Review: Victoria Carless – the dream walker

the dream walker
Victoria Carless

Lucy is 16 and ready to flee from Digger’s Landing, where the fish no longer bite and the dogs are covered with fleas. Her mother drowned herself and her father is desperate. Lucy wants to just get out of town and go to university, but her best friend is bailing in order to earn money

This is set in a ‘small Queensland fishing hamlet home to fifteen families, a posse of mongrel dogs, and Parkers Corner Store (no apostrophe and nowhere near a corner).’ Apart from some descriptive language that drove me crazy after a while (just say it already!), there was nothing good about this novel. I never connected to Lucy, or felt like I got into her friendship with Polly or her ?complicated? boyfriend relationship. 

The dreams come into this novel as an interesting plot point, where Lucy can help other people in her life from what she learns in dreams. Plenty of other dreamwalkers to read about: Dream Fire or Dream Strider. Don’t waste your precious reading time.

I couldn’t finish this novel. It was just so slow and boring. I barely remember reading the first part honestly, so I had trouble coming up with my own blurb. 1 star. Don’t bother.

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Review: Irfan Master – Out of Heart

Out of Heart
Irfan Master

Adam is the darkness, joined only to the rest of the world by a thread, bound within his own drawings and head, barely speaking. His sister doesn’t speak, and neither does his mother or grandfather. After his grandfather dies and donates his heart to William, William becomes a fixture in Adam’s house and life.

This novel felt disjointed and fast. Somehow, 7 months passed and I didn’t notice. There’s hardly enough pages in there for any details. Trying to fit in an abuse/transplant/love/damage storyline was too much, and instead I was left feeling cheated about the whole lot.

I felt disconnected from Adam, and couldn’t even get excited about the fact that he grew a spine somewhere between his childhood (where it wasn’t his fault and it was safer not to have one) and now. Simply, even the violent scenes left me cold, because the prose wasn’t compelling, and I felt distant the whole time. So did Adam, but it’s hard for me to care to keep reading….

The word plays that Adam uses could have been used even more effectively, or perhaps some more images that he drew. Anything! I actually really loved the idea of what he drew on the trains, but it wasn’t clear at all what the point was – if you can only see it from 24 floors in the air! That being said, yet another tortured artist student novel right here.

Does Farah not go to school? What’s wrong with doing dot-to-dots? How long has it been? School seems to feature so little in anything, despite readers listening through a set of school parent-teacher meetings. What are the two jobs Adam’s mom works? How does Adam get to work on time? Where do they live?

Something I hate, and maybe it’s just because I perhaps need glasses, is when thoughts or memories in a novel are included in a special type of script that isn’t just printed text. It almost guarentees I will dislike the novel,

Nothing remarkable to see here. There wasn’t enough substance, it took me about 1 hour to read it, and I didn’t feel like I had gained anything after it because I hadn’t become attached to the characters. I’m giving it 2 stars – I’m not feeling that kindly about it because I have many other novels to read that are (hopefully) way more exciting. I think I need to be more wary of Hot Key books (such as Fly on the Wall), no matter how intriguing they sound.

Allen & Unwin | 28th June 2017 | AU$16.99 | paperback

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Review: Emery Lord – The Names They Gave Us

The Names They Gave Us
Emery Lord

Lucy is used to going to Christian Camp every summer with her Pastor father and enjoys being part of the family. Her life seems pretty perfect, right up until the moment her mother’s cancer comes back and her boyfriend decides to ‘take a break from her’. As one of her mother’s last wishes, Lucy finds herself as a counselor at a camp for troubled teens instead where she’s going to discover a family history she never knew existed and find out more about herself than she ever could have imagined.

The ending! Oh the ending. It should have been more bittersweet, but it wasn’t. Actually, it was just a tad cloying? And I would have appreciated a little more closure. I can say that the rest of the novel was not leading up to that at all. I think this is a problem I had with Lord’s first book too… Perhaps I should have anticipated it more, but I am warned for next time now (and there had better be a next time)!

I really like Lucy’s character, although I could have had a few more juicy details in general. I initially didn’t get along with her, but warmed up to it. Maybe I could have had a bit more of Jones too. Insta-love drives me bananas sometimes, but due to the other themes of the novel I was buying it in this case. Lucy needed some comfort, and Jones could provide it.

I initially started reading the novel, and then dreaded continuing, because sadly my experience with strongly Christian folks is negative. Or perhaps I just don’t have enough of it, and read too much about how the Salvation Army, which I used to look up to, refuses to provide help to Queer people. Anyway, off topic. Don’t go into this novel with preconceptions, they’re probably going to be incorrect.

I really enjoyed this novel in the end and had a lot of trouble putting it down. It’s not surprising really, since I loved Lord’s first novel, When We Collided. I think WWC remains my favourite, but this novel is well worth a read too. I’m going with 4 stars, but it is a possible re-reader.

Bloomsbury | 1st June 2017 | AU $17.99 | Paperback

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Review: Jenny McLachlan – Stargazing for Beginners

Stargazing for Beginners
Jenny McLachlan

Meg has wanted to be an astronaut her whole life, and it seems like she is finally going to get the chance to see the NASA headquarters. Only problem is, Meg’s mum is heading off to an importance cause, and is leaving Meg’s little sister in Meg’s nervous hands. Will Meg be able to band together with her support team to survive?

I feel like this novel is just another in a series trying to encourage girls into STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) fields. The last I read, The Square Root of Summer gets more points from me for including more science! That being said, there are plenty of areas of science that need more exploring. Both of the protagonists are hard workers, and each faces their challenges bravely.

There was lots of lovely variety in the characters provided in the text, and even non-scientists should find someone they connect with! Ok, so it’s a little bit of a comedy of errors for the mix-up of the ‘mentoring group’, and that made the interactions feel slightly forced, but it does warm up to the task of giving them all some air-time to be individuals (as much as you can with a first-person perspective narrator).

What is it with parents going off and leaving their kids alone these days? And not just alone, but with younger siblings to look after? I’m looking at you, Raging Light and Beautiful Liar? There is an element of what could be suspense in this novel, but the end seems foretold anyway as the tone of the rest of the novel points in that direction.

I’m not sure this has anything particularly new to offer the genre, but it’s en enjoyable read nevertheless. 4 stars because it’s going to stay at home with me on my bookshelf, rather than roaming the wider worlds.

Bloomsbury | 1st June 2017 | AU $14.99 | Paperback

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Review: Bren MacDibble – How to Bee

How to Bee
Bren MacDibble

The bees have been killed and now only the bravest children pollinate the fruit trees by hand. It’s hard work, and only a select few are chosen. Peony’s mother thinks that the way forward is in the city, Peony knows that her place is with the other Bees.

In a future fiction, it’s possible this is going to become common place. Bees are dying out, and despite things such as the somewhat ill informed flower planting schemes by ?cereal? companies, unless we pick up our game with killing bees with pesticides and so forth. A world without fruit would be pretty miserable.

I liked the ending a lot. I liked the whole novel, but truely, the ending was fantastic. I loved how Peony stuck to her beliefs and her family. That girl knows what is important! It’s something that more people in the world could afford to learn…

I’m not going to suggest that this is a YA novel. There’s just not enough depth for that, and it’s not a reread so that’s why it’s not getting 5 stars from me. But it carries a very important message, it improves the current knowledge of young people. I could see it as an early highschool novel, and I’d love it a lot more than some other ‘Australian classics’ they stick teenagers with.

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: 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: 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: 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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