Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Book Review *NZ AUTHOR* - Spark Trilogy by Rachael Craw

This post is not one of my regular reviews - I borrowed these books from the library and wanted to share my love of them with you!


Spark is the first book in a trilogy written by Rachael Craw - born and raised in Christchurch, New Zealand. The fact that such an amazing series can be written by a local, have the books published and distributed around the world and even optioned for film proves that there is some serious talent in little old New Zealand. Props to you Rachael - I'm pretty sure it was a hard slog to get to this point!

Spark is a Young Adult sci-fi based on genetic engineering and DNA manipulation. The Affinity Project have created a drug called 'Optimal' that can mutate DNA to create humans with increased physical and telepathic abilities. They were designed to be used as weapons - Shields - who will go to any length to defend the person who they have 'Sparked' with, and Strikers - the attack version of a Shield. Something went wrong with the Striker DNA and they became Strays, suffering hallucinations and hell-bent on killing their Spark. Once this happened the government intervened and Affinity went into Reform and was more closely controlled.

Evie is a normal 17 year old girl who has just lost her mother until she Sparks with her best friend and her abilities develop suddenly. She is overwhelmed by the urge to protect her friend Kitty from an unknown killer. Her on-and-off romance with Kitty's brother Jamie threatens to distract Evie from her task but he may also be the key to saving her and her Spark.

Spark is fast-paced, full of action and there is also a who-dunnit weaved in the mix. Who is the Stray that Evie is hunting? I love how Craw writes from Evie's point of view, we experience the feelings and thoughts as her brain and body struggle to catch up to her newfound abilities. The imagery is stunning, the telepathy is described as frequencies in the bandwidth which appeases my audio training. I can imagine being able to identify people based on the sound they emit within the bandwidth and it just seems to make sense. Her connection to Jamie is a great romance storyline with the added mental connection between them which adds a whole new layer of desire and it definitely adds to the story. Evie is a strong protagonist who has a decent brain in her head and although she makes rash decisions, she believes she is doing it to bring justice. The characters are well developed but I would have loved more about Kitty.

With the Affinity Project as the 'bad guys' it is easy to take Evie's side and try to find a way to beat the system that has made her this way and taken away her choices.

There is a pretty major info-dump around the sci-fi aspect which can be a bit hard to follow but if you power through then it will become clear as the story unfolds. There are a bunch of acronyms such as KMT (kinetic memory transfer) that get used a lot which you also get used to after flicking back to clarify a few times. I feel like the target teen audience will be stretched in a good way when grasping this concept and it provides a good thought process into the future of genetic engineering and control of power. I loved reading this book and desperately threw myself into the second book after I had finished this one.



It's tricky to summarize  this book without giving too much away.
Evie is taken in by Affinity who want to experiment on her and so she runs. She is trying to save someone close to her and stretches herself to the limit to do so. There may be a cure for the Stray mutation and deciding who are allies and who are deadly enemies will make all the difference to the outcome of her task.
This book was another action packed, fast-paced novel. It is darker and a bit more twisted than Spark. It is extremely hard to put down and I flew through it, staying up late to finish. More characters were added and developed like the Proxy who is a superconductor-telepathic-child who Affinity sticks in a goo tank to amplify her abilities. Evie gets stronger with her abilities but wrestles with the morality of the limits she should go to when using them. Definitely not a filler book, the storyline held its own with a conclusion twist that hits you like a bomb. But any more than that will spoil it so go read it!!


Shield is the third and final book in the series. Evie is back at the Affinity compound and trying to fit in with the rest of the Shields. That was never going to happen though. Rumors go around and she is hated for the events that conspired in Stray. When Evie is offered the opportunity to be a part of a semi-sanctioned mission to trial the Stray cure, she has to put all her trust in a small group of people, some who she has just met. Once again her abilities are magnified and she gets herself in too deep (that's a pun but you have to read the story to get it :p).

The story comes to a decent conclusion but I always seem to be disappointed with the ending of a trilogy. Probably because I have invested so much time and emotion into the stories and I don't want them to end. Same goes with TV series. The biggest action scene seemed to keep going and going and that is not a bad thing, although I was supposed to stop and get things done which didn't end up happening. I was so invested in the outcome of the mission. Craw set up two potential ending points during the book and I wouldn't have been disappointed if the book had ended differently. Although the real ending was definitely a great outcome. There is also a reference to President Snow in here that pays homage to the Hunger Games series.


If you can't get your hands on the physical books, the Christchurch City Libraries have copies of the e-books which you can download for a set period of time and read on your phone or computer. I did this with the first two books and found a paperback copy of Shield to finish with.
I'm still amazed at the quality of writing that Craw produced. I'd put her right up there with some of the other popular YA dystopian/sci-fi writers.

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

DIY Painted Doormat #2



I've got the DIY bug again. I think after spending so long prepping and painting the outside of our house I needed a few quick 1-night projects to re-set my creative self.

If you don't quite share Dave and I's sense of humour - the saying on this mat is super ironic, both in the fact that 'thug life' aint pretty, and also that we are pretty much living the complete opposite of a 'thug life'. Whatever that means! Anyway, we think it's hilarious.

So this DIY went pretty much the same as the first doormat. First I taped some paper together to get the size of the doormat. Since I needed to draw a circle I wanted to get as much of the height in as possible. I couldn't find a plate big enough to trace so I did the old 'tie a piece of string to a pencil and hold it in the middle of the paper and hope to get an approximate circle' trick. It worked surprisingly well, even though the design doesn't call for it to be super accurate.


Then I drew out my stencil on the paper, making sure the lines were thick enough. I didn't end up doing the inside bits of the letters because it would be way too much effort and you can read the writing perfectly fine without them. 



To make it easy on myself, I coloured in the bits I needed to cut out.


I used a craft knife to cut out the stencil, I had to snap off the blade halfway through because it was getting blunt. Did you know about that trick? It's the best way to get a sharp edge if things start ripping a bit. 


Once the stencil was cut out, I aligned it and then used my sewing pins to hold down the edges. This stencil needed loads because of all the flimsy leaves. 


Then I used the same paint and paintbrush as last time to dab on the paint and ta-dah! A completed doormat. 


The time taken on one of these mats is approx:

30-45 min to draw up the stencil
30-45 min to cut out the stencil
20 min to paint the design onto the mat

Total time: 1.5-2 hours. Pretty achievable for a unique piece of decor! If you make your own, please let me know - I would love to see it!

Happy crafting!
xx


Sunday, 12 February 2017

DIY Painted Doormat


Surprise! It's not a book review or child update! Enjoy!

First off - The saying on this doormat is meant to be a funny take on 'welcome home' - no offence intended!

We are currently about 75% done painting the exterior of our house (slow progress but we are getting there!) and of course we painted the front first so it looks finished from the street!

To go along with the newly painted entrance way, we decided to get a new door mat. I couldn't find any I liked that didn't cost upwards of $30 so I found a plain coir (coconut fibre) door mat from Briscoes (not sponsored) and guess what! They were on sale! I got one for the front door and one for the back.

I drew inspiration from dontbeadoormat for the text and found a font that I liked. Then, since I'm weird, I spent 45 minutes drawing it out onto 3 pieces of a4 paper taped together. In my defense the font didn't get big enough to print it out.

Then I used my craft knife to cut around the words to create my stencil.
*Tip - you can use the mat as the cutting surface.


Then I took the mat and stencil out to Dave's shed for him to spray paint since I have a track record of blurred edges. He was busy making way cooler stuff so it got put on the backburner for the night. So I grabbed it back the next day and decided to tackle it with a paintbrush and some textile paint (any paint should work though).

Since the stencil was on thin printer paper, the skinny bits were threatening to ruin the stencil if they flipped up so I came up with the brilliant idea of using sewing pins to hold it into place.



Then I just took a largeish art brush and the black paint and started dabbing (as opposed to doing strokes). I went over it a couple of times being quite generous with the paint.



Then I took out the pins, carefully removed the stencil and put it somewhere safe to dry, then took a look at the new mat.


I was happy with the amount of paint and the edges look nice and sharp so I called it done! Obviously allow it to dry before using it unless you want some interesting footprints all over the floor. (Jif will get it off wooden floors by the way).

Then just put it at the front door and enjoy the great feeling when you are greeted by such a nice entrance way.




Stay tuned for the back door mat - coming soon!

Book Review: Caraval by Stephanie Garber


Ok, guys, this book just blew my socks off. I could not stop reading it and it messed with my head so much that I am tempted to go in for a re-read which is unheard of for me. I fell in love with the magic and fantasy of Caraval and I didn't want it to end! The movie rights have been snatched up for this book and I eagerly await the visual spectacular that will (hopefully) be produced.

Caraval is set in a fantasy world that is two-parts Alice in Wonderland and one part mid-1800's with corsets and sailors and vengeance. With a tiny bit of magic sprinkled in for good measure. Sisters Scarlett and Tella live on an island governed by their abusive father and dream of marrying someone who will take them off the island. To escape her misery, Scarlett has written a letter every year for the last seven years to the Caraval Master Legend to try and get tickets to the magical and mysterious performance where the invitees participate in a sort of twisted treasure hunt. The prize changes each year and the currency of the game is not money but secrets and fears and desires.

Scarlett and Tella's invitations finally arrive but when they get to Caraval, Tella is kidnapped by Legend and Scarlett is left to find her. But it's only a game - or is it? This question is the entire twist factor of the book, you never know what is real, what is just for show, and who to trust. Along the way she meets someone who tests her brain and her heart and she needs his help to rescue Tella. Because who knows what could happen if she isn't found by the end of Caraval.

This book is a really crazy journey and it is well paced. Each chapter revels more and we learn as Scarlett does. She is a great protagonist, who uses her instinct and her head to solve the clues. There is romance that is the best kind of overwhelming, and it is tactfully handled. You will love this character too by the end. It is hard to write more without giving away any spoilers but suffice to say that you won't see it coming. Any of it.

If you loved the films The Prestige and Now You See Me, these kind of scratch the surface of Caraval. A bonus is that the book cover design is beautiful.

I seem to have hit the review jackpot lately where each book is better than the last.Get it, read it, love it.

Thanks to Hachette for providing me with a review copy of this book.



Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Book Review: The Last Act of Hattie Hoffman by Mindy Majia


The Last Act of Hattie Hoffman was also released under the title Everything You Want Me To Be in the US. The author compares herself to Agatha Christie in this regard stating "If she can do it, why can't I?" 
I think both titles fit the narrative but to be honest, I wouldn't pick the US title off the shelf on first glance, it seems a bit too Nicholas Sparks. The UK title though, paired with the clearly Midwestern image on the cover screams 'Small Town Mystery', and I am all about those. I love when everybody knows everybody but there are hidden secrets all over the show. But I digress.

The story is about 18 year old Hattie Hoffman who is found murdered in a barn after the opening night of her school play,  of which she is the lead role. Hattie boasts to herself of being able to play the part that anyone wants her to be - the loving daughter, the typical, teenager, the country girl. When all she wants is to run to New York and start a new life. She has a plan. When Hattie meets and falls for a fellow literary lover online who turns out to be her married English teacher, she begins down a treacherous path that sends her life into a tailspin and ends with her death.

The story is told in three perspectives - Hattie, Peter (her English teacher) and Del, the local sheriff. The perspectives give a good overview of the events and each chapter reveals more of the story. As with all good murder-mysteries, there is a good twist at the end and I even said to Dave when I was only a couple of chapters from finishing that I still wasn't sure who her killer was. There are only ever a few options so Mejia did well keeping the secret until then. The story is not overly gory which is nice for a change, and the characters, especially Hattie, show so many emotions and evolve during the story.

I disliked Hattie as a character but it is like watching a trainwreck - you can't look away. Although she is self-assured, stubborn, brazen and above-it-all, she throws in all her cards for the relationship she wants. The rationales that come from Peter and Hattie are both crazy but believable and after an emotional tug of war I almost ended up rooting for them. The way the story makes you question your morals stays with you after the book is finished.

I really enjoyed this book, I pretty much read it in one sitting and stayed up late to finish it - both signs of a great read. Go and grab yourself a copy of this book, you won't regret it.

Thanks to Hachette for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

YA Summer Reading Round-Up

I feel like the past year went by without me carving time out to read, apart from my awesome review books, but I miss going to the library for ME and grabbing a few books that I TOTALLY judge by their covers (let's be honest) and get lost in them. I tend towards Young Adult Fiction because it is usually a quick read that I can get through in a day or two. I hesitate to call them easy reads because a lot of the time the content is dark, scary or all-too-possible. There seems to be a big influx of dystopian/future-set novels appearing lately and I really like them!

I managed to fit in quite a few books over the past few weeks, which I hope has set me back on the regular reading bandwagon. I thought I would do a quick summary of each in case you get stuck.
All these are books I have borrowed from the library.

The Special Ones
By Em Bailey
  

This book is about four young people who are kept on a farm, brainwashed, to live out the lives of four characters that appear in a photograph from 100 years ago. They are controlled by Him and are also made to interact with their fans via controlled internet chat sessions. When one character has to 'leave', another is found and taught the ways of the Special Ones. 
This book was fantastic. Very tense, quite heart-wrenching at times and gives a view inside the head of a psychopath. Written from the perspective of Esther, one of the Special Ones, you are drawn into the life on the farm and almost forget about the outside world. There are plenty of twists and lots of suspense as Esther tries to maintain her previous memories from before. 
An edge-of-your-seat read, a little disturbing but well written and entertaining.

The Sound
By Sarah Alderson

Ren takes a summer nannying job in Nantucket, a long way from her home in England. Fresh from a break-up she wants to relax and blog about music but instead gets involved with a group of rich kids who love to party. Torn between one boy in particular and the local bad-boy who fixes bikes, Ren gets swept up in a not-so-quiet summer. Add to this some dark secrets and a potential serial-killer on the loose and you get one crazy story.
Now I must admit-this is pretty far past my teen-angst/lust threshold but for some reason it made it onto my nightstand. There were things I liked and disliked about this book. I disliked the flippant take on nannying/child minding. Maybe it's from a mothers perspective but her summer 'job' seemed to be way too easy and gave her way too much free time. The rich kids seemed very Mean Girls-y, even the guys bar one. The murder/mystery plot seemed secondary to the love triangle which was a bit tedious.
I liked the character development of the bad boy, Jesse. I also liked that although it was very predictable, the plot twist still managed to fool me until the last second.
Overall, not a bad book. Not a great book, but I didn't struggle through it and (mostly) enjoyed the read.

Vitro
By Jessica Khoury


17 year old Sophie is living with her father in New York when she receives an urgent message from her mother telling her to go to Skin Island, where she is working on genetic research. Sophie makes her way there, having trouble flying to the island which has a reputation that preceeds it. She convinces a childhood friend to take her there but when they become stuck on the island, things begin to go astray. It turns out the research that Sophie's mother is doing is not the curing cancer kind, but the creating test-tube humans with no free will kind. The company behind it all has cruel intentions and Sophie and her friend Jim end up fighting for their lives, and the life of Sophie's newly discovered twin Lux, who is one of the Vitro's - the genetically modified humans who are designed to imprint (or serve, putting it crudely) the person they see first when they are woken up.
It is quite tricky to summarize this book, a lot happens but I don't want to ruin the plot. This book was quite slow to start but then once the pace quickened, it didn't stop until the end. Sophie is a believable character, the product of a divorced family who desperately wants to be like her mother, or the ideal of her mother. The scientists on the island are (mostly) portrayed as cold and heartless. The narrative is told by Lux some of the time which is very insightful and interesting. Jim, the childhood friend/love interest is also a strong character who proves to be fiercely loyal. There is a lot of action and multiple sinister characters which lead the book into some dark places. The genetic engineering side of the book is almost at the nearly-plausible stage so it doesn't take much imagination to turn this into a potential reality.
Overall a really good read. Well-rounded, definitely not chick-lit.

Matched 
By Ally Condie

In the Society, officials decide. Who you love, where you work, when you die.
When Cassia turns 17 she attends a matching banquet where it is revealed who she will be matched with for the rest of her life. When a screen reveals that she is matched with Xander, her best friend since childhood, she is happy. But when an image mistakenly flashes up of another boy, Ky, Cassia is drawn to the thought of a different reality. One that challenges the very rules of the so-called perfect Society.
This book is a dystopian novel in a world where the best parts of the past have been preserved but everything else has been erased. Meals, matches, jobs are all decided for you so that you have the longest possible life and contribute to Society. It draws threads from Hunger Games with it's different districts, especially the outer ones serving the more affluent, and Divergent with the rising rebellion against a manufactured society. This is the first in a trilogy, I haven't read the last two books but I plan to.
This book was another quick read, easier than the rest. There was a lot of weight on the love triangle side of the plot which tended to overwhelm a bit but the underlying rebellion was enough to keep me interested. I wouldn't put it quite in the ranks of the aforementioned series, but I still enjoyed it and am looking forward to reading the next two.

I hope you enjoyed my little reviews that became a lot more involved than I was intending. I plan to document the majority of my recreational reading so expect more of the same as I am a literary creature of habit. I would love some recommendations of books along similar lines or any others that you have loved. Rest assured that there will also be more crafty exploits to come too, especially as our house renovations have kicked up a gear in the last month!

xx


Monday, 2 January 2017

Book Review: Runemarks by Joanne M. Harris


Runemarks has just been re-released with a new (amazing) cover, a new introduction and has been re-edited. Previously released in 2007, this book is by the author of 'Chocolat' and 'The Gospel of Loki'.

Runemarks is drenched in Norse mythology and follows the story of 14 year old Maddy who has a runemark on her hand, giving her access to magic and untold power. She is thought of as strange in her small village and befriends a traveler called One-Eye who helps her develop her magic. He sends her on a mission into the Underworld to retrieve an old relic called The Whisperer where it is under guard by the trickster Loki. This causes a shift in the worlds and things begin to unravel. Dark forces, sleeping gods, and Hel herself join the battle to restore the balance between Order and Chaos.

This book was a mixed bag for me. I enjoy reading fantasy and mythology but this book was a big learning curve for me. The language is as complicated as the worlds within and I thought it could have been explained a bit more. Or perhaps I need to turn my brain on and figure it out myself. It is assumed you already have knowledge of this genre of fantasy. However, I got past that and kept reading. It is a big book at 513 pages which doesn't lend to reading it in one go. Having to put it down made it harder to get back into but once again, perhaps it just isn't my sort of book.
I did enjoy the characters however. Loki especially. Called the 'Trickster' for a reason, he was given a great depth of character and I even found myself on his side a couple of times. Thor and Odin make an appearance although I had to do a bit of research as in this book (which is true to the myths) Odin and Loki are blood brothers. My more recent dealings with Norse mythology have been via the Marvel films where Loki and Thor are (adopted) siblings so this got me turned around a bit.

Once that issue was sorted this book did definitely get interesting. Maddy's journey into the lower worlds was compelling and full of imagery. The ending was left semi-open which is what you want in this type of book. There was also a decent twist that may or may not be obvious but it got me!

Overall, this book is well researched and written and highly recommended for those who are well practiced in the fantasy genre. For those wanting to branch out, perhaps work your way up to it. The new cover art is stunning and the included illustrations in the preface set the scene for the book.

Thanks to Hachette for my review copy of this book.