Review: Sara Barnard – A Quiet Kind of Thunder

A Quiet Kind of Thunder
Sara Barnard

Steffi doesn’t talk and Rhys can’t hear. Thrown together because Steffi has a passing grasp of sign language, their friendship is something that might widen Steffi’s world – or perhaps make her life harder…

Ah, the depiction of first love is fantastic here. They are both equally awkward, and yet Barnard doesn’t make it contrite and irritating. Instead she seems to let it grow organically out of friendship. There is a matter of fact discussion and depiction of sex, and its not overly squeamish, yet still gets to the heart of the matter.

I knew I needed to read this novel, and then I found myself reading it in one setting because I enjoyed it so much. Something about the pacing, the characters, the individuality of telling a novel through including seamlessly incorporated texts, handsigns and emails – brilliant.

Social anxiety is something that is getting better coverage in all areas of fiction. This is not the first novel I have read that includes a protagonist who is a selective mutist. So Much To Tell You might be the first teenage novel that approached the topic, while The Things I Didn’t Say  is a more YA novel that approaches the question of love as well.

I’ve going to give this lovely novel 4 stars. I liked Beautiful Broken Things, and I’m really looking forward to more from this author.

As is understandable, Sara Barnard is a busy lady! I’ve got two interview questions that she was kind enough to answer for me though 🙂

Sex is something you’ve explored quite frankly in A Quiet Kind of Thunder? Why is that?

I try to approach everything I write about honestly, and I don’t think sex should be any different. I’m not interested in sugarcoating or romanticizing anything. With sex, I think young people are given enough of that as it is, and that’s confusing enough already. It’s not all soft sheets, pastel colours and fireworks! And I think teens deserve to see that reflected in their fiction.

Could you give us a hint into anything about your next novel?

It’s all under wraps at the moment, but I will tell you that friendship plays a major role again.

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Review: Brian Jay Jones – George Lucas, A Life

George Lucas, A Life
Brian Jay Jones

George Lucas was born to an average family and was expected to follow in his salesman father’s footsteps. Instead, Lucas survived a horrific car crash, went to film school and created the iconic Star Wars.

For an unauthorised biography, this was pretty damn good! I found myself quoting weird things I learnt about George Lucas for ages afterwards. When I went to see Rogue One in the cinemas, I could pick out points that I knew Lucas wouldn’t have wanted Disney to do.

It was quite slow going at times and I picked it up and put it down over the course of about a week. I needed time to digest each of the facts. In fact, I found myself wishing I knew more about the other filmmakers that are referenced in the novel, and experienced more films. I haven’t even see Jaws, which was a friendly rivalry between Steven and George.

I wouldn’t reread it, I in fact passed my copy on to my father who partially started my own love of Star Wars. If you have a Star Wars lover in your family, and you have no idea what to get them, this novel offers you the perfect solution to your problems.

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Review: Andrew Mayne – The Name of the Devil (Jessica Blackwood #2)

The Name of the Devil
Andrew Maine

Jessica Blackwood grew up in a house full of magicians – the real-world kind who can hide in plain sight using nothing but mirrors. Turning her back on it after a near death experience, Jessica now uses her talents off the books in her work as an FBI cop. When a Church seems to explore on its own accord, Jessica can find things with her instincts that noone else can.

If you haven’t read Angel Killer you will feel quite confused about what is happening, and what experiences Jessica already has. Go back and read it right now! I’ll be waiting right here for you, or possible be rereading it over your shoulder.

I loved the first novel in this series, and immediately contacted the publisher to see when the next would be out. Sadly, this was one of those novels that was published later in Australia than in the US, so I decided to wait. Instead, my partner bought me a copy for Christmas and I immediately started reading it then and there under the tree!

This novel is nifty because while it uses the ‘traditional’ magicians’ tricks to explain the unexplainable, some science also comes into it. Jessica’s unflinching strength of will could have been annoying, but instead it was consistent with the person I knew she was.

This reminds me of the Kendra novels, where the protagonist is also excellent at working out things from tiny cues that no-one else would ever pick up. As I said there, I like being given enough details that I could conceivably work it out for myself – even if I don’t know anything about crime solving.

5 stars from me. An engaging plot line, conceivable threats and an endearing and realistic main character whose no-nonsense approach to almost everything will excite you.

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Review: Lindsay Smith – Dream Strider

Dream Strider
Lindsay Smith

Saved from a life of servitude, Livia can walk through dreams to use other people’s bodies. While this makes her a valuable operative in spying to protect her country, she is filled with doubts about how valuable she really is. When her newest mission detects the biggest threat yet, it is up to Livia to break through and save them from Nightmare.

The whole time I was reading this novel, I was disgusted with Livia and her character development. Come on girl, grow some spine! Oh wait, no, you have grown one… and you getting to that point was completely unexpected and unrealistic. The ‘Incident’ that is referred to the whole way through should help with this development, but I just felt frustrated rather than intrigued.

I received this novel as a Christmas present because I had enjoyed Kit Alloway’s Dreamfire and Dreamfever. Sadly, this novel didn’t offer the same rich world building and atmosphere. Those two dreaming books are ‘real-world’, yet the threats seemed more deadly. Walking in dreams is obviously something that can be written well, or written poorly. This novel is not one for me.

I appreciated that sneaky twist at the end, but felt that there wasn’t enough leading up to it. Additionally, it wasn’t really clear how the armies could have possibly saved anything. I can’t say too much here without giving it away, but seriously? No way that could happen, even with the Tunnelers’ help.

This ‘espionage’ novel as it calls itself reminds me of Embassy Row, and not in a good way. I’m excited by secrets, but only if they make sense and I get a backstory as to why they are important to me as a reader. The same goes for confusing dreams and memories.

3 stars from me. I was so hopeful that it would improve, and then at the ending? The last couple of paragraphs couldn’t save the novel.

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Review: Keri Arthur – Winter Halo

Winter Halo
Keri Arthur

Tiger has been hiding out with her ghosts, but she has to save some children before she has any rest. After her hideout is destroyed, Tiger must depend on others who loath her and outright hate her to complete her new mission.

Maybe I missed something major by not having read the first book in the series. I felt like I had been dropped into a very slow plot that nevertheless didn’t build anything for me, and then the second half couldn’t get my attention despite moving more quickly.

No no no no no! The blurb gets it all wrong. It implies that Tiger cares about the women who are being attacked within Winter Halo – that’s far from the truth! While she has a desire to protect everyone, she isn’t worried about those women in particular.

In this dystopian sci-fi fantasy, I’m not sure why anyone has a will to live. The vampires are outside, and I think that was more of a plot point than anything else. Give me more killing and gore, and less chatting.

Strike me as really strange, but I think I’d be ok with having a chip in my wrist that contains all my useful data – so long as its secure. Honestly, someone stealing my wallet would have pretty much all that information anyway, and surely a chip is safer? But I digress…

I’m giving it 3 stars, again because I’m feeling generous and it is rather unique. There’s nothing inherantly wrong with it, it’s just too filled with dialogue and

Hachette | 1st December 2016 | AU $19.99 | Paperback

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Review: Emily Barr – The One Memory of Flora Banks

The One Memory of Flora Banks
Emily Barr

Flora has anterograde amnesia. The only things she can remember are the things that happened before she was 10, and had to have a tumour removed from her brain. Then she kisses a boy, and she can remember the kiss. She goes off her medication and goes out to explore life.

Flora, you’re a little naive, and I can understand why your parents want to protect you. Ok, so you are a lot naive. What is to say bad things haven’t happened? I’m not sure you would have remembered, and so as an unreliable narrator, we would never hear about it.

I almost cried in the last couple of chapters of this novel. My heart hurt! How could I not have seen this coming? Barr grabs your heart, tickles it gently, then next minute, boom!

I found myself so engrossed in the story that I couldn’t put it down. I wandered around the house reading it, feeling like I was the one with memory loss. What was it I was supposed to be doing again?

As a debut YA novel from Barr (she has written a number of adult novels already), this novel is screaming for you to read it, and for Barr to write more. For something that was tagged ‘just another typical YA’ by my (albeit non-reading) partner, this novel will grab you.

It’s rare a novel will draw me to tears and for that, I’m giving this one 5 stars. Perhaps I won’t reread it, but it was beautiful storytelling that I want you to go out and buy immediately. Or borrow a copy from the library – but try not to leave tears on the pages.

Penguin Random House | 3rd January 2017 | AU$19.99 | Paperback

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Review: Sara Shepard – The Amateurs

The Amateurs
Sara Shepard

Aerin’s sister Helena disappeared 5 years ago, yet she can’t let go that there was something that she missed. When she calls in the help of amateur detectives from Case Not Closed online, they might be able to see the mystery through and solve some of their own issues at the same time.

Seneca! I love you! And best of all, your characterisation is very human and not as if you are a saint. I could have had more of you, and way less of all the other characters who mainly seemed to be concerned with who they were kissing next. That’s not to say that Seneca didn’t also have that problem, but she seemed to have her feet firmly on the ground and some guts to go with it.

I had trouble keeping all the characters apart in my mind. Honestly, the bar hopping and sheer amount of money that these people were throwing around… So Seneca seems to be the only one with real-world problems, and the rest are just crazy spoilt rich kids. Even Maddox, with his rags-to-sexy story.

This is a fantastic beginner psychological crime novel. Ok, so you aren’t going to be able to solve the case by yourself at all, there aren’t nearly enough details. But you will enjoy the suspense and the ending should blindside you. The blurb warns you, and there are some plot holes that might hint you towards it, but in the end it’s not clear what is going on.

I knew nothing of Shepard’s other novels, but they could be worth checking out. The price on this novel is a steal – buy it for a mature teenager or young adult in your life, and I’m pretty sure they will love you for it. I’m giving it 4 stars – that ending was fantastic and I wanted to read more. I’ll be looking for the next novel in the series to read.

Allen & Unwin | 23rd November 2016| AU $6.99 | Paperback

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Review: Liz Kessler – Haunt Me

Haunt Me
Liz Kessler

Erin has just moved house to get away from a horrific high school bullying situation which got out of control. When she goes into her bedroom, she is surprised to find it already occupied – by a ghost. Joe doesn’t remember how he died, or how he lived, but he knows that he wishes he was alive to be with Erin.

Ollie isn’t introduced until mid-way through the novel, and by then I was already too attached to the Erin-Joe relationship to give him any time. Ollie, you are boring and you can’t redeem yourself in my eyes. Self-centred bastard who can’t see past his own guilt.

I’m giving this novel points for dealing with difficult themes, including suicide as a product of bullying. However, I’m taking away points for the ending. Yay! A hopeful ending. Not. This is not what the rest of the novel was leading up to. I was very disappointed.

This captured the recovering depressed mind of a teenager beautifully. Erin’s ritual with the bottle, the cloud she refers to, and even the rushed moments at the end of the novel – everything is as it should be. Which is why, again, I have such an issue with the ending.

Inconsistencies with the character development and the stupidity of Erin were the death knells of this novel for me. For being an “intensely romantic” novel, Erin’s love for Joe felt cliched, while her feelings for Ollie were just as transperant. Another reviewer calls it “insta-love”, and that’s exactly how I felt about it too. I wanted more reality.

I enjoyed Read Me Like A Book and suspended disbelief for it. I was so excited for this novel, but it simply failed to deliver. I’ll be giving it 3 stars, but recommending that you go for perhaps By The Time You Read This I’ll Be Dead or Burn Journal if you are looking for some YA depression fiction.

Hachette | 13th December 2016 | AU $16.99 | Paperback

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Review: Janet Evanovich – Turbo Twenty-Three

Turbo Twenty-Three
Janet Evanovich

Stephanie Plum is a bounty hunter and flybynight private investigator. After a HR officer turns up frozen solid, coated with chocolate and nuts, Stephanie has her work cut out for her to try and track down some criminals and not eat all the icecream on the way there.

Ok, so Stephanie is pretty dumb. And her friends are even dumber (except that sexy beast of Ranger). They are all caracatures of American cliches with an equally cliched environment. Seriously? Filming naked in the streets is pretty easy to get away with… and so is naked bungie jumping.

For being the ‘Newest Stephanie Plum’ novel, in a series of 23!! … Oh. I was saying that I had no idea what the significance of this title is. Now I do. Do I care? Hmm, not sure I do. The vibrant green and purple of the cover and the peppy blurb got me excited for the novel and didn’t give too much away.

I’m not sure I could read the whole series of these. It’s filled with lighthearted humour and unbelievable escapades and was indeed difficult to put down. But there wasn’t any substance that made me reach for more, and there was no need to read any of the others to enjoy it.

I’m going to be generous and give it 4 stars. It’s not a reread, but it was so funny and irreverant that I couldn’t help laughing out loud in places. I’d lend it to a friend who needed a pick-me-up.

Hachette | 15th November 2016 | AU $29.99 | Paperback

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Review: Simon Holland – A Miscellany of Magical Beasts

A Miscellany of Magical Beasts
Simon Holland

Discover the spellbinding stories of sixteen favorite mythical creatures from around the world. Dragons and griffins through to mermaids and giants, this lovingly illustrated novel will be for you.

With gorgeous illustrations and catchy little bits of story about mythical creatures, this large format children’s book is going to suit a range of fantasy enthusiasts. Perhaps you aren’t ready to read a big book of mythology? Perhaps you just want to have a taster of it? This is the book for you.

Of course, my favourite part was bound to be about dragons, and there wasn’t enough detail here for me. But for a beginner, it’s a nice introduction.

This has got to be the perfect gift for the younger someone who wants to know more about mythology past JK Rowling’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. I’ll be giving it to a 7 year old beginning reader who is simply going to love it.

Bloomsbury | 20th November 2016 | AU $29.99 | Paperback

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