Monday, August 25, 2014

Review: Young, Gifted and Dead (St. Judes Academy #1)

Title: Young, Gifted and Dead
Author: Lucy Carver
Publisher: Pan Macmillan (Oct 2013)

You can’t get into St Jude’s Academy unless you’re gifted, talented and supremely rich. New girl Alyssa is on a scholarship and feels like an outsider - she's not even that smart, apart from her photographic memory (and that's cheating, right?).  
Then one day her room-mate Lily is found floating face down in the lake. It looks like suicide, but, torn apart with guilt and grief, Alyssa is convinced that things aren't as they seem. Soon a jolted memory puts her on the trail of a sinister secret that might hold the clues to Lily's suspicious death. But Alyssa is in too deep, and she's being watched...
I received review copies of both this title and the sequel Killing You Softly. This in no way influences the opinions expressed on this blog. A big thank you to Pan Macmillan for being so supportive of us local bloggers!

This is not my usual fare, but I really enjoyed the mystery and the quirky narrative style of Alyssa. Set in a hoity-toity British boarding school, I enjoyed the change from the usual US high school settings of most contemporary YAs and found it easy to relate to. Of course, I have been to England and worked at a similar boarding school. It was not hard to picture everything!

Firstly, Alyssa must play the role of sleuth in uncovering the mysterious death of her friend. It helps that she can remember everything that happens around her! She must deal with other kids who have their own agendas and figure out what was going on in Lily's life as the girl has secrets of her own!

This brings the reader into contact with an interesting cast of characters!

One thing that was lacking was a meaningful romance. I find that romance is forced in YA these days and, while this book is not the exception to that, it has more than enough going on besides that to keep readers interested and playing sleuth themselves.

I am glad these is another in the series and I hope that Alyssa grows as a character.

This is great for fans of Pretty Little Liars and the Lying Game!

Friday, August 15, 2014

Review: The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon

Title: The Bone Season
Author: Samantha Shannon
Publisher: Bloomsbury (2013)

It is the year 2059. Several major world cities are under the control of a security force called Scion. Paige Mahoney works in the criminal underworld of Scion London, part of a secret cell known as the Seven Seals. The work she does is unusual: scouting for information by breaking into others’ minds.Paige is a dreamwalker, a rare kind of clairvoyant, and in this world, the voyants commit treason simply by breathing.

But when Paige is captured and arrested, she encounters a power more sinister even than Scion. The voyant prison is a separate city—Oxford, erased from the map two centuries ago and now controlled by a powerful, otherworldly race. These creatures, the Rephaim, value the voyants highly—as soldiers in their army. 
Paige is assigned to a Rephaite keeper, Warden, who will be in charge of her care and training. He is her master. Her natural enemy. But if she wants to regain her freedom, Paige will have to learn something of his mind and his own mysterious motives. (Off  
I have been caught up in the hype surrounding this book, the first of a series. I waited ever so patiently to purchase a mass-market paperback copy as I don't enjoy the heavy trade paperbacks and find they take up waaaaay to much precious shelf space.

I didn't tuck into Bone Season right away, rather letting it mellow on my shelf for a few weeks. I felt that, if this book met the hype, I wanted to really savour the experience of reading it for the first time.

Well, Bone Season certainly was worth setting aside the time for.

Firstly, the author is a master at building a concrete world for her characters to have their adventures in. It is fresh and I loved the clairvoyance concept.

Paige is a strong-willed main character who follows in the wake of Katniss and Tris. She is capable and does not rely on anyone else to save her. I love this and we need more heroines like her in YA.

And, yes, this is YA. I have to go off track here on a bit of a tangent. Most of you know I live in South Africa, where we are somewhat less exposed to global hype surrounding books. As far as I am aware, this is a Young Adult novel that could be crossed over into the Adult section of bookstores. However, your average adult reader is NOT going to pick this one up unless they already love Hunger Games et al.

So why, for the love of all that is good, is this shelved as Adult Fiction? Is it any surprise that most bookstores only stock one or two copies if that? Of course the book is not going to sell unless it is correctly merchandised! I do not know why, but it seems to be across all bookstores. Perhaps it has been incorrectly merchandised on the system or incorrectly marketed. Either way, shelve this in YA and I am sure the sales of this title will rise dramatically!

I love The Bone Season so much that I feel as if it is being done an injustice. Merchandising is everything.

So, please do get a copy of this if you love the other titles I have mentioned here. It is something new that does not rely on romantic tropes to carry the plot through. It has a brave heroine and a great, well-conceived world. Just do it. Read it. And thank me later. :)

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

A Much Needed Update (and This Weeks' Book Haul)

Hi everyone!

Yes, I know I have been a very bad blogger. But there has been a lot things happening behind the scenes this month that means big things for Paranormalsphere!

Firstly, I am bringing on board a friend of mine, Nandi, who will be assisting in writing reviews of the massive stockpile of books I have managed to accumulate over the past few years. Nandi is a big bookworm herself and we spent many happy hours when we were younger reading in each other's company.

In doing this, I hope that we will be able to provide a constant, fresh stream of reviews of current, upcoming as well as classic novels.

Because of this, I have decided to dedicate more to an old project of mine. Springboeke was created last year to generate more awareness of South African literature. This fell to the wayside due to a lack of time to actually sit down and read and review current literature. Any local stuff just ended up being posted on here instead.

So if you are a local publisher or author looking to get more exposure, please do contact me regarding this! I know Springboeke can amount to great things and I have big plans for it with Nandi's help! Between the two us, there is no genre we won't read.

I am also in talks with Skoobs Theatre of Books to see if we can't get up a blogger networking evening. This is all to raise awareness of bloggers and possibly get some new names on board.

And, being the compulsive book buyer I am, I got the following books over this past weekend:
  • The Hobbit  - JRR Tolkien
  • The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien
  • Mila 2.0: Renegade - Debra Driza
  • ARC of One Kick - Chelsea Cain
  • The Drowning - Rachel Ward
  • Blood Red Road - Moira Young
I have also pulled the following from by TBR pile for review:
  • Mila 2.0 (reread for the sequel)
  • Shadows by Ilsa J Bick
  • Monsters by Ilsa J Bick
  • Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo
  • City of Dark Magic by Magnus Flyte
  • Fire and Flood by Victoria Scott
  • Legend Trilogy by Marie Lu
So more than enough to keep me busy!

Nandi also has a hefty pile to get through:
  • Easy by Tammara Webber
  • Time Between Us by Tamara Island Stone
  • Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood
  • You Don't Know Me by Sophie Bennett
  • Lament and Ballad by Maggie Stiefvater
  • Riot by Sarah Mussi
  • Banished by Liz de Jager
So lots coming up this August!

Please do get in touch with us with any suggestions. We are looking forward to hearing from you.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Q & A with Greg Lazarus - Authors of Paradise

In the wake of the launch of their new collaborative effort as Greg Lazarus, Paradise, Paranormalsphere had the opportunity to ask local authors Lisa Lazarus and Greg Fried a few questions.

The gorgeous cover of the local edition of Paradise.

Your books have a very international flavour, it occurs to me that a reader from anywhere in the world would instantly identify with your characters, and love what they get up to. Why do you think your characters are so real?
Lisa: Thank you. We like our characters to get themselves into tricky situations that don’t always make them happy. Trying to carve out a little patch of satisfaction in hard circumstances seems like a challenge that resonates with many people.

Greg: We know a character is working if we start talking about her like she’s real, as if she’s our friend or enemy or frenemy or whatever.

You have said that you don't fight when you write together. So what happens when you're not writing?
Lisa: When we’re not writing, we’re arguing about who must look after the kids.

But we’re very pleased we fought a lot after having our first child, because it provided the stimulus for our first book, a memoir called The Book of Jacob, which was about our experience of having a child.

As our children started growing up, our books became lighter. Our first novel, When in Broad Daylight I Open my Eyes, is about a tortured psychologist who meets a strange philosopher – it’s a psychological thriller. I was pregnant when I co-wrote that book so no wonder. Paradise is lighter, funnier – a hopeful look at the world – and guess what, our kids are older, and our lives are slightly more settled.

Greg: But there are limits. Our books will never become serene, because we are not calm.

What do your families think of your books?
Lisa: I don’t think Greg’s mother enjoyed When in Broad Daylight – there was too much perverted sex. However, my parents seemed to like it a lot. They talk wistfully about its contents.

Greg: Yes, we based our characters on Lisa’s parents.

Your novels effortlessly straddle literary and commercial. Do you do that on purpose or is it an accident?
Lisa: Effortlessly!? Nothing is effortless when it comes to writing.

Greg: We love elegantly written, insightful novels that are easy to read. We keep trying to write one.

What are the top things you love about the South African literary scene?
Lisa: Going out for a drink with writer friends and discussing scandalously inappropriate things, and then berating oneself the next day for admitting to something strange, like enjoying gay male erotica (come on: the guys look good in it!).

Greg: I didn’t know you enjoyed that.

Thanks you very much for you time and the all the best with Paradise on our shores and across the pond!

The authors (photo from Books LIVE)

Greg is a philosopher at the University of Cape Town, and holds a PhD from Trinity College, Cambridge. Before taking up a post in philosophy, he worked as an IT consultant and business writer.

Lisa is a psychologist and freelance writer. She has Master’s degrees in educational psychology and creative writing, and a higher diploma in education. She has written for publications including Men’s Health, Femina, Shape, Cosmopolitan, Cape Town’s Child, Psychologies, and Mail & Guardian. Lisa tutors Magazine Journalism and Memoir Writing for SA Writers’ College.

The couple have co-written the memoir THE BOOK OF JACOB: A JOURNEY INTO PARENTHOOD (Oshun,2009) and the novel WHEN IN BROAD DAYLIGHT I OPEN MY EYES (Kwela,2012).

The new Greg Lazarus novel Paradise is out now.  It’s part art heist, part comedy, part adult coming-of-age.

About Paradise:

Maja Jellema is in Cape Town to do what she does best – steal. Her new employer wants a certain item from a building in Loop Street, and the only thing that stands between Maja and her prize is Hershel Bloch, the bumbling building manager. But what seems like the easiest job Maja has ever seen is about to get a whole lot more complicated . . .

Will Maja be able to finish the  job in time to save her no-good brother from large Dutch men with no sense of humour?

Can Hersh turn his topsy-turvy world around before he gets fired from Black Enterprises for being the worst estate agent in the history of the universe?

Will Surita finally make peace with her father and stop using her judo skills on people who just want to hug her?

Can the rage-filled waitresses at The People’s Republic – the greatest socialist coffee shop in all of Cape Town – produce even one cup of coffee without backchat?

Only time will tell. And it’s running out.

“Fast-paced and slickly written, it is both an uproarious comedy about lawlessness and a serious allegory about bondage. Greg Lazarus once again presents a cast of engaging, believable characters, not least of whom is the adorable klutz, Hershel Bloch.” - Finaula Dowling

“Laced with perfectly pitched black humour, and is populated with brilliantly drawn and unforgettable characters.” - Sarah Lotz

Broken Monsters Launch at Exclusive Books Sandton City

I have had the worst luck when it comes to attending Lauren Beukes' book launches. I almost missed this one too, as I only found out the day before thanks to following the publisher, Umuzi on Facebook.

I must say here that Lauren Beukes is absolutely making waves for South African fiction on foreign shores. She is a specialist in crossover genres, mixing the everyday with the macabre. I have been a fan of hers since Moxyland and have obsessively followed her progress and successes since 2008. It has been amazing watching her emerge as a writer and also inspiring for a dreamer like myself.

The launch was held at Exclusive Books Sandton City. They had an impressive collection of Broken Monsters and Lauren's earlier title, The Shining Girls, on display in anticipation of eager fans wanting to purchase and get their books signed.

I arrived early, as I was expecting a good turnout. I wanted to make sure I could meet Lauren and get my collection signed, as any good fangirl would do!

The catering service did a sterling job of providing food for everyone. While we waited I sampled red velvet cupcakes, the most amazing tomato and leek soup and a Thai curry served in cute little containers.

I also got ahead of the queue and asked Lauren to sign my books while we waited for the start. She is so down to earth and approachable. It was wonderful to meet her and have a chat. I even left my marker with her which I had bought especially for the signing as I believe no ballpoint pens should touch the pages of my precious books!

Ben Williams from Sunday Times hosted the discussion. He brought his knowledge of Lauren's work to the table, as well as a wonderful lighthearted manner which lead to an engaging discussion. Naturally, the focus was on Broken Monsters and the creative process behind the book. They touched on the setting of the novel, Detroit, and Lauren commented that it basically is Hillbrow. They spoke about taxidermy, child predators and the human condition. Ben also asked Lauren about writing sex scenes and we got a hint that one of the ideas she is pitching will have even more sex in it! And, of course, murder.

I was fortunate to get to ask Lauren if she had any idea how things would turn out pre-Moxyland. Lauren said that she actually expected success right from the start, but that she is glad things didn't turn out that way as she became a better writer in the process.

 It was a wonderful experience and so inspiring. Now I just need to get tucked into Broken Monsters!

 About Broken Monsters

Detective Gabi Versado has hunted down many monsters during her eight years in Homicide. She’s seen stupidity, corruption and just plain badness. But she’s never seen anything like this.

Clayton Broom is a failed artist, and a broken man. Life destroyed his plans, so he’s found new dreams – of flesh and bone made disturbingly, beautifully real.

Detroit is the decaying corpse of the American Dream. Motor-city. Murder-city.  And home to a killer who wants to make you whole again…

Out now in South Africa for R200 (reccomended retail price), 31st July in the UK and 16th September in the USA, Broken Monsters is the dark new thriller from the author of the critically acclaimed and best-selling The Shining Girls.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Fostering a Blogging and Reviewing Mindset in South Africa

So this article was published yesterday which references an article in the M&G and created a nice bit of discussion in Facebook which has prompted me to get my thoughts out and send them into the void. Basically, the debate revolves around the reviewing culture in South Africa and that there simply is not enough reviewing going on.

As others have pointed out, the writer of this article does raise some valid pints, but his point of view is very linear. Would my humble YA blog, for example, count? Should reviewers only promote local books or reading in general?

There are passionate book lovers in South Africa and many of them run blogs similar to this one. What they have observed is that the majority of hits come from outside our shores.

Here are the pageview stats of this blog in the past month:

United States
South Africa
United Kingdom

It is clear that my audience from the US is nearly double that of my SA audience and I do very little marketing that side outside of Goodreads.

Why is this? Firstly, no one quite does fanaticism like the Americans. They live and breathe their passions and have a massive book blogging community. They shout their fandoms from the rooftops!

Plus they have midnight launches of popular titles, blog tours, cover reveals and are literally on the cutting edge of what is happening in the publishing world. They host tons of giveaways and have ARCs (Advanced Reader Copies) coming out of their ears. In fact, many bloggers have so many books for review, they end up having giveaways simply to clear space on their shelves. Now that is a problem I would love to have.

The problem, I believe is not that we in South Africa are not reviewing books. Or that we simply do not have that mentality. I believe the problem lies deeper than that.

We need to address the matter from a grassroots level. I personally feel very disconnected from the international blogging scene. I have very little access to giveaways and am fortunate to get one ARC a year. Often, by the time a popular title comes out in SA, it has already been out for a month or more overseas, enough time for the international audience to latch on and review and do all the work in terms of generating public opinion.

Plus, new releases are usually in the trade paperback or hardcover formats. So if I was to keep up to date and post relevant reviews of bestsellers, I must brace myself for shelling out R250 plus for a title. This results in my blog always been a little behind the global trends. This is not a complaint, mind you. Simply an observation. Books have become somewhat of a luxury in this economic climate.

Having said that, I can look at a shining example of where getting ARC's and support from publishers have helped the blogging community. I was one of the proud folks to receive an ARC of The Three by Sarah Lotz. My review was up a week before the actual publication and also appeared on Women24. Not only was I rewteeted by the author, the INTERNATIONAL publisher retweeted me as well. This did wonders for my Twitter activity and blog traffic. Why? Because I was able to review something pre-publication when the public interest was hot.

But that is just one aspect. I do get review copies from publishers. In fact, they have been amazing lately in terms of supporting bloggers and reviewers! This is a very important part of creating interest in reviews and reading in general and I thank all the publishers for this! Thank you! Whenever I get new books from publishers for review, they are usually mentioned on twitter, on a blog post and I always take a photo of the books too as they always have such gorgeous covers. Thus, great exposure before I even crack open the spine.

But, how do we expand the reach of reviews we write? I have some ideas.
  1. Have a review board in every bookshop where reviews can be posted and swapped around each week. Not just reviews from the booksellers themselves, but from the reader on the street. Provide opportunties for readers to voice their opinions on an easy platform.
  2. Bookshops can have a WhatsApp / Twitter handle where people in the shop can send quick, 140 character reviews of a book referencing a specific code. "Like this book? Tweet us your thoughts with #codehere"
  3. Exclusive Books had the ingenious idea of getting teens to review books by offering them a monthly prize in the form of a voucher. Brilliant! This gets kids reviewing and generates reviews on their otherwise review-sparse website. Plus reviews from the target audience are a lot more relevant than some 30 year-old blogger's opinion. Yes, that would be me.
  4. Bring back newspaper reviews in all forms of publications. Not just what the editor thinks is good but what the reader loves! And not just bestsellers that anyone can find in the bookstore's Top 10. Think outside the scope of what everyone else says we should be reading.
  5. Bloggers with established audiences can get non-bloggers to try their hand at blogging by writing guest reviews on books they themselves either don't have time to read or are outside of their interests (hey, if you're willing, pop me a line!).
  6. Bloggers themselves should network more. Go to bookshops and drink coffee and talk raucously about their favorite books within earshot of others. Do non-bloggers actively read blogs? How else can we gather interest outside of our usual communities?
The responsibility is in the hands of the publisher, blogger, reviewer and reader.

There is a guy on the streets of Johannesburg who offers up reviews and sells his books for small change. I am sure you have heard of him. We need more people like that who are not afraid to wave the banner for books they love. And we need to stop looking down on people who do not read "acceptable" books with "real literary value". If you love Twilight, why should you not be proud? At least you are reading and that is more than a lot of the country is doing.

So, there is my two cents on the matter. Drop me comments with your thoughts and ideas. I look forward to hearing from you!

Movie Review: The Fault in Our Stars

Title: The Fault in Our Stars
Cast: Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort, Laura Dern, Willem Dafoe
Director: Josh Boone
Studio: Temple Hill Entertainment

I am always wary when seeing a film based off one of my favorite novels. There is so much that could go wrong. But I was so excited, I coughed up the R122 (including popcorn and coke) and treated myself to a movie night. I also went by myself, as I knew there would be tears involved.

Before I break this down into the Good, Bad and Ugly, a warning. I will be cross-referring the movie and the book so a BIG SPOILER ALERT if you haven't read or seen either.

The Good
  • The dialogue was faithful to the characters, a lot taken verbatim from the novel. I loved this touch, as it was really like the book had come to life.
  • Shailene Woodley clearly got the character of Hazel and captured her well for the most part. I saw no traces of Tris, another popular YA character from the book and film Divergent. She was suitably emotional and angry and sad. I loved her as Hazel.
  • Willem Dafoe was brilliant as van Houten. I couldn't believe that it was him at first, as he looked so different to his usual self. His dry delivery of lines and his whole demeanor was spot on.
  • Laura Dern as Hazel's mom. I remember her from Jurassic Park and am sad she hasn't done a lot of mainstream stuff since. She really did a great job capturing all the emotions and conveying them with a special maternal warmth. Loved her.
  • The little speech bubbles and the scene overlays to illustrate tests and e-mails.
The Bad
  • Ansel Elgort was not how I pictured Gus. And I know it has been said before, but he was Shailene Woodley's brother in Divergent. Perhaps if this had been released first, I would have been comfortable seeing them in different roles.He did get Gus's bouncy personality, but his delivery of lives sometimes came across as overly saccharine. Maybe he was also simply outshone by Shailene.
  • The soundtrack just didn't work for me. I expected sweeping, emotional songs and score and it was, frankly unmemorable. I did not walk out of the cinema feeling like I wanted to buy the soundtrack NOW.
  • Where was Hazel's scar from her surgery? and surely during the sexy scene, she would have had more scarring because of the drains and other procedures?
  • I wanted more of Isaac. I also wanted more of the Price of Dawn banter and Hazel's reaction to that.
  • I also wanted Hazel to meet with her friend at the mall, as that shows a glimpse of Hazel pre-cancer and how it affected her relationships with people. There was a lot left out in that sense that I felt could have bettered the characters on screen. Like why no mention of Gus' ex?
The Ugly
  • Honestly, there was nothing screamingly bad that stood out. So, yay TFIOS Movie Edition!
I loved this. Criticism aside, they did the best job possible with the film in keeping it faithful to the characters.

Folks who have not read the book can comfortably see the film. Even more so after my spoilertastic review! Yay! One of my colleagues, a tough guy in his fifties, was raving about it. So it does have a universal appeal.

As a side note, I know I am older than the target audience for this role when I found myself admiring Hazel's dad over Gus.

This is Sam Tramell, better known for his role in True Blood as Sam Merlotte. *clears throat* Okay.