Review: Emily Fridlund – History of Wolves

History of Wolves
Emily Fridlund

Linda lives in an ex-commune with parents who love her, but are a bit off-handed with their parenting. School isn’t perfect either, being labeled a commie and a freak. But it’s not like she is interested in school anyway. The chance to make some money and babysit the new neighbour’s kid seems the perfect idle escape.

Sold as a ‘Coming of Age’ novel, I honestly don’t know why I kept reading this novel. Linda doesn’t even make a choice, as promised in the blurb. She just wanders along in her own life, with no absolution and no explanations.

For me, it was not obvious that Paul was sick, until he was really sick and sleeping a lot. Kids get sick right? Linda takes him out in the forest and he seems like a perfectly normal boy to me. A quick google didn’t tell me how long a child is likely to last in his condition, but 4 years seems like a long time to survive.

Again, this novel had flicking back and forwards in time, making me feel slightly sick and very confused! Why should I care about your current life Linda? Why should I care about your behaviour towards Lily and the teacher? Why should I care about anything in this novel?

I understand that this novel is trying to expose at least some of what goes wrong in Christian Scientist lives – they believe that if you don’t think you (or anyone else) is ill, you will survive. I could also argue the same for other religions where blood transfusions are not permitted etc. I think for this novel to have worked on me, I needed the connection to be more explicit.

I hoped and hoped for this novel’s redemption, but it never happened. I’m even hesitating to give 2 stars, even though I finished it. Choose something else. If you want another novel with death and lies, pick Wolf Hollow, even though I didn’t love that one much either.

Hachette Australia | 1st January 2017 | AU $29.99 | Paperback

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Review: Sally Hepworth – the mother’s promise

the mother’s promise
Sally Hepworth

Alice refuses to accept that she is dying. She’s come through other health scares before, because she doesn’t have a choice. She’s the only person in 15 year old Zoe’s life that Zoe can trust to any extent. As things progress, both Alice and Zoe must learn to let go – and so must Kate and Sonja.

This novel hit me. The writing is powerful and it makes the reader slip effortlessly inside each of the women’s minds. Each has a unique view of the world, and their place in it – it seems like they are running their lives, but really there are external, unknown factors making an impact. The reader will be invested irrevocably in the story.

I’ve tagged this as Women’s Fiction, but really that’s quite unfair. This novel is edgy and painful to read, and not soppy at all. It will make you hurt in the end, even if you are ambivalent about some of the characters.

I was on the edge of my seat towards the end. I couldn’t put it down and I stayed up far too late to see the ending. The ending was inevitable, and yet at the same time it had a twist that the reader might have seen coming. Oooh, spine-shiveringly good.

I think that I may need to revise my ratings system of 5 stars if I am going to reread it. I’m giving this novel 5 stars because it made me cry, and it made me feel everything that the women were going through.

Pan Macmillan | 1st March 2017 | AU $29.99 | Paperback

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Review: Emily Reynolds – A Beginner’s Guide to Losing Your Mind

A Beginner’s Guide to Losing Your Mind
Emily Reynolds

Emily Reynolds struggled with depression from teenagerhood, ending in a period of psychosis that finally had her correctly diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder type I. This novel is her insights on how to cope, how to get help and how to speak to others about having a mental illness.

Emily has written a brilliant guide for those who might be affected by mental illness, either as a patient or as a concerned friend. Her articulation of the problems she faced in getting a diagnosis and getting well are ones that many with non-physical illnesses will recognise.

You’re going to need to be a bit insensitive to lots of swearing, the text is liberally scattered with them. But for me, this rang true as the mind of someone with mental health things going on. Sometimes just saying ‘f*** it’ is all you can do! And being sick is something that you can swear about.

At times, Emily’s conversational tone seems a little much for the ordinary reader, but there are real gems of wisdom in there. I particularly liked her section on relationships and how NOT to tell someone you have health problems! Emily says that every person is supposed to have a novel in them, but honestly I feel like Emily has already written mine!

Towards the end of the novel I started feeling quite weighed down by her discussions of suicide and self-harm. Although lighthearted, it’s not exactly easy reading. In addition, her frank discussions on the impact her uncontrolled illness had on her family were potentially unsettling. In fact, it came as quite a relief that a significant chunk was helpful resources and acknowledgements.

Buy this for a loved one, buy it for yourself. I am certain that the style of this novel will not be for anyone, but it is worth trying it out. Despite giving this 5 stars, I’m not sure it is going to remain on my shelf – I want it to get out there and be available for other people who are less experienced than I in this field.

Hachette Australia | 28th February 2017 | AU $32.99 | Paperback

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Review: Emma Geen – The Many Selves of Katherine North

The Many Selves of Katherine North
Emma Geen

Katherine (Kit) has been projecting her consciousness into endangered animals in an effort to understand them for longer than any others in her job – 7 years in fact. After the death of her host Ressie while she is inhabiting it, Kit starts to get a bit paranoid about what her company might be doing behind the scenes. Can she stop them before it is too late?

I’d like to hear other people’s opinions about this novel. What do you feel like you gained from it? It took me a long time to sink into this novel, and then I struggled with the then/now perspective changes. I recognised Kit’s mind struggling with the same thing, and I couldn’t separate her projections away from the truth.

It has a very interesting premise, that it is possible to go inside an animal’s body and control the limbs. The fact that the mind can comprehend it at all is amazing – the concept of ‘plasticity’. Of course, the animal is an empty shell, and so you can become almost anything. I couldn’t understand how you would get funding for such a thing! Research studies have enough trouble getting funding as it is, let alone for a body that can be harmed.

What I felt confused about was the tourists. How could they adjust to the syndrome of swapping bodies when Katherine herself always struggled? Clamping down on sensations is one thing, muting the whole experience is another.

Also, what’s so bad about human Ressies? It’s no worse than say inhabiting a cyborg, and it’s potentially less dangerous, depending on where you put the Ressie out! Perhaps that’s the crux of why I didn’t understand this novel, and why I’m only giving it 3 stars.

Bloomsbury | 1st July 2016 | AU $28.00 | Paperback

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Review: Garth Nix – FROGKISSER!

FROGKISSER!
Garth Nix

Princess Anya always gets the responsibility of cleaning up after her sister’s messes. Unfortunately, she’s also trying to avoid her step-step father killing her off and taking the throne. When her step-step father makes yet another one of her sister’s wooers a frog, it’s up to Anya to save the day.

Who wouldn’t love a plucky heroine who really just wants to sit in her library and study sorcery? Oh wait, maybe that’s just me. No! I don’t think so. Nix has once again created a strong female character with a set of unique character flaws. She’s young enough to be appealing to young readers, but there are some in-jokes in the novel that teenagers would enjoy too.

I’m going to be handing over my copy of this novel to a 16 year old keen Garth Nix reader to see what he thinks. Is this novel particularly new and exciting? Is it adding something exciting to the genre of fairytales? Maybe is all I can say. It is certainly better than some of the other offerings out there, and if you like Garth Nix, you will probably still love this novel.

What you can’t see from the cover image is the glorious fluorescent yellow page edges. Check out my instagram to see them. It almost makes me want to put the book back-to-front on my bookshelf so that it can stand out!

I can see where this novel could easily become a series – there is reference to an overall set of Rules after all. But this novel was perfect in itself. This novel is far better than the other recent Nix novel, Newt’s Emerald, but not as good as Clariel or Goldenhand. I’m giving it 4 stars, although I would consider reading it again should a sequel appear.

Allen & Unwin | 22 February 2017 | AU $19.99 | Paperback

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Review: Josh Martin – Ariadnis

Ariadnis
Josh Martin

Aula and Joomia are the Chosen Ones, forced to compete in a trial to decide the fates of their nations. Little is as it seems however and things are falling apart quicker than either of them can control. They’ve always been on opposite sides, but now they must unite or all will be lost.

I once again expected this novel to be far more exciting than it was. I was tantalised by the amazing tactile cover that lept out at me and screamed ‘read me now!’ Sadly, it just wasn’t to be. Despite there supposedly being a sense of urgency and death imposed on me from the blurb, I never felt very concerned.

I could see how the two girls were related, in that they were almost exact opposites. What I couldn’t believe was how dumb they were. Aula is a complete oaf and I just couldn’t get connected to her in any way. Joomia was no better, being a complete wuss about everything! Those opposites could have made them powerful characters, but instead I didn’t even feel pity for them.

There was a chance for this novel to have a big twist – but instead it was just framed as an ineffectual memory. I appreciated more people being involved in a prophesy than usual, but the plot struggled along so slowly that I really had to concentrate on which character was speaking – both of them were equally boring.

What is the obsession with creating sequels and series these days? This novel worked perfectly as a single novel. No need to drag it out any more than it already was. They spend the first half of the novel dragging their feet about training, and the other half in a frenzied mess.

Hachette Australia | 1st February 2017 | AU $16.99 | Paperback

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Review: Elly Blake – FrostBlood

FrostBlood
Elly Blake

17-year old Ruby is a FireBlood in a world of passionless FrostBloods. After the King’s soldiers kill her beloved mother and stick her in prison for a year, Ruby is ready for revenge. Even if that revenge comes by way of making friends with some renegade FrostBloods and plotting to melt the throne (literally).

The language in this was passionless. For a novel about fury and rage being key to power, the text itself didn’t inspire that in me. Perhaps there was too much detail for me? It felt like clinical observation by Ruby the whole time. Ruby’s reponse to ‘Die in pain’ was too cold and clinical to something that was spat out in fear.

There wasn’t enough of a twist in this novel for me. It was more like a slight turning of the head, and more could have been done with it. The same went for the cruelty of the King – please tell me less about it, and show me more. I couldn’t have cared less whether Ruby died or not, and that’s not a good characteristic to have in a main character.

For a comparative novel, I’d suggest Blackthorn and Grim because there is a similar theme of revenge vs healing going on in there. If you’re looking for a very similar magic offering, perhaps Red Queen or the Poison Study trilogy could be up your alley.

I’d recommend it for teenage readers, rather than YA readers despite the ‘heated kisses’ because there isn’t enough depth and surprise to hold an older reader’s attention in my opinion. 3 stars from me.

Hachette Australia | 1st January 2017 | AU $19.99 | Paperback

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Review: Jodi McAlister – Valentine

Valentine
Jodi McAlister

Pearl and Finn (and Marie and Cardy) were all born on the 14th of February, and have suffered through countless Valentine’s Day celebrations together. After a horse appears and one of them disappears, it is time for Pearl to get her act together, both literally and figuratively.

I was left underwhelmed by this novel. There just seemed to be nothing outstanding about it. The characters were a bit wussy, I couldn’t get inside anyone’s heads and Pearl was an inconsistent narrator who was mainly irritating for me to read.

I thought that the premise of the novel sounded exciting, with four teenagers being born on one day, then being killed off. It turned out that mostly they weren’t even killed off! And the blurb promises me that the Unseelie want to kill the Valentine, but to me, most of the action seemed to happen from the Seelie side of things.

It was interesting to have a perspective that for once wasn’t the ‘it’ character. Much as Pearl would like to be the special one, she isn’t. That doesn’t stop her behaving stupidly about it though and being completely whiney. The worst part for me was the emotions seemed to be completely false, and the dialogue was stilted to boot.

The ending of this novel was mainly a relief. Yes, it’s the first in a series with a paranormal twist, but don’t feel compelled to read the rest when they finally appear. Try breathing under water for a similar teenage paranormal vibe, or maybe Haunt Me for more of a love story. Three begrudging stars from me.

Penguin Random House | 30th January 2017 | AU $19.99 | Paperback

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Spotlight on The Helper by M. N. SNow

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

M. N. SNow’s bio includes years as a public radio host and anchor, primarily in the south Florida market, but also for Wisconsin Public Radio. M. N. has had various short stories published and was a contributing writer for Reader Weekly, in Duluth, MN. M. N. is also a published cartoonist and a former Marine Corps NCO.  After spending some years at home in the Twin Ports of Duluth, MN/Superior, WI,  the author is currently back living in Key West, FL.

Find this novel on FaceBook and GoodReads, and purchase at Create Space, Amazon, or as an eBook only.

Prologue:

Coyote peered through the bushes and watched the scene unfold. The four legged Trickster knew the humans needed his help. He just didn’t know if he wanted to give it. They could certainly use it, but would it be the best for all concerned? And, would helping them provide him with the most satisfaction? He would just have to watch and wait, as they would. Helping, hurting, hot and cold, part god, part animal. The Trickster.

The Ojibwe, or Chippewa, of northern Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Canada didn’t have a Trickster that walked on all fours. Nope, theirs stood upright on two legs. Part god, part human. Many of the tribe thought this a better figure, more appropriate given the Trickster’s nature. Especially the human part. Prone to fits of anger, jealousy and resentment. Able to alter events in a way that only a god could, but given to episodes of what can only be described as Trickster-ness. That could only be described as, well, human.

His name is Nana’b’oozoo. A child of the heavens and of the earth, growing up parent-less. Some of the Ojibwe People went so far as to describe him as Jesus-like. After they had found out who Jesus was, that is. Before that time he was only, as he still is, Nana’b’oozoo. God and man, together as one, walking the earth. With god-like talents and human traits. Said not without a certain amount of pride, especially when compared to the four legged Legend of southwestern and western tribes. Not an animal like theirs, but a man. Upright, on two legs, just like us. Pride not an emotion limited to gods. But a Trickster is as a Trickster does, and so they shall. And so shall we.

People fail and people fall. Often noticed, quite often unnoticed. A story as old as time. A story as old as stories. As likely to happen today as it was in the time before time. And if you think tragic surrenders and mythic tribulations happened only in the past, you are truly mistaken. One need only look at tonight’s network news or read today’s newspaper. There are people plummeting from sight every second, often taking others with them. Heck, you only need cast your glance as far as the cubicle next to yours, or peer across the factory floor to see the possibilities. How much do you really know about those people? Do you think that it is not going on around you even at this moment? When a county worker in Florida goes on a rampage and takes three people down with him, do you think that is fiction? When a postal worker or a high school student or even that traffic-jammed driver ahead of you snaps and takes it out on those surrounding him, do you think that is fiction? Let me clear something up right now. That tree philosophers talk about, you know, the one falling in the woods? I’m here to tell you that just because you’re not there to hear it, it still makes a sound. Quite often the sickening sound of that very same tree squashing an innocent passerby. Do not doubt that for a moment.

And yet, sometimes that falling tree, for seemingly no reason at all, does not hit the ground. Sometimes it is brought back upright, before it hits. Before the destruction occurs, it finds itself standing straight, and taller than before, having been helped by a force or forces unseen. Again, do not doubt me for a moment, it happens.

This last reality makes up hope for the eyes peering through the bushes. We know they are there, we have seen both sides of the outcome far too many times to doubt it. The eyes are there and they can help us. The question is, the hope is, will they help us?

Many, many times people fall and fall hard. And sometimes they are Helped.

…Cast me not away from thy presence,

and take not thy holy Spirit from me.

Restore me to the joy of thy salvation,

and uphold me with a willing spirit.

Psalm 51, verses 11 and 12.

 

I’m the Helen Keller man, staring at the sky.

Helen Keller man, don’t know how or why.

Am I who I think I am, or am I just a lie?

Helen…Keller…Man

lyrics from “Helen Keller Man”

by Velva Scourge

Hi I’m Greg and I’m back from Honduras.

I was down there teachin’ little kids to kill.

lyrics from “He Said, He Said”

by Mortal Engines.

Chapter 1

Trickster tells his tale…

The first time John Sloan Helped someone was in 1971. He was four years old. He already had a sense that he was different but was too young to know anything more.

John’s mother Roberta had dragged him, along with his five-year-old brother James, to James’s kindergarten class. Roberta was always dragging extra kids along—always a bit behind, as is the case with mothers of children who have husbands who earn their wages over the road. Darn good wages both Roberta and her husband Hugo would agree, but nonetheless things like kindergarten fell upon Roberta’s shoulders much more squarely than Hugo’s. At that time they numbered five children, from ages two to nine, with one more to come in another year or so.

Tall Roberta, five-feet, seven-inches of dark flowing hair, red lipstick, and flashing brown eyes, lugging John along with James to school on that gray, northern Wisconsin, December day. They were late for the four-hour, afternoon class and Roberta went over to Mrs. Hinkley, James’s teacher, to explain how Theresa, the nine year old, had spilled Campbell’s tomato soup on Tracey the two year old and a chain of events had started. Theresa was home sick from school, and should have been in bed, but she wanted to help her mom and it had all gotten out of control so very quickly, as Mrs. Hinkley knew so well. She had twenty-six little potential soup spillers that could quickly bring schedules to a halt.

While Roberta was laughingly commiserating with Mrs. Hinkley, John had wandered over to the brightly decorated Christmas tree that a few of the other children were admiring. He stood back a bit from the others and he smiled. And he felt it. What he was to come to feel quite often during his life. His “extra-ness”, his “special-ness,” stood up a bit inside of him and said, “watch and wait.” Goose bumps broke out on John’s arms and back. So John did as he was told. He watched and waited… and he glowed.

Three little girls and one little boy were carefully stepping around the twinkling Christmas tree. They were playing a guessing game. They were guessing which of their classmates had brought in which decorations. They would point and touch an ornament and say, “oh, that’s from Terry Archambault. And that star is from Ruby Cerdich.”

One of the girls was being extra careful. She had straight, jet black hair that spilled all the way down to her lower back and a smile that was all the more beautiful for it’s missing front teeth. Her name was Lorraine, but Lorraine wasn’t smiling much these days. No, life was not a big barrel of grinning monkeys for little Lainie as of late. Lorraine, or Lainie as her dad used to call her, had a secret. And she couldn’t tell anybody about that secret. Nope, she couldn’t tell a soul, and if she could have put it into words she would have said that the secret was killing her.

Lainie had brought in a beautiful stained glass angel that hung from a silver string. Lainie’s mother had made that angel for last year’s Christmas tree. That turned out to be the last piece of stained glass that Lainie’s mother Evelyn was ever to make. Evelyn was diagnosed by the middle of January and had lasted until spring. This was Lainie’s first Christmas without her mother, and Lainie shouldn’t have brought the stained glass decoration to class. It belonged in the basement. Lainie’s father Douglas had been very firm about that. Lainie was not to touch any of her mother’s things. They stayed in the basement! The very back of the basement. Crouched, dusty, hidden.

Douglas had been so devastated by Evelyn’s death that he had taken everything connected with her, boxed it up and trundled it all down to the basement where it was now stacked in the darkest recesses of the musty, dimly lit cellar. Every article of clothing, every brush and comb, every picture that included Evelyn was grimly boxed up and taped shut. Especially the pictures. Douglas had sent Lainie to her aunt Agnes’s house one Sunday shortly after the funeral and finished the chore in an afternoon. Anything that included death’s hollow scent was now shut away down-cellar. These boxes included all of the stained glass pieces that Evelyn had so lovingly crafted. And the boxes were not to be touched or spoken of. Lainie’s father was very clear on that fact. He had sat Lainie down that Sunday evening and told her not to touch the boxes and not to speak of the boxes.

“Mommy is dead”, her dad had choked out. Lainie could still see her father’s empty eyes staring out the window and hear his haunted voice, so unlike the voice she knew, tell her in no uncertain terms that “she wasn’t to touch anything in the back of the cellar. Ever!” That was the last time Lainie and her father had spoken of her mother. Her dad had changed.

From that point on her dad had started fading away. Not only was Lainie losing memories of her mother, but it also seemed that her father was disappearing, bit by bit and day by day, right before her eyes. What did she do wrong, she thought? Why did God do this? I miss my mommy and why can’t I crawl up into my daddy’s lap anymore? Lainie thought that she might be disappearing too, and this really scared her. When she held out her arm and looked at her hand she could still see her fingers but she wasn’t sure that they weren’t fading a bit. She would stand in front of the full length mirror on the back of her bedroom door and stare at herself and sometimes see that she was not all there. No, she was not all there, at all. She thought that she might be turning into a ghost and that scared her so badly that one day she almost peed in her pants. Frozen white and swaying in front of the mirror she had seen nothing. Lainie didn’t look in that mirror anymore, but she remembered.

This was the secret that Lainie carried hidden inside her that day in the classroom. This and more. Lainie had snuck down-cellar, found the boxes that contained her mother’s stained glass pieces and found the angel. Her mom had made it ‘specially for her and she just had to bring it to class for the tree. She had to bring it or she would disappear completely and no one would ever be able to see her again. She would still be alive and walking around, but she knew that no one would be able to see her.

As Lainie and the other children circled the tree looking at the pretty ornaments, “ormaments” Jimmy Tong called them, John watched. He felt the something swell up and glow inside of himself. He intuitively knew that he was there to Help, whatever that meant. He didn’t know who he was there to Help, but he understood that something was coming on none the less. Lainie caught his eye, and in spite of the fact that she looked so sad, he felt good. No, not just good, or even great. John felt perfect.

Lainie spied her mom’s angel hanging from the branch where she had placed it with Mrs. Hinkley’s help. She stood still and looked at it, mesmerized by the light dancing out from the different colored pieces of glass inside of it. The light seemed to dance out to her and twirl around her. The shards of light that were coming out of the angel’s eyes shot out and stopped right in front of Lainie’s face and seemed to be looking at her. The other kids had moved on to the other side of the tree and Lainie was alone, frozen in her spot, surrounded by light from the stained glass angel. Lainie was petrified. She didn’t think this was any angel anymore. Gosh no. She saw her mom’s eyes and maybe something darker and horrible behind that. Bad eyes.

John watched all of this, and saw and felt it too. He now knew that Lainie was falling. She was falling into a dark pit in horrified slow motion. John was only four years old and didn’t know this in words, but he knew it just the same. He saw it in pictures that appeared in his mind. In spite of it all he felt perfect. He felt a power plant swell through him, humming away and powering up.

John watched as the hypnotized Lainie swayed and started inching toward the tree. Lainie wanted to touch the angel. She was being drawn to the angel against her will. Her arm was outstretched and her pointed finger was moving toward the angel to touch it. It was right at this time that the children on the other side of the tree started goosing each other and when Jimmy Tong started tickling Rosemary Banks, Rosemary let out a shriek. A loud shriek. A fingernails down the blackboard shriek that shatters glass, and causes fillings to vibrate, kind of shriek. This shriek caused Lainie’s feet to get tangled up and she tripped in her trance-like walk toward her mother’s shining angel. The trip was turning into a fall as Lainie stretched out both hands toward the tree, toward the angel. One hand grabbed a branch and stopped Lainie’s slow motion fall. But Lainie’s other hand, her offending hand, had grabbed her mother’s angel. Horrified, Lainie looked and saw that she was squeezing the angel with her other hand. She was squeezing it so hard that she was going to break it, and so because this was her mother’s angel, Lainie’s only link to her lost mom, she let go of it.

Things slowed down and John was able to see through Lainie’s eyes. The stained glass angel came loose from the tree and was starting its fall to the floor. John was helpless to stop its flight and knew that this wasn’t his job to do. John and Lainie watched as the twirling angel head-over-heeled its way to the brown tile floor. Just before its slow-motion descent reached the floor it was facing up and there were beams of colored light shooting out of its angel eyes looking directly into Lainie’s. Nothing had stopped, the angel didn’t hover and look into Lainie’s eyes, but there was one split second, one nano-second, one moment where its eyes glowed beseechingly into Lainie’s eyes. “Help,” they said. And then the angel hit the tile floor and shattered.

A kindergarten classroom has a certain level of noise to it. A buzzing murmur at the best of times, much louder at other times, but breaking glass has a tendency to get everyone’s attention even if they are preoccupied five-year-olds. Then, quickly as you can say “Jimmy Tong said Patricia Barnes was full of crap”, the room was silent. All eyes intuitively sought out Lainie, and as quickly as that, the buzz returned. It returned for all except Lainie. Inside Lainie all was silent. Lainie had shattered too.

Mrs. Hinkley was quick to rush to Lainie’s side, somehow knowing that it wasn’t Lainie’s fault but also not knowing how important the angel had been to Lainie. John’s mom Roberta also came quickly over and helped get Lainie seated in one of those small kid’s chairs that we wonder how we ever fit in, and helped Mrs. Hinkley start the process of cleaning up the shattered stained glass pieces.

John found himself sitting in the chair next to Lainie. He saw her big brown eyes fill with tears and knew that she had lost. Not that she was lost, suggesting a situation from which one could be found. No, no, no. Lainie was only five years old and she had lost. Never to win again. Shit, never to lose again. Lainie was five years old, it was Christmas, her mother had died, her father was disappearing, and she had broken her mother’s last present to her, that she wasn’t supposed to touch. Ever! Lainie had lost. It was OVER and John knew it. Lainie had reached a pivot point and been catapulted in a direction from which there was no return. Five years old and already over. And if you think it doesn’t happen, think again.

John sat in the chair next to Lainie and John’s newly realized extra-ness sat down in it with him. He was only four years old, not five like Lainie which is huge to kids, but he knew what to do. He took his left hand and grabbed Lainie’s right hand and said, “Hi Lainie. My name is John.” He hadn’t known what to say until that moment, hadn’t known to clasp her hand until that instant, and yet that is what he did. That is when John felt it happen. In an amount of time that knew no time, John had the whole story—Cancer, death, a disappearing father, her fading mirror image, and now this. This is when the “little bit of extra”, that was really a whole lot, did what it did.

Lainie looked into John’s green eyes and it happened. John felt the flow pour out of him. A rushing, gushing, flow of good and of light and of Perfect that splashed back and forth over them. It felt like pure love and a lot more. It felt like crawling in bed with his mother and father times nine gajillion and John didn’t even know his multiplication tables yet. Shoot he was still learning his adds.

No other words were spoken. John held Lainie’s hand while Mrs. Hinkley and Roberta finished the sweeping up and the rest of the children got back to the business of being, well, children.

As John grew older there were often more words spoken and more time involved but when he was young the Helping rarely involved more than a greeting and two names. His and theirs. John realized he wasn’t really doing anything. There just seemed to be a pipeline that poured out of him. It was good, and it washed, and it turned losers into winners. Or more accurately the Lost into the Found.

And Lainie knew. She knew that she was washed. And clean and loved and they both accepted in that instant that Lainie would not remember much of that instant and John would. That’s just how it worked. Lainie had been Helped, with a capitol H, and for the first time, John Sloan was a Helper. John felt warm and good and older and perfect. He somehow grasped that no one would ever realize what had just happened. He also knew that because of this Helping, Lainie would go home and talk with her father and he would cry and she would cry, and that Lainie’s dad would stop disappearing and Lainie could look in a mirror again, and that they would go on together as father and daughter.

It was good. That had been a long time ago, thirty-plus years, but John could still remember how very good it had been from that very first time on. Yes, being a Helper was good. The ability to Help was good. And now it was gone.

End of Chapter 1

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Review: Wolf Hollow – Lauren Wolk

Wolf Hollow
Lauren Wolk

Annabelle is a quiet sort of girl, happy to travel along in life with her friend Ruth, going to school and being educated. Once Betty comes to town though, everything changes. Betty isn’t nice, or kind – she seems set on killing someone. When she disappears, somehow it becomes Annabelle’s job to keep the local loner alive.

Let me start out by saying that the cover did not fill me with joy. I can’t resist reading any words that come past my nose, so I fully expected that something good would come from it. Instead, despite being promised that she would ‘earn her keep’, her role turned out to be useless.

Annabelle is ok as a character, and her actions in her relationships with her parents are believable. However, I had problems with the way she treated the bullying because it was clear that bodily harm was going to occur. If she had spoken up quicker, a lot less misery would have occurred.

This novel was far too slow to keep my interest. I struggled to pick it up, and it was far too easy to put it down again. Although the pace sped up in the last couple of chapters it was too late to redeem the novel for me.

Although I was erring on the side of 3 stars after finishing the novel, writing this review has crystallized it as only 2 stars. I just couldn’t love it, or Annabelle. Others have compared this to ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ but I think this is weaker by far.

Penguin Random House | 3rd May 2016 | AU $16.99 | Paperback

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