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

Review: Jean E. Pendziwol – The Lightkeeper’s Daughters

The Lightkeeper’s Daughters
Jean E. Pendziwol

Morgan is going to spend some time repainting the wall she put graffiti on at a Retirement home. Instead, she also finds herself reading old journals to Elizabeth, a Lightkeeper’s daughter. Those journals may hold the secrets to Elizabeth’s past – and maybe help Morgan work towards her future.

I’ll admit, it took me a bit of reading to really get into this novel. I’d picked it up before, but just hadn’t been in the mood for reading alternative character perspectives interspersed with journal entries. I got into it though, and it was seamless transitions after that. They all had a distinct voice and it kept me reading constantly until the end.

Morgan tries to be a hardened foster kid, but really struggles. It just takes a few little pokes for her attitude to change. Honestly, I expected more drama from Morgan’s boyfriend. He didn’t seem like the type to let go easily. But I was so proud of her!

Well, I’m not sure about whether the ending should be considered a twist or not. I didn’t find myself surprised by the way things worked out – this is a novel after all, and things just usually happen to fall that way! Maybe if you pay really close attention, the details will click early for you as well.

I’m giving this 4 stars. Fantastic writing that made for fantastic reading. This novel reminds me of the novel that took an alternative perspective on the Titanic’s sinking – The Midnight Watch. If you enjoy boats, water and an intriguing story line, this novel is for you.

Hachette Australia | 1st July 2017 | AU$29.99 | paperback

Review: Samira Ahmed – love, hate & other filters

love, hate & other filters
Samira Ahmed

Maya hides behind a lens, capturing life going by her. With her strict Indian Muslim parents guiding (and watching) her every step, is there any way she will be able to follow her own passion?

Hmm, where to start with this novel. Maya had a unique viewpoint, but one that anyone could relate with. We all have friends that our parents hate, or hobbies that they don’t approve of, and of course bullying to contend with. I started empathizing with Maya so much that at one point of the novel I was really worried for her safety!

This reminded me strongly of the vegan warrior with the butcher living next door (again, I can’t remember the name of this…). Maya should never fall for a non-religious football jock… But she does, of course! I wanted her to get the things she wanted out of life, even if it seemed impossible

If you loved 10 Things I Hate About Me or When Michael Met Mina, you will likely also love this novel. This novel is a worthy addition to the fears that Muslim people face around the world when they are constantly, unfairly, being tagged with the title of ‘Terrorist’. If you would rather read slightly less non-fiction, but still with a Muslim protagonist, may I also suggest The Truth About Peacock Blue or A Different Kind of Daughter?

I’m giving this 4 stars. Not enough intrigue for 5 stars, but an enthralling one nevertheless.

Allen & Unwin | 24th January 2018 | AU$19.99 | paperback

Review: Deborah Ellis – Parvana

Deborah Ellis

After her father is jailed for no reason, Parvana must take over the man’s role in her family. In a world ruled by men, can one small boy even still do anything? Or is the only power the ability for a woman to marry into a powerful family?

Generally I don’t read graphic novels. But because this one was based on a novel, it seemed like there would be a decent storyline to follow. Everyone knows I’m all about the words, not the art. Not to say the art in this was bad – it was actually nice and clear. I felt like I wanted to know more after reading/viewing this. It left me with more questions than answers. For example, why was Parvana’s friend so willing to give away his father? Why did Parvana’s mother not do anything more? How can she be so calm?

I’m not really sure what audience this is aimed at. My 8 year old female reader wouldn’t want to read about the violence, even thought the moral of the story is an amazing one. She’s scared of everything though. So perhaps a boy would enjoy it? What a sexist thing to say… Is the storyline compelling enough to keep a beginning reader reading? I’m going to say yes, because the protagonist is risking her life every day, and you don’t want her to get hurt.

I think it is unfair for me to star this. I’m giving it 4 stars, because I did actually pick it up and read it, and kept reading it, which is unusual for me.

Allen & Unwin | 24th January 2018 | AU$19.99 | paperback graphic novel

Review: Eka Kurniawan – Vengeance is Mine, All Others Pay Cash

Vengeance is Mine, All Others Pay Cash
Eka Kurniawan

After witnessing a violent rape, Ajo Kawir loses his ability to have sexual intercourse – even with the woman he wins for himself. His dingwallace just won’t come to the party, despite the efforts of his best friend. Will his bird ever wake up?

I can’t believe I read a novel all about one man’s inability to raise his dong. At the beginning I almost stopped reading, in fact I moved the novel into the ‘will not finish’ pile. But for some reason I then came back and finished it off. Maybe my curiosity about how Ajo Kawir was possibly going to get his pecker working again did me in.

Maybe the title lost something in translation. Yes, it’s the name of his truck, but uh, in the end, he doesn’t actually reach vengeance. And uh, most of the time no-one pays cash? Anyway, the rest of the prose was still pithy, and I commend the translator on a fantastic job.

I could have done without the ‘short cinematic bursts’. I much would have preferred if there was a nice linear story line. I expected that I would not enjoy a novel tagged pulp fiction, but it wasn’t too bad.

If you like novels where the main character is basically a Lollypop (if you know what I mean), this could be a novel for you. In hindsight, I think I shouldn’t have started reading it at all, but I did, and I finished it, so I’ll give it 3 stars.

Text Publishing | 31st July 2017 | AU$29.99 | paperback

Review: Scot Gardner – SPARROW

Scot Gardner

Sparrow has been consigned to prison, sent out on boot camp with a bunch of crazies. When the boat just happens to explode, Sparrow makes his break for shore and freedom. But is freedom and isolation what he wants?

Flicking back and forth between Sparrow’s present and past, this novel had the potential to endlessly entertain a reader. Not me though. I couldn’t finish reading it. Sparrow’s constant internal monologue that was supposed to take the place of a spoken voice set me on edge.

It reminds me of Lord of the Flies, except it is just a wordless boy who has escaped into the forest with basically no survival skills. Sorry Sparrow, but I don’t feel sorry for you. I don’t empathize with you as a character. I much preferred Thirst, although it also lacked reality.

You want a nice novel with selective mutism? Perhaps the infamous So Much to Tell You, or the more recent A Quiet Kind of Thunder will take your fancy. Don’t bother with this novel. 1 star.

Allen & Unwin | 26th July 2017 | AU$19.99 | paperback

Review: Anne Cassidy – NO VIRGIN

Anne Cassidy

Stacey Woods has been emotionally raped by someone she trusted. She has also been physically raped by his brother. After the perpetrators try to write it off as ‘adult fun’ she knows that she needs to do something to prevent others being hurt. This novel is her story.

Most people will know Anne Cassidy from Looking for JJ, which I gave 4 stars. The second in the series, Finding Jennifer Jones, I gave 3 stars to. I feel like such a betrayer for not really loving all of the writing, and not loving NO VIRGIN either. I can’t believe that this has a second novel. Perhaps the fact is that Anne Cassidy’s writing style doesn’t agree with me, no matter how compelling a circumstance she puts her characters in.

Shouldn’t I have more respect and love for a character who decides to get off her butt (eventually) and do something about having been raped? Rape is still something where the statistics are woefully under-reported. What I hate is that it’s almost always men raping women, and very few cases of same sex, or female perpetrator abuse. This novel doesn’t fail there for me, it fails because I never connected with Stacey or her best friend and I always felt distanced from the situation. Distancing yourself from reality is often a response to rape, and this could have been a deliberate choice by the author, but for me, it just didn’t work.

I am sure this is the third time I have reviewed NO VIRGIN (WordPress seemed to eat the other two?!?). I now can’t remember nearly enough details to properly review the novel. However, what I do remember is that it felt unsatisfying and upsetting, but not in a redeeming manner. 3 stars because I finished it, but it will be leaving the house ASAP.

Allen & Unwin | 3rd January 2017 | AU$16.99 | paperback

Review: Jennifer E. Smith – Windfall

Jennifer E. Smith

Alice buys Teddy a lottery ticket that ends up being worth $140 million!! Surely it is just that Teddy’s luck has finally come through? But Alice loves Teddy, and its likely that they will stick together forever… Or will their trio of friends break apart under the strain of all those credit cards?

This novel has a nice range of character situations, but ultimately all of the characters end up blurring into one. Leo is gay, has relationship problems & isn’t sure about college. Alice is straight, can’t get the relationship she wants & ends up being unsure about college. Teddy is just off the rails and an idiot. Can’t you listen to the adults around you? Your friends? He just made me angry, and I only kept reading for Alice (who ended up being useless anyway).

1: I have to say, I kept putting off reading this novel because the cover just didn’t appeal to me. If you check out the alternative cover on Goodreads, it is much more inviting, not to mention its hint of symbolism. 2: The blurb lied. Teddy doesn’t go on an adventure with Alice. They’re really parallel adventures. Why? Because Teddy is a selfish [redacted], and he doesn’t actually care about anything other than himself unless he wants something. And he wonders why everyone else wants something from him.

Note: Please tell people you love them! Why is it such a big deal? You can love someone, and then fall out of love and its perfectly ok. I knew Alice’s feelings would eventually come out anyway. How could she ever move on otherwise?

Alice, you stupid girl. I know your ‘heart can’t help it’, but why couldn’t you end up with the other boy? He was so much more decent a person, and honestly, better suited for your personality. 3 stars because I felt betrayed and the storyline was ultimately transperent.

Pan Macmillan | 26th April 2017 | AU$14.99 | paperback

Review: Jenn Bennett – Alex, Approximately

Alex, Approximately
Jenn Bennett

Bailey has just moved in with her dad, in the town that her online heartthrob just happens to live in. After she gets a job at the only local job place, she instead finds herself trying to deal with the most irritating boy alive, with no time to stalk down the enigmatic Alex.

This novel just wasn’t breathtaking. It’s a typical love story where the girl moves cities to near her online boyfriend… without telling him. Then she wants to stalk him to find him in real life. Instead, she happens to meet the most annoying boy in the world. Then of course, it all turns out exactly as you would expect with no cliffhangers or doubt.

I like this novel because it covered some important topics as well as just fulfilling a typical teenage romance. It touched on cyber safety and not giving away your private details online. It also covered sexual activity safety, and the proper (although awkward) interactions to make sure that each partners is ready for sex. That really made up a lot of the humour of the novel since Bailey blushed so easily!

This is firmly in the YA category thanks to its frank discussion of drugs and sex. What I wasn’t sure about was how accurate the depiction of Alex and her father was. I get that he’s not a very strict parent but it seems like she really could get away with murder. Likewise, he’s not very observant. Drug use in this novel has an impact on the two main characters, but it had a satisfactory outcome. A very sad satisfactory outcome, but that was just the way it ended up.

I don’t know anything about California but seems like the weather is awesome and the beaches sound at least a bit like Australian breaches, where there is real sand. However, the West Coast versus the East Coast thing leaves me a bit confused. Anyway for a person who isn’t a beach person, the relevant interactions were great.

Guys, I failed miserably at reviewing this novel in a timely manner. I had jotted down some rough notes for myself, but saved them under the title ‘Alex, Absolutely’! So of course, when I went looking for the novel on GoodReads without my hard copy in front of me… well, I couldn’t find it until now. Past me had given it 3 stars, so I’ll stick with that rating.

Simon & Schuster | 1st April 2017 | AU$17.99 | paperback