Tag Archives: #contemporary

The Other Side of Beautiful by Kim Lock -a review

the other side of beautifulThe Other Side of Beautiful by Kim Lock

Lost & Found meets The Rosie Project in a stunning break-out novel where a vulnerable misfit is forced to re-engage with the world, despite her best efforts.

Meet Mercy Blain, whose house has just burnt down. Unfortunately for Mercy, this goes bey ond the disaster it would be for most people: she hasn’t been outside that house for two years now.

Flung out into the world she’s been studiously ignoring, Mercy goes to the only place she can. Her not-quite-ex-husband Eugene’s house. But it turns out she can’t stay there, either.

And so begins Mercy’s unwilling journey. After the chance purchase of a cult classic campervan (read tiny, old and smelly), with the company of her sausage dog, Wasabi, and a mysterious box of cremated remains, Mercy heads north from Adelaide to Darwin.

On the road, through badly timed breakdowns, gregarious troupes of grey nomads, and run-ins with a rogue adversary, Mercy’s carefully constructed walls start crumbling. But what was Mercy hiding from in her house? And why is Eugene desperate to have her back in the city? They say you can’t run forever…

Exquisite, tender and wry, this is a break-out novel about facing anxiety and embracing life from an extraordinary new talent.

Published 7 July 2021|  Publisher: Harlequin Australia  |  RRP: AUD$29.99

Buy it at: Dymocks |  Booktopia |  A&R  |  Abbey’s  | QBD

My Blurb (5 / 5 stars)

An adorably beautiful cover for an adorably beautiful novel. I always look forward to each new novel by Kim Lock because I know that I would love it. I always find myself smiling unconsciously when reading her books; I don’t know how she does it. That is not to say that her novels are happy or funny but that there are happy & funny moment in amongst the detritus that is life. Trust Kim to always get into the heart of things.

The novel opens as Mercy’s house is on fire and we meet Mercy as she stood in the middle of the street in her jammies. She was understandably confused and trying very hard to hang on to the last shred of her sanity. Her house, the only place she felt safe in, is burning down and she is forced to take her first step onto the street after 2 years of hiding. Then the only person she could turn to is her not-quite-ex-husband, Eugene, but he couldn’t shield her either. If she can’t hide, maybe she can run… and as fate has it, her mode of transport is right outside.

Bending over, she howled into her hands. She couldn’t take this anymore. She couldn’t take the feeling of her body in a constant state of anxiety, everything tensed like a rabbit awaiting a fox. Unrelenting guilt ate at her, acid sloshing her insides. The waiting, the endless waiting. For what?

I have no idea what panic attacks are like. I just know that they are supposed to be absolutely terrifyingly bad. From reading this novel, it does feel that author has done her work in research but this is a novel and should be read as such. Mercy’s journey as she faced down her troubles is heartachingly beautiful but again it is fiction and should not be used as basis of advice.

The world wasn’t safe. Nothing was safe; nowhere was safe. I couldn’t even human.

Mercy may have begun her journey with only the van and her faithful dachshund, Wasabi, but there was a community of travellers out there. I loved this community and especially Andy, being the one she opened up to & tell-all person. Their acceptance, non-judgemental, and generous attitude towards others and life is delightful; something for us all to emulate.

Be here now, and know that whatever now is, is transient.

I may have started reading The Other Side of Beautiful with a tiny bit of trepidation because her last novel, The Three of Us, was rather hard-hitting (I rated that one 5-stars too) and I’m really not in the mood for that sort of read. However, The Other Side of Beautiful proves to be such a balm in the midst of a lockdown. Being in Mercy’s shoes while she traversed the great Australian landscape, it was truly an escape that I vicariously loved.

My thanks to Harlequin Australia via The Book Stack for this paperback copy of book in exchange of my honest thoughts

About the author

Find author on:  goodreads  |  website  |  facebook 

Review: You Were Made For Me by Jenna Guillaume

You Were Made For Me by Jenna Guillaume

YA author Jenna Guillaume is back with a fun and modern feminist twist on the 1985 pop cult film Weird Science.

Sixteen-year-old Katie Camilleri can’t believe she’s accidentally created a teenage boy. A boy six-feet tall with floppy hair and eyes like the sky on a clear summer’s day. A boy whose lips taste like cookie dough and whose skin smells like springtime. A boy completely devoted to Katie. But silly musings and kitchen antics with her best friend, Libby, have definitely taken a whimsical twist into something bigger than Katie could have ever daydreamed. Turns out the consequences of fumbling a human being into existence are rather complicated. More importantly, does Guy, the golden Adonis Katie’s created, like her because he wants to, or because he has to? And will he be Katie’s very first kiss?

From the author of What I Like About Me comes a hilarious feminist twist on a classic narrative, loaded with laughs, mishaps, and plenty of 80s and 90s pop-culture callbacks. Jenna Guillaume’s entertaining romantic comedy novel features a humorous and relatable voice and will appeal to fans of Jenny Han.

Published (ed) 1 April 2021|  Publisher: Peachtree Publishing Company  |  RRP: AUD$19.99

My Blurb (3 / 5 stars)

Being Australian, I have been aware of this author for a few years and of this book, sometime in 2020 (noting Australian publishing date was August 2020). For some reason, however, I never thought to add this to my TBR as it just didn’t seem to be my kind of read. I do love this cover though and as it popped up as a ‘Read Now’ on Netgalley, I just had to click that button, don’t I…

I have to admit that I jumped into the novel not knowing exactly what I’m in for. At the start, this novel was quite fascinating where two teenage girls ‘made’ a perfect boy out of clay to meet the dreams of the main protagonist. The story is easy to read and I do love the growth of characters but the structure of the telling bothered me so I didn’t particularly enjoy the read.

We have Katie Camilleri, the protagonist, who is writing this story down while her best friend, Libby, is standing over her shoulder, reading & interrupting with certain inputs of when to fast forward the story and what’s to include in the story. At first, I really liked Libby’s comments (snarkiness between BFFs are to be appreciated) but about halfway, I just found it disruptive and annoying. So, I guess, this structure didn’t quite work for me.

Thank you Peachtree Publishing Company via Netgalley for the e-copy of this book in exchange of my honest thoughts

About the author

Find author on:  goodreads  |  website  |  twitter  |  instagram |  facebook

Review: The Hope Flower by Joy Dettman

The Hope Flower by Joy Dettman

From the bestselling author of Mallawindy and the Woody Creek series comes a story of love and survival.

Lori Smyth-Owen isn’t your average teenager – as you’d expect from the only girl in a family of twelve. Or they were a family, until their father took his own life to escape his bed-bound wife, too obese to leave her room.

But for Lori and the remaining brothers, there is no escape from their volatile, mentally unstable mother. They raise themselves away from the gaze of the authorities, realising that though abandoned, they are now in charge. They can control everything, including their mother’s food intake.

In time, their mother emerges, after losing two-thirds of her body weight. But does she bring with her the seed of hope for a better future, or will all hell break loose?

Published 30 March 2021 |  Publisher: MacMillan Australia  |  RRP: AUD$14.99

Buy it at: Dymocks |  Booktopia |  A&R  |  Abbey’s  |  QBD

My Blurb (3.5 / 5 stars)

Joy Dettman is a well-known Aussie author but I’ve yet to read any of her books until this one. A few are on my TBR but I guess they’re not my particular comfort reads so they keep getting pushed back. As this was a review copy courtesy of the publisher, I pushed myself a little to reading this. I must admit that I wasn’t particularly keen on cover nor description but once I started, it was pretty easy to keep going. Noting my reading mood this year, the fact I managed to finish the book speaks well of its readability.

The Hope Flower is told from the perspective of a 15 year old girl, Lori Smyth-Owen. The only girl of 12 children and currently, she rules the roost. The house is a busy one (even as their mother does nothing all day) but routine is well regimented and chores shared all around. This time, Eddy came up with another scheme to get their mother to shape up. When she did shape up, however, the only to benefit was herself but she did go out in style.

While the story is actually quite sad and heartbreaking (how can your heart not hurt for these neglected children?!), I didn’t find the read depressing. Lori is one feisty character; full of gumption and yet, beneath all that hard rock is a soft spot where seedling of hope is still being kept alive. All these children are such amazing characters; resilient and resourceful! Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for any adult characters here.

I just found that The Hope Flower is not the first book by this author to feature Lori but I don’t think I can go back to read the other one, Henry’s Daughter. I can’t tell you if you’d miss anything if you read this without reading the earlier one because this truly reads like a stand-alone for me. I can honestly say that I have enjoyed reading The Hope Flower as it has definitely exceeded any expectations I had for it.

My thanks to MacMillan Australia for this paperback copy of book in exchange of my honest thoughts

About the author

Joy Dettman sees herself as a wife, mother and grandmother, who steals time from her family to satisfy her obsessive need to write.

Joy was not always a wife, mother and grandmother. She can recall her early obsession with newspaper cartoons. They were her picture books. A newspaper shoutline allowed her to break the code of reading prior to entering a school room, thus addicting her for life to the printed word.

Joy’s early draft of Woody Creek, single spaced, margin to margin, messy, was typed on the family room table, where in 1986-7, she wrote Mallawindy. Her number one fan, her little sister, read it, and for the next ten years, publication became their joint obsession.

In 1997, she received a phone call from Pan Macmillan. Mallawindy was accepted for publication and by ’98 Joy and her number one fan held that book in their hands.

Review: Dirt Circus League by Maree Kimberley

Dirt Circus League by Maree Kimberley

I stumbled towards the Meat House, my body shaking with the violence that raged within me, as the realisation of the mistake I had made in coming here rose to the surface of my mind. This was the last place I should be. That thought was crossed by another, even more terrifying.

This is exactly where I belong.

Asa’s running from a troubled past. To a remote outback town, a disappointing father and a fresh start that’s already souring.

But then the notorious Dirt Circus League arrives. A troupe of outcast teens performing spectacular fight sequences and challenging any who dares to take part.

They’re ruthless. Menacing. Thrilling. And led by the magnetic Quarter. He’s dark, powerful and intensely attractive—and he faces a threat only Asa can see.

Will Asa be drawn into the league’s mysterious community?

And, as she discovers the violent secrets at its heart, will she delve into her own untapped abilities to save herself—and heal those caught in its evil web?

Dirt Circus League is a compelling and fast-paced novel about the powerful allure of danger and the battles we face with our demons in a world beyond our control.

Published 30 March 2021|  Publisher: Text Publishing  |  RRP: AUD$19.99

Buy it at: Dymocks |  Booktopia |  A&R  |  Abbey’s  | QBD

My Blurb (2.5 / 5 stars)

Such an eye-catching cover! That bright pink on background of pure black with title in eye-popping neon yellow; overall, one of the best covers I’ve ever seen. And when you add the word ‘circus’ to the title, I’m a goner. I have to read this book!

Going by the book description, this book could be contemporary or it could be fantasy. Truthfully, I’m finding it hard to place this book in a certain category but I think I’d actually place it as magical realism which is a bit hit and miss for me so unfortunately, this book was closer to a miss.

The setting is a fictional outback town of Australia (possibly in QLD) and it is set in the present time. Asa, the protagonist, is running away from a mother who does not care for her but also of her grief and anger at losing her grandmother who loved her. She came across the Dirt Circus League, became fascinated by the violence, and decided that it may be a good space for her and her anger. What she found at their headquarters, however, was beyond even her imagining and Asa had to decide whether to give in to her anger or accept herself and become better.

As you’d know, magical realism is usually full of strange and at times, wonderful things. In this novel, though, it mostly strange, violent, and more violence. Language wise, I found the novel easy to read and Asa is a pretty easy protag to like despite her anger issues but yet, that’s understandable and she came out strong in the end. I just couldn’t appreciate all the imagery so this is all on me.

Thank you Text Publishing via Netgalley for the e-copy of this book in exchange of my honest thoughts

About the author

Find author on:  goodreads  |  website  |  twitter  |  instagram

Review: The Gaps by Leanne Hall

The Gaps by Leanne Hall

When sixteen-year-old Yin Mitchell is abducted, the news reverberates through the whole Year Ten class at Balmoral Ladies College. As the hours tick by, the girls know the chance of Yin being found alive is becoming smaller and smaller.

Everyone is affected by Yin’s disappearance—even scholarship student Chloe, who usually stays out of Balmoral dramas, is drawn into the maelstrom. And when she begins to form an uneasy alliance with Natalia, the queen of Year Ten, things get even more complicated.

A tribute to friendship in all its guises, The Gaps is a moving examination of vulnerability and strength, safety and danger, and the particular uncertainties young women face in the world.

Published 2 March 2021|  Publisher: Text Publishing  |  RRP: AUD$19.99

Buy it at: Dymocks |  Booktopia |  A&R  |  Abbey’s  | QBD

My Blurb (4 / 5 stars)

Fabulous cover and I am familiar with author’s name even if I’ve not previously read her books. While I do read some contemporary YA, it’s not my preferred genre but I think I was slightly misled by the description of this book which makes me think that there’d be some mystery solving duo. It’s my own fault though for reading into it the way I wanted to rather than what it actually says. Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed the reading; identified with some characters, shed some tears, and bowled over by the powerful emotions emanating from each protags.

There are 2 POVs in this story: Chloe who comes into Balmoral Ladies College on scholarship in Yr 10 and Natalia, the queen of Yr 10. While Chloe struggles to adjust herself to her new environment where not only is she demographically different but where most of these girls have known each other from primary school, Natalia appears to be in control of everything around her but internally she’s ready to combust. When Yin Mitchell, a Yr 10 student at Balmoral, disappeared, Natalia’s tight control over her thoughts and feelings begins to unspool.

What hit me most in this novel is the myriad of feelings; of confusion, grief, rage, hopelessness. They were so powerful, it was nearly overwhelming. Maybe I’ve also forgotten what it’s like to be a teen though I’ve never had an issue like this (a kidnapped friend). Yet amongst this anger against an unfair world, lives keep on rolling forward and whether you’d want to or not, you are swept along. Both Chloe & Natalia along with a number of secondary characters have grown leaps & bound throughout this novel and certainly in a very good way so I guess that’s an excellent ending for the novel. I’m left with a teeny bit of unresolved disappointment but I don’t want to spoil anyone so I’ll leave that one as vague as it is.

Thank you Text Publishing via Netgalley for the e-copy of this book in exchange of my honest thoughts

About the author

Find author on:  goodreads  |  website  |  twitter  |  instagram

 

Review: Mum & Dad by Joanna Trollope

Mum & Dad by Joanna Trollope

‘What a mess, she thought now . . . what a bloody, unholy mess the whole family has got itself into.’

It’s been twenty-five years since Gus and Monica left England to start a new life in Spain, building a vineyard and wine business from the ground up. However, when Gus suffers a stroke and their idyllic Mediterranean life is thrown into upheaval, it’s left to their three grown-up children in London to step in . . .

Sebastien is busy running his company with his wife, Anna, who’s never quite seen eye-to-eye with her mother-in-law.

Katie, a successful solicitor in the City, is distracted by the problems with her long-term partner, Nic, and the secretive lives of their three daughters.

And Jake, ever the easy-going optimist, is determined to convince his new wife, Bella, that moving to Spain with their eighteen-month-old would be a good idea.

As the children descend on the vineyard, it becomes clear that each has their own idea of how best to handle their mum and dad, as well as the family business. But as long-simmering resentments rise to the surface and tensions reach breaking point, can the family ties prove strong enough to keep them together?

Published 31 March 2020 |  Publisher: Pan MacMillan Australia  |  RRP: AUD$32.99

Buy it at: Dymocks |  Booktopia |  A&R  |  Abbey’s  | QBD

My Blurb (3.5 / 5 stars)

So despite the fact that I know you think I’m wet and useless and defeatist, I’m actually just trying to elude being stamped on by everyone else, flattened, obliterated. It may sound pathetic to you, but I just want people to be kind. Kind to me, and to each other. That’s all.

Monica and Gus chose to live in Spain; away from their children who live in England. Or rather, Monica followed Gus in realising his dreams of a vineyard. As a family, they are rather more estranged than familiar with huge big gaps between each member. When Gus suffered a stroke, however, things began to boil over until one and then two and then the rest begins to open up and one talks to the other.

This isn’t a book that I’d pick up on my own; not by its description anyway. I’m too wary of family stories as I’ve had enough of mine own. However, I kind of liked the cover so thought I’d give it a go. It was a matter of discipline of reading 2 chapters per day. That made it sound rather terrible, isn’t it? But, it was a pretty sad & heartbreaking story. At least, to begin with, it was, but thankfully the ending wasn’t too bad. Although, I did wonder how realistic it was… Probably only a small percentage of family will survive for the better or am I being a cynic?

Overall, <i>Mum & Dad</i> is a wonderful book in showing just how gaps and misunderstandings can be bridged by being open, talking honestly and willingness to forgive. I enjoyed Trollope’s prose and her descriptions of Spain had me enthralled to the end.

Thanks to Pan MacMillan Australia for copy of book in exchange of honest review

About the author

Joanna Trollope is the author of many highly acclaimed and bestselling novels, including The Rector’s Wife, Marrying the Mistress and Daughters in Law. She was appointed OBE in 1996, a trustee of the National Literacy Trust in 2012, and a trustee of the Royal Literary Fund in 2016. She has chaired the Whitbread and Orange Awards, as well as being a judge of many other literature prizes including chairing the BBC National Short Story Awards for 2017. Mum and Dad is her twenty-second novel.

Find author on:  goodreads  |  website  |  facebook

Blog Tour: The Year the Maps Changed by Danielle Binks

 

The Year the Maps Changed by Danielle Binks

Publisher: Hachette Australia
Publication Date: 28 April 2019
Australian RRP: $17.99

I was eleven when everything started and twelve by the end. But that’s another way maps lie, because it felt like the distance travelled was a whole lot further than that. 

 Sorrento, Victoria – 1999 

Fred’s family is a mess. Fred’s mother died when she was six and she’s been raised by her Pop and adoptive father, Luca, ever since. But now Pop is at the Rye Rehabilitation Centre recovering from a fall; Luca’s girlfriend, Anika, has moved in; and Fred’s just found out that Anika and Luca are having a baby of their own. More and more it feels like a land-grab for family and Fred is the one being left off the map.

But even as the world feels like it’s spinning out of control, a crisis from the other side of it comes crashing in. When 400 Kosovar-Albanian refugees arrive in the middle of the night to be housed at one of Australia’s ‘safe havens’ on an isolated headland not far from Sorrento, their fate becomes intertwined with the lives of Fred and her family, as she navigates one extraordinary year that will change them all.

Buy at:  booktopia  |  dymocks  | QBD  | Hachette Australia

My Blurb (5/5 stars)

11 year old Winifred Owen-Ricci felt her world shifting once again. There was that big one when her mother died but this year, her 11th year, she felt her world to lose its smoothness and little bumps and lumps are emerging. Just as she has to adjust herself to her father’s new partner and her son moving in, a group of Kosovar-Albanian refugees were brought in to a ‘safe haven’ not far from her town. As her life touches those of the refugees’ so begin some little ripples of change but what can an 11 year old girl do to help?

The Year the Maps Changed was such an easy and engaging book to read. I was quickly drawn into Winnie’s (aka Fred’s or Freddo’s) world and fell in love… with her parents. It is heartwarming to see a good parental models in MG fiction though not to say that they are perfect but they try and mostly, they do good. The novel primarily is about a child’s life in a small town as she struggles to fit in into her new blended family.

The novel also dealt with a contemporary issues of refugees. And while it refers specifically to the Kosovar-Albanian ones who came to Australia in 1999, the same issue and concern still exist today in regard to refugees. Even as Winnie is confused about her spot in the family, she and her friends are also curious about the refugees and the reason for the war. Her sympathy engaged, she dared to put out a helping hand.

I got my 10 year old boy to read this too but unfortunately, it failed to engage him. He does not think himself as a reader and when he does read, he prefers books with the typical boy humour (a very narrow preference). He thinks it is boring because it’s just about everyday life where nothing really happens. He has been very fortunate in having grown up in a rather traditional family structure, I think, that he lacks the appreciation how much a struggle ‘everyday life’ could be when your family structure & dynamics change. From my perspective (I grew up with older half siblings), this novel has dealt with this issue sensitively and provided a lovely broad perspective of just how it could all work.

Life, as we all know, is never a smooth ride. Just as you think to switch the cruise control on, there’s a turn or a bump coming up and you’ll have to navigate manually. In The Year the Maps Changed, Winnie’s world (aka map) was changing and expanding with additional turns, cracks, and bumps. Changes come in all forms and many different directions; from her life’s centre (her family) to her friends to worldwide concerns. She is learning to negotiate life inside out, growing and expanding herself to adjust to her new world. Beautifully set by Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula, The Year the Maps Changed is a new & gorgeous landmark in all readers’ landscapes or it should be!

Thanks to Date a Book, Hachette Australia, & Hachette New Zealand for copy of book in exchange of honest review. And thanks, AusYABloggers for organising the tour.

Find all the other stops by following the Tour Schedule 

About the author

Danielle Binks is a Melbourne-based writer, reviewer, agent, book blogger and Youth Literature Advocate. In 2017, she edited and contributed to Begin, End, Begin, an anthology of new Australian young adult writing inspired by the #LoveOzYA movement, which won the ABIA Book of the Year for Older Children (Ages 13+) and was shortlisted in the 2018 Gold Inky Awards. The Year the Maps Changed is Danielle’s debut middle-grade novel coming out with Hachette Australia in 2020.

Find Danielle on: goodreads  |  website  |  twitter  | instagram

Review: The Girl Who Reads on the Métro by Christine Féret-Fleury

 

The Girl Who Reads on the Métro by Christine Féret-Fleury

For fans of The Little Paris Bookshop and The Elegance of the HedgehogThe Girl Who Reads on the Métrois the French phenomenon by Christine Féret-Fleury ready to charm book-lovers everywhere . . .

When Juliette takes the métro to her loathed office job each morning, her only escape is in books – she avidly reads on her journey and imagines what her fellow commuters’ choices might say about them.

But when, one day, she decides to alight the train a few stops early and meets Soliman – the mysterious owner of the most enchanting bookshop Juliette has ever seen – she is sure her life will never be the same again . . .

For Soliman also believes in the power of books to change the course of a life – entrusting his passeurs with the task of giving each book to the person who needs it most – and he thinks Juliette is perfect for the job.

And so, leaving her old life behind, Juliette will discover the true power a book can have . . .

Published 29 October 2019 |  Publisher: Pan MacMillan Australia  |  RRP: AUD$24.99

My Blurb (4 / 5 stars)

 

I don’t think this is a book that I would’ve picked up on my own initiative. The cover looks so very cute and it’s set in France so really, I would have felt, yea, maybe… then gone on and forgot all about it. Thanks to the publicist at MacMillan Australia though for sending me a copy because I so loved reading this book.

I was at the stage that I needed something light and this book was just perfect. It was written in such whimsical tones and yet, it wasn’t chirpy in any way. In fact, when you stop and think about it, the story is actually rather sad. And yet again, the author somehow managed to write in such beautiful turn of phrases to uplift the readers’ hearts. Of course, all those loving praises she lavished on books will not go astray but are rather direct hits to booklovers’ hearts.

Some of us may just understand Juliette, main protagonist, better than others. We may just be like her in our situation, ie. just happened to get a job, stuck it out even if you’re not particularly enjoying it, everyday is just routine & nothing exciting ever happens. Until one day when she spontaneously got off the Metro a number of stops away from her destination and found herself wandering the streets. And hence she begins to discover parts of herself previously dormant, to opening her heart, and to find the life she’s meant to live. It’s a terrific ending for a stand alone (for which I believe this book is) but I find myself wishing for a lot more of Juliette and her adventures.

The Girl Who Reads on the Métro is a lovely easy heart-warming read. When you have that rare spare moment that you just want to read a whole book, don’t pass this one by. I’ll bet you’ll find yourself smiling to yourself 🙂

Thanks to Pan MacMillan Australia for copy of book in exchange of honest review

About the author

Christine Féret-Fleury began her career as a publisher at Gallimard Jeunesse. In 1996, she wrote her debut children’s book, Le Petit Tamour, quickly followed in 1999 by her debut novel for adults, Les vagues sont douces comme des tigres, winner of the Antigone Prize. Since then, she has gone on to write eighty further books, and counting. A prolific reader, she likes to try her hand at each of the many literary genres she enjoys. The Girl Who Reads on the Métro is her first adult novel to be translated into English.

Blog Tour: Bright Burning Stars by A.K. Small -a Review

Bright Burning Stars by A.K. Small

Kate and Marine have trained since childhood at the Paris Opera Ballet School where they formed an intense bond after respective family tragedies. Their friendship seems unshakeable until their final year when only one girl can be selected for a place in the Opera’s company. The physically demanding competition takes an emotional toll, and their support for each other starts to crumble. Marine’s eating disorder begins to control her life as she consumes less and dances more, and Kate discovers the depths of depression and the highs of first love as she falls for the school heartthrob—who also happens to be Marine’s dance partner.

As rankings tighten and each day is one step closer to the final selection, neither girl is sure just how far she’ll go to win. With nuance and empathy, the intense emotions of teenage years are amplified in Small’s debut as the girls struggle with grief, mental health issues, and relationships, all set against the glamorous backdrop of Paris.

Published 21 May 2019 |  Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers |  RRP: USD$17.95

My Blurb (4 / 5 stars)

I couldn’t help myself… A glance at the cover and I’m gone! Yep, I’m definitely reading this one – I just A.D.O.R.E. ballet. When I read the description, I doubted whether this is something I’d like but I still had to try. The bit I didn’t like was that it hinted at a love triangle and that it’ll take over the whole book but it did NOT and boy, I was so thankful!

Bright Burning Stars was so much more than just a love story or even boys. It delved much deeper into the psyches of these two girls who are passionate about dancing but are in a very stressful competitive situation. Their friendship of many years are challenged to the breaking point and their health are at risk to the point of destruction. This was a rather dark read.

Thankfully, this book is told in dual perspective, Kate Saunders and Marine Duval. I am very glad for Marine’s because I think I might have thrown the book if all I had to read was Kate’s point of view. Both Kate and Marine have had their share of childhood grief and each has their own issues in this story but Marine as a character is one you can easily sympathise with while Kate may just make you cry (after wanting to shake her).

As I read Bright Burning Stars & tried to guess the ending (who does that!?), I was reminded of Centre Stage (movie). The more I think of it, the more I see similarities between the 2 but enough differences to exist. Nevertheless, if you love this book, go watch Centre Stage!! And vice versa 😉

My thanks to Algonquin Young Readers for having me on this tour 

About the author

A.K. Small was born in Paris. At five years old, she began studying classical dance with the legendary Max Bozzoni, then later with Daniel Franck and Monique Arabian at the famous Académie Chaptal. At thirteen, she moved to the United States where she danced with the Pacific Northwest Ballet for one summer in Seattle and with the Richmond Ballet Student Company for several years. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary and has an MFA in fiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts. When she’s not writing, she spends time with her husband, her puppy, and her three daughters, and practices yoga. Bright Burning Stars is her first novel.

Find her on:  goodreads  |  website  | twitter  |  facebook  | instagram

Eleni Hale: Q&A

Thank you, Eleni, for your time and for sharing a bit about yourself & your writing. The very best of luck for your next piece and I hope we’ll get to read it soon 🙂

Quick Qs

Dark Chocolate or Milk Chocolate? Both, it depends if I’m trying to be good or not.

Coffee or Tea? Coffee followed by herbal tea.

Dog-ear or whatever else as bookmark? I often use a picture my kids drew as bookmarks

Plot or Character? Both, I can’t differentiate. The plot makes the character makes the plot…

HEA or unexpected twist? Can you have both?

Q: Could you please share with us a little bit about yourself and how you became a writer? Was there a particular book you loved as a child or how did you love of words translate to writing?

A: Even before I could read or write I made up stories for my little sister. As soon as I learnt to write I began filling notebooks.

I was the kid the adults looked at and said, ‘Wow, you’ve got an imagination, don’t you?’ The world just seemed magical.

I attribute this to growing up in Greece where stories about Greek Mythology were spoken like facts. My grandfather would answer my many, many questions sincerely so that, like Father Christmas in the west, I had to learn that the Greek Gods were not actually real.

In terms of books I loved as a tween/teen: anything by Judy Blume, Virginia Andrews and Anne Rice. I was also quite affected by Go Ask Alice.

The first time I wrote something just for the hell of it and not because a teacher told me to, I was about ten. I remember the idea coming to me and the odd sensation of thinking, ‘I should write this down’.

I got a piece of paper and pen and closed my bedroom door. An idea thumped demanding that I write it down. It felt like something special was happening.

 

Q: Was there a lot of research involved in writing Stone Girl? I understand that whilst the characters & story are fictional, you were writing from personal experience as someone who experienced homes as a teen. What was it that inspired you to make the choice you did that led to where you are now?

Stone Girl was influenced by the homes I lived in as a teenager, the people I met and the vantage point I had on society. It was a story that followed me around long after I tried to forget it. I felt compelled to write it. It wouldn’t leave me alone.

To be honest I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to say about that life. It took me a few hundred thousand words to find my way.

But from the start what felt important was that the book should demonstrate how and why things can go wrong for some teenagers and that we shouldn’t give up or judge them harshly.

 

Q: It wasn’t an easy book to read, Eleni, but it is a very important one. The public needs to know but who exactly do you hope to reach with this message? What do you wish others to take away from your book? And your children?

A:  When I got myself out of that world and went to university and landed a great job as a journalist I was suddenly someone with a voice. This is the very opposite of the hundreds, if not thousands, of kids who live just like Sophie in Australia right now.

It bothered me that their/my story wasn’t being told. I read a few whitewashed stories about foster care and I found those difficult and insulting to read. So I did my best to tell it as honestly as I could.

I don’t have all the answers about how to fix the situation but I think understanding and empathy are a good start. Knowing how the system works is half the battle because most people don’t realise this is how kids actually live.

In my wildest dreams I imagine I can be part of the beginning of change where as a society we discuss how we can better serve the most vulnerable kids in our society; those without parents.

My kids:

Do I want my kids to read Stone Girl? Yes, one day. They are only aged two and four so I’ll wait a decade or so. It depends on their personalities.

I would rather educate than shelter because they are going to learn about the world one way or another. Why shouldn’t it be through books? This is a cautionary tale and the world is full of dangers.

Also, I think seeing how a personality can transform the way Sophie does (which is at the heart of what the book is about) is an interesting subject for teens.

 

Q: How would you suggest the public to respond? What’s the best way to approach these kids? I think, in the book, that nurse on the train was possibly the best example?

A: The nurse is lovely isn’t she 🙂 I hope Stone Girl shows how kids end up in trouble and people might not judge as quickly. Treat everyone with respect because that can make a huge difference.

 

Q: What are your top reads for 2018 to date? And which book are you desperately waiting for publication?

A: I am currently ‘reading’ The Cruel Prince by Holly Black (audio book) and freaking loving it!

I’m reading ‘The Centre of My Everything’ by Allayne Webster which is BRILLIANT!

I can’t wait to read Hayley Lawrence’s ‘Inside the Tiger’ which sounds incredible! Very gritty and tough, something I love.

 

Q: What are you working on now? Or what can we look for from you next?

I am currently writing an adult book which is kind of the sequel to Stone Girl with Sophie as the protagonist but quite different. No one will guess what happens next.

You can check out my thoughts on Stone Girl, here, and you can purchase it from following links: Booktopia  |  Dymocks  |  QBD  |  Abbeys  |  Boomerang

 

About the author

Eleni Hale was a reporter at the Herald Sun, a communications strategist for the union movement and has written for many print and online news publications. Her short story fig was published as part of the ABC’s In their branches project and she has received three Varuna awards. She lives in Melbourne, and is currently working on her second book. Stone Girl is her first novel.

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