Review: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

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Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.

But what Starr does or does not say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.

 

This, for me, is a hard review to write. Which is why I need to write it.

What Thomas has created with this book is talking point, a highlight to the divide in society and the racism that still exists. This is what ‘own voices’ books are all about.

Starr is a brilliant character who accurately portrays the struggle to find your place in the world. She’s an easy character to relate to and to cheer on. I loved her voice, I loved watching her grow, and I loved seeing how she faced up to the challenges in her life.

In case you have somehow missed hearing about this book, THUG is about a girl of colour who is raised in the ‘ghetto’ yet attends school with a predominately white population and tries to hide her ‘blackness’ in order to fit in. This book was written by a woman of colour, about a woman of colour, and there is no whitewashing to the story.

Because of this, the book is confronting to someone who usually reads stories through a white lens.

The quiet thought-provoking narrative really makes you question your own bias. It shows how racism isn’t just the intent behind your words, but also how society has conditioned you to subconsciously think. Thomas did such a great job introducing us to Khalil that when he is shot and killed by a police officer you feel it. It’s horrible.

And then the news reports start. Reports we’ve all seen following the shooting of a person of colour. Maybe they were a drug dealer, or had a concealed weapon. Maybe they were portrayed as being a threat. THUG then goes on to show the other side. The caring person who was doing whatever he could to support his family, who was sorely missed by the people left behind.

This mix of real world events and relatable characters force you to question which reaction you would have had under the circumstances.

As amazing as I found THUG, I did feel the beginning ran a little slow. It felt like a long book (I’m used to quick reads I think) up until the grand jury’s decision, but from there I couldn’t put the book down. The ending was so beautifully written I needed a moment to check out of real life once it was finished.

If you haven’t read THUG yet, I suggest getting it on your TBR pile. It’s no surprise it debuted on the NYT Bestseller List.

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Heather is rep’d by Carrie Howland of Empire Literary and is on a mad dash to edit the crap out of MS 2

The Best Aussie (YA/NA) Romance Reads

We’re talking about romancing the reader this month and today I want to mention some swoonworthy Aussie books that well and truely romanced me.

Summer Skins (Kirsty Eager) — the best traditionally published aussie NA I’ve read. Set on campus at an aussie uni, it’s a boys vs girls prank-fest and so much fun.  Get on it!

Words in Deep Blue (Cath Cowley) — so much more than a YA romance. This book is emotion and feeling and friendship and grief all rolled into a ball that isn’t contained nor repaired by love. Just beautiful.

Pieces of Sky (Trinity Doyle) — another book about grief and friendship and love and loss. This book is an amazing aussie YA with a gorgeous aussie beach setting.

On the Jellicoe Road (Melina Marcetta) — My goodness. Perfect is one word I’d use to describe this read. It moved me in ways that no other book has. It’s a romance and a mystery and so well written I had writer-envy.

Grafitti Moon (Cath Crowley) — It’s quirky, it’s gritty, it all takes place in one single night. And it’s home to amazingly unique characters that I just want to befriend.

 

The AO&R crew have also written some Aussie romance. Check out the Our Books tab or Goodreads list for more details. I’d suggest Lauren’s Emerald Cove Series, Stacey’s Oxley College Saga, Beck’s Fake, Kaz’s Reluctant Jillaroo, Sharon’s Open Heart Series, Cass’s Lucid Dreaming, or Katie’s Cadence. All are vastly different, yet common in that they hold a romance and an Aussie setting. The rest of the crew have their debut books releasing soon!

What’s your favourite Aussie YA/NA romance read?


Stacey Nash writes aussie YA / NA. Her Oxley College Saga is a series of romances based in the fictional Oxley College on a university campus.To find out more about Stacey’s books or to connect with her on social media (where she tries not to only romance), check out these places: www.stacey-nash.com, instagram, twitter, facebook.

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Review: Geekerella by Ashley Poston

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Anything can happen once upon a con…

When geek girl Elle Wittimer sees a cosplay contest sponsored by the producers of Starfield, she has to enter. First prize is an invitation to the ExcelsiCon Cosplay Ball and a meet-and-greet with the actor slated to play Federation Prince Carmindor in the reboot. Elle’s been scraping together tips from her gig at the Magic Pumpkin food truck behind her stepmother’s back, and winning this contest could be her ticket out once and for all—not to mention a fangirl’s dream come true.

Teen actor Darien Freeman is less than thrilled about this year’s ExcelsiCon. He used to live for conventions, but now they’re nothing but jaw-aching photo sessions and awkward meet-and-greets. Playing Federation Prince Carmindor is all he’s ever wanted, but the diehard Starfield fandom has already dismissed him as just another heartthrob. As ExcelsiCon draws near, closet nerd Darien feels more and more like a fake—until he meets a girl who shows him otherwise.

Let me first start out by saying, Disney’s Cinderella isn’t my favourite. I enjoyed it, but it was no Beauty and the Beast, or Aladdin.

That said, for some reason Cinderella retellings are my weak spot. A Cinderella Story with Hilary Duff—yes please! Ever After with Drew Barrymore—LOVE! Cinder by Marissa Meyer—absolute favourite! Cinderella Live Action with Lily James—be still my beating heart!

So, yeah. I was kind of excited for Geekerella.

And I got through it in around 24 hours. With two little ones to look after that’s no easy thing.

Ashley Poston writing really draws you in. Told from alternating the POVs of Elle and Darien, the story unfolds to a deliciously addictive romance. Both characters are so full and imagined it was easy to work out who was who even without the chapter headings, and I fell for them both instantly.

This story uses the ‘anonymous text’ storyline where the downtrodden girl doesn’t realise she’s actually texting a heartthrob movie star. It may be an overused plot device but I still seriously love it. And when it’s as well-executed as in Geekerella, it helps to propel the story forward.

The chemistry was all there. The giddy kind that pulls a smile onto your face and makes you feel what the characters are feeling. And while Elle and Darien totally stole my heart, this book wouldn’t be what it is without the subplots and side characters.

Firstly, Sage. I heart her so much. Literally every scene with her in it was a joy to read—she was one hell of a fairy godmother. Jess, Darien’s co-star was fantastic, and the Frank the dog was described so perfectly I could have reached through the pages and scratched that chubby puppy’s head.

Then there was Starfield. I love books about fandoms because they throw me back to my teen years, scouring the Harry Potter forums and writing (bad) fanfiction. I felt all that and more through Elle’s passionate love for the cult series, and how it united her with her father, and later, with her fellow cosplayers at ExcelsiCon.

And, while a separate note to the writing, the quality of this paperback was off the charts. Thick paper, and a gorgeous cover. When you pick up a thin book with a bit of heft to it, you know the book is worth the money.

I would rec this book to anyone in an instant. You like a bit of cute romance? Geekerella. You like Cinderella? Geekerella. You like quirky characters? Geekerella. Books with fandoms? GEEKERELLA.

Do yourself a favour.

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Heather is rep’d by Carrie Howland of Empire Literary 

Review: King’s Cage by Victoria Aveyard

 

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In this breathless third installment to Victoria Aveyard’s bestselling Red Queen series, allegiances are tested on every side. And when the Lightning Girl’s spark is gone, who will light the way for the rebellion?

Mare Barrow is a prisoner, powerless without her lightning, tormented by her lethal mistakes. She lives at the mercy of a boy she once loved, a boy made of lies and betrayal. Now a king, Maven Calore continues weaving his dead mother’s web in an attempt to maintain control over his country—and his prisoner.

As Mare bears the weight of Silent Stone in the palace, her once-ragtag band of newbloods and Reds continue organizing, training, and expanding. They prepare for war, no longer able to linger in the shadows. And Cal, the exiled prince with his own claim on Mare’s heart, will stop at nothing to bring her back.

When blood turns on blood, and ability on ability, there may be no one left to put out the fire—leaving Norta as Mare knows it to burn all the way down.

King’s Cage is book three in the Red Queen series.

Okay, so for some reason this series seems to be getting a lot of hate, and as soon as there’s hate, people get nit-picky and shred every aspect of the book.

For my reviews, I base them solely around whether the author kept me entertained. Did they do their job and help me escape the real world? Yes? Automatically at least three stars. The other two stars are made up by taking a deeper look at a combination of character, pacing, and plot.

I don’t believe this book deserves the one- and two-star ratings it has been getting but art is subjective and everyone has the right to an opinion. This is simply mine.

I loved King’s Cage. Mare is such as easy character to sympathise with because she is driven and has agency. She spends a lot of this book locked up as Maven’s—what? Toy, maybe?—and while that could have gotten old fast, Aveyard really amped up the tension between them in a way that keeps interest. She’s also grown a lot as a character. There is less brashness and more calculation and planning. I also loved when she realized what a dick she had been to people in the previous book.

As always, the secondary characters are on point. Evangeline is one of those characters I love to hate and she did not disappoint. There is a lot of character growth for her also, and it is easy to see her being the hero of her own story, despite how much her story opposes Mare’s.

Cal is still a hunk, and Maven is still a twisted lunatic who was absolutely addictive to read.

I with there had been more Kilorn, and I really could have done without Cameron’s chapters—I didn’t even remember who she was to begin with so by the time I figured it out, I really didn’t care.

And while they’re still knee-deep in rebellion, Aveyard has added even more depth to the struggle for Norta, which I won’t spoil here, but has the potential for her to take book four in literally any direction.

My favourite parts of all these books are the battle scenes, and the scenes with Mare and Cal. So it makes sense that when her and Cal finally reunite in the midst of a huge fight, I was cheering them on for days.

This book is on the long side for YA fiction and thankfully keeps the pace throughout. There are no areas that felt boring or stale and I loved how one scene propelled you on to the next. After Mare escapes Maven though, it kind of felt like the rest of the book was all epilogue, getting ready to set up the next book. I mean, there were some great scenes in there and I still loved reading it, but the highlight of the book was definitely Mare’s escape.

I totally recommend this book.

 

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Heather is rep’d by Carrie Howland of Empire Literary

Review: Into the Mists – Book One of the Into the Mists Trilogy by Serene Conneeley

Enter the swirling mists of an enchanted land, and open your heart to the mystery…

Carlie has the perfect life. A wonderful family and a best friend she adores. A house by the beach so she can go surfing after school. A clever, rational mind and big dreams of becoming a lawyer. A future she’s excited about and can’t wait to begin.

But in a split second her perfect life shatters, and she is sent to the other side of the world to live with a stranger. In this mystical, mist-drenched new land, she is faced with a mystery that will make her question everything she’s ever known about her parents, her life and her very self. A dark secret that made her mother run away from home as a teenager. An old family friend who is not what he seems. A woman in blue who she’s not convinced is real. A shadowy black cat that she’d swear is reading her mind. A deserted old cottage she can’t always find. And a circle of wild-haired witches who want her to join their ranks.

Will she have the courage to journey into the mists, and into her own heart, to discover the truth? And can she somehow weave together a life that she’ll want to live – or will she give up and allow despair to sweep her away from the world forever?

A Melodic tale of loss and a magical journey of self-discovery and acceptance.

This beautiful story follows Carlie as she tries to come to grips with the loss of her parents and the sudden upheaval of her life. Serene has written the tale to include quite detailed descriptions of casts and rituals Carlie and her mother perform. You could easily complete such rituals yourself following the descriptions in the story. The story inspires the reader to look at their own life as the main character Carlie does hers.

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Gabrielle Baker narrates the audio book. Her beautifully calming voice tells the story in a tranquil tone, switching between a few voices slightly with each characters dialogue. She does well with the mix of Australian and English accents, only once or twice did I giggle at her pronunciation of an Aussie word. I listened to the story at 1.3x speed. As a faster reader myself, I felt the original a little slow for me, but the story allows for the increase without feeling rushed.

I loved the backwards and forwards timeline that Serene used to intertwine Carlie and Violet (her mother) stories. Flashbacks, diary entries and dreams are each employed in telling this magical captivating tale.

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When Carlie began to read from the book her mother had owned as a teen, I did not at first realize it was Carlie reading. When reading a physical book you would see the change in script or a detail to show that the character is reading a letter or diary entry of sorts, but when listening to an audio book, the transition wasn’t as easy to keep on top of. This of course did not take away from the story or my enjoyment of the novel as a whole.

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I look forward to reading more of the Into the Mists Trilogy, and if you have not tried an audio book before, click HERE and you can get your first book free. Why not give Into the Mists a chance to captivate you the way it has me.

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Rebecca Bosevski is the author of Enchanting The Fey, a fairy tale for grown-ups. She lives on the sunny coast of Australia with her husband and three children. When not writing she will often be found with her nose in a book.

Review: Enchant: Beauty and the Beast Retold (Romance a Medieval Fairytale #1) by Demelza Carlton

A beastly prince. An enchanting beauty. Only love can break the spell.
Once upon a time…
The wicked King Thorn forced the enchantress Zuleika to cast a terrible curse. She fled his court to travel the world, helping those who need her magic most. Until a search for her merchant father’s lost ships leads her to an enchanted island, where Prince Vardan, the island’s ruler, is afflicted by the most powerful curse Zuleika has ever encountered. She’s not sure she can reverse the spell, but she’s determined to try. After all, a prince who fights pirates can’t be all bad…no matter how beastly his appearance.
Together, can the enchanting beauty and the beastly prince break the spell?

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With the live action film Beauty and the Beast set to hit screens in only a few short weeks (yes I have my Chicks at the flicks tickets already) I was excited to read this retelling of a much loved old tale. Now I do not know about you, but when I read a name, I often read it all kinds of wrong. The MC of this story is named Zuleika, now this was not an easy name to wrap my head around, my brain read it as Zoo-lee-ka, I hope that is right. If not, my apologies to Demelza Carlton.

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Zuleika is the ‘Belle’ of this story and a witch, the same witch that is responsible for the curse on the prince. This twist was a fantastic set up to the story, and her conflict with the king was a fantastic way to steer the story towards the prince without feeling like you were just going through plot setup.

About 1/3 in, Zuleika is faced with the beast and the town he lives in, and it is then that she should have known it was her curse immediately, but for some reason she doesn’t figure it out herself till much later on. I would have liked to have her acknowledgement of her curse to herself as soon as she sees the beast and the town. Then the conflict with trying to figure out if she should, or how she can remove the curse could unfold in a more believable timeline.

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In all stories we need to get a feel for who the MC is and what drives them, I would have loved to get to know Zuleika better before being thrown into the Belle/Beast plot line, but Demelza has still managed to create likable characters that are both believable and engaging none the less.

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I enjoyed the overall plot, but did feel like it was missing some heft in the middle of the story.  Perhaps another 10,000 words could have helped me to feel stated, but that does not mean I did not enjoy it. A good book should have you wanting to read more, but a great book has you feeling like the story was played out and wishing you could go back to a time where you had not began the story, just so you could start over and experience it all again for the first time.

A solid 3.5 stars. I took one star off for the unfulfilled potential of the story itself, and a half star off for the title. ‘Enchant’ though on the cover looks really pretty, the word itself is a little too sharp for me, especially with such a heart warming story. Read it if you love retellings, or just need a Beauty and the Beast fix before the live action hits us in a few weeks.

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 Rebecca Bosevski is the author of Enchanting The Fey, a fairy tale for grown-ups. She lives on the sunny coast of Australia with her husband and three children. When not writing she will often be found with her nose in a book. you can find her on Facebook here.

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.

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Heather is rep’d by Carrie Howland of Empire Literary