Welcome to my blog.

Website: www.sonyaspreenbates.com

Welcome to the blog of Sonya Spreen Bates, dedicated to news, reviews and general musings. I am a Canadian writer living in South Australia. I write for children and adults and my work has been published in Australia, Canada, the USA and New Zealand. If you are looking for my website, click here. It has a new home.

Most of my published works to date are for children and young adssbates-author-photo-2014ults, with the most recent being two hi/lo young adult novels in the Orca Sports series published by Orca Book Publishers in Canada.

Off the Rim (Orca Book Publishers, 2015) was nominated as a YALSA Quick Picks in Canada in 2016.

Topspin (Orca Book Publishers, 2013) was listed on the Canadian Children’s Book Centre “Best Books for Kids and Teens” 2014.

Both titles were selected for the Junior Library Guild in the USA. For more information on me and my books, take a look at my website.

 

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Book Review: Beautiful Messy Love by Tess Woods

I don’t usually read romance, but I heard so many good things about this book from people I know that I decided to give it a try. I wasn’t disappointed.

Beautiful Messy Love is the story of two couples, Nick and Anna, and Lily and Toby, whose lives are interwoven in multiple, complicated ways. Nick and Anna meet in the café where Anna works, and seem an unlikely match – a football star and a refugee. Lily and Toby meet in a hospital cafeteria with the most awful timing – while Toby is supporting his wife through the end stages of cancer. Each character is struggling with their own tragedies, disappointments and failings, and must overcome prejudice and heartbreak to make things work.

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The story is told from the point of view of each of the characters, alternating between chapters, and it works well. Each character has a distinct voice, and the reader gets an insight into each person’s perspective of the situations that arise. The reader feels for each and every one of them. As evident by the title, their lives and loves are not simple. But it seems destined to be.

 

If I had any criticism for this book, it is that, while the characters are well drawn, they are somewhat larger-than-life. Nick is not just a professional football player, but the star of the team upon who the Premiership depends. Anna is not just a refugee, but the daughter of a strong female presidential candidate from her homeland, and a world champion swimmer as well. It makes the characters a little less relatable initially, but as the story unfolds, the reader still becomes invested in the characters and feels their pain.

 

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and would definitely recommend it, not just for romance readers, but for anyone looking to escape for a while. A great holiday read.

Favourite Books for 2017

Two thousand seventeen was a busy year, personally and professionally, and while I am happy with what I have accomplished – notably the completion of my adult crime thriller, re-writing a middle-grade science fiction novel and publication of my hi-lo YA novel Running on Empty (official release date Jan 23 2018) – I ha20180102_122245ven’t read as many books as I’d have liked. One of my goals for 2018 will be to make reading a priority, along with writing, and to post more reviews. But there are, as always, a few stand-outs, so here, in no particular order, are my favourite books for 2017.

Not necessarily published in 2017, but ones that I read in 2017.

 

A Cardboard Palace by Allayne L Webster – This emotional story for younger readers is set in a shantytown in Paris. Eleven-year-old Jorge is part of a gang who survive on the streets by begging and thieving – with their profits going directly into the hands of their controller, Bill. He lives day by day, not knowing when or if he will next eat. Within this harsh environment, Jorge shows conviction and tenacity as he dares to dream of a better life. But it is his courage and loyalty to his friends that endears him to the reader as bigger problems arise. His home (such as it is) is under threat, his friends in danger, and Jorge will not stand by and let it happen without a fight.

Palace of Tears by Julian Leatherdale – A historical saga spanning three generations, Palace of Tears is set in the Blue Mountains in New South Wales and follows the life of Adam Fox, his wives, his children, and his grandchildren. In 2013, Fox’s granddaughter, Lisa, seeks the truth about her mother’s past before she slides into the clutches of dementia and loses it forever. Told from multiple points of view and multiple time periods, gradually the past is unveiled, along with its tragedies, its secrets, and its lies. Until the mystery of the elusive ‘Angie’ is revealed.

Leaving Berlin by Joseph Kanon – A thriller set in post WWII East Berlin, this gritty novel depicts life in Soviet-held Germany after the war. Alex Meier, a young Jewish writer who fled to America before the war, returns to Berlin as an agent for the CIA in a desperate attempt to avoid deportation and the loss of his family. He is embroiled in an intrigue far bigger and more dangerous than he could ever have imagined. I picked this book up for its atmosphere and depiction of post-WWII Germany, but was thoroughly enthralled with the story.

With Malice by Eileen Cook – A fast-paced, intriguing YA thriller, With Malice was a fun read. Eighteen year-old Jill Charron wakes up in a hospital bed after being involved in a fatal accident on a school trip to Italy. A trip she can’t remember. Not the trip, not what happened between her and her best friend Simone, and not the accident, in which Simone was killed. There are lawyers involved, media chasing her, and the question that hangs on everyone’s lips. Was it really an accident?

The Conjoined by Jen Sookfong Lee – The story starts out as social worker, Jessica Campbell is sorting through her mother’s belongings after her death and discovers the bodies of two dead girls in the freezer. But despite its macabre beginning, this is not a thriller. Set in Vancouver, Canada during three time periods – 2016, 1947 – 1959 and 1984 – 1988 – the story follows Jessica’s emotional journey and readjustment of her sense of self and family, as she discovers that her mother was not who she thought she was. Outwardly an ‘earth mother’ who fostered many children during Jessica’s childhood and beyond, Donna is not what she appeared to be, and Jessica is forced to look within herself and what she knew of her childhood as Donna’s past is revealed, along with the past of the two foster girls who Jessica had been led to believe had run away.

The Secret River by Kate Grenville – This is my current read, and I am thoroughly enjoying it.  Set in London, and then Sydney in the early 1800s, this historical novel follows the journey of William Thornhill, riverman and thief, as he is transported to Australia and struggles to carve out a life there for himself and his family. Once free, he settles on a piece of land up-river that he thinks is vacant. But the land belongs to the Darug people. An inspired look into Australia’s history.

Book Review: The Mercy of the Tide by Keith Rosson

I was provided with an ARC copy of The Mercy of the Tide, by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I was pleasantly surprised.

Debut novelist, Keith Rosson, has delivered a riveting character-driven tale that crosses the line between mild horror and alternate reality. Set in the small seaside town of Riptide Oregon, the time is late 1983. The town is grieving the loss of two women killed in a head-on car crash, leaving siblings Trina and Sam Finster motherless and Sheriff Dave Dobbs a widower. The blame for the accident is firmly laid on Melissa Finster, after beer cans are discovered in the back of the wreck, causing more anguish for her devastated family.

The story is told from the point of view of four characters in alternating chapters: eighteen-year-old Sam Finster, his nine-year-old sister Trina Finster who is profoundly deaf, Sheriff Dave Dobbs, and Deputy Nick Hayslip, a Vietnam veteran who grieves for Melissa Finster in secrecy, unable to reveal their affair in light of the tragedy.

Rosson’s characters are well-drawn and believable, each dealing with their grief in their own way, each with their own personality and their own voice, and the addition of several interesting secondary characters only makes the narrative stronger. I thought each of the characters was relatable, although I probably felt the least connection with Trina Finster, who deals with the loss of her mother by obsessing about the possibility of nuclear war, which seems an unlikely reaction for a nine-year-old, even a gifted one.

As the story unfolds, mutilated corpses of birds and animals are found about town and fear grips the tiny community, wondering what sort of animal or human could be responsible. However the discovery of a hundred-year-old skeleton of a Native American girl leads Deputy Hayslip to suspect that something darker and much more ancient is at work.

The descriptions in this novel are vivid. Rosson paints a picture of the town that is dark and cold and windswept, a fitting backdrop to the grief and melancholy that dominates the characters’ thoughts. I did feel the book was a bit of a slow burn, as the tension didn’t really build until the second half, the first half dedicated to setting the scene and building the characters. However, this didn’t seem to detract from the narrative. I kept turning the pages, and when the suspense rose to the ultimate climate, I was invested in the characters and genuinely anxious for their fate.

Overall, a highly enjoyable read. Recommended for readers who enjoy alternate reality, supernatural themes and mild horror.

Book Review: The Good People by Hannah Kent

The Good People by Hannah Kent takes us to a remote valley in south-west Ireland in 1825. Times are hard, crops fail, people sicken, babies die, and despite the insistence of the local priest that the old ways are pagan and forbidden, many attribute their misfortunes to the Good People, the fairies.

It is in these hard times that three women come together. Nóra Leahy, who, within the space of a year, has lost first her daughter and then her husband, and now is burdened with the care of her four-year-old grandson, Micheál, who has changed from a lively energetic two-year-old to a helpless child unable to walk or speak. Mary Clifford, a fourteen-year-old girl who Nóra hires to help care for Micheál, and becomes her eyes and ears in the village, where people whisper of otherworldly interference in his condition. And Nance Roche, a herbalist and a healer, who is reputed to be able to commune with the Good People, and is Nora’s only hope in her quest to get her grandson back.

This book is utterly absorbing. Kent has built a truly believable world, where the hardship and turmoil of the times immerses the reader and draws them into Nóra’s life. Her tragedies are very real, and her obsession with finding a cure for her grandson heartbreaking. The dynamics between the villagers is expertly exposed and the suspicion and mistrust of this closely bound community, whose fear of the unknown is fuelled by the priest, Father Healy, is countered brilliantly by their desperate need for answers to their problems and a cure for their ailments. Told from the point of view of each of the three women, the story unfolds at a natural pace, the rising tension keeping the reader on edge and burning the midnight oil.

Highly recommended.

Book Review: The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon

The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon is an enjoyable read. The year is 2059. The place Scion London where clairvoyants have been outlawed and driven underground. Nineteen-year-old Paige Mahoney survives by working for Jaxon Hall, one of the mime-lords. As a dreamwalker, a rare and sought-after form of clairvoyant, she leads a relatively privileged life in the dangerous underworld, until she is attacked, kidnapped, and transported to Oxford, where she discovers a world she never knew existed. Controlled by a powerful, otherworldly race, Paige soon learns that Scion London is hiding far more than the NVD and a corrupt, anti-clairvoyant government.

Samantha Shannon has created an interesting and vivid alternate reality London. It is a complex world, where clairvoyants live a duplicitous life alongside non-clairvoyants, and where the world
of the Rephaim is completely hidden. For the most part Shannon has done well to make this world believable to the reader, however at times it feels like there is a bit of an info-dump and occasionally it becomes somewhat confusing. Not enough to detract from the story, but perhaps the world-building could have been done with a bit more subtlety and clarity.

The pace picks up as Paige learns more about Oxford, the creatures who are threatening to overrun Scion London, her keeper Warden, and the Rephaim who are actively reaping the clairvoyants from the world for their own purposes. It is a world she is determined to expose, once she has escaped. If she can escape.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Bone Season and would recommend it for those who read dystopian and speculative fiction. Categorised as Adult fiction, but suitable for Young Adult as well. The first in a proposed series of seven, I look forward to seeing what the next instalment brings.

Book Review: Songlines by Carolyn Denman

Songlines by Carolyn Denman is a YA urban fantasy set on a sheep station in a fictional town in Victoria, Australia. Drawing on the beliefs of a number of religions, including Judeo-Christian and Indigenous traditions, the story revolves around the idea of an Eden that was transported to Australia for protection.

The novel starts out as Lainie Gracewood and her best friend Noah Ashbree are about to finish high school. When a mining company starts exploring near Lainie’s aunt’s sheep station, their farmhand, Harry, an Aboriginal Elder, reveals a family secret that rocks her to her core. She is unwilling to believe what he has told her, until Harry disappears on a quest to save the area from the miners, and Lainie discovers a link between herself, Noah, and Bane, the boy who has been the bane of her existence since she was five, that make it impossible to discount the revelation. She also realises that, with Harry gone, it is up to her and Noah to protect the land.

Denman’s depiction of the Australian landscape, life in a small rural town, and her version of Eden are clear and concise, the characters and their relationships well developed. The dialogue is vernacular and authentic, and Lainie has a clear teen voice. At times I found the plot somewhat slow, which reduced the build-up of suspense, however the second half of the book picked up the pace to an exciting and dramatic conclusion. An enjoyable read for those who like speculative fiction of a supernatural nature.

Favourite Books for 2016

Lately I’ve seen a number of blog posts of people’s favourite reads for 2016. I find this so interesting, and helpful too, as I’m always on the lookout for a new author to try, or even a new genre to explore. I’ve encountered some of my favourite books in this way. And so, I thought I would share my own favourite reads for 2016, in the hopes that someone else might find a new author to love or expand their reading into a genre where they might not otherwise have ventured. I should perhaps clarify that these are not necessarily books that have been published in 2016, but rather books that I have read in 2016. So here goes, in no particular order.

The Dry by Jane Harper – A contemporary crime novel, I devoured this book in a very short time. Delving into the dark past of a small Australian town in the midst of a drought, Harper captures the atmosphere beautifully, not only the setting, but the relationships between the townspeople, the farmers and the shopkeepers, and the newly settled city folk seeking but not quite finding the peaceful country lifestyle. Beautifully written, the story nevertheless moves along at a good pace, keeping readers in suspense, and the pages turning.

Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey – I loved Jasper Jones. Set in the town of Corrigan Australia in the summer of 1965, the characters are engaging, the prose lyrical yet easy to read, the setting solid and real. Silvey has a unique voice, the ability to draw out tension and bring it to a feverish conclusion, all the while masterfully weaving in the subplots of this coming-of-age story. There is young love, racism, families falling apart and unspeakable secrets.

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty – Humorous and dark at the same time, Big Little Lies follows the lives of a group of parents whose children are just starting school. We’ve all been there, the group standing outside the classroom, waiting for our children to finish school, talking about play dates and packed lunches, the upcoming school concert and volunteering in the canteen. But what we don’t see are the secrets we all are holding, what goes on behind closed doors once we drive away from the school. Moriarty touches big issues that aren’t discussed openly; bullying, stereotyping, single parenting, domestic violence. And she does it well.

To Kill a Mockingbird and Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee – The one a classic, the other a new publication of an unpublished manuscript. The same story told from different points of view. I felt I had to re-read To Kill a Mockingbird to fully appreciate Go Set a Watchman. There have been varied reviews of this new publication, and while I don’t think it has the strength or vision of To Kill a Mockingbird, I do think it has its own merits, puts a new filter on the story, and is worth a read.

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler – A beautiful insight into family love, a family in strife, and a young woman coming to terms with the grief of losing her beloved ‘twin’, losing touch with her brother and searching for her own identity.

The Trap by Melanie Raabe – A chilling psychological thriller, The Trap kept me on the edge of my seat. Linda Conrad has seen her sister’s killer. Twelve years later she sees his face again. She knows who he is. And she sets the perfect trap. But can she be absolutely certain he is the one?

The Good People by Hannah Kent – I have yet to finish this book, but I can already tell that it will be on my list of favourites for this year. I love a good historical novel, and Hannah Kent is developing a reputation as one of the best. Set in 19th century Ireland, The Good People follows the story of three women, Nora, a new widow struggling to survive on her own while caring for her disabled grandson, Mary, the fourteen year old servant girl Nora hires to help her, and Nance, a local wise-woman who has a reputation for being able to commune with ‘the Good People’, the fairies. Kent’s writing is beautiful and evocative. She has the ability to draw images with her words that plant the reader firmly in time and place, and draw empathy for her characters. This is one I will be sorry to finish.


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