Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Astrologer's Daughter by Rebecca Lim

Title: The Astrologer's Daughter
Author: Rebecca Lim

Release Date: 23rd July 2014

My Rating: 4/5

Avicenna Crowe’s mother, Joanne, is an astrologer with uncanny predictive powers and a history of being stalked. Now she is missing.
The police are called, but they’re not asking the right questions. Like why Joanne lied about her past, and what she saw in her stars that made her so afraid.

But Avicenna has inherited her mother’s gift. Finding an unlikely ally in the brooding Simon Thorn, she begins to piece together the mystery. And when she uncovers a link between Joanne’s disappearance and a cold-case murder, Avicenna is led deep into the city’s dark and seedy underbelly, unaware how far she is placing her own life in danger.

Pulse-racing and terrifyingly real, The Astrologer’s Daughter will test your belief in destiny and the endurance of love.

In A Nutshell:
An intriguing mystery set amongst Melbourne’s Chinatown.

My Review:
Having an astrologer for a mother and constantly moving around the country has never been particularly easy for Avicenna Crowe. Joanne is not a fortune teller or a psychic but can read what has been written in your stars from the day you were born. When Joanne reads her own stars and discovers her fate, she disappears without warning leaving her daughter desperate for answers. After contacting the police, the case is handed over to missing persons and Avicenna is faced with prepaid clients desperate for the answers Joanne promised them via their star charts. Avicenna reluctantly carries on her mother’s work, something she has always known how to do but shunned. Even though she just wants to sit in a pile of grief and despair while the police look for her mum, Avicenna decides to honour her mother’s rules of business. Unfortunately, in the process, she stumbles upon a decades old mystery and cold case, placing her in unexpected danger as well as uncovering secrets about her mother and father, and their families.

Set in Chinatown of inner city Melbourne, The Astrologer’s Daughter is gritty and dark but also hopeful and compassionate, simultaneously highlighting the importance of looking beneath the surface of appearances. For Avicenna, she built protective walls around herself long ago in order to avoid getting hurt, but in turn, because of these defence mechanisms, she ends up treating people the very same way she was trying to avoid.

I love a good mystery and I like how a lot of the story-points all tied together. I was a little dissatisfied with the ending and would have liked if certain aspects were elaborated on, however I can’t comment on these without including spoilers.

Overall I really enjoyed The Astrologer’s Daughter. The astrology aspect was interesting and the mystery of both where her mother is and the cold case, kept the story moving with intrigue. I would love to see more of Avicenna (and Simon) in a sequel and it did seem like there would be further opportunities to expand their storylines. Fingers crossed.

Thank you to Text Publishing for providing me with this review copy.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Notes From The Blender by Trish Cook and Brendan Halpin

Title: Notes From The Blender
Author: Trish Cook and Brendan Halpin

Release Date: 24th May 2011

My Rating: 3/5

Declan loves four things: Scandinavian death metal, violent video games, Internet porn, and Neilly Foster. He spends most of his classroom time wondering what it might be like to talk to her, date her, maybe even brush against her chest in the hallway.

Neilly is naturally beautiful and a fixture at all the best parties (to which Declan is never invited). But in one horrible day, she gets dumped by her boyfriend, is betrayed by her former BFF, and walks in on her mom with some stranger.

Turns out the stranger is Declan's dad. And he's marrying Neilly's mom. Soon. Which means Dec and Neilly will be siblings.

In a hilarious, smart, and seductive romp, Trish Cook and Brendan Halpin take us on a journey with Dec and Neilly as they discover the true meaning of family.

In A Nutshell:
Notes from the Blender is a realistic novel about forgiveness, lust, betrayal and embarrassment. It contains conflicting personalities, a full spectrum of emotions and explores the changing landscape of a family. 

My Review:
The blurb kind of says it all. Told in the alternating perspectives of Declan and Neilly, Notes From the Blender explores the rollercoaster ride that happens when two families join together, made that much harder considering Dec and Neilly didn’t even know their parents were dating!

It’s a whole lot of ‘new family’ for Neilly with a second stepbrother also on the cards as her dad is set to walk down the aisle with his business partner, Roger. As for Declan, he battles internally and lashes out at his dad at the thought of his mother being replaced, who died when Dec was nine.

Aside from the fact that Declan’s dad and Neilly’s mum sprung the whole relationship and marriage thing on the kids without any warning, I think they are terrific parents. I really like the interactions not just between each of them and their biological offspring, but also their future stepson/daughter.

Dec and Neilly’s interactions throughout the story are not entirely predictable which makes for a nice change. There is also the valuable life lesson about not judging people before getting to know them which occurs not just between Neilly and Dec, but other characters as well.

Notes from the Blender is a realistic novel about forgiveness, lust, betrayal and embarrassment. It contains conflicting personalities, a full spectrum of emotions and explores the changing landscape of a family.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

This Is What Happy Looks Like by Jennifer E. Smith

Title: This Is What Happy Looks Like
Author: Jennifer E. Smith

Release Date: 1st April 2013

My Rating: 2/5

If fate sent you an email, would you answer?

When teenage movie star Graham Larkin accidentally sends small town girl Ellie O'Neill an email about his pet pig, the two seventeen-year-olds strike up a witty and unforgettable correspondence, discussing everything under the sun, except for their names or backgrounds.

Then Graham finds out that Ellie's Maine hometown is the perfect location for his latest film, and he decides to take their relationship from online to in-person. But can a star as famous as Graham really start a relationship with an ordinary girl like Ellie? And why does Ellie want to avoid the media's spotlight at all costs?

In A Nutshell:
This Is What Happy Looks Like was a quick, predictable, romance read but it didn’t quite have the ‘awwww’ moments that I so desperately wanted.

My Review:
Having read and enjoyed The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight, I was keen to try another, longer, novel by Jennifer E. Smith. This Is What Happy Looks Like was a quick, predictable, romance read but it didn’t quite have the ‘awwww’ moments that I so desperately wanted and that I found in Statistical Probability.

This Is What Happy Looks Like was a nice enough story, and the adorable and totally random prologue gave me hope, but unfortunately the almost 400 pages that followed just didn’t quite hit the mark for me. Reading it, I found myself skimming pages, hoping to find something ‘more’ but unfortunately it just didn’t happen.

Ellie and Graham are quite endearing and I think I could have warmed to them more if I had had a chance to get to know them through their emails, the same way we are told they got to know each other. Instead, after their initial emails (the prologue), we are thrown straight into their first meet-up and the predictable problems surrounding that and I don’t think that as the reader we feel invested or enthusiastic enough about their relationship to really care where the story goes.

Thankfully, this has not deterred me from trying the other Jennifer E. Smith novels I have in my possession. I can only hope they resemble The Statistical Probability instead.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Title: Fangirl
Author: Rainbow Rowell

Release Date: 30th January 2014

My Rating: 4/5

Cath and Wren are identical twins, and until recently they did absolutely everything together. Now they're off to university and Wren's decided she doesn't want to be one half of a pair any more - she wants to dance, meet boys, go to parties and let loose. It's not so easy for Cath. She's horribly shy and has always buried herself in the fan fiction she writes, where she always knows exactly what to say and can write a romance far more intense than anything she's experienced in real life. 

Without Wren, Cath is completely on her own and totally outside her comfort zone. She's got a surly room-mate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fan fiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words ...And she can't stop worrying about her dad, who's loving and fragile and has never really been alone. Now Cath has to decide whether she's ready to open her heart to new people and new experiences, and she's realizing that there's more to learn about love than she ever thought possible

In a Nutshell:
Fangirl is a book for anyone who is feeling nervous about heading off to college or who doesn’t like trying new things and is perfectly happy in their comfort zone. It shows that change doesn’t have to happen all at once but when it does happen, it’s not all bad and there is a whole world waiting for you to make it your own.

My Review:
First off, let me be honest. I wasn’t the biggest fan of Eleanor and Park, Rainbow Rowell’s hugely popular previous novel. I know, don’t hate me, but it just wasn’t for me. There were parts of it I liked but when I finished it I was left with no residual feelings or thoughts. Just ‘meh’. So I was nervous about what I would think of Fangirl. While it didn’t quite hit the 5/5 mark for me, I certainly enjoyed it more than I thought I would.

I really like books that discuss people going off to college, partly because it is that next stage in life when things start changing and you start taking more control of your life. And partly because I am at university now so even though I am a few years older than the characters, I can still relate to what is going on and it all feels quite familiar.

The relationship between Cath and her twin sister Wren feels very natural and typical of the way people change. They’re off at college, away from the people who knew them and Wren wants it to be a new beginning for her. It’s not that she doesn’t love the time she spends with Cath, but she is looking for new experiences and a chance to be her own person, as Wren, not as the ‘Cath and Wren’ package. Wren not only represents a sister but I think also the way friends change as you get older, something which I also thought was well-portrayed in Gayle Forman’s Just One Day which I read last year.

Stop frowning. We’re prettier when we smile. Are you sure you don’t want to do a shot?

I saw a lot of myself in Cath which is probably one of the reasons I enjoyed the storyline so much. A lot of the time I found myself thinking that’s what I would do or how I would react in that situation. I can’t say I’d live on protein bars because I’d be too afraid to ask where the dining hall was, nor would I spend all my spare time writing fan fiction, but I am not the biggest fan of change so I can relate.

For Cath to evolve, change needs to happen in baby steps: her writing class, meeting new people, writing something other than Simon Snow fan fiction… Cath’s life takes on a new shape and meaning over time, rather than instantly and drastically like Wren. And that’s ok because everyone is different and people react and adjust to situations at their own speed.

Other things I liked and didn’t like?
  • I really enjoyed the chapters that featured Cath and Wren’s dad and how they explore his mental illness and how he reacts and tries to adapt to both his girls going off to college. College is not just an adjustment for the girls but for their dad left behind.
  • Cath’s room-mate Reagan is full of attitude and the complete opposite of Cath which makes for interesting but ultimately the perfect dynamics between the two.
  • Reagan’s friend Levi is absolutely adorable and while his confidence immediately distances him from Cath, slowly she lets down her barriers and opens her eyes to what an awesome guy he is.
  • What I didn’t like throughout the novel was the fan fiction. I know it is a main part of Cath’s character but I had no interest in reading the excerpts scattered throughout the book.
You’re so helpless sometimes. It’s like watching a kitten with its head trapped in a Kleenex box.
Fangirl is a book for anyone who is feeling nervous about heading off to college or who doesn’t like trying new things and is perfectly happy in their comfort zone. It shows that change doesn’t have to happen all at once but when it does happen, it’s not all bad and there is a whole world waiting for you to make it your own. 

My edition from Pan Macmillan came with inside cover illustrations!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Spark Blog Tour: Interview with Rachael Craw

Rachael Craw's debut novel Spark is a compelling and suspenseful book with a likeable, determined heroine, swoon-worthy guys and a mega twist at the end. A decades-old genetic experiment has randomly selected seventeen-year old Evie to be a Shield, tasked with protecting her Spark from a Stray, hell-bent on killing his target. Unfortunately for Evie, her Spark is her best friend Kitty, and the Stray could be anyone.

You can check out my review here but in the meantime, here is your chance to get to know Rachael after I asked her a few left-of-centre questions.

I was the kind of kid who… checked to see if her wardrobe would let her into Narnia. Regular maybe-this-time checks!

My mother always told me… to take my jacket off when I’m inside or I won’t appreciate it when I go out into the cold.

The biggest lesson I learnt at school was… bullies must be confronted. Silence in the face of injustice perpetuates injustice.

My first big crush was… John Taylor from Duran Duran (I’m that old)

I earnt my first pay cheque… selling Liquorice All-Sorts door to door for a Rhythmic Gymnastics fundraising committee. Weirdly, I never did Rhythmic Gymnastics but it made me stacks of cash. I would buy a new record (vinyl album) at the end of each week with my earnings. I was so rich at 13. In retrospect, I cannot believe my parents let me do something so incredibly dangerous! I could have been stuffed into any lunatic’s basement and diced into little bits.

I really hate it when… people are cruel.
I’m very good at… singing

The hardest thing I’ve ever done… is write a book and get it published.

I’m frightened of… giving up.

When I’m in the shower I sing… gloriously. (I told you)

My road to publication was… 5.5 years of dreaming, praying, working hard, hoping, learning to receive criticism, applying what I learnt, getting to know my own voice, experimentation, risk, leaps of faith, revision, listening, believing, digging deep, surviving earthquakes, pressing in, taking advice, being thankful, having my eyes opened, counting my blessings, wearing my heart on my sleeve, joy, tears and more prayers…

The last book I read was… Cloud Riders by my Twitter buddy, Nick Cook. A high octane, high altitude, steampunk adventure story about airships that travel dimensions through twisters!

I would love to meet… Peter Jackson (he signed my t-shirt at the Lord of the Rings Return of the King World Premier in Wellington, NZ but that doesn’t count. I want to sit down and have a cuppa and chat).

When I get the munchies I eat… Nelson’s own ‘Proper Crisps’ Best potato chips in the whole world.

I’m currently working on… Book 2 of the trilogy, Stray.

I hope I never… forget what really matters in life: family, friends, faith, hope & love

Life is… discovery.

Spark is published 1st July 2014 by Walker Books.

Read my review.
Find Spark on Goodreads
Rachael's website
Rachael on Twitter

Spark by Rachael Craw

Title: Spark
Author: Rachael Craw

Release Date: 1st July 2014

My Rating: 4/5

Evie doesn’t have a choice.

One day she’s an ordinary seventeen year old, grieving for her mother. The next, she’s a Shield, the result of a decades-old experiment gone wrong, bound by DNA to defend her best friend from an unknown killer.

The threat could come at home, at school, anywhere. All Evie knows is that it will be a fight to the death.

And then there’s Jamie. Irresistible. Off-limits

In A Nutshell:
Spark is a compelling and suspenseful debut with a likeable, determined heroine, swoon-worthy guys and a mega twist at the end.

My Review:
I really enjoyed Spark. In fact, I found it so compelling that I stayed up until 2am to finish it. I really shouldn’t start books just before bed...

Evie’s had a tough six months and after the death of her mother, she moves from Pennsylvania to live with her aunt and braces herself for her new high school. Unfortunately she won’t be at the same school as her childhood friend Kitty who has moved back to New Hampshire from London to attend the prestigious Gainsborough Collegiate. However, both girls’ futures become uncertain when Evie discovers she is a Shield, a protector of those who are targeted by Strays (DNA-controlled killers), and is destined to protect Kitty at all costs.

Shields and Strays are the result of a secret synthetic gene experiment originally developed two generations ago that went wrong, and are now passed down randomly through the genetic line. For Evie, all aspects of her life change and she has to learn to adjust to the fact she has a pre-determined future and will never be a ‘normal’ teenager. With her body evolving in response to the mutated gene, she experiences enhanced speed and strength and battles with the consequences of being separated from Kitty, who she has ‘sparked’ with.

I found it a bit confusing when Evie’s situation was explained to her, trying to keep track and wrap my head around the acronyms and reasons for the mutation. However you experience the confusion as Evie does and it becomes clearer as she learns more. While it is a relief that Evie now understands why she has been experiencing strange dreams, hallucinations, heart palpitations and dizziness, as well as the odd feelings towards her friend, it doesn’t make them any easier to deal with. Being an outsider is never easy, but for Evie, fitting into Kitty’s upper-class life will be even harder, especially when her protective instincts kick into overdrive with Kitty’s social life. And if things weren’t difficult enough, the reappearance of Kitty’s brother Jamie complicates Evie’s life once again.

As many of you know, contemporary novels are my thing, favouring them over sci-fi/fantasy/supernatural. However, Spark’s sci-fi element didn’t bother me as the characters live in the real world and are battling the same everyday dramas of teen life: fitting in, not embarrassing themselves, having a crush, etc. These problems just get mixed in with a few more complications, like a killer stalker on the loose.

Spark is a compelling and suspenseful debut with a likeable, determined heroine, swoon-worthy guys and a mega twist at the end.

And how awesome is that cover?!

Spark on Goodreads
Rachael's Website
Rachael on Twitter
Rachael on Facebook

Tuesday, June 24 Diva Booknerd 
Wednesday, June 25 The Tales Compendium 
Thursday, June 26 Kids' Book Review & Happy Indulgence 
Friday, June 27 Fictional Thoughts 
Sunday, June 29 Striking Keys & Thoughts by J 

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