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Friday, February 24, 2017

New Posters! #ReadAsianOz and #ReadMuslimOz

Hello Darling Readers!

It's been a little while since we've done one of these posters - and now we're bringing you two! 

The request for a #ReadAsianOz poster came from writer, reader, and blogger Wendy Chen ('Written in Wonder') who also offered us a brilliant list of recommended titles for the poster. It's not strictly YA titles (because we really wanted to include the likes of Shaun Tan and Anh Do, who can be read up and down) and it's certainly not all there is - but we hope it's a good start. 

A #ReadMuslimOz poster was thought up in response to truly heinous world events of late, and incredible acts of discrimination and xenophobia. Even today, there are still news stories that make my blood boil - like what Yassmin Abdel-Magied has been subjected to. 

These posters were designed to put a little positivity into the world, and encourage people to read widely and diversely. 

Both posters were designed by the wonderful Jessica Harvie, and are in the DropBox available now for download - and from the LoveOzYA website: 

NOTE: Living on Hope Street by Demet Divaroren (Allen & Unwin) is available from JUNE 2017 - add it to your Goodreads list here

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

'The River of No Return' by Bee Ridgway

From the BLURB:
In Bee Ridgway’s wonderfully imaginative debut novel, a man and a woman travel through time in a quest to bring down a secret society that controls the past and, thus, the future.​
“You are now a member of the Guild. There is no return.”
Two hundred years after he was about to die on a Napoleonic battlefield, Lord Nicholas Falcott wakes up in a hospital bed in twenty-first century London. The Guild, a secretive organization that controls time travel, helps him make a new life in the modern world.

But Nick yearns for home and for one beautiful woman in particular, now lost to history.

Back in 1815, that very woman, Julia Percy, finds herself the guardian of a family secret inherited from her enigmatic grandfather... how to manipulate time. But there are those who seek to possess Julia’s power and she begins to realize she is in the gravest peril.
The Guild’s rules are made to be broken, and Nick discovers how to travel back to the nineteenth century and his ancestral home. Fate and the fraying fabric of time draw Nick and Julia together once again . . . soon enough, they are caught up in an adventure that puts the future of the world into their hands.
Love endures the gulf of centuries . . . and so does danger.  As gripping as it is evocative, The River of No Return is a sweeping story of lovers who match wits and gamble their hearts against the rules of time itself.

‘The River of No Return’ was the 2013 historical-fantasy novel by Bee Ridgway.

It’s that time of year again when I remember I haven’t read a new Diana Gabaldon book since 2014 (Holy. Hell!) so I start doing Google searches for “Time Travel. Romance. Historical.” and taking a gamble on whatever comes up. This time around it was Ridgway’s ‘The River of No Return’, which I very vaguely remembered got some good praise from my Goodreads friends at the time of release way back in 2013.

This book started out really promising – with intricate and eclectic set-up of the time-travel parameters. First we’re introduced to a 19th century British Lord, living in the 21st – and then we meet a young woman in 1815 whose grandfather is on his deathbed, and able to “speed up” the process by accelerating time. All very, very cool. And then Ridgway starts honing in on these characters. Lord Nicholas Falcott jumps in time to escape a Napoleonic battlefield, and is then he’s introduced to this affluent society of time travellers in the 21st century, who use time-leaps like currency and completely control and profiteer from the industry surrounding it.

Julia Percy is the girl Nick left behind in his own time – but we switch to her story in 1815, and discover that like The Guild that Nick has just encountered, Julia is able to control and manipulate time (a gift seemingly inherited from her grandfather).

I started out really enjoying this novel, and thinking that I’d hit on a winner for its perfect overlap of historical/time-travel/romance … but once we got out of the woods of anticipating Nick and Julia meeting up again in a shared timeline, the romance started to fall flat – mostly because it’s very timidly written by Ridgway, but also probably because I came into the book craving ‘Outlander’ and set my heat-levels too high. I mean; they were fine and we got some hot n’ heavy scenes, but given that so much is riding on their romance I just didn’t feel their story was epic enough to warrant it.

What more got me through this book was the time-travel aspect, and how intricate and fascinating that was;
 “Human emotion. Millions of souls, together they make the mood of a certain time. It doesn’t matter that they disagree, that they hate, that they fight. All together they create it, this thing. This epoch. Times of war. Times of famine. Times of wealth and happiness. The mood of an era. What is stronger than that?”

It’s basically exploring time-travel as this conglomerate, and maybe it’s because I’ve really gotten into ‘Timeless’ on NBC, but this aspect provided such fascinating thinking for me – and it’s the one aspect of the book that I’m still thinking about, long after I finished reading.

So all in all – this was a nice distracting read, helping me cope with my Outlander-withdrawals. But it didn’t really hit on the romance aspect hard enough, though the time-travel parameters and set-up was wildly intriguing enough for me to hope that there’s some sort of sequel coming out to keep digging at this (perhaps focused on Leo next time?!)


Friday, February 3, 2017

'Against the Wall' by Jill Sorenson

From the BLURB:

The RITA-nominated author of The Edge of Night returns with another seductive novel, hailed by M. O’Keefe as “a dirty, gritty gem of a book.” As teens, Eric and Meghan fell for each other despite the odds—but now that they’re all grown up, they’re reunited by dangerous secrets.

Eric Hernandez is the bad boy of every schoolgirl’s fantasies—and every mother’s nightmares. But after serving time for manslaughter, he’s ready to turn his life around. He just needs a chance to prove himself as a professional tattoo artist. The one thing that keeps him going is the memory of the innocent beauty he loved and left behind.

Meghan Young’s world isn’t as perfect as it looks. The preacher’s daughter is living a lie, especially now that Eric is back. Tougher, harder, and sexier than ever, he might be the only person she can trust. But there’s no telling what he’ll do to protect her if he learns the truth, and that’s a risk Meghan won’t let him take. And yet, back in the arms of the troubled boy with the artist’s soul, Meghan can’t help surrendering to the man he’s become.

‘Against the Wall’ is the long-awaited sequel to Jill Sorenson’s 2011 romance book, ‘The Edge of Night’.

Okay. I hate that I didn’t love this book. Because I really liked ‘Edge of Night’ when I read it waaaaaay back in 2011, and in my review of that book I plucked out my enthusiasm for the secondary romance of Meghan and Eric, as much of that book’s saving grace. So much so that I actually reached out to Sorenson to see when their book would be coming … at the time I think she alluded to a possible next-year release – but for various reasons that kept getting pushed back and back, and it’s by the grace of the reading gods that I kept checking in every couple of years to see if that sequel status had changed (seriously – the waiting was getting up there with Lisa Valdez’s ‘Passion Quartet’ third book…) So imagine my happy surprise when I did my annual end-of-year check-in and saw that the sequel dropped in February of this year!

I delved into the novel full of expectations and enthusiasm, and things started out okay? … but then it got wonky.

When we met Meghan and Eric in 2011 as a secondary teen romance in ‘Edge of Night’, their story was reminiscent of ‘Perfect Chemistry’ by Simone Elkeles … if Brittany and Alex’s happy ending had been totally flipped on its head, and Alex had ended up in jail for manslaughter (because witnesses to the crime mislead investigators). So when ‘Against the Wall’ begins, its been three years and Eric is getting out of prison to discover Meghan has moved on with an abusive college beau. Thus begins the book’s many false-starts and dead-ends … because ‘Against the Wall’ almost reads like a “Choose Your Own Adventure Novel” for how many different pathways Sorenson sets up for the plot, but lets fall away one-by-one.

For one thing – I don’t know why it’s only been three years since Eric’s imprisonment? Why not build on the momentum of the anticipation for this novel and make it five?! This would have also seriously raised the stakes – if Meghan hadn’t just been in her first serious relationship with a college dude-bro, and instead was maybe engaged to someone and in the middle of building her career when a convicted felon jeopardizes her “good standing” in work or something? I don’t know. I felt Sorenson’s insistence to keep this kinda college-based and New Adult was for the sake of it, and it’s where opportunities were missed early on.

As to that “Choose Your Own Adventure” vibe. Phew. Okay. First there’s the fact that Meghan has an abusive boyfriend … but it seems that Eric’s reappearance in her life is what really pushes him over the edge, and everything prior was heavy emotional abuse and isolation – but clearly leading into something dire. Again though, the stakes weren’t’ quite there – because Meghan repeatedly admits to not being in love with him, and between her Psychology major and having a brother who is a police officer, we get Meghan’s inner-thoughts which reveal an acute understanding of what Chip is doing, and her recognition that it is indeed abusive and she needs to leave him eventually. Also: this storyline ends up going absolutely nowhere.

Then there’s the fact that Meghan and her best friend Kelsea work at a college campus women’s centre, where they do things like organize a SlutWalk and field vile online abuse that comes via their website and call-centre. In the lead-up and following the successful SlutWalk, the centre receives even more abuse that seems targeted at Kelsea directly and becomes increasingly scary … again, the storyline goes nowhere in this book, as it’s really more about setting up a future story for Kelsea and a tattoo artist called Tank.

Then there’s everything that Eric is dealing with – among them, sleeping with the girlfriend and baby-mama of the man he killed and was sent to jail for manslaughter over. This was an interesting turn early on, and I was intrigued to see it explored, weirdly. For one thing, we got to see but a glimpse of what it’s like for women within California gangs and there was serious emotional high-stakes … but again, it peters out.

There’s also stuff with Eric feeling sucked back into his old gang life because of his best friend, Junior – but this was also lacking emotional punch because Eric is so determined not to get drawn back into that life, and his interior thoughts tell readers that’s never at risk of happening anyway. This also feels oddly unresolved and half-assed.

What I really found interesting and wish Sorenson had focused on, was how freakin’ hard it is for Eric to get back to life after prison – because if you don’t already know, the American prison system is fucked (seriously, watch the documentary ‘13th’) and Eric alludes to this quite a few times;

I didn’t have any trouble getting my GED in Chino, though. I’m not a dumbass like some criminals. I was born here and I learned English right off the bat. I can read and write better than most inmates. As a convicted felon, I’m not eligible for government programs like housing assistance or financial aid, but I could save money to pay my own way. I could continue my education. Get an art degree. 
I glance around the library guiltily, as if someone might guess my thoughts and rat me out for overstepping my place. Guys like me don’t become college students. We beat up college students.
But he falls on his feet kinda quickly. Between having a place to crash at with family who love and support him, and nabbing a pretty sweet job working at a tattoo parlor, plus finding outlets for his artwork … there were never any stakes here either.

And as for Meghan and Eric – the romance that made me check back in for FIVE FREAKIN’ YEARS to see if it was written yet … meh. The sex scenes were great, but I feel like because the plot was all over the place, they were too. I never really knew how they felt about each other; also because their thoughts belied their actions and whatever hurdles Sorenson was trying to construct for them, they just seemed to jump over easily because they had great sexual attraction and that cured all manner of doubts? I mean … even Eric stupidly sleeping with the baby-mama of the man he killed who’s also affiliated with a rival gang when he says he doesn’t want anything to do with that violence anymore – Meghan is momentarily horrified at his stupidity, but because that storyline for Eric didn’t go anywhere, it likewise didn’t carry much weight when Meghan found out.

I just … I feel like ‘Against the Wall’ didn’t actually have an editor? Because I think any beta readers would have come in and said “You’ve already set up emotional high-stakes in ‘Edge of Night’ for these two, they already have a story – you just need to pick a lane for the plot to be in, and stick with it!”

Yeah, this was disappointing. It just had so much potential, and as a reader I was totally there for Sorenson, Meghan and Eric – I was rooting for them and this book for so, so long. But this was a mess … a hot mess, to be sure for those sex scenes (which is the only reason this isn’t get a 1-star) … but a hot mess nonetheless. Sorry.


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