Review: Laura Dockrill – Big Bones

Big Bones
Laura Dockrill

Bluebelle is fat, and not afraid or ashamed to admit it. She loves food in every way, and she’s determined to not go back to school, instead applying for an apprenticeship at Planet Coffee. To negotiate with her mom, Bluebelle finds herself forced into doing a food diary.

This was an average novel with a meandering storyline that had me losing interest about half way through (and thus pausing to write this review). BB was a lovable, cuddly protagonist and it was certainly comforting to read a fat-positive novel for once. However, she IS unhealthily fat and I’m not sure I can give completely positive feedback to a novel that initially promotes it.

It was unclear to me how much of the text was food diary, and how much was actually narrative. Some of the things BB wrote in her food diary were a lot more suited to a general diary, not a food one! That ‘boyfriend’ of hers was so slow and BB’s reactions so cliche that I figured it couldn’t possibly be written in a food diary – but lo and behold it was!

Confession: I skimmed to finish reading this novel. I don’t want to condemn it to 2 stars despite that,  because I’ve just come back from vacation and I literally have a stack TBR of higher than a meter and other things just look more exciting. BB’s redemption and joining a gym, precipitated by the big family upset were ok, but not compelling.

I’d recommend reading Holding Up the Universe or Pretty Girls Don’t Eat before diving into this novel. Their protagonists have more depth, and overall the love stories, while taking a backseat, are more intriguing and believable. I’ll give it 3 stars because it could have finished strongly – but I wasn’t going to hang around to find out when there were better things on offer.

 Allen & Unwin | 23rd May 2018 | AU$19.99 | paperback

Review: Karen Gregory – Skylarks

Skylarks
Karen Gregory

Joni’s family struggles to pay the rent and Joni wants to keep her family together. All she wants is to send her little brother to camp by working more hours at the library, but the invasion of the region’s rich girl Annabel is going to disrupt more than that plan.

Oh Joni, why are you so blind? Why are you so stubborn? Why can’t you just let things go and see further than the end of your nose? You certainly don’t fly higher because your feet are firmly on the ground and your head is either fixed on them or glaring into someone’s face.

I was frustrated by Joni’s attitude towards everything in life. I appreciated her concern for her little brother and her disappointment in the rest of her family, but I just feel irritated and angry that she didn’t actually think about what those things might mean.

Once again, being gay is something to be frowned upon and it overshadows the rest of the novel, which I thought was actually more important. People losing jobs and their housing is a big problem, and it’s not often explored in young adult fiction. I always hope for novels that could reflect a teenager’s life and this one had the beginnings of it.

A confession to be made that it has been at least 2 months since I read this novel and so it has become a bit hazy in my head. However past me gave it 3 stars, so I’m going to roll with that rating.

Bloomsbury | 1st July 2018 | AU$16.99 | paperback

Review: Janet Evanovich – Stephanie Plum series

Stephanie Plum series
Janet Evanovich

Stephanie Plum is a terrible daughter, neighbour and employee. Most of these qualities are due to the fact that she’s employed as a bounty hunter for bail jumpers – but leaves her cell phone flat and her gun in the cookie jar. This lovable/hateable unlikely heroine regularly finds herself being shot at but with the help of her love interests Morelli the cop and Ranger the sexy beast, and her ex-ho friend Lula she’ll live to fight another day.

You don’t need to have read the first novel in the series. You don’t need to have read any of the series in the middle to the novel you’ve gotten your hands on! Evanovich sets the scene of Stephanie very simply at the beginning of every novel. In the past, I read Turbo Twenty-Three without having touched the novels before! I read 5 or so of these in a row before I couldn’t take anymore.

Steph is so clueless, and the jokes so stupid and the badguys so unbelievable it just makes you laugh the whole way through. The novels are set up in such a way that the reader can predict the ending but Steph is left wandering around in the dark (literally, half the time). When she got the dog, Bob, the funniest moments were when he ate too much and she took him to poop on her arch-nemesis’ front lawn. So I’m not immune to toilet humour, sue me. I can’t believe they made this into a movie! I fear for my eyeballs.

This is just like the Mercedes Thompson novels I just read! A cruisy light read that encourages your brain to switch off for vacation time. However, the plot and execution of the Mercedes Thompson series is more my style in the end (also, there is 25+ novels in that series!).

I’ll be giving three stars to this harmless crime-romance series. Just don’t read too many in a row or your brain may fall out from Steph’s sheer stupidity.

Review: Amy E Reichert – The Coincidence of Coconut Cake

The Coincidence of Coconut Cake
Amy E Reichert

Chef Lou Johnson loves her restaurant, is relatively happy with her fiance and is lined up for a comfortable holding pattern for the rest of her life. When she bakes a Coconut Cake for her fiance but instead finds him naked with an intern. That night, a anonymous food writer comes to review her restaurant – where Lou is burning and destroying dishes left right and centre. His resulting review starts a breakup in Lou’s life – but the new man she’s met could be a catalyst for positive change.

This is the second novel in a row that I have read about food. Clearly I was feeling hungry when I went to the GoodWill to pick out some new holiday reading. The feel of this novel was quite different to the last one though, because here there are more secrets being hidden. Also the life of a small business owner chef is very different to that of a personal chef. When I go out to a meal, I want to order something I couldn’t make for myself – and the things described in these delectable pages were certainly of that nature.

I love the way that the secondary characters got some proper airtime and were fleshed out as characters. I could almost see the burly Harley in the kitchen delicately sculpting impeccable fragile desserts, and see John’s beard oer the writers’ cubicles! I could have had more airtime of them, and I wouldn’t even mind another novel focusing on John now that he is going to Paris. He’s a secondary character who deserves a life.

I appreciated the ending of this novel, and the nice little twist. I like it when things don’t work out neatly. It wasn’t too cloying, as long as you are ok with some fate and ending up with “the One” no matter what! I almost cried because I was so attached to the older couple in the novel.

3 stars from me. I have no strong urge to read it again, but it was an excellent escapism read that prompted me to keep reading it because of the suspense Devlin brought to the restaurant’s survival.

Review: Patricia Briggs – Mercedes Thompson series

Mercedes Thompson series
Patricia Briggs

Mercedes Thompson, or Mercy to her friends, is a VW mechanic who just happens to have a werewolf for a roommate and a pack of werewolves for back neighbours. She also happens to be able to turn into a Coyote. Somehow she manages to get herself into multiple scrapes with vampires, the Government and the Fae despite wanting a quiet life.

I gobbled up 4-5 of these novels without taking notes on each one, so this is a group novel review. The picture to the left is actually the first novel in the series that I didn’t actually read (I just grabbed one off the shelf in a hurry and didn’t even realise it was part of a series). No matter, the novel stood well alone.

This is a fun set of novels because I wasn’t ever really sure what would happen next, and Mercy was a funny and engaging protagonist that resonated with me. Nothing like having a no-nonsense mechanic as a heroine. It reminds me of Mercedes Lackey’s Elves on the Road universe but seems to be a lot funnier with a better focus on the semi-human protagonist (but let’s admit that there is less substance to Briggs’ work).

I’ll give these novels a rousing 3 stars. If I owned them, I’d probably keep them on the shelf as light reading when I couldn’t be bothered with something that needed a brain and offered simple entertainment.

Review: Mindy Klasky – The Glasswrights’ Apprentice

The Glasswrights’ Apprentice
Mindy Klasky

Rani’s artistic skills mean that her Merchant parents have sacrificed their life savings to transfer her to the Glasswrights for training and a better place in life. Rani is the bottom of the apprentices but she follows her tasks diligently enough. When she tries to prevent the Prince’s assassination she unwittingly allows for his murder – on the run she has to solve problems so that she can be free once again.

Oh dear. The protagonist Rani was a bit of an ignorant idiot. There were so many clues there that she didn’t pick up. And also her determination to get to her brother got a bit old after a while. She knows what life is like out there now, and yet she continues along stupidly. I rather liked it when she returned to her Merchant roots! Also, surely she’s young enough to disguise herself as a boy. It’s not like they have photographs of her!

I’m not sure why I enjoyed this novel, because I agree with other reviewers that Rani was a total idiot. But perhaps that’s her grab. For once we don’t have a brilliant protagonist who foils attempts and saves the day. Instead, we have some other smart and wily characters who are perfectly capable of getting themselves into (and out of) trouble. Rani must have the touch of the Gods on her as well, because she’s just so stupid and can’t wriggle out of things by herself – other people have to make sacrifices for me.

This is a nifty novel I picked up at my sister-in-law’s house (right after reorganising her whole bookshelf). Unfortunately, she didn’t have the second novel in this series! The novel is from the 2000s, so I don’t like my chances of finding the second novel. 3 stars from me.

Review: Beth Harbison – When in Doubt, Add Butter

When in Doubt, Add Butter
Beth Harbinson

Gemma Craig (no relative of Jenny Craig) is a private chef to a different household each night of the week. She’s sick of romance and has been warned off getting married by a teacher fortune teller in her childhood. When her jobs suddenly start falling out from under her and a one-night-stand has unexpected complications, Gemma is going to have to grow up.

This was a lighthearted romance that didn’t even vaguely begin to address the deep-seated problems that Gemma professed not to have. But! If you are just looking for a casual read that will carry your tired brain through two spare hours this novel is going to tick boxes for you. It didn’t ask me to think and it didn’t teach me anything either – sometimes that’s just what you need.

What upset/irritated me about this novel was the inclusion of the fortune teller. Honestly I wasn’t sure why the element was there, and it didn’t add any depth to the novel. I have not read any of the other novels by this author and perhaps the use of a mystic is a common theme. For me though, I would have rather heard more about the ingredients going into cooking.

I did enjoy the way that Gemma talked about her cooking. Who knew that you could have a egg/bee/”moo”-free Parmesan substitute? I could have heard more about the steps and how it would take a whole afternoon to cook in Mr. Tuesday’s apartment. Also, I’d love to know what she was spending her profits on since she didn’t have any money in the bank but it seemed like she had no time to do anything outside her cooking!

This blurb wasn’t accurate! When the weekday members are introduced in the text of the novel, I kept flipping to the back cover to see which one was Willa. But none of them were – the blurb actually depicted the action half-way through the novel. Never mind. Pick up this novel for a lighthearted read that actually reminded me of The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake or Caramel Hearts just for the title, not the actual storyline!

I picked up this cheeky cheapie from GoodWill while on vacation for the princely sum of 50c. It was well worth it, even if it’s not going to follow me home. 3 stars from me for giving me a pleasant way to pass time sitting in a lovely park outside. I will now release it on Book Crossing.

Review: Philippa Gregory – The Constant Princess

The Constant Princess
Philippa Gregory

Katherine of Aragon, daughter of Isabella and Ferdinand of Spain, eventual Queen of England. Brought up on the battlefields worshiping her Mother and God, Katherine from the age of three knew that she would be Queen of England. Even upon her first husband’s death, her determination would boost her to her desired goal.

Katherine is a true heroine that gets what she wants both by being forthcoming and sneaky. I honestly thought she was going to get her head chopped off, but perhaps that was the French… Honestly, I thought she should have taken Henry VII as her husband and poisoned off Henry VIII. No-one would have noticed, in those days it was more common to die early than to live!!

This is the closest I get to studying history. I couldn’t tell you much about the truthfulness of this novel, although the carefree and careless picture of King Henry VIII (who got married a lot of times!) seems absolutely accurate. I did a quick Google about Katherine and I am reasonably certain that this novel is accurate on the facts that we actually know about.

I thought I had read Phillipa Gregory before this, but I haven’t written a review. Perhaps I let it slide because it wasn’t a novel from a publisher. This is a light romance that passes the time very satisfactorily and it doesn’t matter whether you are interrupted during the reading or not.

As it progressed, I got a little more bored by it and the glacial pace. The beginning awkward romance was far more exciting. Let’s give this novel 3 stars.

Review: Josepha Sherman (ed) – Lammas Night

Lammas Night
Josepha Sherman (ed)

Lammas Night is a collection of short stories inspired by a Wizardly Ballad written by Mercedes Lackey. The foreword tells me that originally it was going to be a collection of songs based on what comes next, but it was deemed that it wouldn’t be salable.

I’m not sure why this book was salable, I’m certainly not going to read it again. Maybe it was the fact that Mercedes Lackey’s name was on the front cover, despite Josepha Sherman being the editor? Although Lackey always says writing novels isn’t really profitable enough to live on (she’s married to Larry Dixon, another fantasy author). When almost every short story follows the same pattern (that was set out in the original ballad) it’s predictable and boring. And of course there isn’t enough time to become properly attached to the characters during the course of a short story. I don’t think there was a single character that I wanted to hear more about.

A couple of the short stories bucked the trend and approached the ballad’s ending instead and what same next. In some cases, it seemed exactly like it was a follow on from someone else’s short story. But I found it hard to tell since there were so many different characters’ names floating around in my head.

I didn’t read this in one sitting, instead choosing to pick up another couple of novels in between. I borrowed it while we were on vacation from my Aunt and so it was intended as a leisure read. I can easily give this 3 stars for readability but would advise reading it over time so you don’t get bored. I didn’t hate any of the short stories due to the writing style, but I didn’t love any either.

Review: Renee Watson – Piercing Me Together

Piercing Me Together
Renee Watson

When you’re the scholarship token black girl in a white private college there are bound to be some tensions and a lack of good friends. Jade has plenty of opportunities in life, but not the ones she wants. The chance at another scholarship to College means that she’ll be mentored by a strong woman in the community, except that her mentor keeps standing her up.

Hmm, this wasn’t a bad novel, but I’m not sure it was exceptional either. I was putting off reading it because the cover wasn’t doing it for me, but I happened to feel like an easy read with a female protagonist. Jade shows some nice character progression for standing up for herself and getting a better feel for the world around her.

I wasn’t quite sure the purpose of her mentor and the meetings with the other mentees/mentors. I don’t understand this teenager, but I’m perhaps out of touch. Maybe it’s time I stopped reviewing these novels… but I don’t know what I would replace them with. These are the reads I need when my brain is completely zonked from work.

3 stars from me, but 4 stars for its intended audience. I think American teenagers who would like some better fiction that’s not a white, middle-class attractive chick will enjoy this novel. I feel like I’ve said that about another novel recently too: Leah on the Off Beat.

Bloomsbury | 1st March 2018 | AU$14.99 | paperback