Book Review: This Really Happened by Annmarie McQueen -No Spoilers-

Thank you Katelyn for the lovely review!

From Cover to Cover

34438098This Really Happened by Annmarie McQueen

Published: February 25th, 2017

Source: Kindle Edition, 250 pages

Summary:

I felt like I was seeing it all in slow motion; the car, sleek and black, careening around the corner, the sound of wheels skidding. Headlights illuminating her dazed expression like a spotlight as it made contact. Then I heard screaming, distant and muffled, as if I was underwater. It took me a long time to realise that I was the one screaming.

Six University flatmates.
A girl learning what freedom feels like.
A boy with a past that won’t stay buried.
One night, one mistake, that changes everything.
Let’s play a guessing game. Two truths and a lie.
Which is which?

Rating: I gave this 4/5 stars on Goodreads!

Thoughts:

**I received a digital copy of this book for free from the author in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are…

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5 Biggest Cliches in YA Romance

Recently, I’ve spent some time working my way through the bestseller list of YA romance fiction – everything from John Green to hit debuts such as ‘Everything Everything’ by Nicola Yoon, which was recently made into a movie.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the book. But for now I’m done with YA fiction and going back to my usual genre of world lit, classics and general gritty depressing stories that leave me in existential doubt for days afterwards. As charming as it sometimes is to indulge in the idealistic world of manic pixie dream girls (MPDGs), deep conversations under the stars and passionate, obsessive love affairs, it’s all starting to feel a bit fake. Here are the 5 biggest cliches that I think have been way overdone in YA these days:

  1. The Manic Pixie Dream Girl. She’s beautiful. She’s deep. She’s probably a metaphor. She’s ‘broken’ but ‘strong’ and wants to make cryptic remarks about the meaning of life on a rooftop at 3am. She’s ‘not like the other girls’ because she’s a special snowflake and apparently has the ability to understand life better than everyone else, despite being a teenager with no actual life experience. Most likely she has a mental illness that’s probably being romanticised by the male love interest. Examples: basically anything written by John Green, pretty much ever.
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  2. The MPDGs favourite activity? Astronomy of course. Because relating everything in your life to the workings of the universe automatically makes you deep apparently. Sorry, no. It doesn’t make you deep. It makes you sound kind of egotistical and occasionally like a bad science textbook. Example: Everything Everything by Nicola Yoon
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  3. The dead parent/sibling/relative trope. Quite often it just seems like a lazy attempt to remove the adults from the story so the author doesn’t have to write them. In reality, family relationships are a pretty damn huge part of teenager’s lives. It’d be nice to see some more YA novels accurately reflect that.
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  4. Romanticising mental illness. This one worries me. While I have read some books which have given the topic the gravity it deserves (Laurie Halse Anderson does this excellently) I’ve also read many more that treat it as ‘teenage angst’ or an interesting quirk to make the character seem broody, mysterious and ultimately more attractive. Yeah, no. Just don’t. Being depressed isn’t sexy, it’s just extremely unpleasant and soul-destroying really.
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  5. Instalove! Because why spend valuable pages on having the characters actually get to know each other when they could be discussing the stars and their undying love instead.

What tropes and cliches do you hate in YA fiction? 

On a side note, if you want to make me super happy please go download my new novel ‘This Really Happened’ here

Top 5 Halloween Reads

Happy Halloween! To celebrate my favourite time of year, I’ve compiled a list of my favourite creepy, hair-raising, spooktacular reads that will give you chills and get you into the holiday spirit.

  1. We have always lived in the castle by Shirley Jackson
    castle
    Merricat lives with her sister in the house where her entire family was poisoned. When their uncle visits, their fragile peace is shattered and revelations that will change everything come to the surface. Isolation, superstition and witchcraft are major themes of this horror classic. While not heavy on action, this creepy novel is all about atmosphere, creating tension and leaving just enough hints to let your imagination do the rest.

 

 

2. The Wasp Factory by Ian Banks 

TheWaspFactoryA first-person narrative told from the point of view of a boy who murdered three people, including his own brother, and then stopped. Psychologically shocking and terrifying, with a great twist at the end. Definitely worth a read.

 

 

 

 

 

3. Dark Places by Gillian Flynn

dark-places-book-cover

From the author of ‘Gone girl’ comes an even more gruesome psychological thriller and murder mystery, as Abbie Day confronts her past and tries to solve the murder of her family to prove her brother innocent. Like Flynn’s other novels, this had a well-structured plot, well-developed characters and a surprising twist at the end that I didn’t see coming.

 

 

 

 

 

4. Angel blood by John Singleton

9780141320199

A massively under-appreciated YA dystopian novel with some really interesting ideas about how disability and outcasts are treated in society. It follows four children, who are failed biological experiments and suffering strange physical disabilities because of it, and their lives in a type of Asylum called ‘The bin’. Creepy but also incredibly sad, this one is definitely one of the most well-written and unique dystopians I’ve read.

 

 

 

 

5. Birdy by Jess Vallance

1e370c96-2f43-41d2-b24e-9d75fcbfc51b-bestSizeAvailableThis one’s not that well known, but I thought it was a great YA example of the unreliable narrator. I really liked how most of it seemed like pretty normal high school stuff, but with sinister undertones that gradually became more obvious towards the end. They always say that the key ingredient of horror is turning the mundane into something scary, which this book does very effectively.

 

 

 

 

What’s your favourite spooky read? Let me know in the comments!

Book Review: Stick Out Your Tongue by Ma Jian

I don’t know where to start. This book is fascinating, perverse, gritty and realistic, though it  probably falls more into the magical realism genre. I don’t really know how to classify it or describe it other than ‘strange’ but in a good way.

The book is essentially a short memoir of Ma Jian’s travels through Tibet, with a fictional twist. He dives into the stories of the locals he meets on the way, infusing his charismatic writing style with a stunning insight into human nature.

The Tibet he introduces us to is a dark place, a region ravaged by conflict and the Chinese government’s brutal campaign against it’s unique way of life. He completely destroys the fantasy that Tibet is a spiritual haven, free of corruption and sin. In his short stories men sleep with their mothers and daughters, a woman who died in childbirth is hacked to pieces and fed to vultures in a sky burial, and a young girl dies in a frozen river during a Buddhist initiation rite.

His stories are not pleasant to read, nor do they end happily. There is no satisfying conclusion at the end of them; they’re just a mosaic of different lives, all connected by the physical and cultural setting of Tibet. Ma Jian is a brave writer. He’s unafraid of shying away from the truth, no matter how gruesome and horrid it may be. Through his vivid descriptions he recreates his own authentic experience of Tibet as a region being suffocated by the tight grip of religion, corruption and political upheaval.

As he explains in the afterward, “westerners idealise Tibetans as gentle, godly people untainted by base desires and greed. But in my experience, Tibetans can be as corrupt and as brutal as the rest of us. To idealise them is to deny their humanity.” Perhaps that is the most important lesson of this book. To romanticise another culture and its people is a form of self-delusion, one that leads to stereotyping and wrong assumptions.

Another interesting fact about this book is that it was actually banned in China, which of course led to it becoming incredibly popular on the black market as it had the appeal of the forbidden! Ma Jian later moved to the U.K and currently lives in London with his wife who is also the translator of his books.

I would highly recommend this book, and Ma Jian’s other travel memoir ‘Red Dust’. He writes about China with a chilling honesty that makes him, in my opinion at least, one of the most interesting Chinese writers alive today.

Who’s your favourite Chinese writer? Comment below!

River Currents

Sometimes I think of what we could

Have been

And in my fantasy it’s always

beautiful

But in reality

It may not have been

And the most beautiful thing of all about this

Is that you can be whatever you want

But my love for you is mine alone

Impervious to change

And it’s something I can hold onto

Because fantasies can never be broken

In the same way reality can

So my love can stay pure and innocent

In the same blossoming form it started out as

And I will never learn to hate you

Because a love that never truly happened can never truly die.

 

Tried out a new style of poetry today inspired by some of the instapoetry accounts I’m following at the moment. The fluid, undulating structure is meant to represent river currents and the fantasy, dream-like atmosphere of the poem. What do you think? Let me know!

On a side note, my novel ‘This Really Happened’ is free on amazon until 30/09. Would love it if you could download it! Thanks!

This Really Happened: Kindle countdown deal

I felt like I was seeing it all in slow motion; the car, sleek and black, careening around the corner, the sound of wheels skidding. Headlights illuminating her dazed expression like a spotlight as it made contact. Then I heard screaming, distant and muffled, as if I was underwater. It took me a long time to realise that I was the one screaming.

Erin has never really known who she is or what she wants. That is, until she meets her new University flatmate Allen.

Reckless, eccentric and creative, Allen is everything Erin doesn’t have the courage to be and she’s immediately drawn to him. She’s sure he feels it too, until he starts dating their mutual friend Charlotte.

Then one night changes everything.

When a drunken mistake leaves Charlotte fighting for her life, the victim of a hit-and-run, there’s only one question everyone’s asking: what really happened? Erin has an answer to that, more than one in fact, but running from the truth is far easier than facing up to it…

 

My latest New Adult novel ‘This Really Happened’ will be available at the special reduced price of $0.99 for the next 7 days on the Kindle countdown deal! Get it now while it’s cheap!

 

Book Review: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

I’ve recently finished reading ‘The Hate U Give’ by Angie Thomas, amid all of the hype over this book. And let me just say this: that hype is well deserved. I’m just going to make it clear right now that I adored this novel and am rating it 5/5 stars. It’s funny, heart-breaking, relatable and so, so relevant right now with everything that’s going on in the world. It’s a story that needs to be told and a truly fantastic debut in the YA genre for 2017.

The story follows Starr, a seventeen year old girl ‘from the hood’ A.K.A Garden Heights. Her life is divided into two parts: the Starr she acts like at her preppy, white private school, and her true self. However her two lives are blown apart when she witnesses the fatal shooting of her friend Khalil by a white police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. With pressures facing her on all sides, Starr must decide between what is right and what is easy. She must use her voice to fight for justice, for Khalil and herself.

I found Starr to be a relatable, down-to-earth protagonist who I could easily feel for and imagine myself in the shoes of. The confusing storm of emotions she feels in the wake of her friend’s murder is very believable and deeply painful to read, especially knowing that although this book is fiction, it’s based on true events. Her close relationship with her family members is also at times hilarious and heart-warming to read. I loved her interactions with her dad in particular, who clearly cares a lot for his family and neighbourhood, despite being an ex-con and an ex-gangster.

Thomas has done an excellent job of developing a large and diverse cast of characters, delving into their backstories and humanising them in ways that allow you to understand their choices, even if they’re bad ones. A lot of the book is centred on examining the stereotypes and assumptions people make about ‘thug life’ and the black community – an idea which is very neatly explained by Tupac’s lyrics ‘The Hate U Give Little Infants Fucks Everybody’. Too often the media’s portrayal of these communities is one-dimensional, focusing only on the bad without understanding the complex web of reasons behind it. Thomas’ book rightly examines how many of these people, like Khalil, are in fact victims of a system that is already stacked against them and how perpetuating these stereotypes will only continue to worsen the situation.

I also really enjoyed the subtle critique of ‘casual racism’ in this book – how racist terminology has become so ingrained in our culture that we might not even be aware of it. Chris, Starr’s white boyfriend, provides a model example of how not to take white priviledge for granted. His tolerance and sensitivity are a great contrast to Hailey – Starr’s white best friend who keeps making racist jokes and then tries to deny that they’re racist. I thought this was really important, as it shows that racism isn’t just about big flashy news headlines, it’s about the little things too. And as someone who’s been on the receiving end of those kinds of jokes, I felt a sense of validation to know that I did have the right to get upset over it.

Overall, I thought this book was incredibly well-written and authentic. A lot of it is clearly based on personal experience and the author did a fantastic job of bringing Garden Heights and its inhabitants to life. It’s not often I find a YA book that deals with serious issues such as this so well, and I think it really has the potential to make a difference.

Have you read ‘The Hate U Give’? What did you think of it? Leave your comments below!

In conversation with Didi Oviatt, indie suspense author

Didi Oviatt is an indie author I met through the blogging world. She’s got a wicked writing style and recently released a crime/thriller book called ‘Aggravated Momentum’ which I wrote a review for. As part of my efforts to #SupportIndie I wanted to find out more about her writing process and her experience with self-publishing on Amazon kindle.

Hi Didi, thanks for joining me today. What are 5 things you would like our readers to know about you?

I’m so excited to be here! If I have to settle for five, then I’ll stick with the big five S’s… simple, silly, sure, satisfying, and strange.

  • Something simple: Every year I drink a bottle of cheap wine, and I bury myself in a romance novel on Valentines Day.
  • Something silly: I can touch my tongue to my nose.
  • Something sure:  I’m one hundred percent sure that every book I ever write will be suspenseful.
  • Something satisfying: Goals, Lol…  It may sound funny, but there is nothing more satisfying to me then nailing my weekly goals.
  • Something strange: I completely believe in ghosts. Good ones, bad ones, creepy ones, and even protective ones. I think we’re all just a little bit haunted.

What are you reading at the moment?

I usually read more than one book at a time. I strive to support Indi authors like myself, so I keep one of them cooking at all times. I also believe it’s important to keep your head in a wholesome influential place as a writer by reading Best Sellers in the genre of your current project.  This week I’m rotating two books. Living in the shallows, by an Indi-Author Tani Hanes and also Mercy, by Best-Selling Author Jodi Picoult.

How do you choose what book you’re going to read next? Is it the cover, the blurb, recommendations etc..?

All of the above plus some. When it comes to highly recommended books or Best Sellers I compare each of the mentioned tactics along with either a genre rotation (I’m kind of a seasonal bird) or by books that may counter point whatever project I’m working on myself.  When it comes to Indi books, I take a lot of author requests and debuts, but after I’ve read a blurb of course.

 What’s your experience been of self-publishing so far? Are you enjoying it?

I absolutely adore self-publishing! I love being in control and calling all the shots!  So far I’ve tried something different with each of my books. I’m a “dive in head first and learn from my own mistakes” kind of gal. I am human, and have made a few mistakes along the way, but self-publishing is definitely NOT one of them. I wouldn’t take back my decision to self-publish for the world and doubt I’ll ever even try Traditional.

What’s one piece of advice you would give to a new writer thinking of self-publishing?

Don’t fall for the “self-publishers” that offer you the world and ask a ridiculous amount of money to “help” you publish! You’d be amazed at how many shysters there actually are in the book publishing world. There are a lot of places that are affordable, and they actually let you choose your own pricing, cover image, and you still maintain all of the rights… KDP and Bookbaby in my experience have been great, but do your own research because there are most definitely more. Don’t limit yourself in options, and don’t let your excitement blind you.  A rule of thumb I like to live by, is that if there is an enormous contract involved then it isn’t actually self-publishing.

I’ve just finished reading your fantastic new book, ‘Aggravated Momentum’. Wow. What a rollercoaster. What was the inspiration behind it?

With Aggravated Momentum I wanted to challenge myself. Suspense is where I shine, so I chose to make it psychological in order to test my abilities. Part of me wanted to master writing a variety of first person characters, and part of me wanted to ensure that I didn’t allow myself to get stuck in a repetitive rut. In my opinion, there are too many Authors who seem to repeat themselves. Their books are one dimensional — like if you’ve read one then you’ve read them all… I didn’t want that to be a problem for me, so my main focus with Aggravated Momentum was to make it diverse and unique.

Was there a lot of research involved?

Hardly any… To be completely honest, I hate research and I suck at it.  What little bit was required, I kind of left hanging for my editor to “come across” and have to fix lol… Don’t worry though, she’s a friend so it’s fine 😉

 Okay, last question: Are you working on anything new?

Yes, yes, yes, and yes!!!  I’m so dang excited about my latest and greatest! Search For Maylee is a mystery novel that I intend to release in the fall of this year, so hold your breath!!! Here is a short description:

Since Maylee was abducted from her high school the very month of graduation, her Aunt Autumn has never lost hope in finding her.  It’s been three years. Autumn has finally reached inside herself and found the courage to track down an old lead. She moves across the country to find him. Will Autumn be able to pry Maylee’s case back open? More importantly, what will Autumn uncover in the process of searching for Maylee?  It’s a cold dark world we live in, and she is about to find out just how cruel it can be. Strength and determination are on Autumn’s side and she will do whatever it takes to either bring Maylee home, or to deliver the justice she deserves.

 

What have your experiences been with self-publishing? Do you have a favourite indie author? Let me know in the comments and stay tuned for more updates, interviews and book reviews! If you’re an author and interested in being interviewed on my blog, please get in contact. 

FREE BOOK: This Really Happened

This week, my New Adult romance novel ‘This Really Happened’ is FREE on amazon until Wednesday 12th April. Please share it, download it, read it, enjoy it, and (you’ll get cookies and my eternal gratitude for this one) review it!

You can see public reviews for it on goodreads and download the book now on Amazon

Summary: 

Erin has spent her life drifting, ruled by her controlling parents and social anxiety. That is, until she meets her new University flatmate Allen. Reckless, eccentric and creative, Allen is everything Erin doesn’t have the courage to be and she’s immediately drawn to him. She’s sure he feels the attraction too, until he starts dating their mutual friend Charlotte instead.

Then one night changes everything.

When a drunken mistake leaves Charlotte fighting for her life, there’s only one question everyone’s asking: what really happened? Erin has an answer to that, more than one in fact, but running from the truth is far easier than facing up to it…

 

Reviews: 

‘Annmarie McQueen has created a range of likeable characters in a recognisable setting, while introducing ‘Gone Girl’ and ‘The Girl on the Train’-esque elements to set her story apart from other coming-of-age tales.’

‘A real breath of fresh air for the YA genre’

‘Jam packed with layer after layer of authentically written emotion’

Book Review: ‘Aggravated Momentum’ by Didi Oviatt

I received a free review copy of ‘Aggravated Momentum’ by Didi Oviatt in return for an honest review. Okay, first things first, I loved this book. It took me on a real rollercoaster of emotions and the two twists caught me by complete surprise. The pacing of the story and the way certain key plot points are revealed to you make for an exhilarating and fast read.

‘Aggravated Momentum’ is an adult thriller, a ‘murder mystery’ type story that reminded me of ‘Dark Places’ by Gillian Flynn. It’s written from the POVs of multiple characters, including the killer. Markie, the protagonist, is still grieving the death of her best friend Beth, who was murdered a year ago. However when the killer strikes again, it becomes clear that they won’t stop until they’ve destroyed everyone close to Markie. To protect her family and those she loves, Markie must work together with the police to draw the killer out and figure out what they want before it’s too late. But why is she being targeted? And what other dark secrets does the killer have that will change Markie’s life forever?

Adult thriller isn’t my usual genre. I went into this book not knowing what to expect, and was very pleasantly surprised. Markie, the MC, is sharp, witty and independent. Though still obviously a bit traumatised by what happened to her friend Beth, she’s clearly a very capable and intelligent woman who knows how to stay calm during stressful situations. Though sometimes I found her a little cold and unfairly judgemental of the people around her, I liked that she wasn’t a perfect lovable MC. I think the point of this book is that none of the characters are good people, yet they’re intriguing enough that you want to learn more about them.

Markie’s younger sister Kam also plays a significant part in the story. Unlike Markie, she’s a bit more frivolous and doesn’t think before she speaks, which makes her seem insensitive a lot of the time. The dynamic between the two sisters is very realistic – though they both clearly have some big flaws, they still care about each other deeply, one of their redeeming qualities.

I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but I think in many ways this book breaks down some of the tropes associated with the thriller/crime genre. I really liked the fact that the killer was revealed so soon and we got to read parts of the story from their POV – even though the big reveal happened early on there were still other surprises in store and I liked the dramatic irony. I found it unsettling to hear the killer’s thought processes; it gave me shivers and reminded me a lot of Clockwork Orange. Though I usually find books with multiple POVs confusing and overly complex, the pacing and the narrative structure here worked well since it all fit into one clear plot arc with a satisfyingly shocking conclusion.

If crime and thriller is your thing, I would highly recommend ‘Aggravated Momentum’ as an exciting, sexy and refreshingly original alternative to the usual staples of the genre. #SupportIndie and pick up a copy here