Review: These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly 
Released: 27th October 2015
Published by: Hot Key Books
Genre: YA Historical Fiction
Source: Publisher
Pages: 496
My Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Set in gilded age New York, These Shallow Graves follows the story of Josephine Montfort, an American aristocrat. Jo lives a life of old-money ease. Not much is expected of her other than to look good and marry well. But when her father dies due to an accidental gunshot, the gilding on Jo’s world starts to tarnish. With the help of a handsome and brash reporter, and a young medical student who moonlights in the city morgue, Jo uncovers the truth behind her father’s death and learns that if you’re going to bury the past, you’d better bury it deep. Josephine Montfort is from one of New York's oldest, most respected, and wealthiest families. Like most well-off girls of the Gilded Age, her future looks set - after a finishing school education, she will be favourably married off to a handsome gentleman, after which she'll want for nothing.

But Jo has other dreams and desires that make her long for a very different kind of future. She wants a more meaningful and exciting life: she wants to be an investigative journalist like her heroine Nellie Bly. But when Jo's father is found dead in his study after an alleged accident, her life becomes far more exciting than even Jo would wish. Unable to accept that her father could have been so careless, she begins to investigate his death with the help of a young reporter, Eddie Gallagher. It quickly becomes clear he was murdered, and in their race against time to discover the culprit and his motive, Jo and Eddie find themselves not only battling dark characters on the violent and gritty streets of New York, but also their growing feelings for each other.
Thank you to the Five Mile Press  for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review

These Shallow Graves is the first book I've read from Jennifer Donnelly, and quite a good one at that. This is certainly a YA historical fiction novel with a rich depiction of New York in its gilded age, a 'whodunnit' plot that keeps you guessing and insight into the social mores of the time. While it wasn't perfect for me, I can't deny that the book definitely took some turns I wasn't expecting, and had a cast of well-developed characters who each had their own reasons for us readers to want to know more about them. 

Jo is the type of female heroine who I wanted to spur on and receive the justice and closure she deserved following her father's death. With the question of a suicide or murder on the table, she was forced to delve into what his life truly entailed - and new secrets emerged. Above all, it was fantastic to see an empowered young woman who was headstrong and refused to conform to society's expectations. For example, she didn't want a marriage that was set up merely as a 'business transaction', but something real based on true emotion. At a time when young ladies were meant to be the image of a demure and subservient future wife, she was sneaking out and going to morgues in an effort to solve the enigma surrounding a possible murder. It's this combination of sleuthing and courage that makes Jo a relatable character. While the budding romance was at times frustrating to read, in the end I was surprised at how things turned out - but it all did seem fitting. This is certainly a book where you should leave any preconceived expectations at the door - because it isn't a predictable one. 

The one thing that did let the book down for me a little was the length. Normally this isn't really an issue for me, but the plot did feel like it dragged in places and not much was actually happening. There is bound to be some lulls in the plot when the characters are actually in the process of piecing the puzzle together, but I did wish that there was more action throughout. Despite this however, I definitely wasn't bored reading this, and sure enough by the end I was eager to see how the conclusion would wrap up. 

Final Thoughts

These Shallow Graves is an enjoyable novel with a fast-witted protagonist who (mostly) knows what she wants. It allows for a vivid depiction of New York in Victorian times - from both the heights of opulence to the dangers lurking beneath the surface. 

Review: The Natural Way of Things by Charlotte Wood

Monday, 22 February 2016

The Natural Way of Things by Charlotte Wood
Released: 1st October 2015
Published by: Allen and Unwin
Genre: Adult Literature
Source: Library
Pages: 320
My Rating: 5 of 5 stars
Two women awaken from a drugged sleep to find themselves imprisoned in an abandoned property in the middle of a desert in a story of two friends, sisterly love and courage - a gripping, starkly imaginative exploration of contemporary misogyny and corporate control, and of what it means to hunt and be hunted. Strangers to each other, they have no idea where they are or how they came to be there with eight other girls, forced to wear strange uniforms, their heads shaved, guarded by two inept yet vicious armed jailers and a 'nurse'. The girls all have something in common, but what is it? What crime has brought them here from the city? Who is the mysterious security company responsible for this desolate place with its brutal rules, its total isolation from the contemporary world?

Doing hard labour under a sweltering sun, the prisoners soon learn what links them: in each girl's past is a sexual scandal with a powerful man. They pray for rescue - but when the food starts running out it becomes clear that the jailers have also become the jailed. The girls can only rescue themselves.

The Natural Way of Things is a gripping, starkly imaginative exploration of contemporary misogyny and corporate control, and of what it means to hunt and be hunted. Most of all, it is the story of two friends, their sisterly love and courage. With extraordinary echoes of The Handmaid's Tale and Lord of the Flies, The Natural Way of Things is a compulsively readable, scarifying and deeply moving contemporary novel. It confirms Charlotte Wood's position as one of our most thoughtful, provocative and fearless truth-tellers, as she unflinchingly reveals us and our world to ourselves.
Upon searching for something to read outside the YA genre, I came across The Natural Way of Things; a novel which I knew had reached critical acclaim and was sure to be a poignant read. On that basis, I was not disappointed. This book is one where every sentence, every word holds an implication of something more, and thought provoking from beginning to end. With a resolute focus on the all pervasive bureaucratic control of women and the bonds which form between those in confinement, a story like this is sure to make you think about how the situation portrayed might just be a surreal interpretation of the attitudes prevalent in our own society.

Would it be said they were abandoned or taken, the way people said a girl was attacked, a woman was raped, this femaleness always at the centre, as if womanhood itself were the cause of these things? As if the girls somehow, through the natural way of things, did it to themselves.

There is some comparison to be made with The Handmaid's Tale here, as Verla, Yolanda and the other women are trapped in a compound against their will. However, unlike Atwoods tale, these inmates are taken from their lives for a different reason - all of them have been sexually assaulted or abused in some way. While the details of their backgrounds are not made entirely explicit, it is enough for the reader to understand that they have been stereotyped and blamed for the fate that has befallen them. Society has no place for these 'fallen women' who, according to everyone else - brought their situation upon themselves. Their captors place threats against them both through words and actions, their prey forced to live in their desert cage with only the most basic necessities, and are treated as subservient laborers, barely even human. It is the undulating tensions and shifting dynamics of the group as a whole which provide the reader with some kind of morbid fascination at what is occurring, as each woman copes with the situation differently.

At night she dreamed herself with claws, digging a burrow. Tunneling out under the fence, into the teeming bush. Not returning to her old life, never back there, but inwards, downwards, running on all fours, smelling the grass and the earth as familiar as her own body. She dreamed of an animal freedom.

There is however something primal about the whole situation as the predicament of the women prolongs over the seasons. While some rely on the rituals of grooming, or a mantra calling upon the divine for some kind of intervention, others embrace the wilderness and almost become one with the land. Whilst there is some sense of solidarity among the group, it is unsurprising that a survival instinct for some supersedes all other priorities. Yet above all, what power Verla and her comrades have left inside them to determine what happens next in their lives may be small - but combined is still a force in itself. The complex sort of relationship between Verla and Yolanda themselves is perhaps one of the most interesting to observe, as they both seem to be the most rational at the beginning yet evolve the most by the end.

Free us, free us. But once Yolanda was out in the breze, walking through the grass for her traps, Hetty's words were nothing but the same old eternal hopeless prayer, as much as hey diddle diddle or i will survive. Hetty's prayer was only words, as light and dry as old eucalyptus leaves, crumbling in your fingers.

If one thing's for sure, it is that this is no light read. It is harrowing from the start, and at many times disturbing. This 'shock factor' is not the only thing which makes this novel memorable though. There is just something about the ebb and flow of the prose, which holds an inherent lingering frustration over what these women must endure, what lengths they must reach in order to feel human, or morph into another being altogether. Despite their bleak prospects, there is hope that 'Hardings', the name engraved on the very crockery they eat on, may still be shining somewhere out there beyond the electric fence. Through Wood's masterful manipulation of prose, there is a myriad of emotions evoked in us readers. We too are drawn into the tribulations of the characters, their struggle to survive, and the fleeting euphoria when perhaps the end to it all is in sight.

Because Yolanda may have her rabbits, Hetty her religion, they may all have their pets, but only Verla had a plan. Observe, identify, classify. Preserve, conserve, bide your time, wait your chance. Then: act.

Final Thoughts

The Natural Way of Things is a perturbing and memorable read. A tale of solidarity, survival and seeking unspoken retribution for an unjust fate, this novel is one even weeks on, I feel I won't be forgetting anytime soon. Charlotte Wood has epitomised the power of words and how they can really challenge the overarching paradigms of our age.

Title Tangents Week 2: Frazzled Fantasy

Saturday, 13 February 2016

How It Works

  1. Every few weeks there will be a list of 5-10 books whose titles you have to somehow integrate into a paragraph of ~ 200 words. This is just a rough guide, if you are a little under/over it's up to you :) (I don't think anyone is going to be sitting there counting the words on the screen, and definitely not me!)
  2. Highlight/use a different coloured font for the titles
  3. The fun thing is, it can be as whimsical or realistic, serious or downright hilarious - the situations those titles find themselves have endless possibilities. The characters, settings, and whether there's dialogue or not are entirely your choices
  4. Take a screenshot/type up your paragraph 
  5. Link back to Genie In A Book with the blog banner on your post, and tweet me the link so I can check it out!
  6. There will be an optional theme each week, such as book titles from a particular genre, author, series etc. which I'll put to a vote and the most popular one wins!

This Week's Selection

My Title Tangents

Vote for the next theme

Now it's your turn!

Post the link to your title tangents in the linky below, I'd love to see what others come up with. 

Cover Reveal: In Your Dreams by Ginger Scott

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

I am so excited to share the cover of IN YOUR DREAMS by Ginger Scott releasing on March 29th! Add it to your TBR below.

A Falling Series Spin-­‐Off
NA Contemporary Romance
Cover photo shot by Frank Rodriguez -­‐ DLRfoto
Cover design by Ginger Scott
Scheduled to release: March 29, 2016
Casey Coffield has a growing list of personal flaws he keeps locked away in his head:

He’s never on time.

His list of IOUs to his best friend is endless.

Money is always short.

Goals are never in reach.

Oh, and he’s decided to add college drop-­‐out to that list, too. He doesn’t really think that last one’s such a bad thing, but his family insists it is, so it stays on the list.

On paper, he’s a zero. But in person, when he’s mixing tracks for a sea of bodies at the hottest clubs and parties, he’s downright irresistible. Just-­‐right stubble on his chin, body of a boxer and a smirk that stimulates all the right nerves—women have never been a problem. They flock to his swagger and fall for his charm…fast.

All except for this one.

Purple hair, gray eyes, a raspy voice and sass, Murphy Sullivan is a little bit country and a little bit rock-­‐n-­‐roll. And her and Casey? They have history. He can’t remember it, but she wrote a song about him—and it’s not exactly a love song. But it is good. Damn good. And uncovering her inspiration just might be the key to solving a few of his shortcomings—not to mention open doors to his own big break in the music industry.

But sometimes dreams get messy when they collide. Sometimes life changes patterns. A past paints the wrong picture and futures get cloudy. The only question that remains is who will you choose when the dust settles—you? Or the girl of your dreams?

“Want to hear a cut?”

She folds her hands around her body and nods, her eyes bright. I pull out the Ratatat song she was listening to with her brother and let it start rolling, setting the intro to loop. Then I break up the beat with some new layers, so the song is recognizable, but unique.

“That’s so unbelievably cool,” she says, her body moving to the rhythm.

I’m about to blow her mind. I’ve had this planned since late last night, and the effect is better than I could have dreamed. I want to see her dance. I wait just long enough, smiling at her and moving my head along with the vibe until I feel it in my gut. There’s always a moment—it’s what makes me good. I’ve had it since the first time I touched a soundboard. I can sense when the craving is at it’s peak, when the room wants more. It’s like a slow-­‐building orgasm, and I bring everyone to the brink, feeling their bodies fall in line with the count, giving their minds over to the melody. This is the high I was talking about, and Murphy—she’s there. Her eyes are closed and her body is moving more than I think she realizes, and it’s the hottest thing I’ve ever seen.

I’m about to be her undoing without even laying a hand on her.

My finger poised over the button, I wait until it’s just right to let the first drop go. I picked Nina Simone because she’s jazzy, just like Murphy, and she’s full of fire and there’s a swagger in her song—the moment her voice breaks through the beat, Murphy knows. Her eyes drag open and her body keeps swaying. Baby grays are looking at me and smiling. Her chest is rising and falling off rhythm even though her body keeps tempo. It’s because I’m in her head now—my song is in her head, and she’s feeling something different, something more.

The break I built is coming up, and I know it—she’ll shiver. I step close, letting my headphones slip around my neck. I come closer and watch her for a sign that I shouldn’t move more. She doesn’t stray—she’s drunk in seconds, and she wants me near. The break happens, and her heat tilts back as she closes her eyes, and that goddamned perfect neck is exposed and my lips come close enough to touch it. I don’t, but I linger, letting her feel my breath on her skin, small bumps rising in reaction. Chemistry and biology—beautiful. My nose grazes just below her ear as my hands carefully slide on her body, careful to touch in just the right place above her waist. She doesn’t flinch because she’s given over to the feeling—the performance of it all. That’s all this ever is. I fill rooms with pheromones and bodies become mine.

Right now, Murphy is completely in my control. My hands urge her to turn, and her body spins slowly, every curve brushing against me until her back is flush with my chest. I drag one hand around her waist and up her spine, my palm flat as it follows the line of her zipper, my thumb feeling the jagged metal and my mind imagining dragging it the opposite way. I close my own eyes as my hand pushes against her neck and my fingers find her hair, sweeping it up in my hold so my mouth can play against her ear. I bring my hand down carefully, both of us moving together to the sexy beat I built just for her, and I hold my breath as my hand opens wide and splays under her breasts, holding her tight against me.

My thumb close to god, I feel her lungs grow inside her, her breathing deep and desperate. I could take her now, but that…that would be a mistake. I only wanted to get this close—to feel this much. I wanted to see if my powers worked on her as well. They do, but hers have the equal effect on me. My mouth watering and my cock growing hard, my eyelids grow heavy as my self-­‐made rules fight against my desire.

Leaning into her, my lips press against the inside of her neck, marking her with a cool kiss as my tongue takes one, tiny taste of her skin before my mouth finds her ear.

“This is what I do, Murphy. I…can make people…do…whatever…I…want,” I whisper, and her breath falls away completely, her head dropping back against me, her hands moving to my wrists and holding me with a tight desperation that begs for more.

My eyes close, and I indulge for a few seconds, dragging my hand up her body again, careful to not touch her too intimately despite how badly my hand wants to go there. I trace her bare shoulder and move to her neck, my thumb running over the zipper that it now considers the enemy. I push her slowly in front of me, giving us just enough space for me to let my head fall against the back of hers so my eyes can rake over the perfect line of her neck one last time. My mouth moves forward, wanting to taste more, but I puff out a breath instead and let go of her completely, knowing a second longer is the difference between being able to stop.

I kill the sound. An abrupt edge. And Murphy takes a step forward, as if I’ve just released her from a trance. I have. But I can put her back under it any time I want. And I intend to.


There's still time to sign up for the release events!
Pre-­‐release Teaser blitz beginning March 1
Review tour: March 28-­April 2
Release Day Blast: March 29
Promo Event: April 3-­16

About the Author:

Ginger Scott is an Amazon-­‐bestselling author of eight young and new adult romances, including Waiting on the Sidelines, Going Long, Blindness, How We Deal With Gravity, This Is Falling, You and Everything After, Wild Reckless and The Girl I Was Before.

A sucker for a good romance, Ginger’s other passion is sports, and she often blends the two in her stories. (She’s also a sucker for a hot quarterback, catcher, pitcher, point guard…the list goes on.) Ginger has been writing and editing for newspapers, magazines and blogs for more than 15 years. She has told the stories of Olympians, politicians, actors, scientists, cowboys, criminals and towns.

Shadowhunters Series Giveaway! (AU)

Monday, 8 February 2016

With the exciting screening of Cassandra Clare's 'Shadowhunters' series on Netflix, there are also new editions of the books in the series (and they look pretty amazing).

Thanks to the lovely people at Walker Books Australia, I'm giving away one full set of the books to a lucky Australian winner!

What do you think of these new covers, and cover re-designs of popular series in general? 

Mini Reviews: A Thousand Knights Point to Sunkissed Mistletoe and Mistaken Discoveries

Friday, 5 February 2016

As you can probably tell from the title, this post is going to include my condensed thoughts on a range of books (with titles that can make some pretty interesting sentences). 

25244111A Thousand Nights by E.K. Johnston
Released: 22nd October 2015
Published by: Pan Macmillan
Genre: YA Fantasy
Source: Publisher
Pages: 256
My Rating: 2.5 of 5 stars
Goodreads | QBD | Book Depository
LO-MELKHIIN KILLED THREE HUNDRED GIRLS before he came to her village, looking for a wife. When she sees the dust cloud on the horizon, she knows he has arrived. She knows he will want the loveliest girl: her sister. She vows she will not let her be next. And so she is taken in her sister’s place, and she believes death will soon follow.

Lo-Melkhiin’s court is a dangerous palace filled with pretty things: intricate statues with wretched eyes, exquisite threads to weave the most beautiful garments. She sees everything as if for the last time. But the first sun rises and sets, and she is not dead. Night after night, Lo-Melkhiin comes to her and listens to the stories she tells, and day after day she is awoken by the sunrise. Exploring the palace, she begins to unlock years of fear that have tormented and silenced a kingdom. Lo-Melkhiin was not always a cruel ruler. Something went wrong. Far away, in their village, her sister is mourning. Through her pain, she calls upon the desert winds, conjuring a subtle unseen magic, and something besides death stirs the air. Back at the palace, the words she speaks to Lo-Melkhiin every night are given a strange life of their own. Little things, at first: a dress from home, a vision of her sister.

With each tale she spins, her power grows. Soon she dreams of bigger, more terrible magic: power enough to save a king, if she can put an end to the rule of a monster.
Thank you to Pan Macmillan Australia for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review 

Though I'm not entirely familiar with the original story which this novel is based on, I can see where it holds its  own as a novel. A Thousand Nights is a story which takes fantasy and weaves it into a time long ago, where ancient ties and rituals still prevails, and there is some sort of powers beyond our realm which affect whole communities. This one was a difficult book to rate in some ways, as while things like the writing where so beautiful at times, there were elements that took away from my overall enjoyment. 

But first, onto the positives! The sense of family and community in this book was an underlying theme throughout, and the sacrifices which the protagonist made in order to protect her sister was an act of bravery for sure, considering Lo-Melkhiin's track record with his last wives. The flashbacks throughout to the protagonists time learning the traditions of her people and sharing positive memories also added to the depth of a person we perhaps don't get to know as well - since we never get to know her name. Here this 'mystery' surrounding the main character to such a degree can detract from the plot (which in itself is very slow moving in parts), though I suppose in a novel where the fantasy is an enigma of its own for our heroine, it is at least consistent. 

While I appreciated the unique style A Thousand Nights is written in for the most part, I think that it did make for a read that is hard to connect with at times. The obscurity of the characters combined with a plot in which there isn't much action until right at the last minute meant that I had a hard time sticking to reading this book just by itself. For me it was something to read in small doses, though eventually it all came together. 

In all, I do have some conflicting views on this book, and I think to truly understand its nuances and unique qualities, it is something that you need to experience for yourself and make up your own mind. 

23306321A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms by George R.R. Martin
Released: 6th October 2015
Published by: HarperVoyager
Genre: Fantasy
Source: Publisher
Pages: 256
My Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
A century before A GAME OF THRONES, two unlikely heroes wandered Westeros… A KNIGHT OF THE SEVEN KINGDOMS compiles the first three official prequel novellas to George R.R. Martin’s ongoing masterwork, A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE.

Before Tyrion Lannister and Podrick Payne there was Dunk and Egg. A young, na├»ve but courageous hedge knight, Ser Duncan the Tall towers above his rivals – in stature if not experience. Tagging along with him is his diminutive squire, a boy called Egg – whose true identity must be hidden from all he and Dunk encounter: for in reality he is Aegon Targaryen, and one day he will be king. Improbable heroes though they be, great destinies lie ahead for Dunk and Egg; as do powerful foes, royal intrigue, and outrageous exploits.

A KNIGHT OF THE SEVEN KINGDOMS brings together for the first time the first three official prequel novellas to George R.R. Martin’s ongoing masterwork, A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE, set in an age when the Targaryen line still holds the Iron Throne, and the memory of the last dragon has not yet passed from living memory. Featuring more than 160 illustrations by Gary Gianni, one of the finest fantasy artists of our time, this beautiful volume will transport readers to the world of the Seven Kingdoms in an age of bygone chivalry.
Thank you to HarperCollins Australia for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review 

I had postponed reading the Song of Ice and Fire series for a while (though I do love the TV show) and so when A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms came up, I thought it would be a great place to start. Set in a time before the better known characters come into play, this is a story that brings to light a budding friendship, some chivalry, and the idea of 'the knight in shining armour' with a twist. 

Fantasy isn't normally a genre I read a whole lot of, but this book was altogether enjoyable. Dunk and Egg made an endearing pair, and the obstacles they encountered along the way made for quite a few interesting developments. Political intrigue, brushes with the law and a few hints at possible romance also characterise the plot, while the illustrations serve to highlight key moments.

The illustrations themselves were artfully done, and made this story seem almost like a fairytale (though not quite as glamourous). At times when the prose may have been a bit too dense, or the plot going slow, these served to keep me interested and reading on until the closing pages.

In all, while this novel wasn't perfect for me, the intricacies of Westeros which it portrays from the beginning will definitely enlighten and interest existing fans of Martin's series. 

25800990Sunkissed by Jenny McLachlan
Series: Ladybirds #3
Released: 13th August 2015
Published by: Bloomsbury
Genre: YA Contemporary
Source: Publisher
Pages: 302
My Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
Following on from Flirty Dancing and Love Bomb, Jenny McLachlan's next book is perfect summer holiday reading for fans of Geek Girl and Louise Rennison.

Kat can't believe her family are sending her to Sweden for the summer. But without her friends, or even a phone signal, can Kat make it on her own? In a land of saunas, nudity and summer sun, Kat soon realises she has nowhere to hide. It's time to embrace who she really is, underneath what she's been thinking people want her to be. Especially if she's going to win the heart of mega fit Swede Leo!

Can Kat find her inner strength and prove she's got what it takes? Kat soon finds that when you're surrounded by phosphorescence and wonder it's easy to sparkle. Or maybe that's what happens when you fall in love . Or maybe you only shine when you're true to yourself.
Thank you to Bloomsbury Australia for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review 

The Ladybirds series is back again with Sunkissed - another fun, cute and heartwarming read from Jenny McLachlan. What I love about this series is the fact that it doesn't just provide a 'light' read which still has real substance, but has a strong focus on friendship and the positive message of being true and comfortable in yourself. 

What makes this book a stand-out from the rest of the series is definitely its setting - a small Swedish island where the locals live with the basics...and perhaps not the ideal for fashion conscious protagonist Kat! The inclusion of Swedish language added a small glimpse into the culture and made it seem more realistic, which is always a plus. Seeing Kat's transformation from someone who couldn't live without all her usual gadgets to appreciating her time away and undergoing some deeper self discovery made for an engrossing read.

The romance itself wasn't something which really struck a chord with me, but as a novel on the younger side of YA this didn't really bother me. Leo was a character likable enough, but really this is a story about the girls - their friendship and personal growth. I continue to wholly recommend this book to anyone who wants a fictional island getaway with a positive message at heart. 

23848552Mistletoe and Mr. Right by Lyla Payne
Released: 6th October 2015
Published by: Bloomsbury
Genre: NA Contemporary
Source: Publisher
Pages: 302
My Rating: 3 of 5 stars
In "Mistletoe and Mr. Right," Jessica (not Jessie) takes a flying leap and follows her boyfriend home for the holidays for Christmas break, sure that Ireland will provide the perfect backdrop to the beginning of their happily ever after. But it turns out his family--and his gorgeous ex-girlfriend--don't feel the same way, and the only person making the trip worthwhile is the local farmhand, who has a way of showing up when Jessica needs him most . . . and least.

The holiday hijinks continue in "Sleigh Bells and Second Chances," when Jessica's best friend makes her own way across the pond! Christina Lake does not want to be away at Christmas, but it's her duty to babysit one of London's hottest bands at their last-minute concert on Christmas Eve . . . even though she had a fling with Cary, the band's lead singer, that never officially ended. Now forced to reconnect, Christina is starting to think that maybe London is exactly where she's supposed to be to get the perfect New Year's kiss--at least until she finds out that he's been lying the whole time. Can Cary find a way to prove himself before the clock strikes twelve? Or will the New Year ring in a new romance?

 Lyla Payne wraps up two perfect holiday novellas, ties them with a ribbon of romance, and tops them with a light dusting of snow. Perfect to curl up with under the tree. Just add hot cocoa!
Thank you to Bloomsbury Australia for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review 

These two romantic novellas are sweet, easy reads which are perfect for the holiday season. Though they both don't stray too far from what is the 'expected' NA drama, they are nonetheless sure to appeal to romance readers. From an Irish farm to to a celebrity affair, this book offers two very different settings, although both protagonists experience similar developments before finding their 'mister right'.

I have to admit, in both instances the plot was quite predictable. While there were some surprise twists, especially in the case of Mistletoe and Mr. Right, in all I think from close to the start it was easy to see who Jessica would end up with. Her relationship with Brennan seemed really stiff, although as a character I think she had her redeeming qualities. I think the point is to show that despite how orderly and intelligent a person may be, they still could end up with the wrong guy. I did sympathise with Jessica's awkwardness at times and tendency to get herself in difficult situations, though the romance which eventuated wasn't really one I was excited about. Perhaps it's because of the relatively short span of pages that the plot develops, but either way I was hoping for more. In Sleigh Bells and Second Chances there was definitely more of a flirtatious vibe, and the band aspect came into play as well, though I didn't really buy into that romance as much as I had hoped to.

In all, despite the mediocrity of these books for me personally, I think that in the hands of a different reader looking for a couple of short romantic stories in the holiday season they would be more enjoyable. 

Year of Mistaken Discoveries by Eileen Cook
Released: 25th February 2014
Published by: Simon and Schuster
Genre: YA Contemporary
Source: Publisher
Pages: 272
My Rating: 4 of 5 stars
As first graders, Avery and Nora bonded over a special trait they shared: they were both adopted. Years later, Avery is smart, popular, and on the cheerleading squad, while Nora spends her time on the fringes of school society, wearing black, reading esoteric poetry, and listening to obscure music. They never interact...until the night Nora approaches Avery at a party, saying it's urgent. She tells Avery that she thought she found her birth mom, but it turned out to be a cruel lie. Avery feels for Nora, but returns to her friends at the party. Then Avery learns that Nora overdosed on pills.

Left to cope with Nora's loss and questioning her own actions, Avery decides to honor her friend by launching a search for her own birth mother. Aided by Brody, a friend of Nora's who is also looking for a way to respect Nora's legacy, Avery embarks on an emotional quest. But what she's really seeking might go far deeper than just genetics.
Thank you to Simon and Schuster Australia for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review 

A bond between best friends is a special one - which makes it all the more devastating when it ends. In Year of Mistaken Discoveries, Eileen Cook does not only explore the repercussions of losing someone who you can relate to in one of the deepest possible ways, but finding the essence of who you are, and who you are meant to be. 

The inherent conflict between what you do versus what is expected of you is explored through Avery really well. This is something which a lot of teenagers experience, so I thought that they portrayal of her at the start as a 'people pleaser' wasn't too uncommon, and therefore made her relatable. After Nora's suicide, she isn't quite the same, and though in many ways she retracts into herself, it was nice to see her come back with a renewed vigor to find her birth mother (even if there were other motives at play). The flashbacks to the girls time together when they were younger added a note of wistful nostalgia, and went to show that in many ways Nora was still remembered and one of the key reasons behind Avery's mission.

The romance was a one which was no case of insta-love, but more of a bond which developed because both people were focused on a common goal. This is a story which explores the connections between family, the continuing impact of the past on the present, and hopefulness of the future. I'll definitely be looking forward to more from Eileen Cook after reading this!

24464110Signs Point to Yes by Sandy Hall
Released: 20th October 2015
Published by: Swoon Reads
Genre: YA Contemporary
Source: Publisher
Pages: 288
My Rating: 3 of 5 stars
If only Jane’s Magic 8 Ball could tell her how to get through the summer. With her “perfect” sister, Margo, home for her “perfect” internship, Jane is not going to be able to spend the summer writing fan fiction, as she had planned. And her emergency babysitting job requires Jane to spend the whole summer in awkward proximity to her new crush, Teo, a nerdy-hot lifeguard with problems of his own. With his best friend out of town, Teo finds himself without anyone to confide in…except Jane.

Will Jane and Teo be able to salvage each other’s summer? Even the Magic 8 Ball doesn’t have an answer…but signs point to yes.
Thank you to Pan Macmillan Australia for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review 

This is the type of book which is, in a word: fluffy. In three words? Fluffy and cute. In more words than that? Well here's the full review:

Signs Point to Yes is an adorkable novel which epitomises the 'awkward-romance-where-we-both-like-each-other-but-will-have-lots-of-gawky-encounters-before-anything-happens' kind of setup. Both Jane and Teo are quite benign characters on their own, but they do have some unique qualities which lets them stand out as tangible characters. Jane has her fandoms and Teo has a really great relationship with his younger sisters which was nice to see. Through the mix of perspectives I found I did get to know what each person was thinking on a level to allow some decent character development, though I can't really see how Margo, Jane's older sister really made much of a difference to the plot. As a sub-plot, perhaps, but I didn't take much from her sections. Though Ravi, Teo's best friend, is hard to connect with at the start (and not all that likable), Teo's friendship with him was able to continue (even after a few talking-to's).

In the end, when it comes to romance, with a pinch of chance, a spoon of cuteness, and the right environment to make it happen - that calls for a pretty good recipe. We certainly might not all rely on an 8-ball to dictate our fates, but in this case I'd say the signs point to yes for you to give this book a try!