Monday, 17 October 2016

Review: Girls on Fire by Robin Wasserman

Girls on Fire by Robin Wasserman
Released: 10th May 2016
Published by: Little Brown (Imprint of Hachette)
Genre: Adult suspsense
Source: Publisher
Pages: 320
My Rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is not a story of bad things happening to bad girls. I say this because I know you, Dex, and I know how you think. I'm going to tell you a story, and this time, it will be the truth. 

Hannah Dexter is a nobody, ridiculed at school by golden girl Nikki Drummond and bored at home. But in their junior year of high school, Nikki's boyfriend walks into the woods and shoots himself. In the wake of the suicide, Hannah finds herself befriending new girl Lacey and soon the pair are inseparable, bonded by their shared hatred of Nikki.

Lacey transforms good girl Hannah into Dex, a Doc Marten and Kurt Cobain fan, who is up for any challenge Lacey throws at her. The two girls bring their combined wills to bear on the community in which they live; unconcerned by the mounting discomfort that their lust for chaos and rebellion causes the inhabitants of their parochial small town, they think they are invulnerable.

But Lacey has a secret, about life before her better half, and it's a secret that will change everything . . .

Starting - and ending - with tragedy, Girls on Fire stands alongside The Virgin Suicides in its brilliant portrayal of female adolescence, but with a power and assurance all its own.
Thank you to Hachette Australia for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review

Girls on Fire had me hooked from the first page. In this unnerving thriller, Wasserman has created a story that is suffused with an aura of vengeance, where girls turn on each other not just because of jealousy, but unbridled obsession. There are parts of this book entering territories you wouldn't think it would dare, but find that although you may want to look away before it all comes undone...those pages won't stop turning until the final, didactic end.

Hannah wanted to be invisible. Dex wanted to be seen. Dex was a rule-breaker, a liar, a secret keeper; Dex was wild, or wanted to be. Hannah Dexter had believed in right and wrong, an ordered world of justice. Dex would make her own justice. Hannah would show her how. 

What this novel excelled at is cleverly weaving multiple perspectives, each with a distinct narrative voice. Detailing the time of 'Us' from November 1991-March 1992 from both Hannah/Dex and Lacey's perspectives, it soon becomes clear just how twisted the dynamic relationships operating in this situation are. Lacey is insubordinate in every way, bordering on diabolical. Hannah's humdrum existence once letting her into her life is completely transformed. Their defiant duo is held together by a bond formed through unabashed manipulation, with an all too willing participant. Make no mistake, Wasserman's tone of prose is scorching - the whole premise for this novel is set up to keep you wanting more, discovering the hidden secrets which really drive these girls towards the fate which awaits them. As readers, when beginning this book you are lighting a match - then stand to watch it burn.

The trappings of evil were for scary movies and school assemblies; the real devil wore pink and smiled with pastel lips. And here, in the dark, we all knew who she was. 

And then there was Nikki. The resident 'golden girl' whose boyfriend took his own life. It's interesting how Dex and Lacey 'bonded' over this 'shared' ostensible virulence towards her. But who out of the trio is really the 'wolf in sheep's clothing' - that is, if any of them are? Girls on Fire searingly explores the bounds of loyalty and the devastating implications of betrayal. Emotions are powerfully expounded, chillingly expressed and manifested in ways which only these characters could accomplish. It's a tangled web of desire, defined by the 'us versus them' kind of subversive attitude that so often is depicted by adolescents today.

She was so good at it, acting cold-blooded. The secret of pretending to be someone else, she told me, was that you didn't pretend. You transformed. To defeat a monster, you had to embody one. 

I have to say, Girls on Fire definitely had shock-factor. All the while reading this, you know that something eventually will go awry. There is no way that such an intensely ferocious imbroglio would end without an explosion of some sort. And there is one. Just...not the one you may be expecting. How far will these girls go to get revenge? How deep are those scars from the past? You'll just have to read this for yourself and find out. In any case, I don't believe what eventually happened was there simply to shock the audience. The ending isn't rushed, and in the last few pages I found what the essence of this book was all about. Wasserman closes her story with words that will make you think, that leave an imprint your mind for a good while after you've closed it.

What matters isn't how we found each other, Dex, or why. It's what we did, and what happened next. Smash the right two particles together in the right way and you get a bomb. That's us, Dex. 


In Girls on Fire, flames lick the edge of the adolescent experience, lighting a trail of dangerous obsession and inexorable jealousy. Robin Wasserman's caustic prose draws in the most intense of human emotions, and places them in destructive circumstance; ultimately creating a read that you can't put down - even if you want to.

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Thursday, 29 September 2016

Review: Shield (Spark #3) by Rachael Craw

25857262Shield by Rachael Craw
Released:1st September 2016
Published by: Walker Books Australia
Genre: YA Science Fiction
Source: Publisher
Pages: 429
My Rating: 5 of 5 stars
Evie is out of options. She must comply with the Affinity Project – obey their rules, play their deadly games, give up Jamie. And her losses keep growing. When she decides to help a small group of Shields trying to affect change, Evie finds herself in the firing line.

Counsellor Knox is intent on revealing her secrets and shackling her to the Affinity Project for life. To protect her family, Evie must betray those closest to her.

The odds of success – let alone survival – are slim. The final thrilling conclusion to the Spark series.
Thank you to Walker Books Australia for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review 

Rachael Craw sure knows how to end a series with a bang! There's a bittersweet feeling which came with turning the final pages of this book, but I was left as impressed as I have been since the trilogy began.

In this high-octane page-turner, Evie is once again up against the Affinity Project, and in closer proximity than ever before. With the introduction of some new faces, and the duplicitous nature of some characters becoming known, a twist is never too far away. She once again demonstrates a strength and ability to seriously kick-butt, but a sensitivity to the delicate, and seemingly futile situation of her fate. There are moral dilemmas to face, more lives at stake, and of course - opportunities to blow things up. Action, emotions and family loyalty are all on the line, executed on a knife-edge with the skill one has come to expect from Rachael Craw.

When it comes to Evie's issues with Affinity, Jamie isn't too far behind. The pair in this installment have more tension between them than ever before. Their bond is clearly electric, modeled into their DNA. Yet of course, nothing is that easy to attain in this world where your destiny is instilled in your blood, with the constant threat of exploitation. If you want to see more of Jamie, it definitely helped to read the novella 'Scar Tissue' before reading this book. Family ties are also tested, with an even greater intensity. How far would you go to save the people you love? What is the ultimate sacrifice? Craw explores these themes in ways which make your heart race, always in anticipation for the next bombshell to hit. Top tip: Have tissues ready.


What a journey it's been! I still remember first receiving SPARK in the mail 2 years ago, and though it definitely had the potential to be a great read just from looking at the blurb, little did I know how much I would come to love the series and want to support it so much. 

As an author, Rachael Craw is a class act; creating storylines with immense suspense, action-packed scenes and sentences which evoke every human emotion. Her characters have so much depth, and you can't help but be drawn into their complex web of dilemmas, following their paths with bated breath. It's the end of an era for the #SparkArmy, but I can't wait to read what she has in store for us next!

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Full Article: Why The Art of Reading Lives On

An abridged version of this article appears in Vertigo magazine

Glowing screens hazily illuminate the faces of fellow commuters around you as the train trundles through a tunnel. Their fingers languidly swipe the screens of their devices, with facial expressions which oscillate between indifference to trivial bemusement at the latest YouTube video to go viral, or a friend’s latest exclamations on what they’ve caught so far on ‘Pok√©mon Go’. In your hands you hold a seemingly humble object in this sea of smartphones and gadgets. It’s a good old paperback, which may look a little worn around the edges since you’ve read it that many times. But you can’t beat a classic, right?

In this increasingly digital age where the online world so often encroaches on the real one, it can seem a marvel that books continue to survive as a source of entertainment. Before Facebook and Netflix were around as means of procrastination and distractions from the banalities of everyday life, books were one of the primary outlets of escapism. Even today however, it seems they continue to hold their own against technological competitors for our attention.

As of July this year, 85 million physical books have been purchased around the globe – 4.3  million more than last year. A large proportion of this is printed fiction which can provide that next addictive read which will keep those pages turning well into the night. This is not to say that prose published digitally is not without its own advantages; though the ‘print versus ebook’ debate is a whole other story. Despite the closure of major physical bookstore chains such as Angus and Robertson and Borders in recent years, others are still making their mark on suburban communities in many Australian cities. A glimmer of hope remains that the home collections of bookworms will not fall into an antiquarian abyss, merely existing as museums of times gone by. Any voracious reader will tell you that books have the power to transcend time itself while remaining relevant in any era.  As the philosopher Thomas Carlyle eloquently expressed: “In books lies the soul of the whole Past Time; the articulate audible voice of the Past, when the body and material substance of it has altogether vanished like a dream”.

With this in mind, books can be understood as a reflection of our past, present, and future. Authors such as Charlotte Bronte and F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote aptly of both the joys and malaise which came in hand with their own societal milieus. Reading books like ‘Pride and Prejudice’ or ‘The Great Gatsby’ hence provides the opportunity for us in the 21st Century to travel back and gain some understanding of the issues populations faced back then. Often, it’s easy to see that as people, we haven’t really changed that much. Though context certainly evolves, the nuances of human nature as illustrated through literature remain recognisable no matter when a reader sits down to read a book. We’re all sure to come across a hopeless romantic like Jay Gatsby at some point in our lives, or perhaps strive to have the wit and intellect of Elizabeth Bennett.

But it’s not just the ‘classics’ that deserve all the recognition. Books being published now also hold great insight into our world as we know it, which can then be appreciated by future generations. The 2016 Stella Prize winner, ‘The Natural Way of Things’ by Charlotte Wood for instance brings issues of misogyny and the portrayal of women in the media into harsh focus with a harrowing and heart-provoking tale. Thrillers like ‘The Girl on the Train’ by Paula Hawkins are renowned for plots that keep readers guessing and twists that leave the plot reeling. Almost every book has a memorandum which you can learn something from, if you’re willing to delve deep enough. Pick any sci-fi novel like ‘Brave New World’ by Aldous Huxley or piece of speculative fiction and you’ll find a fascinating ‘prediction’ into what the future may look like in a hundred years’ time or more.

In any case, reading isn’t simply reserved for the highbrow literati of society. Anyone can discover that there’s something undeniably special about holding a book in your hands and entering another world with only the bounds of your imagination guiding the words as they leap off the page. Yet bookworms are ordinary people too, often with other diverse interests that reside in the digital world as well. Even I don’t always turn to a book when I want to relax or take a break from study. I too have binged TV series on Netflix, flicked through my social media feeds when I have a spare moment, and spent hours staring at my computer screen writing blog posts. As a generation, incorporating digital media into our lives is inevitable, and can provide us with a different kind of utility. Nonetheless, when I choose a book to read it’s not because I’m actively taking a stance against technology. Instead, it’s because I find that immersive reading can spark an entirely different sense of wonder which in that moment couldn’t be eclipsed by an alternative digital distraction.

Reaching the end of a chapter before your stop, you look up from the page and can’t help but notice a welcome anomaly in the carriage. Seated a few rows across is a fellow bookish traveller, their face lit up not by a screen but the simple pleasure of being totally engrossed in a good book. Just as you get up to leave, your eyes meet and you share a knowing smile. There’s a camaraderie to be felt, for you both know your next favourite read will never run out of battery or experience technical difficulties. It will still be able to stand proud on your bookshelf in the years to come, waiting patiently for the next time you’re willing to fall into its pages and experience the magic all over again.

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Genie's Weekly News (52)

It's the last day of the uni holidays, and I write this after coming home from a very busy day at work - no surprise since it's 'Harry Potter release day'! It of course doesn't have quite the hype of another book being released, but I'll be happy to see how it compares anyway.

*Reading Right Now*


*Previous Posts*
*Recommendation of the Week*


ALL THE FEELS.  That is all.
Well, full review to come as well...

*From The Interwebs*

*Haul/Book Event Recaps*

It's been a very bookish week in general, with not one but two book events...and a TBR that has grown even larger in the meantime!

1. Hachette Christmas Roadshow

These publisher events are a great way to bring together booksellers, authors and those working to bring those stories into stores. It was great to see what new books will be coming up from Hachette for the rest of 2016 and 2017, plus those crime/thrillers in the goodie bag look especially intriguing!:
  • The Girl Before by J.P. Delaney (February 2017) - A psychological thriller with a house that holds secrets from the past.
  • Ragdoll by Daniel Cole (February 2017) - Gory crime, the first in a series.
  • See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt (April 2017) - A retelling of the Lizzie Borden murders.

2. Rachael Craw Skype Event

Although all Aussie fans of the SPARK series would love to meet Rachael in person, this Skype event at Dymocks and hosted by Emily @UncoverAllure  was the next best thing! It was great to hear her thoughts on the series, and us fans got to ask some burning questions about what's happened in the series. She also shared some details about her next book, and I'm hooked already!

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Review: Breathing Under Water by Sophie Hardcastle

30151298Breathing Under Water by Sophie Hardcastle
Released: 12th July 2016
Published by: Hachette Autralia
Genre: YA Contemporary
Source: Publisher
Pages: 310
My Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
Nineteen minutes and eleven seconds separated us at birth. On the official documentation, he is older . . . Although it really has nothing to do with age. What it really means is that I am, and have always been, second. 

Ben and Grace Walker are twins. Growing up in a sleepy coastal town it was inevitable they'd surf. Always close, they hung out more than most brothers and sisters, surfing together for hours as the sun melted into the sea. At seventeen, Ben is a rising surf star, the golden son and the boy all the girls fall in love with. Beside him, Grace feels like she is a mere reflection of his light. In their last year of school, the world beckons, full of possibility. For Grace, finishing exams and kissing Harley Matthews is just the beginning. Then, one day, the unthinkable.

The sun sets at noon and suddenly everything that was safe and predictable is lost. And everything unravels. Breathing Under Water is a lyrical and emotionally powerful novel about life, death and learning to breathe in between.
Thank you to Hachette Australia for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review

Sophie Hardcastle's debut novel is at once effortlessly melodic and powerful;a story of grief, healing and moving forward when the unthinkable occurs. This YA contemporary novel is a stand-out in #LoveOzYA, and definitely will hold its place as one of my top recommended reads of the year! 

I listen to the tumble of each white wash, feel the pull of the tides, the bubble of undercurrents, taste the salt and smell the foam. I imagine all the creatures that have lived and died in this blue body. 

Ben and Grace are twins growing up in a coastal town where being in the water is second nature. Both surfers, they compete together and bond over each other's successes, even if Ben is drifting further as a rising star. Hardcastle has captured this sibling dynamic in all its complexities, along with the very essence of the Walker family. Each and every character is well developed, their weaknesses and struggles depicted in a way which makes them both relatable and so real. With the aftermath of a tragedy to contend with, it was fascinating to see how everyone coped - by either acting out, retreating into a shell or simply being indifferent. What I love about this book is how it portrays the intensity of such strong emotions with a sensitivity and nuance that is completely fitting. There is no 'quick fix', and perhaps it seems that the stages of pain and anguish are necessary to finally reconcile with the past and move forward, more assured of your identity once more; even in the absence of somebody who will be missed. 

The night is so still the sea has turned to glass. As I dip my toes in the water, a wave kisses my ankles. I close my eyes as I wade through time and my mind starts to drift with the tides. During the day, we see ourselves relative to others. We know our place. But out here, cloaked in shadows, my place in the universe is impossible to define. I am stardust, yet I breathe.  

While there is a potential romance on the horizon for Grace, I was glad to note that it didn't in any way supersede the key themes of the novel. The young adults themselves in this book truly take the stage with all their escapades, mistakes, and navigation of the different relationships in their lives. From a tricky situation developing between best friends who seem to be drifting apart, to seeking an escape in the wrong places - I think teens will have a lot to take away from this book. Everyone had their own voice in this novel, and when set against such a beautifully described backdrop, this made for a read that I was completely ensconced in from beginning to end. 

Then I hear her, the ocean - singing. My body sways in purple sea currents, as her melody, a cradlesong, serenades me. I feel blood pulling in my chest like the tides and remember I am still alive. I exist


In all, Breathing Under Water blew me out of the water. Hardcastle deserves high praise for this debut which ebbs and flows with the intricacies of healing and coming up for air after being submerged in the depths of grief.