Review: Michael Finkel – The Stranger in the Woods

The Stranger in the Woods
Michael Finkel

Christopher Knight drove until his truck ran out of petrol, then walked into the woods and didn’t speak to another human for another 27 years. He survived in only a tent through the harshest winters of Maine, stealing food from nearby communities to survive. As a riddle and a legend, most feared his invasions into their homes – despite never actually seeing him.

I learnt some really fascinating things about surviving in the woods, or at least in cold temperatures. I couldn’t stop telling people about all the cool things I had learnt and the implications and complaints of the novel in terms of its comments on society. Please go and buy or borrow a copy of this novel! It is a fantastic read.

I think it is unfair to say that he is ‘the last true hermit’. There could be other hermits out there that just haven’t been caught or identified, particularly in Asian countries where meditation and retreat is revered. What comes to mind is an isolated tribe that was only recently discovered by entirely an accident. I liked that the novel did explore some of the hermits of the past.

After I finished this novel, I was left dying to know more about his life after the period covered in the novel. I googled, and googled, and all I got were photos of Chris that destroyed the picture of him I had in my head. I appreciate his need for privacy, and his family’s need for privacy.

I’d be keen to go ‘off-grid’ and live a slightly more hermit-y life. I’d need someone to provide me with novels though, and I’m not sure my body fat is sufficient to keep me through a icey winter! Also, I really like my family and I wouldn’t want them to get left behind (or not know where I had gone). That’s life.

Simon & Schuster | 1st March 2017 | AU $29.99 | Paperback

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Review: Laurie Frankel – This Is How It Always Is

This Is How It Always Is
Laurie Frankel

Penn couldn’t keep away from Rosie when she was interning as a doctor and he was writing his ‘damn novel’. When they inevitably get married, they know that they want a couple of kids – and end up with 4 boys before having a final run of getting a biological girl. Instead, they get Claude, who for his fifth birthday wants to ‘be a girl’. This novel is an exploration of what happens in a family, and a community, when a secret this big is kept for years.

This is from the perspective of the adults for the most part, but the omniscient narrator reveals all that you could hope for. It’s not ‘just another transgender novel’. Some of the lines from it are so memorable and touching that you will be tempted to cry. It’s ok – I cried, I’m not going to hold it against you.

I’ve left this too long before writing a review to give you a proper run-down of what I loved about it. Just reading other people’s reviews on GoodReads of this novel makes me want to read it again.

The author is a parent of a transgender child, but this is not her story. This is a fictionalised account which I think could reflect many families’ experiences when it comes to living with (and to an extent, explaining) a child with gender dysphoria. All I can say is that more novels like this help de-mystify gender dysphoria to the general population and perhaps will help reduce the horrifically high rate of transgender suicides.

I’ll give this the full five stars – I couldn’t stop reading it and talking about it to my partner. This is for adults, and fits a niche that George and Luna (both decent teenage/YA novels in their own rights) just don’t fill. I loved it, not because it was a niche novel, but because it was bloody well written.

Hachette Australia | 1st February 2017 | AU $32.99 | Paperback

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Review: Robin Storey – An Affair with Danger

An Affair with Danger
Robin Storey

Will is held up in an armed robbery, and can no longer think straight. His life as a lawyer should have prepared for the court to stand witness, but instead he finds himself falling for the perp’s girlfriend, Frankie. What follows is an affair that is perhaps a little dangerous.

The author gets points for making the novel potentially race along, skipping years where necessary to make the plot move. What redeemed this novel a little was the writing style, and the gentle nature of the male protagonist. He wasn’t all macho, which made it a refreshing change from other romance novels. Not to mention it was a MALE protagonist, which is rare in this genre.

This was a throwaway novel. It’s nothing special, I’m sorry to say. Where it fails is that it didn’t leave me with a sense of having gained anything in reading it. I didn’t get attached enough to the characters, I didn’t learn anything particularly pertinent about being a lawyer. It left me feeling lukewarm, with the romance/affair not being ‘throbbing’ enough to keep my attention.

This author did send me this novel off her own bat, and has spent a very unfair amount of time waiting for this review. I also interviewed her back in 2016. It makes me wish I could have gotten more out of the novel and given it a more positive review. I’m going to give it a lower end of a 3 star review, because I did finish reading it.

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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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