Review: William Sutcliffe – We See Everything

We See Everything
William Sutcliffe

London has been cut off from the world, and is under constant surveillance from drones that are waiting to strike out the terrorists within. The ordinary people living there can’t work out why they are living in squalor, while the ruling class still has access to luxuries like cigarettes. Set to observe another teenager, a drone pilot gradually gets too close to his target.

The novel opens with a boy picking berries to sell. l made an instant connection with him – that I gradually lost as the novel progressed. The other protagonist, the drone pilot, I absolutely understood, but again, I didn’t care about him either. This novel overall felt flat to me, just like the 2D characters.

The ending of this novel was supremely unsatisfactory. I guess what it may have been trying to say is that life moves on, regardless of what occurred in the past. I wasn’t expecting a happy ending at all, but I was expecting something… more? Everything seemed dull, and the explanations still fell flat. The war-torn landscape didn’t resonate with me.

From the Acknowledgements, it seems like this novel is a fictionalised account of the Gaza Blockade/War(s). I would have preferred that it was actually set in Gaza – I didn’t find the idea of a tiny bit of London being shut off from the rest of the world very convincing. London is considered a hub, and Gaza certainly is/was not.

It’s a good attempt at exposing the uselessness of war, but I don’t think it goes far enough in making direct comparisons. I like the fact that it is more up-to-date than the majority of war novels that focus on the Jewish Holocaust, but I went into it expecting future fiction, and instead got a weird hybrid that didn’t tick any of my enjoyment boxes. 2 stars from me.

Bloomsbury | 1st December 2017 | AU $16.99 | paperback

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

Review: Irfan Master – Out of Heart

Out of Heart
Irfan Master

Adam is the darkness, joined only to the rest of the world by a thread, bound within his own drawings and head, barely speaking. His sister doesn’t speak, and neither does his mother or grandfather. After his grandfather dies and donates his heart to William, William becomes a fixture in Adam’s house and life.

This novel felt disjointed and fast. Somehow, 7 months passed and I didn’t notice. There’s hardly enough pages in there for any details. Trying to fit in an abuse/transplant/love/damage storyline was too much, and instead I was left feeling cheated about the whole lot.

I felt disconnected from Adam, and couldn’t even get excited about the fact that he grew a spine somewhere between his childhood (where it wasn’t his fault and it was safer not to have one) and now. Simply, even the violent scenes left me cold, because the prose wasn’t compelling, and I felt distant the whole time. So did Adam, but it’s hard for me to care to keep reading….

The word plays that Adam uses could have been used even more effectively, or perhaps some more images that he drew. Anything! I actually really loved the idea of what he drew on the trains, but it wasn’t clear at all what the point was – if you can only see it from 24 floors in the air! That being said, yet another tortured artist student novel right here.

Does Farah not go to school? What’s wrong with doing dot-to-dots? How long has it been? School seems to feature so little in anything, despite readers listening through a set of school parent-teacher meetings. What are the two jobs Adam’s mom works? How does Adam get to work on time? Where do they live?

Something I hate, and maybe it’s just because I perhaps need glasses, is when thoughts or memories in a novel are included in a special type of script that isn’t just printed text. It almost guarentees I will dislike the novel,

Nothing remarkable to see here. There wasn’t enough substance, it took me about 1 hour to read it, and I didn’t feel like I had gained anything after it because I hadn’t become attached to the characters. I’m giving it 2 stars – I’m not feeling that kindly about it because I have many other novels to read that are (hopefully) way more exciting. I think I need to be more wary of Hot Key books (such as Fly on the Wall), no matter how intriguing they sound.

Allen & Unwin | 28th June 2017 | AU$16.99 | paperback

Review: Vikki Wakefield – Ballad for a Mad Girl


Grace has always been the funny, daring girl who leads her pack of friends. After she experiences what feels like a near-death experience while performing a dare, her life rapidly degrades and she no longer seems to be herself. No-one knows what to do with her…

And how does everyone not notice anything wrong with her? If she looks like a junkie, why is she not being sent more sternly to a hospital? To a counsellor? Even if she refuses to go, the fact that her self-preservation is completely out of whack doesn’t explain why people are blind, deaf and dumb.

OK, so it might be considered ‘creepy and thrilling’, but I’m not buying it was ‘brilliant’ or ‘poignant’. The author dragged me along, thinking that there was some fantastical supernatural something at work, but instead… And it was all a dream. Or actually, all a hallucinogenic/schizophrenic mess. Or maybe not. Who even knows? Grace doesn’t, and neither does the reader.

The is nothing wrong with the writing, the characterisation or the style of this novel. Unfortunately the storyline became more and more confused (both for the reader and Grace) and just ended up making me feel unsatisfied. And why on earth does she forgive Amber? Like hello, didn’t she just get you into that prank where you thought you were going to die?

I feel like I have read something similar before, with someone having hallucinations that could be explained away rationally, but I cannot remember the name of the novel at all. Anyone have any suggestions?

2 stars from me. I finished reading it, but I felt cheated. Towards the end, I started getting bad feelings and then the conclusion sealed the nail in its coffin. I’m not going to be recommending this novel.

Text Publishing | 29th May 2017 | AU$19.99 | paperback

Review: Barbara Bourland – I’ll Eat when I’m Dead

I’ll Eat when I’m Dead
Barbara Bourland

Cat’s boss has died in a locked storeroom with a huge slab of ribbon next to her. Deemed to have stemmed from an eating disorder, it was just a heart attack. That locked door prompts a investigation by a cop looking for promotion, and bam! Cat is suckered in to doing her own research.

This was like eating a really bad, stale peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I chewed my way patiently through the first 1/4 of the book, sitting through honestly a quite boring backstory and the party lives of Cat, Bess and some random other person they went to school with. Then, I got some tasty jelly, where we got into the crux of the investigations into the murder and a bit of development of a on-again off-again relationship between Cat and the detective. AND THEN, someone forgot to put the peanut butter in. The next 1/4 was simply Cat and Bess being swaddled around with Cat hating the experience and Bess being pretty happy about it. Then there’s another bit of bread of nothing even really happening until the end. I didn’t care about Cat or Bess enough for it to matter at that point.

Maybe part of the problem with this novel was this promised to be a bit of an expose on the women’s fashion industry which promotes thin women that buy expensive clothes. Instead, I found a main character that professed to follow these views, then failed to follow any of them. Sure, the magazine promotes American made fashion, then promotes ecologically and ethically sound wares, but to an extent it is all lip service.

A story of socialites that could have potentially had their comeuppance. If you’re doing lines of cocaine, smoking pot on a regular basis and having a flirting affair with heroin, I can’t feel that sorry for you. I appreciated that Cat insisted on using condoms when having wild, random sex, and was pretty vocal about the fact, but it couldn’t redeem the novel.

What’s with the title? They don’t have a problem with eating as far as I can see, there is a different Problem with a capital P. In fact, I recently stated my opinion on a new YA novel that I think has the same title, which promises to be much more exciting. Honestly, when this one came in the mail, I thought it was that book and got excited. That was enough for me to start reading it anyway, and I shouldn’t have wasted my time.

Women’s fiction with a hint of crime? I think it was sold to me as a bit more attractive than that, otherwise I never would have touched it in the first place. Don’t waste your time on this one. 2 stars because I finished it in the hopes of it improving.

Hachette Australia | 16th May 2017 | AU$29.99 | paperback

Review: Ezekiel Boone – Skitter

Ezekiel Boone

Spiders have taken over the world. Hatching secretly from Peru and other hot spots, they have infected people until their bodies are pulled apart by the spiders hatching inside them. LA is a gonner, and India and China are suffering. No mention of Australia though, so maybe that is just fine.

This was a disappointment of a book. Not only was I frustrated by the constantly changing perspectives that only built a tiny picture of what was happening, the ending was not an ending. Oh my goodness. I’ve just realised that this was the second book. So that means I can expect a third book, so I should just accept the ending. Well, I can tell you reading the first novel probably wouldn’t have made any difference to my non-enjoyment of this one.

It could have been more creepy. But honestly, thanks to the changing perspectives, I never got attached enough to anyone to actually care whether they lived or died. Maybe if a kid that was being protected died? Many people find spiders creepy, but I’m not one of them. Ok, I don’t like big hairy shapes just dropping down on me randomly, but I can remove them ok from the house.

The story build slowly, I was excited to have any sort of breakthrough on control, but the focus on the US kinda wrecked it for me. People speaking Japanese and losing things in translation is fine, but you couldn’t work that out better? You’re going to use the magical Spanish Protocol, and it’s not even going to work? Idiots…

I’ll give it 2 stars because it was not particularly fabulous. I’m not interested in reading the next, or the previous book. I can’t think of who is going to love it right now, but I guess it’s ok to fill in time. Just don’t have high expectations.

Hachette Australia | 1 May 2017| AU$16.99 | paperback

Review: Robin Storey – An Affair with Danger

An Affair with Danger
Robin Storey

Will is held up in an armed robbery, and can no longer think straight. His life as a lawyer should have prepared for the court to stand witness, but instead he finds himself falling for the perp’s girlfriend, Frankie. What follows is an affair that is perhaps a little dangerous.

The author gets points for making the novel potentially race along, skipping years where necessary to make the plot move. What redeemed this novel a little was the writing style, and the gentle nature of the male protagonist. He wasn’t all macho, which made it a refreshing change from other romance novels. Not to mention it was a MALE protagonist, which is rare in this genre.

This was a throwaway novel. It’s nothing special, I’m sorry to say. Where it fails is that it didn’t leave me with a sense of having gained anything in reading it. I didn’t get attached enough to the characters, I didn’t learn anything particularly pertinent about being a lawyer. It left me feeling lukewarm, with the romance/affair not being ‘throbbing’ enough to keep my attention.

This author did send me this novel off her own bat, and has spent a very unfair amount of time waiting for this review. I also interviewed her back in 2016. It makes me wish I could have gotten more out of the novel and given it a more positive review. I’m going to give it a lower end of a 3 star review, because I did finish reading it.

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

Review: Wolf Hollow – Lauren Wolk

Wolf Hollow
Lauren Wolk

Annabelle is a quiet sort of girl, happy to travel along in life with her friend Ruth, going to school and being educated. Once Betty comes to town though, everything changes. Betty isn’t nice, or kind – she seems set on killing someone. When she disappears, somehow it becomes Annabelle’s job to keep the local loner alive.

Let me start out by saying that the cover did not fill me with joy. I can’t resist reading any words that come past my nose, so I fully expected that something good would come from it. Instead, despite being promised that she would ‘earn her keep’, her role turned out to be useless.

Annabelle is ok as a character, and her actions in her relationships with her parents are believable. However, I had problems with the way she treated the bullying because it was clear that bodily harm was going to occur. If she had spoken up quicker, a lot less misery would have occurred.

This novel was far too slow to keep my interest. I struggled to pick it up, and it was far too easy to put it down again. Although the pace sped up in the last couple of chapters it was too late to redeem the novel for me.

Although I was erring on the side of 3 stars after finishing the novel, writing this review has crystallized it as only 2 stars. I just couldn’t love it, or Annabelle. Others have compared this to ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ but I think this is weaker by far.

Penguin Random House | 3rd May 2016 | AU $16.99 | Paperback

Review: Amy Lukavics – the Women in the Walls

the Women in the Walls
Amy Lukavics

Lucy’s life should have been one of luxury – living on an estate with a long history and almost limitless parties, homeschooled to keep away from the ‘common people’. Lucy’s mother is dead though, and her Aunt has just wandered off into the woods. Then her cousin starts hearing voices and her life rapidly gets more confusing.

I was afraid of this novel to start off with. What could be more creepy than dead people whispering in the walls? Then I realised that Lucy wasn’t the one hearing the voices, and it distanced me from the whole situation. I couldn’t bring myself to care about Margaret – although Lucy professed to be worried about her, she didn’t do anything. The threat of discovery for Lucy’s ‘little secret’ surely could have been enough to get her sent away to those colleges she was obsessed with?

For a 17 year old, Lucy sure spooked pretty easily. I tried to suspend my disbelief, but I just couldn’t hold on to it. Ok, so you’re homeschooled and lived isolated on this estate for your whole life. But really? You’re just going to accept that the police haven’t been called? Don’t you have access to a phone? It seems to me like there really is more that you should have done.

The finale? I was hoping it would redeem the whole novel, but it simply failed to conclude or give evidence of why spending time reading this novel was worth it. Maybe an epilogue could have saved it? Don’t get me wrong, I love an unhappy ending, but this one needed a bit more flare.

I’m giving this two stars, although I really wanted to give up on it. I invested in those first couple of chapters as wanting something exciting to happen, then spent the rest of the novel feeling cheated. I wouldn’t recommend this one.

Simon & Schuster | September 2016 | AU $19.99 | Paperback