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.

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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.

GJ Stroud

GJ Stroud

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?

Sarah, Sara and Super Cool MCs

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“The Assassin” Fan art by walkingnorth

When I finished reading Snow Like Ashes by Sara Raasch I just wanted to tell everyone about it. The strangers at the supermarket were not impressed, so it’s up to you, dear blog reader, to experience my excitement at one of my favourite reads of 2014.

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Snow Like Ashes is set in a world where magic is controlled by each kingdom’s reigning monarch. This power was unbalanced when Spring’s king murdered Winter’s queen, destroyed their magical conduit and enslaved all Winterians.

I haven’t been this excited about a series since Sarah J Maas’s Throne of Glass and, not surprisingly, similarities exist between Meria and Celaena Sardothian. Both are blonde, beautiful and deadly. Both are trained fighters who do not shy from battle. Both have a wicked sense of humour. Both have had the people of their land murdered and enslaved by a cruel and corrupted king.

Despite the similarities, the storyline and the characters of Meria and Celaena, head in different directions. Celaena is a trained assassin and employed by the king. Meira, one of two dozen refugees who managed to flee the destruction of the kingdom of Winter, is an orphan who has spent sixteen years on the move, learning about her lost homeland through shared memories and campfire stories.

Celaena wants revenge. Meira wants to matter.

It’s hard to pin point exactly why these books grab me more than others. To weeks earlier I read The Young Elites by Marie Lu. Her Legend books are great and I eagerly anticipated her next series. Unfortunately The Young Elites left me disappointed. My problem wasn’t with the writing or even the storyline – both were good. It was the main character I couldn’t connect with. I realise she was struggling with the darkness within her but there was little in her personality to redeem her. I didn’t want Enzo to develop feelings for her because, well, she was a bit of a jerk. To be truthful, I could understand where the monarchy was coming from wanting to remove people with dangerous abilities. This made me cross; I didn’t want to side with the “bad guys”. I certainly did not approve of their methods, but Adelina had a dangerous ability, was not a very nice person, and was known to put people’s lives in danger.

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Celaena Sardothian struggled with her own darkness in Maas’ Heir of Fire. Hers was a journey so emotionally exhausting and all-absorbing that my own mood became an extension of hers. Much to my family’s displeasure. Sorry family. Even so, for every one of her character flaws, she had a redeeming feature. I wanted her to succeed.

Meria too, she’s young and desperate for acknowledgement that she is capable and that she can help Winter but her desperation is tempered by her determination and self assurance that she knows what she wants.

I was elated to learn that Throne of Glass is a series of six books. I’m just as excited to follow Meria’s journey. Thank you Sarah J. Maas and Sara Raasch, for writing such kick-arse characters.

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As for the Young Elites – maybe I’m just not ready for a YA anti-heroine.

January Sequel Joy

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This morning I woke up to an email from a book store informing me that my pre-ordered copy of Fight For Me by K.A. Last was available for download. Woohoo! I’ve been eagerly anticipating the second book in the Tate Chronicles so much so that I may have tried pre-ordering it more than once. Turns out that does not help the release date arrive any faster.
So now that it’s mine, should I halt the book I’m halfway through and pick up again with the Tate Chronicles? I think… yes.

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Another sequel on my radar is that of Isla’s Oath by Cassandra Page. Book two in the Isla’s Inheritance series is released January 20.

If you want to read some Aussie paranormal YA lit that holds its own against the big international titles then check out Fall for Me and Isla’s Inheritance. You won’t regret it!

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So after all the release excitement of the next three days, we then have The Mime Order by Samantha Shannon releasing on January 27th. The Mime Order is the sequel to Shannon’s The Bone Season. The Bone Season is unique and strange and different and I loved it. I’m looking forward to continuing the journey.

After all this sequel anticipation I’m going to need a holiday to recover. Oh wait, I’ve just had six weeks off and am heading back to work on Monday. *sigh* Oh well, I guess I can squeeze some work in around reading.

“How’s the novel coming along?”

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“How’s the novel coming along?”

I love and loathe that question. I love it because it shows that the person asking is interested in my writing and my writing is my passion. How great is it when someone remembers what you are passionate about?

The problem is the inevitable follow up question: “So, when is it being published?”

Oh if only it were that simple. The road to publication is a long drawn out process but not one that people outside of the industry are always familiar with. Many people have heard the tale of J.K. Rowling being rejected by 12 publishers before landing a deal for Harry Potter. It’s a good way of putting it in perspective for those oblivious to the inner workings of the publishing world. I like to mention Rowling and then admit I’ve only had four rejections, I need to earn a lot more than that before I find a home for my book.

The other issue is that I’ve fallen in love again and am now seeing new characters. When I wrote Life Without Clouds, it was an all consuming process. I was completely caught up in the story and had to make an effort to participate in everyday life. It took me around two and a half months to write it, six months to edit it and then, well, I tried writing other things but the thrill wasn’t there. I fumbled my way through ideas hoping that the love would come. It was like going on blind dates in the hope that someone would be compatible. They weren’t.

It was the week before Christmas past when I saw her. I was in my favourite indie bookshop when this girl walked past me. My breath caught. I may have followed her around the stacks for a bit (poor kid). There was something about her that made my fingertips twitch. She had to be my next main character. I don’t know who she was and I probably wouldn’t recognise her again if I saw her, but those few (kind of weird stalkery) moments were enough. My next story was born.

Now I have a group of characters that excite and ignite my writing passion. I have a plot line with twists and whirls and spins and turns. I have one hell of a cool main character. Her name is Leighton and she is a demon hunter. I am head over heels in love with my new WIP.

So be prepared. If you ask me, ‘How’s the novel coming along?’ expect to have this lovestruck lass talk your ear off about bloodlines and demons and high school. Oh, and about the girl in the black and white striped knee-high socks who walked past me in a book store.