Review: Rachel Caine – Ash and Quill

Ash and Quill
Rachel Caine

Jess and his friends have escaped from the Alexandrian Library’s clutches, but instead find themselves trapped in the Burner hot-spot of Philadelphia. With the Library, the Burners and Jess’s family to contend with will there be a clear winner despite the sacrifices to be made?

I’m not sure if I have commented on this before, but I’m not sure how I felt about the interspersed writings of the Archivist and his lackeys. Did I really learn anything new? What was their effect on the novel’s progress? (maybe these questions are left over from marking literature reviews…) Nevertheless the rest of the writing is fine and you barely realise that you are turning pages at a rapid rate.

I think maybe this novel isn’t going to be amazing for everyone, it didn’t have quite the suspense of the first two. There is only so much fantastic writing you can do around a workshop before it gets a little repetitive. That being said, Caine keeps the novel moving at a cracking pace right until the cliffhanger final chapter.

I don’t actually see the ending coming. Jess and Dario are making all these hints, and I just don’t get it! Also, I wasn’t convinced by Dario being a so-called dark thinker like Jess. The character development is not particularly convincing either, with Jess still impulsive risk taker and Scholar Wolfe the grumpy old man. But that’s fine! I’m ok with them being the same, because the action is plenty exciting.

I read this really excitedly when it arrived in the mail over a year ago, then neglected to review it. This time I reread the first two novels  Ink and Bone and Paper and Fire and then leaped into this beauty! How could I give anything about libraries or books anything less than 5 stars? I’ll be keeping this one on my shelf and waiting impatiently until I can share it with the younger readers in my life.

Allen & Unwin | 27th September 2018 | AU$16.99 | paperback

Review: Brian Conaghan – The Weight of a Thousand Feathers

The Weight of a Thousand Feathers
Brain Conaghan

Bobby’s life is boring enough on the outside. Inside his house though he has a sick mother who is getting sicker every day, and a little brother who just can’t fit into society or life. When his mother asks him the ultimate question, Bobby feels that he must make a decision.

Bobby’s devotion to his mother is admirable, is is his devotion to his rather difficult little brother. However, a child should never be put into this position. I can’t believe that the professional carer for his mother is such a numskull. Or actually I can. Health professionals that aren’t nurses aren’t always as well trained as they could be.

The circle that Bobby starts going to is a good idea. But if such a problem has been acknowledged, shouldn’t someone be doing more about it? As with any teenage novel, there’s instalove that didn’t go anything for me either.

I’m giving this 1 or 2 stars. I didn’t finish this novel, but whether this was because I had other things to read or it was truly irredeemably terrible, your guess is as good as mine. There are plenty of other good Young Adult novels dealing with this topic in a more believable way.

Bloomsbury | 1st July 2018 | AU$16.99 | paperback

Review: Scott Westerfeld – Impostors

Impostors
Scott Westerfeld

Frey and Rafi are identical twins and thus should do everything together. Instead, they are never seen in the same room – Frey is trained as a body double for Rafi, just because Rafi was born 26 minutes earlier. When a hostage is needed to secure the help of a nearby city, Frey is sent out and Rafi is hidden. But their father has other plans in mind than just that…

Despite being in the same world as Tally Youngblood’s Uglies/Pretties/Specials (and Extras), Impostors is well and truly its own novel. The world has moved on and the technology has significantly advanced. Imagine a world where even the dust is spying on you! Rafi is trained to kill, but has her own personality trapped in there.

I only forgive this novel for being the first in a trilogy because I knew from the very beginning that Westerfeld pretty much ALWAYS writes trilogies (Afterworlds is an exception). Additionally, this novel rounds out very nicely, and didn’t disappoint with its ending.

Unfortunately, this novel features the same trope as a couple of others I have read recently, including Ruined, Glass Sword and Ash Princess. The heroine always falls for the prince(s) and gets into trouble while / for doing so. I’m going to think positive thoughts to myself that Westerfeld was probably already writing it before those novels got popular…

I’m giving this novel 5 stars for its amazing characters and world building. Also, Westerfeld was my hero before Sanderson.

Allen & Unwin | 12th September 2018 | AU$19.99 | paperback

Review: Laura Sebastian – Ash Princess

Ash Princess
Laura Sebastian

Princess Theodosia has been a captive since she was six and is Princess in name only. Brought out on State occasions dressed sumtiously but with an ash crown, Theo is punished for any uprisings by her people. When she is offered the chance to escape, she can’t decide whether to stay or go.

I found this novel lacking and predictable. Of COURSE she’s going to fall for an inconvenient guy. OF COURSE she’s suddenly going to gain a backbone. Theo is a perfectly fine protagonist, but she’s just not believable. Her behaviour, particularly when she betrays someone close to her, is just repulsive. I couldn’t get behind her quick changes in personality and pathetic excuses either.

Perhaps I can say something positive about the world-building. I certainly could imagine the confines of Theo’s room, with the Shadow’s niches all around, but the world outside that was opaque. Perhaps this was deliberate on the author’s part to make the reader feel like they too were trapped in the castle. I’d like to give the benefit of doubt here, since otherwise the scenery was nice.

It’s a 3 star novel for me. I have just reread Amy Tintera’s Ruina series which has a similar princess/prince storyline, and honestly it is far better executed! Go and get your hands on Ruina (and its sequels) and don’t bother with Ash Princess.

Pan Macmillan | 24th April 2018 | AU$16.99 | paperback

Review: Lexi Freiman – Inappropriation

Inappropriation
Lexi Freiman

Ziggy is going to have a great time at her new prestigious private girls’ school. With a feminist mother, a mild-mannered father and a holocaust-surviving grandma, you’d think Ziggy was full of personality. But she is just looking for her niche and a way to fit in.

I got a couple of chapters in, but I couldn’t work out the purpose of the novel. What was I gaining from wading through the psyche of Ziggy? If I wanted to read something written in a thick literary and nuanced style, I would have picked up an adult fiction novel. I had nothing else to read where I was, but I still put it down.

The cover promises me “You’ll laugh out loud and squirm and wince”… Well, I certainly squirmed and winced at the terrible ‘literary style’ of writing and irritating protagonist. Then it tells me “You sure won’t put it down”. Well, I did, and I felt such revulsion when I discovered it back on my reading shelf that I had to review it immediately to get it OUT.

I’ve tagged this under teenage, because the protagonist is teenager, but honestly I can’t think of a teenager who would be interested in reading it. The 19 year old who is currently perusing my bookshelves put it down in disgust as well, just from the blurb!

Don’t waste your money or your time. Resist its brilliant red cover and run for the hills. Choose anything else to read rather than this. 1 star.

Allen & Unwin | 1st August 2018 | AU$29.99 | paperback

Review: Hayley Lawrence – Inside the Tiger

Inside the Tiger
Hayley Lawrence

Bel needs a social cause to support for a project at school. Rather than following in her father’s footsteps to promote harsher penalties for murderers, she chooses to write to a prisoner in the notorious Thailand ‘Tiger’ prison. Little does she know that she’s going to get in deeper than she imagined…

Bel is a likeable character, but it does feel a bit like ‘insta-love’. She falls really quickly for a boy she knows nothing about. I find it noble that she doesn’t care what Micah has done, but at the same time – wake up! Your own life should have tipped you off that nothing is what it seems.

I could have had more opinions from characters other than Bel. Bel seems to feel so sorry for herself all the time because she has a single parent who is busy all the time. I’m sorry, you have some really great friends and you’ve had this Christmas every year! Although Bel learns to speak up for what she wants, in the end she’s a pushover who somehow connives people into doing what she wants.

The ending is just as it should be. Good work Lawrence – it might not have been the ending we wanted, but it was the one we needed (I can’t remember what that’s from, but it’s a cliche sort of morning. It’s nice not to have a sugar coated ending.

I’m giving this 3 stars. I can’t say I was enthralled by it, but it wasn’t a bad read. It provides an interesting teenage insight into one of the toughest prisons in the world, with the most antiquated penalties.

Penguin Random House | 3rd September 2018 | AU$19.99 | paperback

Review: Laura Dockrill – Big Bones

Big Bones
Laura Dockrill

Bluebelle is fat, and not afraid or ashamed to admit it. She loves food in every way, and she’s determined to not go back to school, instead applying for an apprenticeship at Planet Coffee. To negotiate with her mom, Bluebelle finds herself forced into doing a food diary.

This was an average novel with a meandering storyline that had me losing interest about half way through (and thus pausing to write this review). BB was a lovable, cuddly protagonist and it was certainly comforting to read a fat-positive novel for once. However, she IS unhealthily fat and I’m not sure I can give completely positive feedback to a novel that initially promotes it.

It was unclear to me how much of the text was food diary, and how much was actually narrative. Some of the things BB wrote in her food diary were a lot more suited to a general diary, not a food one! That ‘boyfriend’ of hers was so slow and BB’s reactions so cliche that I figured it couldn’t possibly be written in a food diary – but lo and behold it was!

Confession: I skimmed to finish reading this novel. I don’t want to condemn it to 2 stars despite that,  because I’ve just come back from vacation and I literally have a stack TBR of higher than a meter and other things just look more exciting. BB’s redemption and joining a gym, precipitated by the big family upset were ok, but not compelling.

I’d recommend reading Holding Up the Universe or Pretty Girls Don’t Eat before diving into this novel. Their protagonists have more depth, and overall the love stories, while taking a backseat, are more intriguing and believable. I’ll give it 3 stars because it could have finished strongly – but I wasn’t going to hang around to find out when there were better things on offer.

 Allen & Unwin | 23rd May 2018 | AU$19.99 | paperback

Review: Karen Gregory – Skylarks

Skylarks
Karen Gregory

Joni’s family struggles to pay the rent and Joni wants to keep her family together. All she wants is to send her little brother to camp by working more hours at the library, but the invasion of the region’s rich girl Annabel is going to disrupt more than that plan.

Oh Joni, why are you so blind? Why are you so stubborn? Why can’t you just let things go and see further than the end of your nose? You certainly don’t fly higher because your feet are firmly on the ground and your head is either fixed on them or glaring into someone’s face.

I was frustrated by Joni’s attitude towards everything in life. I appreciated her concern for her little brother and her disappointment in the rest of her family, but I just feel irritated and angry that she didn’t actually think about what those things might mean.

Once again, being gay is something to be frowned upon and it overshadows the rest of the novel, which I thought was actually more important. People losing jobs and their housing is a big problem, and it’s not often explored in young adult fiction. I always hope for novels that could reflect a teenager’s life and this one had the beginnings of it.

A confession to be made that it has been at least 2 months since I read this novel and so it has become a bit hazy in my head. However past me gave it 3 stars, so I’m going to roll with that rating.

Bloomsbury | 1st July 2018 | AU$16.99 | paperback

Review: Renee Watson – Piercing Me Together

Piercing Me Together
Renee Watson

When you’re the scholarship token black girl in a white private college there are bound to be some tensions and a lack of good friends. Jade has plenty of opportunities in life, but not the ones she wants. The chance at another scholarship to College means that she’ll be mentored by a strong woman in the community, except that her mentor keeps standing her up.

Hmm, this wasn’t a bad novel, but I’m not sure it was exceptional either. I was putting off reading it because the cover wasn’t doing it for me, but I happened to feel like an easy read with a female protagonist. Jade shows some nice character progression for standing up for herself and getting a better feel for the world around her.

I wasn’t quite sure the purpose of her mentor and the meetings with the other mentees/mentors. I don’t understand this teenager, but I’m perhaps out of touch. Maybe it’s time I stopped reviewing these novels… but I don’t know what I would replace them with. These are the reads I need when my brain is completely zonked from work.

3 stars from me, but 4 stars for its intended audience. I think American teenagers who would like some better fiction that’s not a white, middle-class attractive chick will enjoy this novel. I feel like I’ve said that about another novel recently too: Leah on the Off Beat.

Bloomsbury | 1st March 2018 | AU$14.99 | paperback

Review: Brendan Lawley – Bonesland

Bonesland
Brendan Lawley

Bonesy’s life is centered towards one thing – getting to the City and out of his completely backwater town. There’s just a couple of things that need to be set straight first… Such as his parents living in the same house again, not being bullied at school and getting laid by a girl.

I hated the objectification of women in this novel, and the completely inappropriate language all of the boys used. The lovely Muslim girl goes to a party and gets hit on and followed home by people she’s turned down. I’m perfectly fine with her smoking pot, but where are her friends to help her out when she gets in trouble? The amount of drink and drugs going around was crazy. I’d love to know where this town is, and I wonder whether its real occupants actually behave in this deplorable way. Actually, this novel reminds me of Dream-something or other that was about another isolated idiot. I grew up isolated and so did my fiancee – and neither of us had these problems (she’s a first in family to College too).

I don’t get why his nick-name was Bonesy. I hardly remember why Bonesy was remarkable. Was he average? Probably. He gets picked on because he has a ‘thing’ about germs and he is terrible with girls. The bullying is pretty extreme, but he doesn’t say anything or do anything about it. Even his friends aren’t great at supporting him. This novel attempted to show us some character growth, but it felt forced and uncomfortable.

For a kid taking valium, he wasn’t doing that well on it. He ‘thinks’ he ‘might’ have OCD, and I’d agree with that, but I’d also say he had Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD). Also, he is in serious denial that I would not expect of a 15-16 year old regarding his parent’s separation. His main aim seems to be get off the medication because his father wants him to and for his parents to magically become a family again.

Does his father work? How the hell do they afford anything? I’m sick of novels where the kid is poor, but there’s no solid explanation for why they have anything at all. Where’s your drive to succeed? I get that you want to go to the Big Beautiful City, but you’ve got to actually TRY get there. You can’t just hope something will magically happen in the next 2 years.

I finished it, but shouldn’t have bothered. 2 stars from me.

Text Publishing | 1st May 2018 | AU$19.99 | paperback