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!

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. 

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

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.