Review: Heretics Anonymous by Katie Henry


I had a suspicion I’d love Heretics Anonymous by Katie Henry before I even started and…I was not wrong. It’s such an excellent story, equal parts funny and heartwarming and also a deep exploration of a lot of the double-standards of religious schools. It also features enough gruesome facts about Catholic Saints to remind me of my childhood days reading all the Horrible History books. Good times. What a throwback

The story starts with Michael, a definite atheist, being sent to a Catholic school and woah does he think he’s in for a terrible time. He’s already mad at his parents for constantly moving (his dad keeps taking work promotions and is never home anyway) and Michael is sick of trying to make new friends and go to new schools. A devout Catholic school might be the worst yet…until he meets Lucy, the girl who wants to be a priest, and her tight-knit friend group of religious misfits like Avi who is Jewish and gay and Eden, a Wiccan. Turns out they run a secret club called Heretics Anonymous where they mostly complain about the injustices of the school, the ridiculous uniform regulations, the unfair sexism, and how acceptance should be spread more freely. But what if they didn’t just complain? What if they acted subtly and anonymously on their outrage? It starts small but the Heretics Anonymous club is here to shake up the school. Unless they take it too far…

The book is definitely heavily religious. It’s set in a Catholic school and talks a lot about what Catholics believe, but I didn’t feel it ever went preachy or dry. The book isn’t trying to convert anyone to anything (not Catholicism or atheistic beliefs). It’s simply showing a vast variety of beliefs and calling for acceptance. I liked how this one pointed out hypocrisy within the church rules, but it never condemned or showed any side as being “in the wrong”. The balance was great. I loved all these perspectives.

The characters were a definite highlight too! Even though I picked up the book because the plot sounded good, it was the characters that totally won my heart over. Michael is an easily relatable and wining character. He makes several very bad decisions, but you still understand where he’s coming from. His dad is overly hard and dismissive to him, Michael’s sick of being lonely, and being uprooted and taken all over the country isn’t easy on anyone.

The secondary characters all felt dynamic and complex within just a few chapters! I adored getting to know Lucy, Avi, Eden and Max. The diversity levels were on point and so respectfully done with Lucy being Colombian, Avi being Jewish, and I suspect Max may have been autistic although it’s not stated on the page. Lucy is such an intense Catholic, but not blind to their failings, and it really pains her that she can never really help her church because she’s not allowed to as a girl. Her relationship with Michael is definitely slowburn and adorable. And the friend-group’s banter and loyalty (and also betrayals) were so addictive to read!

It does get intense when it goes into talking about theology a few times, and we get loaded up on religious facts. But I felt I also learned a lot about what people believe.

Overall? Heretics Anonymous excellent story you don’t want to miss out on. It’s full of funny and endearing characters, lines that had me snorting, and a super cute romance that didn’t take over the plot. All the hot-headed moments that ended in dubious decisions had me unable to put the book down, desperate to know what would happen. For like, um, 2hrs. You just have to keep reading!

Review: Hangman by Jack Heath & The Perfect Girlfriend by Karen Hamilton

I’ve read two debut thrillers this month I’d like to share.

The first is by Australian author Jack Heath who has published over 20 YA novels but has now burst onto the adult fiction scene in a very big way with Hangman.


Sociopath Tim Blake goes by the codename Hangman and is contracted by the FBI as a last resort for his crime solving genius in complex cases. His genius comes with a hefty price tag though and in a despicable arrangement known only to one person within the FBI, he is permitted to take a life for every one he saves.

Despite the unpalatable agreement, Tim Blake is an anti-hero you find yourself backing and the pace of the plot is equivalent to any James Patterson crime novel.

Hangman is the first in a gruesomely dark series to feature Tim Blake and I can’t wait to find out what happens next. Warning: you’ll need a strong stomach though.

Hangman has also been optioned for television by the ABC in USA so fingers crossed we see Tim Blake on the big screen soon.

The Perfect Girlfriend by Karen Hamilton is an explosive and impressive debut. Juliette is a sociopath and not coping well after her boyfriend Nate broke up with her six months ago. Juliette is determined to win Nate back at all odds, including joining his airline and training as an airline steward in order to be closer to him.

Juliette really will stop at nothing to achieve her goal, including a little digital stalking, breaking and entering and general harassment. And that’s just for starters. Her daring made me nervous and more than a little edgy at times and the pages flew by as I admired her ingenuity and cringed at her constant need for Nate.

Juliette’s obsession and stalking extends to a few supporting female characters and I hope I never come across a woman like her in real life. Juliette’s master plan is slowly revealed to the reader and her motivations come into shocking focus.

The author’s experience working as a cabin crew member in the airline industry has given her the tools to portray the industry encompassing both characters to perfection. I enjoyed this setting enormously and relished the details of their work schedule, airline culture and lifestyle.

The Perfect Girlfriend by Karen Hamilton is a psychological thriller and one of the most exciting books I’ve read this year.

For a debut this book is just astonishing

9781847081391Book Review – The Rehearsal by Eleanor Catton

After reading The Luminaries there was no way I wasn’t going to go back and read Eleanor Catton’s first novel. Book covers are often filled with blurbs (some more than others) and there is often a lot of hyperbole flying around. However after reading this book there are no exaggerations with the blurbs on the front and back of The Rehearsal.

For a debut this book is just astonishing. This is a book that challenges you as a reader and Catton has taken a number of risks. Risks I think many accomplished authors would be hesitant to take. And risks that pay off in spades.

Central to the novel is a sex scandal at a high school between a male music teacher and a female student. But it is the way Catton tells this story which will truly amaze you. The story is not told in a linear fashion. Catton jumps around a number of different perspectives as well as different points in time. While this can be confusing and requires a bit more concentration it has a profound effect on the story. Like any scandal, especially one in a school, the story is spread my many different people, in many different ways and the truth of what really happened gets blurred, discarded and picked up by others. Catton demonstrates this by exploring the story in the way she does.

The two main perspectives of the book alternate between girls’ lessons with a saxophone teacher and a first year student at a local drama college. The student characters of the novel are all in a state of rehearsal. Recital rehearsal, drama rehearsal, life rehearsal. But Catton shows a number of other rehearsals that continue to go one. The other clever device she uses is never to name the adults of the novel. The teacher involved in the sex scandal is named but the other teachers are always referred to by their teaching subjects never by name. This contributes to the sense of rehearsal, the roles of teachers are interchangeable, a part to be played.

Eleanor Catton is a writer like no other. She has the courage and skill to not only challenge you as a reader but also intrigue you and compel you to read more. Like with The Luminaries Catton doesn’t give you all the answers at the end of the book. It is up to you to digest what you have read, absorb it and make up your own mind which only some of the great books and authors ever pull off. And Eleanor Catton must surely be counted as a great writer even though her career is only really beginning.

Buy the book here…

Player Profile – Anthony Marra, author of A Constellation Of Vital Phenomena

Anthony_MarraAnthony Marra, author of A Constellation Of Vital Phenomena

Tell us about your latest creation:

My first novel, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, is set in Chechnya from 1994-2004. It follows a cast of ordinary civilians who attempt to transcend the wreckage of war as they search for, flee from, collide with, and find one another.

9781781090060Where are you from / where do you call home?:

I was born in Washington D.C., grew up there and in Maryland, went to college in Los Angeles and grad school in Iowa, and now live in Oakland.

When you were a kid, what did you want to become?  An author?:

What I was a kid I wanted to become a scientist of some sort. Paleontologist, marine biologist, molecular biologist, and astrophysicist were professions I aspired to from roughly ages 6-16. Unfortunately, you first have to pass calculus, which pretty much ended any ambitions for a future in the sciences.

When I was 16 or 17, I began writing short stories and quickly became hooked. That’s what I’ve been doing ever since.

What do you consider to be your best work? Why?:

Having only published one book, my choices are limited. But A Constellation of Vital Phenomena is a novel that I’m proud of. For the years that I worked on it, the novel was the focal point of my life. It took me to a part of the world few foreigners have seen. Its characters constantly surprised me. I did my best to tell their stories.

Describe your writing environment to us – your writing room, desk, etc.; is it ordered or chaotic?:

I write at a desk in the corner of my bedroom. In order of size, it’s currently occupied by a cat, five books, an Oakland A’s hat, around a hundred pages of story drafts, a couple picture frame, a soap dish filled with loose change, various pens, and a few dozen post-it notes.

I tend to use post-it notes rather than a note book for jotting down ideas and my desk and walls are cluttered with them. The dimensional limitations of a single post-it note means I can’t write more than a sentence or two, so whatever idea I jot down remains mysterious until I sit down to the keyboard. Taking a glance at the post-it notes now, it looks like every one begins with “Maybe” and ends in a question mark. The fiction, hopefully, becomes the response.

When you’re not writing, who/what do you like to read?:

I’m always reading a novel and usually have a nonfiction book going as an audiobook. Right now I’m in the middle of The Tin Drum. Highlights of my summer reading so far have been A Heart So White by Javier Marias, Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter, The Dream of the Celt by Mario Vargas Llosa, Cain by Jose Saramago, and Stoner by John Williams.

What was the defining book(s) of your childhood/schooling?:

Different books defined me differently at different ages, I suppose. When I was in elementary school, the Goosebumps, Redwall, Boxcar Children series, and the novels by John Bellairs, all introduced me to the transporting magic of fiction. When I was in high school, airport thrillers by Michael Crichton, John Grisham, and Tom Clancy were gateway books that led me to more literary fare.

If you were a literary character, who would you be?:

Hobbes from Calvin and Hobbes, who embodies the kind of serene  ontentedness most of us would probably like to have. Day-to-day, however, I usually feel more like Calvin.

Apart from books, what do you do in your spare time (surprise us!)?:

Chances are pretty good that I’ll be overly involved in the emotional lives of my girlfriend’s two cats. I’ve never particularly liked cats before, but ever since we moved in together two years ago, I’ve become a convert. What is your  favourite food and favourite drink?: Indian food and chocolate milkshakes. I’ve never found a restaurant that serves both. Somehow I carry on.

Who is your hero? Why?:

I don’t think I have a hero, or at least not in the sense of one person whose life I model my own on. I look up to various people for various things, most of whom are friends or family. Maybe your heroes are simply the people you love.

Crystal ball time – what is the biggest challenge for the future of books and reading?:

You know, I bet 15th-century cultural commentators were asking Gutenberg that same question. Maybe I’m naive, but people have been reading and telling stories since the dawn of history, it’s baked into our cultural DNA, and as addictive as Angry Birds can be, it will take more than smart phone technology to displace the role of literature.

That said, I think the decline of brick-and-mortar bookstores combined with shrinking book review space makes it increasingly difficult for non-blockbuster novels to find an audience.

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