Review: Spark by Rachael Craw

9781922179623Spark by Rachael Craw is an amazing superpowers origin story that focuses on friendship and punching things. Two fantastic things to read about honestly. Sure it fell into a few typical superpower themed cliches, but it still managed to be exciting and engaging! It featured a simple magnificent plot twist that is guaranteed to blow your mind and knock your socks off simultaneously.

Evie is basically an average girl, living with her single aunt after her mother died. But turns out she’s actually a Shield — an experiment gone wrong leaving her with DNA that means she’s programmed to protect her best friend from any killers. Her body starts changing until she looks like a superpowered warrior and she starts training for the oncoming surprise threats. Except she gets a little distracted by her best friend’s brother — Jamie. Who, being a Shield too, is out of bounds. Ha.

This concept of DNA modified humans who have compulsively programmed to protect people was extremely awesome. It made them into almost “default heroes” but just to their one charge. There were plenty of sci-fi themed DNA discussions which kind of befuddled me, but a more science-attuned reader would probably adore.

Evie is also a fantastic narrator! She’s deep in grief when the book starts and not sure what her life is going to look like now that she’s without her mother. But as her Shield tendencies start activating and she finds a whole secret organisation is waiting for her — things take on a very different and exciting turn. I only got annoyed at the emphasis on physical beauty. With only a few weeks of combat training, she’s suddenly fit and athletic and super-model level gorgeous. All the superpowered people in this book are very carefully emphasised to be gorgeous and I thought it was a little shallow. But if that was the only drawback in pages of action, great dialogue, and superpowers — then I think we’re still doing well!

The romance was also slow-burn and intriguing. Especially since it’s “forbidden”. And I love how friendship still was a major focus! Evie is destined to protect Kitty and they have a very close bond. Although Evie does gravitate towards Jamie. Of course. Evie and Jamie had a “thing” when they were younger, but it rekindles in the book. I liked Evie and Jamie’s relationship and it was well balanced with training and action scenes, school and family dynamics.

The ending features incredible plot twists of awesome. Intense awesome. I didn’t see any of the twists coming and it opened up so many questions to be explored in the next novel, Stray. I’m desperate for answers and therefore needed the sequel ASAP. Because sure we have people bound by DNA to protect others…but there are also those bound by DNA to kill certain people. The plot just kept getting more interesting and mysterious which is a definite win for me.

Definitely try Spark if you’re looking for… superpowers, fight scenes, friendship, and an awkward heroine who finds out she has Mr. Incredible level strength and isn’t quite sure what to do with it.

[purchase here]

YA Books About Superheroes

If there’s one topic that never gets old, it’s certainly superheroes. Everyone loves a good superpower book, with good vs evil and a good dash of explosions. Marvel and DC movies are always smash (har har, pun intended) hits in the cinemas and comics have been popular for decades.

But what about novels about superheroes? If you’re craving more heroes (or villains!) in your life: I have some Young Adult books that you most certainly need to try. It’ll tie you over between waiting for the next Marvel movie to be spat out. And these books will also give you tips in case, you know, you get bitten by a spider and greatness descends upon you. Must be prepared!


9781423157496V IS FOR VILLAIN

[buy]

As you can see this doesn’t just feature superheroes — it focuses on the VILLAINS. WHich means the book is automatically 10005% cooler than anything else. So bring on a plot of criminals and a teenage highschool misfit who turns to the dark side. Where there are cookies, or so I’ve heard.


9780062085504SHATTER ME

[buy]

This is the beginning of an amazing trilogy about a girl who touches people and…they die. Which is definitely not the kind of power you save the world with, but whatever. Look at this girl go! Juliette has to piece herself back together after years of being locked in a dark prison and then figure out how to use her powers for good…or evil.


9780062120168TRANSPARENT

[buy]

This one is about a girl called Fiona who is invisible. Not just sometimes. All the time. She doesn’t even know what she looks like! She’s basically enslaved by her crime-boss dad until she and her mother run away to a little desert time and Fiona tries to fit into a “normal” life. Except her crime origins don’t exactly go away…


9781922179623SPARK

[buy]

This is by a New Zealand author, so yay for (semi)local writers! Meet Evie: who is pretty normal until suddenly her body explodes into super-powered, amazing solider material. Turns out she’s born to protect her best friend from being murdered. Say bye-bye to the good ol’ life and hello to conspiracies, dark government agencies, and a superpowered boy she’s so totally not supposed to be in love with.


9780385743563STEELHEART

[buy]

This is, without doubt, one of the best superhero books I’ve ever read! It’s set in a dystopic universe where those with powers are called “Epics” and they like to…kill everyone. And everything. And it’s very unfortunate. David’s father was murdered so his #1 goal in life is to take down the immortal, invisible Steelheart. It features terrible puns and even worse metaphors (which somehow makes them glorious?!) and a team of highly trained superhero assassins.


9781406367478THE REST OF US JUST LIVE HERE

[buy]

This one is a little different to the others because it actually features the people around the superheroes. So while those superheroes are smashing evil and destroying cities on accident…what are the average people doing? So meet Mikey: an anxious teenager just trying to survive while the world blows up around him. It’s such a beautifully written and winning coming-of-age story and since it’s by the master, Patrick Ness, you do not want to miss this gloriousness.

Review: Firefight by Brandon Sanderson

Firefight by Brandon Sanderson is the second book in the Reckoners trilogy — and even better than the first. Which doesn’t often happen right?! But no sequel-blues here, folks. This book was just an explosion of PURE AWESOME. It was so exciting and fantastic I couldn’t help but flail and get thoroughly emotionally invested. I am so ridiculously addicted to this series. Steelheart w9780575104495as amazing; but Firefight just took it up to the next level. I suspect this is because it’s about superheroes and has excellent writing and the best protagonist of ever.

“My name is David Charleston. I kill people with super powers.”

So where do I start?!? The plot was perfect. It’s set in a different city, Babylon Restored, which is all water and apartment buildings filled with trees and jungles. There’s glowing spraypaint and magical fruit and it was all written so visually I could basically see the city. I’m in awe of the aesthetics here!

We also have a new set of villains with different, complex powers to fight and destroy. There is not even a second of rest here.

The characters are permanently spectacular. OF COURSE. Although I did mess Cody and Abraham. Only Tia, Proff, and David go on this little escapade. And, unfortunately, Proff is still my least favourite character. He’s complex, alright, and after the staggering reveal of his secrets at the end of book 1, I do understand why he’s so gruff and cold at times. But he definitely abused his position of authority and it got me so riled up and angry. ARGH.

9780385743587I still adore David — and he’s possible he’s gotten even more awesome. He’s one of my new favourite protagonists! He’s funny and brave and flawed and stupid and he’s SUCH A DORK. His metaphors are worse. (He romantically yells “YOU’RE LIKE A POTATO” and that made me laugh for only 9 hours.)

And let’s not forget how INTENSE the plot is. There’s a lot of mystery elements since the supervillain in control — Regalia — has basically lured Proff and his small team of Reckoners to the city. Is she looking for a fight or is there a deeper plot at hand? The story keeps you guessing the entire time and I loved this! I couldn’t put it down!

Plus it barely lets the action rest — and when it does we get treated to pages of hilarious banter and David’s self-depreciating commentary on the world.

There is much shooting, but also a lot of stretching people to their limits. And pain. And death. And explosions. I love how David is continually pushing the boundaries and getting everyone to think and plan. He’s underestimated so much, but basically nothing stops him. Plus the plot twists in this one live up to the amazing ones we got in the first book.

I cannot get enough of this series! And I’m eternally grateful that the final book, Calamity, is already out and I’ll be able to devour it soon. Because — hello — cliffhanger? I’m in mild pain needing answers here.

 

[purchase here]

Review: Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson

Steelheart (Reckoners #1) by Brandon Sanderson basically flawed me with its intense, indiluted awesome. Until now I hadn’t read a superhero book that lived up to the films. But this?!? This is everything. If you’re a superhero geek, TRUST ME — you need this book in your life. The plot twists! The adorkable narrator! The guns! The action! The car chases! The explosions! It had everything.9780385743563

The story is about David, whose father was killed by the infamous super-villain Steelheart, and David’s life is basically: revenge revenge revenge. He joins up with a small rebel force, called the Reckoners, and they make a plot to take down Steelheart.

It’s about superheroes and villains. In fact, super “hero” doesn’t so much enter the story, because the premise is those with powers are all EVIL.  It’s like “what if Superman appeared and was a jerk and liked to kill people and be terrifying?” But it turns tropes on its head and impressed me a million percent.

I absolutely adored the protagonist: David. He’s such a DORK. And a NERD. He is absolutely the worst at metaphors and he has the BIGGEST dorky crush on one of his team mates. He tries so hard. He’s a shaker and a stirrer — a visionary. And while he’s totally hellbent on revenge on Steelheart, it doesn’t turn him into a bitter mushroom. Which was a pleasant surprise to read!

A quick run down on the Reckoner team?! (They go from city to city in the destroyed American states and kill supervillains).

  • Proff: He’s the “leader” so the gruff, commanding, type who is full of secrets and probably a tragic mysterious backstory. He honestly was not my favourite, but he did lead his team well.
  • Tia: She’s the hacker and the behind-the-scenes intelligence.
  • Abraham: He’s French/Canadian and seriously AWESOME. He’s like soft spoken but carries this HUGE MACHINE GUN and I believes in the Faith.
  • Cody: He’s the comic relief and is like American, but also Scottish. Um, it works. Somehow. He’s always talking about devils and pixies and cracking everyone (aka me) up.
  • Megan: She’s the seriously coldhearted, better-than-thou girl on the team (that of course David crushes on) who is just AMAZING at everything she does but really hard to make friends with.

9780575104044I thought all the characters were really well written and complex. Which is amazing considering it was quite a large cast!

Also the superheroes were admirable because they had unique powers. It wasn’t all just “he can fly and is invisible” blah blah. They had ones who could turn the sky dark, or controlled with shadows, or made illusions, or could predict attacks or could regenerate or etc etc. It was so interesting and I loved that.

Also another thing that stood out to me was that: I appreciated how the adults were running the show. I mean, David might’ve been a bit of a suppressed genius there, with his plans on how to take down Steelheart, but the ADULTS were the ones with the big weapons and getting things done. And it felt super realistic. It’s still YA and David was still doing so much cool stuff. But I appreciated the realism.

Also the whole mystery aspect of “what is Steelheart’s weakness??!” drove me CRAZY wanting answers. And you don’t get to know until the end!

Also I cannot recommend the audiobook enough. (Which you can purchase here!) The narrator captures David’s personality perfectly and is just extremely pleasant to listen to! He also captures the accents of the rest of the team and makes the whole experience like a movie in your head.

If you’re looking for a superhero/villain book that’s unique and exciting and complex — this is for you. It’s realistic and talks science and gun mechanisms and sets up clever masterminded traps. It’ll make you laugh! And then have you clutching the pages hyperventilating over the plot twists. Oh and the cliffhanger? Let’s just say you’ll want Firefight on hand.

[PURCHASE HERE]

Mums are Super! – Small reads, big on Heart

Mums come in all shapes and sizes and deserve adulations, which match their boundless love, tireless efforts, and quiet achievements. To fit them all into one day – Mother’s Day – is a mission impossible so shower your mother with gratitude (and great reads) year round! Or, if you are like me and prefer to share special literary moments with your reasons for motherhood (aka your brood), then curl up with one or two of these titles, together.

Too Cute 0 – 4 year olds

I love You Carry and Play board bookI Love You

This super dinky, pretty in pink board book forms part of the Carry and Play series, which neatly cover most of the celebratory seasons of the year: Christmas, Halloween, Spring time and so on. I Love You is an excellent fit for Mother’s Day given the mummies and babies theme. Simple assuring text, sweet illustrations and a shape and size that is perfect for little people with tiny hands and big hearts to grab on to will ensure hours of devoted reading; they’ll love toting around their very own copy.

Bloomsbury 2016

You have my Heart by Corrine Fenton and Robin CowcherYou Have my Heart

Another smallish picture book big on heart is You have my Heart. The suggestion that something special lies within begins with the padded cover and rich depth of joy portrayed by the bright red balloons, which float quietly yet purposefully throughout. The balloon belongs to someone who like us all, drifts through life on an ever-changing tide of emotions. There are good days, great days and ‘tears-tumbling-down days.’ This is a delicate exploration of Parrot’s Six primary emotions and all the other in-between days, ultimately uplifting and reassuring young readers of their value and worth and that they are loved and cherished You have my Heart illos spreadunconditionally. Cowcher’s restrained two-tone illustrations are superlative. Guaranteed to melt your heart.

The Five Mile Press April 2016

Pre-school Perfect 3 years +

My Mum's special SecretMy Mum’s Special Secret by Sally Morgan Illustrated by Ambelin Kwaymullina

Every child thinks their mum is special. It probably has a lot to do with the way she selflessly provides and cares for them. How she always has time to play with them, guide and teach them, watch over them and share with them the small wonders of their immense worlds, much like mother Kookaburra does with her chick. Morgan’s simple conversational text sits comfortably alongside Kwaymullina’s jolly colour-filled illustrations. Bold and bright, big on Aussie character but possessing a theme recognisable in any language, this neat little picture book will reinforce the mother-child bond snuggly.

Omnibus Books April 2016

Nannie LovesNannie Loves by Kylie Dunstan

Celebrating a mother’s love spans many generations including a grandmother’s. By examining each and everything and everyone Nannie loves, Dunstan takes us on a vivid holiday to Nannie’s farm, however for the narrator, it’s a much cherished regular visit. We meet her cows and chooks and Grandpa with his assortment of checked shirts. We ride tractors, wander about the farm, help collect eggs and best of all participate in the beautiful sharing of family and food. It’s a love of countrNannie Loves chooks illosy, family, and life that is pure and encompassing and it is superbly rendered  by Dunstan’s use of paper collage and pencil illustrations. I love it. I ‘m sure your Nan will, too. Gorgeous for those shared reading occasions when you both want to feel extra special.

Working Title Press March 2016

Fantastic Fun for 4 – 10 year olds

SupermumSupermum by Leah Russack Illustrated by Anil Tortop

Have you ever notice just how super your mum is? Perhaps not as she dashes about conjuring up meals, making mess disappear and healing all hurts. For one small child however, their mum’s superpowers are sensational secrets they are busting to share, so they do. This picture book is outrageous fun and exploits the perennial favourites – imaginative play and superheroes – with funky new verve and humour thanks to Tortop’s charismatic illustrations. Crackling with wit and colour, each scene smartly supports Russack’s simple statements – with a nifty twist that every child will immediately warm to. Supermum is proof positive that mums can do just about anything, with or without a cape. Superb for reading aloud and jumping off couches with.

Scholastic Australia April 2016

Take Ted InsteadTake Ted Instead by Cassandra Webb Illustrated by Amanda Francey

It’s the uncluttered natural flow of Webb’s narrative that makes Take Ted Instead a delight to read out loud but it’s Francey’s lavish illustrations that will draw readers back to this tale of bedtime procrastination. Yes, familiar theme but fun new approach with plenty of predictive word play that readers under five will appreciate just as fondly as those slightly older. Our little boy is tired but rather than succumb to bed, clings to a rising determination to send his many varied companions off in his place; my favourite bedtime victim is next-door-neighbour Ned but I think Francey’s portrayal of Ed (the goldfish) is gorgeous, too. Will Ted end up in bed, alone or will bedtime end in peace and joy? A delicious bedtime story to wind up Mother’s Day with.

New Frontier Publishing April 2016

Hope yours is wonderful, too. Happy Mother’s Day to all the Supermums out there.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

 

 

Review: Vicious by VE Schwab

9781783290215In light of VE Schawb recently announcing on twitter that Vicious is getting a sequel (!!), I decided I needed to review this book here. ASAP. Because it is glorious. It’s about super villains! It’s dark and scary and evil and full of anti-heroes with complex backstories and warped thinking to justify their evil intentions. Also there’s chocolate milk. This book has everything.

The story follows Victor and Eli, two college dudes who are proving a theory about superpowers. As a mostly YA reader, I was a bit worried I wouldn’t like this adult book. But, pfft, I shouldn’t have been. The writing is golden. It’s like a teeny tiny step away from YA, since it features college age-characters half the time. There’s also a 12-year-old girl who shares some of the narrating.

Can we talk about the villainousness?! I read so many books that claim to be about “villains”. BAH. They always couch evil in holy intentions. In Vicious, it explores EVERYTHING. Like what it means to be the bad guy. It explores the DARK side. Basically, Eli and Victor are two french fries short of a happy meal. They are twisted. They didn’t always start that way, though, and I love how the book is about them “before” they turned dark and “after”.

QUICK LIST OF THE CHARACTERS:

  • Victor: He’s the protagonist of the story. Ahhh! How do I even describe him? He’s very calm and confident and has a sharky smile and will risk everything and yet has a soft spot for lost people. He kind of picks up strays, which is entirely adorable. But at the same time, he’ll kill a guy point blank and not even blink. SO YEAH THERE’S THAT.
  • Eli: Okay, he is just a screw loose. Even before their experiments started going crazy, Victor always described him as having a monster under his skin that sometimes peeked out. Eli’s also a religious nut. (Why are the religious ones always crazy?!) So Eli wants to kill everyone with superpowers because he believes he’s ordained by God to do so. Victor probably wouldn’t have cared less, except that he and Eli are enemies and he’s gotta be on the opposite side of Eli…just because.
  • Mitch: I loved Mitch! He’s like this huge hulk of a guy that works with Victor…and he looks like he’d smash your brain in his fist, but he’s actually a computer genius. He also loves chocolate milk.
  • Sydney: She’s adorable! She’s the 12 year old and her character development is insanely fantastic.
  • Serena: She’s Sydney’s older sister. And while Sydney ends up with Victor, Serena ends up with Eli….and Serena is a bad nut. She controls people with her voice. Which is kind of a scary power…But when Eli wanted to kill Sydney and Serena went along with it? I HAD NO RESPECT FOR SERENA.

13638125
Basically it’s like Charles Xavier and Magneto’s from X-Men’s origin story. But mix that in with The Prestige movie, where there are two guys doing mostly bad things and how-do-you-root-for-either…but then one guy has a soft spot for kids, and the other guy isn’t meaning to be so evil and — UGH — so many emotions! VE Schawb is a master of crafting words.

It’s told in the present and past. I didn’t find this confusing at all, in fact, I loved it! One minute we’d be in the college, watching Eli and Victor spiral into their evil intentions. The next, we’d be in the future, with Sydney and Victor trying to stop the mad Eli from killing all the ExtraOrdinaries.

I also found it really addictive. Time escaped me! When I finished I felt like dashing to the library and getting every Schawb book I can find because — WOW, JUST WOW. It’s incredible and perfect and totally my kind of story. It’s violent and vicious (duh) and I can’t wait for the promised sequel.

PURCHASE HERE

Writing Super Hero

American PsychoI realise it’s odd that I haven’t blogged about the three sessions at which I saw Bret Easton Ellis at the Byron Bay Writers Festival, especially given that he was one of the primary reasons for me forking out the cash for a ticket and hitting the road. The truth is, I haven’t completely grasped the sessions, much less known what to write.

I went down with the very real fear that the writer to whom I’ve long looked up would not meet my pre- or potentially ill-conceived notions. I mean, he’s only human, but in my obsession with his writing genius I may have built Ellis up to writing super hero status. Certainly the media has painted him as the poster child for, well, lots of culture-slamming, disaffected-youth, violence-promoting stuff. But really, who knew what to expect from the writer who’s built his career skewering the west’s and youths’ empty and ultimately doomed fascination with consumerism?

The first session was an intimate in-conversation set-up with The Book Show’s Ramona Koval. Now, this isn’t a Koval-bashing blog, but I will say that I’m really not a fan. She’s a woman of a certain age and reading taste (and I’d argue that she’s also been doing the job for too long and is completely over it), and Blind Freddy could have seen that she was going to be a complete interviewing mismatch for Ellis.

Just how wrong, though, was pretty shocking to those of us who’d paid good money for this session in addition to our festival tickets. I won’t go into gory details here, but you can podcast or listen to an excerpt of the session on The Book Show. Long story short, Koval opened with a long and literary question and Ellis answered it with the words: ‘Delta Goodrem’.

It seems he’d seen a Goodrem music video here and, knowing nothing else of her history, tweeted that she was hot. He didn’t expect the passionate, mixed response he got to that and waxed lyrical about how Australians have a really warped, love-hate (mostly hate) relationship with Goodrem.

It wasn’t the answer Koval was after and the interview took a kind of train wreck turn for the worse, with Koval getting all school teacher meets grandmother trying to pull Ellis into line and Ellis allowing himself to be anything but.

I came away disliking Koval more than ever before, but also a little less keen on Ellis. Sure, as the author of such titles as American Psycho, he couldn’t have been a completely compliant interviewee—the man’s got an authority-bucking reputation to uphold, after all. But I wanted to like him and I genuinely wanted to hear what he had to say—unfortunately the Delta Goodrem joke was funny in the first instance, but less so as he repeatedly returned to it.

What I came to understand as the festival progressed, however, and what a few weeks of musings have helped me cement, is that despite appearing a seasoned (potentially hardened) industry professional, Ellis is a very humble, quite fallible human at heart. Quite incredibly, in spite of 25-odd years in the business, Byron was his first ever writers’ festival appearance.

And he was nervous.

It’s hard enough speaking about your work to a room full of people when you’re starting out, but potentially doubly so when you’ve already made it and are expected to be all over this stuff. Ellis had 25 years’ weight of expectation on his shoulders when he sat in front of a microphone on a stage in packed tents. Everyone expected him to both know what he was doing and to have something intelligent and articulate and incredibly insightful to say about his writing.

The issue was that he isn’t that type of writer. He’s a guy who is compelled to write and who can’t explain the—as Koval kept asking him—‘whys’ of his work. He doesn’t—and can’t—analyse it academically, and any attempt to do so makes him uncomfortable. Which is why Koval got him offside and ‘off message’ with her eight-questions-in-one literary-focused questions.

But here’s the thing. Ellis did have extraordinarily intelligent and insightful things to say about his work or the industry as a whole—he just needed to be asked straight-up, straightforward, not-too-serious questions. And when he was asked those, he answered with great aplomb and humour.

I laughed out loud when he talked of how the media constructed this mythical writing ‘Brat Pack’, as if they all got in a car and travelled together in a group at all times. I laughed even harder when he said that rather than being upset about the fact that American Psycho is sold in shrink wrap in Australia (as his publishers thought he would be), he thinks it’s ‘cute’.

It was those candid comments, his laughter in the face of trite cling-wrapped censorship, and his real-life anecdotes about the industry and about what it’s like to be a writer (padding about home alone working and occasionally catching up with friends for beers) that I found the most entertaining and memorable.

And that is perhaps what I loved and now love even more about Ellis—he’s a regular guy (which includes being prone to nerves), he’s a real writer, he doesn’t take the industry or himself too seriously, and he has brilliant and witty things to say if we stop trying to put literary, analytical words in his mouth. Upon a second listening of the now-infamous in-conversation session with Koval, I hear all that. And I officially love Ellis, my writing super hero, more than ever before.