Anita's Haven

books, thoughts, stories, poetry, interviews, writing

Reviews anywhere

Finally caught some time to check out my #goodreads #author page. Pleasantly surprised by some reviews. Seeing as I am not one to check my reviews all the time, I had not ‘liked’ them before (naughty author, naughty;), as I was not aware of some of them at all. My favourite unexpected reviews are for The Threshold and Winky’s Colours. 
Please know that reviews help authors a lot, guiding them on their path of improving their craft, finding their target audience, but also as proof to other readers that books are being read and what may be good in each. I am truly grateful to anyone who leaves at least a line or two.

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REJECTED WRITERS TAKE THE STAGE by Suzanne Kelman – my review

When a book starts off with this chapter title – FROZEN YETIS & SCOTCH TAPE SHENANIGANS, you know you are in for a fun(ny) ride. If you have had the chance to read the first book in the Southlea Bay Series, The Rejected Writers’ Book Club, and liked it as I did, then you are looking forward to each of these chapter titles, each of the darling characters and their quirky mishaps and strong friendship. If you enjoyed Suzanne Kelman’  witty writing, you will have high expectations. 

And the author sure delivers. Yet again. Her charming tale of a group of average (ha-ha) small-town ladies, an unlikely bunch but a band of bonded pals nonetheless, joins to save a member of their Rejected Writers’ Book Club from financial ruin and losing her family farm estate (turned into a dog shelter). Do they simply pitch in with money? No. They are average people with average incomes. Do they go begging online? No. They are average (some even elderly) ladies on a remote island with an age-appropriate reluctance for social media. They set up a charity musical. Can they dance, sing or direct? No, but why should that stop them, especially with their town matron Doris pushing and pulling them all? Enough spoilers from me – let me just say the story will have it all – from feathery boas and a run-down theatre to a love triangle, catastrophe and (re)birth. And fear not, the author skillfully introduces a few segments which can help you follow even if you have missed the pleasure of reading the first part.

What I love most about the series are the characters – a cast of everyday people we all know and love, or love to hate, and I am happy to find some new ones in this book, a very welcome addition to the Southlea Bay family. I admit I would have slapped Marcy, the vixen, on several occasions, and yet she did make a certain process possible eventually. (Come to think of it, I could have even knocked some senses into Dan a few times, but yes, we all know such naive men, too.) Doris is the sort of lady we all get annoyed by, but when trouble comes knocking, you always want them on your side, Lottie and Lavinia are unique in their duality, Janet is the not-always-loud voice of reason, Martin is phenomenal and so on. Gladys is my absolute favourite although she’d (only) be getting supporting role award if it came to filming this. (What’s the hold-up, by the way?)

There is friendship and kindness in this book which is so rarely found these days; and that good feeling is what you are left with after you read it. The laughs, the giggles and chuckles, too. It reminded me in spirit to The Darling Buds of May, one of my favourite TV comedy series. So there – if you want to feel like that, read it. You may just hug your family more, call your friends again. Or simply tickle someone, just for laughs. Well done, Suzanne Kelman! Comedy with heart is not easy to do. We should all laugh more often. Thank you.

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The Assassin Who Couldn’t Dance by Glen Barrera – my review

Can you resist the title – The Assassin Who Couldn’t Dance? I couldn’t, which is why I added the book to my TBR pile even before I had the time to read it. My only regret now is not having read it sooner. Let me try to be brief so you can go and get this thriller and enjoy it the way I have.

Hector is a young, well-trained assassin with a shady past and partial lack of ordinary social skills who encounters an unlikely group of ex-military pals and their families, only to find himself questioning his own mission. Not only will the author sail you successfully through the numerous plots and subplots, twists and turns, concerning the good old money scams of enormous proportions, where any means is supposed to justify the end, but he will make you care about the characters, just as he makes Hector care. I hated my own eyes when they got tired of reading and having to go to work in the midst of the action scenes, and I am still trying to decide on my favourite character (Morgan and Lucy take the lead, but only by an inch). 

This thriller has it all – all shades of good and bad, tough and likeble heroes (both female and male), a rich variety of gruesome villains, cliffhanger moments, actions with guns blazing and foreheads sweating (great writing overall), intelligent romance where you hope for it, skillfully crafted dialogues… And one thing I truly admire – attention to detail in the midst of chaos. Lana’s lipstick on the glass Parks uses, Annie’s Christmas decorations… The author has a way with words that suits me just like when you find good rock tunes which fit your taste. I am not one to hang on first lines, but this one had me reading well past my bedtime…

“Nazar ran his tongue over cracked lips as he considered, for intellectual exercise, the varied forms of torture yet to be discovered.”

Movie-like and better, with all the suspenseful feel of a movie and the great quality of the written word, this is a treat for any thriller fan with a taste for intense, intelligent action mysteries. Looking forward to more.

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LEFT OUT by Jean Gill – my review

Have you heard about the Looking for Normal books? They might be just the thing for your teenage and YA children and students, and hey,why not – even for you! Especially if you are dealing with such kids/adults:).

Another one of Jean Gill’s brilliant stories! The best thing a book can do is pull you in and make you think and feel, and this one does just that. No matter whether you are an adult or a teenager, this is definitely a story you should let into your library. Every educator and parent should read it, and so should teenagers (although we might try telling them they shouldn’t, just to increase the chances of it actually being enticing to them). 

The story touches on numerous important issues about growing up, without preaching, judging, laying blame or displaying any prejudice. Introducing the theme of prejudice through the seemingly simple problems of a left-hander in the right-handed world lures us into seeing our world as it is – filled with prejudice all around. We realize how many times all of us show it, unaware, yet effectively hurting each other. The witty and humorous parts of the story and the wonderful characters will feed your soul, and basically inspire you to be a better person, not a mere conformist. A special treasure are the various kinds of parents in the story – they made me angry and smile at the same time, as I recognized myself in their attempts at doing what’s best for their kids and loved them for it. Jamie and Ryan will, no doubt, resonate with teenagers – there is so much to relate to with those bright kids growing into great people.

The author shows admirable understanding of the teenage mind, led primarily by their emotional world, as they try to tug themselves out into reasonable adulthood. She displays the depth of their conviction, which sometimes may be misguided, but is deeply felt nonetheless, and we should therefore respect it in all its seriousness. For instance, when the main character Jamie observes her mother and never wants to be like her – we’ve all been there, right? Or when Ryan (mis)judges his mother’s intentions – that scene made me rethink my own relationship with my son. Reading about Kelly’s misplaced trust and about Ryan’s new school, opened my eyes to the fact that it is no wonder how many teenagers enjoy gaming and fantasy so much – it is easier to bear than their own reality. But life has its twists and turns, and when we try to do better, we can, as Jean Gill proves. The story is permeated with author’s expressive style gems, such as comparing Jamie’s family to a bus terminal, informative texts about left-handers (with charming comments by the main characters) and the realistic family conversations.

As a parent and a teacher, I felt this book in my gut. It hits so close to home on more levels than I can count. I felt for all those kids, all those teachers and parents trying, failing and succeeding at doing the best they can. It is amazing to see how similar parenthood is all around the world, how many things can go wrong, how many times misunderstandings stem from brief, implied (mis)communication instead of good old-fashioned listening. This may well be the best writing by Jean Gill I’ve read yet, and I am so happy to know there are so many books I still haven’t read by this author. 

Left Out on Amazon 

PS: You can never have enough of a good thing. Not only was I fortunate enough to read Left Out (and enjoy its remakewith this great new cover), but there is also a sequel – Fortune Kookie  coming out. It is the second part of the Looking for Normal trilogy. Quality reading for me and my YA learners!

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Congrats to Yield

Congratulations to Beverly Tiernan​ on the wonderful reviews she is getting for this beautiful, moving story! So proud of you! It was an honour to be one of the first people to have read it.

Yield on Amazon

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15 SECONDS TO WORLD PEACE by Barbara Harrison – my review

A cynic would grin and pass 15 Seconds to World Peace, or even pick it up just to be able to dispute its facts. But I don’t want to be a cynic; I want the apparent dream in the title to be real(ized), so I decided to read it.

The author tries to explain a simple method of turning positive thinking into a normal daily routine, much like sipping your morning coffee or waiting for the traffic light to change. She honestly believes that once we do our tiny 15-second part, we are changing the world. Let me admit the strength of my conviction is nowhere near the author’s. It would be hypocrisy to claim the opposite. But I am hoping to get there, because I know, from my own life experience, that positivity and kindness will breed more positivity and kindness. Perhaps not every time, but certainly more often than negativity, which never ever produces positive results (unless you are strong enough to embrace it as a learning experience). My only regret is not hearing the author actually speak these words. She provides examples, quotes and testimonials from people she has met through her life, and that is all commendable for a self-help guide such as this, but the power and depth of the author’s convictions come out strongest when she speaks from her own heart, in her own voice – you can almost hear it in your head.

So I do encourage you to give this book a go. If it creates even a spark of hope in you, it has already made an impact. And I am always up for embracing kindness and inspiring motivation. Changing the world 15 seconds at a time? Why not try?! Change for the better has been overdue for far too long.

(This review is written for the Readers Review Room.  According to its ranking level, I am happy to award it a blue bookworm.)

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Poetry Reviews are miracles♡

Verses Versus – Feel by Anita Kovacevic –

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SOREN by D. M. Cain – my review

Soren is a children’s fantasy book for the preteen and teen generation, although I have to admit I read it in two sittings. Being a fan of fantasy myself, and working with students of all ages, I know this book will appeal to many. 

The characters are well-set, my favourites being Dash and Callista, and there are plenty of magical events and creatures to satisfy a teen fantasy fan (even some honouring the author’s commendable writing influences, I dare say). The descriptions are clearly laid out but not burdening the story, the suspense really written with feeling, rhythm and even a tease; ending chapters on a cliffhanger gets you moving immediately to “just one more chapter”. Having also read this author’s Phoenix Project, it is obvious that D. M. Cain has a natural knack of vividly describing action scenes, especially hand-to-hand duels. The language is excellent, not over-simplified for children but just enough of a challenge.
My favourite part of the book (except for Dash:) is how the author depicts the (royal) family – with past trauma behind them, and the fears of the oncoming prophecy, they are still that imperfectly perfect family of different kids, a moody dad and a slightly controlling mother.

I am glad the story has many possibilities for a sequel, as it is obvious Soren will soon have his followers, the rebel with a (special) heart that he is.

This review will also appear on Readers Review Room with a gold bookworm. 
Amazon link

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GUMMSHOES: MISSION 1 by Erica Gore – my review

Erica Gore has certainly become one of my favourite preteen writers. Having read some of her Taya Bayliss books, I was interested in the new Gummshoe series and it certainly does not disappoint.

This will be a review lacking favourite bits and quotes, as Gummshoes is a detective story and spoilers are the last thing I’d want to give you. But have no doubt – kids will love reading this short, intense mystery tale with a positive message. Erica Gore has once again managed to write a clean and fun read, incorporating bullying, family issues, sports and geeks, teenage crush and proper friendship into one. The characters are easy to picture (Olly is my favourite for now) and relate to (Frankie in the library reminds me of some children). Although the language is not too complicated (in fact, perfectly balanced for this age group), the author never underestimates the readers, providing them with dialogue, descriptions, sounds, smells and feelings which will draw them into the story just as effectively as in the Taya Bayliss series (if not better:). 

The Perfect Plan in the end brought a huge smile on my face, as a mother and a teacher, and I will definitely be recommending this teen detective story to my friends and students.

This review will also appear on the Readers Review Room, awarding the story a gold bookworm.

This book on Amazon

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LIVING THE WRITE LIFE by Traci M. Sanders – my review

Talk about coming across that perfect book at exactly the moment you need it! I started it yesterday and finished this morning. I had been following this author’s blog segments on writing before this book was published, and eagerly awaited to see how the entire book would turn out. It makes me so content to see it is even better than I could have hoped. Not only is non-fiction difficult to write in an interesting and palatable way, but it is almost impossible to preserve a friendly, personal voice which is easily readable, non-preachy and thoroughly appealing.

Whether you are already a writer or hoping to be one, or simply a person with dreams trying to set definite goals into motion, this book will give you inspiration, motivation and even lists of practical, applicable advice on how to turn dreams into doable plans. Aspiring writers should definitely check it out! The format is clearly laid out, so you can easily go back to the tips you liked or need to ‘revise’, but what appealed to me was the personal touch throughout. I recognized myself in plenty of situations, tackling family, work and author aspirations. I have learned some things while reading, some have been put into the right perspective and with some, realizing that I am not the only one battling such creativity-driven ‘symptoms’ and side effects was assistance enough.

The author offers lots of advice, supported by quotes, experience and research, but her goal is not to preach or criticise, but clarify, compartmentalize and encourage. We all need pep talks once in a while, and this certainly is one. Some may expect more numbers and data, but for me, there is just enough ‘maths’ here to support my art. Learning to differentiate critique from criticism, and turning dreams into plans is certainly something all of us could benefit from, regardless of our age, profession and origin. Congratulations to the author. 

Amazon link

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