Review – Amy Beashel – The Sky is Mine

The Sky is Mine
Amy Beashel

Izzy may have drunk too much at that one party, but she shouldn’t keep getting mocked about it, and certainly not pressured into sex. But Izzy isn’t sure who she is, and where her own self-worth is. Her step-dad Daniel puts a lot of pressure on her by mocking her mother and touching her in the wrong way. Can Izzy be strong enough to stand up for herself and by herself? Does she have to go it alone to survive?

I struggled to get into this book because I was too afraid of what might happen. Having just read Fighting Words, I felt like I couldn’t deal with another child sexual abuse novel. Then, I picked it up again because I thought it deserved another chance. Then, the mobile internet went down, and next thing I knew I was stuck into reading it.

I liked that it was never really defined how ‘fat’ Izzy was, and whether it was within her own mind, Daniel’s mind or someone else’s mind. Equally, I think that either her best friend or her best friend’s girlfriend was a woman of colour? But I’m not 100% sure who was who. I think that this makes this novel easier to see yourself in it and helps the reader connect with the main character.

This is a powerful and yet sobering read. There is a huge push at the moment in Australia for people experiencing domestic violence to be confident enough to stand up against it, and ask for help. What this novel introduces is providing some more personal insight into what it might be like for a family experiencing this negative behavior. It’s easy to say that you’d do things differently if you were in that situation – but leaving is certainly not as easy as it might seem to an outsider.

This is a well-spent $10 worth of novel. I’m not sure that I could bear reading it again though. What brings its rating down to a 3.5 is that it is so very, very British in its pronunciation and word-usage. I don’t have a problem with swear words, but I do have a problem with ‘innit?’ No. I really hope no one actually speaks like that – it’s just like most Australians don’t greet others with ‘How’s it going, mate?’ Anyway, language like that served to interrupt my reading.

Allen & Unwin | 6th February 2020 | AU$7.99 | paperback

Review: Alicia Jasinska – The Dark Tide

The Dark Tide
Alicia Jasinska

Lina just KNOWS that it will be her brother Finley who is chosen as the sacrifice this year. Finley is equally insistent on going to the revelries to find a potion to fix Lina’s broken ankle. Next thing Lina knows, she’s asking her heartthrob Thomas to find a way to save Finley – but instead finds herself falling for Queen Eva.

Thomas – the hero we love to hate? Does that make him the anti-hero? Because it certainly seems like he’s a waste of space. What did Lina ever see in him! Lina on the other hand is surprisingly poorly aware of herself and the effect she has on others. Her obsession with dancing means that I expected her to heal her ankle, but instead she gets great joy from terrorising Finley over it.

I guess it’s a teenage novel because there are some graphic descriptions of basically torture and some pretty vivid death. Honestly though, the level of the story is younger tweenagers, and I was left wholly unsatisfied with it. Surely there are better young reader fantasy novels with gay characters?

I found myself disappointed in this novel. Yes, it had queer characters, but the story overall wasn’t that great. I felt no sense of satisfaction at the ending, and the fantasy/storyline wasn’t convincing. I loved the idea of witches using parts of themselves to do magic, but I hated that none of them actually disappeared!

3 stars from me, and seriously put this book down further on your to-read list, it’s almost not worth your time.

Penguin Random House | 2 June 2020 | AU$19.99 | paperback

Review: Emery Lord – The Map from Here to There

The Map from Here to There
Emery Lord

Paige’s final year of high school is going to be perfect. She’s got the best friends ever, a cute-as boyfriend and a dream college plan. Too bad that things don’t stay perfect forever, no matter how much you would like them to.

I, for some reason, didn’t realise that this was the second book in the series. I thought that The Start of Me and You was perfect just as it was. It’s been 4 years since I read it, and so this book just pinged vague reminders that mostly just irritated me.

Paige, you suck. Max, you suck. Just suck it up! Things change. And if you have anxiety, that’s probably not going to change either. So really, Paige regresses from the start, and it’s just painful to watch the train wreck happening. I couldn’t feel attracted to her college dreams or her parents marriage/divorce/marriage problem. I also couldn’t have cared less about her clueless friends. Oh, and tossing in Tessa being gay was just off-topic and not what the first book set it up for.

I didn’t actually receive this book from the publisher, I went and bought it myself because I’ve loved most of what Emery Lord has written (see: When We Collided and the names they gave us). This one was a bit of a flop. 3 stars from me.

Bloomsbury | 5 March 2020 | AU$14.99 | paperback

Review: Catherine Steadman – Mr Nobody

Mr Nobody
Catherine Steadman

Dr Emma Lewis is a specialist in memory loss and brain damage. Perhaps it comes from her own past, a man who did something terrible and a memory Emma couldn’t forget. Mr Nobody has no memories of his own, but he knows things about Emma that he shouldn’t know.

There is a beautiful slow pacing in the first half of the novel which potentially could be considered glacially slow if you prefer a novel with a bit more action. I wasn’t in a hurry because I’d only brought one book! I enjoyed the perspectives, although I felt like there was perhaps too much insight into each of their minds. I also didn’t really ‘need’ all of the characters. For example, the nurse wasn’t that necessary.

The ending to this one was a bit of a twist, but not quite as twisty as I thought? I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop. Honestly, after all the build up I thought something exciting might happen in the final pages. I was wrong, and it made me sad. It seemed like Emma had given up (something nebulous that I’m not going to say because it’ll spoil the book).

Thanks to COVID-19 I’m more than a year behind on reviewing this novel. With all the bad stuff that was/is happening in the world I couldn’t face a thriller. This is worthy of three stars – 4 from the beginning and 2 for the ending! If you want a gripping crime go check out Before Her Eyes.

Simon & Schuster | 1 February 2020 | AU$29.99 | paperback

Review: Mercedes Lackey – Elite (N)

Elite
Mercedes Lackey

Hunter Joy has largely settled in Apex. She’s managed to advance to Elite Hunter and now has a new mission from her Uncle, the city’s Prefect. However danger and conspiracy abound as she traverses the sewers beneath the city.

This makes for a nice follow up to Hunter. We get to see more details about life in Apex. Beyond the superstar treatment the previous book gave Joy for generally being a new hunter with impressive skills. There are additional characters we get to know as well as a clearing picture about some of the Othersiders only briefly mentioned before. We also get more information on some previous characters from the first book. They get additional time for us to get to know more than the picture they display the world which gives the world more depth and feeling.

One of the great things is the way different Hunters are portrayed with different skills. It gives a great element of team work between hunters, combining their skills and magic to overcome the odds.

We do see Ace again, after his previous downfall. Towards the end there is a feeling of more at play in the overall story but it doesn’t really eventuate in this book to anything concrete. It could just be a small detail that we will never know since the story is told from Joy’s point of view. Only time will tell.

As with the previous book definitely targeted towards the younger side of young adult. But a good leisure read for adults that don’t want something deep or heavy thought to read. Again sits somewhere between 3 and 4 stars.

Review: Mercedes Lackey – Hunter (N)

Hunter
Mercedes Lackey

Monsters came forth from the Otherside after the Diseray. The catastrophe destroying human civilisation. But something else came with them, the last hope, the Hounds. Joyeaux Charmand is a hunter for her small community and has been for a long time. Now called to serve Apex City, where the best hunters protect the most important people.

I’ve been a fan of Lackey’s writing since I was much younger so I’m always eager to read a new one of her novels. This one was a different feel to her Valdemar series. I enjoyed reading about the different Hounds that different hunters have and learning about the way the world was in this novel. I enjoyed a large degree of the descriptions – since Joy is essentially a newcomer to Apex she notices things in a lot of detail that provides some excellent fodder for imagining the scene. We learn a lot in the first few chapters in a way that is very sudden. So keeping it in mind through the book is a bit difficult. The writing is geared towards young adult readers but makes for a relaxing read for an adult.

Very post-apocalyptic feel, with a good helping of redevelopment of politics. Though there is only the barest fringe of that holding center stage in the book. I mostly enjoyed the characters, there were some oversimplifications between the main character Joy and the people she interacts with. But nothing that made the book unreadable. The characters that are clearly in Joy’s corner are notable and different. Though there is a degree of one-dimensional-ness to them that gradually begins to fade when joy interacts a bit more.

There was at least one loose end regarding Hunter Ace, a semi antagonist of Joy. Just a throw-away line that just seems to be mentioned and never brought up or explored again. I would have loved to know a little more background beyond him being arrogant for arrogance’s sake. Still it was nice to see how Joy approached and handled the pressure.

This was a re-read for me, as Lackey remains a good comfort read. But to give it a rating I think it was sit somewhere between 3 and 4 stars. It really can’t match with story depth that shows good and bad for all characters. But comfort reads have their place as well.

Review: David Arnold – The Electric Kingdom

The Electric Kingdom
David Arnold

Nico has been sent on a quest by her father to jump through the waters of Manchester. Kit’s never known life without his mother – or with more than 5 people in it. The Deliverer is an enigmatic unknown face that tries to support a failing human population besieged with Flies. Each has a potential mission to complete, but that seems impossible.

It wasn’t exactly edge-of-your-seat reading, but I did want to know what happened next. I was able to put it down though, because I just wasn’t as invested as I could have been. I’m not really sure that I believed the characters died when they did, and there was a sense that nothing was really real.

Also, what’s the deal with the title? Isn’t the fact that there is no electricity left? Well… except in the super special place where it worked. And the time jump wasn’t even electrical! I was disappointed.

As with all novels with potential time travel, although it is theoretically possible for a circle to be made, it makes the ending sort of pre-thought. Yet I kept reading in the hopes that the finale would redeem the book for me. It didn’t. Why was this particular cycle the one the author chose to write about? It seems like a personal hell.

I liked the characters well enough, and I enjoyed the different perspectives (for a change) but I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this novel to everyone. A better time travel novel doesn’t come to mind right now, but if you have to pick a first one to read in the genre, perhaps don’t pick this one. 3 stars from me.

Text Publishing | 16th February 2021 | AU$19.99 | paperback

Review: Lawrence McMahon – As Swallows Fly

As Swallows Fly
Lawrence McMahon

Kate is a plastic surgeon who cares for her patients even as they work her to the bone. Malika is an orphan abandoned after a bus crash, growing up in unforgiving Pakistan. Malika shows promise with her studies, but it seems unclear whether she will be able to bust through the stifling disregard of the village. Kate is volunteered to mentor Malika in Australia, yet Kate isn’t really ready for the child.

The novel opens on Kate’s childhood, but then skips forward to her mother’s funeral. It then swoops back to Malika’s childhood and follows through to present day. The tension builds because we know from the blurb that something terrible will happen to Malika and that Kate will (eventually) need to save her. Unfortunately the blurb basically gave the ending away, because it was of course going to be a happy ending.

The element of tension that tried to be introduced by the Taliban’s invasion of Pakistan seemed at odds to the rest of the characters. Sure, I liked the priests well enough, but I didn’t care enough about them that I wanted words wasted on them. I much would have preferred a critical look at Kate’s surgeries or Malika’s classwork.

This has to be the fourth novel in a row that has a boarding school setting! However, in this situation it is essential that there is a school who can take Malika on. What I didn’t understand was that the teacher wasn’t more understanding. How could someone so sour about people being different survive in a place where it seemed like diversity was supported? Anyway, I thought that it highlighted how judgemental people are without knowing more (anything) about the people that they meet.

For me ultimately this novel fell short. After a slow start and middle (no problems there) the ending seemed rushed and was unsatisfactory. I had so many questions left over. Did Malika recover fully? Did Kate actually move on with her life? While I read the rest compulsively in one sitting, ultimately the ending wasn’t good enough to justify 4 stars.

Ventura Press | March 2021 | AU$29.99 | paperback

Review: Di Walker – Everything We Keep

Everything We Keep
Di Walker

Agatha has bounced from home to home, never really settling in. That’s until Katherine gives Agatha stability – and a way to get back if she needs to leave her parents again. What follows is the tug between being at home with your parents, or being at home with an adult who can treat her as the child she is.

Initially we don’t know what the circumstances are around the deterioration of Agatha’s home life. We know that something major must have gone wrong, but it’s unclear. Slowly and powerfully it is revealed, as is the level of stress and anxiety in Agatha’s life. I worried for Agatha’s future, even as I was sure her present would turn out ok.

Some of the dialogue is quite stilted in this, and I’m thinking that since it is an ARC it will be fixed in the final proof. If I wanted a comparison of this author’s style, I would guess I can read Unpacking Harper Holt. I’m not sure I’m going to, because there are plenty of other good middle grade reads already demanding my time.

If only this was the lived experience for more children in the foster care system. The ending is near perfect, and sadly, unlikely to occur for many children. What Agatha experiences before meeting Katherine is so typical it hurts. Surely there is a better way? I once again conclude that trying to place children back with their biological parents at all costs is absurd. At the same time, I can’t (yet can) believe that foster parents just hand the child on when they get to be too troublesome.

What I would have liked to see a little more of was a resolution at the end. What are the next steps? How can Agatha really move forward? Is there any hope for her parents? How will the dynamic actually change when Lawson joins the family? Can Agatha keep up going to school? What about her burgeoning OCD?

3 stars from me. It’s not quite as moving a story as Fighting Words, but a little more straight-forward than Watch Over Me. It’s a worthy addition to foster care literature, and it’s certainly perfect for the middle grade audience in a way that these other two novels are for older audiences.

Scholastic | 1st April 2021 | AU$18.99 | paperback

Review: Vic James – Bright Ruin

Bright Ruin
Vic James

Abi has run from being set free, but she hasn’t set free her heart. Luke has made it off the island, but not out of Crovan’s reach. With their small world in upheaval, who should Abi and Luke trust? And can they trust anyone – Equal or not…

I don’t know where to start with how disappointed I was in this ‘finale’. There were too many perspectives and it became difficult to work out whose side I should be on. Betrayals and side-plots seemed to be the norm, with no sense of continuity.

Luke. What has happened to that boy? Or perhaps, what hasn’t happened? Am I expected to think that everything else played out happily ever after? That you-know-who would just be ok with giving up power? That a dalmation (not Dog) can change its spots?

Let’s talk about character development. We get to see a bit of Silyen, but it doesn’t seem to be authentic or consistent with the previous two novels. He seems to have ‘grown up’, yet at the same time his wonder and questions are still child-like and simple. Does he have a mental condition? What’s with him in general?

It seemed like the author herself got sick of having so many characters that she decided to just kill them off in order to finish up the novel quickly. I didn’t have even an ounce of remorse for any of them dying. More could have died in fact, and I would have been happier!

I really enjoyed Gilded Cage, mostly enjoyed Tarnished City and this one? Well this one didn’t do the series any justice. I would have originally promoted this series as a modern take on slavery, but I just couldn’t justify it given all of the other problems. I’ll give it 3 stars, because I did finish it and enjoy some parts, but it wasn’t the killer ending it could have been.