Review: Darren Groth – Exchange of Heart

Exchange of Heart
Darren Groth

Eve’s death has devastated Munro’s life to the point that he’s suffering flashbacks and anger on a daily basis. The voice in his head is constantly taunting him, and the only way to escape seems to be run all the way to Australia on student exchange. A volunteer placement at an assisted living placement shuts up Munro’s little voice some of the time, but can Munro silence it for good?

Hmm, I really wasn’t convinced by Munro’s story about Eve’s death, particularly as it was interspersed with the flashbacks he was having. I also felt that he was suffering from PTSD – why wasn’t anyone helping him with that? Yes, getting away from a situtation will help, but as Munro learns, it can’t fix all the problems.

I read this so long ago, probably when it first came out in July, especially as I had an ARC copy. Thus this review is not as in-depth as it should be. From what I remember, it gave me a lovely warm fuzzy feeling as I was reading. As I dipped back into the novel to refresh my memory, I remembered that there was a nice selection of supporting characters, and his love interest was believable.

I like that it’s not stacked full of ‘Australian vernacular’ like some novels that have an American protagonist. Something about having a protagonist from another country seems to make authors feel that they can get away with ‘G’day’ and a lot of things that regular Auzzies like me don’t even say. Groth is a native Australian.

It’s not a re-read for me, but it was a pretty RAD and AWESOME good book. 4 stars.

Penguin Random House | 31st July 2017 | AU $19.99 | paperback

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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

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Review: Winnie Salamon – Pretty Girls Don’t Eat

Pretty Girls Don’t Eat
Winnie Salamon

Winter dreams of being a fashion designer. Her designing talent can’t be denied – but Winter believes that she will never get anywhere unless she is thin. The more compliments she gets for her weight loss, the more uncertain she feels about life, and what actually makes her a worthwhile person.

I wanted to love this novel. I was super excited about it from the moment that Ford Street emailed me to ask my opinion on which of three potential cover images would be the best. Turns out, the one I liked the most was also the one eventually chosen. I just found that this novel added very little to the host of teenage fiction around ‘fat girls’ and so forth. There’s several others that I have read, of which I just can’t remember the name of at the moment, and those would take my fancy first.

Winter moves very quickly from sick to acceptance, which I found very unlikely. People with eating disorders often find it hard to come back to a normal way of thinking.  I think this novel shows the slippery slope of calory counting very clearly! The teenage brain is very impressionable. Winter doesn’t set out from thinking that starving herself is the answer. But then, it goes worse, because the boy she likes won’t recognise that she’s beautiful.

At the ending, it’s not clear to me about Winter… What did she do next? Is she really going to keep working on things? Will she fall back into bad habits? Give me more! How can those broken/repaired relationships ever be as strong as before? She seriously stepped on so many toes…

Honestly, with Christmas time coming up, I wonder whether novels like this actually make good presents. What if the (female) teenager has inner weight problems/doubts and this novel makes her think that you think she is fat? Maybe in a stack of other YA novels that cover a range of potential teenage problems, such as Caramel Hearts or Holding Up the Universe! I give this one 3 stars.

Ford Street | July 2017 | paperback

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Review: David Baldacci – The Fix

The Fix (An Amos Decker Novel)
David Baldacci

Amos Decker is walking to work and is a firsthand witness to a crime that makes no sense. A seemingly straight businessman shoots dead a boring substitute teacher who has no connection to him, then kills himself. Transferred across to a new city, Decker must now learn to live with one of his team and with tenants with their own problems downstairs. And sometimes he wishes his perfect memory was not so perfect.

Decker reminds me of a male Kendra. But one that is less sensitive to other people’s needs, which is fine. I like a person who can get straight to the point. But of course, Brandon Sanderson has written some short stories of a man with a host of personalities/specialists inside his head, and that’s way better. Despite how interesting I find characters with Synethesia, this one just didn’t connect with me.

My only complaint is that despite the plot moving rapidly, or perhaps because of it, I found myself getting very lost. This just wasn’t a crime novel I could care too much about. American state secrets really don’t bother me, and I guess I’ve never had much of a soft spot for killings that involve characters I wasn’t even given a chance to connect to.

Decker has lost all his own family at some point in one of the two previous books (I assume). Irene’s protagonist loses his family, but he’s a much grittier and likeable bloke. The crime novels I seem to read are either excellent or poor, and I’m dumping this into the latter category with The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, even if that opinion will get me ostracised in the book review community!

Pan Macmillan | 1st May 2017 | AU$29.99 | Paperback

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Review: Kendare Blake – One Dark Throne

One Dark Throne
Kendare Blake

Ascension Year has begun in earnest, and now the three sisters must stop showing off their strengths and get down to the business of killing one another. While MIrabella and Arsinoe have made some truces, it’s Queen Katherine that has started leading the race. Too bad that she could be corrupting the rest of the island.

This novel. Mmm. I once again had serious problems keeping the Queens and their abilities and all their hanger-ons straight as separate people. Yes, they had distinctly different names, but it didn’t actually help me much. I couldn’t work out the character transformations from one novel to the next either. What confused me was whether there are actually two poisoners now, or whether Katharine is just lying to herself? Theoretically the sets of talents only come in threes, right? Katharine is certainly changed, but I’m not sure if she is a true poisoner.

The plot felt like it didn’t move at all, and that the characters were never in real danger despite them apparently always organising to kill each other. I wouldn’t have felt that sad had any of them died. I was always waiting for more details, or more to happen. The plot felt thin. Perhaps if this wasn’t a trilogy (multi-part series even?), then the author could have been able to add more meat to the novel.

There are more exciting novels out there in this theme, unless you are super keen to see three sisters taking each other apart – with the permission and promotion of their families! Otherwise I feel that you could probably get away with reading another accession story where the wrong child (usually a cruel one) gets the throne.

I’ve already invested time into the series, and so it’s likely that when the next book comes out, if it is sent to me for review I will read it. But I won’t be buying the book for myself, which is why this is just receiving an average 3 stars.

Pan Macmillan | 26th September 2017 | AU $16.99 | paperback

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Review: Adam Silvera – They Both Die at the End

They Both Die at the End
Adam Silvera

Mateo doesn’t leave his house for fear of death – the Death Call could come any time between 12am and 3am. But when the Call finally comes, he realises that there are worse things than death – like not actually living the life you have been given. Rufus on the other hand has been living the hard hand that life has given him and isn’t ready to die lying down.

I’m not really sure why there were so many perspectives included. I didn’t really need to know anything about the actual people who make the Death Calls. It’s just a job like any other. And actually, so maybe the book lied a little bit. And for a while, I was really irritated by why the book kept jumping perspectives for other people who have gotten the Death Call. But now I realise that the author was setting up for the ending, where we have faith that the author will do what he says he will.

I’d actually like having a death call. It’d be awesome to know that you have a last day! And I certainly wouldn’t be able to live in regret beforehand. The premise here is hard because both of the boys have so much potential ahead of them and it’s ‘unfair’ that they will die. But it’s not like the Call makes it happen!

Nit picking here, but there is a slight discrepancy in time left near the end – they only have 2 hours not 3! As a side note to make this a bit more of a paragraph, I don’t understand potentially going to jail for something that is already inevitably going to happen. Ah well. It’s not up to me, and Peck was a bit crazy really. That’s the power of not getting a Death Call, but I’d say that they could lead to a lot of quadriplegics from things you could die from, but know you won’t.

I’ve tagged this novel as queer fiction, but it is very gentle queer fiction. The main thing is that Adam Silvera has a strong history of writing gay fiction, particularly in his other novel ‘History is All You Left Me’. I actually have that novel sitting on my shelf, but didn’t get past the first page, which I realise now may just have been due to an inability to concentrate, not a reflection of the quality of the novel.

I quivered between giving this novel 3 or 4 stars. I hated the ending, because it lied to me! But then, the more I wrote this review and reflected on the novel, the more I realised it was actually pretty good! So 4 stars.

Simon & Schuster | September 2017 | AU $17.99 | paperback

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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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