Birthday Terror

October is the month of scary and here at Aussie Owned and Read we’re looking at all things frightening.

I’m not looking for singing or anything (🙂) but last week was my birthday.

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My terrifying Tasmanian Tiger cake

Not just any day last week but Friday…. Friday the 13th. In October. I was kind of expecting something bad to happen.

It didn’t.

(I was amazingly spoilt in fact, although I did get another year older)

However, it made me think of how often in books a birthday plays an important part and it’s not always a good one. A birthday is a time of change and in some cases of fear. Not just of getting old but of a shift, in society. In contemporary books that can be the shift of being able to drive or drink legally. Leave home, vote or leave school.

All of which can be a source of fear for a character (or a reader).

Then there’s becoming a wizard in a certain series.

Or perhaps a time of a choice that must be made and can determine one’s whole life like in Divergent by Veronica Roth. Then there’s Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins where every birthday gives you a greater chance of being selected.

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Are you afraid of a birthday?

Should a character be?

 

🙂

Beck

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I always wanted to write. I’ve worked as a lab assistant, a pizza delivery driver and a high school teacher but I always pursued my first dream of creating stories. Now, I live with my family near Adelaide, halfway between the city and the sea, and am lucky to spend my days (and nights) writing young adult fiction. My next book LAST DAYS OF US is out in Dec with HQ Young Adult.

Review: Heartshire High by Charlotte Leonetti

Alice in Wonderland goes to a new high school…..

Heartshire High is a modern-day retelling of Alice in Wonderland, and debut novel by up-and-coming young author Charlotte Leonetti.

Heartshire High takes the reader through Celia’s move to a new town in her senior year, living with a less than caring dad, dealing with a new school and having to make new friends. While Celia is focused on just surviving her last school year, and counting down the days until graduation, Bunni befriends her and leads her into the woods, and into a world of drugs, parties, and death.

Once Celia discovers the mysterious death of Tim, she can’t help but dig into what happened. While the whole town tries to ignore what happened, Celia starts to ask questions which lead to her having even more questions. What really happened to Tim? Was it murder? Is somebody not telling the truth? Or is she prying into something she shouldn’t be?

I adore retellings. I love Alice in Wonderland. I really liked this book, but I would call it more a YA murder mystery, or even a YA crime novel. Sure there are some similarities to Alice in Wonderland, but they can be easily overlooked by someone not obsessed by the original story as the mystery of what really happened to the towns happy go lucky golden boy, Tim, unfolds.

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Charlotte Leonetti does a fantastic job developing the story, and we are given just the right amount of insight into the supporting characters to care not just about Celia, the MC, but them as well. I felt like some of the story could have been further developed, in particular the interaction between Celia and her father. As a present but absent father you don’t expect much interaction, but developing the short spurts they did have would have helped when uncovering his betrayal as well.

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Betrayal is a common theme throughout the story, not just in relation to Celia’s plot, but to the surrounding plots as well. Not to give too much away, but it is a betrayal that Celia uncovers to be the real cause of Tim’s death. I actually did not pick the right person when reading this story and so was surprised to uncover the truth right along side Celia.

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The voice is clear and perfectly written for the YA audience – though being a teenager herself might have helped a little with that, Charlotte is only seventeen after all. This is a fantastic first novel by an up and coming author.

I loved the little notes made throughout the story by Celia in her journal, Weather, Song, mood, overheard. These were lovely insights into the MC’s head that helped me connect to her.

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I rate Heartshire High 3.5 stars, taking away 1.5 stars for a few reasons. Firstly, there are some editing issues that should have been picked up by a professional editor. I know, I know, Charlotte is only seventeen, but if you are going to start your writing career, you want to do it as best you can. For example, changing the spelling of Celia’s dad’s girlfriend (Lorena and Lorina) should have been spotted by a proofreader.

Another small note which will not apply to future readers (they have been removed) is that there is a fair amount of song lyrics in this book. I did enjoy the inside these lyrics gave me into Celia’s state of mind, but research would tell you as an author, you cannot introduce lyrics lest they be in public domain. I quickly messaged the author’s mentor and this was rectified. It is a common mistake that people assume if you reference where something comes from then it is all okay. This is completely untrue. Make sure you can use what you want to before you hit publish.

The last little note is the cover. I am a cover snob. Really. I usually choose books based on the cover and expect them to tell me something about the story I am going to be reading. This book I would not have picked up in a shop or clicked on online. Nor would I have guessed any of the plot from it other than it is teen. This cover would suit a Heartbreak High kind of story, not the dark teen mystery that lays inside these pages.

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I really did enjoy Heartshire High and would recommend it to those wanting to read a quick and surprising teen mystery. I look forward to seeing what Charlotte publishes next, and will likely be one of the first to hit buy now.

 

 

Not-so-fictional fear

Since October is traditionally (if you don’t live down under) the month of all things scary, we decided to go with a fear theme. From scary books to personal fears to writing fear–we’ll delve into it all this month.

Now, fear is a funny thing. It’s not rational. It’s not discriminatory. It often makes zero sense. It comes in all shapes and sizes and when it hits it can knock even the bravest of creatures out for six. And that’s what I want to talk about today … the biggest fears, those that knock you flat on your rear and don’t only make breathing hard, they make living feel near impossible. Some people would call them phobias, others might refer to them as mental illness. Either way, I want to share some books with you where fear bursts off the pages in such a realistic way the reader gains a first hand understanding of living in constant fear.

Image courtesy of graur codrin at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Under Rose Tainted Skies (Louise Gornall): This is an amazing story about a girl whose fear of, well everything, leads to Agrophobia (fear of the outside world). By the time I reached the end of Gornall’s book I really understood how fear could take over.

The Boyfriend List (E Lockhart): The main character suffers from anxiety and although her fear doesn’t define the story it’s a very realistic recount of what living with anxiety is like.

Am I Normal Yet (Holly Bourne): OCD is about way more than compulsive hand washing and a fear of germs. Holly Bourne does a great job of showing this through relatable characters and a riveting plot.

Fangirl (Rainbow Rowell): This book portrays social anxiety beautifully. A fear or phobia of interaction with strangers and even friends is something that many people can’t relate to, but let me tell you, Rainbow Rowell nailed it.

I love that modern fiction has cast awareness on what it’s like to live with fear. I read Tomorrow When The War Began in my early teens. The concept of that series still sticks with me as an adult, making me fearful of situations happening in our world today. Statistics say that 1 in 5 Aussies are affected by mental illness. It’s surprising that with the sheer number of affected there’s still so much stigma around the issue. So much in fact, that many sufferers don’t seek help or feel accepted.

It’s mental health week here in NSW, the perfect time to pick up a new read focusing on a real life issue. These books showcasing fear are a wonderful empathy-creating tool.

Have you read any books featuring characters who live with fear? I’d love to hear about them.

Stacey Nash writes about characters who have to overcome their fears. To find out more about Stacey’s books or to connect with her on social media, check out these places: www.stacey-nash.com, instagram, twitter, facebook.

Halloween Reads for Cowards

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Image via Pixabay

October means ghosts, ghouls and all things ghastly for those who enjoy Halloween. So this month on Aussie Owned and Read we thought we’d tackle the frightening and scary in all its different manifestations.

I confess, I’m not a fan of scary. I won’t be lining up to see the new remake of Stephen King’s IT. Ever. I’m more of a Ghostbusters kinda girl. You know, where the ghosts and ghouls are tempered down with quirk or humour (and a dose of Chris Hemsworth). So here’s a list of Halloween ‘horror’ novels for scaredy Kats like me:

  1. The Life of a Teenage Body Snatcher by Doug MacLeod (Penguin)

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Thomas Timewell is sixteen and a gentleman. When he meets a body-snatcher called Plenitude, his whole life changes. He is pursued by cutthroats, a gypsy with a meat cleaver, and even the Grim Reaper. More disturbing still, Thomas has to spend an evening with the worst novelist in the world.
A very black comedy set in England in 1828, The Life of a Teenage Body-snatcher shows what terrible events can occur when you try to do the right thing. ‘Never a good idea,’ as Thomas’s mother would say.

I read this wacky Aussie historical when it was first published seven years ago. It’s got its share of the macabre but it’s not exactly scary. There are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments as well as gross bits. Not one for the squeamish, but heaps of fun.

2. The Dead I Know by Scot Gardner (Allen & Unwin)

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You wake in the middle of the night, your arms and feet pinned by strong hands. As you thrash your way to consciousness, a calm voice says, ‘Steady. We’re here to help.’ Your mind registers a paramedic, a policeman, an ambulance. You are lying on the lookout at Keeper’s Point, the lookout Amanda Creen supposedly threw herself off. And you have absolutely no idea how you got there.

Aaron Rowe walks in his sleep. He has dreams he can’t explain, and memories he can’t recover. Death doesn’t scare him – his new job with a funeral director may even be his salvation. But if he doesn’t discover the truth about his hidden past soon, he may fall asleep one night and never wake up.

The Dead I Know is an intense psychological thriller, but it also fits a Halloween theme nicely because the protagonist Aaron works in a morgue. Interestingly, it’s not the dead people who he needs to be afraid of most.

  1. The Reformed Vampire Support Group by Catherine Jinx (Allen & Unwin)

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Nina became a vampire in 1973 when she was fifteen, and she hasn’t aged a day since then. But she hasn’t had any fun either, because her life is so sickly and boring.

It becomes even worse when one of the other vampires in her therapy group is staked by a mysterious slayer. Threatened with extinction, she and her fellow vampires set out to hunt down the culprit. Trouble is, they soon find themselves up against some gun-toting werewolf traffickers who’ll stop at nothing.

Can a bunch of feeble couch potatoes win a fight like this? Is there more to being a vampire than meets the eye?

I love me a good vampire spoof and this book delivers. Not only does it provide a hilarious alternative addition to the vampire genre, it’s got romance and action to boot!

  1. Gap Year in Ghost Town (Allen & Unwin)

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The Marin family run a two-man operation in inner-city Melbourne. Anton has the ghost-sight, but his father does not. Theirs is a gentle approach to ghost hunting. Rani Cross, combat-skilled ghost hunter from the Company of the Righteous, is all about the slashing.

Anton and Rani don’t see eye to eye – but with a massive spike in violent ghost manifestations, they must find a way to work together.

And what with all the blindingly terrifying brushes with death, Anton must use his gap year to decide if he really wants in on the whole ghost-hunting biz . . .

I am yet to read this, but it looks PERFECT for horror-cowards like me. According to the publisher it’s smart, snappy and funny. And scary. It DOES say it’s scary. Still, the cover alone might be worth the risk.

What are some of your favourite scary – or not so scary – Halloween reads?

 


Kat Colmer AuthorKat Colmer is a Young Adult author and high-school teacher librarian who writes coming-of-age stories with humour and heart. She lives with her husband and two children in Sydney, Australia. Her debut YA The Third Kiss is out now with ENTANGLED TEEN and is definitely more swoony than scary. Learn more on her website, or come say hi on FacebookTwitter and Instagram!

Blasting into the Past

Historical Fiction is one of my favorite genres, and not just because I enjoy writing it! It has to be one of the most wide ranging and encompassing genres available. From Europe to the Americas, to Asia, and Africa, even the Pacific, Hist Fic can tell tales of any culture or nation in the world, add into that thousands of years of time to work with and there’s a smorgasbord of potential stories to be explored.

My favorite thing about Hist Fic is learning about other cultures, how they developed, and why people within them do and feel in current times due to those historical influences. There’s so many sub genres within Hist Fic, like Regency, WWI & WWII, American Civil War, but outside of those popular western histories is Native American, South American, Ancient History, Chinese, Japanese and so many more. You can literally travel the world in Hist Fic and meet incredible people that are mere blips in Western culture.

Historical Fiction can also include Mythology. This sub genre is where things get interesting as this too includes myths from all around the world. While most people think of Greece or Rome, I have read some amazing books about Hindus, Native Americans, and Celts. Even Disney with Moana has ventured into this realm.

So, here is some of my favorite Historical Fiction. Click on the links below to see their details and my reviews. What are your favorites, and why do you enjoy Hist Fic?

Mrs. Poe,  The Woman on the Painted Horse,  SarahThe Sword of Attila

Fire of the Covenant,  Horrible Histories,  The Cenote

Souls EntwinedEchoes of Dark and Light

 

Review: The Love Interest by Cale Dietrich

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There is a secret organization that cultivates teenage spies. The agents are called Love Interests because getting close to people destined for great power means getting valuable secrets.

Caden is a Nice: the boy next door, sculpted to physical perfection. Dylan is a Bad: the brooding, dark-souled guy who is dangerously handsome. The girl they are competing for is important to the organization, and each boy will pursue her. Will she choose the Nice or the Bad?

Both Caden and Dylan are living in the outside world for the first time. They are well-trained and at the top of their games. They have to be—whoever the girl doesn’t choose will die.

What the boys don’t expect are feelings that are outside of their training. Feelings that could kill them both.

 

The Love Interest was one of my most anticipated reads for the year. A corporation that specifically manufactures people to fulfil a common YA trope? YES PLEASE.

It had everything. A m/m romance, a science geek girl, a SPY corporation *drools*

But for me…it fell kind of flat. I don’t know if it was because I was soooo excited for this book, or other factors, but I’ll try to break it down.

Okay, so this book was fun. Like a whole load of enjoyment. It didn’t take itself too seriously and I love the self-awareness from the characters and how they poked fun at the YA genre as a whole. To be clear, YA is totally my thing and everything can basically be done well, but breaking some tropes down to their simplest forms can make them sound seriously ridiculous. Like, ridiculous enough to make a Love Interest organisation which should have been all kinds of awesome.

Then there’s the ending. It wrapped up so quickly, and had a ton of action. I loved seeing some of Juliet’s inventions come in handy, and the scenes with Caden and Dylan smouldered.

To get right into it though, it felt kind of…simple? Basic? I don’t know.

There was some weird stuff going on. Like, it was so ridiculously meta it became its own parody? I dunno. We have the good guy vs the bad boy, but unfortunately Dylan is so UNREADABLE. For the first time in my whole entire life I was begging for a dual-POV so I could find out a little more about him other than he hated the roll he was assigned.

Then, everything was just way too convenient. Maybe its because the world building wasn’t detailed and fleshed out enough so everything that happened reeeally pushed my suspension of disbelief.

The struggles most characters go through were just kind of meh. There was never any fear for Caden’s life, and when building towards the big climax (and MAN was there some great build there) they ended up taking out this decades-old corporation in like one afternoon. They were literally home in time for dinner.

But, I will give the book credit where it is due. It opened conversations that are really important to have and break down. Homophobia, gender stereotypes, normalizing flaws in YA, and tokenising gay people were a few. The thing is, in trying to tackle them all at once, it missed the mark on them all.

This book was one great big sigh. I wanted to love it, I had fun with it, but at the end it fell short.

It was the literary equivalent to gorging myself on ice cream. I enjoyed it at the time, but there was no nutritional value and it left me feeling kind of off.

I’m glad I read it, because not every book has to be poignant or have a complicated plot, but I don’t think I’ll ever do a reread. I hate when books I’m dying for turn out to be nothing like I hoped.

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(and a half)

 

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Heather is rep’d by Carrie Howland of Empire Literary

 

Exploring genre: Suspense

I write in a lot of genres, and while suspense isn’t one of them (yet!) I absolutely love to read it. 

So what do I think makes a good suspense read? Here are my top three tips:

  1. Having a fabulous twist. A strong twist that surprises the reader can turn a good suspense book into a great one. One of my favourite YA Suspense of recent-ish years is We Were Liars by E. Lockhart for this very reason! I finished the book very quickly, but was left thinking of that twist for weeks afterward.
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  2. Having a strong element of mystery. Sounds pretty basic, right? But sometimes the mystery in a plot can become too predictable, the answers all too obvious. One book I’ve read recently that does the opposite and left me absolutely hanging out to find out who did it was One Of Us Is Lying by Karen M. McManus. What an excellent read! I loved it so much and don’t know if I’ve ever been so desperate to turn a page.
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  3. Having strong characters. You can have the best mystery in the world, the most surprising twist, but if you don’t create characters that are believable, likeable, and endearing, no one will care what happens to them and your suspense will fall flatter than a sat-upon pancake. 

They’re just a few things I think are crucial to a good suspense read–what about you? 

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Lauren K. McKellar is the author of romance reads that make you feel. You can say hi to her over on Facebook here.