Waiting on Wednesday: The Dreamers // Net Loss: The Inner Life in the Digital Age

Wednesday, 14 November 2018


Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly prompt hosted by Breaking the Spine where the participants tell their readers about an upcoming release they are looking forward to. This week I've got two anticipated releases lined up: The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker and some non-fiction with the latest edition of the Quarterly Essay. 


A mesmerizing novel about a college town transformed by a strange illness that locks victims in a perpetual sleep and triggers life-altering dreams—by the bestselling author of The Age of Miracles, for fans of Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven and Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go.

In an isolated college town in the hills of Southern California, a freshman girl stumbles into her dorm room, falls asleep—and doesn’t wake up. She sleeps through the morning, into the evening. Her roommate, Mei, cannot rouse her. Neither can the paramedics who carry her away, nor the perplexed doctors at the hospital.

Then a second girl falls asleep, and then another, and panic takes hold of the college and spreads to the town. As the number of cases multiplies, classes are canceled, and stores begin to run out of supplies. A quarantine is established. The National Guard is summoned. Mei, an outsider in the cliquish hierarchy of dorm life, finds herself thrust together with an eccentric, idealistic classmate.

Two visiting professors try to protect their newborn baby as the once-quiet streets descend into chaos. A father succumbs to the illness, leaving his daughters to fend for themselves. And at the hospital, a new life grows within a college girl, unbeknownst to her—even as she sleeps. A psychiatrist, summoned from Los Angeles, attempts to make sense of the illness as it spreads through the town. Those infected are displaying unusual levels of brain activity, more than has ever been recorded. They are dreaming heightened dreams—but of what?

Written in gorgeous prose, The Dreamers is a breathtaking novel that startles and provokes, about the possibilities contained within a human life—in our waking days and, perhaps even more, in our dreams.

At the moment with Christmas shopping looming for this year's bookish haul, looking at releases for 2019 may seem far away! Nonetheless, I can't wait to read this one from Karen Thompson Walker. Her debut The Age of Miracles is a firm favourite of mine, and she writes fiction in a way which captures human nature at its most fragile, on the cusp of something extraordinary. Stay tuned, I'll definitely be posting more about this one once I get my hands on a copy!

Releasing February 2019 from Simon and Schuster



What is the inner life? And is it vanishing in the digital age? Throughout history, artists and philosophers have cultivated the deep self, and seen value in solitude and reflection. But today, through social media, wall-to-wall marketing, reality television and the agitation of modern life, everything feels illuminated, made transparent.

We feel bereft without our phones and their cameras and the feeling of instant connectivity. It gets hard to pick up a book, harder still to stay with it. In this eloquent and profound essay, renowned critic Sebastian Smee brings to the surface the idea of inner life - the awareness one may feel in front of a great painting or while listening to extraordinary music by a window at dusk or in a forest at night. No nostalgic lament, this essay evokes what is valuable and worth cultivating - a connection to our true selves, and a feeling of agency in the mystery of our own lives.

At the same time, such contemplation puts us in an intensely charged relationship with things, people or works of art that are outside us. If we lose this power, Smee asks, what do we lose of ourselves?


Expanding my reading habits into non-fiction has been both refreshing and eye-opening this year, and the latest edition of the quarterly essay seems right on point in an age where there is little time left to stop and be comfortable in our own thoughts; or simply appreciate life outside the screens we have become so attached to. I've got Art as Therapy by Alain de Botton and Upstream by Mary Oliver on my list as well which cover some similar ground, so I'll be looking forward to reading them all over the holidays!

Releasing November 2018 from Black Inc.

Review: The Tournament by Matthew Reilly - Chivalry, Challenges, Checkmate.

Thursday, 4 October 2018

The Tournament by Matthew Reilly
Released: 1st June 2014 (AU)
Published by: Pan Macmillan
Genre: Historical Thriller
Source: Library
Pages: 410
My Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Even a pawn can become a queen. 

 The year is 1546. Suleiman the Magnificent, the powerful and feared Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, issues an invitation to every king in Europe:

 YOU ARE INVITED TO SEND YOUR FINEST PLAYER TO COMPETE IN A CHESS TOURNAMENT TO DETERMINE THE CHAMPION OF THE KNOWN WORLD.

 The English delegation - led by esteemed scholar Roger Ascham - journeys to the glittering city of Constantinople. Accompanying Ascham is his pupil, Bess, who is about to bear witness to events she never thought possible. For on the first night of the tournament, a powerful guest of the Sultan is murdered, and against the backdrop of the historic event, Ascham is tasked with finding the killer. Barbaric deaths, unimaginable depravity and diplomatic treachery unfold before Bess's eyes, indelibly shaping her character and determining how she will perform her future role...as Queen Elizabeth I.
Like Dan Brown, Matthew Reilly is one of those prolific authors I've always thought to try, but didn't know where to start! After The Tournament came recommended, and seeing it was historical fiction, there was no question that I had to give it a chance. This thrilling tale hones in on the life of a teenage Elizabeth I, where she is exposed to political intrigue and a series of ghastly murders during the chess tournament in 1546 set at the heart of the Ottoman Empire.

The object of chess is to checkmate the king. But curiously, while the king is the crux of the game, he is the most impotent piece on the board. Even pawns can become queens and every other piece can move more than one square. And so the king in chess is like a king in life: his continued reign depends upon keeping his castles intact and his subjects onside. He is hostage to his people's continued happiness. 

It's no wonder that Reilly has become known as one of the greats when it comes to writing solid action, and here he's balanced it with a well-researched foundation to make the plot realistic. Of course, there is always some creative license involved, but it was useful to read in the interview at the end of the book with the author what inspired him to tell this story. From the explanations of the architecture and opulence of the palace, to how the games of chess play out in the grand setting of Hagia Sophia, Reilly's ability to create a sense of place makes its mark here. While the writing style is often pragmatic, in a story like this there's no time for the flowery prose I've come to appreciate in other historical fiction from Kate Forsyth for example. That being said, for a book like this, which doesn't shy away from graphically exploring the sexual politics at play in the Sultan's inner circle, or the gruesome murders of both Cardinals and nobles, there is never a dull moment.

I had often wondered what had caused this profound change in my friend and now I knew. Sometimes we must go away to discover things about ourselves. Sometimes we go away with the wrong people. Sometimes we go away with the right teachers. 

Behind the drama in Constantinople is a novel exploring the coming of age of a future queen. The extracts of the rules of chess and the different roles of the pieces were a wise move to include between the chapters. Serving more as a mere reference point for those not familiar with the game, they offered a clever parallel to the politics of power in real life at the time. The bond between the chivalrous Robert Ascham and Elizabeth brought some warmth to the novel where a murderer on the loose and corrupt practices were rife. Seeing how she brought her own sense of curiosity, bravery and loyalty to her mentor and friend Elsie showcased Reilly's ability to balance both plot progression and character development to make the best of both.

FINAL THOUGHTS

This year has so far been one for stepping outside my usual reading habits, and I'm glad I've continued that and picked up The Tournament. Though I didn't have any preconceptions of Matthew Reilly's writing, it's easy to see why he's reached such acclaim. If any of you have any recommendations on where to go next with his books from here, let me know!

Review: Give Me Your Hand by Megan Abbott - The science behind survival of the fittest

Wednesday, 29 August 2018

Give Me Your Hand by Megan Abbott
Released: 31st July 2018
Published by: Picador
Genre: Adult thriller
Source: Publisher
Pages: 339
My Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
Kit Owens harbored only modest ambitions for herself when the mysterious Diane Fleming appeared in her high school chemistry class. But Diane's academic brilliance lit a fire in Kit, and the two developed an unlikely friendship. Until Diane shared a secret that changed everything between them.

More than a decade later, Kit thinks she's put Diane behind her forever and she's begun to fulfill the scientific dreams Diane awakened in her. But the past comes roaring back when she discovers that Diane is her competition for a position both women covet, taking part in groundbreaking new research led by their idol.

Soon enough, the two former friends find themselves locked in a dangerous game of cat-and-mouse that threatens to destroy them both.
Thank you to Pan Macmillan Australia for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review

Megan Abbott's latest psychological thriller firmly cements her position as a master of writing dark, addictive stories about the boundaries of friendships and what it takes to succeed. From Dare Me, The Fever, The End of Everything and You Will Know Me, I became enthralled by her intelligent, whip-smart prose and ability to capture the malignant undercurrents behind even the closest relationships. In Give Me Your Hand she has once again lifted the bar, this time bringing the drama into the scientific world, among the labs, burners and microscopes which hone in on what remains unseen with the naked eye. 

Sometimes it feels like life's about understanding how much opposites meet. Kill to cure, poison to immunize, sacrifice to save. 

Competition can be both a propellant to greatness, or lead to an all-consuming quest to be nothing but the best. It's always fascinating to see how Abbott brings in these elements of human nature, and pushes her characters to their limits. Kit and Diana had been best friends for years, driving each other in high school to always be at the top of their game, and reach the heights of the careers they had dreamed of. But Diana had always been an enigma at heart, the type of person one could admire until they saw that there was something ominous behind her pragmatic facade. There is some primal instinct that linked the main characters and their work, a force that was both brilliant and dangerous. As the novel switches between then and now, the contest to be on the research team reached unexpected twists that went further than I could have anticipated. I was totally gripped by the secrets revealed about not just these two, but everyone else working in lab G-21. In a Megan Abbott novel the suspense is always cleverly framed by the characters' vices and deepest flaws, revealed in elegant prose that pulses with tension and leaves you wanting more. 

When you're in the sciences, when you know about things like neuronal biochemistry and the complex interplay between, say, hormones and emotion, you might imagine you have a deep understanding of the mind. Explain to me why I feel this way, think this way, dream this way, am this way. But consider it: Would you really want to know? 

A good piece of writing can also require some solid research to back it up, and it's clear that Abbott has done the groundwork in this case. I may not know much about the sciences or PMDD, though I may have learnt a thing or two after reading this. The sterile setting of a science lab contrasting with the messy web of secrets, back-stabbing and cover-ups made for a winning combination. Far from the sports field, small-town gossip or world of elite gymnastics of her previous books, Give Me Your Hand feels more mature in this professional workplace context. Notably, she never loses sight of the people that these women were before they reached the pinnacle of their careers and how the experiences in their teens shaped who they would become. It is this depth of character development which is always a stand-out, and part of what makes Give Me Your Hand so compulsively readable.

But to understand, you need to see so much more. Because everything affects everything else. One small speck in one narrow recess and everything else is dark with its shadow. And working with Dr Severin, I know I'll see it all. And I'll be a part of the grander seeing, the illumination of darkness. The hand outstretched to all those women in the shadows. Come with me, come, come. 

FINAL THOUGHTS

Give Me Your Hand is not a psychological thriller for the faint-hearted, but it's the most addictive one I've read in a long time. Smart, dark, and subtle in its revelations of the truth, as always I can't wait to see what Megan Abbott will write next.

Review: Joe Cinque's Consolation by Helen Garner - A True Story of Death, Grief and the Law

Saturday, 11 August 2018

Joe Cinque's Consolation by Helen Garner
Released: 1st August 2004
Published by: Macmillan
Genre: True Crime
Source: Library
Pages: 328
My Rating: 5 of 5 stars
In October 1997 a clever young law student at ANU made a bizarre plan to murder her devoted boyfriend after a dinner party at their house. Some of the dinner guests-most of them university students-had heard rumours of the plan. Nobody warned Joe Cinque. He died one Sunday, in his own bed, of a massive dose of rohypnol and heroin.


His girlfriend and her best friend were charged with murder. Helen Garner followed the trials in the ACT Supreme Court. Compassionate but unflinching, this is a book about how and why Joe Cinque died.

It probes the gap between ethics and the law; examines the helplessness of the courts in the face of what we think of as 'evil'; and explores conscience, culpability, and the battered ideal of duty of care. It is a masterwork from one of Australia's greatest writers.
Why wasn’t she down on her knees, grovelling for forgiveness? From the Cinques? From the whole human race? Begging for pardon, and with no sense that she was entitled to it, no expectation of ever receiving it? 

True crime isn't a genre I'd usually choose to read from, but when the opportunity arose to read this book for university, and knowing Helen Garner was a brilliant writer, my curiosity got the better of me. Joe Cinque's Consolation is by all accounts a harrowing read, and yet Garner has provided an insight into the trials of Anu Singh and Madhavi Rao over his death with a sensitivity that makes you feel all the anguish over what could have been...'if only'. It calls into question the morality of the justice system, the quest to make sense of a series of events which it seems could have been prevented on so many occasions, and the pain inflicted on the parents who will always carry the grief over the child they lost so devastatingly.

The fatigue after a long day in court was also a kind of gratitude, I had been granted the inestimable privilege of looking into other people’s lives. What I had found there had absorbed my intellectual and emotional attention for many hours. Unlike the Cinques, unlike the Singhs, I could walk away. 

One of the things I appreciated most about this work was how balanced Garner was in describing both the technicalities of the arguments brought forward by the Crown and the defence, alongside her own subjective views. Through her writing with observations into the legal processes, psychiatric analyses and gaps between hearings and sentencing, there is also an undercurrent of disillusionment and shock as to how the final verdict came to be. Even Justice Crispin's Freudian slip when he first mistakenly stated 'murder' instead of 'manslaughter' arguably indicates a sense of innate injustice. I too felt Garner's utter disbelief, though she also recognised that every element of the judgement was grounded in reason. But how does intellectual reasoning stand against the wrongful taking of a life? This is the anguish that plagues those left behind, and arguably is where the gaping chasm lies between morality and the law. 

She unfolded a tissue and held it to her mouth. She struggled to compose herself. I wanted to cry out with horror, and pity.

It's interesting how the law attempts to categorise social wrongs within neat parameters, with thresholds and rules that dictate the punishment to fit the crime. As Joe Cinque's Consolation proves however, the end result can appear manifestly inadequate. I suppose it's an ethical issue at heart, and one which the judges in positions of power do not take lightly. 'Duty of care' and 'diminished responsibility' are more than just pieces legalistic jargon; here their human impact is felt with full force. Helen Garner's journalistic merit cannot be underestimated on this point, as she looked at the effects of the trials on both the Cinque and Singh families, though she formed a closer relationship with the former. Of course, the most important voice in all of this always remains silent; that of the victim. But through Garner's recounts into the time spent with his family, we have a glimpse into the man Joe Cinque was and the profound suffering that his loved ones have endured. 

If memory is not to be trusted, what can courts rely on? How can they establish what ‘really happened’? How can things from the past, even the relatively recent past, be proved?

FINAL THOUGHTS

Joe Cinque's Consolation may be the first of Helen Garner's works I've read, but it certainly won't be the last. This book raises an array of important issues surrounding justice, the bounds of 'simple wickedness' and the continual struggle to vanquish an unfathomable tragedy. The message that came through which gives the most cause for reflection is that what is ‘just’ and what seems ‘fair’ are often two very different things.

Review: The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan - Life is too short for 'what could have been'

Thursday, 26 July 2018

The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan
Released: 1st August 2015
Published by: Simon and Schuster
Genre: Short Stories/Essays
Source: Bought
Pages: 208
My Rating: 5 of 5 stars
Marina Keegan's star was on the rise when she graduated from Yale in May 2012. She had a play that was to be produced at the New York International Fringe Festival and a job waiting for her at the New Yorker.

Tragically, five days after graduation, Marina died in a car crash. As her family, friends and classmates, deep in grief, joined to create a memorial service for Marina, her unforgettable last essay for the Yale Daily News, The Opposite of Loneliness, went viral, receiving more than 1.4 million hits. She had struck a chord.

Even though she was just 22 when she died, Marina left behind a rich, expansive trove of prose that, like her title essay, captures the hope, uncertainty and possibility of her generation. The Opposite of Loneliness is an assemblage of Marina's essays and stories that articulates the universal struggle we all face as we work out what we aspire to be and how we can harness our talents to make an impact on the world. 
Of course, there are things we wish we’d done: our readings, that boy across the hall. We’re our own hardest critics and it’s easy to let ourselves down. Sleeping too late. Procrastinating. Cutting corners. More than once I’ve looked back on my high school self and thought: how did I do that? How did I work so hard? Our private insecurities follow us and will always follow us.

The Opposite of Loneliness speaks to our generation of twenty-somethings who are trying to find their place in the world. Published in the wake of a tragedy, it's of course devastating to see a young life full of promise end far too soon. But there is some solace to be found in the fact that Marina's essays and stories live on, a testament to her writing which displayed an understanding of life well beyond her years.

But the thing is, we’re all like that…we have these impossibly high standards and we’ll probably never live up to our perfect fantasies of our future selves. But I feel like that’s okay. We’re so young. We’re so young. We’re twenty-two years old. We have so much time.

In reading this collection, I remember thinking to myself how true this is. Marina Keegan's words in the first essay capture exactly how it feels to be on the cusp of 'adult' life; restlessness, uncertainty, and a sense of urgency to do more. Be better. Thrive. As her mentor and professor at Yale Anne Fadiman wrote in the introduction, when deciding what the focus of her work would be, Marina "understood that there were few better subjects than being young and uncertain and starry-eyed and frustrated and hopeful.” Yet aside from the non-fiction, there is so much versatility in her writing, and her short stories also hold some memorable themes. In 'Cold Pastoralism' for example, the opening lines describe the awkward fragility of a relationship when the emotional investment is becoming all too real:

We were in the stage where we couldn’t make serious eye contact for fear of implying we were too invested. We used euphemisms like “I miss you” and “I like you” and smiled every time our noses got too close.

I can imagine that her personality shines in every sentence that she wrote, and where there is heartache in her stories there is also warmth and keen observations into what makes people tick. It is so relatable to come across a writer who was at the same crossroads in their lives, with a perfectionist streak alongside youthful idealism and vitality - though also so aware of their mortality. There's a sad irony in some sections of this book, reading about how the author had already envisioned some elements of her future, talking of the children she would have, and the successful career she was already on the path to attaining. In spite of it all, I think if you read The Opposite of Loneliness you'll find some comfort in its pages, and turn to look at the world with gratitude for the opportunities that will arise if you go to seek them. 

FINAL THOUGHTS

Sometimes I'll pick up a book and know I've found it at just the right time in my life, especially when it contains the words that I need to hear. It's a well-worn aphorism, but life really is too short for 'what if', and 'what I could have done'. The Opposite of Loneliness brought this idea home for me, through the lens of a young writer who, had things been different, I'm sure would have gone to achieve even greater milestones.

We may not know exactly what our lives will look like a few years down the line, but who says we have to have all the answers right now? We are young. And there is hope that eventually, with some faith, resilience, a strong work ethic and positive attitude - we will get to where we want to be.

Waiting on Wednesday: Bookshop Girl

Wednesday, 18 July 2018


Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Breaking the Spine where the participants tell their readers about an upcoming release they are looking forward to. This week I've picked Bookshop Girl by Chloe Coles.

A hilarious tale of female friendship, bookshops and fighting for a cause - perfect for fans of Holly Bourne and Louise Rennison.

Bennett's Bookshop has always been a haven for sixteen-year-old Paige Turner. It's a place where she can escape from her sleepy hometown, hang out with her best friend, Holly, and also earn some money. But, like so many bookshops, Bennett's has become a 'casualty of the high street' - it's strapped for cash and going to be torn down.

Paige is determined to save it but mobilising a small town like Greysworth is no mean feat. Time is ticking - but that's not the only problem Paige has.

How is she going to fend off the attractions of beautiful fellow artist, Blaine? And, more importantly, will his anarchist ways make or break her bookshop campaign?

As a bookseller, any plot that's even remotely bookish is bound to catch my eye! I love the sound of this cute and endearing story, which will hopefully go to show just how important bookshops are.

Releasing August 2018 from Bonnier

Discussion: Are We Masters of Our Time?

Friday, 13 July 2018



Days, years and decades march on; the beat of time ticking over the pace of our existence. But for the conspiracy theorists, the dreamers and even the skeptics among us, there is space to wonder whether our futures are truly set on such a linear path. Why do our personal histories seem to repeat themselves from one generation to another? Perhaps more importantly, are we really the master of our fates after all? Both the Netflix series ‘Dark’, and short story ‘Catapult’ by Emily Fridlund explore the topic of time travel to reveal how we cope with recurring patterns in our lives, and whether we will ever fully escape those inexplicable moments of déjà vu.

Produced and originally released in Germany last year, ‘Dark’ delves into the heart of these questions. This is one of the best pieces of foreign drama I've seen (though the gripping Cold War series 'Deutschland 83' is also well worth a watch). Atmospheric in its camera angles, the eerie melodies of the soundtrack and the entire situation its plot represents, I was hooked right from episode one. Set in the alternate periods of 2019, 1986 and 1953, strange goings-on in the small town of Winden reach fever pitch when the bodies of missing children are found with injuries that defy explanation. Its nuclear power plant dominates the landscape alongside the sinuous woods, though the darker energy permeating the storyline emanates from the characters themselves.

Life is a labyrinth. Some people wander around their whole lives looking for a way out, but there’s only one path and it leads you ever deeper. You don’t understand it until you’ve reached the centre. Death is incomprehensible, but you can make peace with it. Till then you should ask yourself each day if you’ve made the right decisions.
– ‘Dark’ Episode 5, ‘Truths’


There is a tempest brewing among both the teens and their parents as the fabric of time itself is stretched beyond its limits. In the first season that has been released so far, the ten episodes are all examples of exquisitely executed cinematography. A foreboding energy is created almost immediately, and when Mikkel goes missing, the son of a police detective working on the case, the drama begins to take its tightly woven form. Using particular songs in key scenes adds another layer of meaning, with the haunting tune of Agnes Obel’s ‘Familiar’ in episode three playing behind contrasting images of the characters in the past and present. From the depths of a murder investigation, to the inner workings of teenage love, the dangerous obsession within a covert affair and visionary realities of time travel, ‘Dark’ tackles moral ambiguity in all its cryptic forms.

All our lives are connected. One fate bound to another. Every one of our deeds is merely a response to a previous deed. Cause and effect. Nothing but an endless dance. Everything is connected to everything else.
– ‘Dark’ Episode 8, ‘So you sow, so you shall reap’


In ‘Catapult’, two teens plan to build a time machine in the midst of their summer break. Katie recalls this time with her boyfriend Noah as they embark on the plan while navigating the treacherous vicissitudes of a burgeoning relationship. Named by the pair as ‘A Hypothesis for Quantum Tunneling’, the couple hold a sense of superiority over others their age for conceiving such a significant idea. Katie comes to form an admiration for Noah with his ‘well organised heart’ and ‘mind full of unusual, ambitious thoughts which he daily cultivated and tended.’ 

Our pattern was fixed when we got to his house. We each ate a bowl of Cheerios in silence, and then we went to his room where we took off our clothes, very careful not to mention – or even affect to notice – that this is what was happening…Time got crinkled up, got sticky.
- 'Catapult'

However, just like the teens in ‘Dark’, there are hidden jealousies to be overcome within their dynamic, and beneath it all a plea ‘to save me from myself.' Whether they will settle for their relationship and follow its shaky blueprint or go their separate ways to find something even better, are decisions left to be made. 

Where this tv series and story intertwine is through the characters attempting to understand topics beyond the realm of comprehension. A quest to analyse the intricacies of time travel eventually morphs into the catalyst for an intrinsic search for meaning. Though often speaking in riddles, at some point these people all ask themselves the same question: What have I become, and when will I find my truth? The answers may be scattered somewhere in the events that time left behind, but the clearest solution to determining their fates is simply to find purpose in the here and now.

My Bookish Top 20 Releasing in 2018 (July - December)

Monday, 9 July 2018



It's halfway through the year, and there have definitely been some amazing releases already! Some of my top picks from the list in my post covering 2018 so far would have to be P.Z. Reizin's endearing debut Happiness for Humans, though The Woman in the Window also stood out as a fascinating thriller with an unreliable narrator. But of course, it's not over yet, so here is the next round of new reads that have caught my eye...


July


As if the beautiful cover or unique title of The Art of Taxidermy wasn't enough to draw me in, it's a novel by Australian author Sharon Kernot which is completely written in verse - I definitely need it on my shelf! Next up is the latest release from one of my all-time favourite thriller writers Megan Abbott with Give Me Your Hand, a harrowing story about a friendship gone wrong and the dangers of unbridled ambition. My hopes are that it will be just as gripping as You Will Know Me which I finished in a day! JP Delaney shocked me with The Girl Before, and Believe Me promises to be another riveting psychological thriller revolving around an actress, infidelity and a murder investigation. 


August


I just got my hands on a copy of A Superior Spectre and wow does it sound amazing, blending history and science fiction. Angela Meyer has written for Australian publications before, but this is her debut novel which is set to be a hit. I had the pleasure of meeting Osher Gunsberg at the HarperCollins Roadshow this year to hear him speak about his memoir Back, After the Break which covers some of the darkest parts of his experiences with mental illness. For another non-fiction read, I've chosen The Radium Girls by Kate Moore. This book explores the lives of young American women who worked with the toxic substance during WWI and suffered the consequences, but were determined to fight for justice after their time in those factories. Going along the historical theme, Invitation to a Bonfire is set in the 1930's and inspired by the Nabokov marriage. Although I'm not usually a fan of love triangles, I'm willing to make an exception here and give this story a try.

 I Had Such Friends is #LoveOzYA which looks set to deliver a raw and emotionally driven contemporary novel that tackles a whole range of real issues facing teens. Quicksand has been hugely popular in Sweden and is now being published in Australia, with the promise of a Netflix series to come. I always find it interesting reading books set in countries outside the Australia/US/UK trifecta and it has already won an award for 'Best Scandinavian Crime Novel of the Year'. I only found out recently that there's FINALLY going to be another book in The Darkest Minds series by Alexandra Bracken! They are action-packed YA dystopian at its best, but it's been a few years since I read the first three so I might need a refresher before diving into The Darkest Legacy


September


The Girl on the Page has been described as a dark comedy which delves into the heart of the literary world itself, and since it's a 'book about books' then I'm already in! I'm left curious about The Sunday Girl, and with a blurb pitching it as "The Girl on the Train meets Before I Go to Sleep with a dash of Bridget Jones", it'll definitely be interesting to see how the plot turns out. It goes without saying that The Barefoot Investor is the most popular personal finance guide right now, and I have no doubt that Scott Pape's new release The Barefoot Investor for Families: The only kids' money guide you'll ever need will also be a bestseller; it's a smart move to follow up with a call for some brand loyalty after all.

October


Rekindling family ties, an unexpected romance and going back to nature all feature in K.A. Tucker's latest release The Simple Wild. Jane Harper also has a knack for capturing a sense of place as she's shown in both The Dry and Force of Nature. Her latest suspense novel The Lost Man takes us to outback Queensland, and if it's anything like her other crime masterpieces it is going to be brilliant. Nevermoor was 'Harry Potter meets Alice in Wonderland' in the most magical and uplifting way, and I've been eagerly awaiting the release of the sequel ever since! Wundersmith is the second in what will be an eight-book series, and I can already tell it will be equally as enchanting as the first. It feels like forever since Markus Zusak broke our hearts with The Book Thief, and Bridge of Clay seems set to do the same - but it's a must-read nonetheless. 


November/December


In the sequel to the screenplay for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, The Crimes of Grindewald will hopefully meet any high expectations. Speaking of which, Rachael Craw's Spark series is AMAZING (and the #SparkArmy lives on) so of course I'll be dropping everything to read The Rift as soon as I get a copy! As always, what book list of mine would be complete without something by Jackie French? The Matilda Saga is up to book eight now with The Last Dingo Summer, and as someone who's been following it from the beginning all those years ago, I can't wait to revisit familiar characters and discover new ones along the way. 

Over to you - what books are you most looking forward to for the rest of the year?

{Blog Tour} Review: Save the Date by Morgan Matson

Tuesday, 3 July 2018



Save the Date by Morgan Matson
Released: 1st July 2018
Published by: Simon and Schuster
Genre: YA Contemporary
Source: Publisher
Pages: 300
My Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
Charlie Grant tries to keep her life as normal as possible. Hanging out with her best friend, pining for Jesse Foster - who she’s loved since she was twelve - and generally flying under the radar as much as she can.

But sometimes normal is just another word for stuck, and this weekend that's all going to change. Not only will everyone be back home for her sister’s wedding, but she’s also juggling: - a rented dog that just won't stop howling - an unexpectedly hot wedding-coordinator’s nephew - her favourite brother bringing home his HORRIBLE new girlfriend - fear that her parents’ marriage is falling apart - and the return to town of the boy she’s loved practically all her life…

Over the course of four days Charlie will learn there's so much more to each member of her family than she imagined, even herself, and that maybe letting go of the things she's been holding on tightest to can help her find what really keeps them together.
Thank you to Simon and Schuster Australia for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review

If there's one thing to know about Morgan Matson's books, it's that they're almost guaranteed to leave you grinning. In Save The Date, she's delivered another fun and endearing YA contemporary novel that takes the melodrama of wedding planning in its stride, with hectic family dynamics and the thrill of a crush in between. This is the perfect read for something light that still has a worthwhile message at its core about reacting to unanticipated situations and learning more about yourself as you look towards the possibilities in the future.

The pacing of the book manages to fit quite a lot into the course of four days surrounding Charlie's sister's wedding. With the original wedding planner no longer an option just a day out from the actual event, almost everything can go wrong. Add into that the big family dramas and there is a storyline that reads like movies with the same themes, except here there's even more of a cute twist. Morgan Matson always develops all her characters well, so it was definitely enjoyable to read about the Grant's and how they fit into the picture - the list of the wedding party at the beginning helped! This novel is one filled with so much energy, adorable moments and some heartfelt lessons too.


FINAL THOUGHTS

If you're a fan of Morgan Matson's other brilliant releases like The Unexpected Everything or Since You've Been Gone, you will absolutely adore Save The Date! For a fun and well-developed story with heart, this book ticks all the boxes. 


Morgan Matson is a New York Times bestselling author. She received her MFA in writing for children from the New School and was named a Publishers Weekly Flying Start author for her first book, Amy & Roger’s Epic Detour, which was also recognized as an ALA Top Ten Best Book for Young Adults. Her second book, Second Chance Summer, won the California State Book Award. She lives in Los Angeles.


Check out the rest of the blog tour here!

{Guest Post} Are Fairy Tales Still Relevant Today? By Hester Velmans, author of 'Slipper'

Saturday, 16 June 2018

Fairy tales can be some of the earliest stories we are exposed to, helping children learn about the age-old battle between good and evil, and overcoming a quest to reach that happy ending. But how can we still relate to these messages as we get older? For today's post, Hester Velmans, the author of 'Slipper', a Cinderella retelling, has stopped by to share her thoughts!

Are Fairy Tales Still Relevant Today? 
By Hester Velmans, author of SLIPPER 



Fairy tales have never really gone out of style, of course, but it wasn’t until I’d finished writing Slipper that I realized a whole industry in fairytale retellings of one sort or another has sprung up in the world of YA and adult literature. I can’t say it’s all that surprising, given that these familiar stories set off some deep-buried recognition in the reader; they ring the bell of our most primal emotions.

For a tale to ring that bell, it has to have the elements that drive the best stories. One is the presence of obstacles that have to be overcome by the hero or heroine. Once the dragon has been slain, the impossible task fulfilled, or the evil stepmother outwitted, it is the resulting relief and triumph that make for the most satisfying kind of conclusion any story can give you.

Then there is wish fulfillment. There’s something wonderfully appealing about putting yourself into the shoes of someone who has been put through the wringer, but still manages to attain great wealth, gorgeous clothes, the love of a lifetime, or fame beyond her wildest dreams.

But the question that nagged at me as I was adapting the story of Cinderella was: in our cynical, unsentimental age, are happy endings still necessary? Can fairy tales be given a modern feminist twist, considering that they were first conceived many centuries ago, when a girl’s place was to be quiet, passive and obedient, and the only way out of your hopeless situation was to have a convenient fairy godmother? Given, of course, that you also possessed a sufficient dose of modesty, dazzling beauty, and unusually small feet. Really! Can that kind of simplistic story fly today? 

That’s when you have to start digging into the story to extract the core nuggets of truth — the universal messages that resonate even today. In the case of Slipper, I found that many of the most classic fairytales can be recast to fit real, present day concerns. Who, for instance, hasn’t hoped and wished the boyfriend-frog will turn into a prince if we humor him enough? Who hasn’t gone to a dance bubbling with high expectations, only to go home with her hopes smashed like a pumpkin in the mud? Who hasn’t felt like the family underdog, scorned by mean siblings or neglectful parents, and secretly hoped it wasn’t her real family? 

The reason that I chose the story of Cinderella as the starting point for my historical novel is that it is the most archetypal, and I think the most satisfying, of all the fairytales. It addresses the universal desire to be recognized for your “true”, or better, self. You may be misunderstood, exploited, despised; but in the end, all those sneering naysayers will be forced to admit that secretly you really were the bravest of heroes all along, or the most beautiful girl in the world… or just the coolest kid in school. Won’t they be sorry for the way they treated you, once your true identity is revealed!

Come to think of it, this Cinderella theme comes up in all the most popular stories of our time. It's there in Pride and Prejudice, in Harry Potter, in Jane Eyre, in Superman, Spiderman, Mean Girls, and Grease. It’s in every story where the wallflower, the loser or the nerd wins the prize in the end. It’s about getting through adolescence and coming out OK in the end. It’s about facing adversity, and finding your inner strength or your true worth. If that isn’t relevant today, what is? 


PRAISE FOR SLIPPER 

"Slipper is the most engaging novel I have read in a long time. Part romantic love story, part fairy tale, part feminist commentary, this is a wonderful, old-fashioned novel to be savored. It is as if a graduate student had stumbled upon a handwritten, 19th century manuscript in the British Library, read it, and declared, 'There was a fourth Bronte sister -- and she was the most talented of the brood!'"

-- Daniel Klein, best-selling author of Travels with Epicurus and Plato and Platypus Walk into a Bar
"An unexpectedly honest modern novel clothed in the traditional tropes of historical romance. Despite thematically re-imagining the origins of several popular fairy tales, as a bildungsroman the story is refreshingly authentic in the growth of the heroine from an unfettered idealist to a nearly-perfected realist. ...The charm of the protagonist is more than potent enough to draw the reader along through a story that both pointedly charges us with taking command of our own fate, and tasks us with deciding for ourselves what the moral of our own story should be."

-- Thomas A. Peters, Readers' Favorite
"Although this novel mainly pays specific homage to Cinderella, Velmans laces the book with references to the other tales. The author builds this network with remarkable care, and although the resulting novel is a complex web of influences, it's never a confounding one. Furthermore, she writes in a delicate, ornate prose style that has a transporting effect, bringing readers back to Perrault's time and nestling them in a thoroughly alluring narrative. A satisfying blend of history and myth that breathes new life into Cinderella." 
-- Kirkus


Watch the book trailer on Youtube
Available at Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble.com, Indiebound.org
More info at Hestervelmans.com

Hester Velmans is a novelist and translator of literary fiction. Born in Amsterdam, she had a nomadic childhood, moving from Holland to Paris, Geneva, London and New York. After a hectic career in international TV news, she moved to the hills of Western Massachusetts to devote herself to writing.

Hester’s first book for middle-grade readers, ‘Isabel of the Whales,’ was a national bestseller, and she wrote a follow up, ‘Jessaloup’s Song,’ at the urging of her fans. She is a recipient of the Vondel Prize for Translation and a National Endowment of the Arts Translation Fellowship. 

Review: Our Magic Hour by Jennifer Down - Are these the best years of your life?

Monday, 11 June 2018




Our Magic Hour by Jennifer Down
Released: 24th February 2016
Published by: Text Publishing Australia
Genre: Australian Fiction/Adult Contemporary
Source: Library
Pages: 274
My Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
Audrey, Katy and Adam have been friends since high school—a decade of sneaky cigarettes, drunken misadventures on Melbourne backstreets, heart-to-hearts, in-jokes. But now Katy has gone. And without her, Audrey is thrown off balance: everything she thought she knew, everything she believed was true, is bent out of shape.

Audrey’s family—her neurotic mother, her wayward teenage brother, her uptight suburban sister—are likely to fall apart. Her boyfriend, Nick, tries to hold their relationship together. And Audrey, caught in the middle, needs to find a reason to keep going when everything around her suddenly seems wrong.

Evocative and exquisitely written, Our Magic Hour is a story of love, loss and discovery. Jennifer Down’s remarkable debut novel captures that moment when being young and invincible gives way to being open and vulnerable, when one terrible act changes a life forever.
This review also appears in Vertigo 2018: Growing Pains

Jennifer Down’s earnest debut captures the moment where the feeling of being carefree and indestructible is overcome by events uncovering deeper vulnerabilities we’d rather keep hidden. Our Magic Hour is a novel that anyone in their twenties will be able to relate to at some level. Within its pages are scenarios which speak of this euphoric decade so often exalted as ‘the best years of your life’, balanced with the inevitable apprehension of leaving your teenage self behind. Marked by a  tragedy which changes their friendship circle forever, the characters all discover how grief can spark a second coming-of-age, into a world that does not shine as brightly yet holds the smallest gleam of hope.

Later, when they were all adrift, Adam in his frenzied grief, Audrey had imagined she might have come across a signal or a clue. But Katy was a dark blur. She’d left no explanation, no notes, just an exhausting blackness that yielded no reason. She was an insect caught in amber, a leaf in resin. She’d never be anywhere but in the front seat of that car with its windows sealed.

Friends since high school, Audrey, Adam and Katy had been inseparable. Embracing the recklessness of youth, they’d shared each other’s secrets while nursing drinks in the offbeat bars lining Melbourne’s city streets, laughed at jokes nobody else would understand and lived life to the full in the present moment. As that dynamic is suddenly broken, Jennifer Down writes with notable insight of the gaping loss and confusion at losing someone you thought you’d understood, and the moral reckoning that follows. As young adults, we so often measure our value based on how much we matter to those around us, questioning whether the impact of our existence is truly realised. This idea is brought to the fore in a storyline that evocatively portrays the void created when a friend is gone forever. Told from Audrey’s perspective, Down takes readers on a journey that depicts not only the shattering reality that life will never be the same, but the fragile steps to mend the relationships that are left.

She was very alive at that moment. She felt her eyes wide and tired; she felt her body made of blood and bone and nerves and something else, something harder, like steel. She could have run for days.

This is a book that in true Australian form refuses to sugar-coat raw emotion. Yet while the plot unflinchingly bares the resulting strain in Audrey and her boyfriend Nick’s relationship alongside the worryingly erratic behaviour of her mother, it still captures life’s gentler moments. Our Magic Hour has been written in a way that tenderly explores how people evolve in these early years of adulthood, imagining the prospect of infinite possibilities which lay ahead despite the sadness of an old life left behind. For Audrey, nestled among the turbulence of moving to Sydney and involving herself in new social circles is the promise of renewal. Adulthood is a time of constant transformation, learning from the events which have shaped us and what it takes to face the world head-on. It’s rare to find a story that so accurately recognises these experiences, reinforcing that there is no single definition of normality, whether your sense of self has been tainted by grief or otherwise.

FINAL THOUGHTS

In all, Our Magic Hour is a memorable novel that knowingly illustrates the recklessness of youth curtailed by an unexpected drop into a new reality. In reading this you can’t help but realise that the adage ‘you’re only young once’ rings true. These years might not be perfect, but there is magic to be found in the memories of who you are today, and hopes for the person you could be tomorrow.

{Blog Tour} Starry Eyes - Author Interview with Jenn Bennett

Saturday, 2 June 2018


Starry Eyes by Jenn Bennett
Released: 1st June 2018
Published by: Simon and Schuster 
Genre: YA Contemporary
Source: Publisher
Pages: 417
My Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Ever since last year’s homecoming dance, best-friends-turned-worst-enemies Zorie and Lennon have made an art of avoiding each other. It doesn’t hurt that their families are the modern-day version of the Montagues and Capulets. But when a group camping trip goes south, Zorie and Lennon find themselves stranded in the wilderness. Alone. Together.

Zorie and Lennon have no choice but to try to make their way to safety. But as the two travel deeper into the rugged Californian countryside, secrets and hidden feelings surface. Soon it's not simply a matter of enduring each other’s company, but taming their growing feelings for each other.
Starry Eyes is a YA contemporary novel that has a cute romance, realistic depiction of friendships and heartwarming ending. This is the best-friends-becoming-enemies-then-something-more situation, with its own unique charm! A big thank you to Simon and Schuster Australia for hosting the blog tour, and Jenn Bennett for her time in answering my questions. For more about Zorie and Lennon's story, keep reading...

Author Interview with Jenn Bennett

After releasing Alex, Approximately and now Starry Eyes, what are some of your favourite things about writing contemporary YA novels? 


First love is exciting, scary, and fun. But I think the best part about writing these stories is that they take place before the burden of adulthood and all that comes with it—careers, children, marriage/divorce, work stress, hospital bills, credit scores—starts weighing down the characters. Contemporary YA takes place when anything is possible and every path is open.

I really loved how you described all the settings and nature so vividly to set the scene for where all the drama unfolds. Do you think Zorie and Lennon's story would have turned out the same way if they had found themselves together somewhere else? 


What a great question! Say, if they had been left behind on a trip to Paris with no money or way to get home immediately? Or stuck in an elevator for hours, or maybe in a DIE HARD situation, fighting their way out of a building being held hostage by bad guys? Honestly, I think whatever situation you'd put them in, the most important thing about it was that this is a couple who were not talking and NEEDED to talk—and to realize that they could rely on each other. The result would be the same in any situation.

You also described how friendships change and that there's definitely more to people than what meets the eye. What messages about friendships and relationships in general do you hope readers will be able to take from this book? 


 In ALEX, APPROXIMATELY, the main friendship is much different: Bailey and Grace are kind of falling in BFF love, and they are better and stronger for their bond. In this book, there is the childhood friendship between Zorie and Lennon that was abandoned when things got complicated. There's a friendship that Zorie has with a girl who shares her interests and is a positive influence and quietly supportive. And there is the friendship between Zorie and a girl that has become toxic. I try to avoid heavy-handed messages in my books, but I suppose if there's anything I was hoping to show the reader, it was that friendships aren't always forever. That people change, and it's not always for the best. And that it's easy to overlook quiet friends who have been in your corner all along.

Zorie was a really interesting main character who grew a lot throughout the story. What were the best, and most challenging things about developing her character? 


Zorie has issues. Her home life may be in turmoil. Her birth mother died, and she's not completely over that. She has a medical condition that's exacerbated by stress. So she's been trying to control the chaos in her life by planning every little detail of it. The most challenging thing about writing this was that I worried readers would get frustrated by her hand-wringing and constant worries, or that all of her worrying and risk-avoidance would prevent her from having agency as a character, especially at the beginning of the story. This isn't a girl who's tough and ready to fight the world when this book starts. And it's harder to write those kinds of characters in a way that's appealing or sympathetic---perhaps because those characters are a mirror of our own anxieties or weaknesses, and it's tough to face those things.

Without giving too much away, is there a particular line or moment in the book that really stood out to you while you were working on it? 


One of my favorite moments in the book takes place in a tent cabin at the “glamping” part of the trip. During a group conversation, Lennon is seemingly asking innocent questions about the storage of another character’s cologne (dumb, beautiful Brett), and whether it will attract bears. But the subtext is that Lennon is trolling Zorie, trying to get a reaction from her, and everyone in the tent is oblivious but the two of them. I laugh every time I read Lennon’s lines. But what's more, I think that's the moment that Zorie wakes up and begins actively changing from Strict Planner to I Can Roll With the Changes. And giving her space to grow is the reason I wrote the book.

You can find Jenn Bennett on her Twitter | Instagram | Website

Don't forget to check out the rest of the blog tour here!

Review: The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin - "As long as you can transform, my friends, you cannot die."

Tuesday, 8 May 2018


The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin
Released: 11th January 2018
Published by: Headline Publishing
Genre: Adult fiction
Source: Bought
Pages: 352
My Rating: 4 of 5 stars
It's 1969, and holed up in a grimy tenement building in New York's Lower East Side is a travelling psychic who claims to be able to tell anyone the date they will die.

The four Gold children, too young for what they're about to hear, sneak out to learn their fortunes. Over the years that follow, the siblings must choose how to live with the prophecies the fortune-teller gave them that day. Will they accept, ignore, cheat or defy them? Golden-boy Simon escapes to San Francisco, searching for love; dreamy Klara becomes a Las Vegas magician; eldest son Daniel tries to control fate as an army doctor after 9/11; and bookish Varya looks to science for the answers she craves.

A sweeping novel of remarkable ambition and depth, The Immortalists is a story about how we live, how we die, and what we do with the time we have.
This review also appears in Vertigo 2018: On Thin Ice


If you found out when you would take your last breath, how would you spend the moments you have left? The Immortalists confronts the reality of our mortality in the form of a sweeping family saga. Featuring four siblings over forty years, Chloe Benjamin’s poignant work follows the Gold’s as they navigate the rest of their lives after a visit to a fortune teller reveals the day each of them would die. The result of this singular event is a story which branches into the relationship between faith and fate, transformation of familial ties and whether profound knowledge acts as a blessing or a curse.

The novel’s structure brings particular attention to the Gold children at different periods in their lives, examining the subtle yet irrevocable shift in consciousness that comes with supposedly knowing when their time would be up. Would the predictions morph into a self-fulfilling prophecy, or is it possible to rebel against a fate written in the stars?

Where this book makes its biggest impact is through Benjamin’s prose that captures her characters’ deepest insecurities with remarkable clarity. Simon in particular struggles to find his place in the world. A young idealist, he begins his new life in San Francisco to break free from the constraints of his widowed mother Gertie.

Is this not what he wanted? His mother has relinquished him, given him to the world of which he’s longed to be a part. And yet he feels a spike of fear: the filter has been taken off the lens, the safety net ripped from beneath his feet, and he is dizzy with dreadful independence.

Alongside Simon, Klara also wishes to subvert her fate. As a magician with her signature ‘Jaws of Life’ act, she embraces a lifestyle which is equally exhilarating and precarious. It is interesting to note how the author has juxtaposed these two with Daniel and Varya whose paths are arguably more conservative. However, while Daniel works as a military doctor deciding which men are fit for the perils of war, Varya’s occupation as a scientist brings her to the brink of discovering the secret of longevity. Even as their lives diverge so drastically, Benjamin tenderly brings to light the invisible thread of kinship holding families together through their darkest hours.

She could not bear that kind of life: dangerous, fleshy, full of love so painful it took her breath away.

The complex characterisation probes the reader to wonder ‘if I knew when I would die, how would I choose to live?’. In The Immortalists it seems that people either adopt an affinity for facile hedonism, or measure each waking minute according to the minutiae of every decision to be made and where it will lead. The former is pure recklessness, the latter a recipe for a tedious existence devoid of joyous spontaneity. Perhaps it is only as we live with cautious awareness of our return to dust that we can appreciate all aspects of the human experience; from the crushing weight of loss to the soaring weightlessness of pure happiness.

FINAL THOUGHTS

If there’s anything to be learnt from The Immortalists, it’s that the future will always be uncertain, with cracks formed long ago from the mistakes of years gone by. Nonetheless, there is comfort to be found in the surety that as long as our hearts keep beating, nothing compares to the sensation of feeling well and truly alive.