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.

 

 

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!

Review: Queens of Geek by Jen Wilde

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When BFFs Charlie, Taylor and Jamie go to SupaCon, they know it’s going to be a blast. What they don’t expect is for it to change their lives forever.

Charlie likes to stand out. SupaCon is her chance to show fans she’s over her public breakup with co-star, Reese Ryan. When Alyssa Huntington arrives as a surprise guest, it seems Charlie’s long-time crush on her isn’t as one-sided as she thought.

While Charlie dodges questions about her personal life, Taylor starts asking questions about her own.

Taylor likes to blend in. Her brain is wired differently, making her fear change. And there’s one thing in her life she knows will never change: her friendship with Jamie—no matter how much she may secretly want it to. But when she hears about the Queen Firestone SupaFan Contest, she starts to rethink her rules on playing it safe.

 

I feel like I’m way behind the times, but this is the first time I’ve heard about Swoon Reads. It’s a pretty great concept, and if you’re an author looking to be published you should check it out.

Queens of Geek is told in alternating POVs. Charlie is a big-time vlogger turned movie star who is at SupaCon for the promo of her break-out movie The Rising. She’s openly bi, fierce, and trying to establish herself on an international level. Taylor is her BFF who’s tagged along to the convention in the hopes of meeting her fav author. She’s a full on fangirl, completely in love with their other best friend, Jaime, and is determined to get through the weekend without her anxiety holding her back.

This book is all kinds of sweet. The friendships are cute, the storyline is fun, and I love all things fandom which really helped moved the book along.

Charlie and Taylor were both completely separate and easily identifiable, their storylines were interesting and I had fun reading.

Taylor’s anxiety was another high point. It was well researched and I was able to relate to a lot of what Taylor went through from having social anxiety for a lot of my younger years. Every time Taylor stopped herself from doing something for fear of it drawing attention to her, I hugged the book a little tighter.

That said, after recently reading Geekerella, this book lacked the extra depth to make me fall in love. The writing was straightforward and easy to speed through, but I would have liked to see it go into further detail and really make me feel what the characters were feeling. Charlie’s relationship with big time vlogger Alyssa (who was a great character) fell short, and I wasn’t swept off my feet like I expect from a romance.

SupaCon was great, but the fandom aspect wasn’t well developed and I feel like extra details that would have made this book shine were cut down to accommodate the two storylines. Reese (Charlie’s ex) was also very two dimensional and had zero character development. Instead of making this a multi-POV book, I would have liked to see both storylines made into their own separate books so Wilde could give the world building the richness it needed.

Overall, it was a fun book and great if you’re looking for something light and fluffy.

 

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(and a half)

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Heather is rep’d by Carrie Howland of Empire Literary

 

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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(and a half)

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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