Tuesday 30 July 2013

Top Ten Opening Lines

1. "Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show. To begin my life with the beginning of my life, I record that I was born (as I have been informed and believe) on a Friday, at twelve o'clock at night." - David Copperfield by Charles Dickens. 

2. "The unicorn lived in a lilac wood, and she lived all alone... she was no longer the careless colour of sea foam, but rather the colour of snow falling on a moonlit night." - The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle.

3. "My father took one hundred and thirty-two minutes to die. I counted. It happened on the Jellicoe Road." - On the Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta.

4. "First the colours. Then the humans. That’s how I usually see things. Or at least, how I try. ***Here is a small fact*** You are going to die." - The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.

5. "Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again." - Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier.

6. "It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen." - 1984 by George Orwell.

7. "All children, except one, grow up." - Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie.

8. "Marley was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that... Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail. Mind! I don't mean to say that I know, of my own knowledge, what there is particularly dead about a door-nail. I might have been inclined, myself, to regard a coffin-nail as the deadest piece of ironmongery in the trade. But the wisdom of our ancestors is in the simile; and my unhallowed hands shall not disturb it, or the Country's done for. You will therefore permit me to repeat, emphatically, that Marley was as dead as a door-nail." - A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.

9. "This is my favourite book in all the world, though I have never read it." The Princess Bride by William Goldman.

10. "Jasper Jones has come to my window. I don't know why, but he has." - Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey.

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

What every woman should know about ovarian cancer

You may have noticed I haven't been around much in the past week. I haven't really felt like blogging. Or reading. Or much of anything. You see, my former boss, Sarah McCarthy, who gave me my big break and changed my life, passed away from ovarian cancer last week. Even though she's been sick for a couple of years, it still came as a shock. She was always so positive and selfless. She was a beautiful person, inside and out, and it's devastating to think that she won't be in the world anymore.

Ovarian cancer is a freaking scary disease. According to the Ovarian Cancer Research Foundation, early diagnosis is really important, but because the symptoms aren't always obvious, most women aren't diagnosed until they're already in an advanced stage of the disease. There is no screening test - which means, contrary to what many believe, it is not detected in your pap smear (that would be cervical cancer). Only about 30 per cent of women whose ovarian cancer is diagnosed in an advanced stage (sadly, the majority) will survive for more than five years. 

I remember reading these statistics in the office, when Sah told us about her diagnosis. We were terrified for her. Less than five years? Impossible, I thought. That can't happen. It can't be right. Not to Sah. 

Less than three years later, here we are.

The thing I will always remember about Sah is her strength. She was amazingly positive and fierce. She didn't like to focus on the disease, but instead on living life. She was an inspiration to me and so many others in so many ways. She was bright and bubbly and intelligent and funny and incredibly, incredibly brave. She was also passionate about advocating for ovarian cancer research and awareness. She wrote about her journey on her blog, See How I Run, and it's an amazing read.

I wasn't sure about writing this post, because it's not exactly related to the rest of my blog. But I not only want to honour Sah, I also want all the beautiful ladies I know - and don't know - to be aware of ovarian cancer and its symptoms. The Ovarian Cancer Research Foundation explains that symptoms include: 

  • Vague abdominal pain or pressure
  • Feeling of abdominal fullness, gas, nausea, or indigestion different to your normal sensations.
  • Sudden abdominal swelling, weight gain or bloating
  • Persistent changes in bowel or bladder patterns
  •  Lower backache or cramps
  • Abnormal vaginal bleeding
  • Pain during intercourse
  • Unexplained weight loss

As you can see, the symptoms are pretty vague and can be explained away by so many things. But it's good to be aware of them so that if you do experience any, you can get it checked out by a doctor. Chances are it won't be ovarian cancer - but it's worth being sure.

If you're interested in donating to the Ovarian Cancer Research Foundation, here is how you can do so.

Rest in peace, Sah. 

Wednesday 17 July 2013

Bookish Buys: Pretty Prints by Mei Lee

Bookish Buys are back! I haven't done one of these posts in awhile because, well, I don't know if you've noticed but I haven't been blogging much. Life and stuff, you know. But I'm getting into the swing of things once again which is very exciting (for me, at least), and I have some gorgeous products to share from Mei Lee a.k.a. Rocketrictic a.k.a. This Journal is Really Heartfelt. She does some really beautiful watercolour designs featuring quotes from the likes of F. Scott Fitzgerald, John Green, Neil Gaiman and The Lizzie Bennet Diaries. Here are some of my faves...

LBD tee

LBD tote

LBD case

Woolf card

Kafka card

Fitzgerald print

Angelou print

Niequist print

Gaiman tote

Green tote

Green skin

Green card

Bukowski print

Green cushion

Green tote

Green case

Monday 15 July 2013

Review: The First Third by Will Kostakis

Mollin' manicure for my readalong with Eleanor, Mandee, Mel and Melanie.

When I was little - I think about seven or eight - I spent my pocket money on a key ring with a little book attached, for a Mother's Day gift for my mum. On the front was a picture of a mumma cat with her two kittens. Inside, I wrote a story about a mum who got angry with her two kids and then felt bad about it. I was totally creative (or so I thought) and gave my characters names that were one or two letters off my own family's. I proudly showed my gran - my mum's mum.

"Why did you change the names?" she exclaimed. "It's bleedin' obvious it's you."

I was a teensy bit crushed. But she was right. It was bleedin' obvious it was us.

Which is pretty much how I feel about The First Third.

Will (short for William) Kostakis is a Sydneysider with Greek heritage. He grew up with his mum and two brothers (according to the acknowledgements of The First Third - which also suggest his mum is looking for love). As he mentioned at the Penguin Teen Live (PTL) event I attended a few weeks ago, he has an absent father, which contributed to making him incredibly close to his grandparents - his yiayia in particular. Judging by the story he told at PTL that inspired The First Third, he finds his grandmother's poor English skills and attempts to interact with unsuspecting retail workers hilarious. He also has a gay best friend with cerebral palsy. People confuse him with another Greek Australian writer, Christos Tsiolkas.

Bill (presumably William) Tsiolkas is a Sydneysider of Greek heritage. He grew up with his mum and two brothers. His mum is looking for love. He has an absent father, and has grown up incredibly close to his grandparents - his yiayia in particular. He finds his grandmother's poor English skills and attempts to interact with unsuspecting retail workers hilarious. He has a gay best friend with cerebral palsy. His surname is Tsiolkas.

I know they say to write what you know, but this just seems a bit much to me. I felt uncomfortable reading this with the knowledge that it was so heavily autobiographical. Like the author was somehow taking advantage of the people in his life. Now, they might not feel that way at all, but it's just the impression I was left with.

This was especially troublesome in regards to the treatment of his mother and grandmother. They were frequently the butt of  WBill's jokes - with his mother's looks in particular subject to demeaning remarks, such as she looked like a "reanimated corpse" after a night at the hospital, or that in her underwear "her body frowned". I don't think the writer intended to be sexist - in fact, there's a nice speech in there on feminism by Sticks, the main character's best friend. But it oddly came in response to another character's mention of "dropping" a girl. Apparently, that's misogynistic. Now, unless there's some history to being "dropped" that I'm not aware of, it's really not sexist. It's slang for breaking up with someone and can be (and is) applied to both sexes. It's not a gendered term. Repeatedly disparaging the female body, however? Pretty damn offensive. So while it was nice to see an explicit, positive discussion of feminism in a Young Adult book, this was seriously undermined by the problematic undercurrent of much of the novel's humour.

On the subject of humour, a lot of it was just plain unfunny. Early on in the book, Bill and Sticks head to Melbourne, and Sticks comments about the city, "I get the feeling that it's trying too hard to make me love it." I couldn't have said it better myself. The comedy in this book felt forced in many places, like the author was trying way too hard.

Kostakis was actually at his best when he forgot about attempting to be funny and just let his story flow. At its heart, this is a touching tale that centres around something I think pretty much everyone can relate to - the fear of losing loved ones. I know it got me all weepy just thinking about it. The importance of family, and the unbearable idea that they might not be around forever, is an admirable theme and was one of my favourite parts of The First Third.

I also loved that Kostakis featured multiple gay characters and a character with a disability and treated them with respect. There was no tokenism and they weren't just there for added drama. They were well-rounded and important parts of the story. If only I could say the same for the treatment of the female characters.

The First Third is a good book, but for me it was not great. The potential was there, and if certain parts of the novel were stripped back - especially the forced humour - it could have lived up to it and been amazing. As it is, I'll be interested to see what Kostakis does next.

Rating: 3/5

Fine Print
Published: July 2013, Penguin
Source: I received a review copy from the publishers.
Get It: Bookworld

Review: Red Dust Road by Jackie Kay (Audiobook)

Before attending the Sydney Writers' Festival earlier this year, I had never head of Scottish poet and author Jackie Kay. But I had time between the events I had planned on going to and decided to go along to her Q&A session, because I was interested in the subject matter of how the imagination helps us to cope in distressing situations. The session began with her reading from her new collection of short stories, Reality, Reality. I was immediately blown away by the story itself and her delivery of it. There was so much heart and humour in both. After the reading, Kay answered questions from both the facilitator and the audience. I came away in awe of not just her talent but her spirit - she radiated joy, compassion and wisdom. This was especially the case when discussing her memoir, Red Dust Road, the story of her search for her birth parents. I came away desperately wanting to read it - as did everyone else, apparently, because by the time I got to the bookshop downstairs it had sold out! I bought Trumpet instead with the intention to get Red Dust Road down the track, if I actually enjoyed Kay's writing as much as I enjoyed listening to her talk.

Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago and Audible.com ran a free trial that allowed the download of one audiobook. Remembering that Jackie Kay narrated the audiobook of Red Dust Road herself, I was eager to check it out. I didn't even finish listening to the sample before I downloaded it. I had to stop myself from listening to the whole thing immediately, because I had committed to reading nothing but Netgalley this month. But a couple of nights later I found myself lying awake at 2am and decided to try listening to Red Dust Road to switch my mind off. An hour later I realised my sleep strategy hadn't worked, because I was too engaged with the story and actually wanted to stay awake to keep listening!

This was my first audiobook and I think it was a great place to start. I found it hard to put down. It was such a delight. Kay's narration is wonderful - engaging, dramatic, humorous and all the more meaningful because this is her story. She relates anecdotes as if she's talking to a friend, and it's incredibly touching. The language she uses is evocative and lovely. In fact, that was one downside of an audiobook - there were several quotes I would have underlined and reread repeatedly if I had a physical copy in front of me. It was just such gorgeous writing.

Another small downside of the audiobook, although perhaps it would have felt this way with a physical book, was that it was hard at times to keep track of when events were happening. It's told in a non-linear way, jumping back and forth between decades, and so it was a little bit confusing in places. On the plus side, this did enhance the conversational nature of the book, with scenes flowing naturally and not necessarily chronologically, just as they do when you hear anecdotes from someone in real life.

As for the story itself, I found Kay's search for her birth parents, and her mixed feelings about it, to be quite fascinating. The way she describes her Nigerian birth father in particular is colourful and quite hilarious. His treatment of her - and to an extent, her birth mother's reaction to her - are obviously and understandably sources of some pain. But she is able to find humour, joy and even beauty in every situation. It reinforced my impression that she's a remarkable woman.

And no wonder. Her parents - the Scottish couple who adopted her - are clearly remarkable people, too. I loved that a big part of the book is dedicated to them and their love for Kay - and hers for them. She seems to have inherited her delightful humour from them, with many of their interactions making me laugh out loud, but there were also times when I felt myself getting all misty-eyed due to the things they said or did. One instance that sticks out is when Kay's mother, upon hearing that someone told the young Jackie to be thankful she was adopted by her parents, insisted, "No, Jackie, don't ever let anyone tell you that you should be grateful. It is WE who are grateful."

Red Dust Road is a beautiful tale of family and what makes us who we are. It is about belonging and love and grief and identity. It is about an extraordinary woman from an extraordinary family, full of warmth and humour and love. It is not only one of my favourite books of the year - it's probably up there with my favourite of all time.

Rating: 5/5

Here is a clip of Kay reading from Red Dust Road, telling the story of her religious, Nigerian birth father quizzing her on her sex life.

Fine Print  
Published: 2011, Whole Story Audiobooks
Get It: Audible

Sunday 14 July 2013

Review: Song in the Dark by Christine Howe

This book was just not for me. It wasn't bad. In fact, it was rather well-written. But for some reason I just couldn't connect with it. Which really surprised me because it's set in my hometown of Wollongong - a rare experience and something that I was very excited about. But even though the setting was familiar, I felt distant from the narrative and I can't quite put my finger on why.

Song in the Dark is the story of Paul, a young drug addict who does something terrible in his quest for drug money. His grandmother, Hetty, is left to reflect on her broken relationship with her grandson - when she had done nothing but love and support him. Paul is wracked with guilt at hurting the one person who has always been there for him, and his path to redemption is an interesting one.

Song in the Dark obviously deals with some very heavy issues. But it does so with respect and realism. Paul does some very bad things yet you can't help but feel for him. It's a sympathetic portrayal of addiction - something that not everyone views with sympathy. And your heart just breaks for Hetty. The sense of betrayal is gut-wrenching, and yet she still loves and hopes.

I did experience many emotions while I was reading Song in the Dark, and yet, as I've mentioned, it didn't particularly get under my skin. Perhaps it was the bleak nature. The frustration at everything going wrong. The briefness of it all. The third person perspective. I think the inconclusive ending certainly didn't help. I wanted more closure, but was just left confused. I think the writer intended it to be powerful and symbolic, but I was left wanting more.

Song in the Dark would probably be a powerful experience for many readers. It unfortunately just didn't quite hit the mark for me.

Rating: 3/5

Spoilery Talking Point
  • OK, can someone who has read the book please tell me what they thought of the ending? I can't decide. I really hope Paul and Hetty managed to reconnect and she was just dreaming, and not dead. 

Fine Print
Published: February 2013, Penguin
Source: Netgalley
Get It: Bookworld

Review: Marilyn: Norma Jeane by Gloria Steinem

Like so many others, I am fascinated by Marilyn Monroe. She was a gorgeous, iconic, complex and ultimately tragic woman. I think it's the mystery of Marilyn, the enigma of her life, that makes her legend so enduring. Sure, the many photographs of her that are part of the fabric of our pop culture are absolutely stunning, but I think it's about more than the pretty face and gorgeous body. It's the soul that reaches out of her eyes - the sadness, hope, confidence, insecurity, intelligence, fear, innocence, loneliness, sensuality - the myriad facets of Marilyn that continues to touch our hearts and get under our skin.

I've seen a few documentaries and trashy TV movies about Marilyn's life, but this was my first biography. I think it was a good place to start to get a taste of the truth. It's short and covers each aspect of her life only briefly, but the key information is there and, more importantly, a sympathetic and authentic portrait of Marilyn herself. Steinem focuses on a different theme in each chapter - childhood, body image, career, marriage, and so on - and by looking at such aspects of Marilyn separately, you get a more comprehensive understanding of the whole woman.

Drawing heavily on Marilyn's own writing and interviews, Steinem attempts to get at the heart of the star. What emerges is an overarching picture of a woman of many contradictions. She was incredibly beautiful but incredibly insecure. She was seen as a sex goddess but didn't particularly enjoy sex herself. She was very intelligent but consistently cast as the dumb blonde, both on screen and off. She wanted to be taken seriously as an actress but was forced into silly roles in dubious comedies again and again. She was an independent career woman whilst remaining chronically needy of men. She desperately wanted to be loved but had no relationships that lasted. She had fans all over the world but was unbearably lonely. She was terrified of the mental illness that took her mother and grandmother, but spent most days self-medicating with alcohol and assorted drugs. She had fraught relationships with women and often felt judged by them, but was also at her most comfortable around other women and had some strong female friendships. She loved children and yearned to be a mother, but for one reason or another, she had multiple abortions. She was childlike and innocent but also very sexy and sensual. She was Norma Jeane and she was Marilyn.

Ultimately, Marilyn's tale is an impossibly sad one. Steinem handles it with intelligence, respect and a sense of poignancy. Through her words, you get a sense of not only the Marilyn that was but the Marilyn that could have been. In many ways she was ahead of her time, and had she been born 50 years later, her tale might have ended very differently. But then, without Marilyn, the world might be a very different place.

Rating: 4/5

Fine Print
Published: March 2013, Open Road (first published 1986)
Source: Netgalley
Get It: Amazon

Tuesday 9 July 2013

Top Ten Movie Adaptations

1. Jane Eyre (2011), based on Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. It packs a lot into its limited running time, and manages to capture the emotions and feel of Bronte's classic beautifully. Plus Michael Fassbender.

2. The Princess Bride (1987), based on The Princess Bride by William Goldman. It's so faithful to the book and just plain awesome.

3. The Notebook (2004), based on The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks. One of those rare movie adaptations that's actually better than the book. Much, much better.

4. Never Let Me Go (2010), based on Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. Gorgeous, heartbreaking movie to fit a gorgeous, heartbreaking book.

5. To Kill a Mockingbird (1962), based on To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. The acting is a highlight of this classic adaptation.

6. The Secret Garden (1993), based on The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. It may not always be faithful to the letter but it is very faithful to the spirit of the book, filled with the same whimsy and magic that's present in the original.

7. The Last Unicorn (1982), based on The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle. Sure, the animation isn't exactly high-tech, but it does manage to convey a lot of the same beautiful imagery that's in Beagle's book. Such a strange, kinda creepy but magical tale.

8. Clueless (1995), based on Emma by Jane Austen. It says a lot about both the movie and the novel that studying them in high school didn't forever sap my enjoyment of them. On a superficial level Clueless doesn't have a lot in common with Emma, but below the surface they are clearly kindred spirits.

9. The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992), based on A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. It's just not Christmas without this book or movie. And Gonzo as Dickens? Pure genius.

10. Little Women (1994), based on Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. A gorgeous movie that hits all the right emotional notes. Which means a few laughs and a helluva lot of tears.

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

Monday 8 July 2013

Review: All This Could End by Steph Bowe

All This Could End is told from the third person perspective of two teenagers, Nina and Spencer, whose budding romance is cut short when Nina has to move away. Because her family are secretly bank robbers on the run. Yeah, not your average YA love story, that’s for sure!

I have to admit, I had a bit of trouble getting into All This Could End to start with. It wasn’t that I didn’t like it, I just didn’t particularly connect with it. I found once I put it down I wasn’t really compelled to pick it up again ASAP. So I read the first 50 or so pages and then a week went by when I didn’t even touch it. I was a bit frustrated by this, and was considering putting it aside to come back to at a later point, but decided to read another chapter first to see if it would grab me.

Boy, did it grab me. A couple of hours later I found myself more than half way through the book and realised I was sticking with it after all. So I decided to read one more chapter before bed. The next thing I knew, it was 1am and I had finished. After the initial speed bump it was a page-turner for me, and I loved it.

I think what finally drew me in was when Spencer and Nina met and spent one intense night together, talking and laughing and adventuring. It reminded me of all-in-one-night stories like Graffiti Moon, which I adore, and there was a real sense of connection between the characters. After that, I was interested in the development of their relationship and how the events would lead up to Nina holding a gun to Spencer’s head (that’s not a spoiler, BTW, it’s the start of the book, with the rest told in flashback).

But while I really liked Nina and Spencer’s chemistry, I have to say I agree with my Goodreads friend Eleanor in that I wished there had been more “on-screen” time between the two. A great deal of the book is actually focused on their disastrous family lives, and although I definitely appreciated that aspect, and liked that the story wasn’t all-romance-all-the-time, I think it did come at the cost of the development of their relationship. It’s never even really clear whether they are in a relationship or are just friends who have kissed at least once. I liked what was there, I just wanted more.

That said, I did really like the exploration of family dynamics. They were tense and heartbreaking and beautifully rendered. I especially loved the sibling relationships that both Nina and Spencer had. Although I do kinda wish at least one character in the novel had a decent mother. I wanted to throttle both Nina and Spencer’s mums. Especially Nina’s. But I didn't mind too much - because while she was truly awful as a mother, she was fascinating as a character.

Overall, All This Could End is a unique, refreshing Aussie YA with a great plot, interesting, flawed characters and some lovely – and not-so-lovely – relationships. I can’t wait to see what Steph Bowe does next.

Rating: 4/5

Fine Print
Published: 2013, Text Publishing
Get It:  Bookworld

Friday 5 July 2013

Friday Link Dump: Zombies, Captain Planet and Pugs

-10 books every zombie fan should read, apparently. (Lit Reactor)

-How reading makes us more human. (The Atlantic)

-What everyone needs to know about YA. (Book Riot)

-I want these Parks and Recreation versions of children's books to be a real thing. Now. (Flavorwire)

-Having trouble remembering the last book in a series and can't be bothered to reread? Recaptains to the rescue! (Blogspot)

-This insight into an old-school sex manual made me giggle like a 12-year-old in sex ed. (Jezebel)

-BuzzFeed compiled the upcoming book adaptations - so much YA! (BuzzFeed)

-These behind-the-scenes movie photos are kinda mind-blowing. (Imgur)

-The Oatmeal explores the similarities between the World War Z movie and book. (The Oatmeal)

-Some options for Google Reader replacements. Still don't know which way I'm going to go. Eek! (GigaOM)

-By your powers combined... Captain Planet is going to be a movie! (Junkee)

-This comic series takes a look at what websites would look like as people. Fun! (Tumblr)

-Hollywood is notorious for casting pretty old (and by "old" I mean my age) people to play teens. Here is what they looked like when they were actually teens, contrasted with the teens they're playing. (Tumblr)

-I am way too excited about watching G.B.F. (YouTube)

-And way too entertained by Exploding Actresses. (Tumblr)

-This is what it might have looked like if John Lennon had auditioned for The Voice. (YouTube)

-Poncho the Pug is my new favourite internet animal. (BuzzFeed)

-Toy Stories is a photo series by Gabriele Galimberti that explores the toy collections of children around the world. It's incredibly moving and fascinating. (Gabriele Galimberti)

-Australian politics have been a bit cray lately. At least it provided great meme fodder. (Pedestrian)

-Expectaions vs reality of the real world. Accurate post is accurate. (BuzzFeed)

-Suspect your friends on Instagram are faking their #nofilter photos? Now you can catch them out. (Filter Fakers)

-On a serious note, here is what you can do to influence companies to use ethical manufacturing. I find the idea that boycotting is not actually a good thing very interesting. (Junkee)

-Wendy Davis is my new hero. And I really want these nail decals. They're just so exxy. Sigh. (Etsy)

Tuesday 2 July 2013

Top Ten Most Intimidating Books

These are the books I want to read, mainly because I feel like I should, but man, they look like so long/hard/a helluva lot of effort...

1. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy. 

2. Crime and Punishment by Fyoder Dostoyevsky.

3. Moby Dick by Herman Melville.

4. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy.

5. Les Miserables by Victor Hugo.

6. Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes.  

7. Ulysses by James Joyce.

8. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas.

9. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand.

10. The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan.

Have you read any of these? Tell my which ones I should man up and read!

Monday 1 July 2013

July: The Month of Netgalley

I’m officially declaring July the Month of Netgalley here on Belle’s Bookshelf. I’ve got quite a few ebooks from Netgalley that have been left languishing on my Kindle for FAR too long (seriously, I’m a bit embarrassed by the list below) and I want to knock as many as I can off ASAP. The problem with a Kindle is the books don’t physically take up space. Of course this is awesome in many respects (mainly coz it means I can acquire more books and still have room to walk in my apartment), but it also means the ebooks can get kinda forgotten when I’ve got a physically bulging bookshelf to deal with. But now those IRL piles are going to be dismissed for at least this month, as I plan to read nothing but Netgalley books during July. I’m hoping to get through at least some of these:

-Life in Outer Space by Melissa Keil. This edition is published August 1 2013. Life in Outer Space has received amazing reviews by some of my Goodreads friends, so I’m really excited to read it.

-Outcast by Adrienne Kress. Published June 4 2013. The plot of this sounds bizarrely interesting - featuring aliens and/or angels and/or time travel.

-15 Days Without a Head by Dave Cousins. Published May 8 2013. A few of my blogging friends have really liked this book and I haven’t read much British YA so I’m looking forward to it.

-Lost Cat by Caroline Paul. Published April 9 2013. I’m not a big non-fiction (or, to be honest, cat) person, but the idea of tracking a pet and what it does when you’re not around is kinda fascinating.

-The House at the End of Hope Street by Menna van Praag. Published April 4 2013. It sounds like such a lovely, whimsical, bookish tale.

-White Lines by Jennifer Banash. Published April 4 2013. This sounds like an emotional read, which I’ve been kinda into lately. Plus the reviews are pretty good.

-Mind Your Mental Health by Kaz Cooke. Published March 27 2013. This ebook is based on chapters from Cooke’s larger book Women’s Stuff. I have a feeling it might be useful.

-Marilyn: Norma Jeane by Gloria Steinem. This edition published March 19 2013. I’m fascinated by Marilyn Monroe and while I’ve seen a lot of (mostly bad TV) movies and docos about her, I haven’t read a biography, so I’m keen for this one.

-Song in the Dark by Christine Howe. Published February 27 2013. This is set in my hometown, which is rare, so I HAVE to read it. Also it sounds great.

-Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell. Published February 26 2013. I’ve heard good things about Rowell’s writing, and this book sounds adorable. Plus it’s set in 1986, a.k.a. the best year ever (hello, it’s when I was born!).

As you can see, there are some long-overdue reads here! Sadly this is not everything I have TBR from Netgalley – but it’s what’s jumping out at the moment. Hopefully I can smash through as many as possible this month. P.S. Please tell me I’m not the only one who has a long Netgalley list? I think I need to stop requesting until I catch up!

Review: Between the Lives by Jessica Shirvington

I didn’t think I would like Between the Lives. I don’t know why. Maybe because the only other books Jessica Shirvington has written are a series about angels, which is SO not my thing. And even though the plot of THIS book – about a girl living two parallel lives – sounded interesting, I probably let the anti-angel thing colour my judgment a bit. I wasn’t even going to read Between the Lives. Then I saw some positive reviews from bloggers I trust, and I decided to give it a go.

I’m glad I did, because this was such a great read. That will teach me to be Judgey McJudgerson! Sure, it was a little bit telly-not-showy in places, but overall it was a compelling and unique story. While initially I was dubious about the world building, my judgments once again proved too quick and in the end everything was explained to my satisfaction. There were still some things left mysterious, but I thought that made sense considering the main character, Sabine, didn't fully understand everything herself. The reader doesn't know any more than she does – which is that for as long as she can remember, she’s been “switching” between two different lives. She hasn’t been able to tell anyone – until she meets Ethan.

Now, when Ethan first appeared, I still had my massive Judgey pants on and was ready to roll my eyes at what looked like just another clichéd YA romance. Once again, I was wrong. Ethan and Sabine's love story did not play out how I initially expected it to at all. While I still guessed what was going to happen before it did, I found I was really interested in where these characters were going. Their relationship was quite touching and actually really got under my skin. To the point where over a week later I still catch myself thinking about the two of them and their stories.

There was some really lovely moments in Between the Lives, but there was also some incredibly brutal and emotional scenes. Fair warning, there is some violence which is quite sickening. There’s a lot of heartache, too. Shirvington definitely doesn't shy away from heavy subjects. Ultimately, though, this story featuring a girl with two lives is quite life-affirming. It’s about how we make meaning in each day and what we do to make our lives count. Even if we only get to live one.

Rating: 4/5

My Fancast

Willa Holland as Sabine

A younger Jay Ryan as Ethan
Fine Print
Published: May 2013, HarperCollins.
Get It: Bookworld