Review: Claire Merle – The Glimpse

The Glimpse
Claire Merle

A simple test can tell you whether you’re going to develop one of the BIG3 – Schizophrenia, Depression, or Anxiety. Ariana’s DNA test labelled her as a Pure – designed to marry a Pure boy and have Pure offspring. However it turns out that her DNA result was faked, and now she’s relying on Jasper to keep her safe in the Community. When he disappears, Ana has to find him before it’s too late for her as well.

I grabbed this from the library this school holidays and it was a light, quick read that was strangely compelling. I say strangely, because the plotting was really quite thin, and half the time Ana didn’t act in a sensible manner at all. Her being able to hold her breath under the water for a long period of time was somehow an important plot point that was used more than once.

I was drawn to this novel because I’m keen on both genetics and mental health. A future where we have identified some of the genes responsible for people developing mental illnesses is really likely, and is probably sooner than most people realise. And I fully expect that it could cause a divide between ‘crazy’ people and ‘normal’ people. But the fact that they just expect having a gene to cause a mental illness? That’s a total fraud – there’s lots of other factors that are important such as epigenetics, Barr bodies and environmental triggers. Depression and Anxiety are huge, but I wouldn’t consider Schizophrenia that common (although it is one of the most debilitating mental illnesses out there).

I didn’t get why Ana was so special. She’s way too excited about !boys! and not enough about, I don’t know, actually saving other people? She’s so shallow and irritating, and her thought processes totally don’t make sense. What put me off as well was a four year old being so suicidal that they would jump in a river. I guess that should come with a spoiler alert. And then the fact that someone claims to see the future? That took it from barely plausible to hopeless.

I didn’t understand why the Mental Clinics even existed. If people go into them, and don’t ever come out, why don’t they just kill those inside? Harsh of me, but honestly. If it’s all about the money, why bother even testing anything out on them, especially if really poor records are kept? Everyone knows science doesn’t work like that!

Ultimately it’s just another dystopian novel where people have been relatively arbitrarily sorted into the City and the Community to create an elite. If you’re looking for a weaker version of: The Wind Singer, Uglies, or Disruption, this is the right novel for you. I finished it, but I became less and less involved in it as I went along. 3 stars from me.

Review: David Yoon – Frankly in Love

Frankly in Love
David Yoon

Frank Li needs to get date a nice Korean girl, bond with his father and get into The Harvard. What he doesn’t foresee is falling for a white girl and missing out on his father’s life. When Frank and Joy cook up the plan to fake date one another to be with the people they love, will more get broken than their hearts?

What I really liked about this novel was that it didn’t end at the predictable point of boy-loves-girl-loves-boy. The plot keeps going, and Frank finds himself still continuing on and considering issues he hadn’t thought about. To me it felt like quite a long novel, although I didn’t have a chance to sit down and read it in a single sitting.

Did the romance feel real to me? Sort of I suppose. I didn’t really get a proper picture of Brit and Joy, besides that Frank liked them. I liked how it wasn’t really insta-love as they had at least noticed one another before. I would have liked to see a little more characterisation of people other than Frank – but what can you do when it’s a first person narrative? Well, you can employ funny jokes and casual swearing in a way that makes you feel like you’re inside a teenage boy’s mind.

Apparently fake dating is a common trope? I’ve not seen it in my recent reading, so I can’t comment on it. For me, I found it very believable that Frank and Joy would set things up like this! Yes, I suppose the next step was inevitable but really? Couldn’t there be any other option? I’m also not sure I liked the ending with Q. I don’t think it was necessary, and it didn’t really make sense with the rest of the novel.

I can’t really say much about whether this is a typical depiction of American-Korean life and expectations. At my high school, everyone was European-Australian, and at university the number of people of Asian decent outnumbered ‘Australians’. Some reviewers have complained that this novel shows old-fashioned views of immigrants that speak poor English, but have high hopes for their children. However the people I personally know from similar backgrounds actually have similar expectations placed on them.

David Yoon is the husband of Nicola Yoon – Everything, Everything and The Sun is Also a Star. If you like fiction that has racial impact I’d recommend this novel, or the others. Just remember that it is written to a very American (USA) point of view. 4 stars from me.

Penguin Random House | 12th September 2019 | AU$12.99 | paperback

Review: Bill Bennett – Palace of Fires

Palace of Fires
Bill Bennett

Lily and her mom have been on the run since Lily’s dad was killed in a hit-and-run four years ago. Lily has enjoyed living on the farm, and gentle gardening with her mom. But then a regular trip to the Farmer’s Market ends with tragedy – Lily’s mom is missing, and Lily thinks a scary biker is at fault.

I was initially sent the second book in this trilogy to review (Unholy) back in 2018. I hadn’t read the first book, so I put it on my shelf to be read when I could get it from the library. Then this month Penguin generously sent me all three books to read! Sadly, I couldn’t get past the first one.

The most promising part of this novel was the prologue! Lily’s ancestor is trying to keep her family alive, but the potato fields are blighted so she signs her name in blood with Satan. Then the book segues awkwardly into an elite hunter witch and her two familiars that feed on toe-nipples (no, you didn’t read that incorrectly!).

Details that should have simply been implied are spelled out and then spelled out again. The book jumps between perspectives of the witches, the hunter, the hag, Lily, Lily’s love interest etc etc. to the point that you don’t actually know which character you should care about. Of course we should care the most about Lily, but honestly I found her irritating and all too predictable. She really works hard to make herself different from everyone else, and she doesn’t even bother trying to do social niceties when they might benefit her.

I haven’t read a book that I detested as much as this one for quite a while! I mean, I hated I Always Find You, but I at least finished it. Bill Bennett’s Unholy wasn’t even tolerable for 100 pages. 1 star. I’d give 0 stars if I could.

Penguin Random House | 3rd September 2019 | AU$19.99 | paperback

Review: William Sutcliffe – The Gifted, the Talented and Me

The Gifted, the Talented and Me
William Sutcliffe

Fifteen-year-old Sam is average. Apologetically average. Which is fine until he moves to London and finds himself attending the North London Academy for the Gifted and Talented. Football is banned, and creating poetry and beat-boxing in class is highly recommended. Will Sam ever find his feet, or is he doomed to wander the school grounds alone and average?

I picked up this novel, read the first chapter, and then put it down again. Last night I wanted something light to read so I picked it up again. I find it hard to come up with things to say about it, because it wasn’t anything special. I think that’s its allure though because not everyone can draw brilliantly or be a musical genius. Sam brings to life the average teenage guy (including his dick) and his humour.

I’d never really thought about or even considered the term ‘Queerbaiting’ until recently. Basically it seems to mean that there is a character who comes out as gay, or that seems gay, and then suddenly they turn out to be incredibly straight. For me, that’s what ruined Starworld, but I didn’t find it impacting me very much for this novel.

Something I did find upsetting was Sam’s mother’s blog. She uses her own name on it, and then just blanks out her children’s names with just the first initial. Imagine if the school bully had gotten their hands on that sort of information? It’s not ok for her to be writing that – and after Sam catches her out she should have given it up. I’m not going to make excuses for her behavior, even as I laughed about the Japanese stool.

It’s frankly an average book about an average guy. There’s nothing amazing in this novel that made me want to keep reading it desperately – but maybe that’s going to appeal to some readers. So many YA novels have ‘special’ protagonists with mental health issues, family issues, queer issues, etc etc. So it’ll be nice for normal people to have a humorous novel about them! 3 stars from me (since I can hit all three of those issue boxes!).

Bloomsbury | 17th June 2019 | AU$16.99 | paperback

Review: Taryn Bashford – The Astrid Notes

The Astrid Notes
Taryn Bashford

Astrid secretly longs to be a popular song writer – but she’s an operatic soprano. Jacob is grieving for his friends and his band – but his parents won’t continue to bankroll his music career unless he starts singing again. Together, can Astrid and Jacob make compromises for their families and themselves? Or will they lose everything?

Ugh! I didn’t want them to be in love! What I wouldn’t give right now for a YA friendship novel. It sets up unrealistic expectations for young adults – they’re somehow supposed to have a love that makes them defy their parents and overcome their stage fright. It’s ok to be single, and it’s ok to just have friends.

Although this novel could be considered a sequel to The Harper Effect’, Harper doesn’t really play a role in it. She cameos maybe once? So there’s no need to have read Bashford’s other novel. But I feel like I’d consider borrowing it from the library to see if the same strong feelings raised in me by The Astrid Effect worked via sports stars too.

Once upon a time I thought that I wanted to go to music school – which in Melbourne would be the Victorian College of the Arts. I quickly realised that I wasn’t inherently talented enough to go! So here, where both Astrid and Jacob are good enough to go to music specialist schools I felt some envy of their talent. But also I felt deeply sad about the circumstances that brought them together. Their feelings of depression and suicidality (it should be a word!) brought me to tears.

I’ll give this four stars for the feels it gave me, but the story didn’t seem to be anything particularly new. I preferred another music-themed YA novel I read a couple of years ago. I’ll update the post if I remember it’s name! I can picture the cover, but not the title.

Pan Macmillan | 10th July 2019 | AU$16.99 | paperback

Review: Brendan Reichs – Genesis

Genesis
Brendan Reichs

Noah knows what the stakes are now – and he’s determined to survive at any cost. He’ll flatten team-mates and set others alight to win. In contrast, Min knows that there has to be something more to life than killing. She wants to form a community and work out the long term goals. Why can’t they leave the area? And why does killing people not make them stay dead?

I hated Noah and Min’s relationship. Honestly, I was disgusted by Noah most of the time, and I couldn’t believe that Min would fall for him. What about Tack? He would give her anything! And I’d take that any day in a killing scenario like what these guys find themselves in.

There’s a couple of twists and turns here that I definitely didn’t see coming. It is ESSENTIAL that you read Nemesis first, because otherwise you will be completely confused. How could Sarah do that? Why would they keep the psychopaths in the population?

I found it interesting that the gay couples still felt the need to justify their relationships. Maybe it’s because they won’t be able to provide offspring to somehow keep the human race alive? That’s the thing that got to me. Even if there are 64 humans left, it’s really unlikely that that is enough genetic diversity to really restart a population. And were the ones and zeros really needed? Or could those clone bodies survive on their own? I wanted to know more about the science.

I actually read an eBook copy of this as I was on vacation and had just finished Nemesis – and I needed to read Genesis right away! I have a hard copy version though which I did like originally until I realized it was the second in a series. What devastated me again after finishing it is that there is a third book. I’ll give this one 4 stars, but I probably won’t reread it before reading Chrysalis.

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

Review: Brendan Reichs – Nemesis

Nemesis
Brendan Reichs

Every two years Min is murdered on her birthday – but she finds herself alive again soon after, with no evidence of death left. An asteroid is approaching earth though, and weird things keep happening that might wipe out human kind. It’s good thing she has Tack by her side – and maybe the stranger Noah as well?

This novel was very, very slow and I considered giving up on it about half way through. Min and Noah are like two magnets that kept changing polarities. Oh, and then when the perspectives started changing I started feeling very irritated. Just stick with a side guys! Noah, please get over yourself, I get that you might have anxiety, but I don’t think you’re really convincing me with your character consistency.

Ok, something I really struggled with was the ending of this novel. Noah’s personality basically completely changes – and I had no idea why. Min stays her own awesome self as far as I can tell. I also really don’t get how what they think is happening could happen. I really can’t say more without giving away the twist.

This novel reminded me a little of The Maze Runner – but I think people actually die in that one! I have the second novel in this series waiting for me on my bookshelf at home, but I’m not sure I’m going to wait that long to read it (since there is an eBook copy available from my local library). I’ll give this one a healthy 3 stars, bordering on 4. I’m just not convinced about the ending.

Review: S E Grove – The Waning Age

The Waning Age
SE Grove

Natalia has lost her empathetic little brother after a wayward comment at her workplace insults the wrong person. She’s also got a huge bounty on her head after she embarrasses a bunch of Fish. Fish are people who don’t have feelings, and also don’t follow society’s rational norms – they’re killers. Natalia is pretty sure she doesn’t have feelings left either – but she’s determined to get her brother back.

The premise of this novel is interesting. When children get to the age of 10 or so, they lose their ability to feel things. So then at high school they are taught society’s rules and norms for how to behave. Somehow people’s brains have switched off the pathways to being empathetic for others. It’s a cool idea! I’m not sure how biologically possible it is at this point though.

I’m not sure how I felt about the execution of this novel. Calvino’s essay responses add a bit of variety, but ultimately it is Natalia’s journal that carries the plot. The journal entries left me feeling like there was a lot more to be said. Now, if that was a deliberate idea on the author’s behalf, because of course Natalia doesn’t ‘feel’ things anymore, that’s ok. But I needed something more to connect me with the characters.

None of the characters I cared about died, and nothing bad really seemed to happen to them. Bad things were threatened, and people did die, but they weren’t really important. I was too sure the whole time that Natalia would win. And that ending with where Cal ends up? Isn’t that just too convenient? All those coincidences just seem to line up…

Natalia reminded me of Maggie in Disruption (I always have to look up the name of the novel, I can never remember it!). Despite everything going against her, and only the rich being able to afford the good things in life, Natalia sticks it out and kicks butt, just like Maggie! I’m going to give this 3 stars, and suggest instead that you go and read Disruption instead for a kick-ass heroine and a more convincing plot.

Review: Nicola Yoon – The Sun is also a Star

The Sun is also a Star
Nicola Yoon

Natasha will be deported before the day is out – but she’s willing to try anything to stay in America. Daniel happens to save her from being hit by a car, but he has his own life changing interview to attend. This novel is a story of how unexpected coincidences and fate can come together in just a single day.

Normally I would be irritated by a novel trying to cram too much importance into a single day. I thought to myself at the beginning of this one that I didn’t have much tolerance for the interspersed chapters from Natasha and Daniel, as well as the other randoms they happen to run into! But it grew on me, and in the end I was satisfied. I kept wanting to know the next coincidence to happen.

While I saw the ending coming, it was also very satisfying in a way that ‘Five years from now’ was not. It’s ok for people to drift apart! Even the epilogue was ok – I would have been ok with it not happening either. This book ended in a way that *Startalk* left me wanting. What’s wrong with an ending that isn’t roses for everyone?

I also read Everything, Everything a while back, and enjoyed it so when I saw this one I thought it could be a good distraction. I borrowed it through my local library’s eBook BorrowBox. Normally I hate reading on my phone, but in this case, it was convenient. I also saw a copy of it in a local (Greek) bookstore! I’m giving it 4 stars – I’m a little sad that I don’t own it, but I’m not going to rush out to buy it any time soon. Maybe if I saw it in a garage sale or similar.

Review: Brigid Kemmerer – call it what you want

call it what you want
Brigid Kemmerer

Maegan was a straight A student until the pressure of her perfect family got to her. She’s not their good girl anymore. But netither is her sister – pregnant and home from college unexpectedly. Paired with Rob who would rather fly under the radar until he graduates, can the two get over their prickly and worn edges to succeed?

Rob is a lovely tortured character determined to be miserable. If only he wasn’t quite so, charming? about it? I’m not quite sure what went wrong, but his character just didn’t sing true for me. Maegan on the other hand I could understand, but ultimately it ended up being more about her sister. And the romance between Rob and Maegan was sort of off I guess. They go from kissing to having her shirt off almost instantly as far as I can tell. No, I’m not ok with that, even in a YA novel. It seems like their family circumstances caused them to skip forward in time and not in a good way.

The ending of this was disappointing. It skipped forwards in time in such a way that I didn’t really believe in what happened. Also, the librarian? Really? Because no-one saw that coming… I wanted to shake Rob and Maegan half the time. And the rest of the time I wondered what on earth they were thinking.

I know that Kemmerer can produce novels that are far more intriguing and powerful than this one, so I found myself underwhelmed. How many normal teenage readers are going to be able to empathize with a multi-million dollar embezzling father?  Rob’s character is tortured and lonely and I entirely wanted him to succeed. What I did like was the way he couldn’t reconcile his own feelings about his father not being an asshole, with his father, well, being an asshole. Things just are never as simple as they seem.

The origami cover image leaves me pretty cold as well – neither of the two main characters are into it, and the pastel pink is just average. I connected more with Toffee (also published by Bloomsbury), and that was written in verse! Kemmerer, I’m not impressed. Please write the sequel to A Curse So Dark and Lonely ASAP instead.

Bloomsbury | 1st July 2019 | AU$16.99 | paperback