Review: JC Burke – The Things We Promise

The Things We Promise
JC Burke

During the height of the HIV and AIDs epidemic in the 1990s, Gemma is blissfully ignorant of any health issues that could be going on in her home town of Sydney. Her worst concerns are who she will hang out with school and what kind of hairdo she is going to have her brother Billy do for her formal.

I’ll be the first to say that a lot of the language in the novel is offensive. It’s particularly offensive to gay people, eg. “limp-wristed, pillow-biting, doughnut punching bum bandit”. Which, given the subject matter, I’m not surprised that it’s targeted so negatively. But I also appreciated the hard feelings and accuracy of that. It felt ‘real’.

The problem some reviewers had with this novel was that it was horrifically offensive to a variety of people. While I agree that it is, I also accept that this novel is an accurate snapshot of the early 90s, where this sort of language, beliefs and behaviour was common. If you are easily offended and can’t understand the setting of the novel (such as a slavery novel with ‘nigga’ in it), this novel is not for you.

It’s an interesting way of approaching the early years when very few people knew about HIV and how it was transmitted. It paints a picture of how miserable things really were from a personal perspective, not just a sheer number of people who were infected as a sterile statistic.

I’m giving this three stars. It took me a while to warm up to it, and despite eventually enjoying it, it seemed a little forced at times.

Allen & Unwin | 22nd February 2017 | AU $19.99 | Paperback

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Review: Joy Callaway – The Fifth Avenue Artists Society

The Fifth Avenue Artists Society
Joy Callaway

Virginia wants to be a novelist and marry the boy next door. This wasn’t necessarily a problem – except that in the 1890s women were expected to marry and produce children rather than having a career. It seems as if she will get to have both dreams come true, right until “her man” proposes to someone more wealthy.

This novel was sent to me by mistake by Allen & Unwin, but I decided to read it anyway. I love music and appreciate artist talent, despite not having much talent (or none, when it comes to art) and so I thought it could be good. Instead, I was hit with Ginny’s romance, and very little writing! I was frustrated that she didn’t do more with her art. I also found it unrealistic in how talented simply EVERYONE was.

Ginny got very close to men that she wasn’t married to. She’s kissing them in public, being felt up on the couch. For a period romance, I don’t think this was realistic. The same applied for some of her sisters. I thought that the 1890s was a very conservative time, even in America. Someone please correct me if I am wrong, I know that history is not my strong suit.

The ending could have had more pizzaz. Considering that Ginny was all ‘If it’s not my Charlie, I’m not going to marry’, she was pretty broken about what happened with the salon. And her hero worship for her brother was… cloying? Unrealistic? Ginny may be an idealist, but I didn’t think she was that much of an idiot!

With all that in mind, I still stayed up late finishing the novel and so I’ll be giving it 3 stars. I was just disappointed in the ‘happy ending’, and the way the prose got slower and slower as the novel progressed.

Allen & Unwin | 23rd November 2016 | AU $29.99 | Paperback

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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.

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Review: Emma Geen – The Many Selves of Katherine North

The Many Selves of Katherine North
Emma Geen

Katherine (Kit) has been projecting her consciousness into endangered animals in an effort to understand them for longer than any others in her job – 7 years in fact. After the death of her host Ressie while she is inhabiting it, Kit starts to get a bit paranoid about what her company might be doing behind the scenes. Can she stop them before it is too late?

I’d like to hear other people’s opinions about this novel. What do you feel like you gained from it? It took me a long time to sink into this novel, and then I struggled with the then/now perspective changes. I recognised Kit’s mind struggling with the same thing, and I couldn’t separate her projections away from the truth.

It has a very interesting premise, that it is possible to go inside an animal’s body and control the limbs. The fact that the mind can comprehend it at all is amazing – the concept of ‘plasticity’. Of course, the animal is an empty shell, and so you can become almost anything. I couldn’t understand how you would get funding for such a thing! Research studies have enough trouble getting funding as it is, let alone for a body that can be harmed.

What I felt confused about was the tourists. How could they adjust to the syndrome of swapping bodies when Katherine herself always struggled? Clamping down on sensations is one thing, muting the whole experience is another.

Also, what’s so bad about human Ressies? It’s no worse than say inhabiting a cyborg, and it’s potentially less dangerous, depending on where you put the Ressie out! Perhaps that’s the crux of why I didn’t understand this novel, and why I’m only giving it 3 stars.

Bloomsbury | 1st July 2016 | AU $28.00 | Paperback

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Review: Josh Martin – Ariadnis

Ariadnis
Josh Martin

Aula and Joomia are the Chosen Ones, forced to compete in a trial to decide the fates of their nations. Little is as it seems however and things are falling apart quicker than either of them can control. They’ve always been on opposite sides, but now they must unite or all will be lost.

I once again expected this novel to be far more exciting than it was. I was tantalised by the amazing tactile cover that lept out at me and screamed ‘read me now!’ Sadly, it just wasn’t to be. Despite there supposedly being a sense of urgency and death imposed on me from the blurb, I never felt very concerned.

I could see how the two girls were related, in that they were almost exact opposites. What I couldn’t believe was how dumb they were. Aula is a complete oaf and I just couldn’t get connected to her in any way. Joomia was no better, being a complete wuss about everything! Those opposites could have made them powerful characters, but instead I didn’t even feel pity for them.

There was a chance for this novel to have a big twist – but instead it was just framed as an ineffectual memory. I appreciated more people being involved in a prophesy than usual, but the plot struggled along so slowly that I really had to concentrate on which character was speaking – both of them were equally boring.

What is the obsession with creating sequels and series these days? This novel worked perfectly as a single novel. No need to drag it out any more than it already was. They spend the first half of the novel dragging their feet about training, and the other half in a frenzied mess.

Hachette Australia | 1st February 2017 | AU $16.99 | Paperback

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Review: Elly Blake – FrostBlood

FrostBlood
Elly Blake

17-year old Ruby is a FireBlood in a world of passionless FrostBloods. After the King’s soldiers kill her beloved mother and stick her in prison for a year, Ruby is ready for revenge. Even if that revenge comes by way of making friends with some renegade FrostBloods and plotting to melt the throne (literally).

The language in this was passionless. For a novel about fury and rage being key to power, the text itself didn’t inspire that in me. Perhaps there was too much detail for me? It felt like clinical observation by Ruby the whole time. Ruby’s reponse to ‘Die in pain’ was too cold and clinical to something that was spat out in fear.

There wasn’t enough of a twist in this novel for me. It was more like a slight turning of the head, and more could have been done with it. The same went for the cruelty of the King – please tell me less about it, and show me more. I couldn’t have cared less whether Ruby died or not, and that’s not a good characteristic to have in a main character.

For a comparative novel, I’d suggest Blackthorn and Grim because there is a similar theme of revenge vs healing going on in there. If you’re looking for a very similar magic offering, perhaps Red Queen or the Poison Study trilogy could be up your alley.

I’d recommend it for teenage readers, rather than YA readers despite the ‘heated kisses’ because there isn’t enough depth and surprise to hold an older reader’s attention in my opinion. 3 stars from me.

Hachette Australia | 1st January 2017 | AU $19.99 | Paperback

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Review: Jodi McAlister – Valentine

Valentine
Jodi McAlister

Pearl and Finn (and Marie and Cardy) were all born on the 14th of February, and have suffered through countless Valentine’s Day celebrations together. After a horse appears and one of them disappears, it is time for Pearl to get her act together, both literally and figuratively.

I was left underwhelmed by this novel. There just seemed to be nothing outstanding about it. The characters were a bit wussy, I couldn’t get inside anyone’s heads and Pearl was an inconsistent narrator who was mainly irritating for me to read.

I thought that the premise of the novel sounded exciting, with four teenagers being born on one day, then being killed off. It turned out that mostly they weren’t even killed off! And the blurb promises me that the Unseelie want to kill the Valentine, but to me, most of the action seemed to happen from the Seelie side of things.

It was interesting to have a perspective that for once wasn’t the ‘it’ character. Much as Pearl would like to be the special one, she isn’t. That doesn’t stop her behaving stupidly about it though and being completely whiney. The worst part for me was the emotions seemed to be completely false, and the dialogue was stilted to boot.

The ending of this novel was mainly a relief. Yes, it’s the first in a series with a paranormal twist, but don’t feel compelled to read the rest when they finally appear. Try breathing under water for a similar teenage paranormal vibe, or maybe Haunt Me for more of a love story. Three begrudging stars from me.

Penguin Random House | 30th January 2017 | AU $19.99 | Paperback

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Review: Stephanie Garber – Caraval

Caraval
Stephanie Garber

Scarlett and Tella have been trapped on their father’s island for their whole lives. When one sister does something wrong, their father punishes the other. Scarlett longs to see the magic of Caraval, which her grandmother has always told stories about. On the eve of her marriage, Scarlett is granted the chance to see it.

What I liked about this novel was that there were multiple truths and lies for both Scarlett and the reader to unravel. However, it seemed that we could have benefitted from some of Tella’s point of view, because surely she had more insight than Scarlett. And I don’t think it would have wrecked the ending if it had been written sensitively. Also, despite what shouldn’t have been a linear narrative, that’s how it read because Scarlett couldn’t see in front of her nose.

The world building was fantastic. I could see the shops appearing out of the dark, but I couldn’t understand why they followed some of the rules of the game, and not others. Scarlett never spoke to me as a character, and that’s what let the novel down for me.

There was no conclusion here about what the next steps might be. I have to say that this novel was complete, yet I could have done with a bit more of epilogue – or perhaps none at all! That was just mean. Oh wait, there is a sequel…

I’m giving this novel 3 stars. It was easy for me to put down because I never really invested in Scarlett – she seemed too stupid for her own good. Listen to people when they give you advice ok??

Hachette Australia | 1st January 2017 | AU $24.99 | Paperback

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Review: Jeff Giles – The Edge of Everything

The Edge of Everything
Jeff Giles

After Zoe chases her brother into the killing snow, and unexpectedly runs into a gorgeous, sexy man who is hell-bent on killing someone, her life changes. If things weren’t bad enough when her father died caving, it seems that the rest of her family is now falling apart.

The principle of this novel was nifty, but the execution lead to a very slow plot line that didn’t keep my attention very well. I picked it up several weeks apart, and eventually only finished it because the publication date was coming up!

What struck me was too much dialogue. The characters spent a lot of time talking to each other, and not much actually interacting. The exception to this was Jonah and Zoe, because touch was such a huge thing with Jonah.

I am disappointed that this is a series, as it could have come to a fantastic ending all by itself. The twist at the ending was a nice touch, but honestly it could have moved on. I mean, X could have done that without telling Zoe, and it would all be fine!

I’m giving this novel 3 stars for effort. Maybe the final copy is tighter in writing than my uncorrected proof. Lucky you, I’m holding a giveaway! You can read this novel for yourself and tell me I am an idiot for not loving it.

Bloomsbury | 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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