Posted in Australia, Book Review, Reading Adventures

June’s Bookshelf

Midyear and though life is busier and things get crazy from here on – because they have been so calm until now *rolls eyes* – I read 10 books this month.
Reading remains my precious and sacred lifesaver.

My favourites for the month:

The Brutal Truth by Lee Winter – 5 stars. An Aussie in New York, an Ice Queen in Sydney, dying magazines, a bet, and beautiful designer clothes. A great read. I also love learning about worlds I have never and foresee myself never being intimate in, but with this book you feel like you get a real insight. My goal was to make sure I read this before it’s sidequel, The Awkward Truth comes out .. done and done. I also foresee a few more reads between then and now. Lee Winter gives us another wonderful exploration in to human nature, passion, the magazine industry, and ooh I love the theme of ‘bad’ things becoming the best things in your life. And of course, I am head over heels in love with Elena Bartell. There are Ice Queens and then there are Lee Winter’s Ice Queens.

Poppy Jenkins by Clare Ashton – 4.5 stars – Poppy Jenkins was an outstanding and in depth look into everyday lives and how scratching beneath the surface can reveal a rainbow of colours you previously couldn’t fathom. Did I get frustrated while reading this book? yep in all those parts where I was supposed to, I might also have wanted to shake Poppy a few times, but I loved how Clare Ashton showed all sides of the coins for the characters. I adore Rosaline, and I truly love Emma. I also used this book for my first ever Reading Vlog and it was such a fantastic book to do this with. Check out the Vlog here

Spiffing by Tim Mendees – 4 Stars – Spiffing was a fantastic read. While it builds slowly, engulfing you in the every day debauchery of the ensemble cast it soon speeds up and the horror is palatable through the use of humour and curiosity as you want to know what will happen next. I found myself a little confused at the beginning with the multitude of characters but this confusion cleared up as I continued to read. The description, particularly of the more horrific and terrifying moments of Spiffing, is fantastic and tangible. Mendees does himself proud with a fabulous horror short read, highly recommended for a dark and stormy night, just make sure you keep the lights on.

The Miracle Girl by T.B Markinson – 4 Stars. A brilliant start with a miracle girl going back to her home town twenty years after a heartbreaking leave. I got a little lost wondering where it was all go for maybe a chapter or two, and then the book became addictive, with a desire to throttle a few characters. I really like JJ as a character. I am really looking forward to reading the 2nd book in this series.

Sentinel by Drew Starling – 4 stars – A young family move to Bensalem, a small town with the beauty of nature surrounding them, what could possibly go wrong. Sentinel is a slow build up as we learn about the townspeople of this small sleepy town, which is not nearly as sleepy as first impressions give. Once the story speeds up, it drags you along, heart kicking and screaming. An ensemble cast, there were definitely some characters I felt a deeper connection to then others, but I cannot wait to see what they have in store for them in the next installment.

The Enchanted Woods by Enid Blyton – This book will ALWAYS be a 5 for me, for no other reason but for nostalgic purposes. I have such a love for the Magic Faraway Tree series. They were so important and influential to me when I was growing up. Now, listening to it read aloud by Kate Winslet, it’s so adorable and wonderful. She does a marvelous job, though I do cringe every time I hear Frannie – if you understand this, welcome to my age group ;-P

The Thing about Tilly by G Benson – 5 stars – Oh I just adore so much about this book. From the pace that made Tilly’s wanderlust thud inside my own chest, to the diversity and wonderful realness of the characters, to the truly beautiful way Benson describes everything that happens in and around the characters and the story.

Dani by Angelique Jordonna – 3 stars – A great premise, good story, promising writing.
What I liked:
A disturbing story with interesting characters. It reminded me of a lesbian cross between Silence of the Lambs and Dexter, with the authors unique flare shining through.
What missed the mark for me:
The 1st Person present POV was a little difficult to get into and slipped into immediate past a few times. I would have liked to see some more of the scenes as they played out, instead of being told about them after the fact.
Overall a good read. Jordonna definitely has promise and I’m looking forward to seeing more from her.

Irregular heartbeat by Chris Zett – 4.5 Stars – I adored this book. There is nothing quite like the melting of an Ice Queen to make me smile. I really enjoyed the depths and dynamics of the two main characters. Some heartbreaking moments mixed up with some laugh out loud parts. I couldn’t help but roll my eyes a bit at the intense coincidences of characters meeting. The writing was delicious and I’m always a fan of pop culture references in contemporary fiction. I really enjoyed this book and will definitely look at reading more of Chris Zett’s work.

The Creeping Void by Tim Mendees – 5 Stars – A short read with everything you could ever want from a post apocalyptic short read. Characters that are brilliantly flawed and trying to find a way to survive. Mendees influences and supplication to the elder gods. Brilliantly timed humour that helps to balance the heart pumping horror and deliciously decrepit descriptions. I can’t give this anything less than a five. Brilliant work.

Hope you all have had a successful first half of the year … I’m on my way to 100 books, and the dragon and unicorn badges for Jae’s Sapphic Reading Challenge.

Be Safe
Be Brave
Be Kind

Neen

Posted in Australia, Book Club, Book Review, Interview, Reading Adventures

April Bookshelf

Middle of Autumn and I’m listening to lots more books than sitting and flicking pages, because staying still in this weather is illegal and mostly frowned upon.

The Skeleton Key by Tara Moss – 4 stars (narration 2 stars) – The story and writing were good, interesting, and the build up of some of the tension was beautifully crafted … as long as you didn’t listen to the audio. I struggled to get through the audio and ended up reading the text instead. Tara Moss has really helped Pandora’s character grow and I’m finding her a lot more layered and likable now, though still a little naïve at times until I remember she’s 19 years old. I was also glad that there wasn’t as much detailed description of every characters outfits. While I do find those details interesting I struggle with so much of it as it’s not really something I’m all too interested in myself. There was still enough to see the characters and understand what the clothes were presenting about them, but not too much that I wish for the story to more on and past again. I think I enjoyed this book the most so far out of the series.

Backward to Oregon by Jae – 5 stars – I love books where I can find myself in the pages. And in so many great lesbian fictions books I’ve found elements and situations that I can stop and think … hmmm yeah I understand that … but this book … OOMPH … Since my partner realised gender fluid wasn’t quite accurate and he is transgender, I’ve found very few if any books that I can relate to in this way, I’ve never read a book that encompasses issues so real to my life … until this book. Yes, heaps of differences and historical to boot. But oh my. 1
To the writing itself, there is something magnetic about Jae’s skill with words. Every book of hers I have read I can’t stop thinking about when I am forced to function in my daily life. I am always racing to get back to it, to find out how this is going to work out, knowing it will in some way but, HOW?
And it’s not just the story, though oh my, the anxiety I felt. Backward to Oregon is a masterpiece of capturing situational emotions and wrapping it’s words around your chest and then letting up enough for vital breaths where you laugh in relief, until the situation is resolved. It also taps into so many themes and issues and made me stop and think. I love a book that makes me think deeper like Jae’s so often do.

Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir – reread – 5 stars – Just finished my second read of this masterpiece. I am more in love with it than I was after the first read. It’s a true journey of beautiful words and a detailed and wonderfully created universe. I can’t wait to read the second book, but might need a lighter read to recover and breathe. A fantastic epic adventure. There were moments where I gasped for breath realising I was so into the action that I had forgotten to breathe. And other moments where I laughed so hard I thought I was going to start crying. I really love the rhythmic beauty of Tamsyn Muir’s words. It’s a music that speaks to every fibre of my being.

The Power of Mercy by Fiona Zedde – 5 Stars – The power of Mercy is gritty, dark, and intense. It’s superheroine, mystery, and a little horror all thrown in together. Zedde weaves words with magic as the story flows and you are brought into Mai’s world and nightmares. She holds no punches and doesn’t save the reader with closed doors or fade to blacks and it is done so brilliantly and powerfully. Power is such an intense theme of this book and it shows. An intense look into family, secrets, and betrayal. Incredible read.
To see me chatting with Fiona Zedde about this book, her writing, and life you can find the video here.

Magic, Murder & Mistletoe by Ellen Jane – 3.5 stars – It was a quick and quirky fun read. I enjoyed the wallpaper and the flowers that reminded me of Alice in wonderland. A few things had me feeling like I was being donked over the head and information rammed down my throat, not allowing me to solve the mystery with and for the characters. While some information was left floating around. I do hope the threads will be tied up in sequels, but they were threads that were hung just a little too loosely for me. Still an enjoyable palate cleanser and short read.

Forever and a Day: A Those Who Wait story by Haley Cass – 5 stars – I had expected a short snippet in to Charlotte and Sutton’s life after Those Who Wait. But this was so much more. And again Haley Cass has tapped into the real pull of emotions in a realistic heart wrenching way. A brilliant sum up of a fantastic book and completely wonderful in its own right.

Aurora’s Angel by Emily Noon – 4.5 stars – I cannot believe how much I loved this book. I’ve never really been drawn to shifter books, the concept hasn’t really appealed to me. This was phenomenal. The characterisation’s were exquisite and the dynamics between Aurora and Evie is delicious. The description landscape was so real that I could see the world they travelled, and I couldn’t help but laugh and love Aurora’s mum, despite the obvious issues. I had tears of laughter during a few parts, which were placed perfectly between the tension and action of the book. One specific part of crying laughter was about someone keeping their ears … I couldn’t help but wonder if it were a homage to The Princess Bride. Either way, I fell in love with both characters, and Noon did an incredible job in making every character dynamic and real.

No Strings Attached (The Pink Bean, #1) by Harper Bliss – 4 stars – An enjoyable later in life coming out story. I really liked the characters in this and there were a few moments where the experiences of the nerves and anxiety of coming out hit right on the mark. Curious about the series, and looking forward to seeing whose stories we get to see in greater detail.

A Pinch of Salt (The Towers of the Earth #0.1) by Nita Round – 3.5 stars – It took me a little bit to get into this book, which could have more to do with my minimal but growing exposure to steam punk. It felt as though it took a little time to fully get into the pace and rhythm of the story but once it did it was full steam ahead (intentional, I like my puns). I really enjoyed the gradual drip of information that’s given and the characters and mysteries are quite fascinating. Was it the best written book? No. Was it a worthwhile short read? Yeah. I look forward to reading more of the with, and this author.

The Red Files by Lee Winter – 5 stars – ** little spoiler alert ** Hold on to your hats because this is going to be a long and rant filled one.
I’m slowly making my way through Lee Winter’s back catalogue. Slowly only because I don’t want to have no more to look forward to. But each unread book I start I think, will the poor woman survive the pedestal of the books I’ve read so far of hers.
And each book I finish with a huge smile on my face and think … this is my favourite Lee Winter book lol … until I reread a previous one or begin the next one.
Now after that fangirling moment on to The Red Files itself and yep, there will be spoilers.
I’m not the most politically intelligent person and always find myself squishing my lips up in worry that the politics will go over my head and I’ll lose some of the impact of the story. It didn’t happen here. The political side was explained enough without feeling like I was beat over the head. Always a bonus to not feel like a moron when reading.
The mystery of the book was fabulous. There were brilliantly placed red herrings that never dragged out long enough to cause frustrations and all lose ends were tied up if not entirely then definitely satisfactorily (I’m looking at you scar face)
The use of humour in her books always gets me. Lauren’s internal (and sometimes external) dialogue had me laughing out loud and I loved the Voyager references, especially the Janeway love. cues up Macrocosm.
Without a doubt Lee Winter is the ruling royalty of the Ice Queen. Seriously. Her ice Queens are delicious and so frosty and they remain just that, except to the ray of sunshine that help to warm the small part of their hearts just enough to show what love can do and mean without destroying who they are as people.
I also love that the entire book is from one characters perspective. I can appreciate why so many lesfic novels have both main character POV’s happening but there is something fun and delightful about truly not knowing for sure what the other character’s internal thoughts are. For me it really punched home the emotions and insecurities or ‘kicked puppy’ fears of Lauren.
The sex – I don’t often remember a lot of the sex scenes once I’ve finished a book. I remember if the sex scenes were good of it I was tempted to flipped pages but the specifics all tend to blur together, except for a few exceptions, and the last sex scene in The Red Files fits firmly in the second category. There was something so wonderfully different about it. There was far less interest in the mechanics and where and how and focused all on the feels and for me, that was one of the sexiest sex scenes I’ve ever read.
So, overall (if you’ve read this far kudos, that’s impressive) I loved this book. The writing, the character development, and the story all sucked me in completely.
Another book beneath your feet on that pedestal (sorry Lee).
I highly recommend if you enjoy real characters, great writing, and an intriguing mystery.

Code of Conduct by Cheyenne Blue – 4 stars – I am in love with the settings of Cheyenne’s books. Code of Conduct is not just set in Australia, but in the Australia I know and love. The country girl in me shines when I read her books. This is the first sport romance book I’ve read, and I loved it. Of all the sports, bring on tennis and the Australian Open. The characters were so great. I could relate to Viva on many levels and it was so nice to see and feel the book in a way I never can when it comes to books always set in worlds I know nothing about. I really enjoyed the story and the character developments. A great sports romance read.

Girl A by Abigail Dean – 4 stars – I heard about this book from Rachel Herron’s podcast How Do You Write. She read out the first page before she interviewed the author and I was hooked. Beyond that I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’ve seen a few negative/DNF type reviews and if you are expected a lineal story and the conventions of the novel, I can see how you would not be impressed. But I fell in love with the gritty internal struggles of Girl A. A few times I was a bit lost as time jumps back and forth and characters are easily confused. But I feel like this was a deliberate insight into how the mind works. We don’t stop and explain who these people are when we catch up with people we haven’t’ seen in years. We don’t think lineal. Our minds pop back and forth, random things setting tangential thoughts in to motion.
After reading this book I had the biggest emotional stretched book hang over. I’m still trying to figure out if it’s good or bad.
The writing was beautiful and the authors use of descriptions had me swoon. It feels like an intentional jarring of the beauty to the abuse and trauma of the story.
Most impressionable theme I got from the book was this raw and gritty look into human nature and our desire to see others pain and, oh such a commentary on media and obsession with real life trauma. It’s such an intense personal insight and above all, for me, it read like a non-fiction and the feels hit with more power than I can remember feeling in similar stories.

It was an intense reading month. A few short reads but mostly quite long adventures.

Be Safe
Be Brave
Be Kind

Neen

Posted in Australia, Life Adventures, Writing Adventures

My Pros and Cons of being an Introverted Writer

You may or may not know this, but writer’s, predominantly, are introverts. It might be hard to believe if you’ve ever walked past a group of writers who are chatting excitedly, laughing, and beaming like different versions of the joker. You might even have seen online versions of these gatherings (usually written in comments where the banter comes out). Or perhaps you know some of the more extroverted authors … they aren’t myths, I know right!? But I promise you, I have friends who fit this category. When I first met them, it took awhile to lift my jaw from the floor and stop staring wondering if everyone else saw them. Was it true, they actually got recharged from other people? But as time moved on, I came to realise they are just as awesome.

I however, am NOT one of those extroverted authors. It’s true, I can be loud and chatty and even outgoing, usually around other authors. We tend to bring it out in each other, as we talk about shared passions and projects with people who just get it. But this does not automatically equate to introvert or extrovert. I learnt very young how to mingle and do the small talk thing. BUT,
do I like it? No.
Does it recharge me? No.
Do I need a plethora of alone time to recharge after a social engagement? Oh yes indeed.

For an author, this can be troublesome, to say the least. Not everything may relate to every author, or even every introverted author, but here are my latest struggles with being an introverted author:

  1. Being extroverted does tend to be the more accepted way of being in the overall society I live in. It is the skill set that people are expected to work toward, to attain.
    Example: Being quiet at a gathering you may have heard or even said something like this in the hopes of making someone feel more comfortable. It’s a really sweet sentiment … ‘It’s ok, you don’t have to be shy, we won’t bite.’ … the problem is, I am often happy just watching. I’m not being shy, I’m just being me. (creepy undertones of people watching may or may not be present). This does also implies that there is something wrong with being shy, and perhaps even that I might be the one to bite … 😉 ok, that last bit might just be me enjoying the quirk a little (horror and dark fantasy author after all). This is not to say that extroverts aren’t great to have around, or quite wonderful people. Without many of the extroverts, it might end up being quite the quiet party (secretly hopes I can pull my book out of my bag and read without weird looks). But it is something I overthink and worry about when I leave a gathering. Was I being too quiet again? Was I enjoying people watching just a little too much? Or worse, was I awkwardly trying to add to conversations that ended up killing them.
  2. I want people to read my writing. I want to be a known author, even in the smallest of spheres. Why is this a problem? Because to become known, most of the time you have to put yourself out there. And I tell you, I have been putting myself out there a lot lately. And while I’m going slow, enjoying small groups, and baby steps that don’t freak me out too much. Any growth, any spike in attention both excites and downright terrifies me. Conundrum.
  3. Can’t I just let my writing speak for itself? … It would seem not. And as an anxiety ridden introverted creative, this comes with a plethora of issues. The market is filled with books, and authors. (Thankfully – I’m a very appreciative reader). To get out there you must seek out a readership, cultivate reader/writer relationships with strangers and be seen. And try your best not to fan girl when one of your favourite authors starts following your friend, or comments/replies on one of your interactions. I epically fail, often, at this last one.
  4. Learning to pivot (from my previous post) is a skill I am continually trying to rework my brain to accept. It’s not easy, but it’s not beat me yet. When something unexpected happens (and it will, that is life and the nature of the writing career), it takes me a bit longer than other people I know to process and move on, to pivot and side step around the problem and move forward. Recently, when a huge unexpected step back happened (the need to pull/change the publication of my first Novella) every bad thought raced through my mind. Will anyone else pick it up? Will I be seen as a flaky author? Should I divulge more for the reasoning? How do I stray professional and reassure potential readers that this was unexpected and also, for myself, unavoidable? I was very lucky, I have had many friends in the writing world and community reach out and help me find my way through. But it was very draining, and the time I used to recover is not something I always have.

Note: My Novella WILL see the light of day, it is currently with two potential publishers and if it does not suit them for genre/themes/timeframe I will look at getting it out there in other ways. I am in love with this story, and it’s evolution of both story and writing with the help of incredible feedback and editing.

But here is the good news – Being a writer (actually doing the writing) is such a brilliant career for an introvert:

  1. Alone time. Writing is a solitary activity. The main part of being a writer, is writing … shocking I know. Oh, I know all too well it’s not always easy, but being allowed, being expected even, to do it alone is a wonderful freedom. It allows one to create without having your energy drained by the need to socialise as well. I personally thrive on my alone time, and I have it on good authority from many writers I know, that they do as well.
  2. Thinking. Writing is a deeply thoughtful process. Yes, it’s true there are times where it feels like the words are flowing without much conscious thought. Ah, but the subconscious never stops. And introverts are quite well known to be deep thinkers. Here is a study I found about the way introverts and extroverts think. It’s a little heavy and technical in parts, but well worth the read. While I would hazard it is not complete and focuses on old studies, I did come away with this: The researchers believed that this finding showed introverts to be more sensitive to incoming information, and also to expend more mental effort by analyzing those stimuli more deeply and carefully. We also take a while to respond as we thinking a whole train station full of thoughts before we settle on a response.
  3. Being online. This can be a bit of a two sided coin. But in the current state of the world, where more things are turning to online interactions, introverted writers (and introverts as a whole) may find themselves far more visible, without the uncomfortable expectation to appear at conventions and speak on panels, to engage in real time. Not that these things aren’t also happening online, but there is more flexibility to be present without being as drained. For me, this is a win most of the time. Yes, a social activity online can leave me drained, but I’m already home, I’m already comfortable and, I’m still allowing readers to get to know me. An added bonus of the rising need of online presence is suddenly I’m not limited to the readership of my fellow Aussies. Don’t get me wrong, I love being an Australian, and much of my writing is set and influenced by this country and my experiences in it. However, I have had one on one conversations with authors who had previously seemed in a completely different universe, not just in a country far far away.
  4. People Watching. All those times I sit back and observe the crowd, I am observing more than just the people’s words and body language, I am observing the sounds and smells that envelope us, the way the light lays around, the sway in the nearby trees. All this observing helps to create richer worlds and writing. At least, I feel it does, I mean it must, mustn’t it?

If you are an introverted author, and struggle with any of the above, just know you are not alone.

Be Safe
Be Kind
Be Brave

Posted in Australia, Book Review, Reading Adventures, Writing Adventures

Not a review … as such

I’ve only just discovered the beauty of audio books. I take my time in getting acquainted with change. Usually denouncing the change stubbornly until I finally experience it and become they biggest spokes person.

Yesterday I spent a good chunk of my day listening to my latest audiobook, A Heart This Big by Cheyenne Blue. I’m still only three quarters of the way through, so I can’t really give a full review as yet, but oh how this book has effected me already. It’s one of the first books I’ve read that has made me feel nostalgic in the most beautiful way to the landscape of my childhood.

I’ve read emotional books before, where they tear your heart out. But this book is a new level of emotion for me. It’s so beautiful and refreshing to read about Australia and fall back in love with my homeland. There’s no lying about the dusty landscape or the chicken shit, but the way Cheyenne has captured all the things I love about this beautiful country has me smiling and breathing deeper.

Much of what I myself write I have set in QLD, Australia. Because I love this country. Since I began writing I’ve had the discouragements and the downright statements that setting my writing anywhere in Australia will have me fail. I gave in a few time and took out specific town names, and obvious descriptors, and I have to say I’ve not liked the stories nearly as much. So after awhile I flipped the bird to the nay sayers and have continued to set my worlds obviously in this country. That doesn’t mean I haven’t worried at my bottom lip when I’ve sent a manuscript off with the tell tale names and places. But I’ve fallen in love with many overseas places through the words of others, I would love to one day make a reader want to see this country, or to fall in love with their own country.

A Heart This Big also sent me skittering to the kitchen. There is something so inherent in my childhood about cooking. My mum isn’t a big cooker, but my grandma was – possibly the only positive thing I could say about the woman. I danced around the kitchen with my son while I cooked and cleaned, baked, and chopped apples. The apples were to dry, but the smell sent me back to days where I would be at the farm and wander into the house to smell my Gran’s apple pies baking.

I feel like I’ve always appreciated this country, but perhaps the struggles of my childhood have made me forget how much I loved Australia even back then, and the country girl in me is still alive and well.

Thank you Cheyenne for reminding me that this country is beautiful, and always has been.

Be Safe
Be Brave
Be Kind