Books, Fancy

Author Celebrity-ship and the New Author Challenge

jk-rowling-cuckoos-calling-reviewRecently Jodi Picoult was quoted in an article about the dramatic change in sales of The Cuckoo’s Calling when it was revealed to have been written by J.K. Rowling (as opposed to newbie author Robert Galbraith). Picoult said, “The message is that it’s very hard to publish in this market as an unknown – which is a crying shame.”

The article goes on to state that Picoult leverages her popularity to assist new writers by, “tweeting their maiden book launches and writing blurbs for their book jackets.”

Another writer is quoted as saying, “[J.K.] Rowling is not just a writer, she’s an institution, an ethos. She’s a magnet.”

It is nothing new, but it does rather feel like the publishing business is hurtling speedily toward a culture more like that of Hollywood. With the increasing expectancy that writers will step out from behind the screen/typewriter/pencil and paper to engage their audiences both physically and online, there is the potential to veer toward the deadly (or at the least unhealthy) superficial drive for physical perfection, and wild inequalities of income.

But my escalating struggle with the culture of the celebrity is not the main point here. I would also like to point out that I adore Jodi Picoult’s work (I would, and have, followed her to any subject matter – a very rare occurrence).

With the above musings in mind, I have decided that I’m going to undertake a New Author Challenge, to actively add unknown/new/alternative authors to my to-read list. 

I have heard of two recently, without digging too far:

Jam SandwichesA fellow Kiwi, whose book my boss is so sure I will like! that he (yes, the boss, not the author) has offered me a money back guarantee to try. I would never offer a guarantee on a suggestion, but that is pretty high praise! 
Jam Sandwiches, by Greg Fowler find here

I haven’t read it yet, but one of the people in my book club has written a book! As he is only in his early 20s, it’s amazing – I have many unfinished, unedited manuscripts just sitting, collecting electronic dust on my computer.
Brouhaha! by Johnny Shortall find here


Can anyone recommend any others for my New Author Challenge?

Books, Fancy

Libraries and a Nerdy Confession

I’m going to admit something nerdy – I’m in love with public libraries.

A delicious shelf of classics
A delicious shelf of classics

I’ve been reading a lot about them recently for work. Did you know that one American study found a return on investment for taxpayers of $8.32 for every $1 spent?

Libraries generate:

  • Social connection – which leads to:
    • Better mental health
    • Increased happiness
    • Decreased isolation
  • Increased levels of literacy  – which leads to increased:
      • Income
      • Home ownership
      • Levels of health
      • Civil engagement

And that is before you account for the programmes that they run and the other social services they accommodate in their facilities.

I follow the blog of Alyson Tyler who is a Libraries Development Programme Manager in Wales – and they are producing the most amazing research on the benefits of libraries. Alyson recently published a post with a list of resources on health and wellbeing in libraries.

Below are two papers that she points to:

First Incomplete Field Guide to Wellbeing in Libraries
This paper has case studies from libraries in every local authority (in Wales), outlining projects, benefits and impacts.
Find here

Public Libraries in Wales: Health, Wellbeing and Social Benefits
A report released in 2012 on the health, wellbeing and social benefits of public libraries in Wales.
Find here

Another few resources for your reading pleasure:

Envisioning the library of the future – Arts Council of England (ACE)
This report focuses on four main areas: placing libraries at the heart of the community, making the most of digital technology, ensuring that libraries are sustainable and developing staff skills for future libraries.
Find here

Children’s experiences of libraries: A research report on children’s perceptions of library spaces and services, Auckland Libraries
In 2011, 9-13 year olds across the Auckland (New Zealand) region were surveyed about their experiences of library spaces and services. Perhaps surprisingly, the research indicated that it is the books themselves that motivates this age group to visit the library.
Find here

Cross-European survey to measure users’ perceptions of the benefits of ICT in public libraries’ – published by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Surveying a sample of library users, the general population and library staff in 17 European countries in 2012, this report has some interesting findings. Including that nearly one in four adults in Europe had used a public library in the last year and 67% of those living in Finland were likely to use libraries (compared to just 14% in Italy).
Find here

zelda fitzgerald

So next time you spot your local library, why don’t you pop in and avail yourself to the many positive benefits?

I hope that soon I shall have a review of Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald up – I am enjoying the writing so much that I am reading it very slowly to savour the detail.


Luke’s Spirit by Brigid Kemmerer Review


Hunter doesn’t have it easy—particularly since his grandfather is hostile toward him, the Merrick brothers assume he narked on them, and Calla is stirring up nothing but trouble for him. Also, the new girl, Kate, may be bold and funny, but she’s hiding her own secrets. Because of all this, Hunter feels he can’t trust anyone, but in order to prevent whatever Calla and others have planned, he has to find someone who he can trust.

The fact that no one trusts him—except for Casper, his dog—leads him to feel isolated. I felt empathy toward him for the entire story, and it’s because I can relate to him. I have felt isolated and I sometimes find it hard to trust people. In the story, it is vital for Hunter to learn how to trust others so he can stop the bad that’s about to happen.

I have to admit that Hunter has grown on me. In Storm, the first book in this series, I didn’t really like him—maybe because Chris Merrick, the narrator of Storm along with Becca, disliked him. Then in Spark, the second book, he was helping Gabriel Merrick, the narrator along with Layne, with saving people who got stuck in fires set by some arsonist, eventually becoming friends. Then when I read Spirit, Hunter’s story, my perspective on him changed. I understand his character better now.

BreathlessI felt lucky when I discovered a special novella at the back of the book. Breathless is about Nick Merrick, Gabriel’s twin brother. We get to know more about Nick. (I don’t want to be too specific on the plot.) The first two things you notice are his intelligence and kindness toward others—which made him my favourite character in the series. And from his perspective, you get to see his vulnerable side and hear his insecurities.  I can see why the fourth book will be called Secret (out January 28, 2014).

Both Spirit and Breathless deserve five-stars. They’re both well-written, with strong plots and believable characters, and definitely un-put-down-able. I’m very excited for the fourth book!


Melissa’s Review of Clockwork Princess, by Cassandra Clare

Clockwork Princess is the long awaited final book to the Infernal Devices trilogy, the prequel trilogy to the Mortal Instruments series (the first of which, City of Bones, has a movie adaptation out in August).Clockwork Princess

Clare has created an exquisite world, set within the confines of our world and history but populated with a complex world (and underworld) of demons, vampires, werewolves, Shadowhunters (the people defending the world and the order of the demons) and mundanes (humans).

Clockwork Princess continues the story of Tessa Gray, who has made a home with the Shadowhunters at their London Institute (the local area head office). She has a complex relationship with the inhabitants due to her half-known origins (the Shadowhunters are a closed, religious bunch), but not half as complex as the romantic tangle she is in by being in love with two best friends.

This 570-page book finishes Tessa’s journey. Unravelling the mystery to her origins, facing the evil Mortmain (who plans to use his Infernal Devices, an army of pitiless automatons, to destroy the Shadowhunters), realising the potential within herself and settling the love triangle once and for all.

The appeal of this series (and a great many other Young Adult novels) is that, despite the protagonists being just shy of 18 years old, their age is not over reinforced. The story is suitably complex and multifaceted, there are a great number of older characters (of equal importance, not just token adults) and the writing is outstanding. Though, the magic of this series is that it is set in the late 1800s, so the concerns of these young people are much the same as those at current times in their twenties.

Where the Young Adult genre tends to appeal to me (when the writing is not juvenile and the characters are suitably mature) is that fantasy is more acceptable for characters of that age and that the characters – who often feel more like they could be my age – are not solely concerned with careers, getting married and having babies (it’s not that I am not interested in these things, I just don’t want to read a book about a protagonist solely focused on these). I find this is the biggest barrier keeping me from reading chick lit. It is also thoroughly acceptable and often encouraged, to follow their passions and go on a journey of self-discovery. Things that shouldn’t stop just because you turn 18.

Clockwork Princess hinges upon Tessa learning that she is capable of saving herself – and the world. A thrilling journey of self-discovery, family, love and loss that will keep you guessing until the end.

Without giving anything away, I don’t think I’ve ever been so satisfied with an ending of a book. It is a beautiful conclusion to an amazing, epic, heart-wrenching story.


Luke’s May-June 2013 Reading Round-Up

Warriors: The New Prophecy: Dawn, by Erin Hunter

Brambleclaw, Squirrelpaw, Stormfur, Tawnypelt and Crowpaw have returned from their long journey to tell their Clans that they have found a new home for them, but even if all four Clans agreed to leave the forest, there are dangers far more dangerous in the strange outside world. Just like the other books in the series, it has so many brave and wonderful cats, beautiful writing, and a strong plot. There were even bits that amused me.

The Temptation, created by L.J. Smith, written by Aubrey Clark

The powerful evil spirits of Cassie’s ancestors have possessed the Circle, and the only way Cassie can free her friends is to get aid from an unexpected friend. This is the final book in The Secret Circle, but I wouldn’t have minded if there were more. This is the best instalment in the series. Cassie was put in a much tougher situation than before, and it really showed how much stronger she has become. And the cross-my-heart-hope-to-dieending was great—I couldn’t be any happier.

Cross My Heart, Hope to Die, by Sara Shepard

Emma’s birth mother, Becky, shows up in Tuscan and recognizes Emma as Emma and not Sutton—Emma’s dead twin sister whose murder Emma is trying to solve—and Emma wonders whether it is a mother’s intuition or if Becky was the one who killed her twin sister. This is another thrilling and gripping instalment in The Lying Game series. I wanted to do nothing but read it when I picked it up from the library. I can’t wait to read the next instalment, Seven Minutes in Heaven, which is the final book in the series.

Mind GamesMind Games, by Kiersten White

Fia and her sister, Annie, are trapped in a school that uses young female psychics and mind readers as tools for corporate espionage—and Fia must play by their rules, or Annie will be killed. Even though I haven’t read Kiersten White’s Paranormalcy trilogy as of yet, I definitely wanted to read Mind Games. This was definitely a heart stopping intense psychological thriller. The writing style was unique and gripping, making it hard for me to put it down. I can’t wait to read the sequel, Perfect Lies, out February 18th 2014.

Pushing the Limits, by Katie McGarry

Echo Emerson can’t remember the night she received the scars on her arms, only waking up at the hospital, but with the help of bad boy Noah Hutchins, who has problems of his own, she can find out what exactly happened. I have one word to describe this book—amazing! It was written brilliantly. I can’t wait to read Dare You To. Read my full review here.

Killer, by Sara Shepard

Aria hangs with Ali’s older brother, Jason, and discovers he’s hiding something. Hanna competes against her soon-to-be sister-in-law, Kate, for Mike, Aria’s younger brother. Spencer is stealing from her family. And Emily finds that her boyfriend’s mother isn’t so accepting of her. Killer, like the instalments before it, was thrilling and gripping. Long before reading this, Sara Shepard landed on my top ten favourite author list.

?????????????????????????Unbreakable, by Elizabeth Norris

Janelle’s world is being rebuilt and is resuming some kind of normalcy, but then Interverse Agent Taylor Barclay shows up, asking for her help to find out who is running a human trafficking ring—and Ben, the boy who disappeared through the portal four months ago and who stole her heart, is the prime suspect. Unbreakable reached higher than my expectations were. It was another awesome adventure with Janelle, but sadly, it’s the last book in the Unraveling series.

The Luxe, by Anna Godbersen

When the Holland family’s welfare is in jeopardy, Elizabeth agrees to marry Henry Schoonmaker, who agrees to marry Elizabeth so he won’t be disinherited of his father’s fortune, even though she loves another. The Luxe has “mystery, romance, jealousy, betrayal, [and] humor,” as reviewed by Cecily von Ziegesar, author of the Gossip Girl series. She was right to say that it has “gorgeous, historically storm-bornaccurate details.” I can’t wait to read Rumors, the second book in the series, as well as the third and fourth book in the series.

Storm Born, by Richelle Mead

Powerful shaman Eugenie Markham is hired to find a teenager who was kidnapped to the Otherworld, and along with this, she becomes a target for creatures from the Otherworld due to the prophecy that her first-born will threaten the future. Since reading the Vampire Academy series and the Bloodlines series, I wanted to try out Richelle Mead’s other books. I certainly enjoyed Storm Born, and it definitely means I’ll be reading Thorn Queen, the second book.


Melissa’s June Reading Round Up

My round up is going to seem terribly sparse this month and I also have to admit that I have lowered my reading challenge (on Goodreads) from 100 down to 80. If I could include magazines and blogs, the number would zip up fast! But alas, life gets in the road of reading and I never thought I would be so happy about it.

Looking For Me, Beth Hoffman Looking for me

The second I saw that Hoffman had a second book coming, I reserved it at the library. I fell in love with her writing style in Saving CeeCee Honeycutt. I also fell in love with the combination of her portrait of The South and her reverence for architecture, gardens and old houses. I adored Looking For Me, it is filled with beautiful description, great characters and an eloquent portrayal of the bond between siblings.

Teddi Overman is the owner of an antique store who lovingly restores furniture, with an eye for its former glory despite the decayed appearance. She is haunted by the disappearance of her younger brother over 20 years ago. The strands of her past and her present are woven together to reveal a moving story of devotion, family, hope, love and loss. It is truly worth a read.

This is just a taste of the evocative language: “He saw holiness where others saw only the ordinary. Trees formed the spires of the cathedral where his prayers were gentle footsteps over sacred terrain.” p95

Mr Penumbras 24hr bookstore Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, Robin Sloan

This was a well-crafted literary adventure story that combines Google and old books. Clay Jannon, one of an innumerable number of 20-somethings who began their working life in the midst of the recession, was made redundant less than one year into his first full-time job. He begins working the nightshift in an odd secondhand bookstore, where few customers actually purchase books. By the end of this beautifully descriptive book, Clay (and his cast of eccentric friends) has unraveled the mystery behind the 500-year old literary cult. Read my review of it here.

The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald

One of the best books of the twentieth-century, actually I placed Fitzgerald at number six in my Top Ten Favourite Authors ever, The Great Gatsby is a memoir of the Jazz Age. Nick Carraway narrates us through the tale of the summer he met an enigmatic man named Gatsby. He mingles with fabulously wealthy, idle characters with dubious morals and plenty of gin. At the close of the summer, Nick is left paying the price for living incongruently and two people are dead. Find my review of the recent movie here.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Truman Capote


It’s probably no secret that I adore Audrey Hepburn, and, having recently watched the movie, I decided it was time to read the book. I didn’t love the book, except for the fact that it gave me further insight into the movie. Holly Golightly is a very young woman, of terrible upbringing, who lives fast and finds comfort in Tiffany’s (the jewelry store). She breezes into the life of a struggling writer who falls in love with her and he is left telling the story long after she is gone.

Slouching Towards Bethlehem: Essays, Joan Didion

This collection of essays released in the 1960s, was Didion’s first nonfiction book. She captures people, places and a time in a distinct, revealing way. I particularly enjoyed her portraits of the magic of New York and herself at 28.

In the final essay of the collection Goodbye to All That, she sums up her eight year stay in New York that left her drained and depressed:

 “That was the year, my twenty eighth, when I was discovering that not all promises would be kept, that some things are in fact irrevocable and that it had counted after all, every evasion and every procrastination, every mistake, every word, all of it.” p233

I’m very excited to report that Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald has arrived from the library waiting list, so once I have finished the two I am in the middle of, I get to begin!


17 Lessons for a Most Beloved Brother Turning 17

I was blessed with a beautiful baby brother on July 2nd 1996 – 17 years ago today. The second of three baby brothers, Luke has always been my affectionate little friend. I did wish that he would be a girl, but I don’t think a baby sister would have been quite as awesome as Luke.

In celebration of his 17th year, I have compiled a list of 17 lessons:Luke and Coop

  1. Always be you – you are the most loving, open, passionate and genuine young man.
  2. Make the most of the opportunities that school offers – you have to work twice as hard to find those once you leave school.
  3. Read everything that takes your fancy – you will not regret reading too much and you don’t want to get to 21 (like a certain someone) and finally find the reading love of your life (Jane Austen) and wish you had learnt the lessons contained in those books sooner.
  4. Always indulge your passions – follow your heart with your reading, your writing and your singing. Passions are integral to a life well lived.
  5. Learn about good money management now and put it into practice, always save.
  6. Be ethically friendly – always fight for justice, always be kind, be aware of sustainability and always buy free-range eggs (they are not much more expensive and you really don’t need a lecture from me about beaks, frolicking and humane treatment).
  7. Develop a habit of thankfulness – it will set you in the right mindset for wherever life takes you.
  8. Make friends indiscriminately – you will miss out on a lot of amazing people and their lessons if you stay inside the box in this one.
  9. Always give people the benefit of the doubt – you will never understand the full context of a person’s life.
  10. Smile at everyone.
  11. Laugh every day – laughing at me counts, so you’re good on this one!
  12. Design your life the way it works for you – do not follow the well-tread path, make your own, you will NOT regret working less in order to follow your passions or spend time with your precious family.
  13. Follow your nose into adventure – try everything you want, make a list!
  14. Look after your health.
  15. Keep being open-minded – you are one of the most accepting, unprejudiced people I know, never let that go.
  16. Explore your beliefs – really examine what you believe and why, be open to other’s opinions.
  17. Remember that I will always be there for you and that you will always be my best friend.