Review: Orlagh Collins – No Filter

No Filter
Orlagh Collins

Em’s been exiled to her grandmother’s house after her mother goes too far. Liam feels like he’s been exiled from his family and that he doesn’t fit in. A chance meeting on the beach, bonding over a run-in with the law, and the stage is set for two teens to fall in love. Although they aren’t supposed to…

Hmm, not sure how I feel about the title of this one. Seemed to me that more could have been made of the ‘Instagram’ idea. Once Em was away from the social media, she hardly seemed to think about it. The same with the lies. Oh no, she lied about babysitting! Let’s be honest, a large proportion of teenagers have lied to go to a crazy party. Em, you aren’t special.

Maybe the author tried for too many twists in this novel. I felt like Emerald’s home situation wasn’t all that special, and by the time anything more was revealed I had basically tuned out. There are plenty of other novels that are more hard hitting than this – think Caramel Hearts or the breaktaking yellow (expect a review of Megan Jacobson’s new novel soon).

‘But nobody told them they weren’t supposed to fall in love’ – why not? Are they going to be incestual? That’s about the only real reason I could think of for why they shouldn’t fall in love. I think the novel’s ‘punchline’ came too late for me to care about it.

Kudos to Liam for being a sensible sort of bloke, despite the what I would call ‘excessive’ drinking. Safe sex scene alert. That makes this novel fit firmly into the Young Adult category, as do the drugs and alcohol. Em is an idiot. There, I said it. I thought she was an unlovable main character for her idiocracy.

This was an unsolicited novel from Bloomsbury as far as I can see from my records, but as it’s YA I probably would have picked it for myself to read anyway. Honestly though? I’m getting a bit sick of YA romance. 3 stars from me. I hovered between a 3 and 4, but now I’ve written the review, I’m thinking it was 3 stars. Plus I was able to put it down and read it across two nights.

Bloomsbury | August 2017 | AU $14.99 | Paperback

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Review: Lauren Berry – Living the Dream

Living the Dream
Lauren Berry

Emma is a personal assistant to a slightly crazy boss, but would rather be a writer. She spends her days sending unsolicited written pieces to potential magazines and posting feminist blog rants. She spends her nights drinkin’ it up with her best mate Clem, because Clem has problems of her own. Instead of the film making life Clem envisaged from distant New York, Clem is drowning in debt and bartending for a living. Can they change their ways?

I read this novel for a bit of light hearted reading. Am I not a professional woman? Oh wait, I am, but I love my job(s)! Most of this novel is about not ‘Living the Dream’ and actually ‘Living the Grind’ until certain events take place to tip Emma over into doing something with her life!

Honestly, I’m not sure what Clem is complaining about. Yes, it’s hard to find a job with no experience, yes, I know you don’t want to work a boring job for your stepfather again, but seriously! Get a grip girl and get a job! Bartending and not drinking the profits might be a bright idea. Or perhaps not doing cocaine with your boss on the job…

Also, I have issues with the amount of money they waste on booze! Haven’t these millennials ever thought about planning ahead? You could easily quit your job and not rake in the money, and build a blog following to support your writing habit – if you actually saved money instead of spending it. Oh dear, that might have been my underlying problem with this novel that made me not love it, or even appreciate it much.

Honestly, I think that I’ll Eat When I’m Dead was a better novel than this, and I only gave that one 3 stars! Perhaps they are on par because I’m giving this one 3 stars as well. No no, it was the regulars that I liked more perhaps… Women’s Fiction is just not my thing – in my defense, I didn’t request this one (to my knowledge), but I DID make the decision to use some of my precious reading time on it.

Hachette Australia | 11th July 2017 | AU $29.99 | paperback

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Review: Teri Terry – contagion

contagion
Teri Terry

Shay saw Callie the day she disappeared. But it’s years later by the time Shay realises that she might remember something important, something that could help Kai to find his sister Callie. With a strange epidemic crossing the continent, Shay and Kai need to be careful to find Callie… or maybe she will find them first.

I felt so cheated by this book! Trilogy, grumble, grumble. Doesn’t anyone ever write a decent stand alone novel these days? I even bet that when the second in this trilogy comes out, it won’t have the blood red page edging of this first novel, so it doesn’t match the rest! Sure, the author has written other trilogies, but honestly! How hard it is to write a fantastic standalone novel.

I hated, hated, hated that I tricked myself. I was happily reading along for at least a quarter of the novel, thinking that Shay (Sharona) was embarrassed by HIS name. So then when Kai came along, and Shay wasn’t sure if Kai was into HIM, I was thinking ‘Yay, two gay characters that aren’t even making a big deal out of it, this is how fiction should read’. Then I suddenly realised that Shay was a GIRL. And I cracked it and got really grumpy and frustrated at the novel. There was so much potential there, and it seemed like the environment was what it should be. Ugh. 

I honestly didn’t get much of a sense of ‘suspense’ or ‘thrill’ from this novel. I guess after my initial mistake, I was no longer attached to the characters. It’s exciting to read a novel that isn’t set in the US, and instead is limited to England and surrounds. However, you would expect a bit more to be made of the presumably more scenic bike rides and so forth that Kai and Shay get to do.

3 stars. I disappointed myself on this one on two counts: the main character wasn’t gay and it was the first of yet another trilogy. Another plague novel? I’ve seen it done better.

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

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Review: Leonie Thorpe – Archie’s Adventures

Archie’s Adventures
Leonie Thorpe

Young Archie Roach is new in town and has nothing remarkable about him. At least he was famous for a hideous bone fracture at his last school… Doomed to obscurity, Archie’s life is filled with being a pathetic Roach – until he makes friends with a local smuggler.

Archie is a fine character, I’m not really sure what else to say. My partner’s mother got me to read this book – in fact she handed me two different copies at two different times! Honestly, I wasn’t that excited by it, because I’ve sworn off reading children’s fiction now. It’s fine as a novel, I’ve just moved past it, and my (female) young reader wouldn’t be interested in it.

It’s a typical ‘reluctant reader’ boy novel – fishing and football! But then there is a bit of sailing as well. Typical team building activities with an old man and a useless hanger-on. Anyway, I shouldn’t be so disparaging. This is why I can’t read children’s fiction any more! Unless it is Isobelle Carmody, and it’s The Red Wind series. Standby for a review of the newest novel, The Ice Maze.

Three stars from me. Fine for kids, not worth it for adults. Not enough ‘meat’ here to make it a chapter book to read at bedtime to your kids.

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Review: Bree Record – The Road to Transition

The Road to Transition
Bree Record

Sarah was destroyed by Steven, now Bree is ready to take her rightful place in the world. This novel chronicles the 40 days before her surgery, interspersed with her most distressing memories of the last 55 years of her life. This is the transition of everything.

I love the way that the blurb labels this as a ‘gender confirmation surgery’. It’s not a reassignment surgery, which implies that there is something weird about it. I think it is very difficult to properly convey the feeling of both relief and confusion when someone takes their identified form. I would really like this novel to have a bit more after the form change, but it’s limited in pages to explore everything.

While the imagery was beautiful, I needed more substance. I could have had more of everything, particularly more about Bree’s relationship with her Wife. When a transition takes place, it often rips apart families, particularly as people who never thought they were gay suddenly find themselves with a same-sex partner. I find that that usually raises a really interesting question.

I read this one night that I was suffering insomnia. It kept my attention because I couldn’t sleep, but it wasn’t that great. However, this was so so much better than when Adam became Audrey. That’s written from the perspective of the partner of the transitioning person, and it’s absolutely horrible. I can’t warn people away from it enough. This is a good book in comparison.

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Review: Jenny McLachlan – Stargazing for Beginners

Stargazing for Beginners
Jenny McLachlan

Meg has wanted to be an astronaut her whole life, and it seems like she is finally going to get the chance to see the NASA headquarters. Only problem is, Meg’s mum is heading off to an importance cause, and is leaving Meg’s little sister in Meg’s nervous hands. Will Meg be able to band together with her support team to survive?

I feel like this novel is just another in a series trying to encourage girls into STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) fields. The last I read, The Square Root of Summer gets more points from me for including more science! That being said, there are plenty of areas of science that need more exploring. Both of the protagonists are hard workers, and each faces their challenges bravely.

There was lots of lovely variety in the characters provided in the text, and even non-scientists should find someone they connect with! Ok, so it’s a little bit of a comedy of errors for the mix-up of the ‘mentoring group’, and that made the interactions feel slightly forced, but it does warm up to the task of giving them all some air-time to be individuals (as much as you can with a first-person perspective narrator).

What is it with parents going off and leaving their kids alone these days? And not just alone, but with younger siblings to look after? I’m looking at you, Raging Light and Beautiful Liar? There is an element of what could be suspense in this novel, but the end seems foretold anyway as the tone of the rest of the novel points in that direction.

I’m not sure this has anything particularly new to offer the genre, but it’s en enjoyable read nevertheless. 4 stars because it’s going to stay at home with me on my bookshelf, rather than roaming the wider worlds.

Bloomsbury | 1st June 2017 | AU $14.99 | Paperback

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Review: Eva Hornung – The Last Garden

The Last Garden
Eva Hornung

The isolated community of Wahrheit is awaiting the return of the Messiah, with Pastor Helfgott at the helm. Then Benedict’s father shoots himself and murders Benedict’s mother just as Benedict returns home. What follows is the communion of the boy growing to a man under the watchful eyes of the animals that he shares a home with.

 

Normally the ‘literature’ style of writing might have put me off – it’s filled with beautiful prose that waxes lyrically about the lines between Man and God. Don’t expect it to ‘end’ in a conclusive manner, instead the reader is left to wonder what good can change in the world.

The characters are individual, and despite having somewhat unpronounceable place names for me to remember, I managed to keep them in my mind while I wrote this review! What can one say about a novel such as this? The scenery, the bloody but tactfully innocent chicken deaths, all of it added to a novel as a whole that was compelling to read.

I’m not sure what drew me into this novel, but once I was in there I was intrigued, much as I was when reading Eva’s other novel, Dog Boy. I didn’t want to be drawn in. I just wanted to read a page or so to decide whether it was for me, but by the time I had done that, it was too late.

I don’t feel compelled to read it again, but I do feel compelled to share the novel with other people, namely other adults! I’d love to hear other people’s opinions on this novel. So I’ll be giving this 4 stars, and hoping that someone else will want to add to the discussion!

Text Publishing | 1st May 2017 | AU $29.99 | Paperback

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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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