The Fault in Our Stars Movie : A GIF Review by Sarah McDuling

Getting invited to an advanced screening…

On the way to the cinema…

When the movie is starting…

Five minutes after the movie has started…

Every time Augustus Waters appears on screen…

Every time anyone says the word “Okay”…

Isaac’s eulogy…

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Augustus’s letter…

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The End…

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Grab a copy of The Fault in our Stars here

Sarah McDuling is a contributor to the Booktopia Blog and Editor of the Booktopia Young Adult Buzz.  

Her hobbies include (but are not limited to) sword-fighting, ghost hunting and lion taming.

She is also an enthusiaster fibber.

You can read her other posts here or see her tweet about all things Young Adult-ish at @sarahmcduling.

You can also follow her on tumblr at Young Adult @ Booktopia

REVIEW: Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira (Review by Sarah McDuling)

love-letters-to-the-deadLove Letters to the Dead is a powerful coming-of-age novel that will grab hold of your heart and soul, drawing you into the narrator’s world so completely that finishing the book is actually quite upsetting – like having a door slammed in your face by your new best friend. As far as I’m concerned it’s one of the top Young Adult novels of the year.

This book first came to my attention when I saw that Emma Watson had tweeted about it. As a general rule, I will do whatever Emma Watson says because she is Hermione and therefore my idol. So when she gave her seal of approval, I obediently googled Ava Dellaira and discovered that she’s friends with Stephen Chbosky and had worked as an associate producer on the movie adaptation of The Perks of Being a Wallflower. After that I was naturally desperate to get my hands on a copy. 

Love Letters to the Dead is the story of Laurel, a young woman who is quietly drowning in grief and guilt. We are introduced to Laurel as she starts her freshman year of High School. (That means Year 9, for those of you who don’t speak American.)

At a glance, all the usual hallmarks of YA contemporary literature appear to be present and accounted for:

1. The (seemingly) Unattainable Crush:

In this case, his name is Sky. And if Sky was a mathematical equation he would look something like this:

Hot Guy + Mysterious Loner = Swoon10   

(Maths was never my best subject but I’m pretty sure that’s accurate).

2.  The Friend/s with Serious Life Problems:

Ava_Dellaira_author_photo Laurel’s two closest friends, Hannah and Natalie, are in love!  But their relationship is complicated. Neither of them are quite ready to come out of the closet and Hannah is dealing with a pretty stressful home-life situation.  Also she keeps ditching Natalie to date boys.

3. The Parents Who Just Don’t Understand:

Neither of Laurel’s parents have a very clear understanding what she’s going through. Her father is blinded by grief and her mother has skipped town at a time when Laurel needs her most.

4. The Thing That Happened in the Past that Must Remain Secret (until the end):

Laurel’s family was torn apart after the death of her older sister, May. But only Laurel knows the whole story behind what happened the night May died. And she can’t talk about it. She can barely even think about it.

So there you go. The bare bones of the story probably sound familiar to you. Most of us have read books like this before. But while the ingredients that have gone into making Love Letters to the Dead may be standard staples, Ava Dellaira throws a serving of raw emotion into the mix that takes everything to a whole new level. And I think that’s what makes Love Letters to the Dead such a special treat. It’s a genuine heartbreaker.

Another thing I love about this beautiful book is the fact that it’s written as a series of letters addressed to dead celebrities. As a pop culture junkie, I got a real kick out of this. Kurt Cobain, Judy Garland, Janis Joplin, Amelia Earhart and River Phoenix are just a few of the intriguing people Laurel chooses to write to. She writes the first letter for a school assignment, but then cannot bring herself to turn it in. Instead, she keeps writing letters to dead people. And as she writes she slowly reveals the tragic secret behind the death of her older sister, May.

love-letters-to-the-deadDellaira writes with such perfect pitch and subtle skill, Love Letters to the Dead feels like a modern classic. Laurel is a very self-contained and unassuming protagonist, one who spends the majority of the book repressing her feelings and denying the past. The true depth of her suffering is revealed so gradually that  I think I was about a third of the way through the novel before it dawned on me that she wasn’t just wallowing in typical teen angst. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, mind you. I happen to love wallowing in teen angst, and I’m a proper grown up adult (supposedly).

This is one of those books that sort of creeps up on you. You start reading and everything seems pretty cool. You’re like, “Oh hey! I see what’s going on here. High school girl with high school problems. Boy drama! Teen Issues! Burgeoning womanhood! I know the drill.”

But as you keep reading you find yourself starting to think, “Hold up. I’m having some strong feelings about this book. Powerful emotions are happening! This is not a drill!

This beautiful book is the perfect for fans of poignant (i.e. emotionally apocalyptic) Young Adult literature like The Perks of Being a Wallflower and The Fault in our Stars. And the craziest part? This is the author’s first book! I’m completely blown away by that fact. After such an impressive debut, I can’t wait to see what Ava Dellaira does next because … wow.

Grab a copy of Love Letters to the Dead here

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Sarah McDuling is a contributor to the Booktopia Blog and Editor of the Booktopia Young Adult Buzz.  Her hobbies include (but are not limited to) sword-fighting, ghost hunting and lion taming. She is also an enthusiastic fibber.

You can read her other posts here or follow her on Tumblr at Young Adult @ Booktopia

Book Trailer of the Week – Half Bad by Sally Green!

This week’s Book Trailer of the Week goes to Half Bad by Sally Green.

Intense, mysterious, gripping, our own Sarah McDuling reviewed Half Bad recently and absolutely loved it, saying that, despite her “ridiculously high expectations, Half Bad did not disappoint.”

Could Half Bad be the next Harry Potter? The next Hunger Games?

Order your copy today and find out.

Grab a copy a Sally Green’s Half Bad here

Grab a copy a Sally Green’s Half Bad here

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REVIEW: Half Bad by Sally Green (review by Sarah McDuling)

half-badEvery so often you hear about a book that’s being touted as a “global sensation”. Usually in such cases the film rights have been bought, the author is being labelled “the next J.K Rowling” and the general consensus seems to be OMG this is it! The New Craze! The Next Big Thing! And so on, and so forth. We’ve heard it all before, right?

And yet it doesn’t seem to matter how many times I hear it, whenever a book like this comes along I get caught up in the hype. My expectations soar to dizzying heights. I find myself thinking, “This book is going to change my life! It will blow my mind and rock my world. It will save the rainforests and end world poverty! God bless this miraculous book!”

Of course, I’m nearly always disappointed.

It’s not the book’s fault. It’s just that sometimes hype can be dangerous. Too much hype can kill a good book, purely because it can’t possibly measure up to the high expectations of the reader. However, Half Bad by Sally Green might just be the exception to this rule

(NB: Half Bad by Sally Green is probably not going save any rainforests or end world poverty.  I mean it might. But probably not. I just want to be upfront about that, before we go any further.)

Sally Green, author of the upcoming Half Life trilogy, really doesn’t have all that much in common with J. K. Rowling. Well … except that they are both British. And female. Also, both are blonde and have children. Does this qualify Sally Green as the next J.K Rowling?  I’m not sure about that. What I am sure of are the following facts:

1). Sally Green is a first time author.Sally Green

2). Her Half Life trilogy has been sold into 42 countries.

3) There was a massive bidding war between major studios in order to secure the film rights.

4) All of this happened before the first book in the trilogy had even been published.

Now that’s a lot of hype to live up to.

In terms of what the book is about, I’m almost reluctant to say. Any kind of synopsis I give is probably going to make it sound like a Harry Potter rip-off. The truth is, comparisons to Harry Potter are unavoidable here. Both books are about teenaged boys with magical powers –  boys who must navigate their way through an intricate world of witches/wizards, burdened by tragic pasts and unwanted notoriety.

Still, despite these superficial similarities, Half Bad is actually a very fresh and imaginative take on a well known theme. At no point does it come off feeling clichéd or unoriginal which (let’s be honest) is an impressive feat for a Young Adult novel about witches. This is not new territory, after all. And yet, somehow Sally Green has managed to put a whole new spin on a familiar tune. Whereas Harry Potter is very much a fanstasy, Half Bad is more of a gritty, comptemporary coming-of-age story … that just happens to include witches. More importantly, it’s an enthralling page turner starring a complex and compelling protagonist. All up, a riveting first act in what promises to be an impressive show.

So. Will Half Bad live up to the hype and become the next big publishing phenomenon? I certainly hope so, but I can’t say for sure. These things can be hard to predict.  All I can say is that I completely understand why people are so excited about this new trilogy. Even handicapped by my ridiculously high expectations, Half Bad did not disappoint.

This is a series I’ll be very glad to see capture the hearts and minds of a new generation of teens.

Spoiler Alert: Despite what you may have heard, Half Bad  does not contain a map to the lost city of Atlantis or the secret to eternal youth. It is, however, a very good book that you will  have difficulty putting down.

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Sarah McDuling is a contributor to the Booktopia Blog and Editor of the Booktopia Young Adult Buzz.  Her hobbies include (but are not limited to) sword-fighting, ghost hunting and lion taming. She is also an enthusiaster fibber. You can read her other posts here or follow her on Tumblr at Young Adult @ Booktopia

Grab a copy of Half Bad here

half-badIn modern-day England, witches live alongside humans: White witches, who are good; Black witches, who are evil; and fifteen-year-old Nathan, who is both.

Nathan’s father is the world’s most powerful and cruel Black witch, and his mother is dead. He is hunted from all sides. Trapped in a cage, beaten and handcuffed, Nathan must escape before his sixteenth birthday, at which point he will receive three gifts from his father and come into his own as a witch—or else he will die. But how can Nathan find his father when his every action is tracked, when there is no one safe to trust—not even family, not even the girl he loves?

In the tradition of Patrick Ness and Markus Zusak, is a gripping tale of alienation and the indomitable will to survive, a story that will grab hold of you and not let go until the very last page.

REVIEW: The Gospel of Loki by Joanne M. Harris (review by Sarah McDuling)

LokiHere’s what I knew about Norse mythology when I first picked up The Gospel of Loki by Joanne M. Harris.

a)     Norse gods live in a place called Asgard.

b)    Loki is the coolest god . Sure he’s evil, but he’s also played by Tom Hiddleston (see left) and therefore his evilness is cancelled out by his perfect male beauty.

c)     Thor is the god of Thunder. He has very large muscles and a magic hammer.

So yeah. As you can see I had some major gaps in my knowledge. Gaps that have now been filled with Joanne M. Harris’ spellbinding recounting of Norse myth and legend, through the eyes of the most instantly engaging narrator I have encountered in a long while.

The Gospel of Loki is a surprising book. For starters, the only other book by Joanne M. Harris that I’ve ever read is Chocolat and The Gospel of Loki is a very different kind of read. I loved Chocolat. It was enchanting, heart-warming and utterly lovely.  The Gospel of Loki is none of these things. It’s dark, quirky, occasionally grim, often hilarious and gloriously bold.

Given the subject matter, I was expecting The Gospel of Loki to be more of a traditional fantasy epic, heavy on world building and probably involving some kind of The Gospel of Lokiheroic journey quest. Instead, I found myself lost in a series of episodic adventures, wicked little parables on how best to lie, cheat, trick and bluff your way to success. In Loki’s case, of course, success means getting revenge against his fellow gods and causing the downfall of Asgard.

By far and away the most wonderful thing about this book is the voice Joanne M. Harris has given her delightfully immoral anti-hero. I’m not always a great fan of first person narrative but I have to make an exception for  The Gospel of Loki because this is how first person narration should be done! Loki’s character shines through in every line, dripping sarcasm, twinkling with mischief and humming with that special kind of unrepentant arrogance so often found in archetypal “trickster” characters like Robin Goodfellow and Peter Pan.

This is a character who, when asked if he can achieve the impossible, routinely replies, “Of course. I’m Loki.” He is gloriously conceited, packed full of swagger and playful cheek. He’s a lovable villain, a mischievous bad-boy, a fiendish puppet master who knows just how to manipulate people. It doesn’t take much. Just whisper into someone’s ear, a well-timed and seemingly offhand comment and voila! Disaster ensues!

And yet, the true genius of Harris’ Loki is that he is so dammed lovable. Despite his inherent wickedness, you just can’t help rooting for him. He’s not malicious, after all. He’s simply a creature of chaos. It’s in his nature to cause trouble.

Now come on. Tell me he doesn’t sound like the coolest god ever?

Joanne m. harrisHarris gives us a Loki who is constantly mistreated by his fellow gods. Always an outsider, always rejected, always everybody’s convenient scapegoat.  This of course makes him the ultimate underdog. No matter how evil his plots become, or what depths of wickedness he sinks to, the reader cannot help cheering him on because … well … he’s Loki.

So thoroughly did I enjoy The Gospel of Loki that I was compelled to check whether Joanne M. Harris has written any other books in a similar vein. To my joy, I found out she has!  Runemarks and Runelight  – two Young Adult fantasies inspired by Norse mythology, both which of I will be reading as soon as possible.

And now excuse me while I go and pray to Odin, Allfather of the gods and ruler of Asgard, to give Loki his very own Marvel movie (with at least two sequels).

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Sarah McDuling is a contributor to the Booktopia Blog and Editor of the Booktopia Young Adult Buzz.  Her hobbies include (but are not limited to) sword-fighting, ghost hunting and lion taming. She is also an enthusiaster fibber. You can read her other posts here or follow her on Tumblr at Young Adult @ Booktopia

Grab a copy of The Gospel of Loki here

the-gospel-of-lokiWith his notorious reputation for trickery and deception, and an ability to cause as many problems as he solves, Loki is a Norse god like no other. Demon-born, he is viewed with deepest suspicion by his fellow gods who will never accept him as one of their own and for this he vows to take his revenge.

But while Loki is planning the downfall of Asgard and the humiliation of his tormentors, greater powers are conspiring against the gods and a battle is brewing that will change the fate of the Worlds.

From his recruitment by Odin from the realm of Chaos, through his years as the go-to man of Asgard, to his fall from grace in the build-up to Ragnarok, this is the unofficial history of the world’s ultimate trickster.

 

Banish by Nicola Marsh: A Review by Sarah McDuling

banishBanish really surprised me.

When I pick up a Paranormal Romance these days, especially in the Young Adult genre, I automatically brace myself for a barrage of tropes and clichés.

1) Average human girl meets brooding immortal boy – cue Love At First Sight.

2) Requisite villain does something villainous (at which point, I usually start yawning and skipping pages).

3) Happy ending.

The details may vary slightly. Sometimes the brooding immortal boy is a vampire. Sometimes he’s a werewolf, or a fallen angel or a fairy prince. But the basic formula never really changes.

Now maybe it sounds like I’m complaining. And maybe it sounds that way because I am complaining. The truth is, I’m sick to death of reading the same story over and over again, so when I come across an author who breaks away from all the predictable stereotypes, that’s when I reach for my metaphorical pom-poms and start cheering.

Continue reading

Chasing the Valley by Skye Melki-Wegner: Review from Sarah McDuling

Sarah McDuling, the fearless editor of Booktopia’s Young Adult Buzz, takes a look at the latest offering from author Skye Melki-Wegner.

Chasing the ValleyI’m not really sure how to categorise Chasing the Valley. Unless “Phantasmagorical” can be considered a category?

No? Okay, fine. Categorise this:  An insanely glorious blend of Steampunk Adventure and Dystopian Fantasy with a touch of Romance and the promise of a great series to follow. In other words… awesome! That’s Chasing the Valley for youin a nutshell.

Our heroine here is plucky orphan girl, Danika Gylnn. Along with a rag-tag group of rebellious teens, Danika runs from a life of poverty and oppression in the slums of the city, striking out in search of a legendary safe haven. Their destination is a place called Magentic Valley, however, no one really knows where it is or how to get there. Continue reading

Requiem by Lauren Oliver (Review by Sarah McDuling – Editor of the YA & Teens Buzz)

Lauren Oliver is mean.

Please understand, this criticism comes from a place of love. I say this as a devoted Lauren Oliver fan. I’m not suggesting she is a bad person. I’m sure she’s a lovely person. But she’s downright cruel to her readers.

Case in point: The Delirium Trilogy.

Anyone who suffered through the heart-breaking ending of Book One in this trilogy will back me up here. Delirium ends with the sudden and completely gut wrenching death of a beloved character. It’s pretty brutal.

And then there is Book Two, Pandemonium. Unlike so many Young Adult series that start out strong and then tend to fall apart, the second book in the Delirium Trilogy is stronger than the first. Even better, it’s a game changer. The ending of Pandemonium is a real sucker punch – one that I never saw coming.

And now the trilogy is coming to an end (don’t worry, fans. There is a TV show in the works). Requiem marks the dramatic conclusion of this emotionally fraught, completely addictive, dystopian series.

But I am drifting off topic. The subject at hand is Lauren Oliver’s cruelty.

There are some authors who give readers what they want and everyone is happy (if slightly bored). And then there are authors like Lauren Oliver, who give readers agonizing cliffhangers, shocking twists and bucket-loads of heartbreak – which is all fine and dandy until that moment when you turn the last page and… nothing. The book is finished and you have no choice but to wait on tenterhooks for the next one.

That’s mean. I’m just saying.

All things considered, I’m very, very glad that I did not discover Lauren Oliver’s Delirium trilogy until recently. I feel as though I dodged a real bullet, avoiding the painful wait between each instalment. To all those poor, patient fans out there who have been with this series from the beginning, I can say only this: Respect.

Seriously guys, I feel for you. After the way Delirium ended, if I had been forced to wait more than three seconds for the next book, my head might well have exploded. And if, having finished Pandemonium, I did not have immediate access to Requiem, I would have had no real choice except to hunt down Lauren Oliver and demand answers.

Luckily for me (and Lauren Oliver) I was able to read all three books in quick succession

Set in a grim future where love has been identified as a disease and scientists have developed a cure, The Delirium trilogy is dystopian YA at it’s best. Bound to appeal to fans of The Hunger Games and Divergent, this is a series that combines romance, suspense and adventure in an imaginative and original dystopian setting. Our main character, Lena, has been raised to view love as a fatal disease and looks forward to turning 18 so that she can be “cured”. And then she meets a boy called Alex and her simple world gets all messy and complicated.

Tales of forbidden love are always pretty amazing. But creating a world where love of any kind of is literally against the law… well, that takes the “forbidden love” angle to a whole new level.

Undercover missions, family secrets, shocking deaths, ever more shocking resurrections, heartbreak, betrayals, suspense, betrayals, adventure, and a few more  betrayals, a love triangle, an evil totalitarian government and best of all…. rebels! I love rebels. Nothing gets me cheering quite like a rag-tag group of rebels banding together to fight injustice. It’s just so heart warming and makes me want to start waving a French flag and singing, “Do You Hear The People Sing”. But that’s another story…

If you have read the first two books in Lauren Oliver’s Delirium trilogy then I’m sure you already have Requiem on pre-order. And if you haven’t read the first two books?  Get cracking. Requiem comes out on the 12th of March so this is really a perfect time or you to begin.

If you like being kept on the edge of your seat and having your mind blown by surprise twists – or if you just like the sound story about brave kids fighting for for love, Lauren Oliver is the author for you.

Just be warned… she’s kind of mean. Awesomely, amazingly, additively mean.
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Click here to buy Requiem from Booktopia,
Australia’s Local Bookstore

Sarah is the editor of Booktopia’s YA & Teens Buzz. You can follow her genius on twitter here.

REVIEW: ‘Daughter of Smoke and Bone’ and ‘Days of Blood and Starlight’ by Laini Taylor (Review by Sarah McDuling)

Days of Blood and Starlight is the second book in what has to be the most wildly imaginative and beautifully written Urban Fantasy series I have come across in a long, long time.

There was a time I’d have said Urban Fantasy was one of my favourite genres. But then along came a multi-million dollar book/movie franchise that will remain nameless (cough, cough, Twilight, cough) that was so insanely – dare I say inexplicably – popular that suddenly the market was flooded with books about vampires, werewolves, angels, demons etc. Unfortunately, so many of them were so amazingly awful that the genre was effectively ruined for me. Before long, I reached the stage where just thinking about Urban Fantasy caused me to start humming the Gotye song, “Somebody I Used to Know”.  When asked to express my thoughts on my once-beloved genre, I routinely responded with an exaggerated yawn and a dismissive “meh”.

Then along came Laini Taylor and Daughter of Smoke and Bone

I heard a lot of hype about Daughter of Smoke and Bone when it was published back in 2011. Friends recommended it to me – friends whose opinion I normally trusted. Then, too, the cover of the book was very pretty, which should not influence me but always does. I decided that I might be ready to give Urban Fantasy another shot, a chance to win back my love. Then I read the blurb and saw that it was about angels and demons and forbidden love and that was all I needed to know. Based on the blurb alone, I decided Daughter of Smoke and Bone was yet another trite, clichéd, predictable example of how a genre I used to love had been spoiled beyond all hope of redemption. Clearly the book was evil. I ran away, screaming.

And then, a few weeks ago, the book was recommended to me again – this time by my Booktopia co-worker and expert on all things Fantasy/Sci-Fi, Mark Timmony. Our conversation went a little something like this –

Mark: “You should read Daughter of Smoke and Bone. It’s pretty good.

Me: (backing away whilst making the sign of the cross with my fingers) “NEVER!”

But I guess there are only so many times that someone can recommend a book to me before curiosity demands I discover what all the fuss is about. So I caved to peer pressure. I read Daughter of Smoke and Bone. And as soon as I had finished it, I wanted more. I could not get my hands on Days of Blood and Starlight fast enough and was delighted to find that it was even better than the first book.

If you have not read Daughter of Smoke and Bone, I strongly urge you to do so. I say this especially to anyone who, like me, may have given up on Urban Fantasy. If you once loved reading about fantastical creatures and magical, hidden worlds existing alongside our own, but then got sick of it all and quit, a dose of Laini Taylor might be just what you need.

Giving a brief synopsis of this series will only make it sound like a hundred other Urban Fantasy books that you have probably already read (or fallen asleep trying to read). So you’ll just have to trust me when I tell you this Urban Fantasy series is something special. Yes, it’s about angels and demons (or more specifically, seraphs and chimaera) and yes, it includes a subplot of Romeo and Juliet style forbidden romance. But the difference here is that Laini Taylor has an imagination that can best be described as exquisitely grotesque. The world she has created in Daughter of Smoke and Bone and Days of Blood and Starlight is both enchanting and frightening, rich in that special blend of magic and horror that is found in all the old, original fairytales. She matches her gorgeous prose with striking imagery in such a way that her writing manages to paint mental pictures as visually stunning as scenes from a Guillermo del Toro movie.

The Chimaera are beautiful monsters, half human and half animal. The Seraphim are ruthless angels with wings made of invisible flame, seen only in their shadows. These two races have been at war with one another for centuries, while the human race remains blissfully ignorant of their existence. And at the centre of the conflict is a blue haired girl called Karou, who is everything a reader could ask for in a heroine. Brave, strong minded, compassionate and loyal, Karou is no damsel in distress, waiting to be rescued by her one true love. Admittedly, this is mostly because her one true love has become her worst enemy. Still, Karou isn’t the sort to sit around moping just because her boyfriend “did her wrong”. This is why she is made of awesome, while so may other heroines of countless other urban fantasy novels are made of lame.

For those who read Urban Fantasy primarily for the romance factor, strap your boots on for the ride of your life. Karou and her main squeeze, Akiva, have a really spectacularly screwed up relationship. If “forbidden romance” floats your boat, you are going to love these guys. Most of the romance is played out in flashbacks, with the narrative switching viewpoints and time lines so that we get to see both sides of the story – his and hers, past and present. Karou and Akiva’s tale of thwarted love provides an underscore of raw heartache throughout both books, in spite of the fact that they hardly ever see each other in the present time line. In fact, they spend Days of Blood and Starlight fighting on opposites sides of an epic war. There’s no time to make-out. They’re way too busy planning rebellions, resurrecting the dead and love/hating each other from a distance.

Laini Taylor has created a fascinating world, with an equally fascinating history. There is plenty of tension and drama in the war between the races, with a whole host of compelling and original characters on both sides of the conflict. Karou’s best friend Zuzana, and her boyfriend Mik, are a delight to read – funny, cute and very endearing. Meanwhile, the “White Wolf” Thiago is a truly terrifying and repellent villain who, by the end of Days of Blood and Starlight is set up to play a very intriguing role in the next book.

To say that I am looking forward the follow up to Days of Blood and Starlight would be an understatement. With her excellent world building, character driven plots and beautiful imagery, Laini Taylor has reminded me why I used to love reading this genre so much.And while I’m not sure I’m ready to re-commit to a serious relationship with Urban Fantasy, I will say that I’m considering the possibility of something more casual. Perhaps a summer fling?   

Review by Sarah McDuling

REVIEW: Paving the New Road : A Rowland Sinclair Novel by Sulari Gentill (Review by Sarah McDuling)

The only thing better than discovering a new series of books is realising that the author is not going to make you wait too long for the next instalment.

Having been introduced to Sulari Gentill’s Rowland Sinclair novels earlier this year with Miles off Course, and then devouring books one and two with all the gusto of a confirmed historical fiction addict, I was pretty much ecstatic when I realised that book four, Paving the New Road, was due to be released in August this year. My reaction to this news was not quiet. It was not calm. It may have involved a spontaneous happy dance. Imagine a hyper active child being told that Christmas will be coming twice in one year and you might then begin to grasp my level of excitement.

Paving the New Road sees Rowland Sinclair and his band of bohemian eccentrics back in full force. For those unfamiliar with this series, Rowland “Rowly” Sinclair is Gentleman/Playboy Adventurer/Artist/Amateur Detective. Now, as of Paving the New Road he can also add “International Spy” to his already impressive list of accomplishments.

Wherever Rowly goes (in this instance, Nazi Germany) he is accompanied by his entourage – Clyde the landscape painter/staunch Communist, Milton the flamboyant poet and Edna the dazzlingly beautiful sculptress. Having been sent to Germany in the capacity of unofficial spies, Rowly and his friends soon find themselves knee deep in intrigue and subterfuge. The best part about all this is that none of them are even remotely qualified for the role of “secret agent”. They approach the mission almost as though it were a game and their unorthodox methods are both refreshingly original and highly entertaining. Together, Rowly and his friends take a ride on the Orient Express, masquerade as German soldiers, accidentally aid in the escape of a German Communist and become involved in an underground network of Anti Nazi activists. And at the heart of the mystery that slowly begins to unfold is a sad and fragile girl named Eva…

Much like the first three books in the series, Paving the New Road is a light and charming read full of adventure and humour. This book is pure fun. Better yet, it is consistently clever. One of the best aspects of this series is the imaginative way in which the author plays with the historical setting. Gentill is a master at seamlessly weaving real historical figures into her plot. This can be a dangerous conceit when not handled properly. The appearance of a well-known historical figure in a work of fiction can often be the kiss of death, breaking the spell of make-believe by pushing the reader’s credulity too far. Luckily, Gentill knows just how to blend fact and fiction together in a way that is not only completely believable but so delightfully inventive as to provide endless treats for history buffs.

Fans of television’s Underberlly: Razor will be tickled by cameo appearances from notorious Sydney madam Tilly Devine and gangster Phil “The Jew” Jeffs. Similarly, Rowly & Co. are flown to Germany by none other than famous Australian aviator Charles Kingsford Smith – a journey that takes an astonishing 14 days and sees them crossing paths with author William Somerset Maugham.

Other notable historical figures that play key roles in Paving the New Road include German Communist Party member Hans Beimler as well as notorious British aristocrat and Nazi sympathiser Unity “Lady Bobo” Mitford. Gentill is in top form when writing Mitford, who leaps off the page in all her horrifying glory. This is a woman who stalked Hitler like a crazed fan-girl before eventually becoming his mistress. Described by Rowly as “a lunatic, from what appeared to be a family of lunatics” Mitford only makes a few brief appearances in the novel, however, they are memorable for being almost as hilarious as they are disturbing.

By far my favourite guest star, however, is the indomitable Nancy Wake. Anyone who has not already read Wake’s memoir, The White Mouse,will be rushing for a copy after finishing Paving the New Road. The novel is set before the outbreak of WWII when Wake was working as a journalist, however, Gentill imbues her character with so much sparkling vim and vigour than one can easily see how she ends up becoming a kickass lady-spy, fighting Nazis with the French Resistance.

When all is said and done, I cannot recommend the Rowland Sinclair novels enough. Paving the New Road is the most entertaining instalment yet in what was already a great series. Anyone with a taste for classic crime writers like Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers and Ngaio Marsh is bound to fall in love with Rowland Sinclair. And with the success of the recent television adaptation of Kerry Greenwood’s Phryne Fisher series, I’m hoping (i.e. seriously considering starting an Internet petition) that it won’t be too long before we see a Rowland Sinclair miniseries.

In the meantime, I rest easy in the knowledge that Sulari Gentill is currently averaging two books a year and that it won’t be long before I find out what Rowly and his friends get up to next.

Review by Sarah McDuling

Click here to buy Paving the New Road

Find The Rowland Sinclair Novels here

Click here to read an extract from Paving the New Road.

Read Sarah’s review of Miles Off Course here

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