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)

Life of a Teenage Body Snatcher Cover

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)

The Dead I Know Cover

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)

The Reformed Vampire Support Group

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)

Gap Year in Ghost Town

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: 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.

AOaR_5star (3)

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Heather is rep’d by Carrie Howland of Empire Literary 

Review: ‘Coraline’ by Neil Gaiman

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The day after they moved in, Coraline went exploring….

In Coraline’s family’s new flat are twenty-one windows and fourteen doors. Thirteen of the doors open and close.

The fourteenth is locked, and on the other side is only a brick wall, until the day Coraline unlocks the door to find a passage to another flat in another house just like her own.

Only it’s different.

At first, things seem marvelous in the other flat. The food is better. The toy box is filled with wind-up angels that flutter around the bedroom, books whose pictures writhe and crawl and shimmer, little dinosaur skulls that chatter their teeth. But there’s another mother, and another father, and they want Coraline to stay with them and be their little girl. They want to change her and never let her go.

Other children are trapped there as well, lost souls behind the mirrors. Coraline is their only hope of rescue. She will have to fight with all her wits and all the tools she can find if she is to save the lost children, her ordinary life, and herself.

Neil Gaiman is a strange author to me in some ways. I love his scripts, and his Sandman graphic novels, and those of his other books that I’ve read. But I haven’t read that many of them — and I don’t exactly know why. So when I saw Coraline at my local second-hand bookstore, I snapped it up. (The cover above is the cover of the version I own. There are prettier covers, but it does capture the weirdness pretty well.)

And no, I haven’t seen the movie either. Although now I kind of want to.

I don’t read a lot of middle grade fiction yet. But this has got to be one of the best, surely.

I love Neil Gaiman’s wry humour. It’s — dare I say it — terribly British. I love how clever Coraline is, and how even when she’s scared she manages to be brave. As she said, “When you’re scared but you still do it anyway, that’s brave.” Wise little girl.

Apparently Gaiman wrote this book for his five-year-old daughter. So either his daughter is also very brave or he’s trying to give her lots of opportunities to learn, because this is a scary-ass book. At the point where Coraline’s other mother offered to sew button eyes onto her as a mark of her acceptance into their creepy family, my own eyes bugged out a little.

There weren’t any plot twists I didn’t see coming. But this is middle grade fiction, which means the twists tend to be a little more clearly telegraphed than they would be in a book for adults. Nothing wrong with that.

There was one thing lacking from the book. Gaiman didn’t often touch on how Coraline was feeling. When she first discovered her parents were missing, it took her a full 24 hours to cry about it. This is partly because her parents are a little remote and she’s used to fending for herself, but I think it was partly a stylistic choice Gaiman made — not to wallow, or let Coraline wallow, in her emotions. Maybe he did it because the content of the story is nightmare-inducing, and if he’d described the taste of fear in the back of her throat, the shaking of her hands, it suddenly wouldn’t have been middle grade anymore?

Or maybe that’s just his style. Like I said, I haven’t read that many of his books. (Stardust was quite similar in that regard, now that I think about it.) Either way, although I noticed the lack of emotion, the extra distance that imposed wasn’t enough that I couldn’t follow or enjoy the story.

If you’re looking for a creepy Halloween read, then I’d suggest Coraline. Who needs to sleep, anyway?

AOaR_4star (3)(and a half)

Cassandra Page is a speculative fiction author who would love to write books half as creepy as Coraline. It’s good to have goals!

Cassandra Page

Two Must-Read Diverse Books

In honour of NAIDOC (National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee) Week this month, we’ve dedicated all our July posts to the issue of diversity in fiction. For more information on NAIDOC Week, visit their website here.

I don’t read anywhere near as much diverse fiction as I would like to or think I should. Part of the reason for that is that I am a speculative fiction junkie, and because those stories aren’t focused on people’s individual tales to the same extent as contemporary, literary or romance novels are, they tend to have what Stacey described last week as incidental diversity — the diversity is part of the character, like their hair colour or whether they have sugar in their coffee, but it isn’t a driving force in the plot.

And when there are diverse leads (such as the bisexual Ayala Storm in Emmie Mears’ urban fantasy series of the same name, or the gay Sinjir in Star Wars: Aftermath by Chuck Wendig — both books you should read, incidentally), their diversity isn’t generally a huge factor in the character’s life or the overall story. That’s not always a bad thing, because it’s important to see diverse characters doing things other than just being (for example) gay, black or disabled. But it did mean that when I started trying to think of books I’ve read this year that have diverse leads and where that diversity is central to their character growth or story, I came up almost dry.

Almost.

So here are two amazing, five-star books for your consideration.

‘Wake of Vultures’ by Lila Bowen

Wake of Vultures cover

A historical fantasy about a half Native American, half African American bisexual girl who dresses like a man? This is the book I didn’t know I needed till I had it. Delilah S. Dawson (writing here as Lila Bowen) is one of my favourite authors, and I confess that I probably wouldn’t have picked this up if she hadn’t written it — not for any particular reason, just because I don’t usually read books set in the American Wild West (or a facsimile thereof). Wake of Vultures would never have even crossed my radar.

And that would’ve been a tragedy, because Nettie Lonesome’s story is a cracking read. The action whisks you along, and it doesn’t get bogged down in self-reflection — though there is certainly a bit of that, as poor Nettie has received exactly no education and, as other characters keep telling her, has a lot to learn about people. Consequently, she is baffled by notions like bisexuality or why a woman would actually choose to wear skirts rather than pretending to be a man.

From my (admittedly white, non-American) perspective, Dawson/Bowen handled the issues of race and gender identity with tact. There’s no stereotyping — there are good and bad guys both white and “Injun” (as Nettie refers to them, given she was raised by whites; the phrase is something the author acknowledges is not PC these days but would have been accurate in the 1800s Texas that Durango is based off). Even the monsters have a range of good and bad types.

‘Under Rose-Tainted Skies’ by Louise Gornall

Under Rose-Tainted Skies cover

This book is an unflinching and in-your-face young adult contemporary — not my usual genre, but I love Louise Gornall’s writing and have been waiting for this one for aaaaaages.

The protagonist is Norah. She has agoraphobia and OCD, suffering debilitating anxiety attacks when she has to leave the house or when things in her environment are out of order. She’s terrified of germs and overthinks things. Like, really overthinks them — and not just the things that most people worry about, but things that might seem tiny in the grand scheme of things but to Norah’s brain are critical. For example, there’s almost an entire page of dialogue where all of Norah’s increasingly anxious thoughts are about how the other person has a piece of hair stuck to their lip.

Norah’s conditions mean pretty much this entire book is set inside her house, and for a lot of that she is alone — but her mind is so busy all the time, and Gornall’s style is so engaging, that I didn’t really notice the lack of variety in the scenery. My favourite thing was Gornall’s cleverly descriptive use of comparisons, and the way she interweaves Norah’s symptoms (such as picking at scabs or chewing her nails) into the action seamlessly.

Recommend me a diverse book!

If you know of a diverse book where the diversity isn’t necessarily the entire story but is still a factor in the plot — especially if that book is speculative fiction — drop a comment. I’ll be scouring them for titles to add to my already teetering TBR pile.

Cassandra Page is an urban fantasy writer who has included some incidental diversity in her own books to date, but wants to read and write more widely in future.

Cassandra Page

Review: Acne, Asthma, and Other Signs You Might Be Half Dragon by Rena Rocford

26829865 (2)From Goodreads:
Allyson fights acne, not trolls. As an inhaler-carrying member of the asthma society, she just wants to meet the father who turned her mother into a paranoid, move-across-the-nation freak. Now she’s trying to fit in at yet another school, but for the first time in her life, she has a best friend, Beth. When Allyson accidentally spits fire at kidnappers in the mall, she realizes why her father isn’t in the picture: she’s half dragon. Her acne? Emerging scales. Her asthma? The side effects of her dragon’s fire breath. Instead of freaking out, unflappable Beth reveals her own troll heritage and explains how things work with the supernatural creatures hiding within the modern world of smartphones and skyscrapers.

When trolls kidnap a unicorn, Beth gets blamed. Allyson is determined to prove Beth’s innocence and keep her friend off the unicorn chopping block. When they start looking for the kidnappers, they get a call from the last person they expect: Allyson’s father. He tries to warn them off, but he’s been put under a spell by the kidnappers to keep the victims from escaping. Nothing short of death can stop him. Now Allyson must choose between killing the father she’s always dreamed of, or letting her best friend die for a crime she didn’t commit.

My Thoughts:
I first saw this in our Pitcharama contest. It intrigued me back then, and so I waited for this release eagerly.
This story didn’t disappoint! Action packed, full of adventure, friendship, and a sassy heroine, this novel with an extremely long title that really grabs your attention, has the makings of a fun read for anyone seeking something for pure pleasure.
Allyson was an absolute delight to follow as she rushed through a steep learning curve. She reacted naturally, and often humorously to the situations thrust upon her, and with a heart full of fierce loyalty.
A clean read I’d definitely recommend!

Katie Teller

Katie Teller is a writer of NA fiction. Her debut, Kiya: Hope of the Pharaoh, has sold more than 50,000 copies. You can find out more about Katie, the Kiya trilogy, and her other books on twitterfacebook or at her own blog.

Review: Hybrid by K. T. Hanna

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As Sai recovers from her life-threatening injuries, she struggles to piece together her damaged relationship with Dom. He fights the parasite within, suddenly freed from the interference of the other Dominos in his head.

Inside Central, Bastian’s Shine dosing has become a dangerous dance. Enhanced security protocols and endless meetings have him on a tightrope, with little room to move without revealing himself.

When the GNW release the Damascus to begin their systemic hunt of the Exiled, the noose closes around the rebels and their allies. If they can’t disable the threat, the Exiled won’t be the Damascus’ only agenda.

I’m SO excited this book is finally here! If you haven’t read Chameleon (the first one) go ahead and check out my review here. I’ll wait. Done? Good. Also, you’re crazy. Chameleon is awesome, get on that shit.

Back to my fangirling.

Heat/Swoon Levels:

Ahhh… negative digits? Haha. But that’s a good thing! The MC, Sai, ended up in a whole world of trouble at the conclusion of Chameleon and the first quarter of the book focuses around her recovery and return to the badass she was. Once she’s up and about again, she’s in the middle of preparing for a fricken war. There were some really cute moments between her and Dom but I’m only shipping friendship there. Anything else would be… weird. There were a load of ‘A+’s for friendship.

I’m also still hardcore in love with Bastian.

Plot Pacing and Resolution:

Hybrid has a lot of build, which I loved. KT didn’t rush to get to the action, instead, she gave us a minute to jump back in Sai’s head, reminded us of the amazing world she built in Chameleon, and then introduced us to a way freaky side of Dom (one of my favourite parts of the book). It’s not until the announcement of the Damascus release that the book takes off.

As for the end, it’s another cliff hanger. And man it’s a good one! For literally every character.

Character Relatability:

Hugs! Hugs all around! And damn do they need it! Don’t get me wrong, Sai gets some personal ‘wins’ but otherwise the war is an overdose of bad news. I love that Sai just gets on with it though. There are a few instances where she doubts herself but she doesn’t spend the whole time moping around. She tests her strengths, deals with the knock backs, and tries her hardest to be a good leader.

My love of Bastian carries over from the first book because unfortunately, we don’t get to see a huge amount from him. He’s still out there, risking everything, for the Exiled who are all like ‘oh him, that’s right. He’s still there’. Dom, and occasionally Sai, (and me!) are the only ones who actually seem concerned about his welfare. Jerks.

Last mention goes to Aishke. She grows a lot in this instalment and has turned from a surly (for good reason) teen into a sweetie pie. I love her.

And of course it’s those three who suffer most at the end.

So buy, read. Go, now!

AOaR_4star (3)

(and a half)

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Heather talks, eats and thinks way too fast, and writes way too slow. She still recovering from her son turning one and is convinced ‘dying of cuteness’ is a thing. See her tweet here.

Review: Hello, Goodbye, and Everything in Between by Jennifer E. Smith

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On the night before they leave for college, Clare and Aidan only have one thing left to do: figure out whether they should stay together or break up. Over the course of twelve hours, they’ll retrace the steps of their relationship, trying to find something in their past that might help them decide what their future should be. The night will lead them to friends and family, familiar landmarks and unexpected places, hard truths and surprising revelations.

But as the clock winds down and morning approaches, so does their inevitable goodbye. The question is, will it be goodbye for now or goodbye forever?

This cute book continues my run of contemporary YA. I’ve read Jennifer’s other books (This is what Happy Looks Like and The Statistical Prob of Love at First Sight) and I LOVED them. So of course I was uber excited to get into this.

Heat/Swoon Levels:

Jennifer usually does as awesome job of creating an intense attraction where two minutes previous there had been nothing. Insta-love isn’t usually my thing, but this girl is good. Which means I was SO sure I’d fall in love with this couple and cheer them on as they tried to decide whether to stay together or call it quits. Unfortunately, it fell short for me. Both Clare and Aidan were awesome characters in their own right. Their friendship was great and the moments between them were cute and ‘nice’ to read, but there was next to no romantic chemistry. It got to the point where I couldn’t work out exactly what was holding them back from getting together. I almost wished they’d broken up at the beginning and we’d seen them head off to college as friends where they moved on with their lives.

Plot pacing and resolution:

This was a lot of fun. I like books that take place over one day/night (it’s kind of like a novelty) and there was a lot of character development in so short a time. My only annoyance is there were a LOT of flashbacks used to establish key moments in the main relationships that could have been made more present so the reader could get a chance to feel them. Other than the flashbacks, the main parts of the story were paced well between fun with their friends and the bittersweet feelings about the future they were on the threshold of.

Character relatability:

I’m not sure exactly what did it, but by the end of the first page I had a clear and almost exact picture of who the two MCs were. Clare was cute, organised and kind of fastidious, Aidan was fun and loose (of course). Stella and Scotty, the two BFFs were also introed real quickly and it was like I’d known them all my life. I think that’s one of Jennifer’s big time strengths: she knows how to create whole characters in a short time. While I wasn’t totally on board with the romantic times (Aidan just wasn’t my kind of love interest), I loved the characters individually.

Overall this book is cute and fast to read. I’d recommend it if you’re after something relaxing and sweet, with a hint of nostalgia for growing up and moving on.

AOaR_3star (3)

(and a half)

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Heather has recently signed with Agent of Awesome and will soon be on sub with her first MS. You can follow her mental breakdown here.