Review: Matthew Selwyn – **** or The Anatomy of Melancholy

**** or The Anatomy of Melancholy
Matthew Selwyn

Sex – it’s the new currency. Men reign supreme. Women are simply boobs on sticks. Warning – this is a bad novel. I’m sure you think I didn’t finish this novel. But I persevered! I hoped for something redeeming. But there just wasn’t anything there worth saving.

23876717The author has a fabulous grasp of both inventive high profile vocabulary with a mix of swear and slang words spread in. It seems as if he’s taken the dictionary and swallowed it. That being said, I could see this style working in a more structured and focussed novel

I just couldn’t get away from the confusing bubble of words being constantly spat at me. The characters were one dimensional, which was fine because they were supposed to be women in their place. The protagonist came through as a man stroking his own ego and penis and that was certainly some solid characterisation – but in the wrong way. Bombarded by constant reminders of his penis’ superiority, it was difficult to get beyond those thoughts..

I’m sure this novel is supposed to be a powerful social commentary on the present world. Instead it comes across as an insane babble of internal consciousness flow that adds nothing to current informed literature. The one thing I got out of this novel was on page 154 – ‘Napoleon’s penis was dismembered and sold to an American urologist’. Now, who ever knew that fact?

If you want something with sex and commentary – PLEASE DON’T CHOOSE THIS NOVEL. There are far better examples on the market, 2094 for example. If you even just want some titillating sex scenes, Mercedes Lackey writes better ones! I wouldn’t go so far to read Fifty Shades of Grey instead – that has its own problems with the depiction of sex. If lesbian sex is more your style, pick something with an actual storyline, like The Purveyor

This novel request actually went though to my spam mail. I fished it out, I assumed it went there because most **** do by default, and I guess it had enough other trigger words in it. I almost wish I hadn’t fished it out, but other people deserve to be warned.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I can enjoy sex and swearing in the right context. But this novel didn’t leave me feeling anything other than dirty. If I could give negative eggs, I would. This makes Marked look like a literary piece of fiction.

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Review: Li Cunxin – Mao’s Last Dancer

Mao’s Last Dancer
Li Cunxin

A poor Chinese boy, one of seven brothers, is the favourite of his mother and family. With little food and littler hope for the future, Li is determined to make something different of his life. This chance comes for him when he is selected to become a ballet dancer for Madam Mao. Li’s determination to make his family proud means that he rises through the ranks, and eventually sees outside of China.

298137It’s interesting to see within the head of someone raised during the time of Communist Mao. Such brainwashing seems absurd now, but it happened not that long ago. Goes to show that corrupt politics can have a huge impact with brainwashing, and the people within it don’t even question it. Perhaps that explains some of the religious stuff that people can get away with now…

There’s not actually very much I can tell you about how this novel was written. As a non-native English speaker, Li does an excellent job of communicating. His written English (with considerable editing support I admit), flows more naturally than his spoken word. The ‘episodes’ or ‘chapters’ of Li’s life fitted in well, and I didn’t feel like I had missed out on anything important in his life.

I listened to this novel as a talking book. The reader of Mao’s Last Dancer was amazing. His voice was just how I wanted it to be told, soft in the places it needed to be, and louder when it was more important. I felt like I was really experiencing the things that happened. I’ve never tried searching for audiobooks using the reader’s name, not the author’s, but this reader makes me want to do it.

I had the privilege of speaking to Li in person, and hear him give an interview about leadership. Some of the little things he told us about in the interview were covered again in the novel, and it made a huge impact on what came out as the most important point of the narrative. The thing I took out of it was the savour the process, not just the endpoint, and that just because things have always been that way, doesn’t mean they will be that way forever.

Would I have been so interested in the story if I hadn’t met Li? Possibly, but perhaps it never would have gotten off my never-ending reading stack. I’ll give this one 4.5 stars, because it is a brilliant and well-told story, but I wouldn’t re-read it. I really want to watch the movie and see if it is as wonderful as the novel. Inspiring, and you should go read it, but it might not be for everyone.

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Review: Kristen Cast & P.C. Cast – Marked

Marked
Kristen Cast & P.C. Cast

A clueless teenager is Marked with a blue tattoo on her forehead. This mark makes her a vampire, and she must learn how to adapt to her new environment or die.

30183I can’t believe I opted to listen to this. 2 hours into the 10 hour audio recording, I gave up. Some of this fault might have been the reader. The voice was breathy, with a strong US accent. I’m sure it was supposed to convey lots of feeling, but mostly it just made me think she was vacuous.

Ugh, filled with such boppy teenage crap that just didn’t do it for me. Really? Completely clueless. Sure her step-dad is a bastard, and she has to live under his rule, but seriously? She just wants to ‘fit in’, but we don’t even learn what is so different about her. This was so bad, I can’t even remember the name of the main character, except that her grandmother calls her ‘Redbird’.

Everything felt overdone and stereotypical. Blah, blah, children of night. Not everything that is dark is evil etc etc. Things are not as they seem. Wow, vampires are beautiful. Vampires like blood. Oh look, a potential romantic interest. Oh wait, he’s human and his blood smells good.

There wasn’t nearly enough background to the novel. Maybe I just missed it, as I gave up listening by the time she got to the School of Night, but it wasn’t clear why she was sick and how her grandmother knew what to do with her. The biological explanation of how vampires came to exist in the world.

My care level is so low for this novel that I didn’t even bother looking up how to spell things correctly to write this review. Or the main character’s name. Oops?

This was so bad I ended up just wiki-ing the novel to see how it finished, and realised that even if I had kept reading it, I still would have been disappointed. I can’t believe there are 12 books in this series. Even Twilight is better than this. 1 begrudging star from me.

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Review: Ann Brashares – The Here and Now

The Here and Now
Ann Brashares

Prenna has come from the future to prevent that future taking place. In that future, a blood borne disease has killed the entire world, and left everyone fearing the outside world. Prenna doesn’t know when or how the world will be stopped from doing that, but it seems like the rest of her community couldn’t care less. Ethan, a boy she wants to love but can’t, has more to offer her than she will ever imagine.

18242896Prenna can’t seem to help getting into trouble. And the catch-cry of her elders is ‘Stop looking so stupid Prenna’, which at some points was so true! Arg! Prenna! Grow a spine! You have a good chance of dying anyway, so you might as well try and escape or be different, or something!

Sometimes I thought Prenna was completely ignorant and hopeless. I thought that the author was having time-outs in her characterisation! But then I remembered that someone from the future would have had that sort of thing, and in fact it was a deliberate device used by the author to remind the reader that she was no ordinary person. I hope.

I have to admit, the reader did some parts brilliantly, and others in a bit of a fluffy way. Sometimes the characters blended together in a soft, floating cloud of breathy speech. It felt like the reader didn’t know how to make voices other than ‘quiet’ and ‘very quiet with air’. That being said, I didn’t care, and it was far better than the reader having a very strong accent of anything. This fault was easy to live with and didn’t kill my enjoyment of the novel.

The author seems to have really considered how best to drag her readers forwards mainly by the second third of the novel. The suspense was killing me towards the end. I wanted to read faster! But of course, it was a talking book, and I couldn’t do it. The ending was a satisfying yet saddening conclusion. I felt frustrated at the same time as feeling sadly expectant. I do so wish things could have turned out differently, but it was obvious why it couldn’t be so simple.

Something that did jibe well with me was the fact that it was a blood borne disease, dengue virus in fact, that caused the plagues of the future. Maybe that confuses other people who don’t understand climate warming or anything else, but given this is a topic close to my research interests, I was fascinated to see how it turned out. Overall, the message about the future being obvious to those that take the time to look forward, even if they weren’t actually time-travellers, and that that world is disintegrating by our actions, gives certainly a bad reflection on common humans.

I am entirely, entirely guilty of listening to this novel without having reviewed the other four novels I had read in the preceding week. Oops? But I thought I had better review this good one before it left my head. If there’re more novels out there by Brashares in the same genre, I’m pretty sure I’ll be sourcing them shortly. 5 stars from me.

NOTE: While I was looking on GoodReads for the book cover, I found that the reviews are really mixed. I possibly wouldn’t have picked it up as a paperback, but as an audiobook I loved it. I certainly wasn’t bored!

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Review: Kerr Thomson – The Sound of Whales

The Sound of Whales
Kerr Thomson

The summer in Scotland is just as miserable as its winter, at least for its forced inhabitants. With nothing to do, the two Scottish boys hunt down whales, each in their own way, and the Texan girl gets caught up purely by accident. With unknown bad-guys on the loose, the children need to keep their communication open.

25094908I felt like the author was trying to tackle too big an issue with too small a novel. People smuggling is a serious offence, but this novel couldn’t get deep enough into it to even really start a conversation on it. The same thing bothered me about the culture. The dance and the Sunday church could have had so much more emphasis and interest in them.

Should I tick the box for fantasy on this one? Or something else? The whale drawing abilities were something that I could put down to real-life, or augmented reality, I wasn’t really sure where to put it. That being said, it was certainly sensitively done and I felt absolutely certain that there wasn’t anything being made up.

Dunny doesn’t speak. To you or I, or Hayley for that matter, his name sounds like, well, a toilet. I think the author has done that on purpose. On the other hand, I’m certain that Fraser often feels like his brother has his head in the dunny most of the time! Dunny certainly doesn’t make thing straight-forward.

I was grateful for the lack of ‘ikky love stuff’. You know the typical boy meets girl, they fall in love immediately, but neither want to admit it? Yeah, doesn’t happen, instead its more about being friends first, overcoming a lot of cultural boundaries and some language ones as well.

This novel was driven by subterfuge. The ending was not what one might have expected. I came away from reading this novel with mixed feelings. If it was planned to give an overview on how life can be complicated, then yes, it did the job. But if you wanted something more powerful in terms of human feeling, this said it would, but failed to deliver. I didn’t actually care very much whether any of them lived or died.

I’m surprised by the lack of other reviews for this novel. It’s actually pretty good, I tossed up between a 3 stars and a 4 stars, and settled on 4, because I thought about it while I was away from it, and really wanted to finish it. Get on it! Read it! Even if it’s better suited to teenagers, it’s totally a book you want your teenager to read, and it might even appeal to non-readers (provided you sell it to them in the right way).

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Review: Jerry Kaczmarowski – Sapient

 Sapient
Jerry Kaczmarowski

Jane Dixon is on the hunt for a cure for autism – a subject close to her heart because of her son, Robbie. Robbie is a high functioning autistic pre-teen, who nevertheless needs complete order and routine to survive. After Jane successfully transforms a rat, Einstein, into a brilliant typing rat she finds Robbie on the run and herself imprisoned.

25334953Although the blurb makes a big deal out of Jane being single thanks to an abusive husband, this wasn’t something that really concerned me. I was more interested in her current relationships, which I felt weren’t particularly influenced by her past.

I loved seeing things from the different perspectives. Each character had a very distinctive mind-voice, and I knew what was going on at all times, even if I felt pleasantly frustrated that the other characters were so clueless. All the characters were real people to me by chapter 2.

You can absolutely feel the tension radiating through Jane and the entire novel. Robbie and the animals add some humour at least, but I found myself wanting more and sitting on the edge of my seat. The plot is gripping and well thought out.

Even the end is innovative. I wanted to know what happened next! And I wouldn’t have objected if there was a sequel in the making. At the same time, I was satisfied by the ending, and didn’t feel cheated.

All I can think to myself after reading this novel is “Wow, let me get my hands on Jerry’s other novels!” I read this novel in pretty much one sitting while on vacation. I was completely absorbed and didn’t feel like doing anything else. I had forgotten what compulsive reading felt like – this is it. Get your hands on it ASAP.

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Review: Eve Ainsworth – 7 Days

7 Days
Eve Ainsworth

The fat kid in old clothes is always going to be bullied. Jess doesn’t know how to stand up for herself, and Kez takes advantage of that fact every time. Kez has her own problems, but she refuses to admit anything, or back down.

18679049The world-building in this novel was vivid. I realised that it was based on a real place, but I’d never been to the place in person. But the end of the novel though, I had a really good grasp in my head where everything was, and I could ‘see’ the action happening. The characterisation was ok, but that was sort of secondary to Ainsworth’s bullying agenda.

I have to say that Ainsworth really got her teeth into the subject matter and tried to provide some really decent insight into how a victim and the bully feel. I can’t see this a school reading material – but maybe it should be. With concerns about bullying going rampant across Australia and other places, another expose can’t hurt – particularly if it’s one that teenagers can actually relate to.

Look, the hype about this book simply didn’t live up to my expectations. There are many rave reviews on GoodReads, but honestly I wasn’t left with too much of an ’emotion-hangover’ at the end of reading this, despite feeling somewhat invested in the characters throughout the novel.

I didn’t even really feel tension at the end of the novel. I felt that they were both shallow and weak, and I couldn’t care whether they died or not. I had some sympathy for Jess, but I couldn’t believe that Kez could get away with so many things, even in her household.

If it was read squarely by its target teen audience, I think you’d be looking at 4 stars. But for me, I simply didn’t feel enough compulsion when reading about the characters to give it that. 3 stars from me. Don’t let it be said that I don’t enjoy other teenage novels – I am capable of giving them 5 stars, but it has to be a particularly great novel for me to do so.

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Review: Robyn Schneider – Extraordinary Means

Extraordinary Means
Robyn Schneider

Lane has been shipped off to boarding school with very little warning. He’s in the middle of preparing for college, and now is stuck in enforced rest – for who knows how long? When he runs into an old acquaintance, who knows what the future will hold for them?

25443389You don’t immediately realise what is wrong with Lane, and I felt myself impatiently waiting for the reveal. The interaction between what I consider the two main characters was shy and tentative, just how I like my romance to be in a young adult novel.

The two perspectives of the novel didn’t feel clearly defined. Most of the time I could tell who was narrating, but at some points I would have been confused if not for the signposting. It’s something that an author can always improve on, and I think we’re going to see more good things from Schneider.

One of the key points to take away from this novel is that being busy to prove yourself sometimes means that you miss out on the finer points of life. Even if you think you’re doing what you want to do, sometimes it’s just nice to sit down – even if it takes awhile for you to get used to it.

The ending of this was bittersweet. Honestly, I couldn’t have seen it ending any other way, but it was still shocking and painful. I found myself reminiscing about the last chapter for a while after I had read it, which is always a good sign.

This novel made me make a new category of fiction. I wouldn’t consider it ‘Dystopian’ because the entire would hasn’t fallen apart. And equally, it doesn’t contain travel into other worlds with other creatures, so I wouldn’t call it ‘Science Fiction’. Instead, I’m thinking that I’ll call it ‘Future Fiction’.

I was sent this novel for review, which always surprises me when it’s a novel with over 200 reviews already on GoodReads. Is this perhaps a new cover? I’m happy to add some more talk about it to the internet – I think anything bringing highlights to antibiotics and infectious diseases deserves some time in the spotlight.

It’s something a little bit different from other things out there at the moment, and that makes me give it 4 stars. I won’t be rereading it any time soon though – I have way too many books on my plate, and I don’t think this one has enough to offer for a second reading.

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Review: J.D. Watt – Burnt

Burnt
J.D. Watt

Michael meets Simone at a bar, and finds himself suddenly smitten with her, despite being 20 years older. Their relationship develops through text messages, skype and emails, until Michael finds himself deeply in love with her. There’s a rival for Simone’s affections though, and what the men don’t know could harm them both irrevocably.

burntHow much do you love this cover? I absolutely loved it! It’s one that is going to get people talking, particularly if you’re reading the novel out in public. That can only be a good thing. There’s plenty of talking points to be gotten from this novel, particularly that both men and women can be unfaithful, even if it always seems to be the man’s fault to other popular fiction! These days, I think it’s equally likely in both sexes, even if men have gotten away with it with a pat on the back so far.

The blurb is probably what destroyed the novel for me. I found myself completely uninterested in the early dating stages of Michael and Simone, simply because I was promised that things would get messy and there was no chance this was actually going to work out. I wanted to see the ‘train-wreck’ happening faster! Particularly since once I worked out what was going on, it was obvious what the next stages would be.

The text message dialogue didn’t work for me at all. I found myself skimming over it, which is never a good sign. It seemed highly repetitive, and I would have much preferred traditional text. Even emails would have been preferable, as the text wouldn’t have jumped around so much, and I would have gotten more out of each dialogue exchange. Also, the sex scenes could have just been left out – they weren’t necessary to the text and I felt vaguely offended that they had been included without a real purpose.

I came away from this novel wishing that it had just somehow been ‘more’ in a way. I didn’t connect enough with the main character. I feel like that in the writing, the author’s attempts to continue distancing himself from his painful past hindered the reader’s understanding of it. Maybe it would have worked better had it not been so autobiographical?

I was lucky enough to receive this copy in return for a review. Despite my complaints about this novel, I think there is still some real writing potential and I can’t wait to see how the future pans out. 2.5 stars from me. I can’t tell you not to read it, because it truly is a one-of-a-kind book, particularly in Australian fiction, and there’s a good chance it will resonate better with someone else.

2star

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Review: Paul Collins – Wardragon

Wardragon
Paul Collins

Jelindel is never given a break to rest and study. Although she might like to relax as a mage, she always has more to do – new evils and old evils arrse, including those that she thought were dead. With her old friends and companions tricking her intentionally or unintentionally, she needs to find a clear way through to win the day (and the series).

Something that confused me was that in the first book, I had thought that after Jelindel pulled her trick on the mailshirt, she hadn’t completely finished it, but when it comes up again in this novel it is. So I don’t know? Maybe it has magical properties to get itself away from dead ground and make its way back into living hands?

Whoever thought of the flying chicken/bats and growing house was marvellous! Just goes to show that everyday items, infused with a bit of magic, can do wonderful and new things.

This novel focusses on the importance of magic vs cold science. As it is, Q’zar is a very magical place, and that allows for hope. With cold science, things are too sterile, and too fated towards those that are lucky to be rich at the right time.

I loved the Farvenu! I mean, yes they’re nightmares, but the explanation for their fear inspiring properties is clear and sensible. This is one of the stronger parts of a series that I would have liked to see more of.

This isn’t as strong a novel as the first in this series, Dragonlinks, but it’s a no-brainer that you’ll want to finish the series off. For an ‘additional’ novel to a trilogy, it fits in well enough.

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