Review: ‘Neil Patrick Harris: Choose Your Own Autobiography’ by Neil Patrick Harris

Today at Aussie Owned and Read I reviewed one of my current favourite books of the year, Neil Patrick Harris: Choose Your Own Autobiography! I tried to reblog it over here so no one misses out on hearing what an excellent book this is, but for some reason I can’t get the reblog function to work.

I fail at internet today, people.

Still, click on the above link and check it out. Spoiler: I gave it five stars!

Choose Your Own Autobiography

 

 

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Review: ‘Life in Outer Space’ by Melissa Keil

Life in Outer Space

Sam Kinnison is a geek, and he’s totally fine with that. He has his horror movies, his nerdy friends, World of Warcraft – and until Princess Leia turns up in his bedroom, he doesn’t have to worry about girls.

Then Sam meets Camilla. She’s beautiful, friendly and completely irrelevant to his life. Sam is determined to ignore her, except that Camilla has a life of her own – and she’s decided that he’s going to be part of it.

Sam believes that everything he needs to know he can learn from the movies … but now it looks like he’s been watching the wrong ones

This book, you guys. I wish it had been around when I was at school, because I really could’ve used a story about Australian nerds suffering through high school and falling in love. It was so ADORABLE, and it spoke to me.

The first thing to mention about Life in Outer Space is the voice. It’s told from Sam’s perspective, and he has a distinctive narrative style. He’s always making “objective” observations about his world, and doing things like noticing exactly how many seconds it takes for something to happen. But at the same time he was so awkward and oblivious to social cues. (Seriously, I knew people exactly like this when I was at school.) I’m not a movie buff, so some of his references were lost on me, but he definitely could’ve been a young version of some of my nerdy, adult male friends.

The other characters are just memorable. The dearest to my heart is Camilla. She’s moved around a lot (and has the benefit of having a famous dad), so she’s a veteran at making friends and fitting in. But she’s not a sheep — her philosophy on high school can be summed up by this quote: “You can rock the boat, but you better make sure you have a very safe seat first.” Despite being instantly popular, she’s a music nerd and likes World of Warcraft. She’s the sort of girl every geeky female wants to be: quirky without being weird, and able to tame the bullies — not just for herself but for the other nerdy kids too. (Or maybe it’s just me who wished I was like that?)

I also loved Sam’s other friends. There’s Allison; I would devour a book about her if one were to become available (hint hint!). I couldn’t shake the mental image of her looking like a young Willow from Buffy, only in anime t-shirts rather than daggy clothes picked out by her mother. She had that same awkward earnestness. Mike, Sam’s best friend, is a taciturn and increasingly aloof black belt in karate who is partially out-of-the-closet. And Adrian is a scruffy nerd who is utterly tactless and enthusiastic about life.

I won’t talk too much about the plot, except to say that it was so wonderful to see a relationship built on friendship, hardship and mutual understanding rather than the typical “love at first sight” fare. The pacing was quick enough to keep me interested, and though there weren’t any surprising plot twists or anything, the story had a lot of heart and kept me entranced to the last page.

Five stars


Review: ‘Stormcaller’ by R.K. MacPherson

Stormcaller

Power always carries a price…

For Isaura Durand, homeless life on the streets of Seattle posed plenty of challenges. She didn’t ask to become a witch. She didn’t understand how it would change her, but when she awakens to her power, Isaura finds herself plunged into a brutal struggle with dark forces.

Thrust into the heart of Seattle’s eldritch world, Isaura uncovers a series of ritual sacrifices designed to unleash magic’s true power upon the world.

Allied with a grumpy Norwegian mage, a Native American shaman on a Harley, and a beautiful medic, Isaura must overcome her own demons and her growing list of enemies. Victory is anything but certain, and to survive, Isaura must embrace her potential and become the…

STORMCALLER

Before I start this review, I should point out that I’m an editor in my day job, which means that I am among the world’s worst grammar nazis. I say this because Stormcaller is a book with so much potential, and you may not be as sensitive to its flaws as I am.

The story is fast-paced; we’re thrown into the action from the start, with Isaura waking up to her new magical powers and immediately nearly having her face eaten off by a demon. The fight scenes, especially the way Marius does his magic, remind me of Final Fantasy, one of my favourite computer game franchises. There’s also a sweet romance between Isaura and Chloe (yay, diversity!), which I loved.

The banter between Isaura, her mentor Coyote (aka Jack), and Marius — the mage who takes her in after her powers awaken — is golden, and often had me in stitches. Isaura causes a lot of her own problems, with her extremely poor lack of self control; at one point Marius describes her as having “the impulse control of a hyperactive chaos demon”. #nailedit

So Stormcaller is a good book. It could have been a mindblowing book with a professional edit. Part of it was a number of copy-editing issues, which is why I mention the grammar nazi thing upfront. The other niggles I had were with things that I’d like to imagine a good editor would’ve pointed out.

One is that the story takes a while to really get flowing, in that there are some kinks in the first few chapters. (Marius takes her in after her initiation, letting her sleep in his shop, but the circumstances were a little confusing to me. Once he gets the flat, it sorts itself out.)

Another issue was the unexpected heat level of the sex scene between Isaura and Chloe. Although both girls are around 18, the book reads like a young adult until you get to this scene, which is, ahem, quite explicit. Not to the point of being outright erotica, but it’s pretty close.

Finally, and I admit this is quite minor, Marius’s brother is named Darius. I regularly got confused about who we were discussing. (I’m easily confused.) :p

This is a regretful 3.5 stars for me — regretful as it’s exactly the sort of story I love: urban fantasy with a strong female lead and a well-developed magic system. The lesbian relationship was something I haven’t read much of, but I loved that too.

Three-and-a-half stars


Review: ‘The Song of Achilles’ by Madeline Miller

The Song of Achilles

Greece in the age of Heroes. Patroclus, an awkward young prince, has been exiled to the kingdom of Phthia. Here he is nobody, just another unwanted boy living in the shadow of King Peleus and his golden son, Achilles.

Achilles, ‘best of all the Greeks’, is everything Patroclus is not — strong, beautiful, the child of a goddess — and by all rights their paths should never cross. Yet one day, Achilles takes the shamed prince under his wing and soon their tentative companionship gives way to a steadfast friendship. As they grow into young men skilled in the arts of war and medicine, their bond blossoms into something far deeper — despite the displeasure of Achilles’s mother Thetis, a cruel and deathly pale sea goddess with a hatred of mortals.

Fate is never far from the heels of Achilles. When word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped, the men of Greece are called upon to lay siege to Troy in her name. Seduced by the promise of a glorious destiny, Achilles joins their cause. Torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus follows Achilles into war, little knowing that the years that follow will test everything they have learned, everything they hold dear. And that, before he is ready, he will be forced to surrender his friend to the hands of Fate.

Profoundly moving and breathtakingly original, this rendering of the epic Trojan War is a dazzling feat of the imagination, a devastating love story, and an almighty battle between gods and kings, peace and glory, immortal fame and the human heart.

Anyone who’s followed my reviews for a while will know this isn’t my normal sort of read. However, since I finished drafting the last book in the Isla’s Inheritance trilogy, I’ve turned my mind — between edits — to my next project, which I want to set in a fantasy version of Ancient Greece. So recently I’ve been reading a bit of historical non-fiction, and some hist fic.

I haven’t reviewed any of that here on the blog, but I loved The Song of Achilles so much I thought it was worth a mention. I actually listened to this as an audiobook that I downloaded as part of an Audible trial, and I’m not sure if the fabulous voice acting of David Thorpe influenced how much I love it. It may have done — I did wonder a couple of times whether I would’ve lost patience with the way the narrator, Patroclus, lingers lovingly over descriptions of Achilles if I was reading it. Listening to it was sometimes like listening to a poetry recital, it was so beautiful.

And beautiful is really the only way to describe this book, even though parts of it are “ugly” in the traditional sense. Miller doesn’t spare us any details of the bloody violence of war, just as she doesn’t spare any details of Achilles’ nimble feet or his golden hair.

If you’ve read the Illiad or studied Ancient Greek legends, you’ll know that the Trojan War didn’t end well for Achilles; the entire story of this novel arises from his best friend and lover Patroclus’s determination that he be remembered not just as a brutal killer but as a talented lyre player, as quick to laugh as he was haughty. (And he was haughty; Patroclus doesn’t have entirely rose-coloured glasses and definitely lets us see Achilles’ arrogance.) Nevertheless, by a third of the way through the story I was in love with Achilles, and by halfway through I loved Patroclus too.

There are sex scenes, but they are more romantic than explicit — it’s entangled limbs and hot kisses rather than…well, you know. (You do know, right?) Also, at the risk of stating the obvious, Patroclus and Achilles are both male, so if that sort of thing bothers you, this may not be your book.

On the other hand, if you want to read a beautiful and tragic story with an eternal romance and an uplifting ending, this may be the book for you. Song of Achilles earned every star!

Five stars


This Writer’s Space: Kate Larkindale

This Writer's Space

Today on This Writer’s Space I have a fellow antipodean, Kiwi YA writer Kate Larkindale! Take it away, Kate!

Where I Write

This is where I write (most of the time, anyway). My partner is a recording engineer and he works out of our dining room which is also my at home office. So you can see the mixing console behind my laptop, and the speakers everywhere. As you can imagine, not a lot of dining is done in this room!

It’s not ideal because if we both want to work during the day, we only have the one desk, and because my laptop is easier to move than his whole set-up, I take my stuff to library to work. But since I mainly work in the early hours of the morning before the kids get up, and at night after they go to bed, the shared place thing works okay. One day though, I want a house with a turret so I can claim that as my writing space!Kate_workspacephoto

Where I’m Inspired

There is no one place that inspires me really, but when I go on vacation to the beach, my mind tends to be less full of boring work stuff so I often find myself solving problems with my stories or coming up with new ones. And really, who could help but be inspired by a place as beautiful as this? I apologise for the boats ruining the idyllic scene… My son is kind of obsessed with them and I took this for him to bring home the last time we were there.

Kate_inspirationphoto

To Be Read

My TBR pile? It’s neverending. This massive tower of fiction waiting to be read. And because so many talented writers keep writing, I doubt it ever will. Most of the books I’ve purchased to read are on my Kindle and that doesn’t look super-impressive, so here’s an interpretation of what it might look like if I actually bought everything I want to read as an actual book….

Kate_tbrphoto

About Kate

Kate Larkindale author picHaving spent a lifetime travelling the globe, Kate Larkindale is currently residing in Wellington, New Zealand. A cinema manager, film reviewer and mother, she’s surprised she finds any time to write, but doesn’t sleep much. As a result, she can usually be found hanging out near the espresso machine.

Her short stories have appeared in Halfway Down The Stairs, A Fly in Amber, Daily Flash Anthology, The Barrier Islands Review, Everyday Fiction, Death Rattle, Drastic Measures, Cutlass & Musket and Residential Aliens, among others.

She has written eight contemporary YA novels, five of which other people are allowed to see. She has also written one very bad historical romance. She is currently working on a new YA novel that is still looking for a title other than its Twitter hashtag, #juvvielesbian.

Author Links

Website: http://katelarkindale.blogspot.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Vampyr14

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4086706.Kate_Larkindale

 About An Unstill Life

Things at home are rough for fifteen-year-old Livvie Quinn. Jules, her beloved older sister is sick again after being cancer free for almost ten years. Her mom becomes more frantic and unapproachable every day. School isn’t much better. Just when she needs them most, her closest friends get boyfriends and have little time for Livvie – except to set her up on a series of disastrous blind dates.

Livvie seeks refuge in the art room and finds Bianca, the school ‘freak’. Free-spirited and confident, Bianca is everything Livvie isn’t. Shaken by her mom’s desperation, her sister’s deteriorating condition, and abandoned by her friends, Livvie finds comfort and an attraction she never felt before with Bianca.

When their relationship is discovered, Livvie and Bianca become victims of persecution and bullying. School authorities won’t help and even forbid the pair to attend the Winter Formal as a couple. If Livvie defies them and goes, she risks expulsion and further ridicule from her classmates. At home, her mother’s behavior escalates to new levels of crazy and Jules is begging for help to end the pain once and for all.

While searching for the strength to make her life her own, Livvie must decide how far she’s willing to go for the people she loves.

GLTB YA