Review: Krystal Sutherland – A Semi-Definitive List of Worst Nightmares

A Semi-Definitive List of Worst Nightmares
Krystal Sutherland

Esther Solar is cursed by Death. So is the rest of their family – eventually their phobias will kill them. So far, Esther has avoided learning what her phobia is, but she’s got a very long list of what might become a full blown phobia. An unexpected relationship blooms when she decides to face each phobia one by one – and maybe it’s not Death that’s causing all the problems.

I loved this novel so much. I loved Our Chemical Hearts by this author, and couldn’t wait to receive and read this one. I wasn’t expecting it to come so quickly after I requested it. I was in the final stages of submitting my PhD, and I still made time to read it. Ahhh. So worth it.

Facing your fears can be really difficult, and facing them with a mental illness in tow is even harder. Jonah and Esther’s relationship allows them to both make progress, even with the hang-ups they still hold from Primary School! I loved Esther as a character, and I liked the way the other characters weren’t defined by their illnesses – because they were defined as their curses instead.

I’m not sure it is fair to let the problem of love to be a phobia. I think that blurb lies to me! And also, it set me up for expecting the whole thing to be a bloody romance, when the novel was much more than that. Not to mention the pastel pink tinting of the cover. Trust me, just ignore the cover and dive straight into the novel.

Wow, this novel fits so much in. Anxiety, addiction, selective mutism (eg. A Quiet Kind of Thunder and The Things I Didn’t Say), abuse, the whole shebang! Love, love, love. I admit, even though I had a half-written review here waiting for me to finish, I did do a little rereading… So 5 stars from me.

Penguin Random House | 28th August 2017 | AU $19.99 | paperback

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Review: Karen Dionne – The Marsh King’s Daughter

The March King’s Daughter
Karen Dionne

Helena was born 2 years into her mother’s captivity, but she doesn’t know anything else. She adores her father, and it is not until he kills a visitor that she realises she needs to escape. Many years later, it is her father’s turn to escape – and he will stop at nothing to get at Helena and her daughters.

At the age of 12, Helena meets the outside world for the first time but finds herself in a place that seems to have aged over 50 years over night. She doesn’t know what to do with any of the rules, and struggles to fit into anything, not helped by her grandparents spending all the money left over from her ‘telling her story’ to magazines. When she finds a man who appreciates her, she is too afraid to tell her past.

This thoroughly reminded me of Baby doll, which is another abduction novel. But in that case, it is the mother who escapes in order to save her daughters. And The Marsh King’s Daughter is far more gritty and painful. It feels much more real, less like fantasy and more like painful reality.

This is a thriller? Well, I’m not so sure. I thought that the outcome was basically foretold for me. Things got a little tense towards the end, but it was ok. It would have been cool to have more from the kids and husband.

I’m giving this 4 stars. I really enjoyed it and snaffled it up. I think the only thing that kept me from giving it 5 stars was that there wasn’t as much suspense as I was lead to expect. But go into it expecting some interesting facts about living from the land and hunting as well as a well told abduction tale.

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

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Review: Winnie Salamon – Pretty Girls Don’t Eat

Pretty Girls Don’t Eat
Winnie Salamon

Winter dreams of being a fashion designer. Her designing talent can’t be denied – but Winter believes that she will never get anywhere unless she is thin. The more compliments she gets for her weight loss, the more uncertain she feels about life, and what actually makes her a worthwhile person.

I wanted to love this novel. I was super excited about it from the moment that Ford Street emailed me to ask my opinion on which of three potential cover images would be the best. Turns out, the one I liked the most was also the one eventually chosen. I just found that this novel added very little to the host of teenage fiction around ‘fat girls’ and so forth. There’s several others that I have read, of which I just can’t remember the name of at the moment, and those would take my fancy first.

Winter moves very quickly from sick to acceptance, which I found very unlikely. People with eating disorders often find it hard to come back to a normal way of thinking.  I think this novel shows the slippery slope of calory counting very clearly! The teenage brain is very impressionable. Winter doesn’t set out from thinking that starving herself is the answer. But then, it goes worse, because the boy she likes won’t recognise that she’s beautiful.

At the ending, it’s not clear to me about Winter… What did she do next? Is she really going to keep working on things? Will she fall back into bad habits? Give me more! How can those broken/repaired relationships ever be as strong as before? She seriously stepped on so many toes…

Honestly, with Christmas time coming up, I wonder whether novels like this actually make good presents. What if the (female) teenager has inner weight problems/doubts and this novel makes her think that you think she is fat? Maybe in a stack of other YA novels that cover a range of potential teenage problems, such as Caramel Hearts or Holding Up the Universe! I give this one 3 stars.

Ford Street | July 2017 | paperback

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Review: AJ Conway – The Successor

The Successor
AJ Conway

Five offspring of a business magnate gather to get their inheritance. But instead of a fat cheque, they each receive a clue to find where it has been hidden. These siblings have always been rivals, and in the race to get their hands on the money and business, they are willing to stop at nothing, not even murder, to get it.

This is Conway’s greatest literary achievement so far. This novel made me keep reading it, and the range of characters was diverse. I have to say that I didn’t see most of the novel coming! Ah, twisty good bits. It’s amazing what secrets people can keep – and how awesome it is to set up a clue-finding trail. I only wish he had been there to see it!

I would even consider reading this novel again, despite its flaws. Some of the dialogue is a bit iffy, and occasionally there are too many descriptive words in a row that it throws the reader out of the story. Not to mention there is a lot of shouting going on – on one page I saw at least three characters all ‘shouted’ rather than ‘said’, if you know what I am talking about.

WHY? Why did I not review this novel while it was fresher in my mind with its awesomeness? All I can remember now is a feeling of being unable to put it down. And as I flick through it again to refresh my memory, I can feel myself wanting to sink back into the novel. Despite my terrible review, please get yourself a copy of this novel.

I think I’m going to give it 5 stars, even though it wasn’t perfect. I loved the way it exposed each family member in turn and didn’t flinch from the cut-throat corporate world out there. A.J. Conwey’s work is well worth your time, and I hope to see more novels from her in the future. If this novel isn’t for you, perhaps you’d prefer My Nova or Skyquakers. I’ve promoted this author from the beginning and will continue to do so.

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Review: David Baldacci – The Fix

The Fix (An Amos Decker Novel)
David Baldacci

Amos Decker is walking to work and is a firsthand witness to a crime that makes no sense. A seemingly straight businessman shoots dead a boring substitute teacher who has no connection to him, then kills himself. Transferred across to a new city, Decker must now learn to live with one of his team and with tenants with their own problems downstairs. And sometimes he wishes his perfect memory was not so perfect.

Decker reminds me of a male Kendra. But one that is less sensitive to other people’s needs, which is fine. I like a person who can get straight to the point. But of course, Brandon Sanderson has written some short stories of a man with a host of personalities/specialists inside his head, and that’s way better. Despite how interesting I find characters with Synethesia, this one just didn’t connect with me.

My only complaint is that despite the plot moving rapidly, or perhaps because of it, I found myself getting very lost. This just wasn’t a crime novel I could care too much about. American state secrets really don’t bother me, and I guess I’ve never had much of a soft spot for killings that involve characters I wasn’t even given a chance to connect to.

Decker has lost all his own family at some point in one of the two previous books (I assume). Irene’s protagonist loses his family, but he’s a much grittier and likeable bloke. The crime novels I seem to read are either excellent or poor, and I’m dumping this into the latter category with The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, even if that opinion will get me ostracised in the book review community!

Pan Macmillan | 1st May 2017 | AU$29.99 | Paperback

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Review: Kendare Blake – One Dark Throne

One Dark Throne
Kendare Blake

Ascension Year has begun in earnest, and now the three sisters must stop showing off their strengths and get down to the business of killing one another. While MIrabella and Arsinoe have made some truces, it’s Queen Katherine that has started leading the race. Too bad that she could be corrupting the rest of the island.

This novel. Mmm. I once again had serious problems keeping the Queens and their abilities and all their hanger-ons straight as separate people. Yes, they had distinctly different names, but it didn’t actually help me much. I couldn’t work out the character transformations from one novel to the next either. What confused me was whether there are actually two poisoners now, or whether Katharine is just lying to herself? Theoretically the sets of talents only come in threes, right? Katharine is certainly changed, but I’m not sure if she is a true poisoner.

The plot felt like it didn’t move at all, and that the characters were never in real danger despite them apparently always organising to kill each other. I wouldn’t have felt that sad had any of them died. I was always waiting for more details, or more to happen. The plot felt thin. Perhaps if this wasn’t a trilogy (multi-part series even?), then the author could have been able to add more meat to the novel.

There are more exciting novels out there in this theme, unless you are super keen to see three sisters taking each other apart – with the permission and promotion of their families! Otherwise I feel that you could probably get away with reading another accession story where the wrong child (usually a cruel one) gets the throne.

I’ve already invested time into the series, and so it’s likely that when the next book comes out, if it is sent to me for review I will read it. But I won’t be buying the book for myself, which is why this is just receiving an average 3 stars.

Pan Macmillan | 26th September 2017 | AU $16.99 | paperback

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Review: E L Croucher – The Butterfly on Fire

The Butterfly on Fire
E L Croucher

A tragic, unchanging truth keeps three different lives twined to tell the same story. Eric realises he is different to everyone else, while Beam tried to balance everything in life. Finally, Queen Fabuki has had an innocent die at one of her shows – and she doesn’t know how to stop the mysterious intruder.

feel terrible about this novel. In fact, when I started writing a review for it (some months after I had started it), I started reviewing the wrong novel. I had read The Road to Transition one late night too, and somehow the two had merged into one. I had previously interviewed the author as well. 

I just couldn’t finish this novel. I actually started reading this novel when I couldn’t sleep one night and I sat with the fish tank light glowing on me. It added some nice atmosphere, and I did get a couple of chapters read. In the end though, it unfortunately served as a nice soporific to send me back to bed.

 

If you are desperate to read some more stories about transition, maybe this book could be for you. For me, because I couldn’t even bear finishing it, it’s getting 1 star. Maybe a second iteration would be ok, but I’m not willing to try again on this one.

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Guest Reviews from Kyria!

I have something amazingly exciting to share today! I had a guest stay with me for 11 days, and while she was here, she managed to read all these novels. I’d just sent my other novels away for photographing, so I didn’t have any guarenteeded good things to share. Nevertheless, she set off into the ‘eBay category’ (these are books that got < 3 stars from me) and found some that suited her 17 year old fantasy reader tastes.

Based on her reviews, I’m going to reconsider reading ‘Whisper to Me‘ (which I just couldn’t get past the first couple of pages for) and knock ‘The Book of Whispers’ and “Linting and the Pirate Queen’ from my TBR pile.

Whisper to Me

This was perhaps the first non-fantasy/sci-fi book that I actually loved. At first, I thought that it was going to be absolutely terrible; it started off very slow and boring, and the lists at the beginning really threw me off. However, as I got further and further into the book, I found myself really enjoying it. There were only two real issues that I had with the book: the first was that all of the swear words were replaced entirely by asterisks. This interrupted the continuity of the book, and I found myself counting asterisks numerous times to try and guess the word. That said, I can understand why it was done: as the book goes further, there are a few places with just entire sentences of asterisks. This shows, to me, that it’s not about the actual words they are replacing, but rather the feeling that the main character gets from it.

My other issue is that the entire story is essentially an email to someone, asking them to forgive the author. This sets up the entire story as a cliff-hanger as a ‘will he forgive me?’ At first this really annoyed me, but over time I was able to just enjoy the story. I was pretty annoyed at the end, when the entire book ended up being the email and we never ended up finding out if he forgave her, but once again I can understand why that was done; it would’ve interrupted the continuity of the book to suddenly jump from this email, which has essentially been the entire book so far, to a real life scenario. 4.5 stars

Ariadnis

In brief: the one with the two cities and the trees and stuff. Solid book. This is the sort of general fantasy book that I loved reading when I was younger. It has a nice feel to it, and while at times it got a little hard for me to keep track of the characters, it wasn’t too bad. 4 stars

 

 

 

They Both Die at the End

This book was pretty good. Somehow, even knowing that the characters were going to die, the book was written well enough that I couldn’t help getting attached, and still felt sad at the death of the character. The book is a very different style to the type of book that I usually read, and it took me a while to get into it, but once I did it was pretty enjoyable. The ending wasn’t as good as it could’ve been, although I can understand to an extent why it was written the way it was, and it wasn’t altogether unsatisfying. 3.5 stars

 

The Graces

Quite frankly, this book confused me for quite a while. I spent a majority of the book not being sure whether or not the book was even supposed to be fantasy. In terms of character progression, and the relationships between the characters, the budding relationships between the characters was written quite well, although I was a little confused as to why the main character was first invited out to the spell.

Apart from that, the book was written well, and I did enjoy it. However, the ending was extremely unsatisfying, and as a reader, I felt like I was being tossed back and forth regarding the main character’s relationship with the graces. 3 stars

Elegy

In brief: fantasy pretender. This book was destined to be a young adult novel, but desperately wanted to be classed as fantasy, so the author threw in whatever weak fantasy link they could find. The book was good, but the fantasy add-on felt misplaced, like it was there purely to class the book as fantasy, and not to add any extra meaning or enjoyment to the book. It started off a bit slow, but once it picked up I really enjoyed it. That said, the ending was unsatisfying and annoying, and brings up some weird questions about a young girl and an old man who both remember loving each other. 3 stars

The Song from Somewhere Else

In brief: dimensions and stuff. It took me a while to become accustomed to having the images alongside the book, but I found it really nice to have a visual explanation of some of the events that were occurring. This book felt like it was written more to get a good review from critics than to be enjoyed by the average person, and felt a bit pretentious to me. That said, it was easy to understand and follow. 3 stars

 

 

Safe from Harm

This book really confused me. In the beginning, there were a lot of flashbacks/flashforwards, and at times it was difficult for me to even keep track of what was happening. As the book progressed, it got easier to keep track, but there were still confusing moments when I just wasn’t quite sure what was happening.

The end of the book was also really dissatisfying, but in a way that is worse than the usual dissatisfying ending. Most times, I just dislike how the book ended, or how things turned out, but here I wasn’t certain what even happened, and the book was vague regarding what happened to the daughter. 2.5 stars

 

The Book of Whispers

Not overly memorable. I enjoyed the book, but it was very average: not amazing, but not bad either. I was also a little confused at times, when I couldn’t quite understand why the characters were doing what they were, or how it would affect anything. I found it very challenging to relate to the characters. 2.5 stars

Linting and the Pirate Queen

This book was a fairly average book. Events moved very slowly and not a lot happened. The writing and story was also very simple. To me, it felt like the kind of book I would read after I’ve spent hours reading other books and needed to give my brain a rest. Perhaps not a great book choice for (almost) adults, but I would recommend it for younger children, perhaps around the age of ten. 2 stars

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Cover Reveal – White Night

Better late than never – a cover reveal of White Night!

In keeping with the theme of other YA novels at the moment, the cover of White Night by Ellie Marney is quite abstract. Think Our Chemical Hearts and The Build-Up Season. It’s good, because it doesn’t give too much away about the story. Now I just have to remember not to look at the synopsis. This looks like a great addition to the YA stable.

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Review: Nick Lake – Whisper to Me

Whisper to Me
Nick Lake

Cass hears a voice. Just one, but that one tells her to hurt herself and not talk to other people, otherwise it will cause her dad to die. This causes her to hurt a boy she likes, so she writes him an incredibly long letter (email) in the form of this novel.

Sigh. I knew this novel wasn’t much chop from the very beginning. But a friend had said it was the best she had read while borrowing from my (limited) library. So I thought, ok, I’ll try it. It was the first couple of pages that put me off, honestly I’m not much of a list person, particularly in fiction novels. It better be useful, like in the start of me and you, but no, this one continued throughout the novel and it wasn’t useful.

There was no conclusion to that ending, and honestly, I was sick of it. I finished it, but that was it. Just a long email of apologising. Also, spoiler alert, no conclusion to the bad guys either. I’m not unwilling to read something else by this author, the writing style was engaging and I liked Cass’ characterisation well enough. But there was no resolution, and honestly the storyline was rambling (I know, I know, it’s the writing style of a teenager apologizing… over and over again).

I’m not even sure I can accept it for the mental illness content. Suggesting that ‘talk therapy’ can overcome hearing voices (even just the one voice Cass hears) is dangerous. As Cass finds out, when she stops taking her medication abruptly her self-preservation instincts go out the window. Honestly, I wouldn’t have been all that upset if she had died. Actually, that might have added some of the excitement I didn’t feel about Paris. Too much foreshadowing for so little actual action.

I do not recommend this novel. I wish I hadn’t wasted my time on it. I’d love to just give it 1 star, but I did at least finish it. So 2 stars it will have to be. I held out for hope of an ending, and nope, nothing there to redeem it.

Bloomsbury | 3rd May 2016 | paperback

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