Book Club Notes: The Beast’s Garden

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I have a book club! Huzzah! A real life, in-the-flesh club that meets, drinks tea and discusses a set book of the month. And it is good, so, so good. Our first book was The Rosie Project which was a delight to read and discuss. Book two is The Beast’s Garden by Kate Forsyth. Talk about a change of pace. Set in pre-war and wartime Germany, this retelling of Beauty and The Beast is beautiful and heartbreaking. It is unlike any other BatB retelling I’ve read before. I now know that is because the YA re-tellings I have read (think Withering Rose and A Court of Thorns and Roses) have been interpretations of the more modern version. There is however, an intriguing history behind the tale. A history with origins that could possibly date back at around 4000 years.

The Beast’s Garden is inspired by the Brothers Grimm’s version of the tale: The Singing, Springing Lark.

Kate herself is extraordinary. If you get a chance to hear her speak, do so. Her presentations are filled with inspiring and remarkable tales. She is completing a doctorate in fairy tale re-tellings (how cool is that!!!) and is a veteran author. Her website shares some of the vast amount of research she does for her works. In particular, her pages on the history & meaning of ‘Beauty & the Beast’ provide fascinating material for discussion.

Below are my questions for our book club. I’ve also included a detailed synopsis so members can have a quick refresher of the plot before we meet and discuss all things Singing, Springing Lark. If you haven’t read the book – STOP HERE. Seriously, don’t spoil this incredible novel by reading the synopsis first.

WARNING: spoilers ahead.

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Book club questions:

  1. After playing banned jazz and catching (as yet unknown ) Leo’s attention, Rupert declares, “I’m sick of being careful…” What does this use of foreshadowing tell us about the character of Rupert and the story to unfold?
  2. Even after Kristallnacht, Rupert believes commonsense and human decency will prevail. Do you think many people in Germany at this time held this belief?
  3. Chapter Four ends with the young musicians fleeing the SA. What do you think motivated Ava to tie Rupert’s scarf around the statue of the Führer? Do you think she understood the consequences of being caught?
  4. In Chapter Five, Ava recalls her father’s original view on Hitler’s popularity – “‘No one can take Herr Hitler seriously,’ he had said. ‘He’ll be laughed out of the Reichstag.’” (Forsyth, 2015, p.40) Is this misconception representative of other periods throughout history?
  5. Otto states that, “Books are dangerous! Nothing opens up the mind and the hearts like books do, and so they have the power to change the whole world.” (Forsyth, 2015, p.42) Do you agree with his statement?
  6. Ava convinces her father to warn people in Poland about a planned German attack. Was this brave or naive?
  7. In July 1939, Ava wishes she had never met Rupert. Does this signify the shift in her affections towards Leo and away from Rupert or does this symbolise something else?
  8. In Chapter 29 Monika and Ava have lunch at a fancy cafe for Monika’s birthday. Monika’s behaviour towards her sister is conflicted; she throws sharp barbs at her sister one moment and then a confession about Rupert the next. She even issues a stern warning his Rupert’s family. What drives Monika’s behaviour towards Ava and the Feidlers?
  9. Why might Monika have appeared so put-together and haughty, yet stressed and nervous at the same time?
  10. Could Ava have done more to save Libertas?
  11. How important to Rupert’s survival was the gift from Rudi?
  12. To what extend does Ava’s character change throughout the course of the novel?

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The Beast’s Garden by Kate Forsyth Synopsis:

Part I November 1938 – March 1939

It is Kristallnacht – the Night of Broken Glass – and the apartment of Ava Falkenhorst’s close family friends, the Feidlers, is being ransacked. Ava wants to help but is stopped by a stranger. A Nazi. At this dark and malevolent time, Ava and the stranger share an intimate moment of honesty. The soldier issues a dire warning – “This is only the beginning,” before disappearing into the night.

The Feidlers move into the Falkenhorst’s house, a modest space for six people now cramped with ten. It is not long before tensions rise between Monika, who works for the SS, and the two Feidler children: Ava’s best friend and fellow musician, Rupert, and his older sister, Jutta. While singing with Rupert to her niece, Ava notices the Nazi soldier watching her through the window. A moment later he knocks on the front door and asks Ava to accompany him for a walk. She refuses.

Ava and Rupert seek release from the daily tension at the Hot Club – an underground jazz club – but flee when it is raided by police. Ava commits her first act of anti-Nazi vandalism by tying a scarf over the mouth of a statue of Hitler.

She is offered a paid singing job at which Himmler is in attendance. Ava purposely forgets to sing the altered lyrics to Silent Night as instructed. She captures the attention of Reinhard Heydrich, Head of the Gestapo. Also present at the event is the soldier, Leo Van Lowenstien. Ava discovers it was Leo who recommended her for the performance.
Leo and Ava meet in the teirgarten. It is here Leo confesses his duty is in conflict with his conscience. Ava’s hardened heart wavers. They share a kiss. The next day a rose is sent to Ava -a rarity in wintry Berlin. Ava rejects his further advances, convinced he is part of the Nazi machine.

Germany invades Prague. The Feidlers have missed their chance to flee Germany. Ava accepts a scholarship for which Rupert’s resentment grows. Leo visits and disproves of Rupert living with Ava, especially with his casual nature. Rupert insists Ava not see Leo. Ava realises her connection to the fairytale, ‘The Singing, Springing Lark’ and that as in the tale, she too must see past the beast’s skin. She goes to Leo and their fledgling relationship grows. Leo confesses his desires for her but Ava cannot trust the Nazi in him. His jealousy emerges and he believes her resistance is because she is in a relationship with Rupert. That night, Rupert is arrested by the Gestapo for ‘subversive activities’.

The Feidlers move out. Ava tortures herself trying to determine who denounced Rupert. Was it Leo? She goes to Gestapo headquarters to find more information. She and the Feilders are told he has been sent to a labour camp. Ava sends a note to Leo telling him she never wants to see him again.

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Part II July – December 1939

Ava journeys to Bayreuth to perform at a music festival celebrating Wagner’s work. She is struggling with the knowledge of Rupert’s fate – a coded letter has revealed to his family he is alive but in a hellish prison camp. Ava wishes she had never met him.

Rupert is working in the Buchenwald’s camp. Starved and tormented, it is an effort to remain alive. He meets Rudi who gives him something that changes his life – a pen and scrap of paper.

Ava has her first glimpse of Hitler who is accompanied by two English women. She admires their frankness and wishes she herself could be unafraid. During her month at Bayreuth, Ava overhears Hitler say he wants a war and will take Poland in just weeks. She and her father, Otto, make a plan to write some warnings. Weeks later, Otto is arrested. Ava turns to Leo for help. Monika is determined to let her Oberführer at work know she was not involved in her father’s actions. Leo organises for Otto’s escape to Switzerland with Ava’s sister, Bertha (as his nurse) and Bertha’s daughter, Angelika. Ava and Leo share a passionate night. He convinces her to wed him. Ava says, “All right”. The next day they are wed, witnessed by Monika. Ava is introduced to Gilda, Leo’s prized possession, and they drive to his parent’s residence, the schloss, for their honeymoon. She still believes Leo is a dangerous Nazi and cannot trust him completely. At the schloss, Ava meets Leo’s mother, Isabelle, and his grandfather and learns about the passing of Leo’s brother.

In the camp, Rupert meets the Commandant’s young son and the brief encounter revives something lost – hope.

At the schloss, Ava meets Leo’s ex, Gertrud. Gertrud does not like Ava or that she has married Leo.

Germany invades Poland. Leo’s mother gives Ava the Lowenstein family pearls before Ava and Leo return to Berlin. While Leo is away at war, Ava visits with the Feidlers and agrees to spy on Leo. Later, Ava brings suitcases of donations to Jutta at the Jewish community office. Here she meets Libertas and the pair quickly become fast friends.
Leo returns from war and confesses the horrors he has seen as Warsaw was crushed by the German army. Despite this, Ava feels as though in many ways Leo is still a stranger to her.

In Buchenwald, Rupert continues to survive.

In the cold of winter, Ava spys on Leo as he meets with the admiral. Ava and Jutta continue their nighttime acts of vandalism.

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Part III June 1940 – December 1942

Devastated at the news her birthplace of Paris has fallen to the Nazis, Libertas commiserates with Ava and others unsympathetic to the Nazi cause. Ava feels she may have found  a form of resistance to join against the Third Reich.

At Buchenwald, Rudi is dead and a large chimney has been built.

After an air raid, Ava seizes the opportunity to have a secret key to Leo’s office made. She turns 21 and on that day discovers Leo did not denounce Rupert. Ava admits she loves him. Leo admits he loves her.

Rupert receives a trumpet from Jutta.

With her new camera, Ava takes photos of top secret documents found in Leo’s office. She spies on him during a daytime meeting with the admiral. At home, she catches him in a lie to her about his work.

Ava, Libertas and others continue their subversive activities with the help of a radio and a Russian spy.

Monika and Ava have lunch together for Monika’s birthday. Monika declares she did not denounce Rupert and issues a warning for the Feidlers: “get out now”.

Mass deportations of Jewish people from the city begins. Ava reads a report in Leo’s office of a massacre and questions his role in it.

On Christmas Eve, Leo and Ava travel to Admiral Canaris’s house. There, Ava eavesdrops as Leo meets privately with others about the war. Though confused about what she hears, Ava knows Heydrich’s surprise arrival could be disastrous for those in the meeting. Despite the danger she draws to herself, she distracts him. Back in Berlin with Leo away, Heydrich sends for Ava. He threatens her with her heritage and makes forceful advances. Unable to hide her injuries, she confess his actions to Leo. Ava now needs answers regarding her mother’s bloodlines and seeks out information first from the Feidlers and then from a gypsy caravan.

Jutta, Heinz and others plan an explosion at an exhibition to be attended by Hitler. It fails and Jutta seeks refuge in Ava’s basement. They do not tell Leo. Both Leo and Ava are pleased to hear of Heydrich’s assassination by a Czech resistance fighter but they know Hitler will want repercussions. Many of Jutta’s friends are executed. Mass executions and deportations occur in Czechoslovakia and Berlin in reprisal for Heydrich and for the Lustgarten bombing. Ava puts herself in more danger by giving her papers to Jutta.

Ava receives news her sister Bertha will be married in Switzerland and she and Leo plan Ava’s attendance. Ava is still keeping the secret of Jutta’s accommodation and though Leo knows she is lying to him, he does not push the issue. Ava assumes the role of a travelling spy in order to attend the wedding. Though the Gestapo offices are suspicious, she is able to leave and return safely. Leo tells Ava he knows about Jutta and that she must leave. They agree to finally trust each other and keep no more secrets.

Libertas and friends hiding the Russian spies are in trouble. Ava attempts to warn her but she is too late and can only watch as her friend is arrested.

The Buchenwald camp  is no longer full of Jewish people.

Liberatas and company are executed. Ava struggles with the loss of her friend and the world in which she must now live. She and Jutta become each other’s stalwart.

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Part IV January 1943 – July 1944

Ava and Leo discuss good and evil and what this means for Leo: he must kill Hitler. Onkel Franz is arrested despite his exemption due to his service in WWI. Tante Thea and other wives protest at the holding house and though repeatedly threatened with shooting, the ladies remain defiant and the Nazi troops eventually release Onkel Franz and the others in this centre. They had been scheduled for deportation to Auschwitz.

Rupert and Lucien and other prisoners are working on a delicate weapon in the camp factory. They decide to steal parts and make their own radio.

Many attempts by Leo and his co-conspirators to kill Hitler fail. Two men from the latest plot are arrested. In November, another plan fails. Berlin is bombed. The tiergarten is hit. The city is in chaos. Tante Thea and Onkel Franz are killed. Monika weds her SS officer fiance in a lavish ceremony on mid summer’s eve at Goebbel’s house. Himmler and family are there as is Gertrud and her fiance, Max Kranz, a high-ranking SS official. Kranz takes an interest in Ava. Monika’s new husband boasts of the extermination of
Thousand Jewish people a day. Ava is sickened. Kranz makes an aggressive pass at Ava. He informs her Gertrud had denounced Ava’s possible gypsy heritage to Heydrich.

Lucien and Rupert and others listen to their radio. Hope grows as does Lucien and Rupert’s love.

Another assassination of the Fuhrer fails. This time, the SS arrive for the Abwher. Leo escapes but is arrested at home. Ava flees.

For six months Ava has lived on the streets with Jutta. When a woman is killed in front of her, Ava seizes the opportunity to steel her clothes, identity and apartment. She seeks out Monika who informs Ava of Leo’s location: Flossenbürg. Determined to rescue Leo and Rupert, Ava and Jutta take Gilda on a slow and dangerous journey.

Buchenwald prisoners are all to be executed. Leo and Rupert attempt to save a group of children. Rupert and Lucien are captured; Lucien makes a sacrifice to stay with Rupert.

Ava leaves Jutta near Buchenwald to look for Rupert amongst the prisoners being relocated and she continues on to Flossenbürg. There she manoeuvres herself into performing for the officers. Gertrud and Max Krantz are in attendance. Ava uses Gertrud’s jealousy to formulate a plan of rescue.

Having found the traitor prisoners, Ava learns they are to be hanged in the morning. Kranz discovers Ava’s deception.

Jutta defeats two SS officers and takes their motorcycle.

Kranz leads Ava to his room, his depraved intentions clear. They struggle and Ava kills him with a champagne glass. Armed and dressed as a guard, Ava captures Gertrud and uses her for information. She rescues Leo and escapes in Kranz’s car.

In post-war Germany, they are each on thier own path to recovery. Leo, having survived eight months of torture, uses his work in the schloss garden to attempt to rebuild himself.
Ava is pregnant and they are overjoyed.

Jutta arrives with Rupert and Lucien and Leo’s mother, Isabelle, nurses them back to life. Later, Monika arrives, dumps a baby born ten months after her husband’s execution, and leaves.

Ava and Leo’s daughter, Libertas, is raised with Rainer as siblings.  Leo testifies at the Nuremberg Trials and at those in Dachau. Eventually his nightmares cease. Together, he and Ava dream of one day opening the schloss to people in need.

Review – Replica

finalreplica_coverrevealgifTitle                  Replica (Part One – Lyra)
Author             Lauren Oliver
Publisher        HarperCollins
Source              NetGalley
Genre               Science Fiction

Lyra is not human. She’s a Replica. Made at The Haven, Lyra’s existence is an endless cycle of tests, medical procedures and cold, harsh rooms. There are no surprises, only structure and routine.

Until, there is not. Lyra’s world changes irrevocably and she must adapt.

I enjoyed Lyra’s story though the ending left me looking for some part of the book I must have missed. It didn’t seem complete. A quick search online told me that was indeed the case. Replica is a two part book – a flip book. One is Lyra’s story and the other is Gemma’s. Gemma is human and I can see how her story would be as interesting as Lyra’s. I just haven’t read it yet.

So this review is based on only half the book. Do I want to read the other half? Yes, though to be honest I enjoyed the viewpoint of Lyra and I want more from her perspective. Oliver delivers Lyra’s narrative as one that is innocent and naive yet perceptive. Lyra’s interpretations of the world are both joyful and heartbreaking.

Replica is an intriguing reflection of how much humanity is learnt and how much is ingrained in our DNA.

Try Replica if you liked Delirium or State of Grace.

Review – A Promise of Fire

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Title                           A Promise of Fire
Author                       Amanda Bouchet
Publisher                  Hachette Australia
Source                     NetGalley
Genre                       Fantasy Romance

A promise of fire? There certainly was – but more on the smokey stuff soon.

A Promise of Fire by Amanda Bouchet is a fantasy romance set in a time where warlords made empires and Greek gods intervened at will.

Cat ran away with the circus. For the pat eight years it’s been the perfect place to hide – until warlord Beta Sinta discovers her circus skills make her royally useful. She also has a few other tricks up her sleeve. Forced out of the circus, cat is faced with continuous peril as she is taken to the Sintain Palace. Along the way, Cat must decide if she should use her powers to save herself and expose herself to the deadliest enemy in the world.
Fun, fast and full of action, A Promise of Fire delivers an entertaining read that I devoured in two days. The lead players are well-crafted and Cat is a durable creature who reminds me a little of Celaena Sardothian. She has sass, she has spunk and is more ferocious than the warlord’s team combined.

With energy like that it’s not surprise there is fire in this story. And I’m talking smokey, hot, sexy fire. As in, burn the house down fiery stuff.

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The sparks in this book were not what I was expecting from a YA book and to be honest – this is NOT YA. I don’t care how old the MC is.

The tension between Cat and Beta Sinta builds well and Beta Sinta’s interests and emotions are conveyed well. She is determined not to give in to her physical attraction to him. Her constant thoughts about his rippling muscles became somewhat repetitive on their journey to the Palace.
What didn’t sit well with me was the abuse and the power struggle between Cat and Beta Sinta. Falling in love (lust?) with your kidnapper who keeps you tied up is a little too Stockholm Syndrome for my liking.
Aside from that, the unfolding events surrounding her time with Team Beta and the myriad of enemies now pursuing Cat make for an exciting, fast-paced read.

Try this if you liked Ice like Fire or Mortal Heart and enjoy your glasses steaming up while you read.

I Heart Aussie YA #4 + Author Interview

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Title                    Measuring Up
Author               GJ Stroud
Publisher           Scribe
Genre                 YA Contemporary

Goodreads blurb:
Jonah’s life has been like riding the perfect wave—the wonderfully simple routine of school, partying, and surfing with his friends. With the stress of his senior year looming, he realizes all of that is about to change. Rattled by the fear that he is destined to live in the shadow of his legendary older brother, Link, Jonah’s self-confidence begins to waver, along with his mission to lose his virginity before turning 18. Just when he has decided things couldn’t get any more complicated, Link drops a bombshell on his unsuspecting family. Despite these overwhelming transitions, Jonah soon discovers that life has a funny way of sorting out the big issues from the small, and that the answers he’s looking for may be right in front of him. Frank and funny, this coming-of-age novel is a definitive tale of family, friendship, and the pressures of adolescence.

Measuring Up is written by the talented GJ Stroud. Full disclosure: Gab is also a good writing buddy of mine and one of my fellow hosts over at The Print Posse.
Measuring Up is an honest and witty look at growing up under the shadow of a small town mindset. The writing is sharp and at times, brutally honest. The MC, Jonah, is likable and relatable as he stumbles through the transition from larakin teen surfer into a young adult.

In Measuring Up, Stroud explores the perpetual struggle of youth in determining the Big Things in life from The Little Things. Stroud’s writing style is refreshing. No condescending stereotypes of teenagers, just real kids who might have sat next to you at school during lunchtime.

The Australian setting fits seamlessly into the story and is a gentle reminder of the different mindsets still prevalent in small towns. Measuring Up will have youth nodding in agreement and inspire a nostalgic smile in adults.

Try Measuring Up if you liked Puberty Blues,  The Flywheel or The Story of Tom Brennan.

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Hi Gab, welcome to A Novel Indulgence. Tell me, where did the inspiration for Measuring Up come from?

There were two key things that inspired my ideas for Measuring Up. The first was a story my friend told me about how her sister calls her “Sib” short for ‘Sibling’ because before my friend was born, her mum told Big Sister that she was going to have a sibling and Big Sister was so intrigued by the word that she referred to the baby as Sibling forevermore! So my friend got “Sib” as a family nickname. That got me thinking about my own family – I’m the youngest. My eldest sister always always calls me Kiddo. There’s so much power in names. I explore that in Measuring Up.

The other idea came from my experience teaching Year 7. A girl from my Homeroom came to me after one lunch time of being harassed by Year 7 boys calling her ‘flat chested’. When I relayed the story to my sister she said “It’s so easy for boys because nobody can see their… you know – penis. So, we can’t call them “shorty” or “stumpy” – but for girls everyone can see their chest development. It’s not fair.” I thought about what this means for men and boys and asked myself – what would happen if a boy had a rapid and obvious transition into manhood? Just like girls, he would feel uncomfortable, awkward and possibly embarrassed. I explore this discomfort and the feeling of scrutiny throughout Measuring Up but it’s best reflected in the scene where Mel says to Jonah (the MC) “It’s like you got your first bra and your period all on the same day!”

The voice of your MC, Jonah, was authentic as a teenage boy. How did you prepare for writing from a perspective that could not be based on personal experience?

I think all my writing comes from something that’s beyond gender and age and all that… I like considering the human experience. What feelings and experiences do we share? Having said that, it was important that I really nailed the voice of Jonah. So, I did a lot of eavesdropping and note taking. And I befriended a guy around Jonah’s age at our local little supermarket. He worked in the deli and I would order a lot of ham and olives and soft cheeses just so I could interact with him and observe him. I remember watching him one day being torn between serving an old lady who had waited a long time and a gorgeous girl who had just walked in. The pain on his face was obvious!

Without spoiling the ending, some threads are tied and others are left open. As a writer, was there pressure to resolve all the story arcs?

Yes. My editor and publisher kept saying to me – is this story finished?

How long did the writing process take? 

Three years. Two years to draft and write and one year to edit and polish for publication. That included working full time and all the other stuff that life throws at you when you’re trying to write a book!

Were there any times when you nearly gave up on the project?

Yep. Heaps. But my dear friend Jess pushed, prompted, encouraged, shoved, prodded and just generally bullied me until the job was done.

You thanked Varuna The Writers’ House, what stage was your story at when you did your residency there?

My story was at a drafty draft stage. I didn’t know where it was going, I just had these great characters and the voice was strong and the words were flowing. I was wandering around inside my story while I was at Varuna. It was a bit special!

What processes did you undergo at Varuna The Writers’ House?

I was part of a residency and I was mentored each day by the mighty Peter Bishop who has worked with some of Australia’s best writers. This was an hour each day talking with someone who loved my story as much as I did. Peter has this way of making you think about things in new and unusual ways. He’s the kind of guy who if you gave him a jumper, he’d turn it inside out and look at the cuff of the sleeve and say “I wonder what the sheep was feeling when she grew this wool?” He asks you things that make you feel uncomfortable – things like “What’s the heartland of your story?” or “How will you know that your story is told?” or “Where are you in this story?” Conversations with Peter are both nourishing and challenging.
And each evening I met with the other writers and we talked, shared our stories, listened and sort of workshopped ideas together. There’s something magic that happens at Varuna and I’m sure the spirit of Eleanor Dark hovers in that lounge room helping writers to connect in very deep and personal ways.

How did you land a publication deal?

Just submitted it to Scribe. Simple as that. I was also going to submit it for the Text YA prize. Scribe rang me and said “Please don’t submit to Text.” It was the best day ever! I was pregnant and teaching full time and I was at school when I got the call from Scribe. I walked back into the staff room and clambered my big pregnant body onto the staffroom table and just stood there like a gold medal Olympian up on the dais. I was so darn proud of myself. Everyone thought I’d finally lost my mind completely.

Mrs Finlay – did you ever have a teacher like her?

*smile* I worked with a teacher like Ms Finlay. She was amazeballs.

What’s next for GJ Stroud?

You tell me and we’ll both know! I’ve got another YA fiction that’s looking for a home. Its pathway to publication has not been as straightforward as Measuring Up’s but I have confidence that the Universe will help that story find it’s place.

I’ll be at the Byron Bay Writer’s Festival later this year as a guest on their 555 Roadshow AND at the Festival proper. That’s like a big WHOA moment for me.

I’m working on a novel about Post-Natal depression too – for adults of course. I blog regularly on my website, write freelance for some mags and journals. And endless other stories are constantly squirming inside me and vying for my attention.
I guess it’s just watch this space for me right now. I’m open to anything!

A huge thank you to Gab for joining me on ANI. Readers can visit GJ Stroud’s Goodreads page or head over to her blog to check out more of what she’s been up to.

Review – Withering Rose

 

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Title                      Withering Rose
Author                  Kaitlyn Davis
Source                  NetGalley
Genre                   YA Fantasy/Retelling

Withering Rose is the second book in the Once Upon a Curse series by Kaitlyn Davis and is a re-interpretation of Beauty and the Beast. While the framework of the timeless fairytale is evident, the setting of Withering Rose allows Davis to add a range of new complications to the storyline.

Book One in the series, Gathering Frost, was a loose interpretation of Snow White and book three continues with the fairytale theme. Strong heroines, swoon-worthy heroes with a heart of gold, and the all important curse ensures magic wielders have a struggle on their hands.

The premise for this book is interesting. A fantasy medieval-like world with magic at its heart has literally collided with modern-day Earth. The people from the two worlds struggle to reconcile their belief in magic. It is a clash of worlds in an almost post-apocalyptic landscape. Monarchs with magic verse armies with ammunition.

In Withering Rose, the curse on Omorose’s magic is a killer and if that’s not hard enough, she and her father are hiding in plain sight in a military command centre. Suppressing her magic is almost as consuming as dealing with the snarky kids in her class. An opportunity for escape presents itself and Omorose finds herself in the Kingdom of the Beast.

Knowledge of the fairytale gives the reader a sense of expectation about the relationship between Omorose and the Beast. While there are the anticipated elements to the story, there are still many unknowns that kept me hooked until the end.

In the children’s story, a witch casts a spell and the beast has until the last petal falls from an enchanted rose to break the curse. This curse, and the process of the rose withering away, is re-imagined in a clever way. This story also avoids the Stockholm Syndrome that so many versions of Beauty and the Beast rely on.

It does, to my delight, stay faithful to the inclusion of the library.

This was a good read. Both book one and two were an enjoyable adventure through a chaotic new world. Book three, Chasing Midnight, is scheduled for release in 2017 and until then, I’m going to work my way through Kaitlyn Davis’ back catalogue.

I Heart Aussie YA #3

I am featuring Australian YA books so I can convince teens of Australia to give them a go. Heck, readers don’t have to be teens – or even Australian for that matter.

Title:  Life In Outer Space
Author: Melissa Keil
Publisher: Hardie Grant Egmont
Genre: YA Contemporary Romance

Melissa Keil’s Life In Outer Space is one of my favourite Aussie YA books. I loved this book so much that I’m already imagining myself going back for a re-read. I finished reading it just before bed but didn’t want to go to sleep and lose all the ‘warm and fuzzies’ it gave me.

Keil’s writing makes every situation real – I kept pausing throughout the book to reflect on all the people I know who could actually be those characters.

Not being a boy, I don’t really know how accurate Sam’s POV narration was but to my limited expertise he was spot on. His teenage male cluelessness about girls was perfect. Camilla’s cool charm and self-assuredness made me adore her and wish I could have been her when I was at school.

This book made me laugh – not something I do very often whilst reading. It has some of the funniest lines I’ve ever read. Keil’s writing style is delightfully funny and absolutely real.

Title:    The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl
Author:  Melissa Keil
Publisher:  Hardie Grant Egmont
Genre: YA Contemporary Romance

The familiarity of Keil’s characters quickly transported me. These were characters I’m certain have walked through my life at some stage. Keil has captured the timeless struggle of those finishing school and casting their eyes towards the next great life adventure. The excitement and dread of life irrevocably changing regardless of whether or not you want it to.

Like Life in Outer Space, TIAoCG was an easy read. It was like snuggling up in your favourite trackies – warm, comfy and safe. It felt as though my teenage years were giving me a hug.

This second offering proves she is an author with flair and one whose career I will be following with anticipation.

Try these books if you liked Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell or Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins.

I Heart Aussie YA #2

I am featuring Australian YA books so I can convince teens of Australia to give them a go. Heck, readers don’t have to be teens – or even Australian for that matter.

Title                             Liberated (Book three in The Guardians Series)
Author                        MJ Stevens
Publisher                   Self Published

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Last Christmas I was lucky enough to receive a copy of Liberated by MJ Stevens in exchange for an honest review. Aside from the joy of receiving books in the mail (is there anything better?) I was keen to discover what fate would befall Mellea in this final instalment of The Guardian Series.

I do adore stories about the average girl being swept into a royal world. There’s excitement, there’s nerves, there’s passion – what’s not to love? Books one and two in this series gave all that and hooked me in.

Similarities exist between MJ Stevens’ The Guardian Series and Marrisa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles. Both explore the reactions of society to those whose bodies have been mechanically altered to be stronger, faster, better. In the Lunar Chronicles, these people are called cyborgs. In The Guardian Series, they are MECHS. Both are shunned by society but, unlike Myer’s lead, Cinder, Stevens’ central protagonist in Mellea – an everyday small town girl who is thrust into the prestigious world of the ruling elite.

The final book in the series, Liberated, focuses on the building conflict between the MECHS, the Guardians and the ever changing, ever evil, Doctor. The people of Poridos are losing faith in the Guardians’ ability to protect them from the MECHS. Villages are being wiped out and confidence in the ruling elite is at an all time low. Threats on the Guardian’s lives are happening all to often. Mellea must navigate this new climate all the while learning how to be part of the Successor’s world.

The book explores the dangers of giving religious extremists a voice, acceptance and intolerance and of course, trying to find your place in the world. It’s a strong end to the series. It answers all the questions and takes some unexpected turns. The only area in this book that didn’t live up to the previous two was the development of the relationship between Mellea and Leo. I loved in the first two books how their trust in each other grew and the steps they took back and forth towards a caring relationship. In Liberated, the relationship took second place to all the drama and action the Guardians were facing. Okay, that may seem like a real-life reasonable thing to happen but I wanted to experience how that could relationship grow further. I wanted to see how Leo continued to struggle with his image, his role as a Successor and work out how to be a boyfriend. I admit it – I wanted more swoon!

The verdict? This makes the list of Aussie YA to check out. If you haven’t already, add the first book in the series, Bound, to your TBR.

Try this book if you liked The Selection Series and the Lunar Chronicles.

I Heart Aussie YA # 1

I am featuring Australian YA books so I can convince teens of Australia to give them a go. Heck, readers don’t have to be teens – or even Australian for that matter.

Title                                             State of Grace
Author                                         Hilary Badger
Publisher                                    Hardie Grant Egmont
Genre                                          YA Dystopia

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There’s something exciting about delving into a novel you have know nothing about. State of Grace by Hilary Badger is published in Australia by Hardie Grant Egmont. That and the gorgeous launch party pics posted on the HGE twitter feed were all I had to go on. Knowing HGE are responsible for the publication of works such as Melissa’s Kiel’s Life in Outer Space and Erin Gough’s The Flywheel, I knew there had to be something special about it.

And there is. It is different. Part dystoian, part utopian, State of Grace explores perceptions of happiness and the lengths we will go to ensure a life of joy. Straight away, we are thrust into the world of Wren, where everything is completely perfect, dotly if you will. But why is it perfect? Why does it need to be? What is the perfection and joy hiding? These are the questions that kept me enthralled.

While the themes explored are certainly not new, they embrace issues the reader can connect with at any age. And though the issues are intense ones, it is not an intense read. In fact, there is much joy and beauty between the pages.

Read more about State of Grace on the Goodreads page.

I Heart Aussie YA

Aussie YA Books

Aussie YA is fantastic.

Over the past few years I’ve been working on spreading the word to some of my students about how great Aussie YA is. Some have embraced the titles suggested and have been pleasantly surprised. Others shake their heads and back away slowly.
This makes me ask, why?

These are students who love reading. They are excited to get together each week and share their latest YA love. Yet Aussie YA has them turning their noses up. On further investigation, most students haven’t read much Aussie YA, and what they have (usually only the Tomorrow When the War Began series by John Marsden, they loved. So why the fear? Why are young Australians so hesitant to pick up a home grown book?

This snubbing of Australian work is not new. When I was younger I worked in a cinema. Patrons would come and ask what a film was about and I would say, “It’s a new Australian film…” “Oh, never mind then,” would be the response before I could even say what it was about. We don’t even want to give it a go and we are seriously missing out!

We have excellent YA writers here in Australia and they deserve more attention. Their books deserve to be read just as much as their international counterparts.

This brings me to my mission. I am going to feature Australian YA books until I can convince teens of Australia to give them a go. Heck, readers don’t have to be teens – or even Australian for that matter.

Here are some of the books I will be featuring:

The Rephaim Series by Paula Western

Life in Outer Space and The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl by Melissa Keil

Measuring Up by G J Stroud

Akarnae by Lynette Noni

Mercy by Rebecca Lim

The Guardians Series by MJ Stevens

Green Valentine by Lili Wilkenson

Every Breath by Ellie Marney

The Book of Days by K.A. Barker

Burn Bright (Night Creatures) by Marianne de Pierres

The Starbound Series by Amie Kaufman

 

I’m also open to suggestions. Know any Aussie YA books I need to read?

Top Ten Most Anticipated Releases For the Rest of 2015

 toptentuesday

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

The second half of 2015 is looking good for book releases. Here’s my top ten:

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  1. Queen of Shadows by Sarah J Maas releases September 1 and I. Can. Not. Wait. You know it’s a good year when there are two Maas book releases in one year!

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  1. Ice Like fire by Sara Raasch releases on October 13.

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  1. Carry On by Rainbow Rowell is released October 6th. I wonder if Cath would be as excited as I am about this book from the world of Simon and Baz.

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  1. The Lake House by Kate Morton is scheduled for release in October.

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  1. Winter by Marissa Myer is released November 10.

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  1. Frozen Tide (Falling Kingdoms #4) by Morgan Rhodes is released 15th December.

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  1. Never Forgotten by Stacey Nash is scheduled for release in September.

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  1. Die for Me by K.A. Last is released… um, I don’t actually know if it is this year but I hope so! Also, the cover for the next instalment of the Tate Chronicles hasn’t been released yet so above is the previous book.

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  1. City of Mirrors by Justin Cronin is released on October 22. This book will be hot property in my house upon its release date. Note  – City of Mirrors is now due for release in June 2016.

Liberated 2015

  1. Liberated by MJ Stevens is scheduled for release in November.

What’s on your most anticipated list?