Tuesday, October 17, 2017

5 books every child should read before he or she turns 11 + giveaway: Wizards of Once by Cressida Cowell (win a signed hardcopy)

Today I’m super excited to host an interview feature plus a giveaway of bestselling author, Cressida Cowell’s magical new book, Wizards of Once.

The bestselling author of the How to Train your Dragon series introduces us to a wonderful new world in which a Wizard boy with no magic encounters a Warrior girl with magic and chronicles the events of what happens when their worlds collide.
 
I’m super excited to read it and will be reviewing it later this month.

In today’s post, Cressida shares her top 5 books every child should read before he or she turns eleven – with thanks to PanMacmillan and Hachette for the opportunity to post!

5 books every child should read before he or she turns 11.

Image courtesy of Hachette

The Ogre Downstairs by Diana Wynne Jones
 
When I was eight I read this book, and it made me realize how wonderful books could be, with wicked stepfathers, and chemicals that make you fly, and magic that feels true.  This is a great one to read even to the most wriggly of book-sceptics.
 
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J K Rowling
 
An imaginative tour-de-force that should not be underestimated on the grounds of its phenomenal success. These books gripped the hearts and minds of millions for a reason, and a child who gets hooked on this series emerges at the end a fully-fledged reader with a love of books.
 
Holes by Louis Sachar
 
Stanley Yelnats is a young delinquent who is pointlessly digging holes at Camp Green Lake as punishment for a crime he did not commit… This is a tale of crime, redemption and how the past haunts the present, told with exquisite brevity, and with a satisfyingly clever and intricate plot.
 
Matilda by Roald Dahl
 
I love Roald Dahl’s creative, irreverent voice, the joyous language, and that dark edge to everything he writes. You feel you are in the hands of an anarchic author who could make anything happen (even a sad ending, as in ‘the Witches’), and that keeps you fascinated, and anxious for the fate of the characters.
 
The Diary of Anne Frank  

Things that happen on screen happen ‘out there’, but in books they feel as if they are happening inside your head. Books are unique in their ability to create empathy, and the terrifying normality of Anne Frank’s diary brings the reality of the Holocaust alive in a way that no film ever can. Lest we forget.

About Wizards of Once:
 
This is the story of a young boy Wizard and a young girl Warrior who have been taught to hate each other like poison; and the thrilling tale of what happens when their two worlds collide.
 
Perfect for boys and girls who love fantasy adventure ...
 
Once there was Magic, and the Magic lived in the dark forests.
 
Wizard boy, Xar, should have come in to his magic by now, but he hasn't, so he wants to find a witch and steal its magic for himself. But if he's got any chance of finding one, he will have to travel into the forbidden Badwoods.
 
Xar doesn't realise he is about to capture an entirely different kind of enemy. A Warrior girl called Wish.
 
And inside this book, at this very moment, two worlds collide and the fate of the land is changed forever.
 
Xar and Wish must visit the dungeons at Warrior fort, and face the evil Queen.
But something that has been sleeping for hundreds of years is stirring
 
Add it to your Goodreads TBR pile

The wonderful folk and Panmacmillan South Africa are giving you the chance to win a signed hardcopy of the book. All you need to do is fill out the form below and tell me which fantasy world you’d most like to live in.
 
Giveaway open to SA residents only. Closes 31 October.


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Monday, September 4, 2017

Book review: Perfect by Cecelia Ahern

A dystopian novel that asks why we focus on chasing and upholding archaic notions of perfection, when perfection is a) unattainable and b) paradoxically enough, rooted in imperfection.
 

Perfect by Cecelia Ahern (first published in 2017 by HarperCollins - UK edition)

Read the review of the first book here:

(Review originally published on W24.co.za)

Warning: May contain spoilers for the first book

I think if there's a YA duology that I feel is really underrated, then it's probably Cecelia Ahern's Flawed series. 


The bestselling author, who is best known for her adult fiction, has written a stunning conclusion to a duology that explores a despotic society governed by a morality system that demands nothing but perfection.

If you're guilty of anything that does not fall within the rules of the system, a branded F appears on different areas of your body, depending on the nature of your so-called crime.  

This is essentially the concept that forms the foundation behind both books. It seems relatively simplistic, but in the hands of Cecelia Ahern - it's transformed into a duology that speaks of brutality, humanity, fragility and resilience.

It's a dystopian novel that delves into the heart of human nature and asks why we focus on chasing and upholding archaic notions of perfection, when perfection is a) unattainable and b) paradoxically enough, rooted in imperfection.
 

The novel picks up where Celestine -  branded as a traitor, liar and flawed to the bone by Judge Craven - is on the run for her life. With the society divided, resistance brewing and a deadly secret that could bring the whole guild down, Celestine has to rely on herself and the select few people she trusts to remain one step ahead of the Judge.

“The irony of justice is that the feelings that precede it and those which fruit from it are never fair and balanced.”

Craven's not making it easy for her - and with every step she takes, she's pushed into a corner and has to fight through being ostracised, betrayed and separated from her family. Not to mention enduring more of Craven’s special brand of handling “flawed” outcasts.

What makes this book such a compelling read is that even though it's really hard to read about the kind of things Celestine has to endure (in my review of the first book, I mention that it's quite dark - well it's no different here), being witness to how she fights to stand up for herself, how she rises up against a government that has been prejudiced against her and her fellow flawed citizens for reasons that at best are flimsy, and at worst, ridiculous and unwarranted.

Celestine’s development and transformation from a shallow character brainwashed by the ideals and doctrine of the cultish guild she never used to question, into a rebellious force of nature whose compassion and desire for justice and freedom won out in the end, is a huge reason why I love this book so much.

Her desire to protect her family at all costs showed she wasn’t scared to put herself in harm’s way, and it was great to see that her family, in return, would do anything for her. The turning point in her relationship with her sister is a developmental arc that I particularly enjoyed, because I never thought that they’d be able to bridge the gap that was so apparent between them. 

Of course, my review wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the romantic aspect of the book, which I thought was really well done. Carrick and Celestine’s relationship is one that formed based on learning to trust and rely on each other, given what they’ve both been through.

In the first book, Carrick thought Celestine was a perfectly spoilt brat (which was a fair assumption to make given that Celestine was pretty much indoctrinated by the guild’s relentless and toxic ideas of perfection), while Celestine wasn’t sure if she could trust Carrick to not use her “fallen image” against her. 

The two of them have certainly come a long way and it definitely shows in the further development in the conclusion to the series.

While the book isn’t completely without its flaws (ha, see what I did there?), Cecelia Ahern has written a novel that at heart is filled with insightful commentary about society’s ridiculous standards and expectations in terms of what it really means to be human.

Purchase a copy of the book from Raru.co.za

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Book review: 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher

WARNING: Mentions of rape and suicide. The book’s recently been adapted as a Netflix series. I decided to read it before watching the show – here’s what I thought.

Originally published on W24.co.za
 
13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher (originally published in 2007 by Razorbill; this TV tie-in edition was published in March 2017 by Penguin Books)

I have avoided reading Jay Asher’s 13 Reasons Why for a good number of years, and for several different reasons. (10 years since original publication date if you’re counting).

The furore around the TV adaptation of this has been pretty big, with some of the backlash revolving around how graphic it is as well as how the series romanticises suicide. 

Of course, since it’s been released, Netflix has updated the series to include stronger trigger warnings and there’s been an unfortunate and real-life devastating incident in which a 23-year-old man from Peru committed suicide and, like the protagonist of the book, sent tapes to various people he accused of being responsible for his death.

There’s a lot to unpack in here, but I will get to that once I’m done watching the series.

Jay Asher’s 13 Reasons Why revolves around 13 tapes. These tapes contain the many reasons that Hannah Baker chose to end her life. More specifically, it is addressed to people who she feels are to blame for her death.

Told from the points of view of Hannah (through the tapes) and a boy named Clay Jensen, a former classmate who was romantically interested in Hannah, 13 Reasons Why explores the insidious nature of rape culture while dealing with issues of self-esteem, bullying and victim-blaming.

It’s a book that will make you question whether or not you ever really know someone and highlights how oblivious we still are to the damaging impact everyday sexism and misogyny have on women – young and impressionable teens especially.

Asher examines just how harmful the consequences of the snowball effect are – especially in a girl whose mind is devastatingly fragile.

I’ve seen a number of reviewers state that the reasons she committed suicide aren’t justifiable at all, but I have a problem with that statement for various reasons, a) it invalidates and dismisses Hannah’s feelings and b) it implies that there are various degrees of seriousness that can be counted as acceptable for committing suicide.

The human experience is a complex one, and while I admittedly do not comprehend all of Hannah’s reasons, I understand how the snowball effect impacted her in this case. A series of small things expand, grow and take up space in your head – sometimes so much so that you simply feel you are unable to cope with anything.

The people in the tapes deserve to answer for their actions, but there are also one or two involuntary issues that I think acted as secondary catalysts to a set of circumstances that already had Hannah in a spiral of both hopelessness and depression.

And because of this she took on things that she wasn’t responsible for and instead of trying to alleviate the pressure, she started blaming herself. Can you imagine how awful it must be when it feels like your mind has become a prison and calls for help are being ignored? It’s an unsettling notion, isn’t it?  

13 Reasons Why is a novel that has an important message, and yet I’m not sure how to rate it.  Not because it’s not a good book – it’s gut-wrenchingly compelling and heartbreaking – but because it’s a book that I don’t think gives you much closure.

But perhaps, therein lies both the brilliance of the book and my frustration with the novel, because how often in life do we get answers to the unanswerable?

Purchase a copy from Raru.co.za

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Book review: A Drop of Night by Stefan Bachman

About the book (Summary from Goodreads):
Seventeen-year-old Anouk has finally caught the break she’s been looking for—she's been selected out of hundreds of other candidates to fly to France and help with the excavation of a vast, underground palace buried a hundred feet below the suburbs of Paris.

Built in the 1780's to hide an aristocratic family and a mad duke during the French Revolution, the palace has lain hidden and forgotten ever since. Anouk, along with several other gifted teenagers, will be the first to set foot in it in over two centuries.

Or so she thought.

But nothing is as it seems, and the teens soon find themselves embroiled in a game far more sinister, and dangerous, than they could possibly have imagined. An evil spanning centuries is waiting for them in the depths. . .

A genre-bending thriller from Stefan Bachmann for fans of The Maze Runner and Joss Whedon’s The Cabin in the Woods.

Review:

 
Stefan Bachmann's A Drop of Night is a bit of a mixed bag for me.

On the one hand, we have a book that blends a hosts of genres (speculative, horror and historical) that shouldn't work, and yet does (this book is described as being a genre-bending novel so it actually really does it justice).

On the other hand, we have a book that leaves us in the dark until almost the very end, without throwing in much clues along the way - which I'd usually be fine with if it didn't feel like it was something that had an ending that felt like it was thought up at the last moment.

Despite my criticism though, and because I CLEARLY love contradicting myself, I found this book hard to put down, simply because I had to know how it would all play out.

I mean, given that the narrative is a dual-structured one that switches between the past and present, and features a feisty, angry teen who finds herself part of group who end up being trapped in an underground palace, fighting for survival - well, it's kind of hard not to be intrigued, right?

While I enjoyed watching it all unfold, I didn't find any of the characters all that memorable. I enjoyed reading how they (mostly) banded together to try and navigate their way through a booby-trapped palace filled with unimaginable horrors, and loved the fact that the girls here were no damsels in distress.

So, all in all, not a bad book - I just wish they could have introduced the main plot point of the book earlier - I think it would have made the book that much more believable. But, that's just me.

Interested in reading this? You can purchase a copy from Raru.co.za


Monday, July 3, 2017

Book talk: Should authors use their platforms to be outspoken about political issues?

It's been an age since I've updated my blog, and an even longer time since I've featured one of these discussion  topics. I've been struggling with my depression over the past few months, so the only time I really get to write is when I'm doing so for my job (and then cross posting my book content here).

Moving on... a while back a wrote a piece originally featured on W24 and in one of my book newsletters. In it I talk about authors being agents of change and asks the question: do we as readers have the right to ask them to use their voice to speak up when it comes to political and socioeconomic issues.


Check it out below:

The wonderful thing about social media platforms is that it gives you the chance to connect with people you wouldn’t normally have been able to simply chat to.

Ask any reader, book blogger or reviewer, and many will tell you that being able to engage with your favourite author online is pretty awesome.

Given that the platforms are available on a world wide scale, receiving a tweet to say “ thanks for reading my book,” is nearly as magical as being transported into the many fictional worlds our favourite authors create.

Most of my Twitter feed features many of my favourite authors and I can definitely tell you that as much as I follow them for information about their forthcoming books, writing advice and book recommendations, I also love hearing their thoughts and opinions on topical issues.

For me, fiction has always been a fantastic means to tackle issues that people would generally steer away from, so seeing this reflected in not only the author’s writing, and hearing  them speak out about it is something that has become increasingly more important to me.

With Trump’s presidency, I’ve seen more celebrities and authors take a solid stand about their political view points. Weirdly though, I’ve often seen a lot of people clapping back at them, telling them to take a seat because they’re artists not political analysts (no surprises here if you guessed that they’re Trump supporters).

Um, since when were people one-dimensional human beings only capable of doing one thing and having one thought at a time? And why can’t people have opinions about issues that will impact them and the rest of the world?

In fact, I always thought that the more outspoken a celebrity or author is on a topic, the better. If you have a huge and established fan base, there’s an unspoken sense of responsibility that rests on your shoulders to at least be vocal about issues that affect you and your fans.

No one is saying that they should never use their platforms to talk about their work and promote their books, but personally, I would prefer an author to be as vocal about topics on their platforms as they are in their books.



Words have power and the voice you have is a weapon you can use (I must credit that last sentiment to Angie Thomas, whose book The Hate U Give is exactly about this – it’s a must read). 

When I see authors remaining conspicuously quiet about issues like the refugee crisis, healthcare, racial injustice or discrimination against any other marginalised groups, I can’t help but think that they’re being complicit in their silence.

One of my favourite authors is in a position of privilege. I love her books and the fictional worlds that she creates is nothing short of phenomenal. She has more than 500 000 followers on Twitter – people who come from all backgrounds – rich, poor, black, white, gay, straight and transgender.

And never do I see even a tweet or retweet in connection with issues that impact their lives. It’s all about her work and her life.

It was Desmond Tutu who once said: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”

I understand that some people simply choose to use their platforms strictly for work, that they might be suffering from political fatigue, or that they fear backlash from people who simply do not agree with their views.

And goodness knows there are the kind of humans who lurk about on the internet, just looking and waiting for someone to harass into leaving social media networks completely.

I get that fear. In fact, I’m expecting someone to tweet me and tell me how dare I try to police author behaviour and who am I to dictate what they say on their social media networks. Me reminding them that this is simply an opinion-based column will undoubtedly fall on deaf ears.

Of course I believe that authors have the right to protect themselves from that kind of backlash, and I don’t think that authors alone can simply just change the world with a singular thought, but complete silence as a response?

It doesn’t sit that well with me.

I know that I would rather be uncomfortable with what an author is tweeting (because things I’m uncomfortable with make me think – and I’m always glad to be challenged even though everything in me is railing against a thought or opinion) instead of a serving of safe words that keep everyone happy.

But that’s just me.

And of course, I won’t simply stop following an author simply because he or she chooses not to engage with issues affecting the world, because at the end of the day it is their right to choose what to share and what not to.

I simply think a healthy balance of sharing work, writing and opinions about current affairs wouldn’t go amiss.

What are your thoughts on this?

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Book review: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

If you want to be a better ally to black people, do yourself a favour and get several copies of this book. One for you, and the rest for every one of your friends who has ever uttered the phrase “I’m not racist, but...”

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (first published in 2017 by Walker Books)

Review originally appeared on W24.

There are going to be a lot of people who will use the following words when recommending this book to you: “If you only read one book this year, make sure it’s this one.”

My advice to you? Listen to them (because I’m echoing their sentiment right now, and as a reader and reviewer who generally eschews reading a book because of hype, that’s definitely saying something).

We may only be three months into 2017, but I’m pretty convinced that this book will be on every bookseller and reader’s best of 2017 list, and for a very good reason.

The Hate U Give is simply brilliant. Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, this novel is not just a profoundly important novel providing social commentary on race, but it’s also one that raises the black community’s voice loud and proud by providing a marginalised community with an authentically black, vocal and strong female voice – one that we don’t see nearly enough of in fiction.

The story revolves around 16-year old Starr who is the only witness when her unarmed best friend is shot by a white police officer.

“Once upon a time there was a hazel-eyed boy with dimples. I called him Khalil. The world called him a thug. He lived, but not nearly long enough, and for the rest of my life I'll remember how he died.”

It’s a novel that sums up what it’s like for black communities to constantly deal with the systematic, insidious and hate-fuelled oppression they’ve been dealing with since the dawn of civilisation, and it’s one that I’m fairly sure will be eye-opening to many, even those who consider themselves the staunchest Black Lives Matter allies.

And if you’re wondering if there is a novel out there that can uplift black voices without demonising others (the way SOME white authors do), then The Hate U Give is a shining example of how to unpack issues of racial injustice, prejudice and oppression without spreading the message that hatred as a response is the go-to answer.

Oh, don’t get me wrong, hatred and anger at years of police brutality, racial profiling and discrimination is more than justified.

In fact, that is a bona fide response of black communities telling you that they’re sick of your racist garbage and one that we should never ever get to dictate, so even if that was evident in this book, my response would still be the same.

Justified. Justified. Justified.

We don’t get to police how they respond to their lived experiences, given the fact that a system of oppression has already done that for centuries.

“Sometimes you can do everything right and things will still go wrong. The key is to never stop doing right.”


My point is that Thomas doesn’t villify an entire race the way media and police officers tend to do through racial profiling.

And for every person who whines about how Blue Lives Matter and how this book is a tool for invalidating the work police officers do, one of the heroes in the story is a black police officer with a complex story, so do take your naysaying somewhere else. 

Also, The Hate U Give is not without its visceral and real response to injustice. There is valid anger. There is heartache. There is frustration and there are fighting and riots. 

This book speaks of a world of pain and anger and clearly shows that there is still a long way to go in order for black people to be regarded as human and for them to not be at the mercy of a judicial system that constantly fails them.

“The truth casts a shadow over the kitchen—people like us in situations like this become hashtags, but they rarely get justice. I think we all wait for that one time though, that one time when it ends right. Maybe.”


The wonderful and remarkable thing about this book is that it’s not without hope. It’s also not just a book that was written for a cause.

There are heart-warming and laugh-out-loud moments as you get to know the characters that dominate Starr’s world and life. Her relationship with her family and friends are solid and, at times, downright hilarious.

The interactions are well-drawn out and show that these are people who not only stand by each other in spite of past mistakes, but who support each other no matter what.

The community support in the neighbourhood Starr resides in is pretty phenomenal. Although there are residual tensions and gang violence, Angie Thomas manages to convey a strong bond and sense of community despite the problems they’re all facing.

She’s also matter of fact about the gang rivalry that plagues the neighbourhoods and expertly juxtapositions the struggle that Starr faces as she tries to balance the world she lives in with the separate life she leads when she attends her upmarket school (where most of her friends and the students are white).

When she witnesses the shooting, the trauma and fear that follows is pretty gut-wrenching to read. Post-shooting Starr is a nervous wreck and afraid to speak out. And who could blame her? When has speaking up and demanding justice ever gotten them anywhere?

But as the story progresses and the media starts twisting the image of Khalil into that of a nothing but a thug, Starr finds herself wanting to make a difference, regardless of the consequences.

There are so many layers to the book that I wish I could unpack, but I think that’s very much up to the reader to experience it.  What I can say is that The Hate U Give is a wakeup call for people who are blind to issues of racial injustice.

It’s educational, empowering, heartbreaking and speaks up loudly for an ignored, ill-treated and maligned community simply longing to be heard and to be viewed as equal humans.

Most importantly though, it’s a book about finding your voice and finding the light in a world where people simply put out the light without your permission.

Read it. It will change your life.

It changed mine profoundly

P.S. There is a reason this book is called The Hate U Give. Look out for some of the pop culture references in the book and you’ll discover just how apt this title is.

Buy a copy of The Hate U Give from  Raru.co.za

Monday, February 27, 2017

Book review: Caraval by Stephanie Garber


Two sisters are caught up in a legendary and magical game where the stakes are high, nothing is as it seems and elaborate performances have hidden motives and intentions.


Review originally appeared on W24. You can also purchase a copy of Caraval from Raru.co.za.

UK edition first published in 2017 by Hodder & Stoughton; US edition published by Flatiron Books

This book has been getting a lot of comparisons to Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus. It’s not a bad thing at all, especially considering that The Night Circus is one of my all-time favourites.

However, Caraval is one of those magical reads that shouldn’t just be compared to a book as it makes a strong impression all on its own. It’s a beautifully written novel that effortlessly blends elements of fantasy and magical realism to portray a world that’s almost phantasmagorical in nature.

It’s not merely a book that features elaborate acts of illusion, but it’s a novel that explores the strength of the bond between two sisters who are desperate to escape their cruel and abusive father.

Meet Scarlet and Tella – two sisters who couldn’t be more different. Tella is headstrong, impetuous and jumps headlong into situations before thinking about it. Scarlet, on the other hand is cautious and restrained, choosing to weigh all her options before jumping into any situation.

The two of them have never left the island on which they live, both for fear of their father’s reaction and because opportunities to escape have been far and few between.

Both Scarlet and Tella (Scarlet in particular), have dreamed of attending Caraval – a legendary game that takes place once a year, lasts 5 days and nights and offers the winner a chance to win a magical prize,  the likes of which they’ve never seen.
 
 When they finally get the opportunity to go to the island where the Caraval revelry takes place, Tella uses the moment to whisk Scarlet away from an arranged marriage that could do more harm than good.

When Scarlet arrives and Tella goes missing, Scarlet soon finds herself reluctantly teaming up with the sailor who brought her to the island in order to find Tella.

When the game begins, it soon becomes clear that the elaborate performances within the game are far more than they seem and that the game itself, is a lot more dangerous than Scarlet could have imagined.

Using both wit and cunning, Scarlet has to navigate trails filled with mystery and illusion, while trying not to lose herself to the magic of the game.

From bottled dreams, and sand made of snow, to gingerbread-shaped houses and fortune tellers whose tattoos predict the future, Stephanie Garber’s Caraval will launch you into a world filled with enchantments both charming and dangerous.

This beautifully written novel is such a feast for the senses, you’ll find yourself wishing that the things you encounter in this book, could be real. The synesthesia element attached to Scarlet’s emotions is an added dynamic that makes this book even more magical.

Caraval is a cleverly plotted book that is full of twists and turns and I must confess that everything I could have predicted about how the game plays out, was completely off base.

This unpredictable gem is a novel filled with hidden legacies, the cruelty of unrequited love and lushly descriptive scenarios that will seduce and draw you in.

Each person in this novel has a role to play in the game and the beauty of this novel lies in the fact that you’re never quite sure who is helper or who is villain.  Stephanie Garber is a gifted scribe whose turn of phrase is exquisitely lush.

The characters she’s created are wonderful to behold and I absolutely adored the genuine sense of camaraderie between the sisters, despite how very different they are.  I had my doubts about the younger sister’s affection at times, but Garber once again surprised me with another twist in the book that threw all of my doubts out of the window.

The ending of the book is nicely set up for a sequel and I’d be very curious to see how the girls fare following the feat that they pulled off.

All in all, if you’re looking for a book filled with magic, romance and danger at every possible corner, you definitely can’t go wrong with this book. It’s already one of my favourites of 2017.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Book review: The Call by Peadar O’Guilin

What would you do if you only had 3 minutes and 4 seconds to save your own life?

The Call by Peadar O’Guilin (first published in 2016 by David Fickling Books; review first appeared on W24.c0.za)

Peadar O’Guilin’s book is a novel I’ve been hearing about a lot over the last couple of months.

And with good reason because it features a strong-willed heroine, disabled by polio, in a battle to survive and prepare for The Call – an event that forces all those eligible to participate in a fight for their lives in the space of three minutes and four seconds.

Sounds, intriguing, yes?

Well, it’s certainly that and more.

For one,  disabled heroines in fiction are pretty rare. Disabled protagonists in dystopian horror novels? Practically unheard of, and something that immensely appealed to me.

Here we have a heroine who has everything going against her. She’s been crippled by polio and attends a survival training college where she endures being mocked by her peers and where almost everyone, including her own parents, bet against her chances for survival.

Blending a combination of Irish folklore and mythology, Peadar O’ Guilin’s The Call is a novel that is both a dystopian fantasy and a work of horror.

Training for the fight against the Sidhe (faeries who occupy the Grey Land), Nessa and her friends have to endure rigorous tests; from hunting obstacles to outwitting their classmates in a series of tests, all in preparation for the day they’re called by the Sidhe to fight.

The story takes place in post-modern Ireland in an area known as the Grey Land – a space occupied by trapped fairies, hostile plants and other deadly creatures. Nessa and her classmates’ training takes place in what’s left of Ireland, while the actual call transports them to the dangerous wasteland that is the Grey Land.

When the call happens, all that the individuals are left with are 3 minutes and four seconds to navigate their way through the land without being caught in the hunt that commences the very moment they arrive.

Those who are lucky to survive and get back to Ireland, are often changed in grotesque and unimaginable ways.

Peadar O’ Guilin’s The Call is quite a brilliant read. It’s a testimony to the perseverance of human nature and takes a look at what happens when the will to survive is stronger than the insurmountable obstacles before you.

It’s also a book that lulls you into a false sense of complacency.

It’s written in a way that at first seems targeted towards a very young audience, but it quickly becomes clear that it’s anything but that. It’s a book that’s brutal, intense and often gory in places, but that only highlights the strength of Nessa as a protagonist.

She’s resilient in the face of bullying, training and her take-no-prisoners attitude is both balsy and admirable. She refuses to be pitied because of her disability, and often uses her so-called weaknesses to blindside people who underestimate her.

She’s honestly one of the best heroines I’ve come across in fiction this year.

While the story mainly focuses on Nessa, we are given glimpses into the points of view of others who find themselves in The Call. It’s a grim and dark look at what happens when survival instinct kicks in and fight or flight takes hold.

Another aspect that I loved about this book is that the villains aren’t quite as black and white as you’d think they’d be. There are nuances that make this read more in-depth than it initially appears and the twists, turns and betrayals will make your jaw drop.

All in all, The Call had me glued to its pages and has me salivating over the potential for a sequel. I’d love to see where Nessa’s story goes next. 

Also, a huge shout out to the author for not using the protagonist’s disability as a mere prop to invoke sympathy and see her as “other”.

Read this book. It will give you goosebumps.

Purchase a copy from Raru.co.za

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Blog tour: Freeks by Amanda Hocking (review & excerpt)


Thanks to the lovely folk from St. Martin’s Press, I’m excited to be kicking off my book blogging year by being part of the blog tour for Amanda Hocking’s new book, Freeks.

I’ve read Amanda’s previous books, Switch (part of the Trylle trilogy) and Wake (part of the Watersong series), so I was really excited to try her new standalone paranormal fantasy considering that I’ve enjoyed her last books.

In today’s post, I share my thoughts on the book as well as an excerpt from the book. 

About Freeks 
Summary: Goodreads

First published in 2017 by St. Martin’s Griffin

Welcome to Gideon Davorin’s Traveling Sideshow, where necromancy, magical visions, and pyrokinesis are more than just part of the act…

Mara has always longed for a normal life in a normal town where no one has the ability to levitate or predict the future. Instead, she roams from place to place, cleaning the tiger cage while her friends perform supernatural feats every night.

When the struggling sideshow is miraculously offered the money they need if they set up camp in Caudry, Louisiana, Mara meets local-boy Gabe…and a normal life has never been more appealing.

But before long, performers begin disappearing and bodes are found mauled by an invisible beast. 

Mara realizes that there’s a sinister presence lurking in the town with its sights set on getting rid of the sideshow freeks. In order to unravel the truth before the attacker kills everyone Mara holds dear, she has seven days to take control of a power she didn’t know she was capable of—one that could change her future forever.

Add it to your Goodreads TBR pile.

Review:

I’ve always been fascinated with books that employed a carnival setting as a backdrop, which is one of the biggest reasons that Amanda Hocking’s Freeks appealed to me. Featuring a mish-mash of characters with different abilities, Amanda has created an intriguing world that will appeal to fans of paranormal fiction.

The one thing I’ve always felt comes across strongly in Amanda’s books is her writing style. While I generally prefer authors who prefer showing, as opposed to telling, I find it rather easy to overlook this in Amanda’s books because her ideas and stories are just so engaging and fun.

Make no mistake, Amanda knows how to tell a good story. And in Freeks, it’s no different.

While the story focuses on Mara, a seemingly normal girl who is part of a travelling carnival and sideshow, Amanda, through Mara’s perspective gives us hints and glimpses into the lives of the folk who form part of the show. 

From characters who are gifted with telekinesis to those with the ability to heal unusually quickly, we’re immersed into the lives of characters who, together, celebrate each other’s unique abilities and differences, while being aware that to outsiders, they’ll always be considered “freaks.”

What I particularly enjoyed about this book is that it deals with a topic that so many of us can relate to – being mocked or consider other because of something that makes you different.

In Freeks, we’re at once privy to people who will show up to the carnival to be entertained by the very people they consider subhuman, only  for them to turn around and spray paint nasty graffiti on the travelling homes of the folk who are working hard to make ends meet.

 Because they’re often met with ridicule and scorn, Mara and the rest of the performers are cautious and distrustful of the local townsfolk. On top of this, Mara struggles with feelings of fitting in and finding a place where she belongs – as much as the performers treat her like one of their own, she longs for a place where she can find some roots.

When she meets Gabe, local town boy from a wealthy home, she thinks she just might have an opportunity to experience something normal again. But, then people start getting hurt and disappearing, and soon, the entire carnival is unsettled by the unearthly energy and sinister presence they feel in the air.

I really actually loved how this story came together. In a small and Southern town where everything is more than it seems, Amanda Hocking’s story world really comes to life.

The description of carnival life is something I particularly enjoyed and something I would have loved to have seen being elaborated a little more on, especially when it came to the types of shows that were being performed by the different artists.

I’m also a big fan of the fact that this book is set in the 80s. Amanda’s love for this decade is clearly punctuated throughout the novel with nods to books, movies and records that will definitely be known to many of you.

The supernatural elements in this novel will also be quite familiar, but the twist Amanda spins on it and how it relates to the characters involved is another thing that really impressed me. Think magic and curses, inherited legacies and traps and you’ll have the gist of what this novel is all about. In fact, the last few chapters definitely make the novel worth reading all the more.

I do wish more attention could have been given to Mara’s developing powers, but perhaps that might be something Amanda intends to explore at a later stage perhaps?

Of course, this book wouldn’t be complete without a bit of romance, but personally, I wouldn’t have minded if there wasn’t a romantic angle. For one, this book does fall prey to the insta-love trope we see so often in YA fiction, but the chemistry between Mara and Gabe are at least tons of fun to read about.

Still, despite my minor issues with the book, Freeks is a fun-filled read filled with all manner of supernatural shenanigans that will delight folk who enjoy their books with an extra zest of magical paraphernalia and curious oddities.

Personally, I think it’s Amanda’s best book to date.

Buy links:

Buy your copy from
Raru.co.za
Macmillan
Amazon

Here’s a sneak peak from Chapter 5: Carnival

Unlike many of the other members of the sideshow, I didn’t have a specific job. My mom was a fortune- teller, Gideon did a magic show, Zeke had his tigers, Brendon and his family did acrobatics, Seth was a strongman. My best friend Roxie Smith was in two acts— she helped out Zeke, and did a peepshow revue with two other girls.

I had no talent. No special ability, making me essentially a roadie. I did what was needed of me, which usually involved helping set up and take down, and various menial tasks. I cleaned the tiger cages and emptied out latrines when I had to. It wasn’t a glamorous job, but it was crucial to our way of life.

Since Roxie worked with the tigers, Mahilā actually tolerated her. Roxie was helping me clean out the tiger cage they traveled in. The cage was open to a fenced-in enclosure Seth had built, so the tigers could roam as they pleased.

Safēda lounged in the grass, the sun shining brightly on her white fur. Whenever we stopped, Safēda seemed content to just lay in the sun, sleeping the entire time, but as the older tiger, it made sense.

Mahilā paced along the fence, occasionally emitting an irritated guttural noise in between casting furtive glances back toward Roxie and me. Her golden fur was mottled with scars from her past life in the abusive circus, including a nasty one that ran across her nose.

“So where did you go last night?” Roxie asked, her voice lilting in a sing song playful way. She was out in the run, using a hose to fill up a blue plastic kiddie pool so the tigers could play in it, while I was on my hands and knees scrubbing dung off the cage floor.

Her bleached blond hair was pulled back in a ponytail, and the sleeves of her white T- shirt were rolled up, revealing her well-toned arms. The cut- off jean shorts she wore barely covered her bum, and her old cowboy boots went up to her knees— her chosen footwear anytime she was at risk of stepping in tiger poop.

With fair skin, full lips, large blue eyes, and a dainty nose, Roxie was pretty and deceptively tough. Being a beautiful carnie was not an easy job, and dancing in the revue under the stage name “Foxy Roxie” didn’t help that. But she made decent money doing it, and Roxie never put up with anybody’s crap. I’d seen her deck guys much bigger than her and lay them out flat on their backs.

“I was just at a party,” I said as I rinsed the brush off in a bucket of bleach and warm water.
“A party?” Roxie looked over at me with a hand on her hip.

“How’d you get invited to a party so fast?”

I shrugged. “I was just exploring town, and I saw some people hanging outside of this big house party, and they invited me in.”
The UK edition of Freeks

“So what are the people like here? Are they nice?”

Safēda had gotten up and climbed into the pool, and then she flopped down in it, splashing Roxie as she did. Roxie took a step back, but kept looking at me.

“I don’t know. The people I met last night seemed nice, and they were superrich, so that bodes well for the town, I guess.”

“Like how rich?” Roxie asked.

“Like their house is practically a mansion.” I dropped the brush in the water and sat back on my knees, taking a break to talk to her. “It was the nicest house I’ve ever been in, hands down.”

“Is that why you spent the night there?”

Roxie understood my fascination with houses. Well, “understood” wasn’t the right word. It was more like she knew of it, but didn’t understand it all. She’d grown up in an upper- middleclass family, in nice houses with basements, and thought they were about as boring and lame as she could imagine.

“Partly.” I nodded. “It was a really amazing house. There were pillars out front, and the front hall was bigger than my trailer.”

“It’s just a house, Mara.” Roxie shook her head.

“I know but . . .” I trailed off, trying to think of how to explain it to her. “You know how you felt when you first joined the sideshow two years ago? How everything seemed so exciting and fun, and I was like, ‘We live in cramped trailers. It kinda sucks.’”

Roxie nodded. “Yeah. But I still think this life is a million times better than my old life. I get to see everything. I get to decide things for myself. I can leave whenever I want. There’s nothing to hold me back or tie me down.”

She’d finished filling up the pool, so she twisted the nozzle on the hose to shut it off. Stepping carefully over an old tire and a large branch that the tigers used as toys, she went to the edge of the run and tossed the hose over the fence, before Mahilā decided to play with it and tore it up.

She walked over to the cage and scraped her boots on the edge, to be sure she didn’t track any poop inside, before climbing up inside it.

“So what was the other reason?” Roxie asked.

I kept scrubbing for a moment and didn’t look up at her when I said, “Gabe.”

“Gabe?” Roxie asked. “That sounds like a boy’s name.”

“That’s because it is.”

“Did you have sex with him?”

“No.” I shot her a look. “We just made out a little.”

“What what what?” Luka Zajiček happened to be walking by just in time to hear that, and he changed his course to walk over to the tiger cage. “Is that what you were up to last night?”
“That’s what sucks about living in a community so small. Whenever anything happens, everybody knows about it right away,” I muttered.

Luka put his arms through the cage bars and leaned against it, in the area I’d cleaned already. Since he was rather short, the floor came up to his chest, and his black hair fell into his eyes.

His eyes were the same shade of gray as mine, but his olive skin was slightly lighter than mine. We first met him when he joined the carnival four years ago, and the first thing my mom said was that she was certain that we were related somehow.

Unfortunately, Mom knew next to nothing about our family tree to be able to prove it. All she could really tell me was that we were a mixture of Egyptian, Turkish, and Filipino, with a bit of German thrown in for good measure.

Luka had been born in Czechoslovakia, but he’d moved here with his family when he was young, so he’d lost his accent.

He had recently roped me into helping him with a trick. He’d stand with his back against a wall, while I fi red a crossbow around him. Originally, Blossom had been the one to help him, but she kept missing and shooting him in the leg or arm, so he’d asked me to do it because I had a steadier hand.

“So you made out with some local guy last night?” Luka asked, smirking at me. “Are you gonna see him again?”

“He’s a local guy. What do you think?” I asked, and gave him a hard look.

Luka shrugged. “Sometimes you bump into them again.”
“And that goes so well when they find out that I work and live with a traveling sideshow,” I said.

The floor was spotless, or at least as spotless as tiger cages can get, and I tossed my brush in the bucket and took off my yellow rubber gloves.

“We can’t all meet our boyfriends in the sideshow,” I reminded Luka as I stood up, and it only made him grin wider. He’d been dating Tim— one of the Flying Phoenixes— for the past three months.

“But you didn’t see Blossom anywhere in town last night?” Roxie asked, and Luka’s smile instantly fell away.

A sour feeling stirred in my stomach, and I looked out around camp through the bars of the cage, as if Blossom would suddenly appear standing beside a trailer. As I’d been doing my chores all morning, I kept scanning the campsite for her, expecting her to return at any moment with a funny story about how she’d gotten lost in town.

But so far, she hadn’t. And the longer she went without coming back, the worse the feeling in my stomach got. I shook my head. “No. I didn’t see her at all last night.”

“She’s gotta turn up, though, right?” Luka asked. “I mean, it’s not like there are really that many places she could’ve gone considering she has no money or car and she’s in a small town.”

The tigers were still down in the run, so I opened the side gate and hopped down out of the cage. Roxie got out behind me, then we closed the door.

“I should talk to Gideon,” I decided as Roxie locked the cage up behind me. “It’s not like Blossom to do this.”
“It’s not totally unlike her, though,” Roxie pointed out.

“When we were in Toledo six months ago, she dis appeared for a few days with that weird commune, and came back just before we were leaving, totally baked out of her mind.”

Blossom had grown up with parents who pretended to be hippies but were really just a couple of drug addicts. That— along with her unexplainable telekinesis— led to her dabbling with drugs and alcohol at a young age, before the state intervened and shipped her off to a group home.

My mom tried to keep her clean of her bad habits, but sometimes Blossom just liked to run off and do her own thing. That wasn’t that unusual for people who lived in the carnival.

“But if you’re worried, you should talk to Gideon,” Roxie suggested. “Luka’s right in that Blossom really couldn’t have gone far. Maybe you can scope out Caudry.”

“Since that sounds like a mission that may take a bit of time, can you help me and Hutch with the museum before you talk to Gideon?” Luka asked. “The exit door is jammed, and we can’t get it open, and Seth is busy helping set up the tents.”

“Sure. Between me and Mara, I’m sure the two of us can get the door unstuck,” Roxie said.

I dropped off the bucket with the other tiger supplies, and then followed Roxie and Luka away from our campsite to the fairgrounds on the other side of a chain- link fence.

We always stayed close to the rides, the midway, and the circus tent, but we didn’t actually sleep there. It was much better for every one if we kept our private lives separate from the crowds.

Copyright © 2017 by Amanda Hocking and reprinted with permission from St. Martin’s Griffin.
 

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Book review: Iron Cast by Destiny Soria

Quick note: Apologies from my side for my silence. 2016 has been a craptacular year and one that has seen me struggling a lot with my depression (more on that at some point), hence the slow updates in blogging.

Hoping to get back into the swing of things and I thought I'd start off by posting a review of a really great and fun historical fantasy novel I read not too long ago. Not only does it feature a diverse cast of characters, but the concept of the book is quite unique. I really hope to read more of this Destiny's work.
 
Iron Cast by Destiny Soria
Art, music and murder collide in this mesmerising tale set in pre-prohibition era Boston.

Iron Cast by Destiny Soria (first published in 2016 by Amulet Books)

Available from Raru.co.za

A supernaturally gifted young black girl working in a speakeasy during a time when the prohibitions act is on the verge of being ratified? Well, colour me intrigued.

Blending a combination of fantasy and history, Destiny Soria’s debut novel is a unique offering that explores what happens when two young girls find themselves caught up in a dangerous game where every illusion performed means one step closer to giving up on everything they’ve ever fought for.

Ada and Corinne are not only in danger of being out of work because of the impending prohibitions act, but they’re also persecuted for being hemopaths – people whose blood enables them  to create illusions through their art medium and thereby, in some cases, manipulate the emotions of their audience. 

Because they’re indebted to the owner of the Iron Cast, the club where they perform, Ada and Corinne often use their gifts to con the wealthier patrons out of money, in order to provide for both themselves and the rest of the folk who reside at the club.

When a con goes wrong and Ada finds herself in trouble, the events that follow set off a chain reaction that brings to light questions, betrayals and a fight that is bigger than the two girls could even begin to fathom.

What a jam-packed and unique offering in a genre that often falls back on popular and familiar tropes to tell a story.

While the book is by no means perfect (it took me a while to get used to the writing style and I’m still not sure if I can suspend my disbelief enough to be convinced that the illusions created through the use of their art have been executed convincingly), I found myself enjoying it for the engaging story and diverse cast of characters.

Ada and Corinne are two characters that couldn’t be more different. Ada is a black girl who grew up in the less than savoury part of town, while Corinne comes from a prominent family whose reputation is on the verge of only being solidified further due to an impending and seemingly politically motivated marriage.  

Ada is the steadfast one – the calm one who thinks things through before taking action, while Corinne is the impulsive one who rushes headlong into something with no thought for the consequences whatsoever.

Yet, together, the two of them make a formidable pair. If there’s one thing this book brings to the forefront, it’s the strength and bond of the friendship depicted between these two girls. It’s refreshing to see a book that places the value of friendship above that of the romance – and even though there is some of that in this book – it takes somewhat of a backseat.

There’s layers and depths to this novel that I also found fascinating. Not only does the book explore the underlying racial tension and elitism, but the fact that these girls, with their gifts, are also persecuted for their blood and talent and through means that are both scientifically primitive and involve torture, add an element to this novel that made this book that much more compelling.

The fact that it’s also taking place in an era before the prohibition act is set to be ratified plays a significant role, one that definitely leads to more than a few surprises.

All in all, if you’re looking for a book that delves into the heart of human nature, deals with betrayal and explores what happens when you’ve got nothing left to lose, Destiny Soria’s Iron Cast is a novel that will be right up your alley.

Review originally appeared on W24 (I often cross-post content just fyi)