Book Review: Night Owls by Jenn Bennett

Title: Night Owls
Author: Jenn Bennett
Publisher: Simon Schuster
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, Romance
Links: GoodReads

Blurb:

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.

Why I picked it up:

This book was sent to me from Simon Schuster in exchange for an honest review.

My Thoughts:

This novel started on the slow side… it took me a little while to wrap my head around the style to realise that Night Owls had a vibe a lot like Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist or The Perks of Being a Wallflower or Eleanor & Park. It has a really indie, hipster vibe. A writing style like that, is one I either warm to or never quite understand, so I sank into the story tentatively.

But I liked the mystery in the beginning. I loved the idea of a mysterious graffiti artist. There is something so cool about that.

It also had a dry humour that I liked:

“Me too. Since that night on the Owl, I’ve been having midnight fantasies about meeting hot girls on buses, and that’s messing up both my routine and my deep loathing of public transportations.”

It’s the sort of novel that had me googling 1337 or distichiasis, and realising that yes, there probably are people in this world that make a career out of drawing dead bodies.

So why wasn’t this a 5 star read for me? I guess my problem was that Night Owls never really grabbed me and sucked me in. It sort of dragged me along reluctantly. It wasn’t that I didn’t like it, because I did, it was just… I don’t even know. It lacked that special something for me. Definitely a novel I might read again though. It was unique.

My Verdict – 3 stars

August Bookish Wrap Up!

To start the week, I’m going to do a little wrap up of what has been happening in my bookish world lately!

The Last Five Books I’ve Read:

Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy – 3 stars
Risk by Fleur Ferris – 4 stars
All Lined Up by Cora Carmack – 3 stars
7 Days by Eve Ainsworth – 3 stars
Geek Girl by Holly Smale – 1 star

What’s In My TBR Pile?
SO MANY BOOKS! But these are some I’ve recently added:

Bird by Crystal Chan
Spark by Rachael Craw
Happiness for Beginners by Katherine Centre
Girl Before a Mirror by Liza Palmer
Love, in English by Karina Halle

Currently Reading:

Night Owl by Jenn Bennett

Recently in my mailbox:
As always, thank you to the wonderful publishers who send me wonderful novels to read and review!

What’s currently going on in your reading world?

Book Review: Dumplin by Julie Murphy

Title: Dumplin
Author: Julie Murphy
Publisher: Penguin
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, Romance
Links: GoodReads

Blurb:

Self-proclaimed fat girl Willowdean Dickson (dubbed “Dumplin’” by her former beauty queen mom) has always been at home in her own skin. Her thoughts on having the ultimate bikini body? Put a bikini on your body. With her all-American beauty best friend, Ellen, by her side, things have always worked . . . until Will takes a job at Harpy’s, the local fast-food joint. There she meets Private School Bo, a hot former jock. Will isn’t surprised to find herself attracted to Bo. But she is surprised when he seems to like her back.

Instead of finding new heights of self-assurance in her relationship with Bo, Will starts to doubt herself. So she sets out to take back her confidence by doing the most horrifying thing she can imagine: entering the Miss Clover City beauty pageant—along with several other unlikely candidates—to show the world that she deserves to be up there as much as any twiggy girl does. Along the way, she’ll shock the hell out of Clover City—and maybe herself most of all.

Why I picked it up:

This book was sent to me from Penguin in exchange for an honest review.

My Thoughts:

In a great big nutshell, this book was about body image.

The word fat makes people uncomfortable. But when you see me, the first thing you notice is my body. And my body is fat. It’s like how I notice some girls have big boobs or shiny hair or knobby knees. Those things are okay to say. But the word fat, the one that best describes me, makes lips frown and cheeks lose their colour.

In reading the blurb and media for this, I was under the impression that Willowdean was supremely confident. But she’s not. In the beginning she has so many insecuirities even though she tries to pretend that she doesn’t. And they stay with her the entire novel until the last few pages.

I do think confidence and self-worth are really important themes, but sometimes Dumplin felt a little preachy. The message certainly wasn’t subtle. It was slammed into your face throughout the entire novel. It never let up.

There are so many things I could say, but instead I cut right to the bone. “Mom.” My mouth is dry. “If you don’t sign that form, you’re saying I’m not good enough. You’re saying that most every girl in that room right now is prettier and more deserving than me. That’s what you’re telling me.”

Amidst all of that preaching, I did catch myself wondering a couple of times where this whole novel was going… It didn’t necessarily drag, but I didn’t quite understand the point a few times. Nothing really happened for the first half of the novel.

I also would have like a little more from the supporting characters. Willowdean was well developed but the rest seemed like cardboard cutouts of what they could have been.

All in all, I liked this. It was a fun read. It was light and fluffy and cute. I enjoyed the writing style.

…but to me, it’s this reminder that no matter who you are, there will always be someone prettier or smarter or thinner. Perfection is nothing more than a phantom shadow we’re all chasing.

My Verdict – 3 stars

Author Interview: Joanna Courtney

Today on my blog I’m featuring Joanna Courtney. Thanks to Pan Macmillan for setting up the interview and to Joanna for answering all my questions.

Title: The Chosen Queen
Author: Joanna Courtney
Genre: Historial Fiction
Links: GoodReads

Ever since Joanna sat up in her cot with a book, she’s wanted to be a writer. She’s had over 200 stories and serials published in women’s magazines and has battled for years to make it as a novelist. She’s therefore delighted that Pan Macmillan have now published The Chosen Queen, the first of her historical trilogy, The Queens of the Conquest, telling the stories of the too-long-neglected women of 1066.

The Interview:

1. Tell us a little bit about The Chosen Queen…

The Chosen Queen is my first ever full novel so I’m very, very pleased to see it out on the shelves. It explores England in the time leading up to 1066 from the women’s side – a long neglected and hopefully engaging way of looking at a year of battles that shaped the country’s history forever. It’s the story of Edyth of Mercia, granddaughter of Lady Godiva, whose family are exiled to the wild Welsh court where she is married to the charismatic King Griffin. This match catapults her into a bitter feud with England in which (in my interpretation of her story) her only allies are Earl Harold Godwinson and his handfasted wife, Lady Svana. But as 1066 dawns and Harold is forced to take the throne of England, Edyth – now a young widow – is asked to make an impossible choice that has the power to change the future of England forever…

The Chosen Queen is the first in the Queens of the Conquest trilogy, with the next novels following the same period but from the viewpoint of two other queens – Elizaveta of Kiev, wife of Harald Hardrada, the Viking king; and Matilda of Flanders, wife of William the eventual conqueror. They will come out in 2016 and 2017 respectively.

2. When and why did you start writing?

I’ve written for as long as I can remember and I’m not really sure why – I just have this itch to shape the world into coherent narratives! My mum says that as a toddler I used to be happy in my cot for hours as long as I had plenty of books, and I’ve always been a voracious reader. For me that lead naturally into writing. I used to make up stories for my siblings on long car journeys and, as I loved Enid Blyton, I was writing my own boarding-school books by the time I was about ten. I’ve never really stopped!

3. Do you have a specific writing style?

I’m not sure. I like to think of the style belonging more to the book than the author. I started out writing short stories, as it was easy to fit in between looking after my young children, and one of the things I really enjoyed was trying out lots of different styles. I could move from a classic romance, to a sharper, more acerbic comedy, to a darker crime piece. These days I mainly write historical fiction and that brings its own issues of style as I need to create a smooth narrative that engages a modern reader but doesn’t feel anachronistic. It’s a bit of a tightrope and one I’m still learning about but in essence I strive to be a straightforward storyteller. I’m not especially literary so I don’t go for clever effects or any sort of self-conscious styling (although I admire it hugely in those that can). My core aim is to involve my reader in my heroine’s world, so I try to craft a fluid, dynamic and hopefully dramatic narrative to do that.

4. Who is your favourite author and what strikes you about their work?

My favourite author is probably Elizabeth Chadwick. She’s been writing in the medieval period (slightly later than me, mainly post-conquest) for many years now and creates wonderfully lively, exciting and believable narratives with vibrant heroines and strong heroes. I sometimes feel that there are too many books about the Tudors, brilliant as many of them are, and it was partly Elizabeth’s Chadwick’s fast-paced, involving novels that convinced me that it was possible to bring an earlier (and far more sparsely documented) era to life for readers.

5. What was the hardest part about writing The Chosen Queen?

In a strange way I think the hardest part was actually starting to write and I found the same with the second book in the trilogy, The Constant Queen. I love doing research, both finding out about customs, places and ways of life, and, perhaps even more so, mining out characters and events to bring to life in my fiction. It is also, however, very ‘safe’. Learning things doesn’t ask as much of you as writing about them, but there comes a time when you have to leave the security of wading through facts and strike out on your story. Once I’m into it, I love it, but making a start is scary.

6. What are you working on at the moment?

I’m working on book 3 of my trilogy – The Conqueror’s Queen. I’ve been researching it for the last 6 months or so and working hard on getting under the skin of the ‘enemy’ as this one is about Matilda, wife of William the Conqueror who has so far been the ‘bad guy’ of the 1066 story. I’m loving looking at the events of 1066 from the other side of the channel and I’m hoping (though, as discussed above, I’m also slightly terrified) to start writing it in September.

7. When you aren’t writing, what do you get up to?

I have two children and two stepchildren, so mainly I run around after them! They all seem to have hectic social and sporting calendars (far, far more so than mine) so keeping up with all of that is challenging but loads of fun too. I still love to read when I get a chance and my favourite relaxation is probably a good book in the bath with a nice glass of crisp white wine.
I’m also a bit of a real ale fan and as we live in Derbyshire, the heart of real-ale country, I’m spoiled for choice and love discovering new pubs with friends. If I get a minute between all of that, I like to keep active. In my younger days I was an avid rower, and even have a couple of Henley medals to my name, but these days it’s more about nice long walks with our dogs.

8. What books would you recommend to the readers of Words Read & Written?

For historical fiction, anything by Elizabeth Chadwick – perhaps start with The Greatest Knight.
For slightly more literary history, then I do think Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall and, perhaps even more so, Bring up the Bodies, are wonderful books.
For contemporary fiction, I’ve recently discovered Liane Moriarty and am now an avid fan. In particular, I would very highly recommend her most recent book, Big Little Lies.

Recommend me… a romance novel

Welcome to a new little facet of my blog. Every now and then I’m going to post a “Recommend me…” blog post. It will be a way for all of us to share our favourite novels with each other and also to find some new reading material.

The series to far:
“Recommend Me”… a book that made you laugh
“Recommend Me”… a fantasy novel.
“Recommend Me”… a science fiction novel.

This time… Recommend Me… a romance novel!

My contribution:

Foreplay by Sophie Jordan

I read a lot of subpar books. Too many subpar books. But I wade through awful books for a reason… because every now and then, I stumble upon a gem like Foreplay, and all of those crappy books were totally worth it!

Foreplay just sucked me in. I found the characters really vivid and endearing. Within chapters I felt like I knew them and what they were about. The plot moved well, the pace was good, and the tension and passion between Pepper and Reece… oh my god, I was literally having arm flapping moments.

What is your favourite romance novel? Recommend me! Share all your favourites and hopefully we will all find some new favourites in the mix!

Book Review: Geek Girl by Holly Smale

Title: Geek Girl, Book 1 in the Geek Girl series
Author: Holly Smale
Publisher: Harper Teen (Harper Collins)
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, Romance
Links: GoodReads

Blurb:

Harriet Manners knows a lot of things.

She knows that a cat has 32 muscles in each ear, a “jiffy” lasts 1/100th of a second, and the average person laughs 15 times per day. What she isn’t quite so sure about is why nobody at school seems to like her very much. So when she’s spotted by a top model agent, Harriet grabs the chance to reinvent herself. Even if it means stealing her Best Friend’s dream, incurring the wrath of her arch enemy Alexa, and repeatedly humiliating herself in front of the impossibly handsome supermodel Nick. Even if it means lying to the people she loves.

As Harriet veers from one couture disaster to the next with the help of her overly enthusiastic father and her uber-geeky stalker, Toby, she begins to realise that the world of fashion doesn’t seem to like her any more than the real world did.

And as her old life starts to fall apart, the question is: will Harriet be able to transform herself before she ruins everything?

Why I picked it up:

I can’t exactly remember… but I think I downloaded this one from iBooks when it was a free read… I think.

My Thoughts:

I feel like my review for this novel was never going to be a good one, because it had so many factors that I didn’t like.

1. It was set within the fashion industry, which I don’t have the slightest interest in. Fashion, beauty, celebrities, models… I tend to avoid books featuring those type of things.
2. The protagonist was the “socially awkward” type that spent the entire story stumbling from one embarrassing situation to the next.
3. The protagonist was 15. And while I like young adult fiction, 15 is heading a little to close to a middle grade novel for me.

So yes… my review was always going to be skewed by my own personal tastes from the get go.

I liked the short, snappy chapters, and I thought the voice was fresh and upbeat. But at the end of the day, while this was a fun read, it really wasn’t for me. I skimmed most of it.

My Verdict – 1 star

Author Interview: Claire Varley

Title: The Bit In-Between (#thebitinbetween)
Author: Claire Varley
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
Links: GoodReads

Blurb:

After an unfortunate incident in an airport lounge involving an immovable customs officer, a full jar of sun-dried tomatoes, quite a lot of vomit, and the capricious hand of fate, Oliver meets Alison. In spite of this less than romantic start, Oliver falls in love with her.

Immediately.
Inexplicably.
Irrevocably.

With no other place to be, Alison follows Oliver to the Solomon Islands where he is planning to write his much-anticipated second novel. But as Oliver’s story begins to take shape, odd things start to happen and he senses there may be more hinging on his novel than the burden of expectation. As he gets deeper into the manuscript and Alison moves further away from him, Oliver finds himself clinging to a narrative that may not end with ‘happily ever after’.

The Interview:

How did you come up with the ideas for The Bit In Between?

The initial idea for the book came as I lay on the jetty of my friend’s family’s island in Marovo Lagoon, in Solomon Island’s Western Province. We had taken the slow ship from Isabel Province where I was working at the time to the capital Honiara, then another slow ship from Honiara, so there’d been plenty of time to ponder. I had read the autobiography of Sir Peter Kenilorea, the Solomon’s first Prime Minister, and I guess this planted the seed for wanting to write something that in some way attempted to explore the complexity and beauty of this country that is so close to Australia yet no one really knows anything about. To preface this, I had previously written a manuscript about an island in the middle of the Pacific that was plagued by the disgruntled ghosts of historical figures trapped in limbo and wreaking havoc on the local’s food production, and had immediately decided this was a fairly crap love letter to the country.

Solomon Islanders are stori people with a vibrant tradition of oral history and remembrance. Being immersed in so much living history, I became intrigued by the idea of fate and choice and how we become who we become. The book is a musing on these things; life, choice and the little decisions we do or don’t get to make that lead us through our lives.

Describe your writing process? Are you a planner or do you write by the seam of your pants?

I used to pretend I had a process but it’s more like Mr Squiggle – a whole assortment of seemingly disconnected things that I then sit down and work out how to make tell a story. I hoard precious little things. Sometimes it is a scene or a conversation or a character name or the whimsical things I see out the window of the tram, then I pile them all into a Word document and work out how it all goes together. Oftentimes I will write something and completely stump myself on how to make it fit, but I rarely discard things and I like to think I’m a cunning patch worker. I find, much like a gassy infant, lying on my stomach helps. Often I fall asleep like this, notebook wedged against my cheek, which is probably the only consistent part of my process. I’m still waiting to wake up Paul McCartney-style with the tune to Yesterday fully formed in my head.

What makes you happy?

Pretty much everything. And since I turned 29 I’ve also added the excessive production of happy tears to this. It’s very disconcerting for my partner and quite possibly I’m overproducing some vital hormone. Currently the list includes: my book (both reading and cradling it); a particular brand of soft cheese we’ve nicknamed ‘friendship cheese’; my god daughters; the sound of my friends laughing; and, rare rainy Sundays with nothing scheduled but reading. And my own jokes. Again, it’s probably a hormone thing, but I KILL me.

Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?

I take far more advice than I give because I am part of the generation for whom Oprah was the guiding midday light throughout the five years it took me to complete a humanities degree. But I would say, if you write you are a writer, no matter how published, so be confident to call yourself one. In Oprah-istic aphorism, that would be: Naming yourself means knowing yourself. Now, everyone gets a car!

Also, people will tell you that you can’t make money writing. To them you should say ‘and unless you’re Oprah, you can’t make money giving free advice so can it, dream-stabber.’ I have naught said this to someone outside of my head, so if you do, let me know how it goes.

And finally, read. Oh my god – read. How good is reading? It’s training for writing. There are so many books and so little time and one day we will all be dead with rotted out eyes, so READ now. (You: I am reading, Claire. I am reading your guest post. Me: Well-played, padawan.)

What are your writing goals?

Equal parts total literary world domination and pretty much content to have had a book published. David Foster Wallace once wrote that good writing should help readers feel less alone inside and that is pretty much all I aspire to do.

When you aren’t writing, what do you get up to?

As mentioned before, I am sleeping with the spiral binding of my notebook creasing crenulations into the flesh of my cheek as I dream-compose generation-defining Brit-rock hits. I work in community development, specifically in the prevention of violence against women sector, and I am very lucky that my two passions can co-exist. While I partially dream about being able to write full time I don’t know what I would write about without a day job. I also suspect that left to my own devices all day I would go certifiably crazy and my partner would come home to find the furniture sorted by colour and all the spoons bent into Uri Geller-esque crop circle patterns.

What are your favourite books?

When asked this question I feel like a parent dragged before a stadium full of people and asked to nominate which of my many children I love the most. I sense, on the shelves, all my books peeping out anxiously, their little spines shivering as they hold their little breaths and pray to their individual deities. Of all the books in this world, Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series has been in my life the longest. I read my first when I was nine or so and read the last a month ago, so of all my friends I have known them the longest. They have probably shaped me the most as a writer and as a person. More recently it has been Zadie Smith, Steve Toltz and Chimamanda Adichie Ngozi.

What is the most important thing you’ve learnt in your writing journey?

Write to make yourself happy, don’t keep accidentally naming your most moronic characters after people you know, and don’t expect your journey to look like anyone else’s. Also, eating all the cheese won’t help you write better.

Book Review: Risk by Fleur Ferris

Title: Risk
Author: Fleur Ferris
Publisher: Penguin
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, Crime
Links: GoodReads | Fleur’s Website

Blurb:

Taylor and Sierra have been best friends for their whole lives. But Taylor’s fed up. Why does Sierra always get what – and who – she wants? From kissing Taylor’s crush to stealing the guy they both met online for herself, Sierra doesn’t seem to notice when she hurts her friends.

So when Sierra says Jacob Jones is the one and asks her friends to cover for her while she goes to meet him for the first time, Taylor rolls her eyes.

But Sierra doesn’t come back when she said she would.

One day. Two days. Three . . .

What if Taylor’s worrying for nothing? What if Sierra’s just being Sierra, forgetting about everyone else to spend time with her new guy?

When Taylor finally tells Sierra’s mum that her daughter is missing, Taylor and her friends are thrown into a dark world they never even knew existed.

Can Taylor find Sierra’s abductor in time? Or should she be looking for a killer?

Why I picked it up:

I’d seen this one around a couple of times online. But I picked it up in August as part of the brand new Aussie Bloggers Book Club #bookclubaus

My Thoughts:

Before even starting this novel, I knew I would enjoy the subject matter – the dangers of Internet dating is something that is so important and relevant now that social media and dating apps are so popular. A book like this reminds us that even though it may be instinct to trust new people in our lives, sometimes it is best to be extremely cautious.

The dynamic between Taylor and Sierra was extremely interesting. So much jealousy and resentment between such good friends. I’ve never personally felt jealous of a friend like that, so I found their friendship really interesting.

Risk is a fast-paced read. The characters are interesting, the writing flows well, and most importantly, the themes are relevant. A great and important YA read.

My Verdict – 4 stars

Blog Tour: Crystal Kingdom by Amanda Hocking

Today is my stop on the Crystal Kingdom blog tour. A big thank you to Pan Macmillan for allowing me to take part, and to Amanda for answering all my questions.

Title: Crystal Kingdom, Book 3 in the Kanin Chronicles
Author: Amanda Hocking
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Romance

Interview:

1. Where did your ideas for the Kanin Chronicles come from?
The mythos is based on Scandinavian folklore about trolls as beautiful, cunning, and ill-tempered. I also took inspiration from a trip I took Canada and Alaska, and the beauty and magic of the landscape, and I drew on the works of Alexandre Dumas, particularly The Three Musketeers.

2. When you aren’t writing, what do you like to get up to?
Reading, watching movies, playing video games, spending time with my husband, my dog, and three cats. I’m a homebody, and my life is very low-key.

3. Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?
Write a lot, but read more than you write. When you finish something, start something new. Keep writing, even on days when you don’t feel like writing.

4. Which writers inspire you?
I think any good book inspires me, but my first favourite authors were Stephen King, Judy Blume, and Anne Rice, so I think they have the most indelible imprint on me.

5. What are some of your favourite novels?
My all-time favourite book is Slaughterhouse-five by Kurt Vonnegut, but my top favourites change all the time. My most recent favourites are Cracked Up To Be by Courtney Summers, Devoted by Jennifer Mathieu, and A Thousand Pieces of You by Claudia Gray.

6. What makes you happy?
My family and pets make me happy. A good nap. Reading a great book. Writing. I’m a fairly simple person, I guess.

7. When and why did you first begin writing?
I first began writing as soon as I learned how to. Before I could write, when I was very young like two or three, I would tell stories and make my mom or grandma write them down for me. It was something that I just always wanted to do.

8. Do you have a specific writing style?
I’m sure I do, but I don’t really know what it is. I just try to write in a way that is the easiest for people to understand. I don’t really think about it as I’m writing.

Bookish Gifts Feature: silverlime2013

One thing I love just as much as reading and collecting books, is collecting other bookish merchandise. Whether it’s bookmarks, journals, bookends, mugs… if it’s associated with reading, then I’m all over it!

As a new feature on Words Read & Written, I’m going to profile some awesome bookish swag I’ve seen and loved online. If you have seen something you’ve adored and would like to see it profiled, let me know about it.

First up, we have – silverlime2013, a product designer based in Melbourne, Australia. Silverlime2013’s store is filled with bookmarks, charms and more. Check it out.

Name: silverlime2013
Location: Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Selling on Etsy since: April 2014
Why bookmarks: I love to design products that connect with people. Bookmarks are one of my products. I also design bracelets, necklaces, earrings, wine glass charms, and phone charms.
What inspires your designs: Lifestyles and activities. I create designs related to family, sports, countries, hobbies, and many more. I design products using beads and pendants to tell stories about life.
Where else can we find your products: eBay seller: silverlime2013*, Etsy shop: silverlime2013 and silverlime2013.com
Any book recommendations for Words Read & Written readers? I love The Lord of the Rings. I love it so much that I even have a framed copy of Middle Earth on my wall. :)

 

Silverlime2013 was lovely enough to send me a couple of her products in the mail:

And here is Risk by Fleur Ferris, aka. my current read, modelling my favourite, the owl bookmark. Beautiful :)