Monday, October 26, 2015

Author guest post: 5 interesting facts about Gypsy culture by Christi J. Whitney

Today I’m thrilled to have debut YA author Christi J. Whitney guest posting on my blog today. As someone who longs to travel and enjoys reading about different cultures in the world, today’s post is kind of everything to me.

I’ve been intrigued by the culture and customs of Gypsies for longer than I can remember. It’s not just the nomadic lifestyle that many of them lead that intrigues me, but I love hearing about their beliefs, their life stories – can you imagine how much stories they have to tell? – and about their music, singing, diversity and folklore, to mention but a few.

When Christi introduced her book to me, I just knew I had to invite her to tell us a little more.

In fact, before I hand over to Christi, I’d like to invite you to recommend some YA books that explore Gypsy culture.

I’ve been looking for some for ages, but can never seem to find any, which is exactly why I’m so excited about Grey, Christi’s debut novel. Any more that I can add to my TBR pile would be super welcome.

Over to Christi – welcome to the blog!

When I came up with the idea of using a secretive Gypsy society as the foundation of my YA urban fantasy novel Grey, I was actually doing a bit of my own family tree research.

My great aunt had published a book for my father’s side of the family years ago, detailing the family history from the 1800’s to the present.

My ancestors on my father’s side had often been referred to as “Black Dutch”.

This term was in use many generations ago in the Deep South of the United States – and there are many possible meanings, though no definitive definition.

I did, however, come across several articles that listed those with a Romani heritage in the list, and that sparked both my interest and my curiosity.

This led to more research on my end, and the creation of my own fictional version of a Gypsy population living in the southern U.S.

In creating my Gypsy world, I wanted to be respectful of the diverse culture of the Romani people, but without feeling tied down to any particular one.

I wanted a fictional society that felt realistic, yet had its own rules and order.

That being said, I’ve listed five facts I’ve gleaned from my research on Gypsy culture that I’ve found to be fascinating and that I’ve attempted to convey in my YA series “The Romany Outcasts”, beginning with Grey.

1.    Gypsies keep a distinct and separate culture from the non-Roma.

Often you’ll find many stereotypes surrounding the Romani society because they have historically kept to themselves. It is a way of maintaining their heritage and traditions. Recently, some of that has been explored in popular reality television shows, such as “My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding”.

In my novel, I enjoyed exploring two groups of modern Romani who exist quietly among the gadje (non-Roma).

2.    Many Roma marry young, and there are still traditional roles and expectations for both men and women.

Traditionally, Romani children marry early – between 16-18 years old. A teenager is considered an adult once they have married. Often, boys and girls are pulled out of school early to learn trades and to begin managing the household.

The Outcast Gypsies in Grey maintain some traditional beliefs on the roles of men and women, including marriage, but there are also characters in the story – Josephine, in particular – that challenge those roles.

3.    Gypsies have their own laws, and they are treated seriously.

In addition to the laws of whatever place they live, Romani also maintain their own laws and customs. Gypsies who break these laws can be cast out of Roma society.

The Outcasts Gypsies in my story place great importance on their laws, and there are grave consequences that happen to some of my characters when choices are made to go against the clan.

4.    Gypsies place value on extended family.

The Romani traditionally travel in groups of large, extended families. Even those that choose to have sedentary lives still value these large families.

The Gypsies in Grey are part of a much larger group of families that make up their clans. Family ties are a central part of the conflict in the story.

5.    Gypsy culture is diverse.

There is no one single Roma culture. Even the Romany language itself has several variations.
The Outcasts Gypsies in my book series come up against other clans and families that do not hold the same views.

Writing a fictional society of Gypsies was an amazing experience that allowed me to create a whole other world with some very unusual characters and beliefs. 

About the book:
Sebastian Grey always thought he was a fairly normal teenager – good friends, decent grades, and a pretty sweet job in his foster brother’s tattoo shop.

But when Romany gypsies arrive in town, Sebastian discovers his world is not what it seems. There is an age-old feud between his family and the gypsies – and this isn’t the only secret his brother has been keeping from him.

His life is not his own. The girl he’s been dreaming about has just turned up at school, and he feels compelled to protect her at all costs.

Even if that means life might never be normal again.


Christi J. Whitney is a former high school theatre director with a love for the dramatic. 

She lives just outside Atlanta with her husband and two sons.

When not spending time with them or taking a ridiculous number of trips to Disney World, she can be found directing plays, making costumes for sci-fi/fantasy conventions, geeking out over Doctor Who, and watching superhero movies.

Connect with her on:

Twitter @ChristiWhitney

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Book review: Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen

This is the story of a girl who carried the world on her shoulders.

You can purchase a copy from

Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen (first published in 2015 by Penguin Random House Books)

If there is one thing I've learnt about reading a Sarah Dessen novel, it’s  that when you’ve turned the last page of the book, you’re always left with the sense that you’ve finally come home from a long and arduous, but oh-so-worth-it kind of journey.

Her books are like comfort food for the broken soul; nourishing in its depth, bittersweet in its melancholy moments, but filled with enough heart-warming moments to ensure that you’ll end up feeling as if you’ve had a slice of the best piece of confectionary of your life.

Essentially, it’s brain and heart candy for the consummate reader and - Saint Anything - like its predecessors, is no different.

In fact, while it still possesses that innate charm, the book goes a goes a little deeper, darker and more introspective than usual.

It focuses on a teen girl’s crumbling relationship with her family following her older brother’s arrest and subsequent jail sentence for causing the paralysis of a young boy.

This is a book about the choices that we make and the choices that we have to live with. It’s a read that deals with how the effects of favouritism can easily blind a parent to a child’s faults and it explores what happens when present-absenteeism takes hold in a household where emotional neglect has already moved in.

And boy, did this book push my buttons.

While Saint Anything is a book that left me with a lot of questions unanswered, I get the feeling that perhaps this is what Sarah was aiming for. That she was saying sometimes relationships don’t get fixed at the end; that endings might just mean baby steps to new beginnings and that people’s behaviour don’t always change overnight.  

No one learns this lesson harder than Sydney, our main protagonist in Saint Anything.

When we first start reading, we get the immediate sense that Peyton her brother, is the golden child; the chosen one. 

Charismatic, attractive and charming, Peyton is the kind of character that has it all and is privileged to boot. What makes him act out is never really inferred, but nonetheless, his behaviour doesn’t stop their parents – mainly their mom – from making all sorts of excuses for him.

At this point, Sydney, who is already feeling left by the wayside, does what any other normal teen would do in her circumstances: tries to be supportive but can’t help but resent her brother for his irresponsible and reckless behaviour.

She also takes it upon herself to shoulder the blame for the accident that results in the boy’s paralysis.

And her parents? Well, what happens is that their parents barely take note of Sydney. And when they do, it’s for all the wrong reasons.

Left floundering, Sydney eventually draws closer to the Chathams, a family who have all the reason in the world to give up, yet are all the more closer, loving and supportive because of their very circumstances.

I found the juxtaposition of how the two different families deal with emotional upheaval fascinating; Sarah has a way of presenting two different fronts while making both reactions plausible and understandable, even if we as the reader don’t necessarily agree with the one family’s methods.

There were times I just really wanted to shake Sydney’s parents – the kind of neglect and lack of attentiveness to her needs was just downright criminal.

I also loved how friendship was given a strong focus in the book. Sydney befriends her love interest’s sister first – and it’s a bond that is emphasised throughout the book. In fact, while I certainly did enjoy the romantic aspect of the novel, I found myself applauding Sarah more for every other aspect of this book.

Yay for the power of friendships in YA novels!

I did feel as if there was room for more expansion in the novel, especially towards the end of the book. The conclusion also felt very abrupt, but I am hoping it’s because we’ll get to see more of the characters in future books and not because it was the end of the story.

Niggles aside, it’s still a book that’s worth picking up, and one that I’d definitely read again.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Giveaway: Win 1 of 2 signed copies of The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness (now closed)

So, I’ve got another little treat for you lovelies.  I was debating whether or not to hold back this giveaway until I’ve actually read and reviewed the book (which should be sometime in November, I hope), but thought, hey, why deprive you of an opportunity to win a book sooner?

I’d never be that cruel.

The awesome folks from Pan Macmillan are offering two lucky readers a chance to win 1 of 2 signed copies of Patrick Ness’s latest novel, The Rest of Us Just Live Here. 

All you need to do is leave a comment below and tell me what your favourite contemporary read of 2015 is so far and why, and you’ll stand a chance of winning.

Being a follower is not required, but is nonetheless appreciated.  Oh and please feel free to tweet or FB the giveaway!

Open to SA readers only (Alas, sorry international lovelies, I’ll have something coming your way soon)

Giveaway closes 25 October.

In the meantime, here’s some more info about the book.
The Rest of Us Just Live Here

What if you aren’t the Chosen One?

The one who’s supposed to fight the zombies, or the soul-eating ghosts, or whatever the heck this new thing is, with the blue lights and the death?

What if you’re like Mikey? Who just wants to graduate and go to prom and maybe finally work up the courage to ask Henna out before someone goes and blows up the high school. Again.

Because sometimes there are problems bigger than this week’s end of the world, and sometimes you just have to find the extraordinary in your ordinary life.

Even if your best friend is worshipped by mountain lions.

Award-winning writer Patrick Ness’s bold and irreverent novel powerfully reminds us that there are many different types of remarkable.

Add it to your TBR pile here.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Book spotlight: 5 YA thrillers I can’t wait to read

It’s been a while since I’ve done a book spotlight feature, so I thought I’d do a quick highlights post of five keep-you-on-the-edge-of-your seat reads that I’m really looking forward to buying and reading.

Barring my current reads, I’ve actually been in the mood for a good thriller, especially given the fact that I’ve recently finished  and reviewed What Waits in the Woods, The Retribution of Mara Dyer, the final book in the The Mara Dyer trilogy, and The Girl on the Train – all of which I enjoyed, although the last two far more than the first one.

So, in no particular order, here are a few of the YA thrillers that I’m definitely going to a)get my hands on if I haven’t already, and b) read as soon as humanly possible. 

The Dead House by Dawn Kurtagich
About the book:

Part-psychological thriller, part-urban legend, this is an unsettling narrative made up of diary entries, interview transcripts, film footage transcripts and medical notes.

Twenty-five years ago, Elmbridge High burned down. Three people were killed and one pupil, Carly Johnson, disappeared. Now a diary has been found in the ruins of the school.

The diary belongs to Kaitlyn Johnson, Carly’s identical twin sister.

But Carly didn’t have a twin . . .

For the full summary, and to add it to your TBR pile, do head on over and visit Goodreads…

Why I’m excited: I’m sorry, but that line of Carly not having a twin? Instant intrigue. Doesn’t it just make you want to pick up the book this. Very. Moment?

That, plus the fact that it’s described as being part urban legend (which I’m a huge sucker for) immediately had me adding it to my shelves.  And if you need more convincing, well, I’m just going to let the trailer speak for itself, ok? But trust me, you’re going to want to read this one.

I’m currently reading (and loving) this one as we speak, so do look out for a review in the foreseeable future.

Check out the trailer:


After the Woods by Kim Savage (this one’s only being published in February 2016)

About the book: 
One year ago, two best friends, Liv and Julia, were attacked in the woods by a paroled predator. In an attempt to save Liv, Julia was left behind while Liv escaped. After spending three days in the woods trying to escape her abductor, Julia was rescued.

She only remembers what happened in the woods in terrifying flashbacks. Now, on the eve of the anniversary of the attack, a body is found in the woods.

Add it to Goodreads

Why I’m excited: I’ve always been intrigued by stories that deal with destructive friendships, so it would be interesting to see just how this friendship is affected by the events that occur in this book. 

And of course, I would like to confirm whether my suspicions about what happens in the story, is actually more than just a hunch. Oh and how did she survive for those three days?

So many questions… so many reasons to read this book.

If You're Lucky by Yvonne Prinz
About the book:
When seventeen-year-old Georgia’s brother drowns while surfing halfway around the world in Australia, she refuses to believe Lucky’s death was just bad luck. Lucky was smart.

He wouldn’t have surfed in waters more dangerous than he could handle. Then a stranger named Fin arrives in False Bay, claiming to have been Lucky’s best friend.

Soon Fin is working for Lucky’s father, charming Lucky’s mother, dating his girlfriend. Georgia begins to wonder: did Fin murder Lucky in order to take over his whole life? 

Determined to clear the fog from her mind in order to uncover the truth about Lucky’s death, Georgia secretly stops taking the medication that keeps away the voices in her head….

Read the rest of the synopsis on Goodreads

Why I’m excited: Two words: Unreliable narrator.  Also, I’m interested to see how the mental health issue is tackled and how the book deals with the stigma or belief that it’s easier and safer to believe the lies of a charming stranger, versus the potential truth of a mind that’s not altogether stable, and as such, untrustworthy.

Burning  by Danielle Rollins
About the book:

After three years in juvie, Angela Davis is just a few months shy of release, and she'll finally be free from the hole that is Brunesfield Correctional Facility. Then Jessica arrives. Only ten years old and under the highest security possible, this girl has to be dangerous, even if no one knows what she did to land in juvie.

Check out the rest of synopsis on Goodreads.

Why I’m excited: Um, hello, a potential criminal that’s only 10 years old? Of course I friggin’ want to know what she did to end up in a juvenile centre.

Also, this book is being described as a twist on Orange is the New Black, so if you’re a fan of the show, then you should probably make a note and add this book to your TBR pile.

Need by Joelle Charbonneau
About the book:
"No one gets something for nothing. We all should know better."

Teenagers at Wisconsin's Nottawa High School are drawn deeper into a social networking site that promises to grant their every need . . . regardless of the consequences.

Soon the site turns sinister, with simple pranks escalating to malicious crimes. The body count rises.

In this chilling YA thriller, the author of the best-selling Testing trilogy examines not only the dark side of social media, but the dark side of human nature.

Add it to your Goodreads TBR pile   

Why I’m excited: Because who doesn’t love a good book that explores the darker side of social media and the consequences of human greed? 

Check out the trailer:

How about you? What thrillers (ya or not) or are looking forward to reading? Let me know. I'm always keen for some new recs, as you well know.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Cover reveal: Spark by Holly Schindler

Today, thanks to HarperTeen and YA author Holly Schindler, I’m excited to be part of the cover reveal for Holly’s forthcoming book, Spark.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve always been a fan of books about star-crossed lovers and Spark is a book that, well, has that in spades. Or so it certainly seems to me.  Also, the theatre (we use UK spelling here in SA by the way) as a setting? Oh yes please.

Without further ado, behold the gorgeous cover! Be sure to scroll down for more info about the book and more about Holly.

About the book:
When the right hearts come to the Avery Theater—at the right time—the magic will return. The Avery will come back from the dead.

Or so Quin’s great-grandmother predicted many years ago on Verona, Missouri’s most tragic night, when Nick and Emma, two star-crossed teenage lovers, died on the stage.

It was the night that the Avery’s marquee lights went out forever.

It sounds like urban legend, but one that high school senior Quin is now starting to believe, especially when her best friend, Cass, and their classmate Dylan step onto the stage and sparks fly.

It seems that magic can still unfold at the old Avery Theater and a happier ending can still be had—one that will align the stars and revive not only the decrepit theater, but also the decaying town.

However, it hinges on one thing—that Quin gets the story right this time around.

Holly Schindler brings the magic of the theater to life in this tale of family ties, fate, love, and one girl’s quest to rewrite history.

Add it to your Goodreads TBR pile.

How the idea for Spark was “sparked.”


“In my hometown, the restoration of a former movie theater on the town square provided the genesis for my new YA novel, SPARK. Who among us hasn’t dreamed of seeing their name in blazing neon across a gigantic marquee? Let me invite you to dim the lights and draw back the velvet curtains—let your imagination run wild as you enter my fictional Avery Theater, where literally anything goes…”  

About Holly:

Holly Schindler is the author of three previous YA novels: PLAYING HURT as well as the critically acclaimed FERAL (starred PW review) and A BLUE SO DARK (starred Booklist review, ForeWord Book of the Year silver medal, IPPY gold medal).

A writer of books for all ages, Schindler’s MG, THE JUNCTION OF SUNSHINE AND LUCKY, has made the master list for children’s book awards in Illinois, South Carolina, and Alabama.

She is also a hybrid author, having independently released comedic women’s fiction (FIFTH AVENUE FIDOS) and the forthcoming PLAY IT AGAIN, her adult follow-up to her YA PLAYING HURT.

She can be reached through her author site:, and hosts special sneak peeks and giveaways for subscribers of her newsletter:

Spark “Premieres” May 17, 2016, but you can buy your “tickets” now.


Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Book review: A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas

This beautifully rendered fantasy novel features a daring heroine, tortured hero and a world cloaked in beauty and deadly secrets.

A copy of the book can be purchased via

Disclaimer: Review first appeared on

A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J Maas (first published in 2015 by Bloomsbury UK)
As an avid lover of all things fairy tales, myth and folklore, A Court of Thorns and Roses proved to be a book that was just up my alley and one that I’d certainly say ticks all the right boxes when it comes to the more traditional books about the fey (ya know, the bloodthirsty, not-so-fluttery kind).

Darkly enchanting, sensuous and lush in its settings and descriptions, this book combines elements from two fairy tales as well as a traditional piece of folklore based on an old Scottish ballad, to tell the story of Feyre, a young huntress who finds herself in the fairy borderlands after inadvertently getting herself into trouble.

Punished for taking the life of a fairy, Feyre, in exchange for not losing her life, is forced to live out the rest of her days in a world that is as beguiling as it is deadly.

Though she is treated well by her captors, it soon becomes clear that the new world she inhabits not only poses a potential threat to the human realm, but perhaps to the very existence of the fey themselves.

With no choice but to rely on Tamlin , whom the fiercely independent Feyre eventually develops all sorts of unsettling feelings for, she soon finds herself navigating through treacherous territory - thrown headlong into ruthless fairy politics, old curses, bloodshed and violence.

With her home, heart, family and the lives of those who she’s come to love all at stake, Feyre soon learns that some sacrifices require the ultimate price.

Ok, so just in case I didn’t make it clear... I ABSOLUTELY LOVED THIS BOOK!

From its plot and beautiful writing, to the characterisation and storytelling, A Court of Thorns and Roses has proven to be the kind of fantasy novel that I’m always on the hunt for, but never seem to find. 

With a fiercely courageous and gutsy heroine, Sarah J Maas has brought to life the kind of heroine we’re all eager to see more of in fiction.

Relentless in her duty to protect her family, and brave-to-the-point-of-stupidity in the face of mortal peril, Feyre is the kind of protagonist that does everything in her power to help those she loves, even if she doesn’t always get along with them.

With no choice but to go along with the consequences of her actions, she’s quick to make the best of the circumstances, while being smart enough to be on the lookout for the first opportunity to escape.

The most interesting thing about her is the fact that, while she’s a gifted huntress, she’s also illiterate, an important fact which comes into play during the course of the novel.

A huge round of applause goes to Sarah J Maas for weaving this in so effortlessly without making Feyre any lesser of a character for it.

Being part her struggle to find her way around her inability is a huge part of what makes this book such a joy to read. Yes, she has her pride, but oh is she a fighter. She’s fierce, determined and is a badass warrior queen in my eyes.  

Then, of course there are the fae.

And oh my soul, are you going to swoon!

This book has heaps of devastatingly beautiful fairy men - our protagonist’s love interest - Tamlin, shape-shifting high lord of the Spring Court, upping the swoon factor even more with his gentlemanly ways, wicked roguishness and kind heart.    

There’s Lucien, Tamlin’s emissary, who with his devastating wit, scarred-but-handsome visage and cheek, will quickly find a place amongst the favourite secondary-characters-who-should-get-their-own-story category.

And last, but not least, Rhysand (one of my favourites), whose morally ambivalent ways will keep you on the edge of your seat and will have you begging for more by the end of the story.

This is the kind of book that will satisfy lovers of romance and fantasy alike,  bringing to life the deadly and enchanting allure that many fantasy tales steeped in folklore, are often known for. 

Beautifully written, action-packed and filled to the brim with plenty of heroes, heroines and villains to keep you utterly enthralled, Sarah J Maas’s fairy tale retelling is an exquisite read worth spending money on.