Review: Charisma by Jeanne Ryan - The high price to pay for popularity

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Charisma by Jeanne Ryan
Released: 1st December 2016
Published by: Simon and Schuster
Genre: YA Thriller
Source: Publisher
Pages: 372
My Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
An edge-of-your-seat thriller from the bestselling author of, Nerve, the book behind 2016's hottest YA film, starring Emma Roberts, Dave Franco & Juliette Lewis.

A chance at the ultimate makeover means deadly consequences... Aislyn suffers from crippling shyness - that is, until she’s offered a dose of Charisma, an underground gene therapy drug guaranteed to make her shine. The effects are instant. She’s charming, vivacious, and popular. But strangely, so are some other kids she knows.

The media goes into a frenzy when the disease turns contagious, and then deadly, and the doctor who gave it to them disappears. Aislyn must find a way to stop it, before it's too late.
Thank you to Simon and Schuster Australia for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review

We live in a society full of different personalities. Some are the life of the party, possessing the ability to strike up a conversation with anyone and exude that general air of confidence in whatever they do. Others however can experience the opposite, and like Aislyn in this book suffer crippling social anxiety. Then of course, there is the whole range of in-between on the introvert/extrovert spectrum; though the question posed in this novel is - who would want to be the 'average' level of sociable when you can be the star? Charisma is a quick read which does go some way in exploring the controversial topic of gene therapy and its implications, as well as the importance of finding other ways to be yourself; and own it. 

Who'd have thought I'd hang out with folks from the Nova Genetics teen group, with at least two of us acting way more extroverted than usual? And way happier. Thank you, Charisma.

Before learning of Charisma and how it could supposedly improve her life, Aislyn is no stranger to the opportunities which gene therapy creates. Her brother Sammy with cystic fibrosis is a regular visitor to Nova Genetics and Dr Sternfield, where it is hoped that he'll be accepted into a new clinical trial for a drug that could be the cure. So, when she learns of a top-secret trial from Sternfield which involves the 'CZ88' drug 'Charisma', she boldly takes the chance. However, with a drug previously untested on humans before the risks are high, and when her friends Rosa, and even party-boy Shane seem to have also taken it and are experiencing side-effects, Aislyn may just be second-guessing herself. 

While I did find some parts of the plot a little too predictable, and the trope of 'trying to get popular to win over the nice cute guy who would never like me otherwise (even if he does already)' somewhat cliche, I could appreciate the fast pace of the story. I also hadn't read any YA novels which had this focus on gene therapy before, and the author's notes at the end did reinforce the possibilities of where more research into that area will take us in reality. In an age where especially in the realm of social media there is a silent competition to see who really does 'have it all' - the most friends, the witty comments, and perfectly worded captions, this book provided a glimpse into the dangers of going too far to reach that level of fame. 


In all, though it wasn't a perfect read for me, Charisma is still worth trying for its glimpse into a controversial topic, and the importance of having a good support network to ultimately feel comfortable in your own skin. 

Review: Remind Me How This Ends by Gabrielle Tozer - More than just a 'boy meets girl'

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Remind Me How This Ends by Gabrielle Tozer
Released: 27th March 2017
Published by: HarperCollins Australia
Genre: YA Contemporary
Source: Publisher
Pages: 352
My Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
It's the summer after high school ends and everyone is moving on. Winning scholarships. Heading to uni. Travelling the world. Everyone except Milo Dark. Milo feels his life is stuck on pause. His girlfriend is 200km away, his mates have bailed for bigger things and he is convinced he's missed the memo reminding him to plan the rest of his life.

Then Layla Montgomery barrels back into his world after five years without so much as a text message. As kids, Milo and Layla were family friends who shared everything - hiding out in her tree house, secrets made at midnight, and sunny afternoons at the river. But they haven't spoken since her mum's funeral. Layla's fallen apart since that day.

She pushed away her dad, dropped out of school and recently followed her on-again-off-again boyfriend back to town because she has nowhere else to go. Not that she's letting on how tough things have been. What begins as innocent banter between Milo and Layla soon draws them into a tangled mess with a guarantee that someone will get hurt.

While it's a summer they'll never forget, is it one they want to remember? A boy-meets-girl-again story from the award-winning author of The Intern and Faking It.
Thank you to HarperCollins Australia for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review

So you've finished high school...what next? In this heartfelt and adorable read, Gabrielle Tozer explores the time 'in between' the teen years and reaching adulthood. What I've come to love about this author's work from The Intern and Faking It is the humour and awkward-but-hilarious moments which we can all probably relate to on some level. Aside from the lighthearted banter between the characters, there is enough depth to what they are experiencing which really makes you think.

When we first meet Milo Dark, his life is almost on pause. Working in 'The Little Bookshop' in the small town of Durnan and his girlfriend Sal who seems to be having an amazing time at university hundreds of kilometres away, he's not really sure where to go from here. The pressure from his parents to go out there and 'make something' of his life like so many of his peers seem to have done is something which transcends fiction, and his journey which follows in the novel continues to reflect the challenges teens face today. From coming to the realisation that the excitement of a first love may not be forever, to slowly forging your own way in the world, Milo's character development seemed authentic. 

When Layla, Milo's best friend from childhood enters back into the picture after five years, it's certain that both of their lives are about to change. It was interesting to see how they both had been in relationships that were fundamentally flawed, stuck in a rut where their partners didn't truly appreciate or understand them as people. The friendship and flirty banter which soon develops between the pair and their text messages was a sweet touch, though I like how Tozer didn't shy away from addressing Layla's grief over her mother's death and how this had an enduring impact on her own sense of self. The alternating POV's between Milo and Layla worked well here, as we had the opportunity to see them reach their own conclusions about not only where the relationship was heading, but what their lives could be like outside Durnan and all the possibilities that lay beyond. 


Yes, this is a 'boy meets girl (again)' story, yet also so much more. Where Gabrielle Tozer truly shines is in her ability to portray characters who are equally endearing and realistic. She has captured the uncertainty and the thrill of growing up; both the pain and the joy of leaving your old self behind to begin a new adventure. 

{Blog Tour} The Last McAdam by Holly Ford - Guest Post

Monday, 13 March 2017

The Last McAdam by Holly Ford
Released: 22nd February 2017
Published by: Allen and Unwin
Genre: Romance 
RRP: $29.99 
Pages: 304
Can Nate McAdam win the heart of the woman who’s taken over his farm? The Last McAdam combines an unforgettable cast of characters with an irresistibly entertaining tale of romance, suspense and the unbreakable bonds of friendship.

Passed down through the same family for over a century, the remote sheep and cattle station of Broken Creek has recently been taken over by global agribusiness company Carnarvon Holdings. Now Carnarvon has sent its best troubleshooting manager, Tess Drummond, to turn the property's failing fortunes around - fast. When Tess arrives to take the reins of Broken Creek she's faced with a couple of nasty surprises. For starters, her head stockman, Nate McAdam, happens to be the same gorgeous stranger she hooked up with - and ran out on - a few weeks before.

As if that wasn't bad enough, Nate was supposed to inherit Broken Creek until his stepfather ran it into the ground. Now the last McAdam on the station leads a team of men whose bonds have been forged through hell and high water and whose mission is to see off Carnarvon and Tess so he can take his rightful place. A genius with farm work - and women - but a disaster in the office, Nate is everything Tess believes a farmer shouldn't be. Determined not to give in to her growing attraction to him, Tess sets out to do her job, but she soon finds herself caught up in the battle of her career.
Guest Post by Holly Ford

As a writer, I can get asked a lot of questions - which is fair enough, because they’re rarely as strange as the questions I ask other people. At the moment I’m enquiring of every sheep farmer I know if they’re testing their rams for brucella ovis this year (and since testing demands a thorough feel of the testicles, I’m getting some pretty odd looks for my trouble). If you needed to raise your micron count in a hurry, what would you do? How do you rotate your grazing? Not so long ago I found myself sitting at an elegant table over a beautiful meal discussing drench resistance and acceptable levels of faecal egg count.

It’s not that my books contain pages about such things - I promise they don’t! But I do need to set the scenes. Okay, so it’s late summer now at Broken Creek Station… What is Tess doing out there in the paddock? Why does Nate turn up? These are questions that have to be asked, and each time around they require a different answer.

Farmers aren’t the only ones who get the third degree. Service station owners, mechanics, sales reps… Nobody’s safe. And certainly anyone foolish enough to admit to being a paramedic or a helicopter pilot in front of me is in for a world of trouble. Would you give Tramadol for a broken leg? How long do rotor blades take to stop? What drives the motor of an irrigation pump? (As a water pump manufacturer’s daughter, I ought to have known that one, but it’d been a while.) If I cracked a Range Rover’s sump in Omarama, could you fix it there? How long would I have to wait for parts?

It’s amazing what you can find yourself insatiably curious about for a while… and then, just as quickly, the need is gone. My poor long-suffering husband will bound home with the answer to some question I spent three days obsessing over to be rewarded only with a blank look and an ‘I don’t care, darling - that was last month.’

Check out the other stops in the tour!

Genie's Weekly News (56) - "Shock horror!", historical drama and binge-reading

Sunday, 12 March 2017

I've been shaking up my reading habits recently, choosing some more adult fiction and even some horror which was a totally different experience. That being said, I'm looking forward to also getting back to YA with Gabrielle Tozer's upcoming release Remind Me How This Ends - so stay tuned!

Currently Reading

Reading more than one book at once seems to be becoming the norm with me, and these two could not be more different. At over 1000 pages, Voyager is a hefty book, but at almost the halfway point I'm finding it's still an enjoyable read. The Outlander series is slowly becoming one of my favourites in historical fiction, and I look forward to seeing how the saga continues. Diana Gabaldon's captivating writing style certainly makes it easier to commit to completing it.

 As for The Troop, I'm not too far in yet, but can already tell it's going to get very strange, and more than likely extremely disturbing. There's a Lord of the Flies vibe to it at the moment, but other than that I have no idea what I'm getting myself into here. Time will tell.

Recommendation of the Week

This short story collection is brutally raw, but so well written. 

Previous Posts

From the Interwebs

Book Haul

This book has been translated from Swedish which is quite interesting, and sounds like a feel-good read. I love the sound of the jazz music playing a large role too. Thanks Allen and Unwin for the review copy!

What I've Been Watching

Hidden Figures was every bit as amazing as I hoped it would be. Not only was the casting perfectly done, but this story based on true events is a true inspiration. I really hope to read the book one day as well to learn more about these extraordinary women who it appears had both intelligence and sass in abundance. 

Deutschland 83 is the latest historical drama TV series I've been hooked on. In German with English subtitles, it provides a fascinating portrayal of life in Germany in the context of the Cold War, with reference to both the political climate and social unrest at the time. There are some lighter moments in the first few episodes, but towards the end of the first series where tensions are running high and more lives are at stake than what was first thought, the plot does take a darker turn. A spy-thriller with a twist, I'm already highly anticipating the second season. 

What have you been reading/watching lately?

Review: Difficult Women by Roxane Gay - A brutal, surreal take on feminism

Saturday, 11 March 2017

Difficult Women by Roxane Gay
Released: 10th January 2017
Published by: Hachette
Genre: Short stories
Source: Publisher
Pages: 260
My Rating: 4 of 5 stars
A collection of stories of rare force and beauty, of hardscrabble lives, passionate loves, and quirky and vexed human connection from award-winning author and powerhouse talent Roxane Gay.

The women in these stories live lives of privilege and of poverty, are in marriages both loving and haunted by past crimes or emotional blackmail. A pair of sisters, grown now, have been inseparable ever since they were abducted together as children, and must negotiate the elder sister's marriage. A woman married to a twin pretends not to realize when her husband and his brother impersonate each other. A stripper putting herself through college fends off the advances of an overzealous customer. A black engineer moves to Upper Michigan for a job and faces the malign curiosity of her colleagues and the difficulty of leaving her past behind.

From a girls' fight club to a wealthy subdivision in Florida where neighbors conform, compete, and spy on each other, Gay delivers a wry, beautiful, haunting vision of modern America.
Thank you to Hachette Australia for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review 

It takes great skill as an author to provide an immediate connection to characters and the situation they are facing in a short span of pages. Roxane Gay in her collection of stories has achieved just that. With piercing insight into the nuances of everyday life with all its pitfalls, and small triumphs where there is an upheaval of power imbalances, Gay's prose is equally commanding and authentic.

The stories within this book take on topics such as rape and assault in an everyday context with an unflinching brutality, and the loss of a child with words that are heavily laden with emotion. The characters are flawed, at times frustrating, but ultimately realistic. From the bonds between sisters, to exploring with sardonic wit the different stages of a relationship, either blossoming with sweet innocence in its early stages, or taking a malignant turn towards the end, each topic is probed without inhibition. The author has coaxed us into the lives of these women who are not so much difficult as they are complex, emotionally and physically.   

The stone thrower lives in a glass house with his glass family. He is a flesh-and-blood man going about the business of living with his glass wife and glass child, their glass furniture and glass lives. - Requiem for a Glass Heart 

Nestled among the shocking moments however are those that cause you to take a step back and think in a different way. One of my favourites in this book is the piece 'Requiem for a Glass Heart', which at just seven pages is perhaps one of the most hard-hitting. It is a tale of a woman who is not simply flesh and bone, whose intimate moments are left exposed, yet her inner thoughts remain guarded. It is personification of a totally different kind, subverted to display both the fragility of this woman and her sharper strength of mind. 

I wanted to tell her that we did not dare speak, that what was once the sun might once again become the sun. I wanted to tell her the sky lightened the day my perfect child was born and that with time, the world would be bright again. - The Sacrifice of Darkness

In another story which takes on a sci-fi/speculative angle, 'The Sacrifice of Darkness', the absence of the sun allows one love to blossom while deep seated resentment against the couple threatens to taint their union. In contrast to the many instances of men undermining women or attempting to make them feel somewhat inferior, the tenderness here offers a glimpse of hope. When there is enough darkness to be found in the everyday snide remarks or not so subtle digs at what a woman should be, Gay puts the spotlight on deserving better. 


As with most collections of stories, there were some which resonated with me more than others, but there were definitely enough defining moments in this book to make it worth a read. This is an unflinching portrayal of love when it is tender, and when it is twisted beyond recognition, being a woman who has suffered but is not broken, and the state of humanity in this mad world we live in.