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

Romancing the Reader

This month on Aussie Owned and Read we’re talking about romance. I’m a romantic at heart, I love the happy sigh when my couple get together. I love the tension and the payoff. I’d probably see a romance in a book even if there wasn’t one.

But, I think there’s a special romance in reading and that’s between the book/author and the reader.

I’ve felt it myself, for the Harry Potter series for example. I have pop figures and a wand and socks and more because that world holds a romance for me that I’ll never lose. I’ve read criticisms of the books, even agreed with some but it doesn’t change the romance for me.

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As a reader and writer it makes me wonder what it is that creates the romance.

First there is the courting. The reader needs to be wooed and for that there needs to be an initial attraction. The cover and title help with this. Who hasn’t fallen for a beautiful cover? Then there’s the author themselves. Thanks to the internet a reader can feel they know something about the author, through their social media and also other books they might have read. There’s word of mouth and advertising too.

That’s all well and good to get you on the book date but what keeps you there and gives the reader that love affair with a book?

I think it’s different for everyone but for me it’s a little like a relationship with another human. Keeping me entertained, following through on promises and mixing things up enough I don’t get bored.

Anyone had a great book romance recently?

(you’ll know cos you’ve gushed to your friends and stared lovingly at it more than necessary)

 

 

🙂

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.

Teaching Children The Romance of Reading

This topic has been on my mind a great deal lately. My oldest just finished Kindergarten, so she’s beginning to put words and sentences together as she reads. At times, it’s frustrating as she doesn’t remember words she just read etc. But, she’s catching on, and I work with her to help her fluency.

I think, though, the biggest factor that contributes to my thoughts about this is working at a school. I see kids who are in third grade who haven’t mastered the basics and have little to no interest in reading. It breaks my heart, because to me, they’re missing out on magical worlds, adventures, traveling across time, the world, or the universe to places they would never see in their lifetimes.

These low literacy kids are missing out.

Making sure my kids read has always been a high priority for me, not just because I love to read, but because reading sets them up for life. In fact, many high profile figures attribute their success to their love of reading. Presidents like Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and so many more. In fact, some presidents’ reading habits made up for their lack of formal education, like George Washington!

Other figures include: Lebron James, who read to calm himself before every game. Actresses like Jennifer Lawrence who reads on set, and Emma Watson who took time off acting to focus on personal development through reading! And of course, you cannot forget Oprah Winfrey, who has a rags to riches tale that she accredits to the love of reading her father instilled in her, and now has one of the biggest book clubs in the world where she hopes to influence others to love reading as well.

The love of reading can start at any point, but it needs to start with me. Us. Parents. From the time my girls were babies I’d read from board books to them. They’d look at the pictures and hear me read the words to them. I believe their strong language skill development at early ages has a great deal to do with that. But that time is also mommy time. A time where they can snuggle with me, interact with me, and feel loved by me. I’m focused entirely on them as I read. And so, they associate love and affection with reading.

I have this graph from working as an Usborne consultant that works well to demonstrate the power of reading to your child:

Powerful, right?

Reading is attributed to improving success in life. Reading a book a month, both of fiction and non-fiction,can greatly increase chances of success. It opens the mind, stimulates the imagination, pours in knowledge. I heard a quote somewhere, I don’t know who said it, but it went something like:

“A literate man who doesn’t read is no better off than an illiterate one.”

Phew. Wow.

I think the another thing that has made a big influence on helping my kids love to read, is my own love of reading. They see me with my kindle or a novel all the time. Whether at home, or in my handbag, wherever I am, I always have reading material. Even while driving I play audio books. They see me loving books, and they are influenced by that. As their mother, they look to me for direction and guidance. I hear them repeat things I say, and at times it’s a huge wake up call because I don’t like hearing them talk in ways that I have done. It’s the same with reading.

My last thing that I’ve noticed has helped my oldest is reading scripture together every morning. She gets to read a verse of her own choosing, and I’ve noticed she can read more and more words each time. She loves our scripture reading time too, and when we’re running late, she pouts about missing it in the car.

As time goes by, I hope to really embed in my children the love of reading. Books can open their lives up to so many paths, and I want them to have choices and the freedom to be what they so choose. Which is why teaching the love of reading is one of my top priorities for raising my kids.

Falling For Words

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For us, the most important part of writing is to make our reader fall in love, and an author can do this in a few ways.

Firstly with a relatable or sympathetic character. This doesn’t necessarily mean a hero, or even a generally nice person, but it is someone who the reader can connect to. For example Myrnin from The Glass House series. Myrnin had his quirks, wore bunny slippers, and was losing his mind; all of these things added to the reader feeling for him and connecting to him. He also killed his former assistant to connect her brain to his computer so that he could try to find a cure for his insanity. Not exactly a hero, but a memorable and favoured character.

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Then there are high stakes. The higher the better. Putting good characters in bad situations or facing insurmountable odds pushes your reader to root for them, to become invested emotionally in the outcome of the characters you created. For example, Vampire Academy (major spoiler alert) uses high stakes throughout the series to keep the readers on edge but completely invested. The series starts with the Strigoi as the big bad, the stakes escalate when they begin targeting the royal line of vamps–the MC’s best friend is one of these royals. The series builds again when the main love interest is turned into a Strigoi, prompting the MC to hunt the man she loves.

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Another way is to give us an unexpected ending. Turning your reader on their head can leave a lasting impression, especially when that final scene is one of happiness and joy. I do not know anyone who has said, ‘oh that book where the main character dies and the guy she loves is left alone forever, yes that book, I sooo wanna read that again’. Sorry, but give us a struggle and take us to some dark places but you better leave us and the MC in a better place at the end if you want a place in our heart.

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Finally, and this could be considered the best way to secure a pace in our heart–Make us swoon. Sweep us off our feet. We need the characters to interact with each other in a way that connects to the reader. Give us the friends to lovers, enemies to friends, friends to enemies to friends to lovers.

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The books you fall for are the ones you re-read. Rebecca fell for Vampire academy, and fell hardest for Last Sacrifice which she read three times. Heather fell hard for VA too, but also for The Lunar Chronicles and Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda.

What words have you fallen for? What books are forever in your heart?

 

Review: Alice in Murderland (Magical Bookshop Mystery #1) by Samantha Silver

When Alice Calliope takes over her recently deceased aunt’s bookshop in Sapphire Village, Oregon, she’s not expecting her world to be flipped upside down, but that’s exactly what happens when her cousin Cat reveals to Alice that she’s actually a witch. Add in the fact that the two of them stumble upon a dead body, and Alice’s first day in town ends up being a lot more eventful than she could have possibly imagined!

What was supposed to be a simple cross-country move winds up with Alice having to learn how to navigate a whole new magical world while at the same time trying to clear Cat’s name as she emerges as the main suspect in the murder. Add in the eccentric Grandma Cee, witchcraft lessons, a whiny old ghost and the laziest cat ever, and Alice definitely has her hands full.

With pressure mounting for the super-hot local sheriff to arrest her cousin, will Alice be able to hunt down the real killer before it’s too late?

Let me begin by saying the general story here is pretty good and the characters quirky and easy to relate to. That said, I feel like this book skipped a step in its path to publication. There are some rather large distractions from the story that, though I pushed past them to finish the story, would have normally had me closing the book after the first few chapters.

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The writing is a lot of telling, something that I can overlook if the plot has substance, but this too was lacking in many parts; I felt like there could be so much more to this story.

The main character is in her late twenties, speaks like a teenager and even after finding a dead body feels no need to call and speak to her mother, the woman who raised her. In no part of this story does she even contemplate calling her.

The ‘pressure’ implied is being put on the Sheriff to arrest her cousin, is no more than one person accusing her cousin of the murder shortly after the body is found. There is no other times that it is mentioned about her being a suspect, except by the main character herself and this is assumptions based off the initial rant of the dead woman’s best friend, not off actual interaction with or pressure from the Sheriff.

There are many contradictions that I found extremely frustrating, more so, because I know that they could have easily been picked up by a good beta reader. The witchcraft lessons with Grandma Cee consisted of one afternoon and only three different spells, that are not even spells, but simply thinking about what she wants to happen then pointing. How does someone need lessons in this?

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Also, if this is all that is needed and Alice is so good at it, why hobble up the stairs on her crutches, why not float herself up, why not just think about her sprained ankle and make it better? The idea behind how they use magic is somewhat different to what is already out there, but leaves wondering about the rules.

The Others were introduced by implicating them in her aunt’s death, and used as the basis for calling Alice to the town, but that was all. Why tell us about the Big Bad and then give us nothing? I felt like this part of the story might be setting up for future books, but I don’t think I will be reading them.

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I wanted to review something this month that was fun and easy to read. Alice in Murderland was somewhat fun, but was not easy to read. The inconsistencies in writing style, no real feel for time, contradictions and even character name changes made it a struggle.

A solid 3 star read with a cute cover. Alice in Murderland will suit younger readers that will potentially miss the flaws that perturbed me throughout.

3-stars

The badder the better, and this guy’s the worst.

This month on Aussie Owned and Read we’re talking Villains. Those guys who exist to make things rough for the hero by hopefully having waring goals.

What better way to wind up the month than doing a spotlight on the biggest of the Big Bad?

For us, the worst kind of villain is one who masquerades as a hero. Who genuinely believes in their misguided attempts at goodness. One name in particular springs to mind.

Can you guess who?

The actual puppet master himself: Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore

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“I’m the boss, bitch!”

“But he’s SAH GOOD!” I hear you scream. Don’t worry, I was fooled for years too. So let’s take a closer looker look at his various misdeeds.

 

Headmaster Duties – because what even is Duty of Care?

Segregates children based on 11-year-old personalities and encourages the belief this somehow defines them for the rest of their lives.

Casually sends kids into a dangerous forrest, allows peeps to keep illegal creatures, and abuses ministry time turners ~

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 “Hey Miss Granger” *winks suggestively* “Wanna help me break the law?”

Knowingly! Hires! a Werewolf! (who cares if a kid gets hurt and poor Lupin ends up riddled with guilt for evs?)

Dark Wizard on the loose and can’t hire a decent Dark Arts Teacher EVER in like 7 years!!!! ~ *looks at Dark Arts like geometry* “Eh. Not like they’re ever use this…*

No Triwizard investigation ~ Moody: “Only a powerful wizard could have hoodwinked it[the cup]!” Dumbledore: “I see no cause for alarm, bruh.”

Lets students battle with freaking dragons!%$#

Encourages Quidditch: a dangerous game that encourages belting giant balls at each other to send them falling to their possible deaths ~ “BUT WE HAVE MADAME POMFREY”

Obviously favours Gryffindors and robs Slytherin of the house cup ON PURPOSE ~ “Slytherin win the house cup!” Dumbledore: *sniggers* “Hold my Butterbeer”

(Which leads us to) Rewards students for their stupidity ~

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“Thanks for taking on ol’ Voldy. I had a prior engagement”

Turns a blind eye when students are in danger

Has a three headed dog, a basilisk, Lord Voldemort, a troll, a giant spider, and death eaters all enter the castle under his watch ~ “BUT I’M THE BEST HEADMASTA EVA! LOLZ!”

‘Guidance’ of Harry

Leaves him on a doorstop as a baby in the middle of the night and does nothing to help him through a decade of mistreatment by his so called family ~ “It’s just domestic abuse, kid, toughen up!”

Raised Harry like a pig being raised for slaughter ~

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“Long live the Chosen One! Lol jks”

General Crumminess

Mistreats an obviously neglected traumatised child leading him to become a villainous asshat all of his own ~ “Tom has problems, you say? Ehh. I have other shit to deal with, he don’t need me”

Withholds important information, like always!

Beffles with Grindelwald–where is this dude’s judge of character?

Totes cool with the rumours circulating about Aberforth and does zero to stop it ~ “But he was mean to me that one time”

Hero finally does what he’s planned him to do and he’s still being cryptic ~ “Thanks for killing yaself, kid. Ima talk in scribbles some more”

Pure Evil

Manipulates a loyal follower into murdering him and taking the blame and being hated and hunted by everyone ever

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Treatment of Snape! ~ “Ima keep reminding you of how you killed that girl you loved that one time so you have to do as I say always ROFL”

Possibly and most probably killed his own sister. For the greater good, of course.

Totally his fault James and Lily are dead ~ “Look, ol’ Voldy is looking for you guys, but ima really need that cloak. No probs right?”

Leaves Sirius in a house where he was emotionally abused for years “Totes won’t do anything drastic”

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We’re sure there are a tonne more examples, because Dumbledore is the gift that keeps on giving.

In all seriousness though, J.K. Rowling is a master of creating deep, complex characters. I mean, she fooled you, didn’t she?

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What other examples can you think of?

 

Villains Are Heroes of Their Own Story

Writing a good villain can be hard. Cookie cutter bad guys with no real good reason to behave that way other than ‘they’re evil’ is ripping the reader off.

I once heard that ‘Villains are the heroes of their own story’ and I definitely believe that’s a good rule to live by as a writer. Think about antagonists, whether one in a popular story or one in a story you’ve written. Can you write out a character arc for them from their perspective? As they are inevitably beaten by their ‘villain’ it would need to be a tragedy, but you should be able to see it.

So let’s have a look at Lord Voldemort. His story starts like many others, in fact, there are parallel’s to Harry Potter’s origin story.

Tom Riddle is in an orphanage when Dumbledore comes to tell him that he’s actually a wizard and invites him to Hogwarts. Tom knew he was special because he could seemingly ‘do things.’

Death becomes the problem he needs to solve, and he decides Hogwarts is the place where he can solve this. But he is thwarted by someone he thought would be his ally, Dumbledore.

So he finds the solution on his own. Horcruxes. And as everything is going right for him, a new problem develops. A prophecy of a child who will be his downfall. So he decides no more fun and games, he must take action and cut off the threat by eliminating his enemy. But when he tries, the spell backfires and leaves him as a shell of a man.

Abandoned by his once ‘friends’, he desperately survives anyway he can until finally one of his ‘friends’ returns and helps him intact his plan to be restored.

But every step of the way Harry Potter is there to thwart him. Even after he finally manages to defeat his original enemy, Dumbledore. And ultimately in the end he unable to over come his young enemy and is killed.

 

Of course there can be an element of creepiness because they are really a villain after all. But we should be able to see how they are a hero in their own mind.

Sharon is a YA and NA author from sunny Queensland. Her Open Heart Series is out now with City Owl Press. 

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