“Welcome to Leftover Bay!” A Review of Sugarcoated

Title: Sugarcoated

Series: Leftovers (Book 1)

Author: Sarah Epstein

Publisher: Fourteen Press

Released: 2021

Rating: ★★★★★

He was, I realised with a sinking feeling, perfect assistant manager material.

Sarah Epstein, Sugarcoated

There are so many things I have to say about this book and its author, all of them glowing praise. After reading this wholesome indie YA romance, I can say with absolute certainty that I could never be let down by Sarah Epstein. I am so thrilled that Sarah’s seemingly effortless style and skill have transferred without a hitch into a new genre. I expected nothing less and I have not been disappointed.

Sugarcoated introduces us to Sophie Duchamp, a sixteen-year-old artist who has lost her creative spark. Her boyfriend has left her for her best friend. Her family is crumbling, with her adored father moving to New Zealand to find a fresh start, Sophie is lonely and miserable, so she snaps up a job at the new candy store to save up for a flight to Auckland to escape her life in Leftover Bay. Seaside Candy Co is where Sophie meets Simon, an instant rival for the position of junior assistant manager who annoys her completely. That’s why she can’t stop thinking about him… But Simon isn’t the only work complication. Sophie’s new boss seems to have taken a certain interest in her that makes her profoundly uncomfortable. It’s all she can do to find the sweetness in her endless list of problems.

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Review: Circe

Title: Circe

Author: Madeleine Miller

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Released: 2018

Rating: ★★★★★

“The grudges of gods are as deathless as their flesh.”

Madeleine Miller, Circe

*This review contains spoilers*

Madeleine Miller’s award-winning second novel, Circe, is an absolute spectacle of a story. A deep-dive into the psyche of one of The Odyssey‘s most intriguing players, the book follows the life of the infamous sorceress Circe, from her lonely youth in the halls of her Titan father Helios to her equally lonely exile on the uninhabited island of Aiaia. With each turn of the narrative, we see Circe’s relationship with mortals, nymphs, gods, and even her own divinity change and adapt in much the same way as she magically changes men into gods, gods into monsters, and monstrous men into pigs with her latent powers.

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Review: The Ones We’re Meant to Find

Title: The Ones We’re Meant to Find

Author: Joan He

Publisher: Text Publishing

Released: 2021

Rating: ★★★★★

The problem with oceans? They always seem smaller from the shore.

Joan He, The Ones We’re Meant to Find

The Ones We’re Meant to Find follows the dual-perspectives of two sisters — Cee and Kasey — who live in the aftermath of worldwide climate catastrophe. Cee has been stuck on an island for three years, desperate to leave and find her lost sister. In the eco-city designed to protect humans from further environmental chaos, Kasey searches for answers when her sister vanishes into the ocean without a trace. It is a story of love, an exploration of the ecological consequences of capitalism, and an experiment in what it means to be human.

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“None Stranger Than Itself”: The Uncanny Horror of Monsters and Men

[This essay was written in 2020 for a university class on the Gothic tradition in Western literature.]

Dracula (1931)

Gothic literature is latent with the unknown and the unknowable. Recognisability in the face of otherworldly horrors compounds an already unsettling narrative, and as explored below, seeing ourselves in what we do not understand chills us more than the outright inexplicable. Two works of the Gothic canon, Bram Stoker’s 1897 Dracula, and Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1886 Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, both aim to hold a mirror up to personal identity and repressed desire through the use of external, unfamiliar evils, in recognisable forms of flesh and blood, exemplifying the literary technique of the uncanny. Freud’s identically titled essay, The ‘Uncanny’ (1919), explores this relationship between familiarity, unfamiliarity, and horror. Freud’s interpretation claims fear is based in repression, revealing something inner that had been psychologically concealed. Using the notion of the German heimlich, meaning homely and familiar but also private and concealed – and its inversion meaning unfamiliar but revealed – Freud concludes that “everything is unheimlich that ought to have remained secret and hidden but has come to light” (225).

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Book Review: Stay Gold

Title: Stay Gold

Author: Tobly McSmith

Publisher: HarperCollins

Released: 2020

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

Stay gold, Pony. The world needs you. Stay gold when it’s hard. When it’s lonely. When it’s scary. Especially when it’s scary.

Tobly McSmith, Stay Gold

*This review contains spoilers*

Tobly McSmith’s debut novel Stay Gold follows the dual-perspectives of Pony, a transgender boy trying to live stealth (living and presenting as a boy without anyone being aware of his trans identity) at his new school, and Georgia, one of the popular cheerleaders who has sworn off dating until graduation. The two unsuspecting seniors lock eyes across the courtyard and so begins a complicated romance with both wondering how they can stick to their intentions when sparks are flying between them.

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April Reading Wrap-Up

April was a very eclectic reading month for me this year! A handful of the books I read were for one of my uni classes on epic literature, so it was a little expansive for me — which is something I always enjoy! I’ve also been in such a variety of moods when it comes to what I choose to read next. Overall I read six books this past month (including audio). Onto my reviews!

Concrete Rose by Angie Thomas

The son of a drug king, seventeen-year-old Maverick Carter is negotiating life in Garden Heights as he balances school, slinging dope, and working two jobs while his dad is in prison. He’s got it all under control – until, that is, Mav finds out he’s a father. Suddenly he has a baby, Seven, who depends on him for everything. Loyalty, revenge and responsibility threaten to tear Mav apart, especially after the brutal murder of a loved one. So when Mav is offered the chance to go straight, it’s an opportunity – in a world where he’s expected to amount to nothing – to prove he’s different and figure out for himself what it really means to be a man. (Synopsis from Walker Books.)

I absolutely adored The Hate U Give and loved Maverick in particular, so I really enjoyed the insight into his more formative years. Concrete Rose is nothing like Starr’s story in THUG, but it’s not trying to be. It’s a story about different issues faced by economically downtrodden, obviously primarily Black, communities, but still with plenty of King Lord drama we’re familiar with. I enjoyed seeing how each character develops into who they are when they’re older in THUG, and seeing lil baby Seven and references to newborn characters I already know and loved.

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Book Review: Azadi

Title: Azadi

Author: Arundhati Roy

Publisher: Penguin

Released: 2020

Rating: ★★★★★

The history being peddled by Hindu nationalists … is turned into mythology and mythology into history, has been very ably perforated and demolished by serious scholars. But the tale was never meant for serious scholars. It is meant for an audience that few serious scholars can hope to reach.

Arundhati Roy, “The Graveyard Talks Back”

Arundhati Roy’s collection of essays on the fight for freedom and the rise of fascism in the Indian subcontinent, and the power of language in shaping people’s ideas about the social structures of power is a compelling read. Not only does Roy paint a fierce picture of political struggle but also explores how the language of struggle can play a role in shifting the reading of history itself, and asks whether or not this language will bring separate struggles together, or keep them apart.

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My Novel-in-Progress

One of the reasons I wanted to launch this blog now is to keep some accountability for my work on the novel I am currently drafting. I started work on this book early this year, but have struggled to get in the swing of actually sitting down and writing the damn thing. In part this is because I’m in my final year of my undergraduate, so I’ve been heavily focused on study, as well as some major changes in my personal life taking over my motivation to be creative. But I refuse to let this be an excuse for my procrastinating any longer.

Juliet on the Balcony, Thomas Francis Dicksee, 1875

So my plan is to post regular updates about word count goals, how the process of writing unfolds, what difficulties I might come up against, and the like. I have to be super honest and say I only have 1.5k words at the moment, despite starting to write a few months ago. This is the time to change that, though!

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Meet the Author

Myself and my friend Craig Silvey, author of Honeybee and Jasper Jones, at Adelaide Writers’ Week 2021

Hello there! Welcome to my shiny new book blog! My name is Leigh Briar, I’m a 23-year-old lover of all things literary! I’m an emerging writer (meaning I haven’t published a whole lot yet) living on Kaurna land in Adelaide, South Australia. I have loved to read and write more or less for as long as I can remember, immersing myself in all manner of worlds from early childhood, never growing out of that sense of imaginative wonder.

I have been writing more or less since I learned how to hold a pencil. Countless notebooks, writing pads, and sheets of paper stapled together were home to stories of wizards losing their magic wands and children cursed by ancient spirits – now it’s a full Google Drive that holds most of my scribblings narrated by lesbian monster hunters and gruesome fairy tale characters. I’ve also created a handful of zines on the relationship between emotional healing and the written word, with more plans somewhere in that Google Drive. More info on those coming to the blog soon!

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