The Secret Life of Stars

The Secret Life of Stars: Astrophysics for Everyone
Written by Lisa Harvey - Smith
Illustrated by Eirian Chapman
Non Fiction, Science
Published 
Pages
Thank you to Thames & Hudson Australia
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★★★★☆

We all know the Sun, the powerhouse of our solar system, but what about Luyten’s Flare, the Rosino - Zwicky Object or Chanal’s variable star? For those whose curiosity takes them far beyond Earth’s atmosphere, The Secret Life of Stars offers a personal and readily understood introduction to some of the Galaxy’s most remarkable stars.


Each chapter connects us to the various different and unusual stars and their amazing characteristics and attributes, from pulsars, blue stragglers and white dwarfs to cannibal stars and explosive supernovae. With chapter illustrations by Eirian Chapman, this book brings to life the remarkable personalities of these stars, reminding readers what a diverse and unpredictable universe we live in and how fortunate we are to live around a stable star, our Sun.

Stars are born, they age before slowing succumbing to the inevitable, their ashes returned to the cosmos. Anaximander and Aristotle, Johannes Kepler, Isaac Newton and Neil Degrasse Tyson, composers and artists, our universe captivates humankind, our sense of wonder and curiosity has inspired generations of scientists and amateur astronomers. Written in engaging and accessible language, The Secret Life of Stars, Astrophysics for Everyone is fascinating and entertaining, a wonderful reference infused with humour, wonder and whimsy. 


Lisa Harvey - Smith is a decorated astrophysicist, an engaging and inspirational ambassador, an Astronomer, Author and Broadcaster. I had the privilege of asking Lisa about our universe, our Australian space agency, advances in astrophysics and her advocacy of women and girls in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. Please welcome Lisa Harvey - Smith.


Why do you suppose humans are captivated by our universe and in particular, the night sky?

Human beings have wondered at the night sky for tens of thousands of years. It's a work of art, a thing of beauty and a rich scientific playground for people like me. 


Do you remember the moment you chose to pursue astrophysics as a career and the inspiration behind your decision?

I fell in love with the night sky after spotting the planet Mars with my Dad in the garden. I was 12 years' old and I never looked back. I knew that astronomy was my passion and I had to make it a career. Aged 15 I was already determined to become a researcher and find out more about our incredible universe. I'm glad I did!


The Australian Government established the Australian Space Agency and are investing in the Moon to Mars mission, how will this impact the astrophysics and research community now and in the future?

The Moon to Mars program, led by NASA and including many international partners, will be a science and technology extravaganza. The aim is to land people, including the first woman - finally, on the Moon in 2024 then to build bases and infrastructure towards a crewed landing on Mars around 2030. It is tremendously exciting for Australia to be part of the technology development towards these missions. Scientifically, it will bring a greater understanding of the history of our solar system but more importantly it will galvanise a new generation of scientific and technological discovery that will hopefully bring benefits to us here on Earth.  


I recently watched The Planets documentary series with Professor Brian Cox, whom you worked with on Stargazing Live and you've toured Australia with Buzz Aldrin, is there anyone else within the scientific community you would love the opportunity to collaborate with?

I've been very fortunate to work with many exciting and accomplished people from the space industry, including three Apollo moon walkers with whom I toured the nation with live stage shows. I would love to work with more rockstar astronauts like Mae Jamieson or Samantha Christoforetti, to show young people that women are exploring the frontiers too. I would have loved to have met the late Sally Ride, the first female US astronaut. As a badass astronaut and a queer icon, she was a real role model of mine. 


Under the Stars and The Secret Life of Stars are both wonderful reads, what inspired you to write accessible and engaging reads about space and astrophysics? 

I get bored easily! No, truly I get frustrated at people who manage to make science boring, when it is absolutely the closest thing we have in this world to magic. I believe that astronomy is for everyone, and by writing fun and engaging books about the natural world I hope to open up the magic of science to everyone. 


I read that you worked on the Murchison Radio Astronomy Observatory in remote Western Australia, can you share how you were involved and how the observatory will influence the field of astronomy?

I was for several years the CSIRO Project Scientist for the Square Kilometre Array telescope and later for its Australian pathfinder in outback Western Australia. These telescopes are new, cutting edge radio antennas that enable us to study the past 10 billion years of cosmic history. I was involved in designing and commissioning the new telescopes and their vast computing and data centres. I also used the telescopes to conduct scientific research, weighing a supermassive black hole in a distant galaxy to check it was working correctly. Exciting stuff!


You're a wonderful advocate of women and girls in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics studies and careers, can you tell me about your role as an ambassador?

As the Australian Government's Women in STEM Ambassador my role is to increase the participation of women and girls in STEM study and careers. I advise government on policy, work with STEM peak bodies and organisations, conduct research and projects, create resources and run national campaigns to break down stereotypes about STEM. The end goal is to reduce barriers to women's participation in STEM careers and to make workplaces fairer and better for everyone. You can follow Australia's Women in STEM Ambassador on socials or visit womeninstem.org.au to find out more. 


And lastly, what is your favourite fact about space that few people would know about?

Eight hundred and twenty-two light years away in the constellation of Cygnus lies a rocky planet called Kepler - 1652b. It sits in the solar system's habitable zone, which means there could potentially be liquid water on its surface. Oh, and did I mention that it has four Suns? Yep - if there is alien life on that planet, they would definitely need the factor 50 sunscreen. But with no night time, how would they sleep?

None Shall Sleep

None Shall Sleep
Written by Ellie Marney
Mature Young Adult, Thriller, Mystery
Published September 2020
400 Pages
Thank you to Allen & Unwin
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★★★★★
Interviewing convicted juvenile killers for the FBI leads Emma Lewis and Travis Bell on the hunt for a serial murderer who targets teenagers. A riveting young adult thriller that will keep readers on the edge of their seat from start to finish.

It's 1982, and the innovative FBI Behavioural Science section is breaking new ground. Emma Lewis and Travis Bell, two teenagers with valuable skills, are recruited to interview convicted juvenile killers for information on cold cases.

When they're drawn into an active case targeting teenagers, everything starts to unravel. Over Travis's objections, Emma becomes the conduit between the FBI and an incarcerated serial killer, nineteen year old Simon Gutmunsson, who is a super intelligent sociopath. And although Simon seems to be giving them the information they need to save lives, he's also an expert manipulator playing a very long game.

Can Emma and Travis stop a serial killer on the loose or will they fall victim themselves?
Eighteen year old Emma Lewis continues to endure the psychological trauma of being held captive, the sole survivor of man who abducted young women as wives. Now studying forensic psychology at University, Emma is about to embark on a landmark venture with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, adolescents recruited to interview adolescent sociopaths to help understand the psychological motivation of their crimes. Emma is a determined and resolute young woman, intelligent, perceptive and resilient. She's reluctant to join the Federal Behavioural Science Unit, tempted by the prospect of accelerating her education. 

Travis Bell is the son of a decorated police offer, killed in the line of duty by a sociopath killer, now pursuing a career in law enforcement. Travis has been recruited by the FBI and alongside Emma, plans to make the most of the opportunity he's given to forge a career and honour his father's memory. Travis and Emma are strangers, brought together by circumstance but form a tentative and platonic friendship over their shared experience, Emma's abduction and Travis' father killed by Simon Gutmunsson. They share moments of attraction but their working relationship and budding friendship was lovely, seeing them trust one another without the complications of a romantic relationship. Both Travis and Emma are healing and given the circumstances of the investigation, I'm thankful their connection remained purely platonic.  

Simon Gutmunsson, he's charismatic and under any other circumstances, even endearing. Ellie Marney created a likeable sociopath and I'm equally parts delighted and horrified. Simon is known as The Artist, he doesn't consider himself in the same lowly league as a sociopathic killer, he artfully killed his victims as a calling card, proud of his extracurricular activities. Simon is highly intelligent and curious about Emma, alluding to the current murderous spree by the unknown assailant. The FBI hope by understanding juvenile killers like Simon, they'll be able to profile and catch the current serial killer, using Emma and Travis at bait to see what Simon knows.

The killings are brutal. We're given a glimpse into the mind of the killer as he strings up his victims and performs ritualistic killings. It's terrifying and creates an incredibly urgent storyline, using the cryptic innuendo provided by Simon and applying his insights to the current, open case before the killer strikes again. Holy shit. None Shall Sleep is creepy, downright terrifying but balanced with moments of tenderness and a gentle and tentative friendship. 

This is next level Marney, a little bit batshit, pee yourself while reading and jumping at shadows for the next three months. Outstanding!

Where We Begin

contains mild spoilers of sensitive issues such as family violence, abortion, alcoholism, physical and emotional abuse, colonisation, genocide, prejudice and racism
Where We Begin
Written by Christie Nieman
Contemporary, Realistic Fiction, Australian
Published August 28th 2020
368 Pages
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★★★★★
Seventeen year old Anna is running into the night. Fleeing her boyfriend, her mother, and everything she has known.

She is travelling into the country, to the land and the grandparents she has never met, looking for answers to questions that have never been asked.

For every family has secrets.

But some secrets, once laid bare, can never be forgiven.
Anna could see the ramshackle, debilitated home from the roadside as the coach drove into the night, the letter from her grandmother safely in her pocket. Anna departed Sydney for the small country town in Victoria, a life of uncertainty among the dry, desolate pastures, anxious and alone.

Anna's estranged grandparents hadn't expected their seventeen year old granddaughter to visit, considering their daughter abandoned the family home and her family before Anna was born. Anna is in turmoil, her mother is attending a business conference in New Zealand, her father visiting his dying father in Germany and Anna is pregnant, unbeknownst to her boyfriend Nassim.

Anna's narration is harrowing, she's anxious, alone and navigating a new relationship with her estranged grandparents. In her final year of school, Anna is intelligent and motivated, wanting to study medicine at university. Escaping to the small country town, Anna plans to abort her pregnancy. The nonlinear narration shifts between the present and the events leading to Anna's decision to leave, moments from her mother's adolescence as the past and present converge.

In the present day, Anna's mother Cathy is an absent parent, businesswoman, entrepreneur and alcoholic, Anna's father excusing her behaviour, encouraging Anna to practice understanding and forgiveness. Anna's relationship with her mother is irrevocably fractured when as she introduces her mother to Nassim, her boyfriend. Cathy overindulges and becomes verbally and physically abusive.

As the storyline unravels, we learn about Cathy's adolescence, her parents Bette and Hessel, a stoic and racist Danish man. The Krause family colonised the local Indigenous land, white farmers who decimated the landscape. As children, Cathy and Leonie shared a wonderful friendship, Leone an Indigenous girl who Cathy was forbidden to see. Leonie, a local nurse, remained in the small country town and raised a wonderful son in Basil. Cathy and Leonie are no longer in contact with one another.

First Nations communities continue to endure racism and prejudice and with the permission from the Dja Dja Wurrung community, Christie Nieman explores the Blood Hole Massacre, a horrific incident of genocide. Basil, Leonie's son, is a storyteller and a beautiful character. The life he's endured, carrying the stories of his community. Basil's enthusiasm and effervescence is infectious, his character is incredibly endearing and proudly Indigenous, although also recognising his colonist ancestry. 

Where We Begin raises awareness and encourages discussion of family violence, alcoholism, adolescent pregnancy, abortion and physical and emotional abuse. First nations, colonisation, Indigenous genocide, prejudice and racism. Although the narrative is harrowing and poignant, Where We Begin is written with compassion, delicately and an intricate tenderness. Often we choose novels without realising the impact they leave upon us and as readers, we experience our world through fictional characters. When We Begin is a remarkable read and I thank Christie Nieman for sharing her words.

The Omte Origins

The Lost City
The Omte Origins Book One
Written by Amanda Hocking
Fantasy, Magic, Paranormal, Romance
Published July 14th 2020
384 Pages
Thank you to Pan Macmillan Australia
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★★★★☆
Can she unlock the secrets of her past?

Ulla Tulin was abandoned in an isolated Kanin town as a baby. Taken in by strangers and raised hidden away like many of her kind, she has never stopped searching for her parents, or wondering about them.

When Ulla hears of a project designed to help those like her, in the beautiful city of Merellä, she seizes the chance to discover her true heritage. She enlists the help of Pan Soriano, who is both handsome and resourceful, a half human with telekinesis powers. And she must also contend with Eliana, a mysterious girl who claims she's being pursued. Though Ulla suspects there's rather more to the story.

Ulla and Pan work to unravel the truth about themselves and Eliana. But in the process, they realize that someone or something, is determined to stop them. And they face a force that will do anything to keep certain secrets.
She arrived during a snowstorm, carrying a dagger befitting for a warrior and sought shelter at the Iskyla lodging. Before dawn, the Omte warrior had departed, leaving behind a newborn child with the elderly couple. Ullaakuut Tulin is an orphan living with her new adoptive family in Förening, the Trylle capital, assisting with their children and continuing the search for the woman who abandoned her as a child. Learning ancient Scandinavian languages has guided the eighteen year old to an apprenticeship in the illustrious Merellä metropolis, the Inhemsk Project reuniting trolls of mixed blood heritage with their families. The Mimirin is an abundant research facility, library and university and Ulla will spend the next several weeks researching her origins.

Ulla is such a beautiful young woman, she's gentle, compassionate and charismatic, assuming she was born of Omte parents according to her statuesque physique. The Omte society are rarely forthcoming with information and trolls of mixed blood heritage are often degraded and endure adversity. Her journey is wonderful, her relationships and eagerness to learn is admirable. Ulla is determined and tenacious but allows herself to be vulnerable, creating an endearing character.

On the way to Merellä, she reluctantly agrees to escort Hanna, a sullen teenager who will be staying with her grandparents while Ulla is away but Hanna has other plans and the two journey to Merellä until Hanna's parents can collect their stowaway. Hanna bakes up a storm while Ulla and Dagny, her roommate, are at work and a few pages may now be crinkly from drooling. Hanna is such a lovely and vibrant character, her enthusiasm for life is infectious and I hope she'll also play a part in future installments or perhaps her own series.

The secondary characters are wonderfully vibrant. Panuk was born to a human mother and unknown father from the Kanin, a researcher at the Mimirin and Peurojen by night, an Elk shepherd. Dagny is Ulla's new housemate, a candid and detached assistant troglecologist researching the biology of the troll kingdoms and communities. Dagny is brilliant, I loved her no nonsense approach to life, including Ulla's mission to find her identity. Eliana is an interesting character. She's also a troll but with chameleon like abilities, wildly acrobatic and has absolutely no idea who she is or why she's travelled to Merellä. Dagny was more interested in solving the mystery of Eliana than Ulla's and it added a mysterious element to the storyline that I really enjoyed unravelling.

The Morning Flower
Omte Origins Book Two
Written by Amanda Hocking
Fantasy, Magic, Paranormal, Romance
Published August 11th 2020
416 Pages
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★★★★★
Welcome to a world in the shadow of our own, a fairy tale land where the dangers are real. In this second book in the Omte Origins trilogy, Amanda Hocking creates a new adventure in her much loved Trylle universe.

Will she finally discover her true home?

In the beautiful city of Merellä, Ulla, Pan and Eliana made an incredible discovery. Determined to learn more, they embark on a quest that takes them across the world, to find an ancient city that may hold the key to Ulla's heritage. But powerful enemies are close behind and they're catching up fast.

While Ulla and Pan race to unlock the past, they discover an earth-shattering secret. This will challenge everything they thought they knew about the troll world. And Eliana must make a difficult choice, with far reaching consequences. As their enemies draw closer, even the strongest bonds of friendship will be tested. But will they break at last?
In the Omte Origins series, we hear more about the origins of the trolls and their Scandinavian heritage, their history tightly woven among the Viking folklore. The mythology and legends of children's fairytales coming to life was beautiful and I hope it might lead the way to future series' set within this magical world.

It's been quite a while since a series has captivated me so entirely and that's one of my favourite aspects of Amanda Hocking's writing. They're entertaining reads and I inhaled both books within days. Being back in the Trylle world was lovely and although the Omte Origins series features an entirely new community of troll, characters and storylines, it was comforting to be back in a world I was familiar with. The Morning Flower, the second Omte Origins instalment is wonderfully adventurous, a beautiful exploration of folklore and culture, of lost cities and found family.

The Unadoptables

The Unadoptables
Written by Hana Tooke
Illustrated by Ayesha L. Rudio
Middle Grade, Historical, Friendship, Adventure
Published July 2nd 2020
400 Pages
Thank you to Penguin Books Australia
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★★★★
In all the years that Elinora Gassbeek has been matron of the Little Tulip Orphanage, not once have the Rules for Baby Abandonment been broken. Until the autumn of 1880, when five babies are left in outrageous circumstances: one in a tin toolbox, one in a coal bucket, one in a picnic hamper, one in a wheat sack, and finally, one in a coffin-shaped basket.

Those babies were Lotta, Egg, Fenna, Sem and Milou, and although Gassbeek might think they're unadoptable, they know their individuality is what makes them so special and so determined to stay together. Twelve years on the children still have each other, until a fateful night threatens to tear them apart. The gang decide to make a daring escape, beginning their adventure with only a scrap of a clue to guide them to their mysterious new home...
The Little Tulip Orphanage in Amsterdam is home to orphans Egbert, Lotta, Sem, Fenna, and Milou, children abandoned as infants under mysterious circumstances, the forgotten children shelved as unadoptable. With her journal of fantastical theories as to why she was found on the roof of the ophanage, in a coffin as a bassinet clutching a cat puppet, Milou knows it's only a matter of time before her parents, probably adventurous folk, return for her. They may have possibly dropped her basket on the roof while escaping a werewolf, as is probably customary for esteemed werewolf hunters. Nevertheless, she's certain they'll return before the horrible Matron's ultimatum, if the five children aren't adopted, they'll be left on the streets of Amsterdam to fend for themselves.

Matron Gassbeek is a horrendous woman, the children are impoverished and working until they're exhausted, a life of servitude and clasping onto what little possessions they have. It's no wonder when the ruthless and completely sinister Meneer Rotman arranges to purchase the children from Matron Gassbeek, the children gather their meagre possessions, the cat puppet and escape into the city.

What ensues is an adventure of resilience, mystery and a horrendously frightening villain who is determined to collect his purchases, the children. Meneer Rotman didn't count on the children being so inventive and resourceful, as they settle into their new life in an old abandoned windmill, once owned by Bram Poppenmaker, the maker of Milou's cat puppet.

The Unadoptables follows the narrative of Milou, resident storyteller, promising mystery solver and twelve year old miniature mother hen. Milou fiercely cares for her found brothers and sisters, often accepting responsibility for the wonderful childlike malarkey the children of Little Tulip Orphanage create, the Matron is a vile and malicious woman unfit to run a raffle, nevermind a children's orphanage. Milou has tried her damndest to be unadoptable, hanging onto the hope that her parents will return for her when safe to do so, clearly they're on an extremely dangerous adventure, hunting werewolves or hot air balloon aficionados and a catastrophe has befallen them and they'll return as soon as possible, how else would you explain an infant being left on the roof?

Milou's found siblings are absolutely delightful. Egbert is an artist, spending his days looking out over the city of Amsterdam, a budding cartographer with an impeccable eye for detail. Lotta is a tinkerer, a wildly imaginative inventor and handywoman. Sem is wonderfully creative, sewing, designing and repairing what little clothing the children own. Fenna loves to bake, she's gentle and compassionate and conveys her feelings by using body language and facial expressions, described as being mute. The children aren't officially related but they've chosen one another as their found family, despite the horrendous circumstances they find themselves in.

The Unadoptables is an endearing middle grade adventure, of perseverance, determination and resilience. Beautifully written and lovingly illustrated, an enchanting read for the young and young at heart.

Fin & Rye & Fireflies

Contains sensitive issues such as homophobia, transphobia and conversion therapy
Fin & Rye & Fireflies
Written by Harry Cook
Contemporary, Mental Health, Queer, Australian
Published August 2020
352 Pages
Thank you to New South Books
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★★★★☆
A gloriously upbeat LGBTQI novel of love, hope and friendship, showing that although it's not always rainbows and fireflies, life's too short to be anyone but yourself...

It started with a kiss... As love stories often do. Jesse Andrews had the arms of a Greek god and he was on the track team. The night of our kiss fell on a Friday.

Then, only a few days later, Fin's world is turned upside down and not in a good head over heels in love way, when Jesse cruelly outs him. An event which ultimately leads to his family leaving town.

But a fresh start isn't going to change the truth of who Fin is. And it's not going to stop his sexuality causing everyone all sorts of problems. Everyone, that is, apart from his new best friend Poppy, her girlfriend in waiting June, and his latest crush Rye... So, while Fin and Rye are enjoying some seriously intimate moonlit moments together, Fin's parents decide to pack him off to the local therapy camp.

It's a nightmare and there's no easy way out. Can Fin's squad hatch a plan outrageous enough to spring him before the conversion acolytes force him onto the straight and narrow?
As far as the town of Lochport are concerned, Fin Whittle is a heterosexual son, his parents are conservative members of the community and there is absolutely nothing out of the ordinary here. His father certainly didn't evacuate his entire family because his son is gay and this fresh start, terribly disguised as a work promotion, is most certainly not a bigoted overreaction of the sexuality of your child. Most certainly not. They certainly aren't concerned about the welfare of their son after his sexuality became the hottest gossip in the small conservative and religious community, labelled as perverted with unnatural tenancies. Surely their new home in Lochport will set him straight. Insert fist shaking and extreme eye rolling here.

Fin is lovely and tenderhearted, he identifies as gay and although he's confided in a few close friends, isn't ready to tell the world just yet so when he was cruelly outed by his former crush, his confidence took quite the beating. His parents more concerned with how they're perceived rather than the mental and emotional wellness of their son, as though sexuality is a choice and his father can threaten the gay out of him. Fin's distress is palpable and confronting, especially for queer readers so please tread lightly friends. Fin's father isn't old school, as Fin's brother Elliot would describe him, he's a conservative asshole and a foreboding presence in Fin's life.

Lochport is a seaside town with a small and inclusive community of queer students representing gender, sexuality and straight allies. Poppy identifies as pansexual, she's totally in love with June, her former girlfriend, transgender and chairperson of the Queer Straight Alliance. June is a gentle soul, I loved her sense of justice and wanting to educate others to create an inclusive environment. Poppy is a firecracker, fiercely loyal to her friends, brutally honest and won't hesitate to knock anyone down a few pegs for being a dickhead. Everyone needs a Poppy in their life.

Rye, along with his trusty sidekick British Bulldog Thelma, is the perfect example of why we need more kind and compassionate male characters in young adult. He's wonderfully sensitive and wears his heart on his sleeve. Rye has anxiety and when it all becomes too much, escapes to his secret hideaway at Kettle Lake, chilling and watching the fireflies dance upon the water. At the lake under moonlit skies, Rye and Fin begin falling for one another, the coy smiles and gentle touches are beautiful and I treasured seeing them finding solace with one another.

I was absolutely horrified by Fin's father, his beliefs and straight up homophobia. His mother is slightly more understanding but allows Fin to be treated like shit to appease her husband. I wanted to slap them both into next week. Here you have a wonderful young man, smart, sensitive and compassionate, who just happens to be gay and he's stuck with these horrible shithead parents who send him to conversion therapy to brainwash the gay away. Thank goodness for Elliot, Fin's older brother who has returned home from travelling abroad. He recognised from an early age that Fin may have been gay and wants nothing more than to love, cherish and support his brother, standing up to their father so Fin isn't in this fight alone. I don't know what kind of Christian malarkey this is but I was fuming. Conversion therapy isn't something I know much about but how fucking dare anyone tell someone that falling in love, regardless of gender, is unnatural, that they're unnatural and these charlatan assholes should be imprisoned.

The heaviness surrounding queerphobia, conversion therapy and the issues the queer community face is balanced wonderfully with a hopeful and tender story of friendship, falling in love and the strength and resilience of queer teens. It's beautifully written and an incredible young adult debut from Harry Cook, who will no doubt become a force to be reckoned with. Just outstanding!

Book Tour & Giveaway!

To celebrate the release of Sing Like No One's Listening by Vanessa Jones on September first 2020, blogs across the web are featuring original content from Vanessa, as well as ten chances to win a finished copy plus a grand prize giveaway!

Sing Like No One's Listening
Written by Vanessa Jones
Contemporary, Mental Health, Romance, Music
Published September 1st 2020
384 Pages
Add to Goodreads
Purchase from Amazon or Indiebound
A moving story of grief and healing, sure to be a pure joy for any musical theatre aficionado.

Nettie Delaney has just been accepted into a prestigious performing arts school, the very same school her superstar mother attended. With her mother’s shadow hanging over her, Nettie has her work cut out for her and everyone is watching. To make matters worse, Nettie hasn’t been able to sing a single note since her mother died. Whenever she tries, she just clams up. But if Nettie’s going to survive a demanding first year and keep her place in a highly coveted program, she’ll have to work through her grief and deliver a showstopper or face expulsion.

All may not be lost, however, when Nettie stumbles upon a mysterious piano player in an empty studio after class. Masked behind a curtain, can Nettie summon the courage to find her voice? Or will the pressure and anxiety of performing come crashing down?

My Five Worst Auditions Ever by Vanessa Jones
In the very first scene in Sing Like No One’s Listening, the main character Nettie has a disastrous audition at the performing arts college she is desperate to get into. In honour of this, I thought I’d share my own worst audition experiences with you from my time as a performer in West End shows. Worryingly, there were lots to choose from!

Close the door on your way out
If I remember correctly, this was my second callback for Les Misérables at the Palace Theatre. I was up for the part of Fantine and, buoyed by the two successful auditions I had under my belt, I was feeling positive. Good, even. I knew my material, my voice was in great shape and I walked into the studio with the air of a girl who knows what she wants.

The song went well, I had a short interview with the panel, who seemed to like me, and that was that. No mistakes, no bum notes. Yay me! I thanked the team and went back over to the door, and that was when it all started to go downhill. I couldn’t get out of the room. The door was stuck. I pulled and pulled with all my might, rattled the handle, I even tried putting my fingers in the gaps at the sides to prise it open, but it was no good. I’ve had a fear of being locked in a room since I was little and the door handle came off the inside of my bedroom door, and my mind jumped straight to the worst case scenario, which involved locksmiths and the fire service and having to wait all day in a room full of important showbiz people who didn’t want me there.

After a minute, the casting director noticed that something was up. He asked me if I was alright.

No! I gasped. The door’s stuck. We’re trapped in here.
The corner of his mouth twitched. Darling, read the sign.

I looked up, and to my horror, saw a large sign reading Push. Humiliated, I touched the door and easily made my way out of the studio, the echoes of laughter following me down the corridor and pretty much all the way home.

Wishing you would somehow remember your words
This was my final recall for the part of Christine in The Phantom of the Opera. I was nervous beyond anything I’d ever known before. The first song the musical director asked me to sing was Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again, which is one of Christine’s main ballads. I got through the first verse okay, but when the chorus hit, I blanked.

Shall we go again from the chorus? said the musical director, a little annoyed.
Uh, sure, thanks, I said. This was a one off. Put it down to nerves. Next time would be better, now that I had warmed up. He played me in, my brain going into overdrive to find the words. But nothing.

I’m so sorry, I said. Could you remind me of the lyrics, please?
The casting director looked at me as if I’d just told her Prince Charles was outside waiting to audition. It’s wishing you were somehow here again? she said drily. The... title of the song?

I’m still waiting for the call.

I’m only doing this for kicks
Dance call, can’t remember the show. Could have been Beauty and the Beast. Something with a lot of kicks, anyway. We’d learnt the routine and it was my turn to be called up to dance. Everything was going well until my shoe suddenly came loose (how?) and flew off into the air. The room looked on in horror as it connected with... the choreographer’s face. Ice was fetched, a chair brought out and a thousand grovelling apologies were made by me. When the names of all the people who had made the cut were read out, the casting director said Vanessa, actually, scrap that. I mean, fair enough.

Cry Me a River
This one actually wasn’t funny at all. On my way to the audition, which I was running late for, a girl in my carriage on the train started having a fit. Alarmed, I went over to see if she was okay, which she clearly wasn’t. I was unsure what to do, apart from make sure her head was cushioned and that she wouldn’t hurt herself, which I’d read somewhere. After I’d done that, I called down the carriage for help. The other passengers looked up from their newspapers and phones, and then ignored me. Like, who does that? Panicking, I pulled the cord for the train to stop and waited for the paramedics to arrive. As soon as they did and I could see that she was going to be fine, I ran all the way to my audition, arriving sweaty, late, stressed, and angry that no one had helped me. Someone on the panel asked me if I was okay, and instead of saying, Yes, just a bit of a rush to get here or something equally as bland, I told them the whole story. And what’s worse, I ugly cried the entire way through, and continued to do this during my song, which unfortunately wasn’t the kind of song that lent itself to tears. They were sympathetic. I did not get the job.

High Enough For You?
This was a casting for a brand new, off West End show. The kind of job you hope you’ll land because it could be the start of something much bigger. A chance to create a role, the prospect of a West End transfer, an Olivier award... At this stage in development, however, they couldn’t even afford an accompanist on the piano, so it was stated on the breakdown that we would be asked to sing acapella. Which would have been fine if I hadn’t randomly decided to start my song almost an octave too high. When I realised my mistake, I stopped and changed keys, right? No. I decided to push on to the end. How difficult could it be? The result was an ending that was now something only dogs could hear, especially in my Lina Lamont voice, which was the only way I could get up there. No Olivier. This time.

Something I’ll never forget is when I came out of that audition, I saw a girl who’d been in the year above me at college, waiting to go to class in another studio. I told her I’d ruined my audition by singing too high, and she said, Oh, don’t worry about it,  I’ve had so many bad auditions I couldn’t even count them. It’s part of the job.

It stayed with me, the way she was so unfazed. The more I thought about it later, the more I realised how right she was, failure is part of the job. As soon as I accepted that, not only did I start to do a lot better in auditions, but I didn’t stress as much about them. It’s like, yes, we all want to do well, but sometimes it’s okay to fail. You can just get back up and try again. Possibly learn something. And who knows? Maybe there’s something better around the corner...

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Giveaways

One person will receive a finished copy of Sing Like No One's Listening. US and Canadian residents only. Ends September 13th 2020. If you are under sixteen years of age, please ask your parents for permission.


Win a copy of Sing Like No One's Listening and a wireless bluetooth karaoke microphone. US and Canadian residents only. Ends September 13th 2020. If you are under sixteen years of age, please ask your parents for permission.


About The Author
Vanessa Jones trained at Laine Theatre Arts and went on to be a musical theater actor in West End Shows, including Sister Act, Grease, Guys and Dolls, Annie Get Your Gun, and Mary Poppins. She began her writing career with a stage play for a fringe theater and also works as a freelance copywriter and editor. She lives in England with her fellow chimney sweep.

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House of Dragons

House of Dragons
House of Dragons Book One
Written by Jessica Cluess
Fantasy, Dragons, Magic, Romance
Published June 16th 2020
448 Pages
Add to Goodreads
★★★★
Five royal houses will hear the call to compete in the Trial for the dragon throne. A liar, a soldier, a servant, a thief, and a murderer will answer it. Who will win?

When the Emperor dies, the five royal houses of Etrusia attend the Call, where one of their own will be selected to compete for the throne. It is always the oldest child, the one who has been preparing for years to compete in the Trial. But this year is different. This year these five outcasts will answer the call.

The Liar. Emilia must hide her dark magic or be put to death.

The Soldier. Lucian is a warrior who has sworn to never lift a sword again.

The Servant. Vespir is a dragon trainer whose skills alone will keep her in the game.

The Thief. Ajax knows that nothing is free, he must take what he wants.

The Murderer. Hyperia was born to rule and will stop at nothing to take her throne.
The five eldest children of the royal estates of Etrusia will answer The Call, their kingdom seeking a worthy competitor to succeed the Emperor, chosen by the Great Dragon and overseen by Their Graces, high priests of the temple of Delphos. Except the second born, the servant, the bastard child and the pacifist are chosen in their stead, those untrained and ill prepared. In the kingdom, the eldest member of each royal linage is conditioned and trained to take part in a series of tests known as The Calling, where the mythical Great Dragon chooses a child and their dragon mount to compete. The narrative is told from five points of view, each character easily distinguishable and a glimpse into their lives before and after The Calling, as they struggle with the expectations placed upon them.

Emilia has lived in isolation, her parents believing she is dangerous and concealing her illegal ability. Being chosen for The Call is an opportunity for Emilia to escape her confines, she hadn't expected to find former childhood friend Lucian also competing in the trial. Lucian has conquered lands and its people alongside his father and warmonger sibling, leaving the young man traumatised and vowing to atone for his brutality and using a pacifist approach to conflict. Emilia and Lucian are both wonderful characters, gentle, compassionate and both wanting to avoid the brutality of the trials. It was lovely to see them reconnect as tentative friends and watch their subtle attraction develop.

One of my favourite characters is Vespir, the servant and dragon keeper. Vespir is a servant within one of the royal houses, treated with contempt and seen as less than human. Her true companions are the dragons within her keep until she falls in love with the boss' daughter. Vespir shouldn't be underestimated, she's a survivor, she's resourceful and deliciously crafty. Although in a gentle, totally non backstabby kind of way unlike Ajax. Ahh Ajax, the bastard son, among a sea of bastard children, created from a sexual assault and tormented by his noble father and his legitimate children. Ajax has always struggled to fit in, surviving through any means necessary. He's well aware his lack of attractiveness means he can slip under the radar, a little like a cheeky cat burglar, although not as slick as he pretends to be.

A fair warning about our last competitor, she's ruthless and bloodthirsty beyond compare. Hyperia isn't a young woman to be played the fool, she's cold, calculated and will allow no one, absolutely no one to stand in her way of becoming victor. Oh my goodness, this girl makes Mia Corvere look like a Catholic school girl. She lives for her kingdom, the admiration of her father and the fear she instils in others. 

The world building is breathtaking. Spiralling cities steeped in history and grandeur, rustic villages and desolate woodlands, beautifully atmospheric and wonderfully imagined. And the dragons! When a dragon hatchling is born, they choose their human companion, connecting to their spirit as dragon and rider become one. When their human companion passes, their dragon eats them which wouldn't be an altogether bad way to go. I loved Dog especially, Ajax' companion. He's playful, loyal and befitting of his name. 

House of Dragons was glorious and left me wanting more! The brutality, the loyalty, companionship and moments of friendship among the fierce competitiveness is entwined so beautifully, shades of a young adult Game of Thrones that even reluctant fantasy readers will enjoy. Best be off, need to see a man about a dragon.
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