Jessica Shirvington – Corruption

Jessica Shirvington

Maggie Stevens has lost track of time. It’s easy to do that when you have been shut in the dark with limited food and absolutely no light. Wasted away, and pining for someone that Maggie believes she has irrevocably harmed, Maggie still tries to keep her fitness up for the first chance of escape.

19035609I remember finishing the first book in this duology last year, and feeling incredibly pained at its ending. How could that happen? What chances are there for the next time? Will there be a next time? Of course there had to be another chance, otherwise Maggie would be good and gone forever!

This novel has just as many amazing cliff-hangers and scary parts as Disruption. Gods! I felt myself pulled every which way, and I wanted to keep listening and listening and listening to it. As a talking book, the narrator was excellent at captivating her audience and I felt a particular connection with Gus. Gus, I love you!

Let me say something here. Maggie inspires a loyalty that is quite frightening. It’s not surprising that her father has a similar pull on people. If Maggie ever has offspring (and I hope she does!), then I want them to be the same self-aware, self-punishing individuals that she is.

When you consider that an ‘M-band’ is likely to be produced in our near future, novels like this one are warnings of how things shouldn’t be done. If it was me, I’d want to exploit ‘Perfect Matches’. Instead of going for lust enhancers, I’d travel the world trying to find my Perfect Match. I’m not in the least surprised that this dystopian interpretation of the future also involves a society whose running is based on sex.

Something that Shirvington does extremely well is character building and maintaining characterisation. There isn’t any time where you feel like you’ve jumped into a character’s head and found that everything in there is mixed up from what you expected. What you feel, is what you get.

Tell me this is an Australian author, and I’ll try and reject your claim – it is just that good! I haven’t seen many authors lately that are inspiring and enjoyable to read as Shirvington’s works. Highly recommended. 5 stars.

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Melinda Salisbury – The Sin Eater’s Daughter

The Sin Eater’s Daughter

Melinda Salisbury

Twylla has been chosen to save her kingdom by the God and her duty is to perform the services deserved by treasonous vipers in the country – she lays hands on them and they die from the poison in her skin. No-one can touch her but the royal family – and one of the perks is marrying into it to continue the bloodline.

sineaterThe cover on this book is beautiful, and made me want to read the novel as soon as possible. Sadly though, judging a book by its cover doesn’t always turn out well…

Twylla lacks a spine. She lacks the ability to question what is going on around her, and she lacks the ability to communicate with people her feelings. She sometimes seems to lack feelings at all, except regret. She even admits she feels nothing for her mother!

Oh yes, let’s just have a quick word about the love triangle. Is there even one there? Is this like a ‘Frozen’ love story, where it looks like she loves both of them and can’t choose? It’s pretty clear that Twylla falls in love pretty instantly, and gets suckered in by the first man who treats her as a person.

That Queen is nothing but a bit of bad work. How refreshing to see a monarch who is going to do the whole Oedipus thing for her son without even blinking an eye. Enough said, or I’ll spoilt the plot.

The Sin Eaters of the kingdom are fascinating. When someone dies, their sins are visualised as food, and the Sin Eater is called to eat those sins so that the person doesn’t wander. What I wondered was how many Sin Eaters there were, and how isolated the practice was. Surely one woman can’t eat that many sins with the death rate present in those sorts of society?

Apparently this is the first book in the series. I think I would actually like to read the next in the series – maybe the author will have fixed the pacing issues, and given a bit more thought as to making a more independent heroine. 3 stars for this one from me.

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Interview with Karelia Stetz-Waters

Today I have the honor of introducing my new interview series with an interview with the wonderful Karelia Stetz-Waters. I’ve reviewed a number of her novels, including The Admirer, Something True, and Forgive Me if I’ve Told You This Before. I’ve loved all of them, despite (or perhaps because) them being across a range of genres.

glasses-copy-2Karelia Stetz-Waters is an English professor by day and writer by early morning. She has a BA from Smith College in Comparative Literature and an MA in English from the University of Oregon. Other formative experiences include a childhood spent roaming the Oregon woods and several years spent exploring Portland as a broke 20-something, which is the only way to experience Oregon’s coolest, weirdest city. She now lives with her wife, Fay, her pug dog, Lord Byron, and her cat, Cyrus the Disemboweler. She teaches at a rural community college which  provides ample inspiration for writing, as the college attracts all walks of life, from Sudanese refugees to fresh-out-of-the-closet drag queens. Her interests include large snakes, conjoined twins, corn mazes, lesbians, popular science books on neurology, and any roadside attraction that purports to have the world’s largest ball of twine.

I feel like I should ask you about your most recent novel that I read, The Admirer, but perhaps it would be more interesting to talk about the novels you have planned for Wilson and Helen. I’m dying to get my hands on your next one, The Purveyor. What am I going to love about it?

  • The Purveyor is an emotional tour de force. It’s long and gorgeous and anguished. But it’s also a story of redemptive love, so the end is, in the language of gamers, an “epic win.” I also think it contains one of the most unique, beautiful, and controversial sex scenes you’ll find in contemporary literature.  

When you were younger, did you know you wanted to be an author? Did you study at university because it was expected, or because you enjoyed it?

  • When I was twenty, I volunteered at a feminist magazine. I remember sitting in the office with the older staff members. Someone asked me what I wanted to do after college. I said I wanted to marry a woman, be an English professor, and write a novel. They laughed, but I’ve done all three. As for college, I loved it and it was expected. I’m a third generation teacher.  

You say it’s taken 10 years for you to publish a novel, have you ever thought about self-publishing? What made you aim for professional presses?

  • Self-publishing is a great option for some people, but it robs the author of one vital part of the creative process: crushing rejection. I aimed for professional presses because I wanted to know that I was good enough to get in. My early rejections – and I got A LOT – pushed me to be a better writer. Here’s a bit more on surviving rejection.

In other fiction, using repetitive symbols can equally be annoying, or wonderful if used correctly. Do you ever actively connect symbols and the actual characters you write? From what I’ve read about ‘The Purveyor’, the conjoined twins are a sort of metaphor for Adair to break away from her family.

  • I think the key is to let symbols arise naturally from the story. The Purveyor is about the people to whom we are bound: by love, by family, by sin, by desire, by hatred, by slavery, by guilt. It was very important to me to make the conjoined twins complex characters (not just a freaky sideshow) and by the end of the book I realized they embodied all those connections, but I didn’t plan it that way.

Do you start feeling like you are the characters in your novel as you are writing them? I certainly get into the heads of them while I’m reading them, that’s what makes your novels so enjoyable.

  • There is a point in the writing process when I hold the entire story in my mind, and it is like having another world, another life that travels alongside me. It makes boring meetings go faster, but it’s dangerous too. Sometimes I’ve missed out on my real life because I was so immersed in a story.    

Do you have a writing schedule? What does your writing process look like? I love the idea of using index cards to move the scenes around. Do you use a special pen or composite notebooks to write in?

  • I write every morning before work. I usually write with a Lamy fountain pen in one of those black and white composition notebooks. I do try, though, to remember that writing is not about the perfect pen. I knew a woman who claimed she could only write on a particular sofa at a particular coffee shop. When the coffee shop closed, she never wrote again.

Can you tell me about a typical week? Have you ever been on a scheduled writing retreat, or is your self-motivation enough?

  • I’m very sociable and I get more done when I’m busy. I write 10+ hours a week, teach three classes a term, and I’m the chair of my English department. My colleagues ask me if I would ever consider a sabbatical, and the answer is no. I’m like a border collie. If you leave me alone in the house for too long, I’ll eat the sofa.

Is keeping up with your online presence daunting? How do you gauge how successful your social media campaigns are?

  • I love social media. It’s so gratifying to hear from readers who have enjoyed my work. With that said, I don’t know how good my social media campaigns are. I did a big video blog campaign for The Purveyor, and I don’t think it helped much, although I’ll enjoy looking back on those videos. They capture a lot of my. This is my favorite: First Day of Summer.

Do you believe in ongoing promotion of your novels? It seems like most novels come out as new and if they don’t sell in the first month, then they’re gone. Your novels have the right to shine for longer than that.

  • I think that every good book I write builds an audience for my other work. I wrote The Admirer hoping to drive traffic to my at-that-time-unpublished Forgive Me If I’ve Told You This Before. As it turned out Forgive Me got more critical acclaim and drove traffic to The Admirer instead.

You’ve given a number of other interviews:

A couple of these people also write novels in your genres. Have you read their books? Did they reach out to you for an interview?

  • I’ve read work by Jody Klaire, Liz McMullen, and AJ Adaire and enjoyed them all. I don’t remember exactly how we connected, but I do know that I owe a lot to Sapphire Books. It’s a great press, and they helped me connect with readers around the world.

Finally, are there any questions you wish people would ask, or wouldn’t ask? This could be about anything you want to talk about further.

  • Both The Admirer and The Purveyor contain a lot of sexual content, some of it quite edgy. Very few people have ever asked about this aspect of my work, which is fine (I blush easily!) but if I were interviewing, I would probably ask.
  • One thing I’d like to talk about more, perhaps just to help me understand it myself, is my Estonian heritage. My mother was an Estonian war refugee, and that did and did not have a big impact on my childhood. I wrote about that experience in a blog called “My Grandmother Poses with a Desiccated Corpse.” The thesis is that we are more deeply connected to the past and to the world than pure logic can ever explain.

Do you have any further questions you would like to ask of Karelia? Working with her in order to obtain copies of her novels, and to ask for an interview has been a rewarding process, and she’s a very personable person to talk to.

You can find her on a range of platforms:

I hope this interview leaves you wanting more. I have a chance to ask interesting questions of a range of authors that I review novels from. Let me know who you want to see next!

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Mark Radford – Virgin Quest

Virgin Quest

Mark Radford

Tom is ready to race in the Virgin quest, a staged performance of single men performing running and resisting temptations in order to win an honest woman. Tom continues to prove his morality, but who knows which side will win?

virginquestI won this novel in a GoodReads first reads giveaway. Otherwise, honestly, I wouldn’t have bothered finishing it. At a pathetic 100-odd pages long, 46 pages in and I was rushing to finish it. Not for the right reasons.

I don’t get the race’s point in the first place. Or why Tom’s mother is so against it. What’s going to happen? They’re going to drop out and get sex anyway? Are general women so bad that you have to race to get them?

I didn’t understand where this was taking place. All over the world? In a little world set by the author? Where was it occurring in time? What was the athlete’s village? Should I imagine it is an Olympics venue?

This is apparently a satire on the romance game, with a touch of mystery All I got from it was a vague sense of being cheated. The idea had merit, but it didn’t feel particularly well thought out and the execution was poor.

The language is halting, the conversations disjointed, and the characters one-sided. The bad blokes are clearly bad, and the mystery never really builds. I’m happy Tom ended up with some girl, but I don’t see why he had to race to get there.

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Anne Cassidy – Finding Jennifer Jones

Finding Jennifer Jones

Anne Cassidy

Jennifer Jones has been asked to relocate her life once again. Now named Kate Rickman, she seems just like any other girl, going to university and working casually. Her past is always haunting her, and when current events in her life break her reserves, she contacts the only other person who was there when Jennifer killed for the first time.

jjI listened to this as a talking book. Reading the first one sufficiently whet my interest when I received it as a review copy about a year ago. It had its downsides, but it had an unusual storyline that I enjoyed.

Kate is a rather inconsistent and selfish character. But you get used to it, and find yourself enjoying life inside her head. The other characters could have done with a bit more fleshing out, but given that it is all from Kate’s very limited perspective, it was acceptable.

As with the first, I felt frustrated by the flashbacks. I would have just preferred them here and there, but instead, as it was a talking book, I just had to try remember what was going on in the ‘real’ world the rest of the time. There was far too much recapping which also made me feel frustrated! I’d already heard all about the findings in the clearing (which were still vague) and had grasped most of what was going on in the background, even if Alice/Kate/Jennifer didn’t.

Kate frustrated me! Arg! Kate! Surely she should know better than to respond to her old names? How do the media know that it is her, apart from the fact she responds to it? If she can look enough like another person to use their passport, I’m not sure why it was easy for the media to identify her.

I wonder if there will be a third book. I don’t want to hear about the immediate future of Jennifer, I want to know what it’s like to be a fully-fledged adult with a criminal background.

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Karelia Stetz-Waters – The Admirer

The Admirer
Karelia Stetz-Waters

Helen Ivers has just become president of a tiny little college literally in the middle of nowhere. The college is out of money, and falling apart, and Helen is falling apart too. With a lonely set of legs greeting her on her first visit, and a VERY helpful secretary, Helen will be the next victim if she doesn’t get her act together.

19360798This author knows how to pack a punch. I was blown away by the way Karelia drew me into loving her protagonist and then added as many things as possible to her life that made me want to cringe away – just like watching the metaphorical train wreck (haha).

It isn’t ever clear to the reader who the true culprit is, except that it is a man (from the pronouns used in the parts that . The ‘red herrings’ that another reviewer complained of didn’t bother me. I found that it only added to the suspense, as one by one the potential killers are crossed off the list, and yet the victims remain in danger.

The denied romance between Wilson and Ivers added another layer of tension. Even as you wished Helen would give in to her desires, she doesn’t, and refuses to accept anything. The people Helen trusts are few, and as the reader can tell the killer is not a woman, the reader is pretty much driven mad by Helen’s refusal to trust Wilson.

What I would have liked more would have been if I got more background on how the killer came to come away from the asylum, be educated, and then go back to living nearby. Small town politics are one thing, covering up years of history is another.

Something I didn’t get a sense for was the time period of the novel. How many places still have a potentially deadly asylum and wells left in the forest? Especially in the USA, where surely things have been expanded into rapidly? But then I reflected on the homeless camp depicted in the novel and concluded that bad things still happen, and who knows what is lurking in the dark?

I’m not sure how convinced I am of the ending. I don’t mind things being left open, but without the promise of something more that is actually substantial, I don’t know how to feel. Imagine my surprise when I looked on GoodReads and discovered another novel containing Helen and Wilson. Let me at it!

I so want to discuss this novel further, I enjoyed it that much. But I don’t want to give away all of its secrets – go and get a copy for yourself.

I requested this novel from the author after very much enjoying two of her other novels (Something True and Forgive Me If I’ve Told You This Before). These are a set of books I wouldn’t hesitate recommending you to buy – and I’m fulling intending on getting my hands on more paperback copies of all her novels, for rereading again and again and again.

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Jennifer Word – The Society Book One: Genesis

The Society Book One: Genesis

Jennifer Word

Jessica Wembly is a normal human being as far as she knows. She’s got a typical life of a mid-twenties woman, and yet someone is suddenly interested in her. She is captured, and taken to a hidden facility – but isn’t brought down without a fight. Her reluctance to give up  forms the skeleton around which escape plans are made.

The SocietyThis cover isn’t as pretty as the version I have (not to mention horrifically bad quality from GoodReads). *Update, I took a photo of the book cover I have. Pretty!* These people don’t have anything to do with plants at all! But a plain, simple cover means that the inside can be all the more intriguing.

The novel cuts a fine line between evolution, science-fiction,  and faith. Creationism is in full force for some of the characters, and others try to think of things as just fate, or normal evolution that other people are coming up with.

I found the aliens a little hard to stomach, but in for a cent, in for a dollar? I had gone along with the rest of the novel, and the idea of the mutants having been created, so there was no point in disbelieving it. I’d be interested to see what comes out of the second novel.

I felt like that with more polishing this novel could have been very powerful. Some relationships that could have been more explored, and some language that made me a bit doubtful at times but all this was held up by a solid storyline and multiple intrigues for each character. Nothing like a little love side story, and some knowledge that is missing from everyone’s minds (including the mind-reader’s) to keep things interesting.

I wasn’t entirely convinced by the state of Jessica when in solitary confinement. What would I know though? I never felt like she was in real danger – someone with her abilities, even with PTSD, would still be useful to the government and wouldn’t be allowed to die. Whether they would escape or not, that was another thing, and it was definitely not certain.

Sadly, I was hit with poor research right from the beginning. A ‘special substance’ is added to the drinking water the moment inhabitants arrive at the facility. The only problem there is that the substance is ATP. Now, for those of you who aren’t science nerds like me, basically ATP is what makes your entire body function. Your body would actually just use it as normal fuel, no matter how much you tried to ingest. Every time the doctor mentioned it, the more frustrated I became. So basically, the background of the science is wrong – but it didn’t effect the rest of the story.

To be totally transparent, when Jennifer contacted me to ask me to review her novel, she was looking for an honest review after a spate of ‘glowing’ reviews, to find something she might improve on, and a bit of variety in her review ratings! That hasn’t actually made me want to give her any particular stars from me, so take it as my word that I think this novel is worth 3 to 4 stars, and isn’t a waste of your time. All those ‘negative points’ aren’t as much negative as helpful.

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Darren Simon – Guardian’s Nightmare

Guardian’s Nightmare

Darren Simon

Charlee Smelton has just moved to San Francisco. She hates the city, she hates her school, and she doesn’t fit in at all. To make things worse, her dad just dragged home the most un-cool bike she’s ever seen. That bike is going to make trouble… and then maybe save her from it?

22246835Charlee is an unlikely heroine that embodies all of the things that make school bullies nasty. She likes soda, she couldn’t care less what she wears, and she’s just a little bit ‘odd’. To me, she’s a convincing character that despite being scared, like we all are at times, she still confronts her fears, and tries to do the best thing she sees at the time – even if that gets her into trouble!

So the setup was a bit transparent, and the rate at which common people accepted the oddities happening in San Francisco was unrealistic, but the characters themselves felt like they had stepped right out of childhood. And that made their problems relatable, and their characters something that a reader could empathise with.

This is not a simple ‘good guy wins, bad guy loses’, ‘good triumphs over evil’ story. Charlee can still get hurt, real people can get hurt, people lie for the worst and best reason, and it’s all perfectly normal! Apart from that odd bike…

I did have a small problem with the artwork on the novel’s jacket. The sideways Pegasus didn’t do anything for me, and made me think that the book was produced at a low cost. Additionally, the blurb left me wanting something more – but didn’t make me want to read the book. Once I got into it though, it wasn’t so bad :)

Ugh. Some of the reviews by other reviewers do not give this novel enough justice! It’s a middle-grade novel, you shouldn’t be expecting something that is too lengthy or depthy (that should be a word!). Giving a novel a positive review, yet low stars, is what upsets me about GoodRead’s scoring system. I enjoyed this novel, and if I was in the target age group, I’d for sure give it a 3-4 star rating. So that’s what I’m giving it – an above standard middle-grade novel that was enjoyable, but not perfect. I would certainly recommend it to middle-grade readers.

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Cynthia Hand – The Last Time We Say Goodbye

The Last Time We Say Goodbye

Cynthia Hand

Lexi used to be a typical teenager – as typical as a very intelligent proclaimed math nerd can get. Now she’s just the girl who’s brother committed suicide. With a heavy dose of blame, and the beginning of panic attacks, her psychiatrist suggests that she writes a journal to get her thoughts out.

17285330Since I listened to this as an audiobook, I’m not actually sure which parts were the journal, and which parts were actually happening as time went on. It didn’t matter to me though. The audio-reader did a fantastic job of differentiating between the different voices of the characters, and I felt that the author’s intentions underlying her different storytelling techniques were not lost.

At times the novel tried to set me crying. I listened to it while doing some craft-work and I had to stop and put my things down! I listened to it with my partner in some places, and she was just as invested in the story as I was, even though it seemed to be very long!

That damn letter! Arg! The whole middle section of the novel had me wishing she would just open the damn thing already, and damn her morals! She feels so conflicted about everything, and surely simplifying just one or two things would be good. At least then she would know why Ty left.

Lex blames herself for Ty’s death, because she feels that she wasn’t there for him. The ending satisfactorily wraps this up, and gives the reader important points to take away. This, along with all the repercussions of his death, really highlights to the reader that suicide is not a ‘weak’ choice.

The secondary characters seem unimportant for the majority of the novel, but at least some of them gradually develop. Mainly we don’t see any action from them because Lex is too caught up in her own problems and spirit-filled world. Stephen could have had a bit more of a showing, and I would have loved to see inside his head sometimes. But that’s the problem with first-person novels! I’ll never know!

Overall, this novel gets my whole-hearted thumbs up. 5 stars from me – I only wish I had the time to reread it though.

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Robert Uttaro – To the Survivors

To the Survivors
Robert Uttaro

This novel is written by a rape crisis counselor, who has dealt with rape survivors for the last 7 years. He has done events to increase the awareness of rape, and supported the survivor speakers at those events. And now he has written a novel, exposing some of the day-to-day realities of how survivors deal with the world, and how the world can be more sensitive towards them.

The horrifying statistics of rape, for 1 in 4 women, and 1 in 6 men, at least in the USA, should pinprick a readers heart, and then the stories from the survivors themselves will stop your heart from beating. Depending on how sensitive you are feeling that day, you might even find yourself in tears.
This novel is written by a man. Why would you want a book about rape written by a man? All men are rapist, right? Not so. Uttaro makes it abundantly clear that rape is not just for women, or that only women are affected. Men who are raped are less common, but that doesn’t mean they don’t go through the same healing process.
The quality of this novel is in its storytelling within the chapters closer to the end. While the background information on the author is interesting, it is not as keenly occupying as the stories. The text is usually well written and expressed, although there are some sections where I didn’t mind putting the book down. It is not fiction however, and therefore please don’t expect a linear ‘narrative’.
Why might I want to read a novel about rape, of all things? The author himself asked me this question, because my usual reading of things is fiction or fantasy, and this novel is certainly not either of those. It’s about the human story. I love hearing about extremes of the ‘human condition’ – rape, suicide, murder, violence – because I like to know the motives of it, I want to know what it really is like. This novel gets inside the minds of rape survivors and makes it possible for the reader to empathize.
I’d strongly recommend this novel to ALL readers. It’s certainly intended as an adult novel, but I think that mature teenagers should be allowed access to it. Nay, even encouraged to read it. Potentially excerpts could be used in high schools, such as in health and development days. The only way to stigmatize rape and decrease it’s incidence is to TALK ABOUT IT. This novel provides a good starting point for that discussion.
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