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 Unrequited (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.

Review: Becky Albertalli – The Upside of Unrequited

The Upside of Unrequited
Becky Albertalli

Molly has never found a boy that she could actually approach. But then when you’ve had 26 crushes, maybe you’re just in love with the idea of love? When her twin sister Cassie gets a new girlfriend who happens to come with a cute boy as a sidekick, Molly might actually make a move. But is it the right move?

Oh Molly. Why you so stupid? Getting drunk every time a boy likes you. This is a novel of first love and stupid behaviour in the name of love, and I actually liked it! The prose was excellent, and I enjoyed having a protagonist who tried not to be too stupid, but then just was anyway. It actually endeared her to me more than anything else.

This novel reminded me of Alex, Approximately. They’ll never fall for the socially ostracized, nerdy boys that actually like them for the person they are. Come on girls, those people are the best! These novels always seem to happen over summer, which is something unimaginable in the cities I have lived it. The minute that summer starts, people either go away or are busy with family stuff (I guess because our Summer is over Christmas).

Sorry for this rather pathetic review. I read this novel months and months ago, and I remember enjoying it, but I don’t think it was something as special as blending in . Thus I will give it 4 stars.

Penguin Random House | 18th April 2018 | AU$19.99 | paperback

Review: Mary Watson – The Wren Hunt

The Wren Hunt
Mary Watson

Wren is chased once a year for her name. This year, she pledges, is the year she will no longer be frightened, and the year she will no longer be caught. Instead, the leader takes a slice of her hair, claiming the literal kill for himself. But there are other plans afoot – does Wren have a different destiny to fulfill?

It took me a while to get into this novel. The start was very slow, despite a chase scene. But the lead up to the chase scene destroyed the anticipation. The rest of the novel wasn’t as predictable though (except the love interest). Oh! Twist! I did not see that coming. This novel stands alone quite nicely, but I can tell it has been set up for a sequel. What will Wren do next? What does it all mean?

I felt Wren’s character was nicely defined, and her behaviour was very consistent despite the different environments she found herself in. Like her family, I also felt that she should have done more snooping, but for her own benefit.

I felt confusion about what had come before with the artist and her mother? And I also didn’t get any conclusions about some of Wren’s visions. I also would have liked some more information about her mother. Finally, I wanted to know more about why these archives were actually formed.

As you can see, this novel left me with a lot of questions. At the same time, it did conclude. For the terrible beginning I’m giving this three stars, but I would consider reading the next novel if there is one.

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

Review: Short Stories, Because You Love to Hate Me (ed. Ameriie)

Because You Love to Hate Me
Editor: Ameriie

Leave it to the heroes to save the world—villains just want to rule the world. In this unique YA anthology, thirteen acclaimed, bestselling authors team up with thirteen influential BookTubers to reimagine fairy tales from the oft-misunderstood villains’ points of view.

I confess, I read the first two short stories and almost gave up on the whole anthology. Neither were in a style I enjoyed. A book of short stories was never going to be my favourite read. You will remember from the time that I was more enamored with Mercedes Lackey that I read a lot of short stories. I usually like to use them to pick out some new authors to test out, but honestly at the moment I still have novels left over from last year to review and it’s just not going to happen.

I recognised two of the authors here – Adam Silvera (They Both Die in the End) and Nichola Yoon. I wouldn’t say that any short stories really shone out as amazing, but my pick would be Julian Breaks Every Rule by Andrew Smith. Let’s just say it has a lot in common with Breaking Butterflies. I wouldn’t want to ruin the underlying theme of it.

Honestly, I’m actually really envious that these vloggers got to request specific topics for their short story. Maybe I should start vlogging about my books? But I’m more of a writer of reviews. If you asked me to do this, I think I’d choose a reimagining of a dragon fairytale, clearly. Maybe the dragon from The Hobbit?

Let’s give this 4 stars, which is pretty generous from me for a book of short stories. Worth reading if you love fairytales, don’t mind short stories and are looking for some new authors to read.

Bloomsbury | 1st September 2017 | AU$14.99 | paperback

Review: Angelo Surmelis – the dangerous art of blending in

the dangerous art of blending in
Angelo Surmelis

Evan has been trying to fit into society and his family his whole life. But with violence at home, and the knowledge that he kissed a boy in summer at Bible camp, Evan is probably never going to manage it. As his life goes from barely tolerable to horrific, Evan has to decide how he is going to shape his life from here.

I didn’t understand the obsession with money, except as a way of having more control over Evan. Evan’s father seemed like a sensible enough man, even if he was trapped by what the Greek community told him was normal.

Oh Gods. This novel ripped me apart. While reading it, I felt like my heart was going to break, and when I finished it, I felt like I needed a cuddle from my own partner to remind me that not all of the world is filled with idiots.

This novel powerfully tackles domestic abuse (from a female perpetrator, no less) and coming out as gay in a community that doesn’t understand it. It brought back memories of my own high school years, and the experiences I have heard from many other Queer people. I loved the authenticity of this novel, which came from it being written based on the experiences of the author. That a person had to go through that as a child, well, it brings me to tears.

How much actually happens in this novel? I spent a lot of the novel anticipating what Evan’s mother was going to do to him next, and not as much paying attention to the action. That anticipation and climax is what lets me give this novel 5 stars.

Penguin Random House | 12th February 2018 | AU$19.99 | paperback

Review: Shivaun Plozza – Tin Heart

Tin Heart
Shivaun Plozza

Marlowe has been lucky enough to get the new heart she needed, but blending in with a campaigning vegan mother and a costume wearing little brother is almost impossible. Not to mention having a little crush and ongoing feud with the boy next door… it’s a pity he’s a butcher! Who is she now that she has someone else’s heart?

Plozza’s debut novel, Frankie, was excellent, so I was looking forward to another novel from her. I was not disappointed by this one! Marlowe isn’t what you expect out of a YA/teenage protagonist, and that refreshed what could have otherwise been ‘just another teenage romance’. Marlowe is struggling with real issues, just like Frankie, and Plozza’s dialogue and scene setting lights the way for an engrossing story.

I always wonder if authors feel like writing a parallel/sequel hybrid novel of the supporting characters. I’m sure that there could have been a lot more explored following this novel with Zan/Kari as a protagonist. Then again, I think I’d just like to see more unlikely protagonists. I’d be interested to see this author’s take on a same-sex relationship.

Another novel I recently read,also concerns a heart transplant person (funnily enough). In Out of Heart, the heart recipient comes and sits in the lounge room of the donor family. The heart is known by science to carry memories and inclinations with it, and it of course holds a lot of sentimental value for organ donors.

Anything that promotes organ donation is a positive for me. Funnily enough, my partner’s boss at work needed a lung transplant, and his gift of life happened during an unexpected rain storm too. There were two false alarms (the lungs died in transport) before he finally got his lungs. A warning to all – be careful driving during unexpected weather, else you may give up your life by accident, although you might save other people by doing so.

Get your hands on this novel for yourself or your YA reader. 5 stars from me, it’s going straight to my re-read list. Now, if only I had time…

Penguin Random House | March 2018 | paperback

Review: Gregg Hurwitz – Last Chance

Last Chance
Gregg Hurwitz

Chance Rain has made it through the last gasp of their plan to kill the Queen and free their home town. Too bad that the aliens can simply replace her with another. With the impregnated kids ready to hatch the next generation of invaders, Chance might be able to stop it – but it will cost him his life.

I received this, and then I literally gobbled it up for 3-4 hours. I knew that it would be good, having loved The Rains so much. I love the amount of thought that has gone into this novel. The stages of the invasion, the stages of the invaders themselves. The action happened so fast sometimes that I couldn’t breathe.

Alex, you two-timing teenager. I know there is an actual phenomenon of there being more marriage proposals after major catastrophes, due to emotions running high. But at the same time, Alex, didn’t anyone teach you about the rules of dating? You don’t shag two people at the same time, let alone two brothers.  

I hate to think of what happens next though. A population filled with kids no older than 18? All over the world? I mean, a lot have died off, but even the smart ones haven’t necessarily survived. Not to mention – how are all the countries to be saved, when originally the spread was via lots of meteors landing? So many skills would be lost.

I actually had this discussion with a Professor last night. Despite what the media says, many countries are now having negative population growth. This, combined with an aging population that needs more care, means that despite robots potentially taking over the world there will be plenty of jobs left. Humans have creativity, which might be our savior.

Go get your hands on this novel. I think I would even reread it, that’s how attached I got to the characters. 5 stars.

Penguin Random House | 2nd January 2018 | AU$19.99 | paperback