Review: My Zombie Dog

my zombie dog cover

Title: My Zombie Dog
Series: Sequel: Undead Kev
Author: Charmaine Clancy
Published by: Self-published (Hot Doggy Digital Press) in 2012
Genre: YA, middle-school, horror
Length: 148 pages
Rating: 4 stars
Goodreads | Amazon | Bookworld

“Can I still have a dog? You know, for my birthday?” Which, did I mention, was today?
“I don’t know Zane, not so soon after Fluffy. We need time to grieve.”
“Mum! We only got the dog today, and it died in our driveway , so technically we never had Fluffy.”

This story was hilarious. As a self-published children’s book, I wasn’t sure what to expect but I absolutely loved every minute of it.

All Zane wanted for his birthday was a dog, but when his Mum brings home a small, fluffy dog he’s disappointed. He wants a man’s dog. When the dog dies on the driveway before even getting in the house, the day is locked in as the worst birthday ever. They bury him, but the next morning, Zane wakes up to find the dog sitting at the end of his bed, covered in dirt and smelling like a dead dog. And now weird things start happening to anyone who’s been bitten…

This is definitely my favourite zombie story. It’s fast-paced and filled with laughs. Charmaine Clancy has skilfully spun a horror tale into a normal boy’s life without making it too scary. It’s certainly got its creepy moments – his dog’s still decaying in his reanimated state, and the zombie people start congregating in his backyard – but anytime it’s about to cross the line into scary territory Clancy throws in a joke to break the tension. Although the book isn’t lacking action, and my heart was definitely racing through the last few chapters.

It’s a simple read aimed at young teens, but it’s easy to get absorbed at any age. The story never feels ‘dumbed down’. The matter-of-fact writing is straight to the point and never dawdles through a scene. It’s a fun, fast and exciting read.

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Review: City by James Roy

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Title: City
Series: None, companion to Town
Author: James Roy
Published by: University of Queensland Press 2012
Genre: YA, contemporary, short stories
Length: 312 pages
Rating: 4 stars
Goodreads | Amazon | Bookworld

Everyone has a story

The people in City aren’t special. They’re the young people you walk past everyday – school students, uni students, struggling poets, graffiti artists, drug addicts, country girls and accidental criminals. But that’s the brilliance of this book. In a world where young people are often ignored or even shunned, it’s a reminder that everyone, even a kid staring into space on the bus, has a story.

Each chapter is a snapshot into another person’s life. Whether it’s a boy watching his house burn down, a girl desperately missing her country town home, a boy’s letter to his mother explaining where everything went wrong, or a short poem, each story is entertaining and provides a window into that person’s life.

The city is never named, and sometimes it could be any city in the world, but sometimes the characters are uniquely Australian. It represented the full spectrum of multicultural Australia without covering up the prejudices and racism we pretend aren’t there. However James Roy never sets a judgmental tone. He simply uses his characters, his straightforward writing and realistic dialogue to tell the story as it is.

The stories didn’t follow a traditional structure. There’s no beginning or ending and there’s no back stories. It really is just like being inside a young person’s head for a few days or hours. It can be frustrating for stories to simply end in the middle, but to me that’s the best part of this book.

Our stories don’t end until I lives do, and even then some stories carry on without us.

Illuminated Darkness by Joanne Efendi

Title: Illuminated Darkness
Series: none
Author: Joanne Efendi
Published by: Self-published on 1 December 2013
Genre: YA, romance, fantasy
Rating: 1 star (DNF)
Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

I really wanted to like this book. Haitian Voodoo is not something you hear about very often. Ashlyn is almost 18 when her boyfriend suddenly breaks up with her. She wallows in self-pity for a few days, but it doesn’t take her long to move on when she meets Wren, a mysterious guy she has every right to consider a stalker. All goes well, until Wren reveals that he’s a vampire charged with protecting Ashlyn, a Haitian voodoo deity under threat from voodoo priests.

It’s a new take on an old cliché, but it had the potential to be such an exciting story.  Unfortunately it never delivered, at least not in the first third, which was all I could stand to read before declaring it a DNF.  The prologue grabbed me right away. It was dark, mysterious and a great introduction to the story.  If the author had stayed with this style, perhaps the novel would have turned out better. As it was, Efendi steered the novel away from this darkness and attempted to create a young adult romance.  However this is one of those books that made me question whether she remembered anything at all about being a teenager.  The characters’ dialogue was stiff and formal, and Ashlyn herself lacked any semblance of a personality. Her life revolved around boys – either her first boyfriend or the new-found Wren.  It reminded me of Twilight.

“Earlier, I was so angry with him for following me [note recurring stalker behaviour], but now here I was sitting and admiring his beauty [because controlling, stalker behaviour is okay if the boy’s pretty]. How very shallow of me.”

The writing style leaned closer to telling than showing. I knew how the scenes looked or how Ashlyn was feeling, but I never got a sense of the details that really capture the imagination – a soft breeze, Ashlyn’s heart racing, or her stomach dropping. It was very stiff.

“I wanted to go with him. I was drawn to him.”

I got the impression that the author is fairly inexperienced in creative writing, and as her debut novel this is no surprise, but it could have done with some professional editing. I did research and the manuscript went to an editor, but it makes me wonder whether it was a superficial edit that didn’t go into the structure of the story deep enough to delete unnecessary scenes or characters.  Illuminated Darkness read like a promising first draft.  Unfortunately it’s already published and for sale.

I generally don’t dislike books. Even if they’re flawed, I always find value in them.  However, I could not find the  value in Illuminated Darkness. Getting through 33% was generous for me. I was doubting it from the first chapter, but I has such hope that it would get better, that the story would begin. I still believe that it does indeed get better, but at 33%, when something finally happened, it felt like such an unrealistic time and place for the event, I gave up.

I don’t discourage you from picking up a copy – opinions differ and maybe you’ll find something in this novel that I didn’t – but approach with caution.  Low expectations encourage pleasant surprises.

Burn Bright by Marianne de Pierres

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Title: Burn Bright
Series: Night Creatures #1
Author: Marianne de Pierres
Published by: Random House Australia on 1 March 2011
Genre: YA, fantasy, dystopia
Length: 316 pages
Rating: 3.5 stars
Goodreads | Amazon | Bookworld (ebook) |  Dymocks


Plot Summary:
Retra doesn’t want to go to Ixion, the island of ever-night. Retra is a Seal – sealed minds, sealed community. She doesn’t crave parties and pleasure like all the others. But her brother left for Ixion two years ago, and Retra is determined to find him. Braving the pain of her obedience strip to escape the only home she’s ever known, Retra finds herself drawn deeper into the intoxicating world of Ixion. Come to me, whispers a voice in her head. Who are the Ripers, the mysterious guardians of Ixion? What are the Night Creatures Retra can see in the shadows? And what happens to those who grow too old for Ixion? Retra will find that Ixion has its pleasures – but its secrets are deadly.


“Retra felt the lure of the night rainbows just as surely as she’d felt the hidden beast lurking at the side of the path. She found herself stepping carefully, delicately, between the warring forces of beauty and danger. The rainbows caused a shiver of anticipation to run across her flesh. But at the same time she was drawn to the shadows beyond the path, the sounds of scraping and the scent of perfumed rot.”

Burn Bright was a relatively short novel, especially when compared to other dystopian books. There wasn’t a lot of time to spend world-building, but the author still managed to create a dark, mysterious world. I loved Ixion. It’s not an intricately built world – it can’t be in the short space of the novel – but it’s filled with intrigue and mysteries beyond the superficial ‘pleasure’.  Not a lot happens in the beginning of the story, but it was my favourite part of the book. Retra explores, asks questions and uncovers Ixion’s secrets.  Everything is revealed slowly, and I can’t remember a single instance of info-dumping or out-of-place world-building.

I was hoping the slow beginning would lead to a big climax, but I found the ending to be fairly anti-climactic. The story certainly didn’t fizzle, but I felt that it didn’t quite reach the level of tension I was expecting and it was all over too quickly. It did, however, leave an opening that made me desperate to get my hands on the next book.

Retra is a conservative girl having grown up in a sealed community.  I wouldn’t describe Retra as a likeble person, her conservativeness is occasionally frustrating she’s astoundingly naïve, but she’s the perfect character to tell the story. She’s not distracted by the party life and despite her shy demeanour, she’s not afraid to ask questions or to stand up for her convictions. She was conservative but not shy, and strong but not brash or kick-ass. It’s great to read a character who didn’t fit into a stereotypical box because her actions surprised both myself and other characters. About two-thirds through the book, Reatr goes through a dramatic personality change, which seems a bit sudden at first, but I really enjoyed how the author handled it, exploring how pain and fear shaped Retra’s life.

The other characters all had unique, interesting personalities. I honestly cared about what happened to them, whether it was outgoing Rollo who wasn’t in Ixion for the parties either (although they were a nice benefit), kickass Suki, meangirl Cal or the mysterious Lenoir. They all had interesting stories, but unfortunately they weren’t able to be deeply explored. I hope we learn more in future novels.

I loved Burn Bright. It’s not a unique story, but I would never categorise it as “yet another YA dystopia”. Its sense of mystery and a main character that doesn’t kick ass and has no special abilities let it stand out from the crowd.

Review & Giveaway: The Waiting Room by Alysha Kaye

the waiting room cover

Title: The Waiting Room
Series: none
Author: Alysha Kaye
Genre: Romance, Philosophy, Fiction
Rating: 4 stars
GoodreadsBuy it on Amazon

First of all I want to congratulate Alysha on the release of her fantastic self-published novel. I’m so happy for her! To celebrate her achievement, we’re doing a giveaway! Scroll down the bottom to enter to win a signed copy of her novel!

 Synopsis:
Jude and Nina are the epitome of that whole raw, unflinching love thing that most people are jealous of. That is, until Jude dies and wakes up in The Waiting Room, surrounded by other souls who are all waiting to pass over into their next life. But unlike those souls, Jude’s name is never called by the mysterious “receptionist”. He waits, watching Nina out of giant windows. He’s waiting for her. What is this place? How long will he wait? And what will happen when and if Nina does join him? The Waiting Room is a story of not just love, but of faith, predestination, and philosophy, friendship and self-actualization, of waiting.

The Waiting Room had the most unique, believable and fun approach to the afterlife I have ever read. I find myself hoping that’s it’s true – hoping that I, too, get to visit the waiting room and remember all of my past lives.

The stories of Jude and Nina’s lives outside of the waiting room were compelling, and the whole novel is neatly written, but it’s the relationships that Jude forms within the waiting room that captivated me. Friendships blossomed as he watched the reception staff grow and age.

I couldn’t put it down. In the end, I only had one complaint: there wasn’t enough. Decades passed, and I would love to have read everything that happened in their lives, or in the waiting room. It could have been a 700 page novel and I would have devoured it (and probably still asked for more).

It’s part romance, part philosophy. What is the waiting room? Who controls it? Who decides what happens in the next life? Whether you’re interested in the romance that transcends mortality or the mysteries of the waiting room, Alysha Kaye’s terrific debut has something to interest everyone and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Giveaway!

To enter the giveaway, follow Alysha and I on WordPress or our different social networking sites. We don’t expect you to follow all of them. We’re just providing an opportunity for our non-Wordpress followers to enter. We will contact the winner and let them know they’ve won. If the winner doesn’t reply within 48 hours, we’ll keep moving down the list until we find someone who does. You must be willing to give us your address so we know where to send the book. Don’t worry, we won’t share it and we’ll delete all traces of the address once the item has been sent 🙂

Enter the giveaway on Rafflecopter!

Book Reviews: In The Shadows & Fangirl

Title: In the Shadows
Series: none
Author: Kiersten White (text story) & Jim Di Bartolo (art story)
Genre: YA, mystery, paranormal, graphic novel, historical fiction
Rating: 5 stars
Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

In the Shadows is a gorgeous, gothic, paranormal tale that follows five children in a small mysterious sea-side town as they uncover a conspiracy, the breadth of which constantly astounded me. The book tells two parallel stories – one written and one graphic – that are connected in a way you will never guess until the end, when it will blow your mind.  The characters are so unique and different from each other, and even though the story was quite short, I was invested in them and genuinely concerned about how they would get themselves out of trouble.  It was a captivating tale that I couldn’t put down.

As soon as In the Shadows arrived in the mail I knew it would be my favourite book on the shelf.  It’s a beautiful, cloth-bound hardback with magical artwork on the jacket. The story is printed on glossy paper, in sepia ink with ornamental borders. As if the book was beautifully illustrated enough, Jim Di Bartolo’s art story is breath-taking. Although the first time I read it, I had more questions than answers about what was happening (all becomes clear in the end), I couldn’t help but stop and admire the gorgeous illustrations he had created.

I recommend In the Shadows to everybody. If you have never read a graphic novel, this is the perfect way to start. You won’t be able to help falling in love with Kiersten’s beautiful children or Jim’s stunning artwork.


Title: Fangirl
Series: none
Author: Rainbow Rowell
Genre: YA, contemporary, realistic, romance
Rating: 5 stars
Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

As a self-proclaimed fangirl, I was very cautious of reading this book. It sounded perfect, but it could so easily slip into a clichéd mess.  A few positive reviews gave me the confidence to pick it up and I devoured it in two sittings.  Fangirl is the most relatable book I’ve ever read.  Cath is a socially awkward writer of Simon Snow fanfiction.  When  her outgoing twin sister decides they need to live in separate rooms at college, Cath is forced out if her comfort zone.

This book had me flying through the whole spectrum of emotions – laughing, fangirl-squealing, crying, yelling “don’t do it!”, cringing… There is not one page of this novel I didn’t enjoy or that I didn’t relate to. Having said that, I don’t think everyone will enjoy this book as much as I did.

Cath suffers from social anxiety, and it affects most of the choices she makes.  If you are not a person who has ever felt anxiety about an unfamiliar social situation, or if you’ve never chosen to stay home because you were too scared of going out, you will find yourself frustrated with Cath.  You will be yelling “just go!” to her and you won’t understand why she keep choosing to stay home.  What you need to understand is that she’s yelling the same things to herself, much louder, but it’s not convincing enough to beat the fear.  So she makes the safe choices.

Apart from this aspect, Fangirl is a great read for everybody.  It’s a fun, entertaining contemporary novel with friendships, romance and fanfiction which also touches on more serious issues of mental health and family.


I read these books as part of the Bout of Books read-a-thon. Reviews for the two other books I read can be found here.

What books have you read this week? Let me know what you thought in the comments or leave me a link to your own reviews!

Book Reviews: Paraphernalia & The Hunt

ParaphernaliaTitle: Paraphernalia: The Curious Lives of Magical Things
Series: none
Author: Steven Connor
Genre: Non-fiction
Rating: 4 stars
Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

Paraphernalia is a fascinating little book of all of the magical everyday items of our lives.  As an English professor, Steven Connor explores not only what makes everyday items special to us, but where the words came from and how the many words are related.  It sometimes felt too detailed, and I tended to skim through certain parts of the chapters, but it was worth reading for little snippets that opened my eyes to the world around me.

Connor is a skilled writer, and I found myself amazed at how he explained the emotional connection we share with objects that I had never paid conscious attention to.  I still find myself thinking about the chapter on batteries, and how he perfectly described the emotional difficulty I have throwing away old, useless batteries, that I could never have put into words.

Reading it as part of the Bout of Book read-a-thon overwhelmed me a little.  It’s not a book that needs to be read beginning to end. It would be the perfect book to have lying around, and to pick up and read a random chapter.


the hunt coverTitle: The Hunt
Series: The Hunt #1
Author: Andrew Fukuda
Genre: YA, science fiction, paranormal, dystopia
Rating: 3 stars
Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

The Hunt grabbed my attention instantly.  It’s based on an interesting premise: humans, called ‘hepers’, are an almost extinct species, and those remaining hide in plain site of the normal ‘people’ – a vampire-like species (the word vampire is not used once in the novel) who cannot control their bloodlust for heper flesh and would devour any heper they sniffed out within seconds.

What could potentially become a laughable vampires-as-people concept was handled well – it seemed odd at times, but to me was never so unbelievable that it became implausible. What did become implausible was how it was possible for the main character, Gene, to hide among these creatures and suppress his most basic of human instincts like tears, laughter, sweat and shivers.  The world was also a little difficult for me to grasp.  It lacked the overwhelming info-dump of some novels, but could have done with a little more explanation.  Some details could go a few chapters before I really understood what they meant.

Before I had reached the end of the book, I made the decision to not read on in the series.  There was nothing I actively disliked about the book, the writing simply lacked subtle refinement that would have improved the story’s credibility and clarity.  Towards the end the action and pace picked up but then the book just ended.  This book does not have a resolution. Not even a lull in the action. It’s clear the next book will pick up exactly where this one finished.  So I’ll continue reading, but if the second book doesn’t improve I probably won’t read on further.

This book has been included in many underrated book lists, and although I didn’t greatly enjoy the story, it’s definitely still worth a read.  It’s a unique concept, and unlike longer dystopian stories it doesn’t centre around changing the world. It’s a story of survival and instinct and what it really means to be human in a world that isn’t.

An extra note: The Hunt paperback is only $4 at Amazon! Bargain!


I read these books as part of the Bout of Books read-a-thon. Reviews for the two other books I read will be published next Wednesday. 

What books have you read this week? Let me know what you thought in the comments or leave me a link to your own reviews!