Review: Bren MacDibble – The Dog Runner

The Dog Runner
Bren MacDibble

Ella and Emery have a long way to go to get to Christmas’s place. Armed with their five big doggos and a dry-land dogsled they must head away through rough terrain to reach the relative safety and food of Emery’s mum’s place – but will their other parents ever catch up?

This is another wonderful, thought provoking novel from Bren MacDibble. Her first novel, How to Bee, examined how a world without bees would survive. This novel takes this a step further, envisioning a future where grasses and grains have been lost to a deadly fungus. This novel is probably another candidate for a upper primary school reader novel and thought-provoker.

The story slips out in nibbles, teasing the reader along even as Ella and Emery make it further and further away from the city. I was occasionally irritated by the way Ella ‘spoke’, but the action kept me reading. The way this is written, Ella could be a boy or a girl, and I think that makes it easier for any reader to empathize and truly consider her circumstances. This is a really possible future for Australia and the world – we are so reliant on grains for basic food and feeding livestock. Have we learnt nothing from the Irish Great Famine?

If this novel does nothing else, hopefully you enjoy the fast paced travel and fraught hideaways of Ella and Emery. They are brave kids, and I think the novel is really realistic in the way Ella reacts to the world falling apart around her. If Ella had been ok with eating dead humans all of a sudden, I would have been really concerned!

I’m giving this 4 stars, and I am looking forward to when I have a younger reader in this age bracket to read and review it with me.

Allen & Unwin | 4th February 2019 | AU$16.99 | paperback

Review: Lynette Noni – Whisper

Lynette Noni

Jane Doe is stubborn. She committed herself to a psychiatric ward so that she wouldn’t harm anyone else, but in the end she found herself trapped in an underground facility with a daily psychologist appointment, martial arts training and a torture session with a brain chemist. Suddenly befriended by one of the staff, will Jane finally crack? And if she does, what lies in store for her?

I liked Jane precisely because she was a blank slate with little personality. I think believing you’ve killed someone important to you would definitely stunt your growth, as would not speaking for more than 2 years. I watched her grow and Speak and I was excited for her!

What about the premise? That a drug given to women for fertility can have supernatural effects on their progeny… Yes, I could see it happening. There is so much we still don’t know about the brain. And it won’t be the first time a drug given to pregnant ladies has a bad/strange outcome for offspring (Thalidomide, anyone?) I would have loved to hear more about the science behind the scenes (literally and figuratively), but this novel is ultimately about Jane and her fears.

I do have to say that a lot of smirking took place. And I couldn’t possibly condone some of the behaviour. According to other reviewers there’s a love triangle happening here. I’m sorry, I didn’t see it. Mostly I just saw Jane being terrified and stressed out. Yes, she may have noted at some point that she cared about the other characters, but I didn’t see a love story. I guess now I fear that the second novel will suffer from a gooey protagonist. Let’s hope not.

This novel came in the front door and I immediately got stuck into it. I didn’t put it down until I was finished and I ignored all else in favour of it. It was entrancing and sublime and I need to read it again – as soon as the second novel is out. Arg! I can’t wait, considering that I read this before the official publication date! … and I have now waited a year to reread and review it, and I was just as captivated with it the second time around. 5 stars. Please Lynette Noni, write us the second one! If you are looking for other similar novels in the mean time, try Burning.

Pantera Press | 1st May 2018 | AU $19.99 | paperback

Review: Amy Lilwall – The Biggerers

The Biggerers
Amy Lilwall

Jinx and Bonbon live with their She-one who feeds them flakes from a bowl. They have an active social life Outside where Chips and Blankie visit them. These four people just happen to be only a foot or so high – and they aren’t supposed to be human. Being human could get them kidnapped.

Now, this was a decidedly odd novel. I forced myself to read it because I believed that it could get better or have something really powerful to offer me. Cloning to produce little humans as pets? It could be really fascinating because it’s a possibility.

If memory suppressants work on Littlerers, why not just use them on the old people who don’t want to be lonely without their dead partners? Why clone and produce little humans? I don’t get why people would want a pet human. What’s wrong with a dog? The pet humans aren’t even as intelligent as a dog – they aren’t supposed to communicate after all. And of course, they aren’t supposed to be marketed as toys for children, even though I felt like they could have just been dolls for the way that their owners tended to treat them. What the author did manage really well was the characterisation and character growth of Jinx and Bonbon. They really were little people!

I didn’t understand, but did understand at the same time, the behavior of Susan and Hamish. They both spend a lot of time introspecting about their feelings, and blaming each other for the relationship. And of course there is Hamish’s relationship with Emma. Was their relationship supposed to represent the typical disconnected people that will exist in an age where digital technologies are all that are on offer?

The ending left me feeling very confused. Was the storyline with Watts and Drew in the past? What were those last two chapters really about? This novel had excellent potential as a plot but the language left me cold and uninterested. Maybe pick it up at the bookstore and read the first couple of pages or so to see if you can tolerate the language. If you can, maybe buy this novel to read. But be prepared for a wishy-washy ending. 2 stars from me.

Bloomsbury | 1st August 2018 | AU$29.99 | hardback

Review: Marie Lu – Legend

Marie Lu

June is a prodigy who scored perfectly on her Test and is on a fast-track to military greatness. Day spectacularly failed his test and took to the streets to eek out a living and help his family as he can. Their paths cross when June’s brother Metias is murdered and Day is the prime suspect.

This was a clean teenage fiction with a tight-timed plot line and some chaste kisses. It was refreshing to read something that didn’t really want me to think too hard. I easily swapped between the perspectives of June and Day. Day watching over things actually reminded me strangely of Aladdin! Things often moved very quickly and so the characterisation sometimes suffered. The interactions between June and Day still seemed genuine though.

Ok, so I have to say it. The world-building sucks. I never got a concrete grasp on what parts of the world were ‘Republic’ and which were the ‘Colonies’. The pendant’s secret sort of filled in where the world was, but not really. But I wonder whether this was deliberate on the author’s part, because Day and June don’t actually know very much about what is going on in the world outside either. Perhaps the next book will illuminate things further.

I’m thinking a direct comparison to Divergent here in terms of the Dystopian world that is built. It’s not hugely different from the world we live in now, just with some subtle changes. I picked up this novel from a Goodwill store while I was still on my USA adventure. I liked the look of it enough that it followed me home, but I only just got around to reading it. Now, unfortunately, I need to get my hands on the next novel, especially as other reviewers on Goodreads have said that this series improves.  4 stars from me.

Review: Veronica Roth – Allegiant

Veronica Roth

Tris has shattered her Faction-based society, yet still finds herself under the thumb of a despotic ruler. When she is a given a chance to explore the world outside the fence, she takes it and runs, hoping that whatever is out there will calm her rage and allow her to forgive herself her wrongs. Tris has only just begun to realise what is happening when it is almost too late to right those wrongs…

The revelations of Insurgent come back to bite Tris in this novel. It seems like there is only one way to solve things when you are Tris – and that’s by irritating and hating the other people around you as much as possible. Tris is such a frustrating protagonist! Her self-destructive urges often just get everyone else into trouble, but she never learns.

I feel like this novel is in the same era as The Hunger Games. The heroine is spunky and rough, and always determined to ignore love as much as possible. The outside rules don’t mean anything in comparison to their own problems and rules. By trying to do what they think is best, they make a huge mess of things!

For the first time, we see both Tris’ and Tobias’ points of view. This novel left me feeling ambivalent. The first novel was worth rereading, but this one doesn’t hold the same appeal. Tris’ character development seems to have stalled and the great reveal has already happened. I didn’t feel anything much as more of the characters were killed off – and I still felt that if Tris was killed the novel wouldn’t have lost anything…

This is the third and final novel in the Divergent series that started with Divergent and Insurgent. I would strongly suggest that you DO NOT read this novel or the blurb without having first red the first two novels. Otherwise you will have significantly ruined the storyline as it builds. 4 stars from me. If you’ve read the first two, you’d better read this one for your peace of mind.

Review: Veronica Roth – Insurgent

Veronica Roth

Tris has broken free from Dauntless and come into her own as a Divergent. She has her trusty Tobias by her side – but is there anyone else she can trust? Even as she protects others with her selflessness, Tris doesn’t know what to do next.

Tris seems to lack a survival instinct, as well as an ability to actually communicate with people! So much drama could have been avoided by ‘using her words’. The same goes for the rest of the characters – talking is a good thing, people! This frustrated me at times because it meant that the perspective was very limited from Tris and I thought there was so much more about this world that I could have enjoyed if I had been given a chance.

This is a plot driven novel, you won’t really find much character development here. Also, there is very little information for the reader to come to their own conclusions about traitors or not. I also didn’t feel very attached to the characters that died, and I think I wouldn’t have blinked too much if Tris herself was killed.

The ending of this novel is a real surprise, but given other novels I have read, not that surprising after all. Every author seems to want to jump into dystopian fiction (with all honesty, Roth was one of the first, given that Divergent was made into a movie released in 2014). The Red Queen by Isobelle Carmody comes to mind or 2094 for other similar novels if you want a more fantasy or adult slanted novel to read.

This was an engaging novel, but in my opinion it just didn’t have the same pizzaz as the first novel, Divergent. I remember finishing that novel and saying to myself – I have to get Insurgent right now! The feeling is not the same here, but as I have Allegiant sitting next to me, I’ll probably read it next. Stay tuned for my opinion on the whole trilogy.

Review: Shankari Chandran – The Barrier

The Barrier
Shankari Chandran

Spy-come-virologist Noah Williams is on the hunt for a rogue scientist who wants to eliminate humanity by allowing Ebola to reemerge from its vaccinated hiding place. But as Noah comes to understand this once-proud scientist he wonders whether he’s chasing the right ghost – or whether the issue is closer to home.

Noah’s perspective is interspersed with his mentor’s and a potential love interest. This gives the reader a bit of variety, and also makes them feel Noah’s growing sense of horror as he realises what he and others have done in the name of safety. I wanted to be horrified when Noah tortured people, but I just wasn’t. I felt as numb as he did.

I loved how the author poked holes in the anti-vaccinators who don’t want their children to be immune to Ebola. The parallels with people these days who don’t vaccinate their kids against mumps or polio are clear. There are always going to be those people who want the right to kill their own children – but it shouldn’t be at the expense of others. *Deep breaths Rose, deep breaths.* I have little time for people who are so ignorant as to let deadly diseases come back because they don’t trust safe vaccinations or ‘believe’ in them.

I found it very interesting that the author chose religion as the cause of the world’s near-ending. Ebola just happened to be helpful in destroying the world and allowing religion to be removed. No mention of Australia in this one! I wonder if we survived the outbreak because people simply forgot about our existence again…

I agree with the author that viral/biological warfare will be the next World War and that it probably is only a matter of time before something goes wrong. This theme is one that is being extensively explored at the moment by novels including NK3 and Killer T. Others see the potential of science to heal such as Sapient and The Ego Cluster. Nevertheless, it’s inevitable, and unavoidable that eventually something like this will happen.

I’m highly recommending this novel for scientists and non-scientists alike. The level of biochemical detail isn’t too daunting, and hopefully some people will take away a positive message from it. 4 stars.

Pan Macmillan | 30th May 2018 | AU$29.99 | paperback

Review: DM Cain – The Phoenix Project

The Phoenix Project
DM Cain

This world of violence is only a small step from our own. Religion has been blamed for terrorism and driven underground, and prisons are bursting at the seams. The only solution is to reduce the number of prisoners and getting them to kill each other for spot is a logical solution. Charged with a deadly crime, Raven punishes himself again and again with no hope of salvation.

This novel opens with a bloody fight scene that positions the reader to empathise with Raven while at the same time wondering why he has killed before. Although the blow by blow of the fight is written slightly awkwardly, the feeling behind it is strong enough to seep through the action and encourage the reader to keep going!

This is a bloodier, more brutal criminal punishment than that explored in Day 7 and Cell 7. I rather like this novel more because it is more detailed and meaty, with a protagonist who has sinned, but is ready to redeem himself eventually.

Ah yes. Raven is a tortured, depressed prison inmate who nevertheless cannot stop fighting for his life. His despondency seeps through the pages and his self-harm (extreme trigger warning) is painful to observe. I felt myself wondering what choices I would have made, and whether I would be as strong as Raven.

This novel comes with an optional epilogue, as the ending within the novel is quite abrupt. I liked being given the option to read it or not, because I can’t decide how I feel about it. I like there to be a concrete ending, even if it is not a happy one. Go purchase this book for yourself, and then decide whether you too want to read the epilogue.

I read this novel a long time ago, and remember that I loved it so much that I gave it 5 stars. Then I neglected to review it, and let it just sit there on the review pile for a year (or more!). So this review is actually written based on my re-read, and it was worth the time.

Review: Giovanna & Tom Fletcher – Eve of Man

Eve of Man
Giovanna & Tom Fletcher

Fifty years ago, baby girls stopped being born – making women an endangered species. Eve is a biological anomaly who was born during the drought. At age 16, it’s time for her to start reproducing. Her holo-friend Holly is there to keep her company, just as she has for their lives – but the boy behind it is starting to fall for Eve. As the EPO’s lies fall apart, will Eve and Bram ever be able to be together?

Eve is a naive girl who you want to like as a protagonist. But without more from her it is impossible to do so. I get that it is difficult to get inside her head – that’s why the EPO has Holly after all. But that’s why there are split perspective chapters! I much preferred Bram as the alternative protagonist. Good work Bram on having an actual personality, but you couldn’t carry the novel by yourself when there were other fatal flaws.

It felt like a hard slog to get into the characters, and I didn’t find the premise of the novel particularly promising. It is almost impossible to restart a population from a single individual – even if they are bred every year. Just ask any conservationist of endangered animals! Yet Eve is expected to repopulate an Earth that isn’t even worth saving.

I did finish this novel, but again, just like Zero Repeat Forever, I wish I hadn’t wasted my time. I was a chapter out from the end when my partner pointed out that this was the first novel in a trilogy. I immediately stopped reading in disgust – honestly I would have been happy if the ‘happy ending’ was both of them dying!

I did finish this, so I have to give it 2 stars, but honestly don’t waste your time. I’m not sure who this would appeal to because the science behind it is so unreasonable that I can’t recommend it. Try The Ego Cluster and Sapient instead.

Penguin Random House | 28th May 2018 | AU$22.99 | paperback

Review: G.S. Prendergast – Zero Repeat Forever

Zero Repeat Forever
GS Prendergast

Eighth is part of an invasion of Earth – dart them, leave them where they fall. Raven is one of those to be darted but she refuses to give in. Little by little Eighth gets caught up in the human world, while Raven is beginning to realize more about the Nahx than she wants to.

I really wish I hadn’t wasted my time on this novel. I started reading it once and then put it down. I was feeling like a fantasy novel so I picked it up again right from the beginning. More fool me. The action is surprisingly slow, and the main character Raven isn’t inherently likable. I liked Eighth, but his mind was so fragmented that I could barely follow along what it meant to be a Nahx.

I appreciate that people behave strangely if they are suffering from PTSD, but Raven is just over the top. Her relationship with her friends isn’t even really a friendship. She seems to antagonise everyone around her, and honestly I wouldn’t have minded if she dropped dead in the middle of the novel – it might have added some actual danger.

That ending. I saw it coming about mid-way through the novel. In fact, if Tucker hadn’t been buried, I would have thought that he would return too! There is no happy ending to be had for humans, but even if there was one, would I have wanted it? This train wreck of a novel didn’t have any redeeming features for me.

I am sick of dystopian science fiction. I have read so many recently, and I seem to get as many hits as I do duds. Think NK3, Killer T and the Rending and the Nest for some recent examples sci-fi. Now that the duology has been published, I can recommend The Rains wholeheartedly for an apocalyptic alien showdown.

I finished this novel because I held out hope that it would improve, so I have to give it 2 stars to meet my own standards. But honestly, don’t waste your time like I did.

Simon & Schuster | 25th October 2017 | AU$17.99 | paperback