Denise Covey, L’Aussie, reflects on 2011

At the beginning of 2011, I joined Home Girl’s Reading Challenge which has many levels. I decided to go with the 100+ goal. I was off to a speedy start and had read my 100+ by November. In 2012 I will set my goalposts even higher. Writers need readers after all. However, seeing as I’m prioritising my writing in the New Year, maybe I won’t get as many books read. 

A Moveable Feast in hand
I read many amazing books in 2011. One of the most amazing experiences was reading A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway after buying it from Shakespeare and Company, the shabby little bookshop on the Seine in Paris. As I read it, I followed in Hemingway’s footsteps around Paris, walking up to his apartment, eating at his favourite restaurants and soaking up the Hemingway vibe. Another of my favourite reads of the year came from the same bookstore. I discovered a new author – Sybil Marshall – who published her first novel at 80! Her books are amazing. I started her Nest of Magpies in Paris after I finished Hemingway, and was blown away by her storytelling set in an English village threatened by developers. When I got home, I bought all her other novels online.

Books (other than the above-mentioned) that blew me away:

Au Revior to all that – Michael Steinberger – a wonderful story with an amazing premise set in World War 11. Seriously couldn't put it down.
Red Garden – Alice Hoffman – I reviewed it here at RAD.
Venice Conspiracy – Jon Trace – kept me guessing all the way through. Creepy.
Paris Dreaming – Anita Heiss – a great Aussie indigenous author who has written a series of …Dreaming.

I like to read/review blogger’s books. Here are some I’ve enjoyed reading:

Bear With Two Shadows – Roland Yeomans – could be a classic one day.
A series of 3 books by Talli Roland – The Hating Game, Watching Willow Watts and Build a Man
In the Mirror – Ann Carbine Best – a shocking memoir by a favourite author of mine

The Highwayman’s Mistress – Francine Howarth, author of Regency Romance

Can’t wait to get into reading for 2012. Looks like I’m finishing the year with The Affair by Lee Child, Jack Reacher series. Love them.

Dawn Reflects on 2011

Since it is almost the end of the year, it's time to reflect on the books that were read in 2011. Then in January we will have new reading goals to post and hopefully new reviews.

So much has happened over the last year and while I didn't read over 30 books this year, I did manage to finish reading 21 which is a lot more than the 3 or 4 I read in 2010.  Many of the novels were YA but there was a variety that helped add to the mix. Had a number of surprises with the books that I did manage to read with quite a few being even better than I had even expected. So many good books this year out of the 21 books. Some weren't as good as the hype and some were so good I wondered why more people didn't talk about them enough.

It's hard to even pick the best book out of the year even though I only read 21 of them. So I'm going to list a few different books that I found amazing.

Books that surprised me in a very good way:
A World Without Heroes by Brandon Mull - very long, surprising enthralling middle grade first book of a series
Haunting Violet by Alyxandra Harvey - ghosts and cool story line
Wither by Lauren DeStefano - OMG so good dystopian with even a good love triangle
Dreaming in English by Laura Fitzgerald - such a touching story even though I haven't read the first book.
I Am Not A Serial Killer by Dan Wells - quite a good book about a strange young boy.

Books I can't wait to read the sequel:
A World Without Heroes - cliffhanger ending made me go "argh" and I am still waiting for the second one to have a cover and such since I read the ARC of the first book that makes for a long wait.
The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPaul - The first book was good and I wonder where they are going with the story in the series.
Wither - I wonder what will happen since the characters have limited time left in their lives.

Not many but this year was better than the year before and I hope to read even more in 2012. Thank you for following this blog and our reviews. Can't wait to see what 2012 brings.

Hiatus for NaNoWriMo

Hello Readers,

I have realized over the past month in preparing for NaNoWriMo that this blog has been a little bit neglected. Somehow we achieved our 50th follower but haven't posted a review in weeks. That is so exciting in itself. Since we are now officially in November, the blog won't have any posts because the crazy goal of 50,000 words is a difficult task and we're a little distracted by that. But don't worry, we will return to a more regular schedule once the month is over.

Thank you to all of our dedicated followers. We are so grateful to have each one of you and will be back to give you more wonderful book reviews in December.

For now we write. Keep reading and have a good November!

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein

So, this was supposed to be the month I did only middle grade book reviews but the book I was reading has disappeared on me. This book will have to fill in but it's not even close to middle grade. While I love fantasy, I studied science fiction lit and this was one of my favorites. I recommend the audio version, which is what I have, because the voicing is great and makes the story really stand out.

About the Book: A set if people (humans and some others) on the moon in 2076, and they are kept poor and oppressed by an Earth-based Authority that turns huge profits at their expense. A small band of dissidents, including a one-armed computer jock, a radical young woman, a past-his-prime academic and a nearly omnipotent computer named Mike, meet under odd circumstances. Revolution inspirations spiral into actions despite the near certainty of failure and death.

This is a great book and while I haven't read a paperback (so unlike me I know) the audio version was just mind blowing amazing. I can see why Heinlein is such a prominent name in Science Fiction.

I am always interested in stories where unlikely characters come together for a rebellion. And to have characters that are fun to listen(read) about is a key element. While I wasn't sure at first about the main character, he grew on me and his interactions with Mike was intriguing. Heinlein is not just a fine author but he created a believable world where people live on the moon.

Reason for going with audio: The accent. I never would have read the accent at all because I wouldn't know what the exact sound would be so I'm glad I went with audio because now all I can here is the readers voice whenever I think about the novel and it was so fitting. It even worked with the other characters, including the sassy and slightly outrageous in a good way female side kick. Well, she wasn't a side kick per say but it's kind of the role her character took. She was vital in the revolution and with the odd mismatch group, the story of the adventure stood out. Listening to it was great. 

If you're interested in trying out a classic Sci-Fi novel, I'd recommend this book. Even if the genre is not your usual, it's always good to give other genres a try and there is much any writer could learn from an awesome author.

Dawn's Verdict: 10/10

Watching Willow Watts, by Talli Roland.

Watching Willow Watts
For Willow Watts, life has settled into a predictably dull routine: days behind the counter at her father's antique shop and nights watching telly, as the pension-aged residents of Britain's Ugliest Village bed down for yet another early night. But everything changes when a YouTube video of Willow's epically embarrassing Marilyn Monroe impersonation gets millions of hits after a viewer spots Marilyn's ghostly image in a frame. 

Instantly, Willow's town is overrun with fans flocking to see the 'new Marilyn'. Egged on by the villagers -- whose shops and businesses are cashing in -- Willow embraces her new identity, dying her hair platinum and ramming herself full of cakes to achieve Marilyn's legendary curves.

But when a former flame returns seeking the old Willow, Willow must decide: can she risk her stardom and her village's newfound fortune on love, or is being Marilyn her ticket to happiness?

I adored this fun read by Talli Roland. It is both zany and poignant. I love the bizarre descriptions of English village life as Willow leaves her London career as a florist to return to Belcherton, England’s ugliest village, to care for her recently-widowed father.
The story gets underway with the ghostly image of Marilyn Monroe hovering over a YouTube video of Willow doing a dreadful impersonation of the icon. She is an overnight sensation and on her way to stardom, complete with sleazy agent.
Sleazy agent Jay is just one of a cast of characters beautifully fleshed out by Talli, from her bestie, Paula, her father, her ex-boyfriend, and a loving Texan who arrives on the scene and of course, the eccentric band of locals.
The novel moves along at a frolicking pace, as Willow is both adored and exploited, much as was Marilyn Monroe herself. Amidst all the Marilyn mania, Willow’s goal is always to secretly save her father from bankruptcy in his dusty old antique shop. He confounds her by filling it with tacky Marilyn memorabilia, and confounds her further by actually selling it to the fans who’ve arrived to see the reincarnation of Marilyn. Talli brings the sense of the ridiculous to the story, revealing her ‘inner comedian’.
All jokes aside, what I got from Watching Willow Watts is that individuality is to be treasured. Self acceptance is to be celebrated and happiness lies in being true to oneself.
This is chick lit at its best. Talli Roland has written more than just pure entertainment; she has connected with our hearts, a rare talent. Looking forward to her next novel.

L'Aussie's Verdict: 9/10

Haunting Violet by Alyxandra Harvey

Another advanced reader copy I was lucky to get from the book bloggers conference. The publish date was back in June, the 21st, so it's available and I say, Go Buy It.

About the book from Goodreads: Violet Willoughby doesn't believe in ghosts. But they believe in her. After spending years participating in her mother's elaborate ruse as a fraudulent medium, Violet is about as skeptical as they come in all matters supernatural. Now that she is being visited by a very persistent ghost, one who suffered a violent death, Violet can no longer ignore her unique ability. She must figure out what this ghost is trying to communicate, and quickly because the killer is still on the loose.

Afraid of ruining her chance to escape her mother's scheming through an advantageous marriage, Violet must keep her ability secret. The only person who can help her is Colin, a friend she's known since childhood, and whom she has grown to love. He understands the true Violet, but helping her on this path means they might never be together. Can Violet find a way to help this ghost without ruining her own chance at a future free of lies?

Oh My Gosh. This was an amazing book. I don't know if it's my reading preference or such, but I seem to like the books that have a historical feel to the fictional story. Even the ones set in the "future" but seem to go back to old feeling setting become ones I love, depending on the story of course. This book had everything that kept me wanting to read. The main character was interesting and evolved because of the story. There was something close to a love triangle but not the usual kind and it was part of the plot I actually enjoyed along with how the different characters interacted with Violet. Everyone really added to the story and I couldn't predict what was going to happen in a good way.

The story starts with a great first chapter and the momentum builds from there. The reader gets an idea of the story, about the seances and such, then we get a surprise as Violet finds out she can actually see spirits, unlike her mom who just pretends to do such. And the ghost that Violet sees is a very persistent girl who needs Violet for something, if only she could figure out what. While I usually don't care for ghost stories, this one was amazing. Or at least, I've never cared for those kinds of movies but if there are more books like this I want to read them now. And one good part about this story is just when I thought I knew what was going to happen, boom, there is a new twist. It has a few "holy ...." moments. And it's very well written, which is always good.

It really was an amazing story and I recommend it to anyone. Read this book.

Dawn's Verdict: 9/10

French Quarter Nocturne, by Roland D Yeomans. What really happened after Hurricane Katrina?

Long before man. Long before light. Darkness reigned.

Who can keep up with Roland D Yeomans? In the last few months he has self published 11, yes, 11 e-books. Roland's lyrical prose and dark plots are amazing. I'd like to read and review all his books, but unless I put everything else on hold it's an impossibility. So I've been slow to read French Quarter Nocturne, but once I'd re-started it (I'd begun it some months ago) I was hooked into the story, which is the way it should be if the writing's good.

I've always been fascinated by this particular part of the States - New Orleans and the South in general. When Hurricane Katrina struck, I was dumbfounded at her fury and dumbfounded at how long it seemed to take to get help to these suffering citizens. Who knew what was going on in the Convention Centre? Obviously Roland's Texas Ranger, Samuel McCord knew exactly what was happening...

In Roland's synopsis he describes French Quarter Nocturne thus:

Hurricane Katrina has cast New Orleans into darkness. Predators, living and undead, close in on the helpless survivors. Can Samuel McCord and a vampire priest keep the French Quarter from being drowned in blood?

French Quarter Nocturne is set during the aftermath of hurricane Katrina, which devastated the proud, unique and unfortunately low-lying city of New Orleans. People struggled with what was happening in the wake of this disaster. How could they make sense of it? How could they come to terms with the horror? 

Dark elements are abroad on the mean streets of New Orleans. The music is of a much darker cast in the jazz club Meilori's which has shimmered into life on Royal Street. Here it is a Crossroads of Worlds. Monsters  are stalking the streets. Ghosts and vampires are abroad in an attempt to provide leadership in a leader-less city, to bring at least a semblance of order out of the mayhem and destruction that has occured. There are normal reptiles slithering around in the dingy waters but they don't pose much of a threat.  Far worse than snakes, the chaos in New Orleans has given the European revenants a one-off chance to establish a beachhead in America. Worse yet, McCord's life-long enemy, DayStar, is plotting in the shadows.

Who can step up into the void? 

Against the backdrop of Katrina's aftermath, an agnostic jazz club owner and his best friend, a haunted priest, engage enemies in the shadows that challenge both their belief systems. Sam McCord, a Texas Ranger, is trapped in a nether world with those who cannot cross over to the other side. McCord is a hero in his own right, but all the same he has personal issues that often tug at his heartstrings. But it is the memory of one woman, Meilori, that never leaves him, that dogs his footsteps. Even in the murder and mayhem and lawlessness of post-Katrina, Sam never allows that others should commit atrocities. But is Sam McCord an innocent? Does he ever do the 'wrong' thing when dire need comes calling? 

The French Quarter Noctune is a fantastic read, and you get used to bizarre instances where persons from mythological tales take centre stage. We meet famous writers from the past, too, all adding gloss to the many-layered story. But I warnyou, if you must read it at night at least keep the light on. 

If you've read any of Roland's books, you may be interested in:

Your mission, should you choose to accept it,
is to write a review on Amazon of one of my 11 eBooks. (I hope, of course, that it is a good review --
but bad breath is better than no breath at all.)
Write such a review and you get FIVE, that's right,
The entries are being safeguarded by my best friend, Sandra Thrasher --
who says she will break my fingers if she catches them in the huge jar. She will pull.

And 3 lucky people will have won either





SEPTEMBER 1ST is the draw date. 

 Good reading and good luck!

L'Aussie's Verdict: 9/10

I Am Not A Serial Killer by Dan Wells

A change of pace from the past books I've been reading. While I Am Now A Serial Killer has a teen main character, it's not what I would call a young adult novel. Plus the character is a boy instead of a girl, so that makes it different than most of the books I've read over the last couple of months. It was a nice break, to have a more ambiguous (to put it lightly) main character.

About the book from Goodreads: John Wayne Cleaver is dangerous, and he knows it.

He’s spent his life doing his best not to live up to his potential.

He’s obsessed with serial killers, but really doesn’t want to become one. So for his own sake, and the safety of those around him, he lives by rigid rules he’s written for himself, practicing normal life as if it were a private religion that could save him from damnation.

Dead bodies are normal to John. He likes them, actually. They don’t demand or expect the empathy he’s unable to offer. Perhaps that’s what gives him the objectivity to recognize that there’s something different about the body the police have just found behind the Wash-n-Dry Laundromat---and to appreciate what that difference means.

Now, for the first time, John has to confront a danger outside himself, a threat he can’t control, a menace to everything and everyone he would love, if only he could.

Overall: this was a really good book. As much as I thought I might like the story, it was even better. Having the young male character be a less than moral teenager was perfect and I loved having a character where I couldn't tell if the bad guy would be stopped or if the main character would be able to stop himself. And the action starts right away. There isn't too much reflection or whining over past things like his father leaving, it gets mentioned then the story moves on. Everything felt like it had a purpose. The only part that had me question was when John first decided he had to go after the antagonist himself, that it must be him. I paused to wonder what brought him to that conclusion but it was a minor pause. I couldn't wait to finish reading the book.

Characters: The main character, John, is a troubled teen and he knows it. Growing up around a mortuary and even helping out with the bodies makes for an interesting setting to what becomes an intriguing character. If anyone wants to write an anti-hero or any hero that is questionable in reader acceptance, John would be a good example. He isn't good but readers will still want to root for him. All of the other characters, from his mother, the other kids and the therapist, all worked towards moving the story forward.

I am looking forward to reading the next book already. Judging by the next titles, there is more troubled times ahead and who knows what John will do next.

Dawn's Verdict: 9/10

Where She Went by Gayle Forman

Guest Review by Ashlee Burke

Gayle Forman is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors and is someone who I will constantly be checking for new titles. Where She Went is a sequel to her devastatingly beautiful debut novel: If I Stay. I will be referencing If I stay several times because they are definitely not stand alone novels. You need to read the first book to understand what is happening in the second. (If I Stay on Goodreads)

Goodreads on Where She Went: It’s been three years since the devastating accident . . . three years since Mia walked out of Adam’s life forever. Now living on opposite coasts, Mia is Juilliard’s rising star and Adam is LA tabloid fodder, thanks to his new rock star status and celebrity girlfriend. When Adam gets stuck in New York by himself, chance brings the couple together again, for one last night. As they explore the city that has become Mia’s home, Adam and Mia revisit the past and open their hearts to the future - and each other. Told from Adam’s point of view in the spare, lyrical prose that defined If I Stay, Where She Went explores the devastation of grief, the promise of new hope, and the flame of rekindled romance.

Despite the title this sequel is not a philosophical book about where Mia was in the first novel. It does not address if she was in heaven or having an out of body experience and her experience is in fact not even addressed until later in the book. Where She Went is a reference of Adam’s perspective. It’s a question of his loss. What makes the sequel very interesting (and what makes it work for me) is that even though this novel is in a different characters point of view than the first novel it is just as personal and relatable. That in itself is what I think is the major accomplishment of these novels. They are able to make you relate to situations that are normally very hard to relate to: a devastating loss in If I Stay and life crippling fame in Where She Went. Where She Went also addresses the ripple of devastation a single loss can create.

Loss affects everyone in very different ways and sometimes the people who are not immediately related to those who are gone have their pain pushed aside and overlooked even though they are suffering along with the immediate family. As I mentioned Where She Went is not a reference to where Mia went in If I Stay. Mia left Adam and it becomes clear throughout the novel that Adam has no idea where this very important person in his life was and why she was no longer there for him when he felt he had always been there for her.

As I mentioned before the fact that I found this novel to be very relatable was a major accomplishment because the Adam you find in Where She Went is a very different Adam from that in If I Stay. In If I stay Adam is the dedicated boyfriend who loves music and is willing to sacrifice anything for Mia. The Adam in Where She Went is an apathetic famous musician who now finds music a burden on his life and cannot find happiness in anything that he has been given. On the surface he is not a very relatable character. He is constantly complaining about the problems fame has brought to his life and in the beginning I was wondering how this book would even connect with the first one because the first novel had such heart even in the face of great loss. Adam it seemed was just a whiny little boy. It isn’t until you begin to realize how much Adam himself lost that you see that his problems do not stem from fame and he becomes a completely different character without changing his narrative all that much.

Mia herself has changed but not so much that she becomes a different character. When we meet up with her she is doing what she loves: performing. She has graduated from Julliard and is preparing to fly to Japan for the first performance of her tour. It is interesting that while it becomes apparent that she completely cut Adam out of her life she continues to surround herself with the pictures and memories of those who she did not choose to lose. It is not until the end that you are shown why she left Adam. It is a powerful revealing and the strongest reference to the first novel. Which makes sense because If I Stay is Mia’s story where as Where She Went belongs solely to Adam. Overall I cannot recommend this book enough especially to the contemporary young adult readers out there.

Ashlee's Verdict:  10 out of 10

Tempest Rising by Tracy Deebs

This is one of the books I received after the Book Bloggers online conference and I was excited because I haven't actually read a mermaid book before even though I have a few on my "to read" list over at Goodreads. The copy I received was an advanced copy and the book was published May 10th. Since it was an advanced copy, some things in the published version might be different. I've noticed some mention online, for example, that one character's name is different. So, this is based from the uncorrected proof I received.

About the story from Goodreads: Tempest Maguire wants nothing more than to surf the killer waves near her California home; continue her steady relationship with her boyfriend, Mark; and take care of her brothers and surfer dad. But Tempest is half mermaid, and as her seventeenth birthday approaches, she will have to decide whether to remain on land or give herself to the ocean like her mother. The pull of the water becomes as insistent as her attraction to Kai, a gorgeous surfer whose uncanny abilities hint at an otherworldly identity as well. And when Tempest does finally give in to the water's temptation and enters a fantastical underwater world, she finds that a larger destiny awaits her—and that the entire ocean's future hangs in the balance.

Overall: A decent story. The beginning dragged a little for me because it felt too easy to put down. I started reading the ARC back in May but there were weeks where I didn't read in it at all. But over half way through the story it grabbed my attention and I became emotionally involved with the main character's tale. I'd been wanting to read a mermaid book for a while now and it definitely is a mermaid book.

Characters: Tempest was a bit of a warm/cold character. In the beginning, I had a hard time relating to and caring about her, which isn't what one wants to have happen. The first part of the story we mostly see her get emotional, fight with her boyfriend and fret over the events that were supposed to happen at some point in the story. It isn't until she all of a sudden forgets everything and goes to the ocean for a different boy that things start to pick up. Speaking of boys, not surprised that there is the human boyfriend versus the mystery boy that wants the female main character. For the small number of books in YA that I've read so far, it has been a common situation. This one at least wasn't the human doing everything to help the main character, so I didn't feel as bad for him (Mark). I didn't warm up completely to Kai (or whatever his name is in the published version) but I did a little through the story. There were many other characters, of course, and at one point during the climax I was a little confused about who was who. But the focal was Tempest, then the boys and her mother, which she mostly thought about and we don't see much of for reasons shown in the story.

Plot: The plot at he beginning felt a little slow. I almost wondered if the beginning could have been compressed and the action once she ended up in the ocean could have been expanded. That would have made the book a little more interesting for me, I think, and cut down a little on having the main character waiting around and complaining. Once we find out the direction the story takes, it gets really interesting and made me want to read. The end felt a little ambiguous. I don't know if there is a second book but it seemed like there was potential for one.

Granted that it wasn't the greatest novel, but for those that like the paranormal/fantasy romance-y young adult novels where female main character has her own issues to battle along with a love triangle, then this book is one to check out. If like me, that's not quite your thing, there are many other books in the sea...

Dawn's Verdict: 6.5/10

In the Mirror, a memoir of shattered secrets, by Ann Carbine Best

Available from the publisher, WiDo.
Also available for Kindle and Nook for $3.99
I have waited it seems a very long time to read the memoir, In the Mirror, by fellow blogger Ann Carbine Best. I was delighted when it was in the mail when I returned from my overseas trip. It was great company while I tried to get my land legs again.

A memoir has to be cleverly written or it becomes just a recount which can be quite boring. Ann’s memoir is anything but boring! She has used her vast arsenal of writerly talents to compile a riveting story of her life. It is the generous use of dialogue which sets this memoir apart, drawing the reader in. I felt like I was going through the journey with Ann, (and offering her advice along the way.)

And what a difficult journey it is. For a married woman with four children to find out her husband really preferred men must have been painful beyond imagining. I’m sure many women reading In the Mirror would be yelling at Ann: Give him the boot! Don’t put up with it! But Ann is not just any woman; she is a woman of remarkable strength and purpose. She had married for life, she was protective of her children, she was not going to give up easily. Even her husband Larry said on breaking the news: ‘You probably want to leave me.’ Ann replied: ‘No. I don’t want to leave you. You’re my husband. The children love you.’ (p.23). And so Larry stayed, but wasn’t prepared to give up men. The marriage continued for seven years after Ann found out her husband had cheated on her. Seven turbulent years.

I was surprised at the extend of intervention from the Mormon church of which Ann and Larry were both members. It must have been helpful for Ann to have the men of the church to call on in her times of distress, but I didn’t always feel the advice they gave was in Ann’s best interests, but maybe that’s just independent me speaking.

For such a tale of woe, Ann is never woeful. She takes many blows, but receives them with grace. The reader can’t help becoming emotionally involved. I was very angry at some of the complications of her ex-husband’s gay life, how it affected the children, how it made a difficult situation even more difficult. I was angry at Ann’s financial struggle, especially after Jen’s car accident and resultant brain damage, while her ex-husband was in a position to help her but chose not to for selfish reasons.

Then I was surprised when Ann chose to marry again, this time to a man obviously addicted to alcohol, going against the advice of the church. But was it the financial pressure and her need to see her children secure that was behind this decision? Once again Ann and her family are put through years of turmoil until the inevitable happens and Tom is no longer with them.

Throughout Ann’s struggle, it is obvious she retains feelings for her ex-husband and that she regrets the breakdown of a marriage which she believed would last into eternity. In the Mormon marriage ceremony the bride and groom stand ‘in front of mirrors with mirrors behind them that reflected their endless images, symbolic of eternal marriage’ (p.197). This is where I think the title In the Mirror originates. But sadly even though Larry and Ann’s images were reflected in the mirror on their wedding day, their marriage was not to be for eternity.

For a great memoir which is a celebration of the resiliency of the human spirit, read Ann Carbine Best’s In the Mirror. I eagerly await her next memoir.

L'Aussie's Verdict: 9/10

Busy Times

Hello fellow readers,

It has been awhile, hasn't it. I have been trying to post for the past couple of weeks but things have been crazy busy. But I wanted to post something to at least explain the silence on this blog.

Me: I haven't been writing, reading or blogging much this month. I have two jobs that I started working at the very beginning of this month. Last week I worked 72+ hours. This week it is a bit over 55 hours, so a little better. I do have a guest post to format and get up here on the blog, and I'm trying to read some times but it's not easy that is for sure.

WritersBlockNZ has a lot going on in her own world too. Check out her blog here to see her excitement that is waiting to happen any day now.

L'Aussie has been wonderful with her pre-scheduled reviews and she should be back soon from her travels. We will all be happy to see her back online. I'm sure she will have fun things to share about her travels on her blogs.

Things may be rocky for a little while, but don't worry. We're still here, somewhere.

The Mockingbirds, by Daisy Whitney.

The blurb:

Some schools have honor codes.
Others have handbooks.
Themis Academy has the Mockingbirds.

Themis Academy is a quiet boarding school with an exceptional student body that the administration trusts to always behave the honorable way--the Themis Way. So when Alex is date raped during her junior year, she has two options: stay silent and hope someone helps her, or enlist the Mockingbirds--a secret society of students dedicated to righting the wrongs of their fellow peers.
In this honest, page-turning account of a teen girl's struggle to stand up for herself, debut author Daisy Whitney reminds readers that if you love something or someone--especially yourself--you fight for it.

It is not often that you'll see me reviewing a YA book. Not because I don't read them, but my two colleagues on this blog specialise in YA, so I usually leave it to them. However, I was so thrilled to receive a copy of The Mockingbirds from a fellow Aussie book reviewer. I was intrigued by her review and have read many other fab reviews, mostly positive. 

The Mockingbirds has many appealing components that will appeal to a YA readership: boarding school, mysterious society, fierce vigilante justice with a traumatised but strong and sympathetic main character (for emotional impact).

The first chapter is intriguing. I loved the prose. It's sparse and sharp with a little bit of ache-y thrown in. I found it really appealing.

As a teacher who teaches many classics, I also loved all the little references to ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’. When you saw the title, like me, you probably thought it would be related in some way and it is. I adored the music refs, too, the Mozart, the piano playing and the passion for classical music. It was expressed so well, 'way cool' if you like.

There are many issues in the book which makes it a thought-provoking read. I like it for my students. Great for them to read it when studying 'To Kill a Mockingbird.' There are many discussion starters here.

On the down side, however, as the book progressed it started to lose me. I found myself not caring about the characters, which is always a red light to me. If I don't care what happens to the characters, I tend to stop reading. This time I didn't, but...Alex? The MC? I just didn't care about her plight even though she was date raped. Why? I think date rape is horrific, but her reaction distanced her from me. There was something about the way her emotions were presented. I didn’t feel compelled by her story. It didn't ring true.

The supporting characters all seemed a conglomeration. They were rather wooden, just characters in a book. They were usually flat and one dimensional. Even the love interest failed to spark - he seemed a celluloid creation to be the perfect match for Alex. Where was the romantic tension and chemistry between them?

I thought The Mockingbirds would be a powerful, emotional read. Many people may think it is - for all my lack of interest in the characters, it is really beautifully written. Yet I was mainly bored and felt disappointed at the treatment of the premise.

Because I didn’t connect with the characters, I wasn’t immersed in the story. It was difficult to suspend my disbelief regarding the novel set-up. The plot development bugged me and I really didn't see the reasoning behind some of the choices characters made.

But hey, don't listen to me, make your own decision. Goodreads gives it high ratings and it's easy to find glowing reviews around the blogosphere, but is that because the feeling is that we should rate it hightly because it dares to deal with the issue of date rape? 

I say kudos to the author for tackling such an intense and relevant subject for YA readers. She is writing a sequel to this one, but I'd give it a miss personally.

If this premise interests you, you should give it a go - you might connect with it. As I said the author didn't connect me with the characters so I didn't care about whatever predicament they were in. Overall, the actual book is well written and the prose made it worth powering on to the end.

L'Aussie's verdict: 7/10

Graceling by Kristin Cashore

Back in 2009, I actually met Kristin Cashore at the Sirens Conference. I hadn't actually read the book even though the paperback version came in before I left for the conference. But it was still fun because Kristin is just a fun, cute person and definitely is very nice. She signed my copy of Graceling, which is always fun. I have the other book, Fire too, and I'm looking forward to Bitterblue.

About the Book from Goodreads: "Katsa has been able to kill a man with her bare hands since she was eight—she’s a Graceling, one of the rare people in her land born with an extreme skill. As niece of the king, she should be able to live a life of privilege, but Graced as she is with killing, she is forced to work as the king’s thug.

When she first meets Prince Po, Graced with combat skills, Katsa has no hint of how her life is about to change. She never expects to become Po’s friend. She never expects to learn a new truth about her own Grace—or about a terrible secret that lies hidden far away . . . a secret that could destroy all seven kingdoms with words alone."

Overall:  I liked this book. It has many characteristics that I'm fond of when I read a book. It's a fantasy novel with a strong female main character who knows how to take care of herself along with an interesting plot and world. The story was a little slow in spots, particularly near the beginning, but in the end I enjoyed reading the book.

Characters: Katsa is a decent main character. She has her flaws, her moments but overall she is a strong female who isn't afraid to take a risk. And she grows during the story. Her character really develops as she discovers things about the conflicts going on, the other characters and much about herself. Having her interact with the different characters like Po and Bitterblue really did help. Speaking of other characters, I did end up liking Po. It's good to see a male character who interacts with a strong female without being too overbearing or cocky. I'd really like to see more of Katsa and the others in the future. I know the third book follows Bitterblue but if any came that would follow Katsa I'd probably check it out.

Story: This is one of the stories I couldn't quite predict. There are a few points I could see coming but there were plenty of surprises too. The world is well developed and what starts off as a somewhat small sounding conflict grows to a bigger even with a whole different villain that first expected. I enjoyed reading for the plot and seeing how the characters made their way through.

Dawn's Verdict: 7.5/10

The Villa Girls, by Nicky Pellegrino

The cover was irresistible so I selected The Villa Girls by Nicky Pellegrino as my latest 'chick-lit' type novel. I found it a light-weight easy page turner geared to escapist romance readers and there's nothing wrong with that. It follows the tried and true recipe which has given Pellegrino a readership niche in a romance novel sub-genre that blends the traditional culture and food of Italy with the promise of an unlikely holiday love affair. Well, how irresistible is that! Worked for me!

I have flicked through Pellegrino novels before but this time the language, appeal and structure lent itself to a younger market but I think there were too many adult themes for it to be graded YA. As a mature adult, I certainly found it interesting, if not challenging. Whilst it lacks the zap, action and feistiness of contemporary ‘chick - lit’ it provides a sincere and pleasurable love story for teens poised and hopeful on the brink of an independent life. It is laced with the excitement of early adventures that include holidays overseas, thinking about future options and of course tentative encounters with the opposite sex (but without any explicit detail).

The themes of The Villa Girls are family unity, loyalty and love seen from several perspectives.

I think the author handled conflict and suspense well to build the tension and plot. I adore the warmth and culture of the two Italian families that carry the storyline and reader along. Meals, recipes and hospitality are an intrinsic part of Italian life and Pellegrino's writing, so it is these colourful descriptive interludes that worked best for me.

Whilst the four villa girls - Rosie, Addolorata, Lou and Toni - are all drawn into the overseas ventures, most of the chapters revolve around the parentless and vulnerable Rosie befriended by Addolorata and the Merlinetti family. Her experiences with them at home in London and at Little Italy, the family restaurant, are charming. Chef and Dad, Beppi Merlinetti is a memorable figure and threatens to run away with the book.

The most rounded character in the novel is Enzo, heir to the Santi Olive Estate in Southern Italy. Chapters backgrounding the traditional rituals undertaken on the estate and his relationship with his Nonna (grandmother) were thoughtfully rendered giving insights into the at times rigid expectations demanded of him. These fuel his desire for escape which ultimately peaks in an unexpected love affair with a holiday visitor, an English photographer.

I wanted a quick, undemanding read when I chose The Villa Girls and it was definitely that. The story didn't disappoint, but I admit the author had me entranced towards the end. My main source of nourishment came from the wonderful array of food presented. The reason for this is that Pellegrino is obviously Italian and returns to Italy from her home in New Zealand on a regular basis.

So pick up The Villa Girls if you love fraught romance, Italian wine and food and family interaction with a difference.

There's a great Q and A with the author here.

L'Aussie's Verdict: 8/10

The Magicians by Lev Grossman

This book drew me in with the title and book cover. While the covers with dramatic faces and pretty women can be appealing, sometimes I like a simple and well chosen tree. I'd never heard of the book until I saw it on the shelves in the store but purchased a copy anyways.

About the book from Goodreads: "Quentin Coldwater is brilliant but miserable. A senior in high school, he's still secretly preoccupied with a series of fantasy novels he read as a child, set in a magical land called Fillory. Imagine his surprise when he finds himself unexpectedly admitted to a very secret, very exclusive college of magic in upstate New York, where he receives a thorough and rigorous education in the craft of modern sorcery.
       He also discovers all the other things people learn in college: friendship, love, sex, booze, and boredom. Something is missing, though. Magic doesn't bring Quentin the happiness and adventure he dreamed it would. After graduation he and his friends make a stunning discovery: Fillory is real. But the land of Quentin's fantasies turns out to be much darker and more dangerous than he could have imagined. His childhood dream becomes a nightmare with a shocking truth at its heart."

This book is different. Most of the reading I've been doing in fantasy lately has been young adult and this is a book that probably could be placed in the attempted category for college age (20's). Quentin is a very intelligent boy getting ready to find his way into college and adulthood when his life takes an unexpected twist. And that twist takes him on adventures he never imagined would happen, which is all cool for a novel but wow, this book feels long. In fact, it is almost two stories in one. The first part of the book is about Quentin, how he discovers the magic university and his years studying there but once he graduates things change. The years and adventure after making it through school is a story itself.

I don't have the Harry Potter background that some people may have, since some have made correlations between the two stories. So, I can't say much on whether it does have similar aspects. It's very different than what I've read before. The main character was a bit hard to relate to at certain points but in general he was interesting enough. However, since he is super intelligent, the language of the story with how he thinks and speaks has to reflect that. While I have enough education, it still slowed me down when I was reading.

The world created for the story with the interplay of the city with the university in the beginning of the story. The travels north through unusual, magical means, and the other locations did make for an interesting story. There are some scenes that certain readers might find awkward (fox scene anyone?) and in general, I don't think this is a novel for every reader. Some will probably not like it and others will think it's great, like with most novels. I liked it for the most part and my stepdad even made it through the book, though we book found it a bit slow.

Dawn's Verdict: 6.5/10

On Writing Romance by Leigh Michaels

Here is something a little different than the normal fiction review. Since all three of us posting on this blog are writers, I'm sure we have all read a couple of books on the craft. And there is a new Friday romance writers blog hop going on, so this book may come in handy for other writers. I didn't buy this book for myself. My older stepsister bought it for me for Christmas over a year ago because she knew I was interested in writing.

About the book: "According to the Romance Writers Association, more than 50 percent of paperback fiction read and sold in the United States is romance, and more romance titles are published every year than in any other genre. Many writers try writing romance first because demand for the genre is so much greater than any other. For those new to the genre and/or to writing, this book provides a starting point for developing the skill set essential to writing a best-selling romance novel.

On Writing Romance is a thorough reference that will provide readers with detailed descriptions of more than 20 subcategories within the romance genre, tips for avoiding clichés, specific instruction for creating the perfect romantic couple, guidelines for drafting those all-important love scenes, submission information for breaking into the genre, and much, much more."

While I don't consider myself a romance writer, per say, I did find this book interesting and somewhat informative. It all depends on what type of writing you do because it is geared towards the general, m/f romance novels. While, in general, the book refers to romance as a story between two people, the main focus of every chapter is on a romance story between a man and a woman. She does mention on a regular basis that there are exceptions such as gay romance. Which is what I write when I write in the genre: m/m romance.

Layout - This writing book has a decent layout with different sections that divide between "getting ready to write," "framework," "writing the novel," and "submitting." The very beginning provides a good introduction to the genre, general requirements along with a discussion on picking/researching a story. Every section has a wealth of information for the romance writer and I did learn new things with each section, though I did actually know quite a bit of it from the years of learning about writing in general.

Audience - The obvious audience for this book is suggested by the title. Romance writers, especially newer romance writers, will find this book useful. But even those who don't write romance as the main storyline can get some useful information in reading about methods for books in the genre because often times the romance will be a subplot in many different genres. Readers should just remember that the book is focused on writing romance novels, which have their own specific requirements (like happily ever after endings) that the author focused on, for good reason.

Overall Thoughts - Not a bad read. I've read a number of books on writing, mostly for fiction books in general. While this isn't a book I would have thought to purchase myself, I am kind of glad my stepsister gave it to me. It's one of the few books I've been given as a present by siblings that I have managed to finish reading over the last 5 years. Solid, useful book for romance elements in writing and easy enough to read. I would recommend other writers, and romance in particular, at least consider checking it out.

Dawn's Verdict: 8/10

South of Charm, by Elliot Grace

Amazon Editorial Review

We're huddled in the far corner of my bedroom. Arms wrapped around our knees in the dark. The approaching footsteps grow louder. Ominous thuds. Our mother, but somehow not. She's standing outside my door. We listen to the creak of the hinges. My sister clenches my arm. "She's coming," she whispers. "She's broken."
I've watched Elliot Grace's journey to write this novel and to find a publisher. He has worked hard and his book was released recently by Wooster Books. I've yet to read the whole book, but I saw the first review today and I thought it would be a good way to support a fellow blogger and to get Elliot's book out there as it will be some time before I can read it in full. How do I know it'll be good? Because Elliot has posted many excellent excerpts on his blog, So close, and talked so much about his characters that I feel I know them well. I love Elliot's emotive writing style. He reminds me of Pat Conroy who is one of my favourite writers.

Here is an excerpt to give you an idea of Elliot's magic with words:

Alone in the dark, one arm hugging the other, I studied the knee-high ocean of wheat billowing in the breeze.  A field butted up to our backyard, the year's crop still green, their stalks thin like rye grass.
And as I sat, I thought of Richie Frank's laugh, like the boisterous call of a blue jay.  I wondered if Brad had caught me in height, or perhaps passed me by.  He'd been gaining on me the summer past.
And while I knew I'd be seeing them in less than a day, I felt certain that my friends were long gone.
Then as I watched the darkened silhouette of a field moving as one, I spied a pair of golden eyes shimmering amongst the harvest, and realized an old friend had returned.
Dad had scoffed at the idea of bringing the cat on moving day.  "That old thing?" he'd said.  "He won't make it through the winter no matter where he lives.  Leave him be."
The wheat parted, and the cat sauntered into the yard.  He walked with a limp, his coat no worse for the wear, but covered in burrs and field dust.  He made his way to my side, where he rested his haunches, regarding my shock with disinterest.  As if a cat making a ten mile trek across the county to reunite with a friend was common practice.
"It's you," I said.  "You're here."
I reached behind a mangled ear and with thumb and forefinger, massaged his scruff.  He managed a purr, broken and laced with phlegm.  A moment passed before he lifted a paw to his tongue and started cleaning.  He had his work cut out for him.
"You're the first visitor I've had out here," I said.
Now to the review:

Jennifer at Serendipity's Library has written the first review of South of Charm. It is posted on goodreads and she has graciously given me permission to reprint it here:

It was good!

I picked up Elliot's book on Friday and did not put it down until yesterday (Monday) afternoon.

The story is about a ten year old boy who is forced, along with his four year old sister, to watch his parents’ marriage disintegrate. His mother starts acting completely out of character....I won't tell you why you will figure it out on your own. Most of the story is told from his perspective and I found it both sad and interesting to look at the violence and abuse parents can sometimes inflict on each other through the eyes of their child. You will want to think some parts of the story seem unrealistic...but pick up any newspaper and you will realize that the sad truth is this is probably happening everyday in your own town.
On a happier note I love that there is a baseball aspect to the story...cause its summer time and baseball is the king of summer. Go Phillies! Although the little league coach is a complete jackass.
I found myself yelling at the characters which is a good sign....if I care enough to show how crazy I am without caring who is looking at me....well then, that my friend means the book and characters are well written.
Normally my reading leans towards the Horror, Mystery, Paranormal type novel but South of Charm
was a nice break from that and it really made me think...which sometimes I like to do.

L'Aussie here again. I have trouble rating this book as it has so many themes both adult and YA. I asked Elliot how he would categorise it. Here's his reply:

'My editor insists that it's an adult book, and has shelved it accordingly. I'm hesitant to agree.  Yes, there is some adult content. Very little swearing, and when asked, I've given it a PG-13 rating.  It's one of those coming of age stories involving our youth, as they face a very mature problem, a la Stephen King's "Stand by Me." (I think it was actually called "The Body," before Hollywood bought the rights.)  Not sure if this really answers your question, but when asked, I simply call it a coming of age story for everyone.' 

Now because I haven't actually finished Elliot's novel I asked Jennifer where she would place the little rooster bar below. She said a solid 8 out of 10! Thanks Jennifer!

Jennifer's Verdict: 8/10

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