Review: The Word Exchange by Alena Graedon

 

 

Title: The Word Exchange

Author: Alena Graedon

Published: Hachette Au April 2014

Status: Read from April 13 to 15, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/Netgalley}

My Thoughts:

“The end of words would mean the end of memory and thought. In other words, our past and future.”

In Alena Graedon’s alternate history literary thriller, The Word Exchange, the printed word has all but disappeared in less than four short years. Set in New York in 2016,Just weeks before the publication of the third and final printed North American Dictionary of the English Language(NADEL), its curator, Doug disappears leaving behind a cryptic message for his daughter, Anana. Concerned and confused, Anana, with the support of a colleague, Bart, begins to search for her father, and stumbles upon a shocking conspiracy that threatens to destroy the very foundation of civilisation – language.

The population in The Word Exchange depends on ‘super’smart personal devices, known as Memes, for almost every want and need and to perpetuate that reliance, the company, Synchronic, responsible for the devices has recognised and exploited the profitability in owning not only the means of communication, (ie the Memes) but also language itself through the Word Exchange. Synchronic does this by essentially forcing the development of a new language, but one without any rules or context, thus forcing users to consult (and pay) the Exchange in order to communicate. Only a handful of people, including Anana’s father, Doug, object, and predict disaster but it is too late when meme users begin to develop ‘Word Flu’, essentially aphasia (the loss and the comprehension and formulation of language) that leads to more serious individual and societal complications.

The Word Exchange is, in part, a cautionary tale about society’s increasing reliance on digital communication and information, and its possible impact on language when paired with corporate greed. If you are appalled when the Oxford Dictionary updates with words like ‘vacay’ and ‘phablet’ and insist on spelling every word in full when you send a text message, The Word Exchange will leave you feeling horrified, yet vindicated.

I think The Word Exchange is both an ambitious, complex, and clever novel and a frustrating, vexatious, and pretentious read. The concept, while not unique, is intriguing and creative but for me the execution was largely alienating. The pace is almost glacial til halfway through and littered with incomplete info dumps, Anana is a weak and annoying heroine who uses disruptive footnotes in her ‘journal’, and the prose is wildly overwritten, even allowing for intentional irony.
But for all that there are moments of brilliance in the narrative, like when, for example, we begin to understand and relate to Graedon’s premise as Bart’s aphasia progresses and made up words proliferate, stripping his journal writing of context and meaning.

I am, in all honesty, torn. The Word Exchange is simultaneously too much, and not enough, an intelligent story but somehow lacking in common sense. If you are curious, I do think it is worth the attempt, but I wouldn’t judge anyone who gives up on it.

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Review: The Tea Chest by Josephine Moon

 

Title: The Tea Chest

Author: Josephine Moon

Published: Allen & Unwin April 2014

Read an Extract

Status: Read from April 11 to 13, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

The future of the ‘The Tea Chest’, a boutique chain offering gourmet and custom tea blends, is in doubt after Simone Taylor’s sudden death. Judy, Simone’s step-sister and part owner, is desperate to sell but Kate Fullerton, who inherited Simone’s share of the business, is determined to follow through on her mentor’s vision and launch a new store in London. It’s a huge undertaking, a scary financial risk, and means leaving her husband and young sons behind in Australia for months, but if it succeeds, Kate’s wildest dreams could come true.

A charming debut novel from Josephine Moon, The Tea Chest is a story about self belief, friendship, love and tea.

As a tea designer, with no experience in running a business, Kate knows she needs help and during the process of readying the store recruits Leila Morton, and sisters Elizabeth Clancy and Victoria Plimsworth. All four women, have something to prove, to themselves and others, and need to work together to launch The Tea Chest on time, and on budget, but their path is strewn with obstacles, both personal and professional.

A third person narrative shifts between the perspectives of the four women, providing individual back story while moving the story forward, and an additional narrative begins about a third of the way into the book to share Judy’s story. To be honest I found this thread a bit distracting as it seems so removed from the main action, though ultimately it explains Judy’s motivation for selling.

The technicalities of tea making didn’t really interest me, as I don’t drink tea (or coffee) but Moon infuses Kate’s passion for blending with a romanticism and glamour that is appealing, and I’d certainly be tempted to stop and browse in The Tea Chest should I pass it on the street.

I thought The Tea Chest was a light, easy read with a lovely message about trusting yourself and reaching for a happy ending.

The Tea Chest is available to purchase from

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Review: Games Creatures Play by Charlaine Harris & Toni LP Kelner et al.

 

Title: Games Creatures Play

Authors:  Charlaine Harris (Editor), Toni L.P. Kelner (Editor) , Jan Burke , Dana Cameron, Adam-Troy Castro , Brendan DuBois, Joe R. Lansdale , Laura Lippman, Seanan McGuire, Brandon Sanderson , Scott Sigler , Caitlin Kittredge, William Kent Krueger, Ellen Kushner, Mercedes Lackey

Published: Jo Fletcher Books April 2014

Status: Read from April 10 to 11, 2014 — I own a copy {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

Games Creatures Play is an entertaining anthology from fifteen contributors, with each short story featuring the unusual combination of the paranormal and sports.

Some of the authors didn’t venture too far from their comfort zone. ‘Into the Blue Hereafter’ by Charlaine Harris is set at a softball game in Bon Temps, where Sookie Stackhouse and Manfred Bernado meet for the first time. Similarly Seanan McGuire doesn’t stray far from the familiarity of her InCryptid series, ‘Jammed,’ in which a chimera is on the rampage during a Roller Derby, features Antimony Price. I enjoyed both stories in part at least because of my familiarity with the characters and their worlds.

My favourites included Scott Sigler’s ‘The Case of the Haunted Safeway’, a ghostly tale of love and baseball which managed to be funny, sweet and a little bit spooky all at the same time, Jan Burke’s ‘Stepping into the Dead Zone’ which portrays dodgeball as a test of loyalty and friendship, and ‘Bell, Book and Candlepin‘ by Toni L. P. Kelner in which more than just the bowling balls are returned.

In Games Creatures Play you will find witches, monster stompers, faeries, Gods, ghosts and more, all playing to win and even though I have very little interest in sport in general, I really enjoyed this anthology. Get ready, get set and go… pick up a copy today.

Games Creatures Play is available to purchase from

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Blog Tour Review: Losing Kate by Kylie Kaden

 

Title: Losing Kate

Author: Kylie Kaden

Published: Bantam: Random House April 2014

Read an Extract

Status: Read on April 10, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

Kylie Kaden’s compelling debut novel, Losing Kate, is an absorbing contemporary story of secrets, betrayal, love and redemption.

On the night that seventeen year old Kate disappeared while celebrating ‘schoolies’, Francesca lost both the best friend she adored and the boy, Jack, who held her heart.
Thirteen years later, Frankie is stunned to discover Jack has bought the vacant block of land bordering her cottage. Their unexpected reunion revives memories and emotions neither are prepared for, and to move forward they need to learn the truth about what happened to the girl they both loved.

The first person narrative shifts between the past and present as it traces Jack, Kate’s and Frankie’s teenage relationship, the events on the night Kate went missing, and Frankie’s and Jack’s reunion after 13 years. Though Frankie and Jack quickly reestablish the intimacy of their childhood friendship, Kate always stands between them. Guilt, regret and lies are irredeemably tangled with loyalty, truth and love. The situation is complicated further by Jack’s current relationship.

The mystery of Kate’s fate is what primarily drives the tension throughout the novel. The flashbacks slowly reveal what Frankie remembers of the night and how those memories fit with what she is learning in the present day. Frankie just can’t let go of Kate and her desire for closure. Suspicions rise and fall as the truth is pieced together, and the swirling ambiguity kept me guessing.

Despite the pop culture references (to bands like Powder Finger), elements of the story, including the oppressive summer weather, Francesca’s crumbling cottage, fire and illness, give the story a contemporary gothic feel. The doomed teenage romance between Kate and Jack also plays into this, as does Frankie and Jack’s unrequited love.

Set amongst the streets of suburban Queensland, Losing Kate is a gripping novel of suspense, drama and romance. An impressive debut, I really enjoyed Losing Kate and I’m looking forward to more from Kylie Kaden.

 

Losing Kate is available to purchase from

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To learn more about Kylie Kaden visit Goodnight Carolina to read an interview with the author

 

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Review & Giveaway: Beached by Ros Baxter

Title: Beached {Aegira Chronicles #2}

Author: Ros Baxter

Published: Escape Publishing April 2014

Read an Extract

Status: Read from April 06 to 07, 2014 — I own a copy  {Courtesy the author}

My Thoughts:

Beached is the second book in Ros Baxter’s Aegira Chronicles, a fantasy trilogy with a creative twist on Norse legend. The first, Fish Out of Water, introduced Rania Aqualina, deputy sheriff of small town Dirtwater, and half mermaid. Her investigation into the discovery of a dead blonde with a fish tattoo on Main Street leads Rania to uncover a plot which could mean the end of her underwater home, Aegira, and her own life, at the hands of a crazed sorcerer, Manos.

In Beached, the focus of the story shifts to Rania’s sister, Princess Lecanora whom the Queen has sent to Land to find support for the battle against the Sorcerer from none other than the Presidential candidate. Lecanora, while struggling to adjust to the ways of the Land, joins her sister, mother and their allies to gain the candidates favour while dodging over zealous bodyguards, Manos’s army and saving two worlds.

The action is fast paced, as Manos launches his attack, determined to take Lecanora as his bride so he can rule over Aegira, and destroy any chance of the prophecy of ‘the Three’ thwarting him by killing Rania. The fight moves between land and sea, finally culminating in an epic battle in Aegira.

As in Fish Out of Water, there is a strong romantic element within the story and it’s Rania’s ex, Doug, who leaves Lecanora breathless. Peace loving Lecanora is baffled by her attraction to the gun toting, ex special forces, bad ass and the strange feelings he evokes. It’s insta-love of a sort, but not too badly done.

I enjoyed the humour which came from Rania’s snark, and Lecanora’s naïveté. Baxter writes well, with snappy dialogue and descriptive prose. I’d recommend reading Fish Out of Water before Beached though it’s not strictly necessary, Baxter provides enough back story to orient a reader new to the trilogy.

Beached, like Fish Out of Water, is a fun book, combining action, fantasy, humour and romance, which I really enjoyed. I’m looking forward to reading the final adventure in the Aegira Chronicles.

***

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Review: The Dead Ground by Claire McGowan

 

Title: The Dead Ground {Paula Macguire #2}

Author: Claire McGowan

Published: Headline:  Hachette Australia April 2014

Status:  Read from April 07 to 09, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

The second book from Irish crime fiction writer, Claire McGowan, The Dead Ground is part police procedural/part thriller as forensic psychologist Paula Maguire, and the Missing Persons Unit, searches for an abducted infant, a missing pro-choice doctor and a newborn, ripped from her mother’s womb.

The grisly opening scene, set during the height of ‘The Troubles’ sets the tone for the shocking crimes that follow in The Dead Ground. This isn’t a story for the faint of heart as the MPRU and Serious Crime team struggle to trace a child abductor and a killer who may be the one and the same.

Paula’s personal issues are entwined in the cases her unit are investigating. I could sympathise with Paula’s prevarication with regards to her personal life but I was irritated by her lack of assertiveness and clear thinking in her professional role. Distracted by her own problems, Paula makes poor choices, including withholding evidence, ultimately putting herself in the path of a killer. I wanted to like her more than I did, and perhaps if I had read the first book to feature Macquire, The Lost, I may have been more forgiving of her flaws in this one.

McGowan courts controversy with her exploration of the abortion debate. Vehement religious opposition means termination is still illegal in Ireland and the few, like Dr Alison Bates, who are willing to offer women options are subject to public vitriol. The irony of the doctor being brutally murdered, and the lack of sympathy for the woman from right to lifers, is inescapable.

Fast paced, provocative and intriguing, The Dead Ground is a story of murder, madness, and the missing.

 

The Dead Ground is available to purchase from

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Review: Crimson Dawn by Fleur McDonald

 

Title: Crimson Dawn

Author: Fleur McDonald

Published: Arena: Allen & Unwin April 2014

Read an excerpt

Status: Read from April 04 to 06, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

Fleur McDonald’s fifth novel to combine her love of rural Australia and her farming experience with drama and romance, Crimson Dawn is an engaging story of betrayal, resilience, and family secrets.

Reeling from betrayal and tragedy, Laura Murphy throws herself into the management of Nambina, the family sheep station which now belongs to her. Eight years later, Laura is proud of what she has achieved including developing prize winning Merino rams and setting up a successful farm school that teaches young women the basics of managing a property but then things slowly begin to wrong, one of her rams is poisoned, she suspects one of her students is doing drugs and then her neighbour, and former best friend, announces she has a claim on Nambina, and threatens to take away everything she loves.

There are several tangled plot lines in this story which ultimately reveal unexpected connections, including Meghan’s claim on Nambina, the identity of Laura’s mother, a drug and sex party ring and most significantly, the parallel narrative within the novel which tells the story of a young boy, who left his abusive home in the 1930′s, as he grows into a man. McDonald does well to draw these and other minor threads together in a manner that is plausible, though not entirely probable.

The story did feel a little disjointed to me, especially to begin with, as the contemporary chapters move quite quickly from 2000 to 2001 to 2003 before finally settling in 2008, while the parallel historical timeline makes similar leaps. I personally would have preferred for the contemporary story to have been grounded in a single time period.

Laura is a likeable heroine, her own hard work and determination has seen her build a successful property and business and she is satisfied with the life she has created for herself. But she has been unable to move on from the shocking betrayal of Meghan and Josh, once her best friend and fiance respectively, and has become emotionally closed off from all but family. When Nambina is threatened, McDonald gently guides Laura into the realisation that she doesn’t have to face this latest betrayal alone and introduces Tim, the local vet with whom Laura forms a tentative, and ultimately lovely relationship.

While I do think the storyline was just a bit too ambitious and the flow of the narrative suffered as a result, I did enjoy Crimson Dawn. Laura is a protagonist I can admire and I always appreciate the authentic details McDonald provides about everyday life on rural properties.

 

Crimson Dawn is available to purchase from

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Review & Giveaway: The Red-Hot Chili Cook-Off by Carolyn Brown

 

Title: The Red-Hot Chili Cook-Off

Author: Carolyn Brown

Published: Sourcebooks April 2014

Status: Read from April 02 to 04, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

Across the street from Miss Clawdy’s Cafe (featured in The Blue-Ribbon Jalapeno Society Jubilee) in Cadillac, Texas you will find ‘Bless My Bloomers’, a custom ‘under-britches’ store owned by cousins Carlene, Alma Grace and Patrice the southern heroines of Carolyn Brown’s latest novel, The Red-Hot Chili Cook-Off.

The story kicks off when Carlene Lovelle discovers a lacy red pair of panties in her husband’s briefcase, the same pair Carlene sold the week before to a size 4 twenty-something planning a weekend away in Vegas with her ‘sugar daddy’. Furious, Carlene confronts her cheating husband, Lenny, and his mistress, at his car dealership, where she stomps all over a showroom Corvette before installing her self in one the bedrooms above Bless My Bloomers. Carlene’s extended family rally around her, with Patrice willing to poison him, her mother offering to shoot him and Josie dispensing wise advice, though pious Alma Grace can’t help but pray fervently for a reconciliation before she loses her position on the church committee, branded sinful by association.
When it becomes clear that Lenny has no plans to repent for his despicable behaviour, Carlene decides the best way to punish him is to deprive him of the thing he loves most – first place in the town’s annual chili cook-off.

Scandal, sniping and sly acts of revenge ensue, seasoned generously with hilarity, as everyone takes sides in the battle for top honours in the cook-off. The cousins and their mother’s (aka the Fannin sisters) are united in their desire to produce the prize winning recipe and dethrone ‘King’ Lenny and they discover they have plenty of support from the women of Cadillac.

The cast of quirky characters thrive on gossip and grudges tempered by fierce loyalties and unconditional love. Carlene, Patrice and Alma Grace are very different from one another but bound (and sometimes strangled) by the tightest of family ties following the example set by the cousins indomitable mother’s: Sugar, Gigi and Tansy. I couldn’t help but love them all for their smarts, sass, quick wit and crazy.

A lively, warm-hearted story of family, love, feuds and food, The Red-Hot Chili Cook-Off had me laughing out loud and cheering for The Red-Hot Bloomers in their bid to win that trophy.

For an exclusive excerpt, a delicious recipe  and details on how you can win two great prize packs

click HERE for the Blog Tour post published earlier today.

To Purchase The Red-Hot Chili Cook-Off:

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Review: Simmering Season by Jenn J. McLeod

 

Title: Simmering Season

Author: Jenn J. McLeod

Published: Simon & Schuster April 2014

Read an Extract

Status: Read from March 30 to April 02, 2014 — I own a copy  {Courtesy the author}

My Thoughts:

Those who have read Jenn J McLeod’s debut, House for all Seasons, will be delighted to reunite with some of the characters met in the small Australian country town of Calingarry’s Crossing. It is however a minor character, Maggie Lindeman, that takes the lead in this, Jenn McLeod’s loosely linked sequel, Simmering Season.

When Maggie’s father fell ill, she and her teenage son, Noah, reluctantly left husband, and father, Brian, in Sydney with plans to sell the family pub in Calingarry Crossing and reunite in a few months. But two years on, with no-one showing interest in the motel, Maggie is warming to the idea of making the move permanent, if only Brian, obsessed with chasing fame, would agree to join them. Frustrated by Brian’s excuses to remain separated from his family, Maggie’s loyalty to her errant husband is tested when her teenage crush, Dan Ireland, returns to Calingarry Crossing for the school reunion. But Dan’s return isn’t the only thing troubling Maggie, her son is growing restless, Amber’s headstrong daughter, Fiona, is her guest for the summer, and as the season wears on, simmering secrets begin bubbling to the surface.

While I thought things were a little slow to heat up in the Simmering Season as the author establishes the back story for the three main characters, Maggie, Fiona and Dan, once the school reunion gets underway, the story begins to move forward with surprising revelations and some dramatic moments, prompting the characters to make decisions about their future.

As in the House For All Seasons, the major themes of this novel examines the need to make peace with the past in order to move forward and the importance of knowing what you need, and want, to be happy within yourself.

In trying to accommodate what Maggie thinks her husband and son wants from her, instead of what she needs, Maggie has grown increasingly resentful, but is unwilling to admit it. At times I was frustrated by Maggie, while her sense of loyalty to her husband is admirable, it is so clearly misplaced that her angst was a little wearying and in protecting her son from Brian’s failures, she made herself a martyr. It took her a while but I was relieved when Maggie began to recognise her worth as the events that unfolded during Simmering Season forced her to reassess her priorities.

Dan has been punishing himself for years for the part he played in a fatal accident. Returning to Calingarry Crossing is difficult for him but he has to decide to let go of the things he can’t change, and do something about those he can including dealing with his high stress job as a police car accident investigator, reuniting with his father and pursuing Maggie.

I most admired Fiona’s growth during the story, a spoilt, spiteful princess with a (not entirely unwarranted) chip on her shoulder to begin with, she learns some hard lessons about the value of family and responsibility. Fiona is affected the most by the secrets her mother, Amber, kept and when they are revealed, she is finally able to make peace with her past and move on.

An appealing novel about self discovery and second chances, I enjoyed Simmering Season and I look forward to revisiting Calingarry Crossing again next year in the Season of Shadow and Light.

Learn more about Jenn J. McLeod and Simmering Season by clicking HERE

Simmering Season is available to purchase from

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Review: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Title: Fangirl

Author: Rainbow Rowell

Published: Macmillan Au April 2014

Read an Extract

Status: Read from March 30 to April 01, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

“Why do we write fiction?” Professor Piper asked.
Cath looked down at her notebook.

To disappear.”

Cather is comfortable escaping into the realm of anonymous fanfic where she can be free of her crippling social anxiety, and always know what to say and do. College is nothing but uncomfortable, and it is all she can do, while struggling with the separation from her twin sister, Wren, and her father, to make it to her classes. But gradually, Cath is forced out of her comfort zone, encouraged by her roommate Reagan and the irrepressible Levi, in this charming contemporary novel by Rainbow Rowell.

I wavered between wanting to shake or hug Cath a lot of the time. Though I thought her sweetly shy and endearingly awkward, smart and often funny, her naivety sometimes stretched credulity. There were things I could relate to though, like this;

“In new situations, all the trickiest rules are the ones nobody bothers to explain to you. (And the ones you can’t google.) Like, where does the line start? What food can you take? Where are you supposed to stand, then where are you supposed to sit? Where do you go when you’re done, why is everyone watching you?” (on why Cath avoids the dining hall)

I remember that anxiety when I first went to university and having to force myself to ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’. Cath really struggles with the changes college forces on her and it’s a slow, sometimes frustrating, transformation but I think Rowell handles it realistically and thankfully she has Reagan to look out for her;

“Cath rolled her eyes and looked at Reagan. “Do you really want me asking you stupid questions?”
“If they’re about food, water, air or shelter – yes. Jesus, Cath, I’m your roommate.”

Reagan is the perfect roommate for Cath – often absent allowing her the time on her own she craves but doesn’t hesitate to call Cath out on her ‘crazy’, in a blunt but non-judgmental way.

I loved the relationship between Cath and Levi, so much awkward cuteness. Their romance is sweet, moving from acquaintance to friendship to lovers without feeling rushed or forced. And even though he screws up quite badly at one point, Levi with his goofy, ever-present smile, is just so appealing.

I really wasn’t a fan of the fan fiction excerpts, the whole Simon Snow/Harry Potter thing made me feel a little uncomfortable. And I have to admit I don’t really get the whole fan fiction scene anyway, though I know it is huge and I respect Cath’s passion for it. The plagiarism debate that takes place between Cath and her professor seemed disingenuous, I found it hard to believe, no matter her private opinion, that Cath would have thought her fanfic be acceptable for an assignment specifically asking for an original story.

The scenes I particularly enjoyed included those where Cath was reading aloud to Levi, her Emergency Kanye Dance Party (though Kanye… ugh) and her and Reagan’s cafeteria observations (a friend and I used to do that too).

Unusually for YA/NA fiction, Cath’s family has an important role in this story. Cath’s identical twin, Wren, (get it? Cather..Wren) is also a freshman but unlike her sister Wren is eager to establish her independence and reinvent herself in their new environment, which means leaving Cath behind. The dynamics between the sisters is realistic I think, with its mix of love and resentment, complicated particularly by their oppositional feelings about their absent mother. The girls father, who is bipolar, is very much present through the book through phone calls, messages and trips home.

Fangirl isn’t perfect, but it is a sweet, funny and moving coming of age novel. I’d certainly recommend it for young adults on the cusp of graduation and those struggling with the transition to college, but it is also a charming read in it’s own right for anyone who remembers stepping nervously into the college dining hall for the first time.

Fangirl is available to purchase from

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