Sunday, November 22, 2015

Book-to-film review: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2

The rebellion is out in full force, but does the final instalment end with a blazing inferno or just a warm fizzle? You decide.

What it's about:

At the end of the saga, Katniss Everdeen realises that the stakes are no longer just for survival—they are for the future.


Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Julianne Moore, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jeffrey Wright, Stanley Tucci, Donald Sutherland

Francis Lawrence

Release Date:
November 20, 2015

Our Rating: ***

Review first appeared on Check out what our sister site, Channel24 had to say about the movie.

Final instalments in a movie franchise can be a tricky thing. Conclusions in a movie franchise split into two parts are even trickier to pull off.

For one, it’s the movie that reveals whether the decision to split the movie was a good one, and secondly, it’s the definitive and deciding measure as to whether or not the franchise is successful as a whole.

After enjoying the first movie, suffering my way through the second and absolutely loving the penultimate in the third, I find myself feeling rather undecided about the conclusion.

There’s a lot that I loved and didn’t love about the movie. As a film adaptation I think the conclusion of the movie has come to a fitting end.

As a book purist who adored the novels, I feel as if part two was a patchwork collection of snapshots thrown together to form a series of disjointed images that you could only understand had you watched the first movie.

Would it have worked better if it was never split into two in the first place? If it meant sacrificing some of the character driven aspects of the first part of the movie – aspects which I personally loved – then, honestly speaking, I could certainly see this being a much better film.

That said, my overall experience of the film wasn’t entirely a bad one.

Darker, moodier and far more intense than its predecessors, Mockingjay: Part 2 immediately kicks off from where we last left off.  Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) may be back with the rebellion, but the changes and torture he endured in the Capitol is still plainly evident during the first half of the movie.

Hutcherson’s performance as a darker, stronger and far more violent Peeta is impressive this time around; I’ve always thought that he had a lot more potential than he showed in the previous movies and I’m happy to see that he’s really gotten into character in a way that’s as close to the book as possible.

For those complaining about the lack of action in the first movie, plot-driven fans will be a lot happier this time around.  The movie progresses more rapidly than the first one; the new dynamic between Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta adding an uneasy element to an already volatile situation.

War is at hand and the stakes are high.  Forced to go underground, the rebel soldiers find themselves traversing through a minefield of deadly traps in order to make their way through the Capitol in order take control and defeat President Snow.


Lawrence and Donald Sutherland shine in their roles of the two enemies pitted against each other, while Julianne Moore adds an extra level of menace in her role as President Coin.


I’ve had a lot to say about the movies over  the years, but the one thing that has always been consistent is Lawrence’s excellent embodiment of Katniss Everdeen.

In Mockingjay: Part 2, we see a ruthless, determined and aggressive Lawrence channelling the very spirit of a Katniss Everdeen taken straight from the book, so if you really need a reason to watch the movie, then do watch it for her performance.

The Hunger Games series is the perfect book and movie series that delves deeply into the consequences of war, the ambiguity of all the morally grey areas that come with the price of war and the social, economic and political effects of a dictatorship that had far-reaching consequences.

Overall, the conclusion reaches a mildly satisfying end; the journey through the various movies – despite my mixed feelings - proving far more interesting than the final conclusion. 

Do watch it at the movies though – it should at least be experienced on a big screen.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Book review: The Casquette Girls by Alys Arden (aka the book that surprised me in the best way possible)

Summary from Goodreads
Publisher: Skyscape
Source: Received by the publishers via netgalley
Publication date: 17 November 2015

Seven girls tied by time.
Five powers that bind.
One curse to lock the horror away.
One attic to keep the monsters at bay.

After the storm of the century rips apart New Orleans, sixteen-year-old Adele Le Moyne wants nothing more than her now silent city to return to normal. But with home resembling a war zone, a parish-wide curfew, and mysterious new faces lurking in the abandoned French Quarter, normal needs a new definition.

As the city murder rate soars, Adele finds herself tangled in a web of magic that weaves back to her own ancestors. Caught in a hurricane of myths and monsters, who can she trust when everyone has a secret and keeping them can mean life or death? Unless . . . you’re immortal

What I thought of the book:

The Casquette Girls is a book that has been described as “an epic love letter to New Orleans.”

Now I haven’t been to New Orleans, but the one thing I can do is recognise when an author imbues every part of her soul into giving the reader an Odyssey-like experience into the heart, soul and settings of a book.

Alys Arden?

She’s done all that and more in this unexpectedly lush and gloriously compelling paranormal fiction novel. Blending both the history of New Orleans, with myths, urban legends and modern day settings, The Casquette Girls is a smorgasbord filled with storytelling at its finest.

It’s not often that I’m caught off guard by books, but The Casquette Girls has managed to do so with its interesting and seemingly normal heroine, lore dedicated to the vampires of yonder (i.e. the not-so-benevolent kind) and detailed and incredibly interesting historical aspects that detail life in pre-colonial New Orleans.

Add voodoo, witchcraft and deliciously dark gothic and romantic undertones and you’ve got yourself a beautifully atmospheric read that will send shivers down your spine.

Read it and experience it for yourself.

There’s romance, there’s magic and diversity, but mostly, there’s a moody, beautiful city that’s positively brimming with life, both natural and supernatural.

Huge kudos to Alys for capturing the spirit of human survival and perseverance in the midst of the worst circumstances possible. This, above all, was probably my favourite aspect about the novel.

I can’t wait for the next book.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Book talk: 10 books I’m planning to read before I buy more new books

Ah, the plight(s) of a book lover.

I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who is guilty of this, but at the moment, there are tons of books sitting in my shelves still waiting to be read. In the past month or so, I’ve made many a verbal agreement about self-imposed book buying bans, but to no avail.

I’ve even roped in one of my fabulous book blogging friends, but the lovely Urbanised Geek was just as bad at upholding her end of the bargain as I was (and am).

In light of this, I’ve decided the next best thing would be to make a list of 10 books I’m going to read next before I buy any additional books. At this rate, the books that I’ve been buying will never be read, so I’m considering this an intervention of sorts.

Without further ado, these are the books I’ll be reading before rewarding myself with new books. *grins*

1. After the Woods by Kim Savage

Would you risk your life to save your best friend?

Julia did. When a paroled predator attacked Liv in the woods, Julia fought back and got caught.

Liv ran, leaving Julia in the woods for a terrifying 48 hours that she remembers only in flashbacks. One year later, Liv seems bent on self-destruction, starving herself, doing drugs, and hooking up with a violent new boyfriend.

A dead girl turns up in those same woods, and Julia’s memories resurface alongside clues unearthed by an ambitious reporter that link the girl to Julia’s abductor.

As the devastating truth becomes clear, Julia realizes that after the woods was just the beginning.

Add the book to your TBR pile.

I’ve been looking forward to this book for ages, so huge thanks to Macmillan publishers for sending me a galley for review. I’ve been really getting into psychological thrillers of late, so After the Woods is definitely a book I’m hoping will deliver on thrills and chills.

2.The Girl at Midnight by Melissa Grey
Beneath the streets of New York City live the Avicen, an ancient race of people with feathers for hair and magic running through their veins.

Age-old enchantments keep them hidden from humans. All but one. Echo is a runaway pickpocket who survives by selling stolen treasures on the black market, and the Avicen are the only family she's ever known.

Echo is clever and daring, and at times she can be brash, but above all else she's fiercely loyal.

So when a centuries-old war crests on the borders of her home, she decides it's time to act.

Another book that’s been sitting on my shelf for ages that I’ve been meaning to read. It’s been a while since I’ve last read a gritty urban fantasy novel and this one looks like it might be right up my alley!

I’m definitely looking forward to learning more about the Avicen folk. They sound very intriguing.

Read more about the book on Goodreads

3. Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson

Lee Westfall has a strong, loving family. She has a home she loves and a loyal steed. She has a best friend—who might want to be something more.

She also has a secret.

Lee can sense gold in the world around her. Veins deep in the earth. Small nuggets in a stream. Even gold dust caught underneath a fingernail.

She has kept her family safe and able to buy provisions, even through the harshest winters. But what would someone do to control a girl with that kind of power?

A person might murder for it.

When everything Lee holds dear is ripped away, she flees west to California—where gold has just been discovered. Perhaps this will be the one place a magical girl can be herself. If she survives the journey.

Add it to your TBR pile

I’ve never read a book that’s been set in the Gold rush era, which is a huge part of the reason that I’m so keen to read this book. Having said that, I’ve also heard that Rae’s heroines are really kickass and I really like the sound of Lee, whose ability is one I haven’t come across in any genre as of yet.

4. Uprooted by Naomi Novik

Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted Wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life.

Her people rely on the cold, driven wizard known only as the Dragon to keep its powers at bay.

But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as falling to the Wood.

The next choosing is fast approaching, and Agnieszka is afraid.

She knows—everyone knows—that the Dragon will take Kasia: beautiful, graceful, brave Kasia, all the things Agnieszka isn’t, and her dearest friend in the world. And there is no way to save her.

But Agnieszka fears the wrong things. For when the Dragon comes, it is not Kasia he will choose.

Click here to add it to your Goodreads TBR pile

Uprooted is a book that’s been labelled as one of the best fantasy reads of this year. Besides the gorgeous cover, I immediately fell in love with the synopsis of the book. Also, one of the interns who work with us has been bugging me to read this book for ages. Says she needs someone to talk to about this awesome book, so who am I to deny her when I’m just as keen to read this book? 

5. Everything Everything by Nicola Yoon

Madeline Whittier is allergic to the outside world. So allergic, in fact, that she has never left the house in all of her seventeen years.

But when Olly moves in next door, and wants to talk to Maddie, tiny holes start to appear in the protective bubble her mother has built around her.

Olly writes his IM address on a piece of paper, shows it at her window, and suddenly, a door opens. But does Maddie dare to step outside her comfort zone?

Add it to your TBR pile

This one I’m actually about to start. I’ve heard marvellous things so I am crossing fingers and toes that I enjoy this book as much as everyone else seems to have.


6. Inherit the Stars by Tessa Elwood

Three royal houses ruling three interplanetary systems are on the brink of collapse, and they must either ally together or tear each other apart in order for their people to survive.

Asa is the youngest daughter of the house of Fane, which has been fighting a devastating food and energy crisis for far too long.

She thinks she can save her family’s livelihood by posing as her oldest sister in an arranged marriage with Eagle, the heir to the throne of the house of Westlet.

The appearance of her mother, a traitor who defected to the house of Galton, adds fuel to the fire, while Asa also tries to save her sister Wren's life . . . possibly from the hands of their own father.

But as Asa and Eagle forge a genuine bond, will secrets from the past and the urgent needs of their people in the present keep them divided?

Check it out on Goodreads

Another book I’m starting round about now, Inherit the Stars is actually a galley I’ve been invited to read by the publishers of the book. I’ve seen some really great reviews for this one and must admit that I’m intrigued by the concept of the book. Seems like blend of space opera sci-fi meets a bit of fantasy; here’s to hoping this read lives up to the good reviews I’ve stumbled across. 

7. I’ll Give you the Sun by Jandy Nelson

Jude and her twin Noah were incredibly close - until a tragedy drove them apart, and now they are barely speaking. 

Then Jude meets a cocky, broken, beautiful boy as well as a captivating new mentor, both of whom may just need her as much as she needs them.

What the twins don't realize is that each of them has only half the story and if they can just find their way back to one another, they have a chance to remake their world.

Add it to your Goodreads pile

I know. I know. It’s Jandy Nelson. I should have read this book a while ago. Thing is, when a book becomes hyped up, I feel like I’m under too much pressure to read it.

With everyone insisting on me reading this book, well, it began to feel as if I wouldn’t enjoy the book, which is why I’ve been putting it off. I think I’m finally ready to read it now though and expect to definitely fall in love with this one (Basically Jandy can do no wrong in my eyes).

8. Night Owls by Jenn Bennett

(The US edition is known as The Anatomical Shape of a Heart )

Meeting Jack on the Owl—San Francisco's night bus—turns Beatrix's world upside down.

Jack is charming, wildly attractive...and possibly one of San Francisco's most notorious graffiti artists.

But Jack is hiding a piece of himself.

On midnight rides and city rooftops, Beatrix begins to see who this enigmatic boy really is.

Check it out on Goodreads

Travelling night bus, graffiti artist ruffian and a girl trying to figure this mysterious boy out? Why, yes please…  

9. Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

This is a world divided by blood – red or silver.

The poverty-stricken Reds are commoners, living in the shadow of the Silvers, elite warriors with god-like powers.

To Mare Barrow, a 17-year-old Red girl from the Stilts, it looks like nothing will ever change.

Then Mare finds herself working at the Silver palace, in the midst of those she hates the most.

She quickly discovers that, despite her red blood, she possesses a deadly power of her own. One that threatens to destroy Silver control.

Add to your TBR pile here

Another one of those reads that I’ve seen around almost everywhere. I’m finally ready to give this one a go as well. I hope the hype is worth it, because this book really does sound awesome.
10. Vendetta by Catherine Doyle

When five brothers move into the abandoned mansion in her neighbourhood, Sophie Gracewell's life changes forever.

Irresistibly drawn to bad boy Nicoli, Sophie finds herself falling into a criminal underworld governed by powerful families.

As the boys' dark secrets begin to come to light, Sophie is confronted with stinging truths about her own family, too.

She must choose between two warring dynasties - the one she was born into, and the one she is falling in love with. When she does, blood will spill and hearts will break.

More info on Goodreads

YA and mafia madness? Falling in love with the sworn enemy? Yes. Yes. I’m a sucker for these kind of things, so sue me. :)

Which books (sitting in your shelves) do you still hope to read before the end of the year?

Monday, November 9, 2015

Mini book review: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews

In today’s mini reviews feature, I share my brief thoughts on Me and Earl and The Dying Girl

Source: Review copy received from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

You can purchase a copy of the book via 

Summery: Goodreads
Publication date (film tie-in version): 2015 (first published in 2012)
Publisher: Allen & Unwin

Greg Gaines is the last master of high school espionage, able to disappear at will into any social environment.

He has only one friend, Earl, and together they spend their time making movies, their own incomprehensible versions of Coppola and Herzog cult classics.

Until Greg’s mother forces him to rekindle his childhood friendship with Rachel.

Rachel has been diagnosed with leukemia—-cue extreme adolescent awkwardness—-but a parental mandate has been issued and must be obeyed. 

When Rachel stops treatment, Greg and Earl decide the thing to do is to make a film for her, which turns into the Worst Film Ever Made and becomes a turning point in each of their lives.

And all at once Greg must abandon invisibility and stand in the spotlight.

What I thought of the book:

Hilarious. Flat-out hilarious.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is the perfect antidote to those sad cancer books you so often see in the ya genre.

There's nothing wrong with those books per say, but it is refreshing to see an author approach this kind of book from a completely different angle, opting for the perspective of a male teen who would like nothing more than to be socially invisible.

Take two hilariously awkward misfits (one of them with a penchant for extreme profanity - and I mean the EXTREME, make-you-snort-out-loud because it's just so hysterically inappropriate kind), add one overbearing mom who forces them to become friends with a girl with months left to live, mix in some really bad film-making and awkward navigational routes through the social spectrum and you have yourself a recipe for one laugh-out-loud book that should by all accounts be one of the saddest books you'll read.

The only reason this book gets a 3 star and not a 5 star rating? Is that the ending fell rather flat for me. For me it felt like it built up to something epic, only to go out with a bit of a fizz. 

However, don’t let that put you off.

Please. If anything, read it for Greg – the main character – alone.

His voice is wonderfully and hilariously self-deprecating; any person who has struggled with social awkwardness will be able to relate to him as he tries to manoeuvre his way through the various social hierarchies without standing out or making any enemies. 

(Ha, I love how he thinks this is possible.)

And Earl. Oh my aching soul. Earl.

You know what? You should experience Earl for yourself. 

Just read this book. You’ll be howling with laughter and cackling away like a mad old hag – that’s certainly what I was doing while I was reading this book.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Guest book review: Asking for it by Louise O’Neill

Emma O’Donovan wakes up in pain. She’s not wearing any underwear and has absolutely no idea what happened to her the previous night. Is it still rape if you can’t remember?

Spoiler alert: Yes… yes it is. If your answer is anything but yes, then it’s only serves to show just why books like these are important.

Special thanks to my colleague, Marisa Crous, for her brilliant review of Louise O’ Neill’s Asking for It. Review first appeared on

You can purchase a copy of the book via

Asking for it by Louise O’Neill (first published in 2015 by Quercus)
A guy suggestively licks his lips as he passes you in the street on your way to work or someone calls you a “slut” for sleeping with more than one guy.

Or a school girl wears a dress to a party, one that can easily be mistaken for a t-shirt. She gets wasted and wakes up the next afternoon on her parents’ porch - sunburnt as hell, sans underwear.

The latter happened to Emma O’Donovan. A gorgeous, popular and confident 18 year-old teenage girl from the fictional town of Ballinatoom in Ireland. Yet another small Irish town fast-experiencing the Americanisation of youth culture.

‘Asking for it’ by Louis O’Neill is an eye-opening read, subtly pointing out the vast range of discipline techniques used by men and also by women to continually punish females for their seemingly provocative, “slutty” behaviour. Basically, because they are not behaving like “good girls”.

Dealing with issues of privacy in the age of social media, where victim-blaming persists despite supposed gender equal societies and opportunities, slut-shaming has become the ultimate punishment tool.

The most dominant theme in this book is that of consent. Consent or permission: to touch, to feel, to be. Does it matter if you can’t remember? Was it really rape if you didn’t experience the rape part itself?

Of course it matters. Of course it is rape.

The story of what happened to this fictional Ballinatoom Girl in O’Neill’s novel, is much the same as the much-publicised Steubenville, Ohio case back in 2011.

An unsupervised party, drunken kids and then a “slutty” girl gets gang-raped. It’s captured and shared via text and on social media. The perpetrators? The town’s jocks, the so-called “good boys from good families”.

The girl remembers nothing. Yet she’s to blame by the entire town. She’s the whore who flirted, dressed inappropriately and asked for it.

From the students at Emma’s school to her best friends and her loving parents, Emma gets blamed. What were you wearing Emma? How much did you have to drink?

Not, how do we punish the guys who raped Emma. No. The question of consent is not one that needs to be discussed at length. There is a yes or a no. Passed out, unable to respond should by any standard be seen as a clear no.

Giving permission or consent basically boils down to the issue of respect. And women are still not respected. And it’s evident in the most subtle things like a guy licking his lips at you: you’re a thing.

Or Emma’s Mam (mother), at one point in the book, notes that it’s silly of her to expect her husband (Emma’s father) to find her attractive if she “just let’s herself go”. (Her fault).

Or when Emma finally sees the rape pictures posted online, on a page titled “Easy Emma”, the comments read: “Some people deserve to get pissed on” and “slut, whore”. Pictures of Emma getting raped by a group of local boys. They rape her, vomit and pee on her before dumping her on her porch like a bag of trash. (Her fault).

Your body, her body, all women’s bodies, no matter their class or race are not there to be used.

And what kind of twisted fuck wants to have sex with a lifeless corpse?

A sick one, not a “good boy from a good family”.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Blog tour: The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin - A song of words (a different sort of review)

1. “ A jellyfish, if you watch it long enough,  begins to look like a heart beating. It doesn't matter what kind: the blood-red Atolla with its flashing siren lights, the frilly flower hat variety,  or the near-transparent moon jelly, Aurelia aurita. It's their pulse,  the way they contract swiftly, then release. Like a ghost heart -  a heart you can see right through,  right into some other world where everything you ever lost has gone to hide.”   - The Thing About Jellyfish,  Ali Benjamin

One of the biggest rules of writing is that you should never, ever start your own post with another person’s quote. 

I say screw that. Rules are, after all, meant to be broken, right?

You see, sometimes the words of someone else is so beautiful, that the person’s writing in itself will better convey what you could possibly say in a review. Ali Benjamin’s The Thing About Jellyfish is one such book.

This read – a book about denial, grief and coming to terms with loss – is quite possibly one of the most beautifully written books about dealing with the abovementioned themes.

In today’s post, and as part of the SA blog tour for The Thing About Jellyfish, I thought I’d do something a little different.

I’ve always thought that the relationship between music, writing and books go hand in hand, which is why, instead of a conventional review, I thought I’d do post featuring music that I thought fits in beautifully with the book, along with my favourite quotes.

To start off with, the very first song that came to mind is Heartbeat by Enrique Iglesias featuring Nicole Sherzinger. 

I didn’t choose this song because of its lyrics, but more because of the visual representation in correlation with the quote above.  Appropriate, don’t you think?


2. “But a person doesn’t always know the difference between a new beginning and a forever sort of ending.” - Ali Benjamin

Christina Perri’s Butterfly, on the other hand, I did choose for its lyrics. Oh, the song is beautiful indeed, but for me the lyrics speaks to me of missed opportunities, and of people in your life who are there but not quite in your grasp.

I think one of the biggest issues that Suzy, our protagonist struggles with in the book is dealing with the fact that Franny, her best friend his gone. She uses her research on jellyfish as a way to fight against accepting that death can and does happen to anyone, and that in many cases, we’re not able to save everyone from it.

And to me, this song is a very loose interpretation of that. Have a listen – it’s quite an amazing song.

3. “I think about my hair, about the tangles I battle every morning. I have spent so many hours of my life trying to brush out tangles. But no matter how carefully I try to pull the individual strands apart, they just get tighter and tighter. They cinch together in all the worst ways until they are impossible to straighten out. Sometimes there is nothing to be done but to get out a pair of scissors and cut the knot right out. But how do you cut out a knot that’s formed by people?” – Ali Benjamin

It’s A Bitch To Grow Up by Alanis Morissette is a song that immediately sprang to mind when I read this quote.

Life, with all of its knots and tangles, has a way of bringing us to our knees. Whether it’s through change or through death, we’re all affected one way or another.  I’m aware that this is a middle grade read, but for me this song basically says that when it comes to life, age won’t ever prevent things – good or bad – from happening.

Unfortunately, Suzy is hit with this in the worst way possible.

4.  “Jellyfish are stinging machines, and their stings are as violent as anything on Earth. But they don’t even have to think about who they sting or why. Jellyfish don’t get bogged down by drama, love, friendship or sorrow.  They don’t get stuck in any of the stuff that gets people in trouble.”  – Ali Benjamin

People are like jellyfish sometimes. Their words are as harmful and venomous as physical violence, and just as poisonous. Again, Suzy learns this lesson the hard way when Franny starts changing for the worst. 

Another Alanis song, These Versions of Violence, comes to mind. Because let’s face it, violence comes in so many forms, and words are some of the most powerful and heart-breaking tools you can use against someone.

And my heart weeps for Suzy.

5.  “They are still out there, those jellyfish. They are still out there with their twenty-three stings every five seconds. They will be out there for the rest of my life. Maybe even for the rest of life on Earth.  I think about the immortal jellyfish, the one that can grow younger. I wonder: is it possible that there is more than one way to grow younger? Is there some way humans can grow younger too? Like, what if we could return to the feeling we had when we were little, that sense that anything is possible?” – Ali Benjamin

I can’t think of a more appropriate song than Blackmore Night’s cover of Wish You Were Here. To me it’s a song that speaks of hopes, wishes gone by and regrets. 

Death is inevitable. Friendships ends and things left unsaid will always be there lingering in the background. The Thing About Jellyfish is a book that explores all of this and so much more. It doesn’t necessarily give us the closure we’re looking for, but it does teach us that instead of drowning in the depths of our sadness, we can learn to ride the waves and break through to the surface – no matter how long it takes and no matter method we use as a coping mechanism.

A beautiful, beautiful book that everyone should read.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Author guest post: 5 interesting facts about Gypsy culture by Christi J. Whitney

Today I’m thrilled to have debut YA author Christi J. Whitney guest posting on my blog today. As someone who longs to travel and enjoys reading about different cultures in the world, today’s post is kind of everything to me.

I’ve been intrigued by the culture and customs of Gypsies for longer than I can remember. It’s not just the nomadic lifestyle that many of them lead that intrigues me, but I love hearing about their beliefs, their life stories – can you imagine how much stories they have to tell? – and about their music, singing, diversity and folklore, to mention but a few.

When Christi introduced her book to me, I just knew I had to invite her to tell us a little more.

In fact, before I hand over to Christi, I’d like to invite you to recommend some YA books that explore Gypsy culture.

I’ve been looking for some for ages, but can never seem to find any, which is exactly why I’m so excited about Grey, Christi’s debut novel. Any more that I can add to my TBR pile would be super welcome.

Over to Christi – welcome to the blog!

When I came up with the idea of using a secretive Gypsy society as the foundation of my YA urban fantasy novel Grey, I was actually doing a bit of my own family tree research.

My great aunt had published a book for my father’s side of the family years ago, detailing the family history from the 1800’s to the present.

My ancestors on my father’s side had often been referred to as “Black Dutch”.

This term was in use many generations ago in the Deep South of the United States – and there are many possible meanings, though no definitive definition.

I did, however, come across several articles that listed those with a Romani heritage in the list, and that sparked both my interest and my curiosity.

This led to more research on my end, and the creation of my own fictional version of a Gypsy population living in the southern U.S.

In creating my Gypsy world, I wanted to be respectful of the diverse culture of the Romani people, but without feeling tied down to any particular one.

I wanted a fictional society that felt realistic, yet had its own rules and order.

That being said, I’ve listed five facts I’ve gleaned from my research on Gypsy culture that I’ve found to be fascinating and that I’ve attempted to convey in my YA series “The Romany Outcasts”, beginning with Grey.

1.    Gypsies keep a distinct and separate culture from the non-Roma.

Often you’ll find many stereotypes surrounding the Romani society because they have historically kept to themselves. It is a way of maintaining their heritage and traditions. Recently, some of that has been explored in popular reality television shows, such as “My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding”.

In my novel, I enjoyed exploring two groups of modern Romani who exist quietly among the gadje (non-Roma).

2.    Many Roma marry young, and there are still traditional roles and expectations for both men and women.

Traditionally, Romani children marry early – between 16-18 years old. A teenager is considered an adult once they have married. Often, boys and girls are pulled out of school early to learn trades and to begin managing the household.

The Outcast Gypsies in Grey maintain some traditional beliefs on the roles of men and women, including marriage, but there are also characters in the story – Josephine, in particular – that challenge those roles.

3.    Gypsies have their own laws, and they are treated seriously.

In addition to the laws of whatever place they live, Romani also maintain their own laws and customs. Gypsies who break these laws can be cast out of Roma society.

The Outcasts Gypsies in my story place great importance on their laws, and there are grave consequences that happen to some of my characters when choices are made to go against the clan.

4.    Gypsies place value on extended family.

The Romani traditionally travel in groups of large, extended families. Even those that choose to have sedentary lives still value these large families.

The Gypsies in Grey are part of a much larger group of families that make up their clans. Family ties are a central part of the conflict in the story.

5.    Gypsy culture is diverse.

There is no one single Roma culture. Even the Romany language itself has several variations.
The Outcasts Gypsies in my book series come up against other clans and families that do not hold the same views.

Writing a fictional society of Gypsies was an amazing experience that allowed me to create a whole other world with some very unusual characters and beliefs. 

About the book:
Sebastian Grey always thought he was a fairly normal teenager – good friends, decent grades, and a pretty sweet job in his foster brother’s tattoo shop.

But when Romany gypsies arrive in town, Sebastian discovers his world is not what it seems. There is an age-old feud between his family and the gypsies – and this isn’t the only secret his brother has been keeping from him.

His life is not his own. The girl he’s been dreaming about has just turned up at school, and he feels compelled to protect her at all costs.

Even if that means life might never be normal again.


Christi J. Whitney is a former high school theatre director with a love for the dramatic. 

She lives just outside Atlanta with her husband and two sons.

When not spending time with them or taking a ridiculous number of trips to Disney World, she can be found directing plays, making costumes for sci-fi/fantasy conventions, geeking out over Doctor Who, and watching superhero movies.

Connect with her on:

Twitter @ChristiWhitney

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Book review: Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen

This is the story of a girl who carried the world on her shoulders.

You can purchase a copy from

Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen (first published in 2015 by Penguin Random House Books)

If there is one thing I've learnt about reading a Sarah Dessen novel, it’s  that when you’ve turned the last page of the book, you’re always left with the sense that you’ve finally come home from a long and arduous, but oh-so-worth-it kind of journey.

Her books are like comfort food for the broken soul; nourishing in its depth, bittersweet in its melancholy moments, but filled with enough heart-warming moments to ensure that you’ll end up feeling as if you’ve had a slice of the best piece of confectionary of your life.

Essentially, it’s brain and heart candy for the consummate reader and - Saint Anything - like its predecessors, is no different.

In fact, while it still possesses that innate charm, the book goes a goes a little deeper, darker and more introspective than usual.

It focuses on a teen girl’s crumbling relationship with her family following her older brother’s arrest and subsequent jail sentence for causing the paralysis of a young boy.

This is a book about the choices that we make and the choices that we have to live with. It’s a read that deals with how the effects of favouritism can easily blind a parent to a child’s faults and it explores what happens when present-absenteeism takes hold in a household where emotional neglect has already moved in.

And boy, did this book push my buttons.

While Saint Anything is a book that left me with a lot of questions unanswered, I get the feeling that perhaps this is what Sarah was aiming for. That she was saying sometimes relationships don’t get fixed at the end; that endings might just mean baby steps to new beginnings and that people’s behaviour don’t always change overnight.  

No one learns this lesson harder than Sydney, our main protagonist in Saint Anything.

When we first start reading, we get the immediate sense that Peyton her brother, is the golden child; the chosen one. 

Charismatic, attractive and charming, Peyton is the kind of character that has it all and is privileged to boot. What makes him act out is never really inferred, but nonetheless, his behaviour doesn’t stop their parents – mainly their mom – from making all sorts of excuses for him.

At this point, Sydney, who is already feeling left by the wayside, does what any other normal teen would do in her circumstances: tries to be supportive but can’t help but resent her brother for his irresponsible and reckless behaviour.

She also takes it upon herself to shoulder the blame for the accident that results in the boy’s paralysis.

And her parents? Well, what happens is that their parents barely take note of Sydney. And when they do, it’s for all the wrong reasons.

Left floundering, Sydney eventually draws closer to the Chathams, a family who have all the reason in the world to give up, yet are all the more closer, loving and supportive because of their very circumstances.

I found the juxtaposition of how the two different families deal with emotional upheaval fascinating; Sarah has a way of presenting two different fronts while making both reactions plausible and understandable, even if we as the reader don’t necessarily agree with the one family’s methods.

There were times I just really wanted to shake Sydney’s parents – the kind of neglect and lack of attentiveness to her needs was just downright criminal.

I also loved how friendship was given a strong focus in the book. Sydney befriends her love interest’s sister first – and it’s a bond that is emphasised throughout the book. In fact, while I certainly did enjoy the romantic aspect of the novel, I found myself applauding Sarah more for every other aspect of this book.

Yay for the power of friendships in YA novels!

I did feel as if there was room for more expansion in the novel, especially towards the end of the book. The conclusion also felt very abrupt, but I am hoping it’s because we’ll get to see more of the characters in future books and not because it was the end of the story.

Niggles aside, it’s still a book that’s worth picking up, and one that I’d definitely read again.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Giveaway: Win 1 of 2 signed copies of The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness (now closed)

So, I’ve got another little treat for you lovelies.  I was debating whether or not to hold back this giveaway until I’ve actually read and reviewed the book (which should be sometime in November, I hope), but thought, hey, why deprive you of an opportunity to win a book sooner?

I’d never be that cruel.

The awesome folks from Pan Macmillan are offering two lucky readers a chance to win 1 of 2 signed copies of Patrick Ness’s latest novel, The Rest of Us Just Live Here. 

All you need to do is leave a comment below and tell me what your favourite contemporary read of 2015 is so far and why, and you’ll stand a chance of winning.

Being a follower is not required, but is nonetheless appreciated.  Oh and please feel free to tweet or FB the giveaway!

Open to SA readers only (Alas, sorry international lovelies, I’ll have something coming your way soon)

Giveaway closes 25 October.

In the meantime, here’s some more info about the book.
The Rest of Us Just Live Here

What if you aren’t the Chosen One?

The one who’s supposed to fight the zombies, or the soul-eating ghosts, or whatever the heck this new thing is, with the blue lights and the death?

What if you’re like Mikey? Who just wants to graduate and go to prom and maybe finally work up the courage to ask Henna out before someone goes and blows up the high school. Again.

Because sometimes there are problems bigger than this week’s end of the world, and sometimes you just have to find the extraordinary in your ordinary life.

Even if your best friend is worshipped by mountain lions.

Award-winning writer Patrick Ness’s bold and irreverent novel powerfully reminds us that there are many different types of remarkable.

Add it to your TBR pile here.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Book spotlight: 5 YA thrillers I can’t wait to read

It’s been a while since I’ve done a book spotlight feature, so I thought I’d do a quick highlights post of five keep-you-on-the-edge-of-your seat reads that I’m really looking forward to buying and reading.

Barring my current reads, I’ve actually been in the mood for a good thriller, especially given the fact that I’ve recently finished  and reviewed What Waits in the Woods, The Retribution of Mara Dyer, the final book in the The Mara Dyer trilogy, and The Girl on the Train – all of which I enjoyed, although the last two far more than the first one.

So, in no particular order, here are a few of the YA thrillers that I’m definitely going to a)get my hands on if I haven’t already, and b) read as soon as humanly possible. 

The Dead House by Dawn Kurtagich
About the book:

Part-psychological thriller, part-urban legend, this is an unsettling narrative made up of diary entries, interview transcripts, film footage transcripts and medical notes.

Twenty-five years ago, Elmbridge High burned down. Three people were killed and one pupil, Carly Johnson, disappeared. Now a diary has been found in the ruins of the school.

The diary belongs to Kaitlyn Johnson, Carly’s identical twin sister.

But Carly didn’t have a twin . . .

For the full summary, and to add it to your TBR pile, do head on over and visit Goodreads…

Why I’m excited: I’m sorry, but that line of Carly not having a twin? Instant intrigue. Doesn’t it just make you want to pick up the book this. Very. Moment?

That, plus the fact that it’s described as being part urban legend (which I’m a huge sucker for) immediately had me adding it to my shelves.  And if you need more convincing, well, I’m just going to let the trailer speak for itself, ok? But trust me, you’re going to want to read this one.

I’m currently reading (and loving) this one as we speak, so do look out for a review in the foreseeable future.

Check out the trailer:


After the Woods by Kim Savage (this one’s only being published in February 2016)

About the book: 
One year ago, two best friends, Liv and Julia, were attacked in the woods by a paroled predator. In an attempt to save Liv, Julia was left behind while Liv escaped. After spending three days in the woods trying to escape her abductor, Julia was rescued.

She only remembers what happened in the woods in terrifying flashbacks. Now, on the eve of the anniversary of the attack, a body is found in the woods.

Add it to Goodreads

Why I’m excited: I’ve always been intrigued by stories that deal with destructive friendships, so it would be interesting to see just how this friendship is affected by the events that occur in this book. 

And of course, I would like to confirm whether my suspicions about what happens in the story, is actually more than just a hunch. Oh and how did she survive for those three days?

So many questions… so many reasons to read this book.

If You're Lucky by Yvonne Prinz
About the book:
When seventeen-year-old Georgia’s brother drowns while surfing halfway around the world in Australia, she refuses to believe Lucky’s death was just bad luck. Lucky was smart.

He wouldn’t have surfed in waters more dangerous than he could handle. Then a stranger named Fin arrives in False Bay, claiming to have been Lucky’s best friend.

Soon Fin is working for Lucky’s father, charming Lucky’s mother, dating his girlfriend. Georgia begins to wonder: did Fin murder Lucky in order to take over his whole life? 

Determined to clear the fog from her mind in order to uncover the truth about Lucky’s death, Georgia secretly stops taking the medication that keeps away the voices in her head….

Read the rest of the synopsis on Goodreads

Why I’m excited: Two words: Unreliable narrator.  Also, I’m interested to see how the mental health issue is tackled and how the book deals with the stigma or belief that it’s easier and safer to believe the lies of a charming stranger, versus the potential truth of a mind that’s not altogether stable, and as such, untrustworthy.

Burning  by Danielle Rollins
About the book:

After three years in juvie, Angela Davis is just a few months shy of release, and she'll finally be free from the hole that is Brunesfield Correctional Facility. Then Jessica arrives. Only ten years old and under the highest security possible, this girl has to be dangerous, even if no one knows what she did to land in juvie.

Check out the rest of synopsis on Goodreads.

Why I’m excited: Um, hello, a potential criminal that’s only 10 years old? Of course I friggin’ want to know what she did to end up in a juvenile centre.

Also, this book is being described as a twist on Orange is the New Black, so if you’re a fan of the show, then you should probably make a note and add this book to your TBR pile.

Need by Joelle Charbonneau
About the book:
"No one gets something for nothing. We all should know better."

Teenagers at Wisconsin's Nottawa High School are drawn deeper into a social networking site that promises to grant their every need . . . regardless of the consequences.

Soon the site turns sinister, with simple pranks escalating to malicious crimes. The body count rises.

In this chilling YA thriller, the author of the best-selling Testing trilogy examines not only the dark side of social media, but the dark side of human nature.

Add it to your Goodreads TBR pile   

Why I’m excited: Because who doesn’t love a good book that explores the darker side of social media and the consequences of human greed? 

Check out the trailer:

How about you? What thrillers (ya or not) or are looking forward to reading? Let me know. I'm always keen for some new recs, as you well know.