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,ย  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 readingย Holding Up the Universeย 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.

ย 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:ย 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

Review: James Dashner – Journal of Curious Letters (The 13th Reality)

The 13th Reality #1 – Journal of Curious Letters
James Dashner

Tick has received a letter promising him that he will be exposed to incredible danger unless he burns the letter. But if he burns it, many people will be harmed. Tick isn’t afraid to admit he’s a nerd, and he’s rather fond of solving puzzles, but will his best be enough?

Wow, this novel’s first half was incredibly slow. I did like the elements of problem solving, and that redeemed the novel somewhat. Then again, I’m sorry, but Sato’s pensive and rude emotional state did nothing for me. And almost meeting a sticky end didn’t even improve him! He didn’t feel like a real person. In fact, the whole novel was so plot based that we didn’t see any character development at all. Except for Tick but that was all described in terms of him finally standing up to the school Bully – not anything more important. And that stupid scarf! Ugh. The author harped back to it, but it turns out that no-one actually cares (surprise surprise).

I saw pale parallels between this novel and Harry Potter (um, also, the name Norbert???). A 13 year old bullied small boy gets a mystical letter, and then is eventually whisked away to somewhere odd by some equally odd people? Has this now become a mainstream trope? Except that of course Tick’s dad loves Tick enough to take him to far away places, and let Tick travel with crazy people. I do find that hard to believe – what right-minded parent of a 13 year old lets their kid wander like that especially after he has just been eaten?

I could see on Goodreads that this was quite a polarising book – people either loved it for the action or completely hated it for the flat characters. It is fitting then I think that I gave this 3 stars. Someone who doesn’t mind their characters completely predictable and boring but likes non-stop action once it starts will enjoy this novel.

Scholastic | 1st March 2018 | AU$17.99 | paperback

Review: Victoria Aveyard – Glass Sword

Glass Sword
Victoria Aveyard

Mare Barrow is back to being plain old Mare after the Red Guard’s audacious rescue and she knows what she wants to do next – hunt down the newbloods and then use them to kill Maven and kill his mother Elena. Having been burnt by Maven in the past, Mare doesn’t trust anyone. And can anyone trust Mare?

Oh yes! So remember how everyone was devastated by Sirus’ death in Harry Potter? I feel like the death in this novel of someone close to Mare should have triggered more of an emotional reaction from me, but I didn’t even flinch. Even when Mare succeeds at one of her major goals, I felt like it had happened too quickly for me to even appreciate it.

The ending to this novel would have been unacceptable if I didn’t have the next novel sitting on my shelf. Cliff hanger! But I still haven’t picked up King’s Cage. This novel wasn’t as breathtaking as everyone seems to feel. I actually read two other novels to completion while reading this one. I’m not sure what quite was wrong with it, it might have been Mare’s stubborn woe-is-me, I will never trust anyone again attitude for the whole novel.

What is with all the novels at the moment with admittedly kick-ass Princesses having to take their throne back for themselves? I’m thinking Ruined or Ash Princess here. Or The Selection, which I have not actually read. I’m sure there are more out there. Honestly after a while they all blur together.

I went to a Publisher get-together a couple of years back and received the first novel in this series as my free book. Then I recently got the third novel for review from the publisher but didn’t own the second novel. My fiancee bought it for me for our anniversary, and here I am reading it. A pity that I just found out that this is a quartet, and I’m not sure I’m interested in pursuing the series when I have so many other interesting things to read. 3 stars from me.

Review: Becky Albertalli – Leah on the Off Beat

Leah on the Off Beat
Becky Albertalli

Leah is ready to ride out her senior year of school and cruise into the college that she has a full scholarship to. But she expected to have all of her friends together – and when they start breaking up into smaller groups and losing relationships due to distance, Leah finds herself out of step with the beat.

I think I would have actually benefited from reading ‘Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda’ first. I just ignored the fact that this novel was the sequel because it looked awesome, and I really enjoyed the Upside of Unrequitedย (actually receiving this one pushed me to review that one). I then felt like I never connected properly with the characters and that it seemed like they were just wandering through Leah’s life.

I honestly found myself expecting more actual drumming in this novel rather than dramas. The closest it gets to her drumming is the band showing up at the rehearsal house – and then the guy who lives there is having a breakdown!

I love the way Leah owns the way she looks. Although she occasionally mentions her weight, you don’t get the feeling that she’s self-conscious about it. She isn’t afraid of squashing anyone – all she is concerned about is that being bisexual will alienate her from her group.

If you are looking for a teenage fiction with a non-typical protagonist (not a straight, thin, middle-class white girl) then this could be a novel for you. I read it all in one sitting and I didn’t regret it! I’m giving it 4 stars as I found it above average but not spectacular.

Penguin Random House | 30th April 2018 | AU$17.99 | paperback

Review: Eleni Hale – Stone Girl

Stone Girl
Eleni Hale

Sophie has spent 3 days curled up in the shower away from her decaying dead mother. Now she has been removed from everything she knows and put into Foster Care. As the years wear on, Sophie’s experiences of Foster Care and her own personality deteriorate to the point where she has nothing left. Is there redemption for anyone?

The blurb suggests that there will be redemption, but there isn’t really. Sophie ends up being in worse and worse situations until there is no way out for her. But it’s not really Sophie’s fault. She is only 12 when she enters the system, and she doesn’t have a good grasp of right or wrong when she is thrown in the deep end.

I liked this novel for the way that it exposed the flaws in the Foster Care system. At the same time, I dreaded reading it, because who wants to know that an essential part of society (children) are being let down in this way? Although children might start out innocent, it is easy for them to blame themselves for whatever happened that lead to them being in care, and this means that they often believe that they deserve anything that happens to them.

I’m not entirely sure on the title of this novel. I’d rather have gone with ‘Rock Girl’, given that a name for pure speed is Rock. This novel is raw and painful to read – don’t read it if your own psyche is not feeling as stable as it could. I’d recommend it for older teenagers and young adults – the language, drug use and sex scenes are inappropriate for younger readers.

I wavered between 3 and 4 stars for this novel. When I looked at it on my to-be-reviewed pile, I had to think for a minute what it was actually about. But then again, I did read it mainly in one sitting, so it must have been entrancing at the time!

Penguin Random House | 30th April 2018 | AU$19.99 | paperback

Review: Amy Tintera – Allied

Allied
Amy Tintera

Em has finally freed Olivia and it looks like Ruina belongs to the Ruined again. But is that what the survivors want, when kingdoms such as Lera have far better pastures? Victory does not mean the same thing to Em and Olivia, and as the war with the other Kingdoms continues, each of them is going to have to make an impossible choice.

This novel is full of action, action, action. The battle scenes and killings almost seem non-stop. Talking might be Em’s preferred way of negotiation but with Olivia on the loose it’s just not possible! Cas gets some airtime, and Galo and Aren finally are forged into full characters with their own thoughts and motivations.

We get a bit more of a perspective from characters other than Em this time, but sometimes I wished I hadn’t! It did add to the suspense in some parts but in other parts I felt like the forewarning made it too predictable. Go and read this novel and find out for yourself!

When this novel arrived I had to stop myself from diving in straight away. When I read Avenged (the second novel) a short while ago, I had wanted to reread Ruined, but just couldn’t wait. This time, I reread the first two and was enveloped in Amy Tintera’s world just as firmly as before. This series is deserving of its 5-star rating.

Allen & Unwin | 24th April 2018 | AU$16.99 | paperback

Review: Will Weisser – Ankaran Immersion

Ankaran Immersion
Will Weisser

Evie and her brother have been separated from their tribe – and now Hunter is very sick with something that only the Tainted can cure. Will Evie be able to help her brother in time? Or will her hatred of the Tainted get in her way.

I found myself quite confused a lot of the time and I struggled to follow the point of the novel. The blurb led me to believe that it was all about Evie and Hunter, but in fact it focussed just as much on Ono/Aurio and the struggle of wills. I was left feeling confused about the aim of the novel. Did this novel want me to sympathise with Evie and conclude that the strand was evil? Or did it ask me to set that aside and see the positives of the strand? I’d lean towards the former, but I couldn’t work out why it was relevant to me (despite the maps suggesting that this was a future world of our own).

I was enjoyably surprised by the quality of the prose in this novel and the detailed world building. However, I was left with many questions: What is an Int? Are they real poeple? What makes a virus a virus? I really couldn’t understand what was going on for a lot of the time with the strand and the resultant mess. It is rare that novels allow tech to take over the world (although The Matrix springs to mind), and I often struggle to understand why the tech lets the humans live at all.

To sum up – Evie developed as a character, but a lot of it was difficult to follow because just as I was starting to understand her, the perspective started flicking erratically between Hunter, Evie and Ono. Then I felt like I was getting some real knowledge out of Hunter, but I couldn’t understand what was wrong with him in the first place (and didn’t really ‘get’ why he became what he was). And Ono had the potential to answer my questions about the strand, but it really didn’t come through clearly.

This novel did keep me entertained, just not as well as SpellSlinger (I read them concurrently). I’m giving it 3 stars for its readability. I’m not really sure what audience it would be best suited to however. I previously interviewed the author, and I think it would be worthwhile keeping an eye out for his future novels.