Friday, March 20, 2015

Masquerade by Kylie Fornasier

It's the Carnevale of 1750 and Venice's ballrooms, theatres, palazzos and squares are filled with delicious gossip, devilish fun and dangerous games. In this glittering masked world, everyone has a secret...

Set in an age of decadence made famous by Casanova, Masquerade uncovers the secrets of seven teens, from the highest aristocrat to the lowest servant – their dreams, desires, loves, loyalties ... and betrayals.

All the world's a stage. Let the show begin.

Masquerade by Kylie Fornasier is an Aussie YA debut set in 1750 Venice during the Carnivale. It came to me highly recommended by a real life reader buddy who said it was really good and different to anything else she had read. I am so glad for that rec, as a few chapters in I was  not sure Masquerade was 'my kind' of book (I was not looking for a Gossip Girl-esque book set in a different era, which I had thought this might be due to the blurb). Oh, man, thankfully I set in for the long haul and ended up being completely swept into Fornasier's world and story. 

I loved the characters and the way their paths criss-crossed. Fornasier clearly developed them all and their voices were unique, each thread/POV was intriguing and had depth. Here's the thing with the characters: there are 7 POVs. Wild, hey? Do not let that deter you. There are only a couple of POVs that are main, the others being granted brief timely flashes which add to the overall story-line and intrigue. There's some tension with one girl liking a boy who ends up liking a different girl, and those two girls (friends) handle their relationship so well, with no overwrought angst or drama. In fact, the novel deals with tragic and sorrowful circumstances, society/parental expectations, star-crossed lovers, first crushes, sneaky and underhanded real-stakes dares and a myriad of problems and they are all handled with finesse ~ no melodrama, just an aching honestly and an underlying tension that drives readers through the story to see where Fornasier is taking us and how things will work out (one of my favourite things about this novel is how I had no idea how things would pan out ~ loved that!). 

I can't not mention the setting which comes alive in all it's glittering glory. The time period is dazzling and authentic and I felt like I was there amongst the drama and excitement of Carnivale. 

The lead in to the climax all the way to the conclusion was so beautifully done. All the threads came together and nothing was predictable. In fact, the ending was so astonishingly gorgeous and captivating and haunting and unexpected that I finished the book and just lingered there (in Venice, with the characters) in my mind for sometime after. I would most definitely be up for a sequel should Fornasier want to continue to explore her characters lives.

I didn't think this would be my kind of read. I am not hugely into historical, certainly not fond of YA gossip and drama stuff, but it was completely genuine and addictive (especially once I passed the halfway mark when all the threads start colliding and I didn't want to put it down). If you're looking for a read that is sparkling and unique, beautiful and glittering, unexpected and a little bit haunting you should definitely pick up Masquerade. It's an underrated gem that is a favourite read of mine so far this year.

Masquerade @ goodreads
Kylie Fornasier's website
Kylie Fornasier on pinterest
Kylie Fornasier on twitter

full book jacket in all it's lushness

Monday, March 16, 2015

Updating inkcrush: Aussie YA

inkcrush is approaching it's 5 year blogoversary ~ so, I've been taking some time to update a few pages that had woefully fallen by the wayside (*insert Birds of Tokyo song here*). I made the Aussie YA page so long ago now as a way to shout out about some of my fave and nostalgic home grown YA reads. I have updated it somewhat (sporadically) over the years but I have just added some fresh new authors whose work I really love and I think you'll like them, too. 

I actually don't know if anyone even reads my Aussie YA page (haha, who knows?) and I even feel a tad foolish writing my little mini-tiny author blurbs as I get all repetitive and basically just want to say: Gah! Loved it! Read it! Etc, etc. But I am aiming to sound slightly more ... coherent than that

Here's 9 new authors I've recently added ~ and a little about their books (which I really liked so very much and absolutely recommend). You can also find more Aussie authors I love on the page (with updates for many as new works have been released since I originally added them on there).

Sarah Ayoub
Her debut is smart and articulate, brave and honest, swoony and fun. I love her prose and her characters and the way her work appeals to teens of today.

A J Betts
Her characters are messy and complicated and hopeful and true. Betts writes books that are brave and honest and doesn't shy away from emotions that are raw and painful. Her books shine and linger and offer something unique and compelling for Australian teens.

Pip Harry
Pip Harry is one of those YA authors who capture the teen voice and experience so authentically and without condescension. Harry's writing is fresh and real and I expect she will go from strength to strength with each new work. Both her books are compelling, unique and memorable.

Rebecca James
Gorgeous, evocative writing. Total Ausse vibe and setting. twist, unputdownable psychological thrillers with older YA (uni age) protags. James knows how to suck you in and keep you up all night.

Juliet Marillier
I am so late to this party, but, mate, what a party it is! Working my way through her backlist now and savouring every morsel. Stunning fairy tale and folk lore retellings with characters that make you bleed (and also swoon a little, haha). I've started with the Seven waters series and they are breaking my heart and piecing me back together again. 

Ellie Marney
Splashed on the scene with her messy, zingy and complicated Melbourne-based (and then London, followed by small country-town) sleuthing series inspired by Sherlock Holmes. Fun, gritty and adrenalin pumping action. Also, be prepared for many moments of chemistry giving the series an upper YA vibe.

Christie Nieman
Her debut is a beautiful, compelling and utterly original story that marches to it's own exquisite beat. Loved it.

Jessica Shirvington
Total surprise love from me. Her ideas are fresh, characters flawed and likeable and her execution is engaging. Between the Lives is breezy and compelling. Her Disruption duology is a complicated but totally imaginable dystopianish high tech future. Also, she brings the swoon

Claire Zorn
Zorn has blasted on to the Aussie YA scene with two very compelling and real novels. Love her fresh, engaging and real style. The Sky So Heavy is for fans of Tomorrow When the War Began and The Protected is one that may catch your emotions by surprise. So excited for more from Zorn. Both books featured in my top reads of (their respective) release years.

Another new thing

I recently made a list on goodreads titled 2015 Aussie YA Releases. So far I've added 13 Aussie YA books I know are coming out this year but I know there must be more, so feel free to add away (And really hoping for Jaclyn Moriarty's #3 in the Colours of Madeleine series to be a 2015 release... anyone have news on that?) *Please note I just added the books in order that I came across them, not in order of my anticipated faves ;) It's be good to see the list grow so I can build some good anticipation for new Aussie faves coming our way :D

Saturday, March 7, 2015

3 Mini Reviews (a thriller, a chick lit & a YA)

3 Mini reviews: a thriller, a chick lit and a YA ... walked into a bar, haha. Ahh, amusing myself :)

The Girl on the Train

'Gripping, enthralling - a top-notch thriller and a compulsive read' S J WATSON, bestselling author of Before I Go To Sleep

Rachel catches the same commuter train every morning. She knows it will wait at the same signal each time, overlooking a row of back gardens. She’s even started to feel like she knows the people who live in one of the houses. ‘Jess and Jason’, she calls them. Their life – as she sees it – is perfect. If only Rachel could be that happy.

And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough.

Now everything’s changed. Now Rachel has a chance to become a part of the lives she’s only watched from afar.

Sometimes you know a book is objectively very good but it is not the book for you. 

This is not one of those times. 

I was so bored while reading The Girl on the Train I am genuinely baffled at how most people have found this to be suspenseful and riveting. I read on, hoping for a plot twist or something that would blow my mind. I anticipated up-all-night reading and a deliciously satisfying book hangover. 

Instead I got (mostly unlikable) unreliable narrators, a sprinkling of red herrings and carefully doled out information (held back by a main character having selective amnesia) and a very ordinary reveal that made me wish I had listened to my gut and abandoned this 25% in (which is when I could no longer deny I was finding things tedious and boring).

Hawkins does do a good job at setting things up and at making you glad you are living your ordinary suburban life and are not one of her heroines. I genuinely felt for Rachel and the depiction of alcoholism was painfully bleak and harrowing. as far as psychological thrillers go, my fave author remains Honey Brown.

I am obviously the outlier on this, so you should probably still give it a go (it is one of the biggest buzz books capturing people's attention so far this year).

Written in the Stars by Ali Harris
Bea Bishop is horrible at making decisions. Forget big life ones, even everyday choices seem to paralyse her. She's learned to live with this because experience has taught her that it doesn't matter what you do, no one has the power to control destiny. Anyone who believes they can is a fool. 

But as her wedding day approaches, her years of indecision are weighing heavily on her, and she can't help but wonder, 'What if, what if, what if….' 

What if she hadn't upped sticks and moved to London? What if she hadn't grabbed the first job that came along and settled down with the first guy who showed an interest? But all of her questions are silenced when she slips while walking down the aisle and is knocked unconscious. In this split second her life splits into two: in one existence, Bea flees back down the aisle and out of the church. In the other she glides blissfully towards her intended.
But which story will lead to her happily ever after?

Ali Harris handled the logistics of Written in The Stars so amazingly. It is a 'Sliding Doors' concept where we get to see two future timelines played out: one where Bea marries the guy, the other where she leaves him standing at the altar (and explores the possibility of love with an old flame). It was always clear to me which timeline I was following and I loved the creativity in the way the story lines crisscrossed, not just for our MC, but also for her family and friends (whose lives unfolded differently in each timeline). It could not have been easy to map out this concept yet Harris makes it an effortless read. It was also not predictable as to how it would all end (which was a huge drive for reading on).

Having said all that ~ I personally just didn't connect to the characters and the overall writing style. I love the idea of the chick lit genre* but am ridiculously bored or fickle with it, liking the beginning and then fizzing out part way through (not specifically talking about this book here as boring).

If the premise of Written in the Star intrigues you, and you love this genre, it's definitely a book you should scout out and see what you think (the ratings on GR are high, you guys)

* I gotta say, I don't even know if I am applying the classification chick-lit correctly half the time. Is that a thing? And, if so, should it be hyphenated (lol ~ but seriously, that part's important)? I am so clueless here.

Torn Away by Jennifer Brown

Jersey Cameron has always loved a good storm. Watching the clouds roll in and the wind pick up. Smelling the electricity in the air. Dancing barefoot in the rain. She lives in the Midwest, after all, where the weather is sure to keep you guessing. Jersey knows what to do when the tornado sirens sound. But she never could have prepared for this.

When her town is devastated by a tornado, Jersey loses everything. As she struggles to overcome her grief, she's sent to live with relatives she hardly knows-family who might as well be strangers. In an unfamiliar place, can Jersey discover that even on the darkest of days, there are some things no tornado can destroy?

In this powerful and poignant novel, acclaimed author Jennifer Brown delivers a story of love, loss, hope, and survival.

The set-up, opener and first half of this book is stunning and mesmerising. The storm (hurricane) is captured so powerfully as a massive force of nature and it was brilliant to be in this electrifying and all-encompassing wild weather event alongside our teen MC, Jersey. Who doesn't love a good storm, hey? It wasn't just the storm that drew me in: the writing is nuanced and engaged all my senses. 

Then there's the storm fall-out. Jersey was alone during the storm and she sets out to see if her mum, sister, step-dad and friends survived. There were a lot of casualties and this was heart-in-your-mouth heartbreaking, to see the wreckage and grief of an entire community. 

No spoilers here but midway the book changes direction as Jersey's life is turned upside down from the events of the storm and she can no longer live at home so she is sent to live with her estranged maternal grandparents. 

This is where things fell apart for me. I felt muddled as if I was reading two books ~ one where there is an amazing natural disaster and heartbreaking fall-out. The other (second half) where there was some over-the-top villainous style family issues that had me scratching my head (metaphorically, haha) and disengaging as a reader. The relationships felt bizarre, the character were caricatures with motivations I could not fathom and the pacing and general story arc felt really confusing to me at this point (where was all this headed and what is this book even about!!?!). I wish the book had focused more on Jersey and the storm and picking up the pieces after and not added all these weird family dynamics and theatrics.

I don't often review books that don't work for me. I really like shouting-out about all my faves and sharing the book love. But, I also like to have bit of book chat when books don't work for me, for whatever reasons. 
What's the last book you read that you just couldn't connect to?

Monday, March 2, 2015

Reluctantly Charmed by Ellie O'Neill

Kate McDaid is listing her new-year’s resolutions hoping to kick-start her rather stagnant love life and career when she gets some very strange news. To her surprise, she is the sole benefactor of a great great-great-great aunt and self-proclaimed witch also called Kate McDaid, who died over 130 years ago. As if that isn’t strange enough, the will instructs that, in order to receive the inheritance, Kate must publish seven letters, one by one, week by week.

Burning with curiosity, Kate agrees and opens the first letter – and finds that it’s a passionate plea to reconnect with the long-forgotten fairies of Irish folklore. Almost instantaneously, Kate’s life is turned upside down. Her romantic life takes a surprising turn and she is catapulted into the public eye.

As events become stranger and stranger – and she discovers things about herself she’s never known before – Kate must decide whether she can fulfil her great-aunt’s final, devastating request ... and whether she can face the consequences if she doesn’t.

Witty, enchanting and utterly addictive, Reluctantly Charmed is about what happens when life in the fast lane collides with the legacy of family, love and its possibilities … and a little bit of magic. 

Did you read that blurb? lovelove. First the cover (and title) snatched me and then the blurb had me hooked. I love finding books that I've heard nothing about and taking them home with me along with the promise of finding something special.

This Irish chick-lit(ish) tale has small elements of magical realism and a fun vibe that's a smidgen reminiscent of Sophie Kinsella/Meg Cabot (that's the best I can think to describe the style, with it's humour and quirky protag and her family and friends, but it's still not quite the perfect descriptor as O'Neill has her own distinct flavour going on). 

Reluctantly Charmed is whimsical with a plot that is wild in it's vision and escalating drama. I loved that about it (the unharnessed charm, marching along to it's own Irish beat). The setting is charming (Dublin! and then countryside Ireland!). 

I loved the off-beat vibe that felt distinctly Irish (and otherworldly to this Aussie girl here) ~ from it's rowdy pubs to it's superstitious folklore of eras gone by. Who wouldn't want to be charmed by the possibility of fairies. But not all fairies are good, or are they even real? There's an element of the unknown with foreshadowing on certain characters and there's also manic momentum as each successive letter is published, bringing with them more bedlam, uncertainty and promise.

There is a hot Irish-charm-swoon guy (which I would have welcomed more pages devoted to him, haha). He's a little elusive but brings all that sexual tension and leaves it in his wake.

My one criticism, for me as a reader, is even though the plot was always moving forward and all elements/scenes felt essential, there was just so many threads going on that it really cluttered things up towards the end and seemed to make the ending drag out a little and events take forever to finally unfold. Although, this could have been reader's anxiety ~ desperate to power through and see how the climax explodes all over the place and how the resolution would tie up (you will not guess it, guys). 

I love how unexpected the whole book is and it's effortless smiley, breezy style with a wholly original premise (although some elements touched on chick-lit tropes). And that wicked ending! Woah ~ beautiful mix of surreal and real, perfect and painful, sexy and surprising. One minute I was grinning away, smashing through the pages and the next I was startled and genuinely touched...

I liked it, truly, a lot. When I wasn't reading it, I was thinking about getting back to reading it. And when I was reading it, often post-midnight and drowsy in bed, I was forcing my eyelids open to keep going in true book-addict-just-one-more-page style. Pumped to see what Ellie O'Neill has next and so glad to have found a new fave author <3

Australian cover
International cover

Both covers are stunning! The Aussie one even has little 3D sparkly fairies on it (which you can't see through your screen, haha ~ they are not the white fairies you see, they're even tinier and sprinkled about) 
Which cover do you like best?