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: Emily Fridlund – History of Wolves

History of Wolves
Emily Fridlund

Linda lives in an ex-commune with parents who love her, but are a bit off-handed with their parenting. School isn’t perfect either, being labeled a commie and a freak. But it’s not like she is interested in school anyway. The chance to make some money and babysit the new neighbour’s kid seems the perfect idle escape.

Sold as a ‘Coming of Age’ novel, I honestly don’t know why I kept reading this novel. Linda doesn’t even make a choice, as promised in the blurb. She just wanders along in her own life, with no absolution and no explanations.

For me, it was not obvious that Paul was sick, until he was really sick and sleeping a lot. Kids get sick right? Linda takes him out in the forest and he seems like a perfectly normal boy to me. A quick google didn’t tell me how long a child is likely to last in his condition, but 4 years seems like a long time to survive.

Again, this novel had flicking back and forwards in time, making me feel slightly sick and very confused! Why should I care about your current life Linda? Why should I care about your behaviour towards Lily and the teacher? Why should I care about anything in this novel?

I understand that this novel is trying to expose at least some of what goes wrong in Christian Scientist lives – they believe that if you don’t think you (or anyone else) is ill, you will survive. I could also argue the same for other religions where blood transfusions are not permitted etc. I think for this novel to have worked on me, I needed the connection to be more explicit.

I hoped and hoped for this novel’s redemption, but it never happened. I’m even hesitating to give 2 stars, even though I finished it. Choose something else. If you want another novel with death and lies, pick Wolf Hollow, even though I didn’t love that one much either.

Hachette Australia | 1st January 2017 | AU $29.99 | Paperback

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Review: Vic James – Gilded Cage

Gilded Cage
Vic James

In Britain, there are the Equals and the slaves. All regular humans must spend 10 years slaving for the Equals, who play their own political games and couldn’t care less about the lives that are outside their own.

There’s nothing gilded about that cage. Nope. This novel follows a family who accidentally get split apart, with the teenager son going to a hard work-camp and the rest of the family going to a comparatively easy Estate job. I got very attached to Luke but couldn’t care less about Abi. Simple, idiotic girl.

I actually quite liked Silyen and despised the other brothers. Ok, so he’s a tad brilliant, and a large patch of rude and arrogant, but there’s something going on inside his mind that is not obvious to everyone else. He hides things, but he’s obvious about it and not sneaky like the rest of the Skilled/Equals.

I finished reading this novel breathlessly. I was hoping so hard for a standalone novel that wasn’t going to leave me hanging unhappily until the sequel came. This one had the potential, but in the end it seems to be part of a series. So, I’d advise buying a copy, but not reading it yet – you’ll just be setting yourself up for a cliffhanger ending that will torment you!

I’m giving it 5 stars, and hoping that when the next novel comes out I have time to reread this one first to refresh my memory for all the twisty turns in it.

Pan Macmillan | 1st February 2017 | AU $16.99 | Paperback

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Review: Julia Lawrinson – before you forget

before you forget
Julia Lawrinson

Amelia lives for her Art and her best friend Gemma. Sure, her teacher hates what she does, but she still has her parents intact. Her dad’s memory seems to have been going down hill since she started high school though, and lately it has gotten much worse.

I was utterly disappointed in this novel. There’s no true picture of what was ‘special’ about Amelia before this point in time. I’ve read plenty of novels that have the tortured artist as the main character, and this is just another of them.

I can’t believe Amelia just ignores everything that is going on with her best friend. How could she possibly miss that? How can she be so self-centred when her friend is in danger? Not to mention her crazy behaviour regarding Poppy. She seriously wasn’t thinking there. For a 17 year old, unless I am absolutely out of touch, she’s an incapable idiot.

This novel was not ‘ultimately uplifting’, it was a joke of a novel which perhaps tried to tackle too many issues at once without giving any of them the treatment they deserved. The part of this novel that I appreciated the most was the delicate friendship that developed between Will and Amelia. There wasn’t any ‘insta-love’, and Amelia appeared to have her head on straight for once.

I’ll give it 3 stars because I’m feeling generous and it wasn’t a complete failure as I finished reading it without too much complaint. There are better things out there though, and I’d suggest unbecoming as a start for memory loss, and Scars or hold still for a tortured artist.

Penguin Random House | 30 January 2016 | AU $19.99 | Paperback

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Review: Sara Barnard – A Quiet Kind of Thunder

A Quiet Kind of Thunder
Sara Barnard

Steffi doesn’t talk and Rhys can’t hear. Thrown together because Steffi has a passing grasp of sign language, their friendship is something that might widen Steffi’s world – or perhaps make her life harder…

Ah, the depiction of first love is fantastic here. They are both equally awkward, and yet Barnard doesn’t make it contrite and irritating. Instead she seems to let it grow organically out of friendship. There is a matter of fact discussion and depiction of sex, and its not overly squeamish, yet still gets to the heart of the matter.

I knew I needed to read this novel, and then I found myself reading it in one setting because I enjoyed it so much. Something about the pacing, the characters, the individuality of telling a novel through including seamlessly incorporated texts, handsigns and emails – brilliant.

Social anxiety is something that is getting better coverage in all areas of fiction. This is not the first novel I have read that includes a protagonist who is a selective mutist. So Much To Tell You might be the first teenage novel that approached the topic, while The Things I Didn’t Say  is a more YA novel that approaches the question of love as well.

I’ve going to give this lovely novel 4 stars. I liked Beautiful Broken Things, and I’m really looking forward to more from this author.

As is understandable, Sara Barnard is a busy lady! I’ve got two interview questions that she was kind enough to answer for me though 🙂

Sex is something you’ve explored quite frankly in A Quiet Kind of Thunder? Why is that?

I try to approach everything I write about honestly, and I don’t think sex should be any different. I’m not interested in sugarcoating or romanticizing anything. With sex, I think young people are given enough of that as it is, and that’s confusing enough already. It’s not all soft sheets, pastel colours and fireworks! And I think teens deserve to see that reflected in their fiction.

Could you give us a hint into anything about your next novel?

It’s all under wraps at the moment, but I will tell you that friendship plays a major role again.

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Review: Keri Arthur – Winter Halo

Winter Halo
Keri Arthur

Tiger has been hiding out with her ghosts, but she has to save some children before she has any rest. After her hideout is destroyed, Tiger must depend on others who loath her and outright hate her to complete her new mission.

Maybe I missed something major by not having read the first book in the series. I felt like I had been dropped into a very slow plot that nevertheless didn’t build anything for me, and then the second half couldn’t get my attention despite moving more quickly.

No no no no no! The blurb gets it all wrong. It implies that Tiger cares about the women who are being attacked within Winter Halo – that’s far from the truth! While she has a desire to protect everyone, she isn’t worried about those women in particular.

In this dystopian sci-fi fantasy, I’m not sure why anyone has a will to live. The vampires are outside, and I think that was more of a plot point than anything else. Give me more killing and gore, and less chatting.

Strike me as really strange, but I think I’d be ok with having a chip in my wrist that contains all my useful data – so long as its secure. Honestly, someone stealing my wallet would have pretty much all that information anyway, and surely a chip is safer? But I digress…

I’m giving it 3 stars, again because I’m feeling generous and it is rather unique. There’s nothing inherantly wrong with it, it’s just too filled with dialogue and

Hachette | 1st December 2016 | AU $19.99 | Paperback

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Review: Emily Barr – The One Memory of Flora Banks

The One Memory of Flora Banks
Emily Barr

Flora has anterograde amnesia. The only things she can remember are the things that happened before she was 10, and had to have a tumour removed from her brain. Then she kisses a boy, and she can remember the kiss. She goes off her medication and goes out to explore life.

Flora, you’re a little naive, and I can understand why your parents want to protect you. Ok, so you are a lot naive. What is to say bad things haven’t happened? I’m not sure you would have remembered, and so as an unreliable narrator, we would never hear about it.

I almost cried in the last couple of chapters of this novel. My heart hurt! How could I not have seen this coming? Barr grabs your heart, tickles it gently, then next minute, boom!

I found myself so engrossed in the story that I couldn’t put it down. I wandered around the house reading it, feeling like I was the one with memory loss. What was it I was supposed to be doing again?

As a debut YA novel from Barr (she has written a number of adult novels already), this novel is screaming for you to read it, and for Barr to write more. For something that was tagged ‘just another typical YA’ by my (albeit non-reading) partner, this novel will grab you.

It’s rare a novel will draw me to tears and for that, I’m giving this one 5 stars. Perhaps I won’t reread it, but it was beautiful storytelling that I want you to go out and buy immediately. Or borrow a copy from the library – but try not to leave tears on the pages.

Penguin Random House | 3rd January 2017 | AU$19.99 | Paperback

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Review: Sara Shepard – The Amateurs

The Amateurs
Sara Shepard

Aerin’s sister Helena disappeared 5 years ago, yet she can’t let go that there was something that she missed. When she calls in the help of amateur detectives from Case Not Closed online, they might be able to see the mystery through and solve some of their own issues at the same time.

Seneca! I love you! And best of all, your characterisation is very human and not as if you are a saint. I could have had more of you, and way less of all the other characters who mainly seemed to be concerned with who they were kissing next. That’s not to say that Seneca didn’t also have that problem, but she seemed to have her feet firmly on the ground and some guts to go with it.

I had trouble keeping all the characters apart in my mind. Honestly, the bar hopping and sheer amount of money that these people were throwing around… So Seneca seems to be the only one with real-world problems, and the rest are just crazy spoilt rich kids. Even Maddox, with his rags-to-sexy story.

This is a fantastic beginner psychological crime novel. Ok, so you aren’t going to be able to solve the case by yourself at all, there aren’t nearly enough details. But you will enjoy the suspense and the ending should blindside you. The blurb warns you, and there are some plot holes that might hint you towards it, but in the end it’s not clear what is going on.

I knew nothing of Shepard’s other novels, but they could be worth checking out. The price on this novel is a steal – buy it for a mature teenager or young adult in your life, and I’m pretty sure they will love you for it. I’m giving it 4 stars – that ending was fantastic and I wanted to read more. I’ll be looking for the next novel in the series to read.

Allen & Unwin | 23rd November 2016| AU $6.99 | Paperback

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Review: Liz Kessler – Haunt Me

Haunt Me
Liz Kessler

Erin has just moved house to get away from a horrific high school bullying situation which got out of control. When she goes into her bedroom, she is surprised to find it already occupied – by a ghost. Joe doesn’t remember how he died, or how he lived, but he knows that he wishes he was alive to be with Erin.

Ollie isn’t introduced until mid-way through the novel, and by then I was already too attached to the Erin-Joe relationship to give him any time. Ollie, you are boring and you can’t redeem yourself in my eyes. Self-centred bastard who can’t see past his own guilt.

I’m giving this novel points for dealing with difficult themes, including suicide as a product of bullying. However, I’m taking away points for the ending. Yay! A hopeful ending. Not. This is not what the rest of the novel was leading up to. I was very disappointed.

This captured the recovering depressed mind of a teenager beautifully. Erin’s ritual with the bottle, the cloud she refers to, and even the rushed moments at the end of the novel – everything is as it should be. Which is why, again, I have such an issue with the ending.

Inconsistencies with the character development and the stupidity of Erin were the death knells of this novel for me. For being an “intensely romantic” novel, Erin’s love for Joe felt cliched, while her feelings for Ollie were just as transperant. Another reviewer calls it “insta-love”, and that’s exactly how I felt about it too. I wanted more reality.

I enjoyed Read Me Like A Book and suspended disbelief for it. I was so excited for this novel, but it simply failed to deliver. I’ll be giving it 3 stars, but recommending that you go for perhaps By The Time You Read This I’ll Be Dead or Burn Journal if you are looking for some YA depression fiction.

Hachette | 13th December 2016 | AU $16.99 | Paperback

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