially in autumn.

Because the word brings to mind fairies flitting about in gauzy little outfits and dragonfly wings.

Miasma
- a dangerous, foreboding, or deathlike influence or atmosphere.

This can also refer to "noxious exhalations from putrescent organic matter; poisonous effluvia or germs polluting the atmosphere,” but I much prefer the above-mentioned definition.

Petrichor
- a pleasant smell that frequently accompanies the first rain after a long period of warm, dry weather.

I’ve always associated this with romance and new beginnings, and because every time I see this word, I can immediately conjure the actual scent of the rain, following its downpour.

Mellifluous
- sweetly or smoothly flowing; sweet-sounding:

The definition is exactly what it feels like when you say the word out loud, don’t you think?

Melancholy
- a gloomy state of mind, especially when habitual or prolonged; depression.

I’m a sucker for sad and beautiful words and things, and melancholy pretty much embodies this in every way. I’m all about the angst, yes.

I asked some Women24 book club newsletter readers to tell me about their favourite words; this is how you responded:

Leighanne

Pareidolia - I just love that there's a word for the experience we have all had at sometime or another - seeing or the ability to see a human face in inanimate or abstract objects.

I have often 'seen' beautiful women, feuding lovers, horses in the rust patches of my dad's car, the peeling paint from a wall or water splashes on the bathroom floor after a shower.

Wendy

I love the word Soliloquy – it sounds so mysterious and intriguing.

(I like the fact that few people know what it means *blush* ‘cause I do. How’s that for a 3-year old rationale? LOL!)

Carol


Scintillating – because it conjures up all things bling, bright and beautiful.

Michelle

Superfluous - unnecessary, especially through being more than enough.

I am not exactly sure why this is one of my favourite words but I really like the flow of the word; and the fact that it has too many vowels shows the meaning in my opinion.

Lusanda

Vociferous is my favourite word only because it sounds very forceful - carries a lot of weight without one even having to know what it means. Just pronouncing the word gives me goosebumps. Weird I know.

What's your favourite word and why? Leave a comment and let me know.
 

Disclaimer:
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.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Book review: My True Love Gave to Me: Twelve Holiday Stories by Stephanie Perkins

A delicious little read that will make you feel all the fizzy and cotton candy feels.

My True Love Gave to Me edited by Stephanie Perkins (Macmillan Children’s Books)
My True Love Gave to Me, edited by Stephanie Perkins (who also contributes to this anthology), is a delightful, adorable and quirky little read.

It's the kind of book that proved to be exactly what I needed to kick start 2015 – and it’s a read that I’d recommend to anyone in search of a feel good, pick-me-up read.

Don’t be fooled though – while these stories can be described as being fluffy, they’re little shorts with plenty of substance and enough heart to soothe any angst-ridden soul.

There’s a little something in here for everyone; from contemporary and magic realism, to urban and paranormal fantasy, this collection of YA novellas is wonderfully diverse and beautifully written. 

Below, I share just a few quick thoughts about each novelette.

Midnights by Rainbow Rowell – Ah, Rainbow Rowell. Can you ever do anything wrong in my eyes? I think not. 

What I loved about this story is how much it just reinforced my love for Fangirl. Rainbow is the queen of eccentrically cute dialogue and as with Fangirl, she absolutely nails the character voices in Midnights. Noel and Mags are made of epic adorableness.

The Lady and the Fox by Kelly Link – Ooh, this one has got to be my favourite. I know, I’m surprised as well, as I was fully expecting to love the Laini Taylor one more.

Given that this is somewhat of a fractured fairy tale, which includes (if you squint) elements of The Snow Queen and (more obvious) a retelling of Tam Lin (one of my favourite Scottish ballads of all time), it hardly comes as a surprise that I’d adore this one.

Strangely enough, I was first put off with the rather stilted, staccato-like sentence structure, but the more I read, the more lyrical and beautiful this story and imagery became. I’ll definitely be revisiting this story over and over again.

Angels in the Snow by Matt de la Peña  - A fabulous interracial romance (male protagonist is half Mexican, female protagonist is white), by an author I haven’t heard of before? Talk about a fabulous new discovery. 

I loved the writing, I adored and felt for the characters (starving Mexican scholarship boy who loves music, meets wealthy girl desperately trying to get out of a relationship that’s going nowhere) and just generally fell in love with the flow of the story.

Polaris is Where You'll Find Me by Jenny Han - Oh what a bittersweet but exquisitely written little read. There’s just something about an awkward misfit pining for a boy she can’t have (in this case an elf, because elves aren’t allowed to be with humans), that makes my soul ache. 

Seriously though, why haven’t I read any of Jenny Han’s books before? I’ve heard loads of fabulous things about her, but have never gotten around to reading any of her other books, something I plan on rectifying as soon as possible.

It's a Yuletide Miracle, Charlie Brown by Stephanie Perkins – Oh my gosh. This little short is made of all the fabulous things. Diverse characters, deep family themes AND  two protagonists that will make your face light up like the Christmas tree that features in this story. 

I’ve only read Anna and the French Kiss so far, but I reckon it’s time that I hurry up and get around to reading the rest of her books. This novella only served to remind me why I was so charmed with her writing first time around.

Your Temporary Santa by David Levithan – A Jewish Santa sneaks into the house of his boyfriend in order to surprise his boyfriend’s younger sister.

This short story is told from the perspective of our would-be Santa and has a rather melancholy touch in the sense that you, like the boyfriend (who remains nameless throughout the tale), feel very much like an outsider looking in. 

I really loved this one and actually wished that this one could have been longer.

Krampuslauf by Holly Black -  It’s Holly Black at her urban fantasy best in this short story about a hooved boy – a satyr if you really want to go into specifics – wished to life by one feisty girl with an extremely vivid and dreamy imagination. 

My favourite kind of character, really.

What the Hell Have You Done, Sophie Roth? – by Gayle Forman – Now this one was absolutely fabulous. I admit that I struggled with this in the beginning – I wasn’t particularly a fan of the writing – but then, what Gayle did next was awesome.

She flipped roles in every sense of the word. White, Jewish scholarship girl and a wealthy black boy? Not only does this go against every single stereotype about both the Jewish and Black community, but it’s done in an incredibly believable manner.

The chemistry between the two? So palpable.  It filled my heart with all the happy feels.

Beer Buckets and Baby Jesus by Myra McEntire – Ha! All the giggles were had with this one. How could it not when you have a borderline delinquent pining after the local pastor’s daughter? Super cute and filled with all manner of hilarious shenanigans.

Welcome to Christmas, CA by Kiersten White – The magical power of food is at the heart of this novella set in a small town off the beaten path. I loved that this introduced such a variety of colourful characters, and was genuinely moved by the family dynamics and themes of acceptance in Welcome to Christmas, CA.

Star of Bethlehem by Ally Carter – An account of two girls swapping plane tickets should be an improbable notion, but somehow  Ally Carter had me reading this one right until the end. 

The Girl Who Woke the Dreamer  by Laini Taylor – Gorgeous, lyrical and all sorts of dreamy, this magical little tale is exactly the kind of story that one can expect from Laini. Her ability to weave and meld words together is an experience that leads the reader into a shimmering daze that is both dazzling and unsettling.

She juxtaposes images, plays with folk tales and sings it to the tune of her own, melodic voice. 

All in all, this anthology is a collection that is well worth the read, and one that I’ll definitely be rereading again and again.

Don’t wait for the next festive season to come around – get this one now; it’s really one you can and should read at any time.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Book talk: 5 Things I’d like to see more (or less) of in the literature industry this year and beyond (plus an international giveaway)

UPDATE: This giveaway is now closed. Thank you so much to all of you who entered. I enjoyed reading your responses and found myself nodding along to all the points made (I'll be responding over the weekend to everyone's posts)! Congratulations goes to Bo Hi who has won books of her choice from the Book Depo!

I'll be having more giveaways coming your way soon, so look out for that!


So to kick off my blog for 2015, I thought I’d start off with a post about  the things I’d like to see more of in books this year  (along with a much-promised international giveaway). 

As a reader, my taste in books is constantly evolving. The way I read, how I interpret it and the aspects I look for in novels changes regularly. The more aware of societal issues I become, the more it drives me to seek out books that don’t adhere to the traditional tropes we’ve all become so accustomed to.

And the more I adapt, accept and embrace these changes, the more I realise that there is still a lot of headway to be made in the literature industry in terms of offering more than the standard fare (I hugely applaud the publishers who are taking more risks these days and hope that the others will follow suit eventually). 

Don’t get me wrong.

I adore a lot of what’s out on offer at the moment (even some of the clichéd works out there), but there seems to be this precedent that the existing models are satisfactory enough and that we shouldn’t mess with commercial commodities that work.

Frankly, this is not on.

I’m a big believer in change – and for me, it’s really heart-breaking to see some wonderful, off-beat reads being ignored because these works aren’t being as widely promoted.

And often, it’s these books that should be given a chance because they’re breaking barriers in terms of gender and racial diversity, openly tackling topics that are often considered taboo and subverting roles that have been defined by society’s terms.

In light of this, I’ve decided to share a list of things I’d love to see more publishers and readers take more (or less) of a chance on in the bookish trade.

1. More gender and racial diversity please.


Gender and race are not binary concepts. The sooner we can accept this, the better.  We need to have people of colour in books (and not delegated to playing the role of the side-kick/best friend please) and we need to give a voice to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer and transgender community (if there’s anyone I missed out, please let me know). 

Some authors refuse to write beyond anything they know (and some readers refuse to read anything that makes them uncomfortable), hence the fact that we often see the beautiful, white and skinny girl always falling for the hot, white male with a bad boy attitude (and that’s just one example).

Again, I’m not against this at all. I just want to see a book world in which the dominant race isn’t white, and one in which all the characters transcend the heteronormative standards everyone expects them to adhere to.

Most of all, I’d love to see publishers taking more chances on reads like these.

2. LGBQT characters that aren’t token characters or stereotyped

This is another one of my bug bears and brings to mind a book I read not too long ago in which the gay character was represented in an incredibly clichéd manner. In this book (I’ll rather not mention any names), the guy was portrayed as a highly and insultingly effeminate boy whose interests were relegated to: clothes, shopping, cross-dressing and being the therapist to his female best friend.

Do you see the problem here? 

I have no problem with the gay community who adore fashion, etc ; my problem is with the notion that gay people should be defined by this – which is what the author essentially did in this book.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer and transgender characters are humans, not caricatures.

Their likes, dislikes, beliefs and personalities are more than the sum of society’s assumptions about them. To portray them in a way that stereotypes them is incredibly dehumanising and I’m really tired of this.

Frankly, I know a lot of gay people and wouldn’t you know, some of them are mad about sports, not fashion.  What I’m saying here is that we shouldn’t make assumptions about what the LGBQT community are like – especially if your interactions with them have been very minimal.

Please stop treating them as if they all fit into a singular personality group.

3. More standalone YA novels

I love series, I really do, but it would be really nice to have books that don’t force us to wait years for the second, third or fourth instalment of the series.

It does get a little tiresome and sometimes it feels as if it’s just being dragged out for as long as possible, simply because it’s become an established franchise.

Books that work well as standalones in a series, however, are definitely more than welcome.

4. More female empowering one another stories, less cruel girl clichés please

I don’t know about you, but I’m really tired of the bitchy and mean girl trope. I’m fed up with this idea of girls always having to compete over each other over a boy and no other reason than that. Isn’t it time for us to focus more on stories that solidifies and focuses on strong female friendships?

I find it very insulting that this girl-vs-girl-over-a-boy fight implies that this is what we’re all about. As if we exist for the sake of guys and as if it’s a competition to see who can claw whose eyes out over the hottest boy in existence.

Not only that, but it’s incredibly offensive to guys too –  this trope treats them as if they’re some kind of breeding stock prize to be won.  And frankly, I don’t view guys or girls this way, so why should this trope be used in this way?

I get that bullying is a tactic that is used, but that’s completely different to the mean girl/guy who is awful for the sake of being awful.

If you want to employ the use of a nasty character, why not give him/her a bit of a backstory; tell us what makes the character behave the way he/she does and whether he/she doesn’t want to be mean but can’t help it because of his/her past.  That’s a story that would be worth reading. 

Anything except the “leave-my-guy-alone-or-die” fight.

 5. Kill the love triangle. Please.

Seriously, there is no rule that says a story isn’t a story unless there’s a love triangle involved, so why, oh why, is every second book out there filled with one?

To be fair, I’m all for a well-written or creatively done one, but those are so rare to find, that my general frustration with love triangles actually outweighs my desire to seek out a beautifully drawn out tango for three.

Anyway, that’s just some of the things I’d like to see more of this year. This was originally going to be a ten things post, but my fingers ran away with me and this post ended up being so much longer than I thought it would be!

This is where you come in –

I’m giving one lucky international reader a chance to win 2 books of his/her choice. All you need to do is leave a comment and tell me what you’d like to see more or less of in the literature industry.

I’ll compile your responses and feature it in a follow up discussion post.

Giveaway is open internationally (please do make sure the Book Depository ships to your country before you enter) and runs until Sunday, 11 January.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Author guest post: Dreaming fiction by Sarah Noffke

Today, I’d like to welcome YA author Sarah Noffke to my blog today. Sarah, who is the author of The Lucidites Series,  is here to chat about a subject that everyone,  but writers in particular, can relate to.

Dreams  and fiction.

This topic couldn’t have come at a better time, seeing as it’s the last day of 2014 and we’re about to step into 2015. A new year is always a chance for us to start on a blank slate – new plans, new dreams…  you get my drift.

Given that Sarah’s series revolves around a girl whose dreams are premonitions of things to come, I thought it would be great for her to expand a little on the subject of dreams. 

Before I hand over to Sarah, here’s some info on the Awoken, the first book in the series.
Synopsis for Awoken:
Around the world humans are hallucinating after sleepless nights.

In a sterile, underground institute the forecasters keep reporting the same events.

And in the backwoods of Texas, a sixteen-year-old girl is about to be caught up in a fierce, ethereal battle.

Meet Roya Stark. She drowns every night in her dreams, spends her hours reading classic literature to avoid her family’s ridicule, and is prone to premonitions—which are becoming more frequent.

And now her dreams are filled with strangers offering to reveal what she has always wanted to know: Who is she?

That’s the question that haunts her, and she's about to find out. But will Roya live to regret learning the truth?
Add to your Goodreads TBR pile.

Over to Sarah…

Dreams and fiction

“I had the strangest dream,” my friend told me the other day. “It was like I watching an action movie.”

“You should write it down,” I told her.

She scoffed at me. “It was just a stupid dream.”

If Stephanie Meyer had said that, then there would be no Twilight Series.

Dreams, the usually nonsensical ramblings of our subconscious, are often dismissed by dreamers upon waking.

“So an alligator strolled into the room wearing a pair of shoes he said was made from an old lady. Can you believe I dreamed that?”

A dreamer might remark to a friend. Laughs will be had and then the dream will fade into the hustle of the waking world where it may never surface again.

No one will argue that dreams are strange and maybe most of the time just some babbling we need to release to make room for more information.

However, the act of dreaming, the actual REM state, has been touted for maintaining plasticity and chemical balances within the brain.

So since the act of dreaming is so critical to our wellbeing, maybe we should entertain the idea that the product is also of value—in some cases at least.

As I mentioned before, Stephanie Meyer claims she awoke from a dream with the idea for a vampire novel.
 
She is not alone in drawing inspiration from her dreams for fictional works. Stephen King, Edgar Allan Poe, Mary Shelly, and Charlotte Bronte all credit dreams for parts of their stories.

Robert Louis Stevenson actually crafted the riveting novella Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde from a nightmare. That’s one way to turn the tables on the usual aggravation that comes after bolting awake from a night terror.

Stevenson was reported to be quite irritated with his wife for rousing him from the dream which inspired the classic story. “Why did you wake me? I was dreaming a fine bogey tale,” he said to his wife (Balfour, Graham (1912). The Life of Robert Louis Stevenson II. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons. pp. 15–6. Retrieved 28 December 2012). 

My research on this topic made me realize that what lines the shelves of libraries are not just novels, but dream journals.

Countless volumes were inspired by the strangeness that fills dreamers’ heads at night. Some authors have claimed a single dream inspired their entire story, whereas others only attribute a single character or idea.

Still the takeaway remains the same: the strangeness of dreams can be woven into the greatest of stories.
 
It does take a creative mind to catch a dream upon waking and spin it into something that is less ethereal and more suited for the average reader, but it has been done time and time again.

So maybe the next time you awake from a fantastical dream, before you laugh about it with a friend, write it down. Take it seriously. You might have captured a masterpiece as great as Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein.

About Sarah
Sarah Noffke is the author of The Lucidites Series. She’s been everything from a corporate manager to a hippie.

Her taste for adventure has taken her all over the world.

If you can’t find her at the gym, then she’s probably at the frozen yogurt shop. If you can’t find her there then she probably doesn’t want to be found.

She is a self-proclaimed hermit, with spontaneous urges to socialize during full moons and when Mercury is in retrograde.

Sarah lives in Southern California with her family.

Where you can find her online:

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

And the winner of the YA book hamper competition is…

Eek.

Hiya there my fellow book nerds

I’m so sorry for not posting these details any sooner. I’ve been focusing on wrapping up things at work before I go on leave (yay – tomorrow’s my last day for the year), which meant that my blog had to take a bit of a backseat.

I finally have some time though, so without further ado, the winner of the YA hamper giveaway is… Muneera, whose response to question posted on the giveaway is as follows:

The best book I've read this year is Landline by Rainbow Rowell. The male protagonist, Neal, is so dreamy. *sigh* he's grumpy and dislikes everything but, to paraphrase, loves his wife more than he hates everything else. Rainbow Rowell is a magical storyteller; her stories are engrossing and she writes the best female characters.

Congratulations! Just a little reminder about what you've won:


Please mail your details to me at tammybell78(at)gmail(dot)com.

Thanks to everyone else who entered the giveaway – and don’t worry, I’ve plenty of exciting things still in store, so look out for a new competition early in the New Year.

Huge thanks to the lovely Tarryn from Pan Macmillan SA who kindly sponsored this giveaway!