Tuesday, April 28, 2015

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

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

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


A letter from Sabaa Tahir.

Dear Readers,

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

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

All my best,


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

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

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

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

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

Check out the book trailer!

About Sabaa:

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

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

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

Giveaway Details:

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

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

Ends on May 9th at Midnight EST!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Giveaway: The SA speculative fiction edition (open internationally)

Today I’m all about celebrating some of South Africa’s most talented authors and because I want their books to be read widely and everywhere, I’m making this an international giveaway (Yay - although I should add that my giveaways are almost always open worldwide).

I’m offering two of any of the books listed below to one lucky winner.

All you need to do is leave a comment and tell me what the one book is that you wish more people would read or talk about and why.

Below are just a few of the many wonderful SA writers out there and this is only the first of many SA-themed giveaways I’d like to do (Fear not, fabulous SA authors who aren’t mentioned, this is only the beginning).

Here are brief descriptions of the books you stand a chance of winning!

Deadlands by Lily Herne (Add to your Goodreads TBR pile)
In Deadlands, life is a lottery.

Ten years have passed since Cape Town was destroyed in the war with the living dead. Now, human survivors are protected from the zombies that lurch around the suburban Deadlands by shrouded figures known as 'Guardians'.

But the price for protection is steep: each year, the Guardians hold a human lottery in which five teenagers are chosen for a secret purpose.

Seventeen-year-old Lele hates everything about her life in the city: her new school, the brainwashed zombie-lovers, the way everyone seems creepily obsessed with teenagers . . . She wants out. Then she is picked as a Chosen One: but she's not prepared to face whatever shady future the Guardians have in store for her.

So she runs for her life - straight into the Deadlands, and into the ranks of the Mall Rats - a renegade gang of misfit teens who have gone underground - and are preparing to take a stand.

When the Sea is Rising Red by Cat Hellisen (Add it on Goodreads here)
I’ve recently ran a giveaway for Cat’s latest, but for those who haven’t heard of When the Sea is Rising Red, which is Cat’s first published novel, I thought that this would be a fab opportunity for readers to choose this as an option

After seventeen-year-old Felicita’s dearest friend, Ilven, kills herself to escape an arranged marriage, Felicita chooses freedom over privilege.

She fakes her own death and leaves her sheltered life as one of Pelimburg’s magical elite behind. Living in the slums, scrubbing dishes for a living, she falls for charismatic Dash while also becoming fascinated with vampire Jannik.

Then something shocking washes up on the beach: Ilven's death has called out of the sea a dangerous, wild magic. Felicita must decide whether her loyalties lie with the family she abandoned . . . or with those who would twist this dark power to destroy Pelimburg's caste system, and the whole city along with it.

The Guardian’s Wyrd by Nerine Dorman (Add it on Goodreads)
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 …

The Mark by Edyth Bulbring (Add it on Goodreads)
In the future, the world has flipped.

Ravaged by the Conflagration, this is a harsh world where the relentless sun beats down, people’s lives are run by a heartless elite and law is enforced by a brutal brigade.

A mark at the base of the spine controls each person’s destiny.

The Machine decides what work you will do and who your life partner will be.

In this world, everyone must make their contribution. Some more than others. Juliet Seven – “Ettie” – will soon turn 15 and her life as a drudge will begin, her fate-mate mate will be chosen.

Like everyone else, her future is marked by the numbers on her spine. But Ettie decides to challenge her destiny. And in so doing, she fulfils the prophecy that was spoken of before she even existed.

The Faerie Guardian by Rachel Morgan (Add it on Goodreads)
Protecting humans from dangerous magical creatures is all in a day’s work for a faerie training to be a guardian. Seventeen-year-old Violet Fairdale knows this better than anyone—she’s about to become the best guardian the Guild has seen in years.

That is, until a cute human boy who can somehow see through her faerie glamor follows her into the Fae realm. Now she’s broken Guild Law, a crime that could lead to her expulsion.

The last thing Vi wants to do is spend any more time with the boy who got her into this mess, but the Guild requires that she return Nate to his home and make him forget everything he’s discovered of the Fae realm.

Easy, right?

Not when you factor in evil faeries, long-lost family members, and inconvenient feelings of the romantic kind. Vi is about to find herself tangled up in a dangerous plot—and it’ll take all her training to get out alive.
Devilskein & Dearlove by Alex Smith (Add it on Goodreads)
When thirteen-year-old Erin Dearlove has to move in with her aunt on Cape Town’s bustling Long Street, she struggles to adapt to her new life, harbouring a dark secret.

But her friendship with their upstairs neighbour, Mr Devilskein, soon helps her to adjust.

Like Erin, Mr Devilskein has something to hide: he is the keeper of six mysterious doors. He entrusts Erin with the key for one of these doors, and she discovers that they lead to infinite magical worlds.

In wonder she explores an underwater paradise, the lost works of William Shakespeare, and a beautiful Chinese garden.

During her adventures she meets a prisoner names Julius Monk, but Julius is not all he appears to be. The captive and his Book of Dooms prove dangerously enticing, and soon it is up to Erin to save the lives of those she’s grown to love.

Devilskein & Dearlove is as sinister and intriguing as it is quirky and colourful. With inimitable storytelling flair, Alex Smith weaves an enchanting tale of friendship, adventure and magic.

Sister-Sister by Rachel Zadok (Add it on Goodreads)
That night, I slip into her mind and dream her dreams. I see myself, Thuli, strange and disconnected and the wrong way round, like I’m stuck in a mirror.

We walk across the patch of veld to Saviour’s Pit Stop, our arms crooked at the elbows and linked together. The sky is silver-blue and the propeller on the Legend winks as it turns slow in the breeze, fanning our cheeks. The colour of her dreaming is sharp, as if our lives then were so much brighter…

In childhood Thuli and Sindi are inseparable, pinkie-linked by a magic no one else can understand.

Then a strange man comes knocking, bringing news from a hometown they didn’t know existed. His arrival sets into motion events that will lead them into the darkest places, on a search for salvation where the all-too-familiar and the extraordinary merge, blurring the boundaries between dream and reality.

Giveaway closes Wednesday, 6th May.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Book talk: 10 Bookish rules to live by [a repost]

It’s been a while since I’ve posted one of my columns here, and seeing as I’ve been whinging a lot about readers who don’t return books in the same condition it was lent to them, on Twitter, I thought I’d post this little column on book rules to live by.

Warning: Some (mostly harmless) snark ahead. :-))

The first two points are most important as they involve, and are addressed to the non-readers in our lives.

Here goes:

1) Stop interrupting us when we’ve huddled into the most comfortable spot imaginable and are completely immersed in the world between the pages.

Unless someone needs to be rushed to the hospital or the house is on fire, we will assume that any of your mortal needs can either be taken care of by you, or by the other person in the house who doesn't read.

2. Avoid trying to persuade us to get rid of books because you think there’s no space.

The floor is a space.

If you trip over a book, it’s not the book’s fault. You just need to be more careful and watch where you’re going, for goodness sake! You could damage the book you're tripping over.

The points below are for the fellow bookish folk we can all relate so well to.

3. Return books that were lent to you. No one likes a book thief.

4. Oh, and if you do bring the book back, the only coffee stains we want to see on them, are no coffee stains.

5. Don’t mock people for their choice of reading material. Every book has its place and there’s room for every kind of reader.  If you want to read that naughty bodice ripper, I say go for it.

And if you want to wax lyrical about the most obscure piece of literature out there, then by all means do it. Just as long as it makes you happy.

6. Have an opinion about a book you’ve never read? Well, aren’t you precious? By all means, love or hate a book, but if you choose to feel something about a book, shouldn’t you at least have given it a fair chance before forming an opinion about it?

Sure, some books warrant that “I couldn’t get past the first chapter feeling,” but you’d need to have opened the book for you to have that feeling, wouldn’t you?

My issue isn't with those who think a book is rubbish, but with the people who make up their mind about a book before they've sat down to actually read it. Instead what they do, is read dissertations and online columns and opinions about it, and automatically absorb those as their opinions.  

7. Try not to spoil book endings. Spoil it for yourself if you must (I know lots of people who are fond of sneaking a peek at the back), but for many people, it's not just about the journey that takes you there, but about how it all ends. No one should be robbed of that, don't you think?

8. Ditch the e-book vs paperback debate. Personally, I believe there is room for both and if e-books and e-readers are becoming more, then who am I to say “be gone with you e-menace?”

While I certainly and mostly read paperbacks (and will probably always have a preference for them), I wouldn’t get rid of my Kindle or my reading apps on my phone at all. It’s the stairs and escalator analogy over again. I like knowing that both are at my disposal.

9. Try not to think too badly of those who mess up the book-to-film adaptations.

Wait. Forget I said this immediately. Judge as mercilessly as you want.

10. Always make time to visit the library. There’s a treasure trove to be found that’s worth more than a Valentino design. Even if the physical price says otherwise.

Those are just a few of the rules in my list. Why don't you tell me about the rules you'd add to your own book manifesto?
I’d love to read what you have to say.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Top 10 Tuesday: Top 10 book quotes that make me feel all the things

It’s been years since I’ve last taken part in the Top Ten Tuesday meme, a feature brought to you by the fabulous bloggers over at The Broke and The Bookish.  In today’s post, and as per this week’s theme, I share the top 10 quotes that have made me feel all sorts of emotions.

This won’t be the first bookish quotes post I’m doing, but I never get tired of talking about passages or quotes from books that have deeply resonated with me, hence this post.

So, without further ado, here’s my top 10. 

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

Why this resonated: As someone who has depression ( I wrote about this in a post quite a while back), this passage really hit home. While my experience with this book has left me feeling, for the most part, divided about it, for me, Jennifer has perfectly summed up the stigma surrounding depression; a stigma I’ve often been subjected to.

Let’s face it, it’s easier to treat a physical wound than it is to repair what’s broken on the inside.  And In that respect, I’m so glad I read this book, because it’s really good to see authors addressing and debunking myths surrounding mental health issues. 

It’s one of the biggest reasons I could overcome my initial misgivings about this book and it’s a passage that will probably stay with me for a long, long time to come.

2. “It's a lot easier to be lost than found. It's the reason we're always searching and rarely discovered--so many locks not enough keys.” Lock & Key by Sarah Dessen

Why it resonated: What would this list be without a Sarah Dessen quote?  I’ve yet to read a book of hers where I don’t get something from it, and Lock & Key proved to be no exception.  And to think it took me a second try before I finally fell in love with this book. 

The quote above really speaks to me on both a personal and introspective level, and appeals to that part of me that really longs to travel.

3.  “I will go out again this very night with my rockets and fuses. I will blow them straight out of their comfortable beds. Blow the rooftops off their houses. Blow the black, wretched night to bits. I will not stop. For mad I may be, but I will never be convenient.”Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly

Why it resonated: Words can’t even begin to describe how much love I have for this book. In fact, I’m just going to direct you to the review I wrote for this, since this would only be a repeat of everything I’ve said.
Trust me though, it’s one of the best YA historical fiction novels I’ve read to date. I took so much from this book, and I especially loved the brave, courageous and butt-kicking heroines who taught me that the act of courage comes in so many different forms.

4. “Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.” Coraline by Neil Gaiman

Why this resonates: Because it reminds me that for every single bad thing that happens, there’s always hope for a better day. Sometimes it takes a while to get to that better day, but eventually, brand new days always show up just when you need them..

5.  “Like stepping into a fairy tale under a curtain of stars.” - The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern 

Why it resonates:
Because this encapsulates what I feel every time I open the pages of a new book.
6.  “I think that lesson was the most important: that none of us actually grow up. We get bigger, and older, but part of us always retains that small rabbit heart, trembling furiously, secretively, with wonder and fear. There's no irony in it. No semantics or subtext. Only red blood and green grass and silver stars” - Unteachable by Leah Raeder

Why it resonates: Because, at the heart of it, I’m still a child who refuses to grow up.  And quotes like these remind me why I should encourage and nurture that inner kid.

7. “These woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Robert Frost, Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

Why it resonates: My post wouldn’t be complete without a little something from my favourite poet, and at the heart of it, I really do want to travel those miles before sleep catches up with me. Don’t we all? 

8. “My father took one hundred and thirty-two minutes to die.

I counted.

It happened on the Jellicoe Road. The prettiest road I’d ever seen, where trees made breezy canopies like a tunnel to Shangri-La. We were going to the ocean, hundreds of miles away, because I wanted to see the ocean and my father said that it was about time the four of us made that journey.

I remember asking, 'What’s the difference between a trip and a journey?' and my father said, 'Narnie, my love, when we get there, you’ll understand,' and that was the last thing he ever said.
― Melina Marchetta, On the Jellicoe Road

Why this quote resonates: Because this book is my heart, my soul and my everything.  Also, it’s one of those books whose opening lines you just don’t forget. Ever. You’re welcome to check out my review over here.

9.  “Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

― Dylan Thomas

Why this one resonates:  Because I want to leave this world with the knowledge that I’ve achieved something worthwhile, and while I’m alive, I’m going to kick, scream and rollercoaster my way through life until my inner self is content that I have lived well enough to leave a legacy worth remembering behind.
Grandiose perhaps, but there you have it. 

“When you grow up by the sea there's a kind of magic that never leaves you. The shimmery silver of salty mornings stays inside your bones. The rattling of windows on a winter night sharpens your senses. There's always power and deceptiveness in a flat blue sea. I'm a coast-town girl.  I know how quickly gentle water can turn into a foaming black mountain.” The Apple Tart of Hope by Sarah Moore Fitzgerald

Why this resonates: Because this book is apple tarts and magic realism.

It is bitter strife, but also sweet hope and it reminds me that life is one churning mass of water that, at its own whim, will either cast you a safety net or throw you to the sharks.

Mostly it reminds me how good it feels to burn with the force that is life… regardless of whether it’s a gentle flame or  a raging and uncontrollable inferno.

You can read my review of the book here.

How about you? What are some of your favourite quotes and why? Please feel free to comment and leave a link to your post so I can visit in return.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Book review: The Evolution of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin

The follow up to The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer, Hodkin’s Evolution of Mara Dyer is a story filled with nail-biting tension, intense creepiness and spine-chilling moments.

The Evolution of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin (published by Simon Pulse, a division of Simon & Schuster UK, in 2013)

Review first appeared on Women24.com.

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

Given that The Evolution of Mara Dyer is the second book in a trilogy, this review may contain spoilers from the first book.

I’m a sucker for a good, psychological and mind-bending, twisted read.

This, is why I finally decided to pick up The Evolution of Mara Dyer. It’s a book that’s been sitting in my shelf for ages, and one that I’ve been meaning to read for a while.

The first thing you should know is that this isn’t the kind of book you can read without having read the first book.  The events that occur in this book, is preceded by the cliff-hanger ending of The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer.

I think that part of the reason why it took me so long to read this book, is because I adored the first book so much; and was afraid that the second book wouldn’t live up to my ridiculously high expectations.

Second book syndrome, as the bookish muses like to call it.

Thankfully, from the moment I started reading, my reservations quickly dissipated.  I ended up deeply immersed in a story filled with tension, intense creepiness and some gore-inducing, spine-chilling moments guaranteed to leave you feeling on edge.

When we last left off, Mara Dyer found herself reporting to the police in an attempt to surrender. However, instead of being locked up in a cell, she ends up in a psychiatric treatment centre, as no one seems to believe that her ex-boyfriend, Jude, is still alive.

Still struggling to come to terms with the death of her best friend and her lethal ability, Mara knows that the only way she can get out of the treatment centre, is by faking normality.

But, it’s easier said than done.

And with her (unwanted) ability to kill people with her mind, flashbacks to a past life she has no recollection of, and dealing with deliberate and gory reminders of events that have happened, Mara’s battle is only beginning.

If you love books that combine the sinister atmosphere of abandoned asylums with the supernatural, then you’ll love this.

Michelle Hodkin has a gift for creating an acute sense of menace, and the beauty of this novel lies in the fact that the sinister proceedings aren’t always overt (although when it is, it’s hectic).

Most of the time if feels as if things are moving slowly and insidiously, creeping up on you in a way as there is a feeling of impending doom with each and every turn of the page.

Feeling inclined for a book to scare the wits out of you? Do yourselves a favour and pick this one up.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Book review: Beastkeeper by Cat Hellisen

A beautiful, bittersweet and delightfully subverted reimagining of a classic story that has been (and still is) enchanting both young and old since the age when fairy tales first began. 

Disclaimer: This review first appeared on Women24.com

Beastkeeper by Cat Hellisen (published by Henry Holt in 2015) 

Sarah is the only daughter of parents who’ve always lived nomadic lives. 

Since her mother hates the wintry weather, the family is often forced to move to warmer places.

As a result, Sarah spends most of her time feeling very lonely.

What she doesn’t realise, is that there’s more to her family’s movements than they’re letting on; movements that soon have a huge impact on her when her mother walks out on the family.

When her father’s behaviour changes dramatically, it isn’t long before Sarah’s deposited at the doorsteps of her grandparents’ home – grandparents that she’s never even met.

In the isolated woods of her grandmother’s almost-defunct castle, our young heroine soon discovers that curses are real, and that not all magic is good magic.  It’s up to her to decide whether or not she’ll give into the inevitable or fight to wrestle control over the curse that has kept her family in chains for years.

Forget all you know about the original version of Beauty and the Beast, because Cat Hellisen takes this timeless tale and twists it into a narrative that is as dark as it is hopeful, as bitter as it is sweet and as gloomy as it is bright.

I mean, it’s certainly not every day you read a reimagining of Beauty and the Beast, where the beast is the girl, right?

In fact, while there are some glimpses to be had of the original tale, Cat does a tremendously beautiful job of transforming this story into a world of its own – one that is intentionally not bound by the rules of the account we’re all familiar with.

Part of the reason why I love this book so much is that while the story is in many ways a nod to the fairy tale of yonder, Beastkeeper captures the tone of the darker versions of tales that are often either under rug swept or Disneyfied.

Don’t get me wrong.

I’ve got nothing against the toned down versions of tales that we’re familiar with, but I’m a huge fan of darker folk and fairy tales, and as such, appreciate it when authors aren’t afraid to throw their characters into the deepest pits of hell, bring them out and drag them back there, before they finally manage to claw their way to the surface again.

And Beastkeeper is a book that does exactly that.

It’s beauty and light. Dark and vengeful. Full of shape-shifting imagery mired in contradictions, questionable motives and unexpected detours.

It explores what happens when a young girl, on the cusp of adolescence, is thrown to the wolves after her parents fall prey to a curse that’s been running in her family line for years.

The novel is also a tale that examines the resilience of human nature.

So often people underestimate what a child can and cannot endure and one of the overriding aspects of this novel showcases how the author isn’t afraid to throw Sarah, who is 12-years old, into the worst situations imaginable.

From being abandoned (and being forced to cope with the gut-wrenching emotions paired with that desertion), to dealing with cold, unfeeling grandparents who couldn’t be bothered about her well-being (at one point she’s even locked out of the castle), Sarah has to find a way in a world that won’t make a way for her.

Let’s face it, it’s hard to feel optimistic in a world where you’ve been left feeling unwanted, forgotten and disenfranchised, but the beauty of Beastkeeper is that despite her hardships, Sarah finds a way to keep going.

With a little assistance from the magical forest, a strange fey-like boy and her own magic and inner strength, Sarah sets out to do what the older and more selfish members of her remaining family have failed to do:  break the curse.

Unfortunately, once again (oh, how Cat Hellisen likes to torment her characters) breaking the curse isn’t as simple as a promise made and kept, and witchy interference, ice-laden hearts and death are visitors whose appearances exacerbate all of Sarah’s efforts.

But like all fairy tales, there is the offer of hope.

And while what ends up being isn’t what you and I imagine is supposed to be, the conclusion that we get is a version that will satisfy the realist, while leaving the idealist with the sense that it’s not really an end, but a new beginning.

And isn’t that what stories about stories are all about?

(I, for one, would certainly like to see a short little story after the fact, especially after reading the beautiful short story prequel explaining the origins of the curse  *hint, hint Cat*)

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Movie review: Insurgent by Veronica Roth

Although the essence of the book is there, Insurgent diverges almost completely from the book. 

Disclaimer: This review originally appeared on Women24 as well as Women24's sister site, Channel24

Veronica Roth’s Divergent books is one of my favourite series to date.  Having devoured both the books and the Divergent film adaptation (which I surprisingly really enjoyed), I’ve been looking forward to seeing how the Insurgent movie would play out.

While it isn’t without its flaws, Insurgent is probably one of the better book-to-film adaptations I’ve seen.

I admit this grudgingly because I’m a book purist at heart and, as such, tend to appreciate films that remain as true to the novel as possible.

This is exactly why I spent half my time enjoying the cinematic and visual fest and half my time thinking “this is not how it was in the book.”

With Robert Schwentke in the director’s seat this time around, Insurgent isn’t so much of a direct adaptation as it is an interpretation of the novel.  In fact, Divergent’s film rendition is probably a lot closer to the book than Insurgent is.

The essence of the book is certainly there, and if you’ve read the book, you’ll certainly recognise many of the elements the movie includes.

What changes, however, is the following:

The dialogue and character interaction. 

This didn’t bother me as much as I expected to, but I think that it’s because so many of the actors and actresses I’ve seen in motion picture screenings based on books, fail to accurately capture the tone of the book dialogue (I’m looking at you Fault In Our Stars, which ironically enough, features Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort, who are cast in the role of brother and sister in this trilogy).

In fact, I dare say that Tris and Four (Woodley and Theo James) relate a lot better towards each other on-screen than they did in the first movie, where a huge chunk of the novel’s dialogue formed a large part of the film.

I have to go on to add that I was also impressed with Kate Winslet’s performance in the role of the cold and ruthless Jeanine Matthews.  While James and Woodley’s acting is certainly strong, Winslet, for the on-screen time that she gets, certainly adds an extra oomph that I really enjoyed seeing.

Something else that changes in the movie is that the people responsible for killing certain people in the books aren’t the same in the movie.  I’ll leave you to work out who I’m talking about (top tip: you should probably give the book a reread before you watch the movie).

The biggest disappointment for me though, is that with this interpretation of the movie, characters that played huge roles in the book are downplayed and relegated to minor roles, something which I felt, took the whole “team spirit” evident in the books away from the movie. Some of the characters that really made a huge impact in the book, were either not featured or just not given enough face time.

And, big surprise, many of those characters just so happened to be black. Oh, wait, that’s not a surprise at all.

The books clearly show how certain characters from various factions unite and stand together to fight, while in the movies, this is mostly glossed over.

Visually though, the movie was an absolute blast.

With 3D effects, CGI and beautiful and scenic panning, Insurgent certainly is an epic and cinematic  piece of entertainment that should definitely be experienced on the big screen.

If you can look past the niggles, I daresay you’ll probably enjoy it more than Divergent. 

My final take on it is that as a book adaptation it fails, but as an interpretation of the novel (and there IS a difference), it’s a pretty decent effort.

Go out and see the movie. You could do a lot worse

Monday, March 16, 2015

Book review: Unteachable by Leah Reader

What would you do if you discovered that the man you had a one night stand with, is also your new film studies teacher?

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

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

Unteachable by Leah Raeder(Published by Atria in 2013)
I am not a fan of New Adult fiction.  Really I’m not.  From what I’ve previously experienced, books belonging to this genre have shown itself to be incredibly problematic for so many reasons. 

The main problem for me, is that whenever I’m reading a book that falls within this category, I always feel like I’m reading the same book with just a different cover (although, I should add that even the covers tend to feel the same).

Thus, Leah Reader’s Unteachable is not a concept that hasn’t been done before.

In fact, in almost every genre, you’ll always find that one story that’s littered with some form of illicit romance (*cough* Game of Thrones *cough*).

Not everyone gets this right though, and it’s particularly problematic within the new adult fiction market, simply because of how badly the relationship dynamic is portrayed.

When I first picked up Unteachable, I was certainly not expecting to be wowed, and yet, from the moment I started reading, Leah’s beautiful and exquisitely lyrical prose had me floating on a cloud of literary heaven.

I found myself swept up in the drama, (amazingly enough) rooting for this twisted relationship and really having an appreciation for the way that the icky subjects were handled.

In the beginning of the novel, we first meet 18-year old Maise O’ Malley at a carnival. Maise is bold, brash, sexually mature and completely owns her confidence.  She’s the kind of character that not everyone will warm up to at first, simply because she comes across as being incredibly abrasive and sexually aggressive.

Frankly, I found myself really liking her.

So, often when men are portrayed in this manner, they’re labelled as being cocky and confident, and yet, are still seen as likeable; but when the roles are reversed and you come across characters like Maise, who is so self-aware of the power her physical beauty holds over men, then labels like “slutty” and “vain” are quickly thrown around.

To see Leah Raeder tackling this sexist double-standard head on is nothing short of refreshing - and so very welcome.

When Maise meets Evan at the carnival, the attraction is immediate and intense. After hooking up, she’s convinced she’ll never see him again – and usually, that’s something she’d prefer.

Except, this time around, she can’t stop thinking about him.

When she enrolls into film school, she doesn’t expect to see him again, except that when she  finally does, she discovers that he’s her new film studies teacher. 

Of course they do try to stay away from each other, but the chemistry between them proves to be too irresistible; and before long, they find themselves hurtling headlong into a relationship punctuated with secrets, lies and more passion than both of them can handle.

It’s not long before life throws both of them yet another curveball and the two are left to pick up the pieces and examine their own pasts before they can even think of the possibility of having a future together. 

Leah Raeder’s Unteachable is truly an impressive book.  It’s well-written and deals with a variety of hard-hitting topics in a manner that is realistic, touching and daringly honest.

From issues of abandonment and drug abuse, to stalking and capturing the essence of a taboo romance, it is an excellent read.

It’s the kind of book that’s not meant to make you feel comfortable, but rather to reflect on the characters’ actions and how their home life impacts on the decisions that lead them on their way.

I’m not here to say that I was rooting for the student-teacher couple (even though this relationship is very well drawn out); instead I’m here to commend this book for highlighting the messed up dynamics of a story that touches on topics that are often swept under the carpet and diluted with water to make it more palatable.

Give it a read.  I, for one, am glad that I did.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Discussion post + Beastkeeper winner announcement: your favourite fairy tale recommendations

Hello book lovelies

I’m so sorry for only posting this now, but between letting my time run away from me and dealing with an unwelcome stint of flu, I really didn’t have a chance to sit down and write a new blog post.

Thankfully, I’ve got a bit of time right now, so in tonight’s post I’ll be announcing the Beastkeeper winner (yay), and featuring your fantastic recommendations in response to my quest for more retellings and modern adaptations of fairy tales.

I also have to mention that I’ve finally finished reading Beastkeeper (review should be up by end of the week or early next week for the absolute latest) and can tell you that you’re in for an absolute treat.

So without further ado, congratulations AnotherLibrarian – you’re the recipient of a book filled with beautiful and bittersweet prose, twisty, thorny imagery and the story of one brave and resilient young girl who refuses to give up in the face of life and magic’s harshest obstacles.

Please get in touch with me tammybell78(at)gmail(dot)com and provide me with your details so that I can order your copy asap.

You have 48 hours to respond, after which I’ll select another winner should you not have responded by then.

More giveaways will be coming your way shortly, so be on the lookout for that.

In the meantime, I asked you to tell me about your fairy tale favourites/recommendations and here are your awesome responses:

 Winner response: AnotherLibrarian

My favourite fairy tale is the Xhosa story of the Girl and the Mbulu - I heard it at a young age and it always stuck with me as it was so different from the stock European fairy tales I had read up until then.

My favourite retelling is Tinder by Sally Gardner - a retelling of The Tinderbox by H.C. Anderson


My favorite is indeed Beauty and the Beast! It was this realistic (not in the magic sense) story of the unlikely characters ending up together.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and never judge a person by what they look like. It’s such a lesson filled story and it is a very fun creative story too - best of all possible worlds!


My favorite fairy tale is The Town Musicians of Bremen. I loved that it was animal focused and they totally owned those thieves and managed  to live happily ever after. Yay for happily ever after.

Recently I enjoyed a collection of short stories by Neil Gaiman - Smoke and Mirrors and it includes a few fairy tale adaptions. My favourites: Snow, Glass Apples (Snow White) and Troll Bridge (Three Billy Goats Gruff).


My favourite fairytale is Rumpelstiltskin. I know he steals kids to eat them and all that, but come on, if you’re gonna make a deal with a little magical being, at least be ready to suffer the consequences. I'm glad the TV series Once upon a Time is showing Rumple in a slightly more improved light.

My favourite retelling is Nameless by Lili St. Crow. I'm also pretty excited to start reading the Grimm Diaries series. Of course, that has to wait until my boyfriend lifts the book buying ban.


If we are broadening the scope to folk tales then, my favourite would be Graeme Base's interpretation of the traditional story 'The Tender-Hearted Aardvark,' but that's probably a little niche.

More broadly speaking I've always loved 'The 12 Dancing Princesses' because it spoke of defiant young women who danced in secret worlds that only the Hero (who is hero more because he follows fairy tale rules and is polite to old women at cross-roads than because of anything innate) could follow them to with the aid of magic.

I liked it because it was so every day, with the magic worked in as the backdrop to a story of a grumpy father with daughters who were growing up beyond his control.

My favourite retellings include the Fables comic book series published by Vertigo, Ella Enchanted (book not movie) by Gail Carson Levine and Watching the Roses by Adele Geras


I love Beauty and the Beast. Some of my favorite YA retellings include Cinder by Marissa Meyer, Beastly by Alex Flynn and Sisters Red by Jackson Pearce.


My favourite fairy tale is the Little Mermaid, but I don't like the Hans Christian Anderson ending. I prefer the Disney happily ever after ending, the real ending just makes me cry.

I have enjoyed Marissa Meyer's retellings of Cinderella, Red Riding Hood and Rapunzel. Robyn McKinley, Jackson Pierce and Gregory Maguire are great too with their retellings. I am not sure if Revolting Rhymes by Roald Dahl counts, but that is my absolute favourite.


The Little Mermaid is my favourite fairy tale hands down - even with the troubling change yourself to get a person message. But the traditional version does do what fairy tales did - before the happy after endings - teach us a lesson. I suppose that's why people enjoy them so much.

I've not really read many retellings 0_o, but my favourite to watch is Disney's Little Mermaid.


My favourite fairytale has always been The Ugly Duckling. Even as a child I couldn't understand why no one could see that the swan baby was beautiful.

As far as fairytale retellings go..... Angela Carter's The Bloody Chamber is brilliant although I must admit it did make me feel like a horribly inferior being as far as my intelligence goes. Cinder surprised me and though I expected not to, I enjoyed it a lot.

And funny enough I was just thinking last night that as far as fairytale retellings go, the writers behind Once Upon a Time are doing a really imaginative job.

Sometimes I watch that show and I giggle at the poor dialogue or the sometimes poor execution of the whole thing, but I can't fault the storyline. The way they keep managing to thread it all together is actually quite fun and impressive.

So, now that you've shared your fairy tale recs, which retelling/modern adaptation are you really looking forward to reading this year? I'd love to know.

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.


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!