Thursday, February 28, 2013

Cover reveal: Out of Play by Jolene Perry and Nyrae Dawn

Today’s cover reveal post features a YA/New Adult crossover novel entitled Out of Play.

The book is written by duo Jolene Perry (whom I’ve had the pleasure of previously featuring on my blog as part of her YA Night Sky blog tour) and Nyrae Dawn (author of What a Boy Wants and Charade, amongst others).

A contemporary, standalone novel, Out of Play deals with the themes of anxiety and drug addiction. As someone who loves reading gritty reads that deal with tough issues, this one sounds right up my alley.

Not only that, but it features a feisty protagonist - who I’m sure – I’ll end up loving. Oh and the fact that the book features a musically inclined boy, is definitely a win for me.  I’m a sucker for rock star book boys.

Check out the awesome cover below (followed with information about the book).

About Out of Play:

Rock star drummer Bishop Riley doesn't have a problem. Celebrities—especially ones suffering from anxiety—deserve to party, right? Wrong.

After taking a few too many pills, Bishop wakes up in the hospital facing an intervention. If he wants to stay in the band, he’ll have to detox while under house arrest in Seldon, Alaska.

Hockey player Penny Jones can't imagine a life outside of Seldon. Though she has tons of scholarship offers, the last thing she wants is to leave. Who'll take care of her absent-minded gramps? Not her mother, who can’t even be bothered with the new tenants next door.

Penny’s too hung up on another guy to deal with Bishop’s crappy attitude, and Bishop’s too busy sneaking pills to care.

Until he starts hanging out with Gramps. If Bishop wants a chance with the fiery girl next door, he’ll have to admit he has a problem and kick it. Too bad addiction is hard to kick…and Bishop’s about to run out of time.

About Jolene
I wear juvenile T-shirts, worn-out chucks, and eat too much chocolate. I write. A lot.

I make up words, drink Shirley Temples, and suffocate a little without my iPod.


You can also find me under Jolene B Perry...

Also I blog:
www.jolenesbeenwriting.blogspot.com

And I tumblr like a gymnast ;-)
http://writershoes.tumblr.com

About Nyrae
I am a compulsive reader and writer who loves YA fiction.

I love nothing more than writing about young adults.

There is something so fresh and fun about it. You can pretty much always find me with a book in my hand or open document in front of me.


I live in Southern California with my husband and two children.

Nyrae’s blog: 
http://www.nyraedawn.blogspot.com

Add Out of Play to your Goodreads TBR:
Goodreads 
 
Pre-order the book here:
B & N

Amazon


Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Guest review: Lies, Knives and Girls in Red Dresses

I’m very excited about today’s post on my blog. Not only because it’s a guest review written by one of my favourite (and fellow South African) bloggers, but also because it’s a review of a book that deals with one of my all-time favourite subjects: Fairy tales. 

Especially those of a darker and more suggestive nature – and the book that the lovely Lauren has reviewed seems to have that and so much more. Since Lauren knows just how much I love her review of this book (which is both featured on her blog, and on the Women24 website), she’s kindly agreed to let me feature it on my blog as well.

Give her blog a follow – her reviews and features are phenomenal both in terms of writing and content. She’s also on Twitter and is absolutely lovely to talk to.

So glad I’m featuring her review on my blog today. 
Title: Lies, Knives and Girls in Red Dresses
Author: Ron Koertge
Published: 10 July 2012
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Genre: fairy tales, short stories
Source: eARC from the publisher via NetGalley
Rating: 9/10

Ron Koertge. That’s all I needed to know.

In high school I read his prose-poetry novel The Brimstone Journals, about fifteen teenagers in their last year of high school.

Using only simple, intertwined narratives(one of which involves a guy planning a Columbine-style shoot-up), Koertge captivated me with brief but intimate portrayals of the many facets of teenage angst – alienation, insecurity, sexuality, anger, hating your body or being obsessed with it, being too smart or not smart enough, wanting to stand out or wanting to fit in.

A narrative made up of poems was unusual and exciting, and Koertge proved masterful with this short form, skilfully filling it with more memorable, evocative details than you would ever find in an ordinary novel. I still remember some of the lines and many of the characters, perhaps not perfectly, but at least in essence.

Lies, Knives and Girls in Red Dresses is written in a similar style – narratives in the form of poems, although in this case each of them tells its own story.

Each is a retelling of a classic fairy tale in contemporary language, often with a modern setting. In writing both elegant and punchy, the stories explore relationships, the body, sex and sexuality, desire, violence, prejudice, and cruelty. It can be funny, tragic, and bold, it’s usually very twisted, and sometimes perfect.

Definitely not for children though. It might be a collection of fairy tales, complete with illustrations (all stark, eerie silhouettes), but I wouldn’t give this to a kid. Teenagers maybe. Koertge tells these tales in ways that expose the violence, sex and cruelty in them, or explores the characters’ psychologies in disturbing ways. 

These stories aren’t explicit, but there are themes and innuendo that would be better appreciated by adults. Take the ending of “Bluebeard” for example:

"She knows her life is on the line but, believe it or not, she’s never been so excited! Her husband’s a serial killer, and her bodice is wet with tears, but there’s a chance her brothers will show up like winning lottery numbers. Which does she want more — her hair wound in the maniac’s hands and her white white throat bared, or the sound of boots on the marble stairs?"

That should give you an idea of the dark, sensuous stories that Koertge tells, full of taboo desires. Hansel and Gretal have a semi-incestuous relationship and a taste for revenge. There’s an ogre wants to eat her own children.

Cinderella’s stepsisters tell their own sad story:

"Ella is married and happy. Our Ever After is silence, darkness, and bitterness. We have names, by the way. She’s Sarah and I’m Kathy. We were always close. As girls we lay in bed kissing and pretending one of us was the prince. We were practicing for happiness."


One particularly unsettling story is “The Princess and the Pea”, where Koertge considers what life might be like for a woman with such a fragile body:

"Have you seen the prince? My God, his hands are big as anvils. Do you know what that would do to me? Do you? I see him ogling my breasts and I think, “If you want one of them black and the other one blue, if those are your favorite colors or something, go ahead and grope. Don’t let the screaming bother you.”

Not surprisingly, few of Koertge’s fairy tales have happy endings. Usually there’s at least the taint of dissatisfaction, if not outright misery and pain. 

Marriage isn’t as blissful as the princes and princesses imagined, and even if they’re happy, there’s often a longing for the past, with its danger and adventure. The Beast is very happy with Beauty, but he hasn’t forgotten his previous life: “With a sigh, sometimes, I brush my perfect teeth and remember when they were fangs.”
 
Rapunzel, with more than a touch of vanity, is disappointed with her brutally masculine prince:

"RAPUNZEL: Up there in the tower, I was a catapult of questions — one after another to keep the witch at bay. So when I first saw the prince, I was thrilled. I wouldn’t be a prisoner forever after all! But he was so hairy. 

His kisses were like blows. His cheeks sanded down my mother-of-pearl skin and the Plow Horse Game skinned my knees. I admit he made me feel real. I was vapor, otherwise, only collecting into the form of a girl when the witch called and I tugged and she climbed and she was the oven and I was the bread.

Now that it’s all over, I suppose I’m happy. I love my daughter. But the prince is moody and thinks of himself. While the witch thought only of me."


Koertge constantly subverts conventions and expectations. Villains and monsters are portrayed with sympathy, while heroes are often revealed to be selfish, manipulative, or just average imperfect human beings. It’s not all so dark and disturbing though. There’s humour too, as in the reaction of the princess who kisses a toad and gets a prince:

"OMG. He’s a gift shop, a lamb kebab with mint, a solar panel poetry machine with biceps. He’s the path through the dark woods, the light on the page, a postcard from the castle and a one-way ticket there.

He’s the most astounding arrangement of molecules ever! Just look at those tights! An honest-to-God prince at last."


I also loved Red Riding Hood as a contemporary teenager, telling her mom what happened when she met the wolf:

"So first he’s all into my pretty this and that, like I haven’t heard it all before. What? Where did I hear that all before? At parties. What planet do you live on?

And what she thought when she found out that the wolf had swallowed her grandmother whole:

And it kind of makes me want to know what that’s like. What? No, as a matter of fact, if everybody at my school got swallowed whole I wouldn’t want to. It’s lame if everybody does it, Mom. How old are you, anyway?"


There are a few stories that I thought were just ok, but this book still went straight into my ranks of best short fiction. Ok yes, I haven’t read that many short fiction collections, but that’s because I seldom enjoy them as much as this little beauty.

I’ve read Lies, Knives and Girls in Red Dresses twice now (it’s really short, you can do it in an hour) and I want to buy a print copy because it’s the kind of thing I like to pick up on a whim. I’d open it for some random reason, perhaps looking for a quote, and then inevitably end up curled on the couch reading the whole delightful thing.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Book review: The Lost Girl

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

The Lost Girl
What would you do if you were created for the express purpose of living someone else’s life once  they’ve ceased living?

The Lost Girl by Sangu Mandanna (Definitions)
“I promise to do my best to forget myself.”

What would you do if you weren’t allowed to be your own person? If you were stitched together from someone else’s memories so that you could replace the person whose snippets of memories lived inside of you?

Would you live your life as a shadow of someone else, or would you fight for your freedom, knowing that you’ll be hunted by your creators as well as those who abhor your kind?

It’s a chilling and impossible choice to make, isn’t it?

Yet, this is the prospect that Eva faces in this haunting and exquisitely beautiful work of speculative fiction written by debut author, Sangu Mandanna.

It’s somewhat of a cliché to use the phrase “this book will stay with you long after you’ve turned the last page”, but the themes of life, death and grief as well as questions of ethics explored in this novel ensures that The Lost Girl is not just a book that will leave you in a state of melancholic contemplation for days to come, but it’s also a read that boasts a wonderfully complex cast of characters.

I for one, am deeply, deeply in love with this read.

And what’s more, is that I’m convinced that Eva, the heroine of this poignant story is one of the most ferociously brave characters I’ve ever come across. So much so, that I fear I may not do the description of her character or this review any justice.

The book kicks off when we’re first introduced to Eva.

Eva is an echo.

Stiched together by Weavers, the creator of echoes, Eva’s life has never been designed to be her own.

Instead she’s a duplicate of a young girl her age, and is destined to replace the girl, should she ever die.

Because she’s expected to replace Amarra, the girl whose parents requested that an echo be made of her, Eva has to spend most of her time learning and studying everything about Amarra – replicating everything she does.


From getting a tattoo, to memorising and getting to know Amarra’s friends and boyfriend through documents, notes and photographs, Eva’s whole life is about forgetting herself to become someone else.

Of course, following this, the unthinkable – but inevitable happens – Amarra dies in a car crash and Eva is suddenly uprooted and thrust into a world she’s been trained all her life for.

Leaving everything behind her – from the guardians she’s grown to love over the years, to the boy she can never love – Eva’s time to play her new role finally begins.

What no one expects is for Eva to be so fiercely independent, with unique characteristics of her own. 

She’s brave, defiant, creative and impulsive.  Playing the role of a girl she’s indirectly known all her life, is harder than it seems, and stifling who she really is, proves to be the ultimate test of character.


What it also does is raise a lot of questions about the role and making of echoes.

Is it really possible to create an exact replica of someone else? And if disobeying the rules of the weavers and rebelling against a system of creation she never asked for, is such a crime, then what about the crimes of the weavers?

Should they be allowed to play God and defy the rules of death?  Can a loved one truly be replaced? And if so, why are the echoes being condemned to be hunted by those who consider them abominations, when they didn’t ask to be created in the first place?

These are just some of the questions that are raised and explored throughout the novel.

They’re sensitive and controversial subjects, but are handled with such a great amount of care and sensitivity, that it enhances the hopelessness of Eva’s situation, leaving the reader even more sympathetic to her plight.


The supporting characters add an additionally intriguing aspect to the novel. What is apparent amongst many of the characters is that grief is something that brings out the worst in many of them.
 
What is being looked for is not easy to find, and the stinging loss proves to be a reality that is hard to face.

Trust is easily broken, betrayal becomes more than a familiar concept and blurring the lines between who you are and who you’re supposed to be is a burden that can only bring more heartache and pain.

With all this happening in the novel, one can’t help but wonder… is there any hope for Eva? What choices are left for her to make?

Without giving anything away, I can tell you that her determination to fight for her life will have you cheering her on all the way.

Being witness to her resilience and her selflessness is at once a joy to read, but also leaves you feeling rather forlorn because no one should be subjected to what she’s been exposed to.

If you’re still need convincing – Eva’s love interest, Sean is a pretty amazing guy. Not your usual bad boy stereotype, his presence and willingness to make great sacrifices to help Eva will have you wishing for a boy like him in your life.


The focus here, isn’t the romance though.

The Lost Girl is definitely a book that, to me, questions the increasingly dominant role of science in society

The book doesn’t criticise science, but instead is a thoughtful exploration of how dangerous it can be to become obsessed with biological experiments that could have lasting and not necessarily positive effects on  the world and on people as a whole.

This incredible novel is also a book that celebrates the freedom to have a choice and the right to exercise it. It’s beautiful, heart-breaking and incredibly touching.  You’ll weep for everyone who is inadvertently affected by all the events that occur in this book. 

But mostly, you’ll fall in love with Eva, the bravest girl since Katniss Everdeen. And that’s saying a lot.

You should read this.  Not only for the heart-stoppingly beautiful prose, but because it will also make you think.

I highly recommend it.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Book review: The Perks of Being a Wallflower

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

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

...because at some point, someone's bound to notice you when you're standing and watching the world from the side lines while life passes you by.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky (Simon & Schuster)

I'll be honest.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower was a book that I initially had no interest in reading.

Over the past couple of years, I had, of course heard a lot about what many consider to be a modern classic, but for some reason, have always buried my head in the sand whenever someone tried to get me to read the book.

Then I watched the movie trailer.

There was something about the trailer that had such an undeniable quirky charm about it, that I, for the first time, became curious about the novel.

I have a love affair with reads that are delightfully idiosyncratic, which is why, after all this time, I finally decided to give it ago.
My thoughts?

I think that The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a bit of an acquired read.

It's one of those books that you're either going to love, hate, or be ambivalent about.  For the most part, I found myself feeling rather conflicted about it.

Is it a bad book?

Not at all.  There's actually a lot to love about this book.

In fact, I found myself adoring the protagonist, Charlie's voice. There's something about him that brings out your protective instincts, regardless of whether or not you consider yourself to be the nurturing type. 

And even when he's experimenting with things that you wouldn't necessarily approve of, you'll still just want to grip him in a hug and never pull away. He’s just that kind of character.

My problem wasn’t with any of the characters though. It had a lot more to do with the structure of the book.

I thought that while the first half was good, it was the second half that proved to be a lot stronger and had a lot more of an emotional impact on me towards the end.  If I hadn't pushed on towards the end, I think I would probably have rated this just an ok book in terms of reading appeal.

But, since I have read the book, here's my advice to you. If do you find the book dragging,  push on towards the end - it's completely worth it to see Charlie come full circle.

Written in an epistolary format, The Perks of Being a Wallflower revolves around the life of 15-year old Charlie, a teenage boy who, by nature, is a wallflower.

Not exactly unattractive, but not one of the popular and alluring ones either, Charlie's an introverted soul who spends most of his time between home and school  - writing letters to an unnamed person  and revealing and sharing bits and pieces of his life, while also making random observations about fellow classmates (regardless of how well he knows them).

As an avid reader, Charlie is exceptionally intelligent.  He's a sweet, sweet boy who  puts others' needs before his own, is far more observant than his peers and  is similarly both more mature and more naive than his classmates.

He’s pretty clueless when it comes to social situations and often doesn’t really know how to communicate very well with his peers.

And yet, when he meets the two seniors  Patrick and Sam (who are step-brother and sister), Charlie finds himself introduced to a whole new world - one filled with social activities that he's never had a chance to be a part of.

Traversing his way through the unknown, Charlie is thrust head first into the belly of school politics and drama, stumbling his way through awkward first dates, conversations and kisses and learning about the ins and outs of sex.

Patrick and Sam also introduce him to a world of experimentation with alcohol and drugs, guiding him as he makes new friends and tries to find out where he belongs in the midst of all the partying, music soundtracks and life’s unexpected twists and turns.

But beneath his keen observations, there’s a sadness that lurks within. It’s a strange kind of sad – because he doesn’t know the cause of it and as a result, you as the reader can’t help but wonder just what memories he’s trying to suppress.

The best way that I can describe The Perks of a Wallflower is that it’s at once a coming-of-age novel and a travelogue through the vast spectrum of human – in this particular case teen – emotion.

It’s a book that isn’t afraid to tackle subjects that many authors and readers alike, steer away from and it’s a work of fiction that is all about finding your identity and making your mark on this world in your own way.

I should add that for anyone planning to read this book, you should be aware of the fact that Charlie’s voice is an incredibly young voice.

In fact, he narrates his story in such a clinically detached manner, that it almost feels like you as the reader, are standing on the outside of a sound-proof room, trying to connect to a boy who, you’ll soon come to suspect, rambles, talks and thinks too much, because keeping quiet will bring back the suppressed and unwanted demons of his past.

And this is in essence probably the reason you should read the book – it may read like you’re chewing on a dry piece of toast, but beneath the almost autistic-like (for lack of a better word) prose, you can’t help but feel that there is so much more to Charlie’s story than he lets on.

And that’s what we readers do after all. 

We don’t just read because of the story or because of the escapism it provides, we read because we want to uncover the story behind the story, and The Perks of Being a Wallflower is, for all intents and purposes, a book where the prose and writing style is just begging to reveal its sad and haunting secret.

Give it a try. You’ll be surprised at how quickly Charlie creeps into your heart (Sam and Patrick too – especially Patrick – he’s the gay best friend every girl and boy should have).