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

My top five YA reads of 2016

We’re almost at the end of 2016. It’s so close I can almost smell the beach and taste the Christmas pavlova. That means it’s time for summer reading (or winter reading, if the northern hemisphere is how you roll). So here are five of my five-star reads* from 2016**.

I’ve linked to my full review for each book if you want to investigate further. Just click on the book name in each heading.

* YA reads. And excluding books by Aussie Owned and Read bloggers. Because if I don’t narrow the category down I’ll never get the list down to five.

** I read them in 2016. They may have come out sooner than that! ***

*** Am I using too many footnotes?

‘Under Rose-Tainted Skies’ by Louise Gornall

I already blogged about this one during my post on must-read diverse books (and I could have also included the other book from that post, tbh) — but since my tastes usually run to speculative fiction, I thought I’d better include a serious contemporary for those of you that prefer your books to be unflinching, in-your-face and supernatural-free. Under Rose-Tainted Skies tells the story of a teen struggling with agoraphobia and anxiety, and it’s so engaging and heartbreaking and real.

The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl’ by Melissa Keil

Cinnamon Girl is another contemporary that I loved but, where Rose is heartbreaking, Cinnamon Girl is geeky and funny and sweet. It addresses the common teen panic about the future — that “what do I do now I’ve finished school and all my friends are moving away” theme — through the mechanism of a small town and the end of the world. (It is contemporary, I swear.) Melissa Keil is a wonderful Melbourne writer and I want to be like her when I grow up. I just wish she’d been writing when I was a teen.

‘Gemina’ by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Gemina is the sequel to NYT bestseller Illuminae, the groundbreaking YA sci-fi by notorious Melbourne crimefighting duo a pair of talented Melbourne* writers. It’s groundbreaking because it is presented in a “found footage” way: instant message and radio transcripts, emails, security camera footage, hand-drawn illustrations. If Illuminae is space zombies meets 2001: A Space Odyssey, Gemina is a mash-up of space terrorists and space, um, aliens. Like, aliens from the movie Aliens. (This isn’t a spoiler if you’ve read the blurb, btw.) You really need to read both books to get a full appreciation for the story, though. Have at it!

* What is it about Melbourne, you guys?

‘Winter’ by Marissa Meyer

Winter is the fourth (or fifth if you count the novella Fairest) in the Lunar Chronicles, one of the cleverest fairytale reimaginings I’ve ever read.This series is the queen of fairy tale retellings. But not the evil queen. (Okay, maybe slightly evil.) It’s set on an alternate Earth and is a little bit sci-fi — by way of example, Cinder, the Cinderella character, is a cyborg with a detachable foot instead of an ill-fitting glass slipper. If you want a series with a fairy tale feel, some kissing and an actual, honest to goodness “they all lived happily ever after” (because it’s a fairy tale retelling and that’s obligatory), I highly recommend this entire series! But, again, start at the beginning.

‘Every Move’ by Ellie Marney

I read both Every Word (#2) and Every Move (#3) this year, after reading the first book in this Sherlock-inspired trilogy last year. All three books in the series are fast-paced, with a murder mystery, some forensic science, some heated kissing and some moments that left me reeling. The characters, James Mycroft and Rachel Watts, are one of my new favourite young adult couples. I love how realistic and awkward they are with one another. The other thing I adored was how Aussie the characters are; Ellie Marney is from Victoria (but not from Melbourne — ha!).

So, there you have it. My top five YA non-AOR reads of 2016. What are yours?

Cassandra Page is a speculative fiction author who has a YA urban fantasy available free, and an adult urban fantasy currently on sale for $0.99. Because if you can’t shamelessly self-promote at Christmas, when can you do it?

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

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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

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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

Movie Versions of Books We Love

I’m currently studying Film and Literature (also see my post last month) and so far I’m not overly impressed with the subject. The books we have to read are not particularly my cup of tea, but it has gotten me thinking about adaptation, and the process of bringing a novel into another medium.

There is so much involved when adapting a written work into a film, and so many aspects I’ve never really given much thought. I won’t go into all the boring study oriented details, but issues like point of view, tense, and passing time can be a problem (among lots of other things). Not to mention what the filmmakers decide to keep or leave out, because they can’t keep everything.

Whenever I’ve gone to see a movie based on a book I love, I’ve always hoped that it would stay true to the original text, and most adaptations I’ve seen of books I love have not disappointed me even if they have changed parts of the story, or left out characters (with the exception of I am Number Four, and Red Riding Hood—but that deserves its own, nastily written blog post).

Film versions of our favourite books have the opportunity to become their own work of art, and be appreciated for what they are in their own right. My favourite adapted work by far is Alice in Wonderland. There are several versions, and I have a soft spot for the Disney animation, and Tim Burton’s version with Johnny Depp.

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While both of these adaptations are vastly different from the original text, they do Alice’s story justice in their own unique way. And I can’t wait to see this!

What books do you love that have been made into movies? Were you happy with the result, or did you want to stick hot pins in your eyes?

 

K. A. Last is freaking out because she’s going to Italy in three weeks. She is the author of Sacrifice, Fall For Me, Fight For Me, and Immagica. She drinks lots of tea, is obsessed with Buffy, and loves all things purple (it used to be pink). K. A. Last hangs out on Facebook or you can find her on twitter and Goodreads. She’s also been known to blog once in a while.

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An exclusive scene from Die For Me by K. A. Last

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To celebrate the Month of Love, Aussie Owned & Read are giving our followers exclusive content! It may be a love letter between characters, a special date, or a scene you’ve never read before.

Today, K. A. Last is sharing an exclusive scene from Die For Me, the final book in the Tate Chronicles, due to be released in late 2016. This scene is from Grace’s point of view.

 

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Seth squeezed my hips and ended our kiss. “When are you going to tell me what’s bothering you?”

I sat back and ran my fingers through my hair. “Nothing’s bothering me.”

He regarded me with dark eyes. “I know you, Grace. Don’t say it’s nothing.”

“Yeah. Well, I know you, too.” I flung one leg over him and jumped off the bed. “You’ve been hiding something from me since came back from Wide Island.”

The mention of our time in the city threw a heavy shroud of silence over us. Neither of us wanted to talk about what had happened, especially me.

Seth took a deep breath and ran a hand down his face, staring at me from where he lay on the bed. I crossed my arms and waited out the silence.

“I liked it better when you were over here,” he finally said.

I moved back to the bed and sat on the edge, hugging myself, careful not to put too much pressure on my right side.

“I miss him.” I stared at the scuffed toes of my boots.

“I hope you’re talking about Ryan.” Seth touched my back and trailed his fingers down my spine.

“Of course I’m talking about Ryan.”

After everything that had happened, Josh’s name was not a word I could freely say around Seth. He sat up and nestled in behind me, pressing his chest to my back and wrapping his strong arms around me.

“I wouldn’t be upset if you … wanted to talk about someone else.”

I snorted, turning my head to look at him. “Yeah, you would.”

“Grace …” Seth sighed and pressed his lips to my neck. “The past is in the past. And no matter what you do, I will always love you. Always.”

I rested my cheek against the side of his head and closed my eyes. “I know.” And I also knew what he wanted me to say back to him. I did love him. I’d shown him that many times. I’d fallen apart over him, and that was the main reason I hadn’t told him yet. I was scared if I did it would all disappear. That somehow he’d leave me again. The last time I’d told someone I loved them, I had to be the one to leave. The word love and I didn’t have a good history. I tried every day to show Seth as much as possible how strongly my heart beat for him, but I couldn’t say those three words. I was waiting for the right time.

Seth hitched my leg and spun me around to face him. And you don’t think now is the right time?

You snuck into my head! I thought.

He stared at me, his mouth set into a firm line. Not angry, but hardly smiling either. You haven’t let me do that in a long time.

I reached up and ran my thumb over his lips in an attempt to relax them. Maybe I do want you to hear me say it. “But in here,” I said aloud, placing my palm over his heart.

His lips parted and my gaze dropped from his eyes to his mouth. Heat rose into my chest, consuming me with a powerful desire laced with panic. What if something happened to me, and I never got to tell him how much I loved him? What if my inability to heal myself meant that losing him was also a possibility? The panic over the thought consumed me, and I grabbed Seth’s face with both hands, pulling his lips to mine, crushing them with desperation. I couldn’t get enough of him, and something inside me snapped. I tasted the salt of my tears as they ran over our lips and into our mouths.

Seth broke our connection, a question on the tip of his tongue.

“I love you,” I said, before he could form words. “I love you so much it hurts.”

He leant forward and rested his forehead on mine, stroking my cheek with the tips of his fingers. I clung to him like he was my life source, and without him I’d die.

“Why are you crying?” he whispered into my hair.

Because I’m scared, I thought. I’ve already lost you twice.

I promise you won’t lose me again.

 

K. A. Last has finally finished her YA series and can’t wait to get it into the hands of her readers. She is the author of Sacrifice, Fall For Me, Fight For Me, and Immagica. She drinks lots of tea, is obsessed with Buffy, and loves all things purple (it used to be pink). K. A. Last hangs out on Facebook or you can find her on twitter and Goodreads. She’s also been known to blog once in a while.

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What is YA to you?

Until recently I’d thought the definition of young adult was a pretty cut and dried topic, but it seems that’s no longer the case. While browsing through the Amazon charts I’ve seen books I’d call new adult in YA categories. I’ve also even seen books I’d label adult there. And there seem to be YA books in non-ya categories. What crazy world is this? Have the rules changed while I wasn’t looking or are authors / publishers ignoring them? I have no idea! But as a mother of an almost-teen, I find this a little concerning and think I need to get my head around it.

So …

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I’ve always thought it was a combination of the following;

  • age of main character
  • life stage (ie some kind of parental figures present)
  • education stage (high school vs college)
  • issues and themes of the story
  • heat level (if there is sex, how much is shown)

A friend recently put this question to a group of readers and got really varied responses. So now I’m asking, how do you define YA? Is it the protagonist’s age, their life stage, the themes covered in the book, or even the heat level, or amount of swearing? Or maybe it’s something else entirely. Let’s talk about this!

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Stacey Nash (3)Stacey Nash thinks she is a writer of young adult fiction. To find out more about the books she has penned find her at www.stacey-nash.com, instagram, twitter or facebook.

Review: I Knew You Were Trouble by Paige Toon

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Life as the undercover daughter of a rock god isn’t going to be easy. How will Jessie adjust to her old boring life again after spending her summer living it up with her dad in LA? With tough decisions ahead (and not just choosing between two hot boys), can she cope juggling her two very different lives?
Summer may be over, but Jessie’s story is just beginning…

So, with my writing I’m a pretty structured person, which is something I’m going to bring to these reviews. Now, I don’t know about you, but when I’m tossing up whether to buy a book or not, there’s generally three key things I want to know.

Heat/swoon levels:

Plot pacing and resolution:

Characters relatability:

So let’s break it down. Also gifs! (Because who doesn’t like gifs?)

First up, this is the second book in a spin-off series. It’s probably a good idea to start right at the beginning, but if you just go with the one before this you shouldn’t have any issues.

Heat/swoon levels:

This is an area Paige Toon always nails. Stuck in a love-triangle between her high school sweetheart, Tom, and LA rocker, Jack, Jessie has to make–in my eyes– a pretty big choice. Both guys have their pros and cons (though so far I think I’m a tom girl). Toon does a great job of making both relationship interesting and dynamic.

Plot pacing and resolution:

This is a really fun book. As the illegitimate child of a rock legend, Jessie tries to keep her life relatively normal. Until people find out who she really is. And let’s face it, it’s what we were all waiting for. When the media found out who she was I was expecting a bit more, actually. It was initially intense, as expected, but once she fleed to Johnny’s mansion the paps became little more than an annoyance. Things progressed quickly and once she headed to LA, book two became a load more reminiscent of book one. It events were a little predictable but I wouldn’t have wanted things to unfold any differently. Being the second book in a series, there’s no definite ending though, so heads up!

Characters:

I LOVE JESSIE JEFFERSON! Just putting it out there. She’s a fun character who is obviously destined for some pretty big things but at the same time she’s incredibly flawed and vulnerable. I also love how the key relationship in this book isn’t between Jessie and either of the boys, but between her and Johnny. The moments between them, and the moments where she is remembering her mum, were standouts in the book in really sweet and emotional ways.

The downer:

There was one part of this book that really bummed me out.

For some reason in YA it seems to be a common theme that when the MC cheats on their significant other, it is explained away and rationalised. Why does this happen? I get the cheating thing–to be clear, I don’t like it–but if it’s true to your character then go for it. But please, please don’t justify it as being okay.

For that reason, and that reason alone, the book gets a four from me.

Overall, it was an enjoyable read. Toon writes complexities into all her characters that makes you fall in love with them. Definitely great if you’re after something fun, sweet, and that will remind you those dreams of stardom you once had, are better kept as dreams!

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I have nothing to say. So feel free to follow me here.

I have nothing to say.
So feel free to follow me here.