Review: Megan Jacobson – the build-up season

the build-up season
Megan Jacobson

Iliad is named for a war, and she has a war going on inside her. Growing up in a home suffering from domestic violence, Iliad has been kicked out of five boarding schools and is now on her last leg of year 12 – successfully failing most of her units against art. Getting a dreamy boyfriend will solve all her problems… or will it?

Oh Ily, you are so clueless sometimes! And it’s not all about you. But I think her mother and nan made the wrong decision sending her away. Clearly she has PTSD, and although it might help to get away from triggering scenarios, it’s not going to heal her – therapy would have been the right thing to do. Domestic violence is currently coming under a lot of scrutiny in Australia, so at least we can hope this improves, even in the remote community that Ily seems to live in.

By the author of the breathtaking yellow comes another breathtaking novel that almost made me cry… Oh ok, I did actually shed at least one tear. And it wasn’t even at the end! It was right in the middle when I didn’t know what would happen. I honestly would have been ok with any ending, because I wanted the author to just keep writing.

I can’t think of anything I didn’t enjoy about the novel. I connected with Ily, I didn’t see everything coming and there was the right amount of emotional jerking. Oh, only one minor complaint. Ily should have blocked the mobile number, not just deleted it from her phone. Also, the blurb is inaccurate and gives away the last 3/4 of the novel.

As a young adult novel, this included tasteful sex scenes that should highlight to young readers the difference between a thoughtful lover and an asshole. Also, safe sex even when it is spontaneous. Ahh. A well written novel. A very happy reader. Just what I needed.

Why are you still reading this review? Go buy a copy.

Penguin Random House | 31st July 2017 | AU $19.99 | paperback

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Review: Adam Silvera – They Both Die at the End

They Both Die at the End
Adam Silvera

Mateo doesn’t leave his house for fear of death – the Death Call could come any time between 12am and 3am. But when the Call finally comes, he realises that there are worse things than death – like not actually living the life you have been given. Rufus on the other hand has been living the hard hand that life has given him and isn’t ready to die lying down.

I’m not really sure why there were so many perspectives included. I didn’t really need to know anything about the actual people who make the Death Calls. It’s just a job like any other. And actually, so maybe the book lied a little bit. And for a while, I was really irritated by why the book kept jumping perspectives for other people who have gotten the Death Call. But now I realise that the author was setting up for the ending, where we have faith that the author will do what he says he will.

I’d actually like having a death call. It’d be awesome to know that you have a last day! And I certainly wouldn’t be able to live in regret beforehand. The premise here is hard because both of the boys have so much potential ahead of them and it’s ‘unfair’ that they will die. But it’s not like the Call makes it happen!

Nit picking here, but there is a slight discrepancy in time left near the end – they only have 2 hours not 3! As a side note to make this a bit more of a paragraph, I don’t understand potentially going to jail for something that is already inevitably going to happen. Ah well. It’s not up to me, and Peck was a bit crazy really. That’s the power of not getting a Death Call, but I’d say that they could lead to a lot of quadriplegics from things you could die from, but know you won’t.

I’ve tagged this novel as queer fiction, but it is very gentle queer fiction. The main thing is that Adam Silvera has a strong history of writing gay fiction, particularly in his other novel ‘History is All You Left Me’. I actually have that novel sitting on my shelf, but didn’t get past the first page, which I realise now may just have been due to an inability to concentrate, not a reflection of the quality of the novel.

I quivered between giving this novel 3 or 4 stars. I hated the ending, because it lied to me! But then, the more I wrote this review and reflected on the novel, the more I realised it was actually pretty good! So 4 stars.

Simon & Schuster | September 2017 | AU $17.99 | paperback

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Review: Orlagh Collins – No Filter

No Filter
Orlagh Collins

Em’s been exiled to her grandmother’s house after her mother goes too far. Liam feels like he’s been exiled from his family and that he doesn’t fit in. A chance meeting on the beach, bonding over a run-in with the law, and the stage is set for two teens to fall in love. Although they aren’t supposed to…

Hmm, not sure how I feel about the title of this one. Seemed to me that more could have been made of the ‘Instagram’ idea. Once Em was away from the social media, she hardly seemed to think about it. The same with the lies. Oh no, she lied about babysitting! Let’s be honest, a large proportion of teenagers have lied to go to a crazy party. Em, you aren’t special.

Maybe the author tried for too many twists in this novel. I felt like Emerald’s home situation wasn’t all that special, and by the time anything more was revealed I had basically tuned out. There are plenty of other novels that are more hard hitting than this – think Caramel Hearts or the breaktaking yellow (expect a review of Megan Jacobson’s new novel soon).

‘But nobody told them they weren’t supposed to fall in love’ – why not? Are they going to be incestual? That’s about the only real reason I could think of for why they shouldn’t fall in love. I think the novel’s ‘punchline’ came too late for me to care about it.

Kudos to Liam for being a sensible sort of bloke, despite the what I would call ‘excessive’ drinking. Safe sex scene alert. That makes this novel fit firmly into the Young Adult category, as do the drugs and alcohol. Em is an idiot. There, I said it. I thought she was an unlovable main character for her idiocracy.

This was an unsolicited novel from Bloomsbury as far as I can see from my records, but as it’s YA I probably would have picked it for myself to read anyway. Honestly though? I’m getting a bit sick of YA romance. 3 stars from me. I hovered between a 3 and 4, but now I’ve written the review, I’m thinking it was 3 stars. Plus I was able to put it down and read it across two nights.

Bloomsbury | August 2017 | AU $14.99 | Paperback

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Review: Kathleen Duey – Sacred Scars

Sacred Scars
Kathleen Duey

Sadima is desperate to escape from life in a cave, and she longs to have a better relationship to Franklin, one more like when they first met. It’s not to be though as Franklin becomes more enamoured with Somiss and his students. Many generations later, Haph is trying to survive learning dangerous magic with dangerous teachers – with only one student to come out on top… Unless Haph can make some changes to the trust issues running rampart in the school.

I left this novel impossibly long to review… But I have a very good reason/excuse! This is a trilogy, and I’ve owned the first two books (Skin Hunger) for at least 5 years I think. I picked them up from the op-shop as a steal, assuming that the third book must have been published. But no! The author seems to have dropped off the end of the earth for the last couple of years, despite apparently there being a release date for the last book. I emailed the publishers and lo and behold, it’s a mistake. No release date in sight.

Once that third novel is finally published, I’m going to reread these from the beginning, they are that good! So I’ve giving it 5 stars but I wouldn’t suggest you read it until the third one is finally published! Get your hands on a cheap second hand copy, but don’t read it! For goodness sake, don’t read it! But absolutely chase up the publishers (Simon and Schuster) to make sure that it eventually happens. For your reference: ISBN 9780689840982.

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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: Teri Terry – contagion

contagion
Teri Terry

Shay saw Callie the day she disappeared. But it’s years later by the time Shay realises that she might remember something important, something that could help Kai to find his sister Callie. With a strange epidemic crossing the continent, Shay and Kai need to be careful to find Callie… or maybe she will find them first.

I felt so cheated by this book! Trilogy, grumble, grumble. Doesn’t anyone ever write a decent stand alone novel these days? I even bet that when the second in this trilogy comes out, it won’t have the blood red page edging of this first novel, so it doesn’t match the rest! Sure, the author has written other trilogies, but honestly! How hard it is to write a fantastic standalone novel.

I hated, hated, hated that I tricked myself. I was happily reading along for at least a quarter of the novel, thinking that Shay (Sharona) was embarrassed by HIS name. So then when Kai came along, and Shay wasn’t sure if Kai was into HIM, I was thinking ‘Yay, two gay characters that aren’t even making a big deal out of it, this is how fiction should read’. Then I suddenly realised that Shay was a GIRL. And I cracked it and got really grumpy and frustrated at the novel. There was so much potential there, and it seemed like the environment was what it should be. Ugh. 

I honestly didn’t get much of a sense of ‘suspense’ or ‘thrill’ from this novel. I guess after my initial mistake, I was no longer attached to the characters. It’s exciting to read a novel that isn’t set in the US, and instead is limited to England and surrounds. However, you would expect a bit more to be made of the presumably more scenic bike rides and so forth that Kai and Shay get to do.

3 stars. I disappointed myself on this one on two counts: the main character wasn’t gay and it was the first of yet another trilogy. Another plague novel? I’ve seen it done better.

Hachette Australia | 1st May 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: Amy Tintera – Avenged

Avenged
Amy Tintera

Em has rescued her sister Oliva from the torturous confines of Lera’s dungeons. A promise by Em’s husband Cas means that she trusts the Lerans won’t attack Runia while her family rebuilds – but there are more politics than anyone can presume to understand.

I wanted to reread Ruined before I read this sequel, but I just couldn’t hold out, the siren song of Avenged was too strong. Then I saw Ruined on the bookshelf at home and almost picked it up in a frenzy read, but I was sadly interrupted by dinner preparations.

In this novel, Em continues to be the underdog heroine who has to use her wits to survive because she is Useless – no Ruined magic to speak of, she is almost as bad as a human. Worse, since she is supposed to be Queen. After her sister Olivia suggests a diarchy so that Em can deal with the horrible humans, Em continues in her role, but she has to balance up the needs of her people with her own longing for the new King of Lera, her husband Cas.

Absolute power corrupts absolutely. I’m not sure Olivia had any feeling bones in her body before, but she certainly didn’t get any favours from being tortured. Olivia hates everyone, even her sister sometimes, and she’s a threat that will eventually need to be neutralised.

Aren gets a bit more airtime in this novel, and there’s a bit of romance for him too. What I liked was the way that romance complicated things, yet didn’t overwhelm the main fantasy storyline. It wasn’t just a means to an end, it actually changed the outcomes subtly. This also applied to Cas’ appearances in the text, both from Em’s POV and his own.

The first novel ended with a bang, and this one was no better! I felt so discouraged after finishing it, simply because I wanted to just keep reading. I should have prolonged the reading experience by reading more slowly, but the fast paced action just wouldn’t let me stop.

I’m giving this 5 stars. I can’t wait until the next novel comes out, and I can’t believe that it’s another whole year away. Perhaps I’ll have to read the other two novels by Tintera in the mean time (Reboot & Rebel).

Allen & Unwin | 26th April 2017 | AU$16.99 | 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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