bec2012_TNBec Stafford’s review is courtesy The Spotlight Report


MeAndEarlAndTheDyingGirlPoster (1)Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is an offbeat, yet moving, tale of friendship and loyalty. Greg is a nerdy teen who, with his best mate, Earl, spends his time making short films based on cinema classics. Greg generally does his best to steer clear of the school’s complex social web, instead preferring to spend his lunch hours in a favourite teacher’s office with Earl, where they watch their favourite directors’ films. One afternoon, Greg is approached by his mother, who tells him the sad news that one of his schoolmates, Rachel, has been diagnosed with a terminal illness. Furthermore, his mother insists that he reach out to Rachel and offer her companionship throughout her difficult time.

Based on Jesse Andrew’s popular novel of the same name, this film is by turns funny, sombre, touching, and uplifting. Told from Greg’s perspective, the melancholic moments are tempered by a teenage boy’s tendency to confront sentimentality with humour when faced with challenging subjects.

Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon has added some playful, creative elements to an otherwise often heartbreaking tale. The well-selected cast is a delight. Thomas Mann (Project X) imbues Greg with just the right balance of idiosyncratic charm and introspection. As his buddy Earl, Ronald Cyler II turns in a strong performance demonstrating impressive comedy chops and onscreen charisma. As Rachel, Olivia Cooke delivers an understated, nuanced performance, which adds authenticity and emotional depth to the mix. Some of the other cast members will be familiar to movie goers: Molly Shannon is excellent in the role of Rachel’s mother and Nick Offerman is a hoot as Greg’s eccentric father.

It’s not surprising to learn that the movie was a hit at Sundance, winning both the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl makes for a moving, humorous, and relatable experience — one which will be appreciated by teens and adults alike.

Mandy Wrangles_2_tnWith Father’s Day imminent here in Australia, I thought I’d make one of my own Dad’s favourites for this month’s Cook Club – Mum’s Sponge Kisses. Now, mine didn’t turn out quite as soft and fluffy as Mum’s (what IS that phenomenon that makes your mother’s cooking better than anything, ever?) and they did collapse a little as they cooled…but hey, it was my first go and my family still gobbled them up, so I’m going to take small successes where I can.

Sponge Kisses are basically two small rounds of sponge cake sandwiched together with jam (any flavour. You pick) and whipped cream, then dusted with icing sugar. Kind of an old-fashioned treat, I guess. They’re quick, easy and make minimal mess in the kitchen.
sponge kissesWHAT YOU NEED:

1/2 cup plain flour

1/2 cup corn flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

3 eggs, separated

3/4 cup caster sugar

Whipped cream and jam to fill

Icing sugar to dust



Pre heat oven to 200c, line oven trays with baking paper

With your electric mixer, whip egg whites until they have stiff peaks. Gradually add caster sugar, then egg yolks one at a time.

In a separate bowl, sift plain and corn flours together, along with the baking powder. Gently fold this mix through the egg mix.

Cooking in batches, spoon heaped teaspoons of mix onto lined trays allowing room for them to spread. They only take 4-5 minutes, or until you notice them beginning to change colour. Remove carefully using a spatula – they’ll still be very soft – and place on a rack to cool.

Sandwich together using jam and whipped cream (or just cream if you prefer). Some people like to add the Kisses to the fridge at this stage for a couple of hours to soften up. Personally, I prefer to serve immediately after adding the filling, with a generous dusting of icing sugar. If needed, you can store the unfilled Kisses in a sealed container until serving time.

Next time, I might try tweaking the recipe a little by adding a touch more plain flour and baking powder.


vincent-The stars never rise picKrista:


I love this cover, very eye catching and pretty.


There are a handful of characters as Nina ends up joining a group of outcasts. But the story really focuses on her and her intentions to save her sister.


I liked Nina the best; totally understood her actions and thoughts with what was going on around her. Her priorities and intentions were always in the right place.

Least Favourite

Nina and Mellie’s mother. She could have played a bigger role in their lives, even under the circumstances.


Nina is debating her future role in society and how to protect and take care of her sister when some unexpected news causes everything to change.


Mellie has committed a sin that endangers her whole family who are barely getting by already. If her secret gets out, the church will bring unwanted attention to their family, and they will have to pay, ruining the future for all of them. In trying to protect her sister, Nina escapes and joins a fugitive group, which is also being hunted by the church.




Rachel Vincent has yet to disappoint me with her writing. It’s very well crafted, great pacing and never a dull moment. I love stories that include a secluded community on the cusp of discovering life is not what it seems. This book pulled off the story well, and I ended up being somewhat surprised at the somewhat twist towards the end. It all made sense when revealed, but I was pleasantly surprised.


“I feel like my life is a book, and someone turned the page before I was ready, and now I can’t follow the story.”


rachel vincentBelinda:


A red and pink butterfly shiny embossed along with the title against a buttery mat black backdrop. The wings of the butterfly look like they’re ink bleeding out onto the page. It’s quite dramatic and eye catching.


There is an over abundance of evil characters.


Hmm, Annabelle. Coz… all the reasons.

Least Favourite

Mellie. UGH! Stupid, stupid, stupid girl.


Life it tough and Mellie’s mistake makes life impossible.


Nina does her damndest to keep her crap together. She runs into a group of outcasts with the same abilities as she has and they begin to work together to keep Mellie safe.


You wouldn’t believe it if I told you.


I didn’t mind that I guessed the major plot points early on in the book because watching how Rachel Vincent crafted the storyline was entertaining. I wanted to slap the daylights out of Mellie, but that may just be watching some of my own stupidity played out in the book, making me overly sensitive.

The possibilities for further books to be great, mean that I’m interested to see where Rachel will take Nina, Finn and the others.


“Exorcists aren’t born every day, but I think it’s reasonable to assume the Church had a few at one point.” ~ Finn talking to Nina





A dark cover with a luminous butterfly centre page and the title in sharp capitals. The cover is lovely but nothing about it connects to the story within – not even the title.


A soulless horde of demons, a holy order that is just as merciless, and trapped in the middle are Nina, her sister, and several new friends who might just be her key to unlocking the secrets to her world.


Devi. She stands out. Though she’s not in the book all that much, she steals most of the scenes she’s in.

Least Favourite

Despite quite a bit of time being devoted to her, I never got a clear idea of who Melanie was. We’re told a lot about her personality, but what we’re told doesn’t mesh with the choices she makes. She feels more like a vehicle than a person.


In a world ruled by the Church and preyed on by voracious demons, Nina is doing her best to keep herself and her sister fed. It may mean selling her immortal soul to the Church – if the demons stalking her don’t get it first.


Nina has always thought that she knew how her world worked. When a demon attacks her and she meets a boy who can do things that only church officials should be able to; everything she thinks she knows begins to unravel.


The world Nina thought she knew is as tangible as ash. Along with her friends, she’s going to have to figure out how to survive a new – and much more deadly – reality.


This is an amazing premise. I think Vincent says that she’d been thinking about it and talking it through for a few years before sitting down to write. That makes sense; there’s quite a bit to this world. On the other side, there are a bunch of things that I didn’t get. I’m guessing that demons come from a pretty bleak realm if they’re so impatient to get themselves a human shell. But what’s the point of possessing a human when there are so many restrictions? No sex, no excess (food, alcohol, drugs) of any kind, frequent mandatory church sessions. Having the coveted human shell seems more like a chore. Also, the love was pretty insta. I liked Finn, and Nina had her moments. I think they could have worked well together if built up more gradually.


“The plan is to send the bastards back to hell, then dance on their corpses.”

“She’s kidding about the dance.” Reece’s gaze was focused on the end of the alley, his eyes narrowed in concentration as he listened.

Finn stepped up to my side. “No, she’s not.”


Discussion Topics:

The title The Stars Never Rise comes from the poem ‘Annabel Lee’ by Edgar Allan Poe. Do you see connections between the title and poem, or is the allusion tenuous?

For fun-if you found out one day that you are going to develop a gift that would help save others lives…would you train to develop it or be too shy to reveal yourself?

Paperback, 368 pages

Published June 18th 2015 by MIRA Ink (first published June 9th 2015)

ISBN 1848453833 (ISBN13: 9781848453838)




For fans of my Night Creatures series, you can vote for which actors you’d like to see in a movie adaptation of Burn Bright over at the IF list. Follow the list and add your own favourites to it!

IF list

hardcastle_running like china picOn August 25th 2015 a giant leap was achieved for mental health in Australia. A young lady by the name of Sophie Hardcastle pinned her heart to her sleeve and put pen to paper to give us an intimate insight into what it’s like to live through Bipolar 1 in her book Running Like China.

Joelene and I had the pleasure of meeting her at the Hachette YA Bloggers evening earlier in August. Sophie is a well spoken, intelligent woman who really has a lot to say. Not a word wasted and many lessons to teach us all. Her story is the reality for so many people regardless of age or background.

Here’s the goodreads blurb…

“Most of the time we don’t notice the darkness… not until we’re in the thick of it. It was like that for Sophie Hardcastle, as the joy she’d always known disappeared. She was constantly tired, with no energy, no motivation and no sense of enjoyment for anything. Her hours became empty. And then, the month before she turned seventeen, that emptiness filled with an intense, unbearable sadness that made her scream and tear her skin.

In this brave, bold and beautifully told memoir, Sophie lays bare her story of mental illness – of a teenage girl using drugs, alcohol and sex in an attempt to fix herself; of her family’s anguish and her loss of self. It is a courageous and hopeful story of adaptation, learning to accept and of ultimately realising that no matter how deep you have sunk, the surface is always within reach.

If you have the guts to take the journey with Sophie please allow time for the memoir to resonate with your altered perceptions because undoubtedly it will change how you see the world. Chances are you’re either managing mental illness yourself or know someone who is; so this book will certainly make sense, make you emotional, and give hope.

Vivid is the perfect word for how Sophie writes. Even in the difficult chapters, where you feel like you should turn away from her pain and anguish, the words still leap forth and take you into the moment — like it or lump it.

Please, please make the effort to track this book down, borrow it from the library, buy it from any good book shop. There’s even an audio book for the people on the go. There is no excuse not to educate yourself and those around you.

Paperback, 273 pages

Published August 25th 2015 by Hachette Australia

ISBN13 9780733634260


Here’s Sophie on the youtube channel Where I Write talking about just that and reading the Prologue to the book.

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