Monday, March 24, 2014

Jewel of the Thames by Angela Misri

Title: Jewel of the Thames
Author: Angela Misri

Release Date: 25th March 2014

My Rating: 4/5

There’s a new detective at 221 Baker Street.

Set against the background of 1930s England, Jewel of the Thames introduces Portia Adams, a budding detective with an interesting, and somewhat mysterious, heritage.

Nineteen-year-old Portia Adams has always been inquisitive. There’s nothing she likes better than working her way through a mystery. When her mother dies, Portia puzzles over why she was left in the care of the extravagant Mrs. Jones but doesn’t have long to dwell on it before she is promptly whisked from Toronto to London by her new guardian. Once there Portia discovers that she has inherited 221 Baker Street, the former offices of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson.

Portia settles into her new home and gets to know her downstairs tenants, including the handsome and charming Brian Dawes. She also finds herself entangled in three cases: the first involving stolen jewellery, the second a sick judge and the final case revolving around a kidnapped child. But the greatest mystery of all is her own. How did she come to inherit this townhouse? And why did her mother keep her heritage from her? Portia has a feeling Mrs. Jones knows more than she is letting on. In fact, she thinks her new guardian may be the biggest clue of all.

In a Nutshell:
I can’t get enough of the current Sherlock Holmes-inspired stories currently coming out and Jewel of the Thames is a worthy addition to the bunch. This time we get to follow 19-year-old Portia Adams, an astutely aware and observant girl who discovers she is the granddaughter of Sherlock’s other half, Dr. Watson. Already a budding detective, we follow Portia as her curiosity and desire to solve mysteries sees her assisting Scotland Yard on a number of unsolved cases.

My Review:
You may have noticed recently that there have been a string of books and TV shows that have found a way to keep the Sherlock Holmes stories alive. Each has their own merit and takes inspiration from the famous fictional duo that was Holmes and Dr. John Watson.

Jewel of the Thames is yet another however it focuses not on more Holmes and Watson adventures, but that of Watson's granddaughter.

It's 1930 and nineteen year old Portia Adams has an astute mind for details and a keen interest in investigation and mystery. Upon arriving in London, Portia discovers the property she is now the owner of is none other than the famous offices of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson and that she is the granddaughter of the deceased doctor. Hungry for knowledge not just of her grandfather but of law and investigative techniques, Portia pours over her grandfather’s old casebooks now in her possession, as well as studying law at Somerville College with financial assistance from her new guardian, the mysterious and wealthy Mrs Jones.

Throughout the novel, Portia’s curiosity is peaked by London’s current unsolved crimes and takes it upon herself to delve into cases and do a little investigating of her own. She is assisted by the charming Constable Dawes, her downstairs neighbour, and Chief Inspector Archer of Scotland Yard, who is also her college professor. Both are impressed with her remarkable deductive and inductive skills, and intrigued by her heritage and intuitiveness.

I thoroughly enjoyed this new spin on the Holmes and Watson stories and envied Portia’s detective skills throughout the novel. One of the draw cards to the crime genre is trying to solve the mystery yourself as the protagonist works through the details. There is also plenty of intrigue outside the cases concerning Portia’s own life as she searches for more information about her family, her slow blossoming friendship and attraction to Constable Dawes, and the mysteries that begin to surround her guardian.

I really look forward to reading further stories featuring Portia and seeing the ramifications of what was revealed to her at the end of the book.


As one of the stops on the Jewel of the Thames Blog Tour, I have an ebook copy of the novel to giveaway.

To enter, please comment below with your email address and share what Sherlock-inspired stories you are currently enjoying (or any other YA mystery you think we should all read!).

Please note, at request of the publisher, this giveaway is NOT open to residents of the UK.
Giveaway closes 14th April 2014.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

2014 Inky Awards Longlist Announced!

I am super excited to share with you the 2014 long-list for the Gold (Aussie) and Silver (International) Inky Awards, presented by the Centre for Youth Literature.


All This Could End by Steph Bowe
Steal My Sunshine by Emily Gale
The Whole of My World by Nicole Hayes
These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner
Fairytales for Wilde Girls by Allyse Near
Run by Tim Sinclair


All the Truth That’s in Me by Julie Berry
Where the Stars Still Shine by Trish Doller
Seraphina by Rachel Hartman
When We Wake by Karen Healey
Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan
Man Made Boy by Jon Skovron
Winger by Andrew Smith
Wild Awake by Hilary T Smith
Lockwood & Co: The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud

While I would like to offer a massive congratulations to all the authors who have been long-listed, I would also like to do special shout-outs to: AJ Betts, Emily Gale, Will Kostakis, Ellie Marney, Claire Zorn, Trish Doller, David Levithan, Emma Pass and Hilary T. Smith.

Unfortunately I haven't read nearly as many of these as I wish I had (you can click on the green titles to read my review). In fact, many of these have been sitting in my TBR pile patiently waiting for me to shower them with love. I know their time will come. In the meantime, I'd love to hear which ones you love and which ones you are still hanging out to read!

The short-listed titles will be announced sometime in August and the winners will be announced 21st October 2014.

For more information and to see how you can become a judge, you can stay up-to-date over at Inside A Dog.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Me Since You by Laura Wiess

Title: Me Since You
Author: Laura Wiess

Release Date: 18th February 2014

My Rating: 5/5

Are there any answers when someone you love makes a tragic choice?

Before and After. That’s how Rowan Areno sees her life now. Before: she was a normal sixteen-year-old—a little too sheltered by her police officer father and her mother. After: everything she once believed has been destroyed in the wake of a shattering tragedy, and every day is there to be survived.

If she had known, on that Friday in March when she cut school, that a random stranger’s shocking crime would have traumatic consequences, she never would have left campus. If the crime video never went viral, maybe she could have saved her mother, grandmother — and herself — from the endless replay of heartache and grief.

Finding a soul mate in Eli, a witness to the crime who is haunted by losses of his own, Rowan begins to see there is no simple, straightforward path to healing wounded hearts. Can she learn to trust, hope, and believe in happiness again?

In A Nutshell:
Me Since You is a raw and honest portrayal of grief and depression. It is the story of a family’s struggle to hold it all together when their life has been ripped apart and the special people who stick around hoping to eventually see a smile or ray of sunshine shine through once again.

My Review:
When a book so perfectly reflects real life emotions, how can you fault it? Me Since You will take hold of your heart and squeeze it until you feel as though you can no longer breathe. Just like the characters, you will cry until you didn't think it was possible to cry anymore. And then you’ll cry some more.

Me Since You is one of the most emotionally draining books I have ever read yet it is so beautiful and real in how it portrays depression and grief and everything that comes with the territory. After a heartbreaking tragedy strikes Rowen’s small town, the events that follow directly change the course of her and her family’s life. There are snide comments and vicious opinions, a town reeling from the devastating effects of suicide, the spiralling depression that engulfs Rowen’s father, and the anger and resentment felt through not understanding mental health issues. There’s the wishing that everything can just go back to the way it was, the confusion, the hurt, the pain, and the hole that is left when someone is suddenly gone.

The novel carefully examines how families, immediate and extended, are effected and how everyone grieves differently. Friendships can crumble or grow stronger depending on how individuals react and understand the process when everything in life changes and there is no easy answer as to how or when to move on. There is also a strong element recognising the healing power of animals and the love and bond between humans and four-legged friends. While I do not have personal experience in the types of tragedy Rowen lives, I do know something about grief and while this book will demand that you have a box of tissues next to you, for at least half the book, it will leave you a better, more understanding person for reading it.

Me Since You is a raw and honest portrayal of grief and depression. It is the story of a family’s struggle to hold it all together when their life has been ripped apart and the special people who stick around hoping to eventually see a smile or ray of sunshine shine through once again.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Forever Young at Perth Writers Festival 2014

Last weekend, I attended a talk at the Perth Writers Festival. Chaired by Perth author Julia Lawrinson, the 'Forever Young' panel featured Perth authors Amanda 'AJ' Betts and Joe Ducie, Queenslander Claire Zorn, and Will Kostakis from Sydney. Our lovely outdoor setting at the Tropical Grove, inside the grounds of the University of Western Australia, meant the talk started with the authors being pelted with berries, nuts and bird poo from above. Once the laughter and squeals of disgust died down, the authors were introduced and we were given a little run down of their most recent books and how the books came to be. You can click on the book to be taken to my review in a new window.
It occurred to me about half way through the hour that it would be quite useful to record what they had to say so I could share it with all of you. So the transcript below is after each has introduced themselves and their books and after they were asked why they write for young adults. I've tried to pretty much transcribe the talk word for word although it was quite difficult to hear due to the soundtrack of noisy birds made possible by our location at the Tropical Grove. 

L-R: Julia, Claire, Joe, Will and Amanda
Julia: Do you have an ideal teenager in mind when you are writing? Who is it you imagine you are writing for?

Joe: I picture myself when I was 15. You know, it doesn’t really feel any different *audience laughs*

Will: When I visit schools and I visit teenagers, they are so completely different and I like to think I am writing for myself but really I’m inspired by all the kids I meet and their experiences. When I was in high school, Facebook didn’t exist. There is this whole other world, such as internet on phones, a completely different childhood to the one I grew up in and while I do like to write for myself, I do need to be mindful that it is different to what it was in the mid-noughties.

Claire: Um, Will, when I went to school we didn’t have mobile phones so…. I write roughly for my 15 year old self and I try to scare her a lot. I never would have read something like this (The Sky So Heavy) when I was that age but that’s who I write for.

Amanda: I just write for myself. Every now and then I try to imagine it through teenage eyes and it freaks me out. It actually puts me off, it’s scary, so I just keep it for myself and later in the drafting/editing process I might think about them a little bit more. But when I’m creating I don’t like to have imaginary readers on my shoulders.

Julia: All of you are fairly new writers in that you have just published your first, second or third novel which means you have written an awful lot in the past. What is different about being published now? What’s it like going between your first and second novels? What’s that experience like because you are suddenly aware that you are doing it for people and that people are going to be reading it, reviewing it, and blogging about it?

Joe: It’s been great. It’s humbling. And it’s good to see your book in a bookshop. If anything, it puts a bit of pressure on you to keep it up. It’s still too new but it will be good to see how it goes in the long run. I’m still writing I guess so that’s good.

Claire: I feel the weight of expectation because my book has been embraced as dystopian and semi sci-fi, which well, it doesn’t have any robots so I don’t think it is sci-fi. But my second novel, which will be out in August, is very different and doesn’t have any of those elements in it. No robots. But it does have a joke about robots which is almost as good. But I don’t think I’ve had as much fun this time around which doesn’t sound very good but it is nice to write when there are no expectations. I just think, “I’ll write this down and if no one ever reads it…” You’ve got that freedom.

Julia: So you felt more pressure because you knew that you were going to be sending it to somebody?

Amanda: It doesn’t get easier, the actual physical process of writing a book. Every time I try to write something new I have to learn it all again. I’ve learnt nothing from the last process. I like to try something new. My next book is going to be set in the future in Tasmania because I want to swap very far away from what I have just written, so I have to learn the skills again. But in terms of writing, what it means and how I feel about myself as a writer and the process, it feels really good. It feels really good to say I have three. It feels really nice to see the results of my hard work but also… I forgot what I was going to say *laughs*

Will: Well the big difference for me in terms of attitude from approaching my first book and then my second is when I approached my first book, it was in the middle of all the Harry Potter frenzy. My book was going to be the first of seven that everyone would love and adore but then it came out the same day as Breaking Dawn so you know which one went on to be a really big seller! *laughs* But that wasn’t the only thing standing in my way of success. I like to think that it was *laughs* but… so for me I wasn’t particularly loved by my first publisher and I wasn’t that golden child and you know, you sit there and go, “right, do I pursue a job in an office,” a real job as my mum kept putting it, “or do I do this author thing and see how I go?” The big thing was I was pursuing that job in the office and it wasn’t until that moment when I had that group of girls talking about their grandparents (referring to an earlier story of how The First Third came to be) that I thought, “you know, I want another crack at this.” When I was writing my first book I thought that a career (in writing) was my birthright because I liked creative writing but my second book I realised, “no, it’s not my birthright stop being so arrogant. Sit there and ask yourself, if you had one book and one more story in you and one more story you had to tell someone, what would it be?” So it was more a complete perspective shift rather than a change in my process and that made me love it so much more and it made the bit that came after it so much more rewarding.

Amanda: I remembered what I was going to say! Confidence. It took me ages to write my first novel because I kept going, “I can’t write a novel who do I think I am, I’m going to stop and procrastinate.” But now I know I can do it, so that’s the thing that keeps me going. It’s still hard every time but it’s this trust in myself that this process can work and it’s worth it. So that really helps and that’s what you need as a first time novelist. Trust that there is something at the end of it.

Julia: Does having a legacy publisher (as opposed to self-publishing) make a difference?

Claire: I haven’t ever self-published because when I was starting out self-publishing still had that air of ‘that’s what you do if you can’t a publishing deal’. And that’s really shifted in the last five years perhaps. Now it’s no biggie, you just do it. But for me, I’m the kind of writer who gets to a certain point with my work where I can’t see it any more. You’ve worked on it so much that it no longer means anything and at that point I really need someone else to step in and read it and that’s when publishers are brilliant because you have two, sometimes three, people who will do that. They believe in you and they love your work and they want it to be the best it can be, as you do. And that’s brilliant. I like having a team.

Joe: I’ve done both. My last one I self-published entirely. I have four on the go at the moment, out and about. The first two were through an imprint, not quite self-publishing, not quite traditional publishing, something in-between. That imprint doesn’t exist any more so that tells you all you need to know about imprints. So yeah, the last one I did was entirely self-published. The distribution is a lot more online than through bookshops. At this point your book probably won’t be in a bookshop if you self-publish. But it’s not one or the other any more. You can choose, they call it a hybrid author, you’re in-between and if you do it properly, you can produce a book just as good, if not better, than what a traditional house can put out. It’s an entirely different market now, no one really knows where it's heading but it’s like with movies and music. There have been indies in that for as long as there have been movies and music and I think the self-publishing movement is getting that. It will be interesting to see where it goes in the next few years.

Julia: Joe, because your work is speculative fiction, or whatever label you want to put on it, does that mean there is probably more a ready-made online audience do you think?

Joe: Yeah, you have to find your niche. You have to find a market that you like to write in. Without sounding too arrogant, it’s selling really well, the self-published one. It’s targeted severely towards that particular urban fantasy market. If you pick a niche, something you want to write in, then self-publishing is a viable option.

Amanda: I don’t have the head for that kind of stuff. Sales, and oh my publicist will kill me, but I’m not interested in sales at all. I love writing and I love the process of working with an editor and a publishing house so I am so old school with this. I love sharing that and I wouldn’t trust myself. I don’t have those skills and those business skills to market myself. That’s not where my heart is so I would never consider it. I love being a part of the team, the publishing house team, so I am very lucky with that. But I understand that other people do have much better skills in those areas than I do so I’ll play it safe with the legacy. Is that what they are calling it now?

Julia: That’s what somebody called it the other night….

Claire: That’s what we are going to call it now. Hashtag, people, hashtag *laughs*

Will: I don’t think I am quite equipped to be the person who is out there selling my book to people because I have quite a naturally smug face. If you ever do a google image search of me there is always the eyebrow up that’s like, “hi, I’m an author, I think that makes me cool” *laughs from all* and so I can’t imagine being the person running around saying, “love this book, it’s great.” So the great thing about a publisher is, you know, not everyone inside that publishing house is going to like your book and that’s awesome. I love the people inside the publisher that hate the book and then you get some feedback and you grow from it. But there are those one or two really passionate people there that go out and really push you and they prop you up and at the same time, they go out to the stores and go to the audiences and say, “hey you should read this” and that way I can just be quietly smug in the background.

Amanda: It’s good to have other people barracking for you though. Well not for you, it’s all about the book. They say, “this book is amazing,” because if it was me, and I don’t know if other writers feel this way, but I’m full of self-doubt all the time. But these people are really behind me and I am so grateful for that so it’s nice to have someone out in front of me selling the book.

Claire: Yeah, my next one’s been in my draw for about six or seven years and if it was just up to me, it would never see the light of day. But there are people close to me, and my editors, that are just like, “no we love it.” If it was just up to me, it would stay in the draw.

The questions were then opened up to the audience.

Audience Question: With regards to the content of your books, Will said that he is sort of influenced by teenagers. But, with your imagination, do you realise that you influence those teenagers and how far does your imagination go when you think about these books? Is there a limit, like you can’t cross over that line because it’s a bit too risqué or something?

Will: The big thing with me was that I started writing Loathing Lola when I was in year seven and there was one scene that I actually saved and put in the final book that I wrote when I was in year seven. The thing is, I would never have published that scene that I wrote in year seven because I thought it was too vulgar and I actually changed a lot and I actually toned it down. But the funny thing was that it was actually written by a nerd in year seven. So, you are mindful of what you can and can’t say but really, this time around when I was editing, there are a few risqué parts in the new book but the thing was I had a publisher that sat down and said, “ok, this concerns us a little bit but tell me, justify why this is in the story.” And if I could justify why thematically that had to be there then there was no problem. Really, there is no line you can’t cross so long as it is there and thematically works. If it’s just risky for riskys sake then the publisher will go, “no be smarter”.

Audience Member: As parents, we worry about what might be in a book and I have two daughters who are prolific readers but are still quite young…

Will: The great thing is, talk to your booksellers. Booksellers are really great at knowing which books are great for different audiences. So for me, even though I do say there are risqué parts in this new book, you know I’d be more worried about someone who’s younger not actually liking it. So I think ask your bookseller and they’ll tell you, “no, wait a bit, they will enjoy this book when they are fifteen rather than thirteen” and if you tell them what kind of books your daughters like then they will be able to guide you if your daughters are advanced readers.

Claire: I think for me as well, I was kind of like that. I think I read Looking for Alibrandi when I was eleven and a lot of it was like “woosh” (mimes going over her head) and now I’m a parent as well so I do have this sense of being on both sides of the ‘page’. But the thing with teenagers, and from what I remember from being a teen myself, which I remember all too vividly, is that they have a really strong detector for when you are talking down to them. If you are at all patronising or if you are glossing over anything, they pick up on it straight away and you’ve lost them. That’s what I was like as a reader. If I felt like I was being talked down to or protected from something, I would shut off. But it is a fine line and it is tricky as an author. 

Will Kostakis
Audience Question: AJ, your book has been compared a lot to The Fault in Our Stars because they are both about teenagers with cancer and so I’m wondering what it is like? The Fault in Our Stars is obviously a really famous book at the moment and the movie’s going to come out soon so what is it like to be compared to a famous author? What are the pros and cons? Do you think the pros outweigh the cons?

Amanda: Oh it’s unfortunate for me, I think. I’d been working on Zac and Mia for many years and I was giving it to an author friend of mine to just read part one and get her opinion and she emailed me and said “do you realise there is this new book out called…” and I was like “THE WHAT?! THE WHAT?!” It freaked me out and it took me about a month or so to even get my hands on the book and read it, but within ten pages I realised it was fine because our books were different. And by the time I got to the end of his book, I went, “oh gosh, they’ve got nothing in common except unfortunately that tag for ‘teenagers with cancer’. It is often people who haven’t read my book who go, “oh, you’re writing the same” and yet I’m not writing the same. And people who have read both go, “yeah, they are actually completely different”. So I don’t think my style is compared to his because we’re not the same. I don’t know if it’s a bonus or a drawback that my book came out just after his. I’m upset about John Green and when I meet him I shall tell him so. *laughs* But the thing is, you never know. This book I am working on now, I had the idea nine years ago but by the time it comes out, who knows? Maybe six months before it comes out John Green will come out with a speculative fiction set in Tasmania. So I’ll be, “damn you, my nemesis!” It’s just how it happens. There is no original story except that you’re writing it in your own way and I’m hoping that people aren’t put off by the fact John Green wrote The Fault in Our Stars and they see my book as its own entity.

Claire: The thing that kind of erks me about that kind of thing is I’ve kind of copped the 'John Marsden' tag, which is not a bad tag to have let me say! So Much To Tell You is pretty much why I became a writer, but I haven’t read The Tomorrow Series. *laughs from audience* It’s funny, I don’t think if you’re talking about literary fiction and you’re writing about war, somebody doesn’t stick a hand up a say “oh we’ve already got a book about war”. There are lots of people, unfortunately I think it is one in three people, who have their lives affected by cancer. That’s a lot of stories to tell and as far as teenagers fighting a war, mine aren’t fighting, really, they’re just running, scared.

Will: The weird thing is, I have experience from the other side of the coin. So I’ve met the next Will Kostakis. Will Kostakis isn’t even a thing yet, why would you want to be me!? At the end of the day, it’s really a marketing shorthand and if you could judge a book by its blurb, which is really what’s going on there, or a particular style, it seems now days if you write realistic fiction you are the next John Green. Well no, I’m writing a realistic story. When did it become that he owns realistic stories? So you know, it is just a marketing shorthand but if it gets more people to discover more work then you know... If the next generation want to call themselves the next Will Kostakis, then go for it.

Amanda: The thing is, there were books about teenagers with cancer long before John Green but no one thinks about that. It’s just because John Green is John Green and I honestly thought when Meg told me that, that no publisher would ever want to touch this thing (Zac and Mia). But I went, “you know, stuff it” and entered it in the Text Prize and when they were judging it they went, “you know, we love this book but we’re conscious of what is already out there”. But they took that risk and thought it would be judged in its own right. And I am so glad that they did. It is going to happen again, I am sure of it.

Audience Question: When you write, do you think about what you want to say? Do you start out wanting to say something in particular?

Joe: Well I stole the idea for my last novel from a Nicholas Cage film, so no. *laughs* But to expand a bit, with The Rig, the general idea is kind of a blow to the privatisation of government services, in particular prisons and hospitals. Without making that the entire theme of the novel, it does make a good argument against that so I was thinking about that when I wrote it.

Claire: I wanted to engage in the asylum seeker debate but I also wanted to touch on the tension of not actually being able to help everybody, but at the same time, where does compassion come in and that kind of thing. That’s what I wanted to explore. I don’t think, I hope, I haven’t preached a message. I might have, but I don’t know.

Will: I just really wanted to catch what my life was like at that particular moment and from that obviously themes and messages rose out of it. But at the end of the day, I wanted to tell a story first and foremost and whatever else happened, happened, hopefully organically. There were some bits where I used some character arcs to show different things but at the end of the day it really is about the emotional story you want to tell because, you know, those are the stories that will last forever.

Amanda: I’m the same. Like Will, I never set out with an idea, with something I want to communicate. I wouldn’t finish it. I’m intrigued by an idea and I’m interested in story and it’s probably about two-thirds of the way through the book that I start getting this sense of the heart of it. And then throughout the editing I’ll come back and make sure its cohesive but yeah, it kind of emerges through my subconscious.

Audience Question: Are there any works of fiction that inspired your books or particular characters or settings?

Joe: Anything by Nicolas Cage. *laughs* No, Stephen King was my biggest influence. He always creeps into my work these days.

Will: My big influence is Terry Pratchett. Even though he writes fantasy, that man can do wonderful things with innuendoes. *laughs* If I’m half the writer he is by his age then I’ll consider myself very lucky.

Amanda: Probably not a writer for me but individual books, especially the ones I was reading as a teenager because I would read them over and over again. So Robin Klein or even back to Roald Dahl. And Douglas Adams. I love Douglas Adams. The crazy humour. Everything I read becomes a part of me, I don’t have a real hero.

Claire: I think for me Robin Klein was huge and I would read her books over and over again, particularly Came Back To Show You I Could Fly which is about a girl with a drug addiction which I had no idea that was what it was about because I was about ten . But she was huge and Marsden’s So Much to Tell You and Letters from the Inside. And Douglas Adams. There’s even robots in that *laughs*

Thank you to all the authors for speaking at the Perth Writers Festival. I look forward to seeing you and reading your books in the future.

Friday, February 21, 2014

The First Third by Will Kostakis

Title: The First Third
Author: Will Kostakis

Release Date: 24th July 2013

My Rating: 4/5

Life is made up of three parts: in the first third, you're embarrassed by your family; in the second, you make a family of your own; and in the end, you just embarrass the family you've made.

That's how Billy's grandmother explains it, anyway. She's given him her bucket list (cue embarrassment), and now, it's his job to glue their family back together.

No pressure or anything.

Fixing his family's not going to be easy and Billy's not ready for change. But as he soon discovers, the first third has to end some time. And then what?

It's a Greek tragedy waiting to happen.

In A Nutshell:
The First Third is about what makes a family a family, the bonds of friendship and what it means to have people who care about you in your life. Sad, funny and heart-warming, The First Third is about as ‘real life’ as you can get and arguably a male point-of-view equivalent to Melina Marchetta’s Looking For Alibrandi.

My Review:
The First Third centres around Billy Tsolkis and his family: older brother Simon, younger brother Peter, mum Kath and grandmother 'Yiayia' Filyo. After Yiayia lands in hospital, she charges Billy with completing her bucket list for her. Number one, find his mother a husband. Number two, make Simon move back to Sydney and find him a girlfriend. Number three, fix Peter. Yaiyai fears that once she dies, the glue that holds their family together will also disappear. Here she sets in motion a hilarious but often heartbreaking sequence of events as Billy attempts to reconnect with his self-distancing brothers and find his mother a guy that won't stand her up. And if he's Greek, all the better.

With the help of his best friend Lucas, affectionately called ‘Sticks’, and Hayley, a girl Yiayia attempts to set Billy up with, Billy has to somehow put his family back together, and maybe find himself a girlfriend who won’t runaway screaming.

Unfortunately it is easier said than done. From his mother asking him to proof read her sexts, schooling her on the acceptable amount of times she can text a guy in a row before scaring him off, as well as attempting to communicate and find common ground with his brothers, the tasks Yiayia has set are difficult. Peter refuses to acknowledge that Billy exists and spends every waking hour at the gym and Simon avoids his phone calls as he ‘lives it up’ in Brisbane.

The First Third is about what makes a family a family, the bonds of friendship and what it means to have people who care about you in your life. Just because certain people may not be around, such as the brothers’ absentee father, doesn't mean there aren't suitable substitutes who pop up at unexpected times and warm your heart. My favourite character would have to be Sticks. His foray into finding a guy who won’t look at him like a “freak” speaks to everyone who is just looking for someone to like them for them.

I loved Yiayia's comparisons of lasagne to moussaka (not what you think!), Billy helping his mum get ready for dates, Billy jumping on stage and performing a comedy act to avoid getting ID checked after sneaking into a bar, and all the bits and pieces that Sticks and Billy collect from their lifetime of adventures. These are all part of what makes the first third of Billy’s life exciting, sad, funny and heart-warming. The First Third is about as ‘real life’ as you can get and arguably a male point-of-view equivalent to Melina Marchetta’s Looking For Alibrandi.

As a side note, Yiayia also reminded me of my grandma, who is unwell and has been working to ‘sort everyone out’ or at least make sure they are on the right path before she is no longer able to do so.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Something Like Normal by Trish Doller

Title: Something Like Normal
Author: Trish Doller

Release Date: 19th June 2012

My Rating: 5/5

When Travis returns home from a stint in Afghanistan, his parents are splitting up, his brother’s stolen his girlfriend and his car, and he’s haunted by nightmares of his best friend’s death. It’s not until Travis runs into Harper, a girl he’s had a rocky relationship with since middle school, that life actually starts looking up. And as he and Harper see more of each other, he begins to pick his way through the minefield of family problems and post-traumatic stress to the possibility of a life that might resemble normal again. Travis’s dry sense of humor, and incredible sense of honor, make him an irresistible and eminently lovable hero.

In A Nutshell:
Trish Doller has crafted what I perceive to be a realistic portrayal of young returned servicemen who are struggling to cope with readjusting to the ‘real world’. I loved Something Like Normal and felt so much love for it while turning the pages and upon finishing it. Sometimes you just feel something for a book that words can’t properly describe. Something Like Normal is one of those books for me.

My Review:
Twenty-year-old Travis has returned home to Florida for a short break after 18 months in Afghanistan with the Marines. However, his trip homes doesn't end up being much of a 'break' with all the family drama he comes back to. His super-proud mum is grateful to have her son home and alive and is so desperate to help and be part of his life again that she is rather overbearing. It’s totally understandable, but a little too much for Travis to handle. But w
ith her son home and with his support, Travis’s mum finally has the strength to do something about her husband’s infidelity. His brother, who is dating Travis’s ex-girlfriend, who broke up with him in a Dear John letter, is pretty indifferent to his return yet his ex, Paige, can’t stop sneaking back into his bed for night time visits. And Travis’s father, as an ex-football player, has never respected or supported Travis since he quit football, something he never liked and was mostly under the shadow of his father’s championship career. While Travis never intended to join the Marines until the day he signed up (mainly to escape his father), he has become his own person and excelled in his field. Upon his return, now more than ever, Travis and his father butt heads. The difference now is that Travis is big enough to stand up to him. 

While his family is falling apart around him, Travis struggles with PTSD and is haunted by the death of his best friend Charlie, a fellow marine, who keeps appearing and talking to him. With his mind playing tricks on him, Travis keeps this hidden from those around him, desperate to get back to base, and have things go back to ‘normal’. 

Adjusting back home into his old friendship group is harder than expected. His mates are all still hanging around their home town, lazing about and not moving forward with their lives. Travis on the other hand has grown up and experienced and witnessed things the others probably couldn’t even imagine. The usual hometown gossip is of no interest to him and he just wants to get back to base. Home doesn’t feel like home any more.

Thankfully, Travis has a visit from some of the others guys in his platoon. These guys show that everyone handles and processes thing differently and that there is no ‘normal’ way to feel.

And then there’s the girl. Harper was the first girl Travis can remember wanting but after embellishing the truth about supposed events during a ‘Seven Minutes in Heaven’ game with her back when they were 14, Travis blew any hope of Harper ever speaking to him again. The high school rumour mill exploded and Harper’s hatred towards Travis is still as strong as ever six years later. However, after a random meeting and a punch in the face from her, Travis’s luck with Harper begins to change. Harper opens the door for Travis to have a second chance, and perhaps give herself the only real chance she’s ever had. She’s a good person and always liked him until the ill-fated game. Harper and Travis slowly begin spending more time with each other including a night-time beach expedition to watch baby sea turtles hatch. It’s easier for Travis to hang out with Harper than any of his old friends because there are no expectations with her. When he is with her, he is sweet but broken. He doesn’t need to show the bravado that he does in front of his high school friends, ex-girlfriend, brother and father. He can be himself, let his guard down and in that, start to address the PTSD he is suffering.

Trish Doller has crafted what I perceive to be a realistic portrayal of young returned servicemen who are struggling to cope with readjusting to the ‘real world’. I loved Something Like Normal and felt so much love for it while turning the pages and upon finishing it. I adored Travis. I’d want him to have my back any day. And I loved Harper. She’s the kind of girl I would be best friends with. It has taken me weeks to try and find the right words to describe why I loved it so much but I just can’t find them. Sometimes you just feel something for a book that words can’t describe. Something Like Normal is one of those books for me.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Amplified by Tara Kelly

Title: Amplified
Author: Tara Kelly

Release Date: 25th October 2011

My Rating: 4/5

When privileged 17-year-old Jasmine gets kicked out of her house, she takes what is left of her savings and flees to Santa Cruz to pursue her dream of becoming a musician. Jasmine finds the ideal room in an oceanfront house, but she needs to convince the three guys living there that she's the perfect roommate and lead guitarist for their band, C-Side. Too bad she has major stage fright and the cute bassist doesn't think a spoiled girl from over the hill can hack it.

In A Nutshell:
Amplified was a quick, easy read and while predictable in parts, I still thoroughly enjoyed it. I liked Jasmine. She's on a mission to follow her dreams and leave no regrets. The C-Side band members are a great mix and I love how they all just get lost in the music while playing. Music + cute boys = swoon. 

My Review:
Amplified was a quick, easy read and while predictable in parts, I still thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s one of those lazy day comfort reads: Cute boy? Check. Introverted girl eager to prove herself? Check. Music themed? Check. Awesome share house where fun is to be had? Check.

Jasmine is rather shy and introverted, a girl essentially brought up by nannies and although her father has always provided for her, it’s never been in the kind of loving, understanding manner that Jasmine needed. To him, life is about success and creating a future and while Jasmine has played the perfect daughter and student, even getting into Stanford, the future she wants to create doesn’t quite match up to the one her father has envisioned.

Amplified is about taking a leap to follow your dreams, even if it means doing so without any support and with your only family telling you it is the biggest mistake of your life. Sometimes you have to believe in yourself, at least to know you have tried everything and have no regrets.

I loved the dynamic of the C-Side band members. The banter and teasing between over-the-top control freak Bryn, cool and quirky Felix, the loyal and dripping in sass Veta, and Sean, my new book crush, just made for an entertaining read. Throw in a secretive Jasmine and the drama levels in the band and the share house rise. For Jasmine, things become a little more complicated than they already are when she falls for Sean, who is currently coming out of an ugly breakup. His heavily tattooed ex-girlfriend takes an instant dislike to Jasmine and makes her difficult stage debut even harder than it could have been.

I would have liked there to be a little more about Veta and Bryn’s siblings, Zoe and Nick respectively, since they are introduced into the storyline. The same goes for Jason, Jasmine’s bestie. I have discovered there will be a sequel titled Encore to be release sometime in 2014 so maybe they’ll make an appearance.

I’m a big fan of music/band themed books so if you are too, maybe check out one of my favourites, Five Flavours of Dumb or the books tagged with 'music'.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

The Sky So Heavy by Claire Zorn

Title: The Sky So Heavy
Author: Claire Zorn
Release Date: 24th July 2013

My Rating: 5/5
For Fin, it's just like any other day - racing for the school bus, bluffing his way through class, and trying to remain cool in front of the most sophisticated girl in his universe, Lucy. Only it's not like any other day because, on the other side of the world, nuclear missiles are being detonated.

From an exciting new voice in Australian YA literature, Claire Zorn, comes a haunting novel, The Sky So Heavy - a mesmerising story inspired by the continued debate over Australia's treatment of asylum-seekers and how a line through a map can determine your fate.

In A Nutshell:
This gripping story of utter desperation and survival is full of suspense as our characters face a near apocalyptic future. Faced with situations no one, let along children, should have to endure, they question where to draw the line when fighting for survival and how far you would go to protect the ones you love. Claire Zorn and her debut novel, The Sky So Heavy, are exciting new additions to the Aussie YA community.

My Review:
The Sky So Heavy is the debut novel by Australian author Claire Zorn. Zorn has created a chilling story of survival set in Australia’s Blue Mountains after another country ‘tests’ nuclear missiles and essentially sends the world back into the dark ages.

Our main character is seventeen year old Fin. Along with his younger brother Max, the boys battle the freezing cold and dwindling supplies after their dad disappears on the first night. As the months go by, they come to the realisation that those not from the city (Sydney), or who do not possess ‘valuable’ skills (such as doctors) are being left to die. The brothers, forced to fend for themselves to survive, team up with new friend Noll and Fin’s school friend Lucy, and attempt to make their way towards the city in search of Fin and Max’s mother. But staying alive and getting into the barricaded city will be harder than any of them expected.

As Fin tries to hold it all together and stay positive for their little group, their new reality means hypothermia, dehydration and starvation become very real possibilities. And if those don't kill them, someone will probably try. The kindness of strangers often surprises them when at the same time, people they have known their whole lives try to kill them for supplies. With the population becoming more desperate and violence escalating in correlation to how hungry people are, Fin, Noll and Lucy question what is right and wrong. Who do they trust? And where do they draw the line in order to survive and protect the ones they love?

This gripping story of utter desperation and survival is full of suspense as our characters face a near apocalyptic future. Yet throughout their struggle, Fin, Max, Noll and Lucy continue to hold on to hope that they will find somewhere they can rebuild their lives.

Claire Zorn and her first novel, The Sky So Heavy, are exciting new additions to the Aussie YA community.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Rig by Joe Ducie

Title: The Rig
Author: Joe Ducie

Release Date: 5th September 2013

My Rating: 4/5

Fifteen-year-old Will Drake has made a career of breaking out from high-security prisons. His talents have landed him at The Rig, a specialist juvenile holding facility in the middle of the Arctic Ocean. No one can escape from The Rig. No one except for Drake...

After making some escape plans and meeting the first real friends of his life, Drake quickly realises that all is not as it seems on The Rig. The Warden is obsessed with the mysterious Crystal-X - a blue, glowing substance that appears to give superpowers to the teens exposed to it. Drake, Tristan and Irene are banking on a bid for freedom - but can they survive long enough to make it?

In A Nutshell:
The Rig is an action packed, suspenseful novel with a male protagonist. Set in a slightly dystopian future with a science fiction element lurking beneath the surface, The Rig is one for fans of the Cherub series, ACID or any other action adventure featuring secret government agencies.

My Review:
Set in 2025, Alliance Systems and their elite soldiers, Crystal Force, maintain and guard The Rig, a floating prison in the middle of the Arctic Ocean. As the "most secure rehabilitation centre” for juvenile offenders, the inmates follow strict rules, guided by their GPS electromagnetic prison cuffs, and work off their stay. For Will, instantly hated by the Warden, this means cleaning out the sewage pipes and tunnels daily.

Will has escaped three prisons already and while he is originally full of bravado when he arrives at The Rig, once he experiences its inner workings, he's not so sure there is a way off the prison. Not unlike a maze, The Rig, housed on a disused oil platform, has a sinister science fiction element lurking beneath the surface, and as Will discovers, his fellow inmates are being used as guinea pigs. Now, more than ever, Will needs to escape and find his way back to land, even if it means leaving his new friends, friends he’s not all that sure he wants in the first place, behind. But between the guards and the other prisoners, not to mention some mysterious disappearances, Will Drake will need to figure something out quickly if he wants to get off the rig alive.

I found it fun trying to figure out how Will would attempt to escape as well as uncovering more details about the other prisoners, particularly Tristan his cell mate, who has a few surprising tricks of his own. Tristan’s character is from Perth, Australia (my hometown) and this is mentioned a few times. It’s always nice to have our little old city mentioned in novels (usually done by authors who live here, like in this case). It was also nerve-racking to see how far Will would push the guards and how much pain he could take from the various incidents that occurred. Some of the characters also remind us that in a corrupt system, sometimes it is necessary to break the law if it’s for the right reasons and that not all ‘criminals’ are evil (please note I in no way condone breaking the law. We do not live in a dystopian society…yet).

The Rig is an action packed, suspenseful novel with a male protagonist for fans of the Cherub series, ACID or any other action adventure featuring secret government agencies set in a slightly dystopian future.

You can find The Rig on Amazon, The Book Depository, or other online retailers.
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