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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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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