Tuesday, 12 February 2019

Book Review: When You Read This by Mary Adkins

When You Read This by Mary Adkins is a novel with an interesting format. The entire novel is written in email snippets between a variety of people. Adkins is a playwright and it feels a bit like reading a play - it isn't seamless reading, you have to stop and double check the sender and recipient of each email before you keep going. This does take a bit of getting used to but Adkins slips in some pretty great treats in there, spam from dating services and gambling sites are an accurate nod to the state of plenty of inboxes!

Iris is in her early 30s and dying of lung cancer. She writes on a website called Dying to Blog, where she finds comfort in others on a similar journey. She also works at a small and struggling brand management company as an assistant to her boss Smith.

A while after Iris has passed away, Smith hires a (quite hilarious) ambitious young intern called Carl who discovers his predecessor and determines that her blog should most definitely be published. Unfortunately the copyright to the blog lies with Iris's sister Jade, who isn't taking her death very well and refuses to hand over the rights.

Smith and Jade begin emailing each other and find solace in their common grief. They both have family baggage and this shapes a lot of their conversation, along with processing what Iris may have wanted them to do as they continue their lives without her.

This isn't a sad book, I found the email format takes away a lot of the emotion that you would get when you are in a characters head. But I don't think that detracts from the book at all, it just gives a different perspective, more like what we let others see. Or the fact that emails can be drafted, scrapped and rewritten so we can say what needs to be said rather than something spur of the moment.

The characters are full of emotion however, and the processing and decisions that are made in the wake of a death seem to be quite accurate. Smith worked with Iris for quite a long time and their friendship was quite unique. Jade helped Iris at the end and struggles with the fact that Iris didn't fight harder, and left big dreams behind. Carl is just a great point of difference when he pops up in the narrative and is so oblivious to most things.

I quite enjoyed this novel, even though it is different to what I would usually read. I don't think the blurb accurately conveys the plot but I did like what I read and the format makes it quite quick to get through. I think it concludes quickly but ties up the loose threads. I liked that the characters are more than a little flawed and that cancer and death are dealt with in a raw and real, but not soppy way.
It also highlights the journey that grief can take people through and that it can be something done separately or together at different stages.

When You Read This is published by Hachette and is available from February 12.

Thanks to Hachette for my review copy of this book!

Wednesday, 23 January 2019

Book Review *NZ AUTHOR* The Rift by Rachael Craw

You probably know by now that I have a soft spot for local authors. I found Rachael Craw through her previous trilogy: Spark, Stray and Shield. You can read my review here.

After following her on social media I became curious about her newest novel - The Rift. It seemed totally different to her previous offerings and I was intrigued. I have just finished the novel and I must say that I am sad to say goodbye to these characters, they are very well written and have found a place in my heart. I am sure I am not alone in having my fingers and toes crossed for a follow-up.

The Rift is a Young Adult fantasy novel set on Black Water Island. The island is laced with magical ley lines and is home to the Old Herd, deer who's horns have amazing healing powers and can communicate to the Rangers who protect them through telepathy. These Rangers live on the island and ensure that none of the ancient Old Herd are hurt by Rift Hounds, other-worldly demon dogs who can only be seen by those who have Rift Sight. These hounds appear when the moon is full and the Rift on the island opens.

Cal is an apprentice Ranger who has an unusual set of powers that came about from a Hound bite when he was young. Meg was injured at the same time as Cal but has lived on the Mainland until recently. As Meg returns, tensions arise from the Head Ranger's dealings with Nutris - a pharmaceutical company trying to capitalize on the powerful deer horn.
Meg has always wanted to be a Ranger but has no training, Cal is being pushed into something he doesn't want, and Meg and Cal have a connection that is more than electric. They must work through physical and psychological wounds to save the Head Ranger and the Old Herd as the Rift opens for its most dangerous time yet.

This novel dives straight into the intricacies of Black Water Island and the first third of the book feels like you are running to catch up with the story. The world is well constructed and conjures beautiful imagery of New Zealand-esque scenery - with thermal pools and a rugged, harsh landscape. The fantasy-side of the story takes a little to get your head around, but it doesn't make it any less mind-blowing. As I read the book, I was transported to the island and I could clearly see everything in my mind. It takes a great wordsmith to bring a world to life, and Rachael does this so well.

I loved the characters of Meg and Cal. They are both so intense and physically and mentally scarred which creates a broody mood that is eased by Meg's humor and quick wit. Meg is a great female lead who isn't afraid to get dirty and shows plenty of courage. There is a bit of PG romance that compliments the intense action plot well. The novel really ramps up on the tension-scale and has some great twists that surprised me. I did feel that one of the major plot lines was left unresolved, hence the request for a sequel.

I could go on and on but I won't. You will just have to find out yourself. The Rift gets a huge go-and-read-this-now tick from me!

As a bonus, I messaged Rachael with a typo I found - she replied straight away and proved me wrong, turns out there is a weird turn-of-phrase that both she and I think is just so wrong but her editor and the Macquarie Dictionary says is right - check out her post below:

Who knew?

Anyway, if you are in the mood for a faced-paced action novel with zombie space dogs, then get your hands on this book. Keep em' coming Rachael!

Tuesday, 1 January 2019

2018 Makes

As 2018 has drawn to a close, I thought I'd do my usual round up of crafty things I got up to this year in between study, work, parenting and general life! Most of my crafting happens between 8pm-12am when the small one sleeps. I enjoy that time, the quietness of the end of the day. It is also why most of my photos are pretty terrible - they have been taken pretty close to midnight in low light! I like keeping my hands busy and so I keep find new ways to challenge my hands and mind.
Buckle up guys, this post is a long one.

I'll post my photos in categories to satisfy the librarian in me.

First up is Coats and Vests. I make these to order through my little Amy & Addy side-gig. They also make great gifts for little ones so many of these have been gifted as well.

Awhi Coat Pattern from https://belowthekowhai.nz/ - my friend Sophie designs them!

Next up - Hot Water Bottle Covers. These are so cute, I'm a huge sucker for a fox and general woodland creatures so these are right up my alley. The pattern is fun to hack too so there are a few interesting versions in the photo round up.

Thunderbird 4 Hottie cover

Hottie pattern mashed into some Christmas stockings
Next up is other sewing items. I dabble.

Another https://belowthekowhai.nz/ pattern

Sadly the best photo I got of this awesome fox quilt for my friends wee girl

The Manuka Skirt by https://belowthekowhai.nz/

This is a custom cushion for my in-law's caravan they named 'Nampara'

Go ahead and laugh, these are custom towel ponchos for my ocean loving friend

Second poncho in progress

Super awesome and sturdy wing pattern. They use layers of stiff interfacing to keep their shape.

Larger size wings

Fluoro wings
Crochet crafts - I took a big break from crochet this year, every so often I feel the desire to whip out a project and it is starting to come back to me now!

Crochet T-Rex

Reusable shopping bag
Miscellaneous projects

$5 artwork before...

... And after with a little (a lot) of white spraypaint

Felt headband

Paper flowers

String art
If you made it this far then well done! I want to say a huge THANK YOU to everyone who has supported me in 2018 in any way. Thanks for trusting me with your requests and believing in me when sometimes I don't. I look forward to another year of learning and making in as many forms as I can.


Sunday, 30 December 2018

Book Review: All The Other Days by Jack Hartley *NZ AUTHOR*

When I recently started my job, I heard through the grapevine that one of my colleagues had just published his debut young adult novel. Well colour me interested, it does make the reading experience different when you know (however closely) the author. Jack Hartley is 22 and first started writing this novel when he was 17. I'm impressed. At 17 I was only just going on my first aeroplane trip!
I missed out on his book launch but I put a hold on his book and I spent all last night reading it.

Some background from CCL's blog:
  • All The Other Days was first written as a screenplay then adapted into the novel recently. 
  • Hartley wanted to try and accurately portray a genuine male voice in YA (Young Adult) literature because he couldn't find any books that did.
  • Hartley has a Psychology degree that helped him shape his characters.
  • All The Other Days has themes around mental health and what that can look like from a young person's perspective.
 Judd is seventeen and is one of the awkward, quiet guys at school. His passion is drawing and he uses this to help him escape from his parents fighting at home. He documents his life in his art, in his room the happy drawings go on one side, the sad ones on the other. Then one day he sees Kate and his life is changed. Kate is his perfect movie love-story but eventually reality catches up with him and what is real and what is imaginary becomes blurred.

Kate is drawn into this blurry world and seemingly impossible things start happening in her dreams and when she is awake. But one thing is for sure, when Judd and Kate's paths cross, an important connection is made that changes both their lives.

I read this book in one sitting, it is a definite page-turner. Recently I have been reading Young Adult fiction with female protagonists so it was refreshing to have a male perspective. I think Hartley nailed it when he aimed to write Judd as a genuine YA male voice. Not that I can speak from experience but the way Judd thinks and relates to his peers and is so very young-and-innocent-yet-trying-desperately-to-fit-in. He also shows such care and devotion to his mother and has a real desire to protect her from his dad. There are plenty of pop-culture references to music and movies which is very reminiscent to my time in high school where I would listen to a lot of older classics and music was a big part of my life.

There is a huge mental health theme within the novel, not only with Judd but with his parents too. Some of the novel is written from the perspective of Judd's mother and her mental health spiral is raw and confronting. I think books like this are important to highlight the internal struggle and ups and downs that anxiety and depression can cause.

There is a mind-bending real/not real aspect to this book which adds a needed depth to the high school love story. This stayed with me once I had finished and is one of the greatest parts of the book. I had no idea where the story would end up and the conclusion did not disappoint.

After reading a lot of YA fiction that is written by older writers, All The Other Days feels like the words are a little clunky and unrefined. However, I do think this adds to the young voice of Judd and makes his perspective come across as more accurate. I also found a few typos and grammatical errors that distracted me. Aside from that I have so much respect for Jack to have a published novel!

Go and seek out this book, it is a great read with a lot of facets to it. I also hear Jack has two more books in the works - I look forward to reading those when they are ready.

Monday, 25 June 2018

Book Review: Three Little Lies by Laura Marshall

Three Little Lies is the second novel by Laura Marshall. Her debut, Friend Request, was a great read and I eagerly put my hand up to review her newest offering. Staying firmly in the thriller/crime thriller genre, this novel leaves you guessing.

Ellen and Sasha flat together in London, still friends since high school ended 10 years ago, and bonded by a traumatic event that lead to their friend Karina being raped and them testifying against the rapist - Sasha's god-brother Daniel. 10 years later Sasha goes missing and Ellen fears the worst, Daniel is out of prison, is he after them?
Ellen re-opens old relationships to try and figure out what has happened to Sasha and not everyone is as they seem. Ellen quickly realizes that she doesn't know Sasha as well as she thought. As the story is told, the past is revealed and there are three little lies that have shaped the story and now put Ellen in danger.

I found the introduction of this novel quite confusing. It flicks between timelines and character's viewpoints regularly and I felt that I spent the first few chapters trying to figure out who was who and what was going on. This sorted itself out by about 5 or 6 chapters in. The main viewpoints are from Ellen and Olivia, and Karina has a few chapters too.
The format of the novel I have a sort of love/hate relationship with. It is done often, especially in crime writing, where it is set in the present but flicks between 2 other time periods from events in the past, each of which are written by both Olivia and Ellen. It means you need to pay particular attention to the dates at the beginning of each chapter. I do like the reveal factor of this format though, it means that the story is very much given piece-by-piece.

As far as characters go, Ellen, Sasha and Karina all have quite annoying traits. None of them are particularly endearing and I wasn't particularly invested in any of them. But the hook was what got me, what happened to Sasha? Clearly the title suggests that there has been three little lies told and therein lies the mystery. Despite my misgivings, I ended up engrossed and couldn't put the book down. I was not disappointed by the twists, and I liked that the story had evolved into something much bigger than just a girl disappearing. Especially a girl that is frankly, a bit annoying. But waiting to find out what the three little lies are keeps the intrigue going and the read worthwhile.

So overall, yes I do recommend this book, stick with it and you will be glad you did. 

Thanks to Hachette New Zealand for the review copy of this book.

Friday, 8 June 2018

Book Review: War Storm (Red Queen Book #4) by Victoria Aveyard

What a book. Now before I start, let me preface with the fact that this is book #4, the final in the Red Queen series. There will probably be spoilers so if you are interested in a YA novel about kings and war, people who have x-men-like abilities along with a strong female protagonist and a rebellion for a great cause then you will enjoy this series. Start with Red Queen, Glass Sword, Kings Cage and if you want the extra for experts then there are two short novellas from other characters perspectives together in a volume called Cruel Crown. 

I started reading this series earlier this year and I got hooked. I didn't quite time it right and had to wait a couple of months for this final installment which was hard! There is also so much going on in these books that I had to go back and read some summaries of the previous book to remember as #4 just jumps right in from where #3 ends.

If I was to pull a super brief summary to get us to the beginning of War Storm, it would go something like this: *SPOILER ALERT*

Mare Barrow is a Red. She has red blood, and lives each day in a small village, stealing and scrounging for her family's next meal. She hopes to get a job to avoid conscription to the army where a seemingly never-ending war wages in a neighboring land. Reds are ruled by Silvers. Their blood is silver and they have abilities: Magnetrons can manipulate metal, Strongarms are super strong, Whispers can manipulate thoughts, Nymphs can manipulate water etc. Because Silvers have these abilities they have ended up being the rulers of the kingdoms, with King Tiberius the Sixth as the King of Norta. Silvers > Reds so reds are the servants essentially.

The king has two sons and there is a battle of abilities of all the eligible Silver ladies a la Hunger Games. Mare meets Cal, the Tiberius heir when he is disguised as a Red and he gets her a cushy servant job at his palace. She ends up watching this battle and gets caught up in the action. She finds herself in the arena and manages to save herself with her previously unknown lightning powers. A Red with abilities is unheard of so she is quickly transformed into a 'lost Silver princess, raised as a Red girl' to keep up appearances for the King and his court. Mare is not a super huge fan of this but goes along with it because it allows her to feed inside information to the Scarlet Guard, an underground rebellion who want to overthrow the king. There is also a love triangle going on between Mare and the two princes, Cal and Maven.

There is betrayal from one of the brothers, Mare escapes, discovers there are others like her and sets off to find them, meets opposition and has some epic battles, a few people die. Then the books get pretty political and it becomes all about alliances and war strategies and the love triangle of course. Mare is captured and tortured by one of the brothers (one of them has a very twisted way of showing his love). Mare escapes again with a huge effort from her friends, and Mare is finally together with one of the brothers. Mare is betrayed again when that brother chooses the crown over her and she keeps on fighting for her cause.

That brings us to War Storm. Obviously there is way more to it than that but I would be here a long time! I actually managed to get through that without too many spoilers.

War Storm has a slow start which took me a while to get into. There is a lot of political talk which is one of my least favourite topics and a lot of moping going on from Mare. We do get this story from other characters points of view which probably saves this book for me. We hear from both Cal and Maven, Evangeline, a Magnetron from vaguely royal lineage who has been a thorn in Mare's side but has a change of heart in this book, and Iris, a Nymph Princess who is married to Maven for her family's own sneaky ambitions. There is plotting, scheming, backstabbing, kidnapping and fighting between the various alliances. Maven is always a few steps ahead which makes the progress slow but eventually the tides turn (that is a really funny saying that you will laugh at after you read the book by the way).

Obviously as the final book there needs to be a conclusion of both the romantic story and the overall story. These were both resolved in an OK way. I wasn't overwhelmed by how amazing the ending was, it was pretty predictable but I was happy with the way they left the story. As for the romantic wrap-up, it wasn't filled with warm fuzzies but was probably a more realistic ending for them.

Overall I feel like War Storm was a good final book. It is a massive door-stop of a novel and is pretty much 40% politics 50% fighting and 10% for the rest of the storyline. I am conflicted because I didn't enjoy a lot of this book but I enjoyed the overall story. Each character is so overwhelmingly flawed that you have a bit of a love/hate relationship with them all. Except for maybe Kilorn. And Farley.

 I think I managed to give a brief but accurate overview of the series so if it peaks your interest then check it out and if not, I'll stop rambling.

War Storm is out now. Thanks to Hachette for the review copy of this book.

Sunday, 20 May 2018

Book Review: Every Thing About You by Heather Child

Every Thing About You is a debut novel by Heather Child. Touted as a sort of Black Mirror mixed with Gone Girl, this a slightly futuristic thriller that is eerily plausible if technology continues as we know it.

Freya is working a deadbeat job where she fears she will be replaced by sales robots who can mine data about a customer and tailor the service to their needs. This is a future where virtual reality is commonplace and used for escapism or fantasies. Where your digital footprint is used in every aspect of your life, using data to predict your needs like what to order for lunch or what outfit you should wear for a date. Smartspecs are VR glasses that overlay information to what you see, like showing a trail leading you home, or covering graffiti with flowers. Freya has recently acquired a digital assistant that only she can hear, who is designed to make whatever Freya wants happen. The only problem is, her assistant has the voice of her sister Ruby who disappeared 8 years ago. Freya still holds out hope that Ruby is alive somewhere, so when her assistant seems to know more about Ruby than she should, Freya goes on a mission to try and track her down.

This obsession leads Freya into some dark places, including Yearnfield, a virtual landscape where not everyone is as they seem and can become quite addictive. Freya needs to learn whether or not she can trust the information that is being fed to her.

This book was very fascinating, especially in terms of the technology that has been created. The way that Heather Child created a world where this tech was integrated well into everyday life is impressive and seems very plausible. I found that the tech was talked about quite a lot and it almost was too much to remember. I found Freya to be an interesting character, who clearly has some issues and struggles to manage the tech integration. The overall feel of the novel was quite disjointed, there were a lot of aspects to work in and I don't think they resolved as well as they could, or even flowed together well throughout the book. I was intrigued enough to finish the book, it did get pretty dark at times but thankfully not in a sexual way, although this was alluded to at times.

I wasn't overly satisfied with the conclusion, the big questions were answered but so many other little things were left unexplained or things seemed to be thrown in just for the sake of semi-resolving a character's story. Overall though, this novel was an eye-opening view into what could come, and it definitely makes you think twice about the data you create online. Worth a read if this kind of thing intrigues you.

Available now from book retailers.
Thanks to Hachette for a review copy of this book.