Posts by Heather M Bryant

Love writing, being a mum, and enjoying life with my charming hubby.

Author Interview: Cassandra Page

This month on Aussie Owned and Read we’re celebrating the arrival of two new bloggers with round-robin interviews, and today I have the pleasure of interviewing the oh-so-talented, Cassandra Page.

 

  1. Let’s start off simple. Can you tell us a random, little-known fact about you?

Cassandra PageI’m left-handed. It’s not exactly a secret, but it’s not something I mention much on social media either. The way my mother tells it, I was showing signs of being ambidextrous until I broke my right arm when I was in kindergarten. I can’t write with my right hand, but I do a lot of other things with it, such as using a mouse and brushing my teeth. I can put mascara on with either hand.

Handy! :p

  1. You always seem to be working on something. What can you tell us about your newest project?

LD_CoverEbook_Fina_smllCurrently I’m editing False Awakening, the sequel to my adult urban fantasy, Lucid Dreaming. The goal is to have it ready for publication in the middle of the year. I’m also shopping a fantasy manuscript I describe as “Beauty and the Beast meets Ancient Greece”, and am about to start work on a stand-alone steampunk novel. Probably. There’s also a YA sci-fi kicking around in my noodle and I am notoriously fickle until the point where I start writing … so anything is possible.

  1. As a single working mum, who published FOUR books in six months, can you tell us mere mortals: how do you do it?!

The four books thing sounds much more impressive than it is — I didn’t actually write all four books in that time! I had signed my trilogy with a small press but, not long after the third one came out, the press closed. The rights were returned to me straight away, thankfully, and I decided to self-publish the trilogy as soon as possible rather than trying to find another publisher. Of course, I had already booked in the Lucid Dreaming release date for just a month later…

I was fortunate that my cover and interior designer, the lovely Kim Last, was able to fit me into her schedule. I couldn’t have managed that kind of turn-around without her help. Still, it was very stressful and I hope to never have to do it again!

More generally, my writing style can best be described as “slow and steady wins the race”. It took me about a year to complete a first draft of False Awakening. Then comes the inevitable revision. I am usually too mentally fatigued to write on a weeknight, so I’ve been cramming in several hours over the course of the weekend; I am for 2000 words a week. It does mean my son gets more screen time in that period than is recommended, but I tell myself it’s good for him to see his mum pursue her own dreams.

Plus he wants to be a writer when he grows up, too, so I call that a win!

  1. What is your favourite thing about writing?

I’m a plotter, though I don’t go crazy about it: I have a rough sketch of the plot but don’t go down to the chapter or scene breakdown level. Still, there are always particular scenes that I have in my head from very early on. Quite often, I conceptualise those scenes (often the finale) in great detail and work backwards from there to create the rest of the story.

So, to answer your question, I love writing those scenes. I refuse to write my books out of order, because those scenes are the carrot on a stick that keeps me going when the writing gets tough. They always flow easily from my fingertips because I’ve spent so much time thinking about them that I know them inside out. That effortless writing is rare and I treasure it when it happens.

Quick Qs:

Favourite holiday (Christmas, etc):

Because I’m a single mother, I only have my son every other Christmas. So even though I love it one year out of two (despite being agnostic), the other year is pretty hard! Instead I’ll say “summer holidays at the coast with my boy”. I cherish my childhood memories of time away, and I want my son to have similar memories of jumping waves and exploring rocks.

Favourite beverage:

Coffee. Coffeecoffeecoffee.

Favourite animal:

Dragons. They do too count as an animal!

Favourite thing to do in your down-time (other than write):

Read. I also like taking photos of books (I have a bookstagram account on Instagram) and playing Minecraft. I’m a proper grown up, me!

Favourite book or author:

I can barely even choose my favourite genre — though I can narrow it down to speculative fiction (and possibly to urban fantasy). That being said, one of my favourite reads from 2016 was YA contemporary: The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl by Melissa Keil. It’s the kind of geeky fiction I wish I’d had as a teenager.

 

BIO

Cassandra Page is a mother, author, editor and geek. She lives in Canberra, Australia’s bush capital, with her son and two Cairn Terriers. She has a serious coffee addiction and a tattoo of a cat — despite being allergic to cats. She has loved to read since primary school, when the library was her refuge, and loves many genres — although urban fantasy is her favourite. When she’s not reading or writing, she engages in geekery, from Doctor Who to AD&D. Because who said you need to grow up?

Blog | Twitter | Facebook | Google+ | Goodreads | Instagram

 

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Heather is rep’d by Carrie Howland of Empire Literary, and eats more chocolate than one person reasonably should.

Review: Caravel by Stephanie Garber

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Whatever you’ve heard about Caraval, it doesn’t compare to the reality. It’s more than just a game or a performance. It’s the closest you’ll ever find to magic in this world . . . 

Welcome, welcome to Caraval―Stephanie Garber’s sweeping tale of two sisters who escape their ruthless father when they enter the dangerous intrigue of a legendary game.

Scarlett has never left the tiny island where she and her beloved sister, Tella, live with their powerful, and cruel, father. Now Scarlett’s father has arranged a marriage for her, and Scarlett thinks her dreams of seeing Caraval, the far-away, once-a-year performance where the audience participates in the show, are over.

But this year, Scarlett’s long-dreamt of invitation finally arrives. With the help of a mysterious sailor, Tella whisks Scarlett away to the show. Only, as soon as they arrive, Tella is kidnapped by Caraval’s mastermind organizer, Legend. It turns out that this season’s Caraval revolves around Tella, and whoever finds her first is the winner.

Scarlett has been told that everything that happens during Caraval is only an elaborate performance. But she nevertheless becomes enmeshed in a game of love, heartbreak, and magic with the other players in the game. And whether Caraval is real or not, she must find Tella before the five nights of the game are over, a dangerous domino effect of consequences is set off, and her sister disappears forever.

 

Welcome to Caraval, a book of mystery, wonder, and a whole host of questions.

Scarlett Dragna is the MC and she has been obsessed with the idea of Caraval since her grandma told the story to her and her sister. The book opens with letters Scarlett has written to Legend, the enigmatic and magical leader of the game, and his reply, along with three invitations to play in that year’s game.

The lead-up to Caraval was exciting. There was so much left open about what kind of story and game the characters were about to get themselves into, I flew through those first chapters(and, well, kind of the entire book).

Scarlett was a great MC to take the journey with. She starts off hopelessly naïve, stuck with an abusive father, and her only way out is to marry some count she’s never met. Enter Caraval, Master Legend, and the smokin’ hot Julian, to push Scarlett from being a scared little flower, into a fierce MC who will stop at nothing to find her sister. The character development was fantastic, and I love that the changes in Scarlett were so subtle you didn’t notice them as they happened. Scarlett also had a great little identifier that I haven’t seen in any MC before. She sees her emotions as colours, which added great depth to scenes that may otherwise have been nondescript.

There are a fantastic host of secondary characters, too. Tella (Scarlett’s sister) seemingly flighty and airheaded, comes into her own by the end. Julian was fantastic as a LI, Aiko was curious—I would have liked to see more of her—and each of the ‘performers’ had their own little quirks and personalities.

There were a few parts in the book that felt a little off. The clues didn’t seem very structured, and I would have liked to see more of a ‘game’ aspect. There were definitely unusual aspects to Caraval, but I also would have liked to see them pushed more. Some of the conflict between Scarlett and Julian seemed to end too quickly, and all the bits and pieces he revealed to her felt off. His big reveal just left me scratching my head over the other elaborate and confusing lies he’d told.

Then, the ending. Like, I loved it for the most part. It was intense and great to read, but there are aspects (you’ll know what I mean if you read it) that were way too easy.

After the big reveal from Tella, I’m still kind of confused what the whole point of her getting them to Caraval was.

All that aside, I seriously dig this book. It was an amazing story overall, held back from being a perfect five stars by a few nuisances.

I would definitely recommend this book if you love a whimsical story set in a fantasy world, that sweeps you off on an adventure.

AOaR_4star (3)

(and a half)

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Heather is rep’d by Carrie Howland of Empire Literary

For the Love of Libraries

To celebrate V-Day, here at Aussie Owned, we’re dedicating the month to love. And how can we talk about things we love without giving libraries a mention?

Most book worms can track their love of reading (or writing!) back to these houses of art. Growing up, Heather used to BEG to go to the library, so her Mum caught on pretty quick and this became her good-behaviour treat.

Heather’s local library was a standard, small space, with mostly donated books and little government funding. The shelves were a definite safety hazard, the books were falling apart, and the whole place had that funky kind of smell that hangs around a constantly damp place.

And she loved it anyway.

Rebecca grew up with much the same in way of her local library, but she never had to beg to go there. Her mother was quite happy to take her and her two sisters at least once a week; she shared in Rebecca’s love of books, often borrowing on Rebecca’s card when her own had maxed the ten per person limit.

Libraries have forever been a place full of hope. Full of magic. A place where we could go and escape the horrible things in the world.

Below are some pics of our favorite libraries that not only house magic, but seem to generate it as well. A far cry from the ones many of us grew up with.

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Heather – Recognise this one? Okay, so it’s not real BUT we don’t know a book worm alive that didn’t grow up coveting this very room. When my hubby turned a room of our house into a study/library, complete with globe, I felt just like Belle. (Also, It looks nothing like this. But I pretend.)

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Heather – *sigh* Breakfast at Tiffany’s was a favourite of mine during those awkward teen years. Having always heard that loving books made you a nerd, this was the first time I was confronted with a beautiful, strong, fun woman, who liked to read. Audrey gave me the confidence I needed to shrug off the haters.

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Rebecca – This is the Library I coveted growing up. My school library was NOTHING like this. Do you recognise it? I will give you a clue; It ‘slays’ me how awesome libraries are, even if not a lot of school borrowing took place in this one.

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Rebecca – This is my dream home study/library. The wall to wall shelves, the fireplace, the second floor complete with intricate ballastrade and the wingback chairs all invite you in. Don’t you just want to grab a book and curl up and read by the fire?

Now we have shown you ours, what libraries do you love? Were you one of the lucky few who has ventured to their dream libarry, or have you created your own at home?

Review: RoseBlood by A. G. Howard

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In this modern day spin on Leroux’s gothic tale of unrequited love turned to madness, seventeen-year-old Rune Germain has a mysterious affliction linked to her operatic talent, and a horrifying mistake she’s trying to hide. Hoping creative direction will help her, Rune’s mother sends her to a French arts conservatory for her senior year, located in an opera house rumored to have ties to The Phantom of the Opera.

At RoseBlood, Rune secretly befriends the masked Thorn—an elusive violinist who not only guides her musical transformation through dreams that seem more real than reality itself, but somehow knows who she is behind her own masks. As the two discover an otherworldly connection and a soul-deep romance blossoms, Thorn’s dark agenda comes to light and he’s forced to make a deadly choice: lead Rune to her destruction, or face the wrath of the phantom who has haunted the opera house for a century, and is the only father he’s ever known.

When it comes to covers, A. G. Howard sure has lucked out. The Splintered series were gorgeous and RoseBlood is just the same. Being a huge fan of her wonderland retelling, and after reading that blurb, I was so excited to start this one!

Let me start off by saying, Howard sure can write a love interest. Thorn, tragic backstory and all, was a gorgeous hulk of guy who somehow had charm and allure despite living in the sewers. He and Rune are swept up pretty fast in an intense attraction that sees them making life-threatening choices. So obviously, it definitely wasn’t a healthy relationship. In keeping with the obsessive, deadly love of the original, Thorn lurks about in Rune’s dreams, and plays music to her from behind a vent in her bedroom at RoseBlood. And that’s cool–not every relationship written has to be sunshine and roses–as long as the audience can acknowledge that creepy lust is not something to aspire towards IRL.

Rune’s friends at RoseBlood were also another highlight. There were some great moments where their personalities really jumped from the page and I would have loved to see more of them (especially as I had to look up their names again–Quan, Jax, and Sunny FYI). Audrey was also an intriguing characters but there wasn’t enough done with her, and I really would have loved to see RoseBlood through her eyes.

The ultimate highlight of the book was Erik. He had motivation and mystery and was the reason I kept reading. His end goal was also something I didn’t see coming–I love when a book can surprise me.

Because of how established Erik was though, the ending felt very out of character, which is perhaps my biggest disappointment from this book.

RoseBlood had some beautiful scenes–Rune and Thorn’s dance, the bird avery(?) under the lake, Jippetto’s backstory, Erik’s club–and if you loved Splintered you’ll probably enjoy this like I did.

There were just a few things that bugged me.

This book is chock-full of cliches. RoseBlood has no cell service, internet–nothing. Umm…it’s a school. How are they off the grid? Sure makes things convenient for a certain homicidal lunatic.

The Twin Flames thing–clear code for Soul Mates, and I prefer my characters to get together based off something more than ‘meant to be’.

Rune is reluctant to go to a super-cool school to try and ‘fix’ the thing that she hates. How is she not determined to kick butt and take names?

Then, there were things that weren’t explained enough. Erik’s ending. Rune busting in on the auditions for the show’s lead singer and sings over the top of her before ‘fainting’–why didn’t she hide out in a bathroom and let the song out? What exactly was the reasoning behind Erik’s plan? How did he ever think that was possibly a thing that could happen? Why were Rune’s friends so keen to be BFFs when they wanted Audrey to snag the lead and Rune was clearly better than her?

And while I loved the writing for the most part, there were areas where it became convoluted to the point I had to reread to wrap my head around what was intended.

Those things are me being picky after the fact though. While reading, they were insignificant enough that while I noticed them, they didn’t detract from the story as I was reading.

I’m glad I gave RoseBlood a chance to sweep me away in the story.

AOaR_4star (3)

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Heather is rep’d by Carrie Howland of Empire Literary

Review: ‘Been Here All Along’ by Sandy Hall

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Gideon always has a plan. His plans include running for class president, becoming head of the yearbook committee, and having his choice of colleges. They do NOT include falling head over heels for his best friend and next door neighbor, Kyle. It’s a distraction. It’s pointless, as Kyle is already dating the gorgeous and popular head cheerleader, Ruby. And Gideon doesn’t know what to do.

Kyle finally feels like he has a handle on life. He has a wonderful girlfriend, a best friend willing to debate the finer points of Lord of the Rings, and social acceptance as captain of the basketball team. Then, both Ruby and Gideon start acting really weird, just as his spot on the team is threatened, and Kyle can’t quite figure out what he did wrong…

This book was a super cute read. Told through multi-POV we’re privy to the thoughts and emotions of each character, which created great fun seeing the characters misinterpreting each others actions.

Hall wrote Kyle and Gideon with great chemistry, so it was so frustrating waiting for the two of them to get together, but helped me speed through the book.

This is a shorter novel and it completely met my expectations for a quick, happy read. That said, there were multiple opportunities for it to have been fleshed out.

The book was very predictable, from Gideon writing his inner-most thoughts down for anyone to see, to the way the issue this caused was resolved. Gideon’s drunken candour, and Kyle’s relationship with Ruby. These things were fun, but they certainly didn’t strain any brain muscles to figure out what was going down.

The great thing was, the characterisation was still pretty good. Kyle was laid back and awkward, Gideon was fastidious and driven. Even Ruby–who was generally pretty vapid–had effort put into making her not completely two-dimensional (though this could have been fleshed out beyond the poor family/mean girl trope).

Overall, if you’re looking for something cute, sweet, and with a gay romance, this is one to pick up.

AOaR_3star (3)

(and a half)

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Heather is rep’d by Carrie Howland of Empire Literary

The complete comprehensive* post on the greatest** way to start your story

When you’re looking to start your story, one of the biggest questions you’ll face is how.

Below, are five of the greatest ways to open your story ever. Readers love these, agents and editors love these, and if you want your book to be a bestseller, you really need to get on it.

  1. Looking in the mirror – what better way to get your reader in your character’s head than by describing the exact way your MCs eyes sparkle, those flecks of yellow swimming in bright green orbs? The way their tiny nose sits perched in a sea of freckles, and how their rivers of chestnut hair cascade over their shoulders.
  2. Describing the weather in huge detail – you’ve heard the advice, ‘ground your reader’. So, as soon as you can, you need to explain the exact way the sun is sending golden kisses to the clouds, or how the rain is beating down on the hot pavement, steam rising up to meet the droplets. The more purple prose, the better.
  3. Waking up – I mean, isn’t this how we all start our day? Makes sense our characters would, too. The last thing you want is for your reader to miss something important, so walking them through your MC’s morning shower, their coffee brew, and their exact outfit choice will make sure your reader knows every detail of your character’s lives. Bonus points if you can take up the whole first chapter with these mundane events.
  4. All of the action from the very first sentence – bombs, explosions, running from a serial killer! Give me intensity from the very first sentence, make your book Hollywood-level action! I don’t need to know or care about your character right away, we can all relate to free-falling from a cliff-face.
  5. Backstory – every reader needs to know about that one time your MCs, cousin’s, step dad lost his job. Or how your character really hates dudes who drive red cars, except that one kid who lives down the block and seems kinda cool, despite the fact he hates hotdogs which are basically your MCs favourite food ever. Load your reader up with backstory and they’ll know your story as in-depth as you do.

TRIPLE POINTS if you can combine a few of the above. Let’s face it we all love reading that the MC just woke up and those last two explosive action filled pages were all a dream.

*This list is not comprehensive!

**This post is clearly in jest. We totally recommend against these things as an opening, and if you choose to do them anyway, proceed with extreme caution.

Now, we are not implying you can’t mention the weather, shoot a glance at a reflection or even blow up a building, but there is a right way and a wrong way to go about it.

Eg: Twilight

This 1st Chapter breaks many rules if you take them at face value. It mentions the weather several times, ‘It was seventy-five degrees in Phoenix, the sky a perfect, cloudless blue.’, ‘Forks exists under a near-constant cover of clouds’ and ‘ landed in Port Angeles, it was raining.’ are all written within the first two pages.

There is backstory, ‘It was from this town and its gloomy, omnipresent shade that my mother escaped with me when I was only a few months old. It was in this town that I’d been compelled to spend a month every summer until I was fourteen. That was the year I finally put my foot down; these past three summers, my dad, Charlie, vacationed with me in California for two weeks instead.’

Twilight also presents with another of the frowned upon openings not mentioned above, Extended Dialogue. Opening with two people talking that the reader has no clue who they are can make it even harder for the reader to feel grounded.

So how did Twilight get away with it?

The key is to know why you are breaking the rules. The weather is important in Twilight, the juxtaposition of light and dark, sunny and miserable, it is key to the overall story. As too is the Dialogue between Bella and her mother, their relationship is shown in the interaction between them even if we don’t yet know what they look like. The backstory is important to point out how where she is headed links to who she is, and is kept brief enough to not take from but rather adds to the grounding of the reader.

So now that you are sufficiently confused about what you can and can’t do to start your story, remember there is one thing that you should never forget and that is, it is your story.

 

 

Review: We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

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A beautiful and distinguished family.
A private island.
A brilliant, damaged girl; a passionate, political boy.
A group of four friends—the Liars—whose friendship turns destructive.
A revolution. An accident. A secret.
Lies upon lies.
True love.
The truth.

We Were Liars is a modern, sophisticated suspense novel from New York Times bestselling author, National Book Award finalist, and Printz Award honoree E. Lockhart.

Read it.

And if anyone asks you how it ends, just LIE.

This is one of those books I have so many mixed feelings about, I have no idea if I’ll get them all out coherently, but here I go trying anyway.

First of all, the writing style of this book totally wasn’t for me. It was written really well, don’t get me wrong, just not my style. Pretty disappointing considering that blurb had me excited AF to get reading about this mysterious, alluring family with a huge secret, and supposedly amazing ending. Not being a fan of the writing style was purely on me though. It’s not what I’m used to reading, and not what I enjoy. I decided to push through anyway.

Truth is, the main thing that kept me going through this book was my curiosity at what the big secret was. Lockhart kept the mystery alive so much so, I couldn’t have not finished no matter how many issues I had with it.

Basically, Cadence has problems. Those problems consist of being white, being privileged, and being rich. Then something happens and no one will fill poor Cadence in on this BIG FAMILY SECRET so she gets all whiney and dies her hair black and starts giving away every one of her possessions ever, even though half of it is useless crap. Also, the way Lockhart describes her migraines, and her ‘intense’ emotions is confusing and waaaaay over the top.

Halfway through this book it occurred to me I was reading about a messed up family, doing messed up things, for no obvious reason what-so-ever. The exact moment this thought hit me was a scene when Aunt Carrie was wandering the grounds of their private island. Her son is screaming for her because of his nightmares and she TURNS AND WALKS IN THE OTHER FLIPPING DIRECTION.

Like, man. These characters were so frustrating. The whole novels is literally about a summer where the ‘rebellious’ Liars, who are actually not so rebellious, sit around talking at each other. Not to, at. There conversations are about the most basic crap I’ve ever read, like ‘sexual intercourse’ (not sex. Sexual. Intercourse. Every time.) that never actually happened. There is literally no chemistry between any of them, least of all the love interest, until the very end when Cadence has a moment of discovery with Johnny and Mirren and I finally see the family bond going on.

And you know what’s really messed up? I actually enjoyed the suspense. Without giving too much away, I picked the end result of the secret, part way into the book. But then something happened that threw it from my mind. So when I got to ‘Part Four: Truth’ I had to put the book down after a sentence or two. It was like a gut punch that I really should have seen coming, but Lockhart did a great job of convincing me my initial suspicions were incorrect.

The ending was great, I actually got a little teary, which was odd because I never thought I cared about the characters until that moment. I guess it all finally made sense. And now I look back on this book like a bitter-sweet summer.

The other highlight was the use of the fairy tales. They were completely transparent, but they added an extra layer to the whole story and helped increase the suspense and allure of the family. They also showed the side of Cadence who was becoming more self-aware.

At the end there’s a really great moment where Cadence realises who she really is. Her view of herself is completely flipped on its head and I did a mental high five with her, because she finally viewed herself like I had the whole time.

So many people love this book–and I could see why–but it wasn’t for me. I enjoyed it when it was finished, but there was too much throughout that irritated me. All I could focus on were all the first world problems Cadence was bitching about. And yeah, I totally get we’re ALL like that IRL, and there’s a place for that in fiction, but it didn’t draw me in.

I enjoyed it to a point. And after so much excitement going into it, I’m disappointed it didn’t captivate me.

AOaR_3star (3)

(and a half)

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Heather is rep’d by Carrie Howland of Empire Literary