Review: Amy Tintera – Avenged

Avenged
Amy Tintera

Em has rescued her sister Oliva from the torturous confines of Lera’s dungeons. A promise by Em’s husband Cas means that she trusts the Lerans won’t attack Runia while her family rebuilds – but there are more politics than anyone can presume to understand.

I wanted to reread Ruined before I read this sequel, but I just couldn’t hold out, the siren song of Avenged was too strong. Then I saw Ruined on the bookshelf at home and almost picked it up in a frenzy read, but I was sadly interrupted by dinner preparations.

In this novel, Em continues to be the underdog heroine who has to use her wits to survive because she is Useless – no Ruined magic to speak of, she is almost as bad as a human. Worse, since she is supposed to be Queen. After her sister Olivia suggests a diarchy so that Em can deal with the horrible humans, Em continues in her role, but she has to balance up the needs of her people with her own longing for the new King of Lera, her husband Cas.

Absolute power corrupts absolutely. I’m not sure Olivia had any feeling bones in her body before, but she certainly didn’t get any favours from being tortured. Olivia hates everyone, even her sister sometimes, and she’s a threat that will eventually need to be neutralised.

Aren gets a bit more airtime in this novel, and there’s a bit of romance for him too. What I liked was the way that romance complicated things, yet didn’t overwhelm the main fantasy storyline. It wasn’t just a means to an end, it actually changed the outcomes subtly. This also applied to Cas’ appearances in the text, both from Em’s POV and his own.

The first novel ended with a bang, and this one was no better! I felt so discouraged after finishing it, simply because I wanted to just keep reading. I should have prolonged the reading experience by reading more slowly, but the fast paced action just wouldn’t let me stop.

I’m giving this 5 stars. I can’t wait until the next novel comes out, and I can’t believe that it’s another whole year away. Perhaps I’ll have to read the other two novels by Tintera in the mean time (Reboot & Rebel).

Allen & Unwin | 26th April 2017 | AU$16.99 | paperback

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Review: JC Burke – The Things We Promise

The Things We Promise
JC Burke

During the height of the HIV and AIDs epidemic in the 1990s, Gemma is blissfully ignorant of any health issues that could be going on in her home town of Sydney. Her worst concerns are who she will hang out with school and what kind of hairdo she is going to have her brother Billy do for her formal.

I’ll be the first to say that a lot of the language in the novel is offensive. It’s particularly offensive to gay people, eg. “limp-wristed, pillow-biting, doughnut punching bum bandit”. Which, given the subject matter, I’m not surprised that it’s targeted so negatively. But I also appreciated the hard feelings and accuracy of that. It felt ‘real’.

The problem some reviewers had with this novel was that it was horrifically offensive to a variety of people. While I agree that it is, I also accept that this novel is an accurate snapshot of the early 90s, where this sort of language, beliefs and behaviour was common. If you are easily offended and can’t understand the setting of the novel (such as a slavery novel with ‘nigga’ in it), this novel is not for you.

It’s an interesting way of approaching the early years when very few people knew about HIV and how it was transmitted. It paints a picture of how miserable things really were from a personal perspective, not just a sheer number of people who were infected as a sterile statistic.

I’m giving this three stars. It took me a while to warm up to it, and despite eventually enjoying it, it seemed a little forced at times.

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

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Review: John Scalzi – The Collapsing Empire

The Collapsing Empire
John Scalzi

Kiva thinks that the worst of her problems is potentially infected Haverfruit… not the collapse of inter-space travel as they know it. While the characters struggle to understand the devastating consequences this will have on their personal lives, the potential to wreak havoc on the universe is limitless.

This is a low key science fiction novel that is easy to read, with not too much jargon or assumed knowledge. I found myself slipping effortlessly into the pages and refusing to come out again. The parts of physics and basic explanations of the Flow made my eyes glaze over a little, but I didn’t need to completely skip those sections to keep my interest!

This is definitely an adult’s novel. There are graphic sex scenes and unflinching comments from the characters who have failed to get a sex life happening. It’s actually quite refreshing as there is nothing romantic going on in these couplings, it’s sex just because it’s desired! Which I can imagine is quite freeing for people in this universe, as well as an open mind to practically everything.

The characters are nicely fleshed out, and I enjoyed getting to know each of them. I was devastated to discover that this was ‘Book One’. I’m ready to know more about them, and I can’t wait to read the next novel. I can’t think how they can fix things the way they are now, but I look forward to finding out.

I’m giving this 5 stars as the first adult sci-fi novel I have enjoyed in some time. If you love sci-fi, I’m not sure this will be for you because it’s too light!

Pan Macmillan | 1st April 2017 | AU$19.99 | Paperback

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Review: Jeanne Ryan – Charisma

Charisma
Jeanne Ryan

Aislyn is cripplingly shy, barely able to function in school social settings and completely inept at parties. Her little brother Sammie has cystic fibrosis and is hoping for a genetic cure. Instead, Aislyn is offered a split second change to change her shyness into audacity – but the consequences could be deadly.

There are lots of crazy gene enhancements that can take place, and will take place in the future. What this novel sets out is the capability of gene technology to change fundamental aspects of human personality, Gattica style, but after the human subject is already grown. Crisper-Cas makes this all possible, in real time! This novel could be happening right now…

This novel made me think of former.ly in terms of unknown suspense, and Sapient and The Ego Cluster for gene engineering. Oh! And there’s the regulars, where becoming beautiful is just some drops away. In fact, I would think of this novel as a slightly simpler teenage/YA version of The Ego Cluster.

As I’ve been saying lately, any YA/teenage novels about science are great (The Square Root of Summer) and this one is a really good example because it also deals with the ethical implications of some areas of science. I loved this novel and happily tore it apart in a couple of hours (neglecting everything else, and holding it in one hand while I ate).

Honestly, apart from the side effects, I didn’t see anything wrong with Charisma. So perhaps that is the explanation for the ending. The bigger question it is asking is whether it is ‘right’ to treat something that ‘could be’ overcome by therapy. Aislyn tells us she has tried everything, and nothing has worked. Isn’t this just another form of medication?

I’m giving this 4 stars. I’m not going to re-read it, it don’t have the same qualities as Sapient and The Ego Cluster, but it is a much more accessible read for teens without too much heavy science.

Simon & Schuster | 1st April 2017 | AU $19.99 | Paperback

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Review: Brigid Kemmerer – Letters to the Lost

Letters to the Lost
Brigid Kemmerer

It’s been months since Juliet’s mother was killed in a hit and run. Juliet visits her grave, weeps and writes letters, wondering how she will ever move on with her life. Declan has been doing public service at that same cemetery for months, and when he discovers one of her letters and writes back, a friendship begins that neither of them would have predicted – and opening up to a perfect stranger is sometimes the only way to talk about guilt.

My hands are legitimately still shaking as I sit down to write this review. The final chapters are so compelling that it was impossible to put down, and I was left crying despite, or perhaps because, of the ending. This is a powerful novel that pulls you in gently, then rips your heart out for caring.

Other reviewers have mentioned that they didn’t click with Declan, and couldn’t love a character who was potentially violent and rough. But really? Most people think they want a ‘bad boy’ hero, but don’t think about why things might be the way they are. For me, Declan wasn’t a cliche placeholder, but a breathing character that I recognised and felt real pain with.

If anything, Juliet was the weaker character for me. I do like the way she eventually gets insight into the way teachers see ‘bad’ kids, but she was a little bit too… clingy? Grief changes people in different ways though, and that’s quite a lot of what this novel was about.

What I want more of? I need more of Rev. I want to get inside his skin too. His behaviour towards the end of the novel makes me want to love him more, because I also got reverberations of feelings with him.

The only other recent novel I can think of at the moment that would be similar to this one is Haunt Me, where the author starts to delve into guilt and depression and getting a healthy dose of therapy to deal with problems, rather than just starting a love story! But I gave that one only 3 stars, because the characters couldn’t do it for me. Juliet and Declan on the other hand, I could keep reading them all day!

I’ve previously reviewed Thicker Than Water by Kemmerer, and I gave it 4 stars. But this novel? Letters to the Lost gets 5 stars from me, and I unequivocally can’t wait to read more from this author. Fantastic work.

Bloomsbury| April 2017 | AU $16.99 | Paperback

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Review: Joy Callaway – The Fifth Avenue Artists Society

The Fifth Avenue Artists Society
Joy Callaway

Virginia wants to be a novelist and marry the boy next door. This wasn’t necessarily a problem – except that in the 1890s women were expected to marry and produce children rather than having a career. It seems as if she will get to have both dreams come true, right until “her man” proposes to someone more wealthy.

This novel was sent to me by mistake by Allen & Unwin, but I decided to read it anyway. I love music and appreciate artist talent, despite not having much talent (or none, when it comes to art) and so I thought it could be good. Instead, I was hit with Ginny’s romance, and very little writing! I was frustrated that she didn’t do more with her art. I also found it unrealistic in how talented simply EVERYONE was.

Ginny got very close to men that she wasn’t married to. She’s kissing them in public, being felt up on the couch. For a period romance, I don’t think this was realistic. The same applied for some of her sisters. I thought that the 1890s was a very conservative time, even in America. Someone please correct me if I am wrong, I know that history is not my strong suit.

The ending could have had more pizzaz. Considering that Ginny was all ‘If it’s not my Charlie, I’m not going to marry’, she was pretty broken about what happened with the salon. And her hero worship for her brother was… cloying? Unrealistic? Ginny may be an idealist, but I didn’t think she was that much of an idiot!

With all that in mind, I still stayed up late finishing the novel and so I’ll be giving it 3 stars. I was just disappointed in the ‘happy ending’, and the way the prose got slower and slower as the novel progressed.

Allen & Unwin | 23rd November 2016 | 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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