Review: Lynette Noni – Weapon

Lynette Noni

Alyssa has escaped from Lengard and into the bowels of the Remnants’ hideout. Hurrying to rescue a new Speaker, Alyssa instead finds herself doubting everything that she’s been told, and wondering what she can do to stop Vanik, because if she can’t, no one can. But is Vanik still her primary enemy? Are there other memories she is missing that could solve the puzzle of why she was left behind?

I was blown away by Whisper and I felt desperate at the end of it to keep reading Alyssa’s next move. I jumped at the chance to receive an ARC of Weapon and read it almost the moment it arrived at my door. Sadly, I was super disappointed in it – particularly the ending.

As a reader, I wanted to be able to predict more of the twists and turns that happened in this novel. That opportunity was snatched from me. Lyss was kept in the dark, and even when it seemed like she might be getting a handle on what was happening the reader didn’t get enough details to fill things in for themselves.

There’s so many actions that happen all at once that I felt like the book didn’t stop moving long enough for me to really think about what was going on. Another source of frustration was that I didn’t understand where Alyssa and Cami’s relationship came from. I know that they were beginning to be close for the first novel, but the level of codependency is squirm inducing. Cami seems like a bundle of pathetic whispers and every time she and Lyss had a scene together it made me want to claw out my eyes.

In my comment from the first novel I said: “I guess now I fear that the second novel will suffer from a gooey protagonist.” And indeed, Weapon is undermined by the love interest shown by Alyssa at any boy who seems to look at her nicely. And if it’s not her romance derailing the action, it’s someone else’s!

Having reviewed this novel, I’ve decided I dislike it more than I like it. I was just so disappointed. Read it so that you finish the duology, but don’t expect the breathtaking wonder that you might have experienced with Whisper. 3 stars from me.

Allen & Unwin | 1st November 2019 | AU$19.99 | paperback

Review: Rainbow Rowell – Wayward Son

Wayward Son
Rainbow Rowell

Simon’s defeated the enemy and found true love. So why can’t he make it off the couch? Bunce and Baz are going to college and experiencing life, but Simon just can’t face it. What’s the point when you’ve achieved your life aim? Bunce stages an intervention – a road trip across America is just what they need.

Rainbow Rowell’s novels are usually a 100% love from me (Fangirl and Eleanor and Park). In fact, I often feel urged to reread Fangirl (has it been 5 years since I reviewed it already? wow!). When I saw this one in the publicity catalog I even told the publisher that I’d possibly kill to get my hands on it. With hype like this, and the avid fan following Rowell has, I had high expectations.

Somehow the nature of this novel is that you don’t become too attached to any of them, and unfortunately that’s what made Rowell’s other novels speak to me so deeply in the past. At one point a character was introduced and I wondered how they could possibly be relevant if they get mindwiped! Overwhelmingly I felt like there were too many characters that I needed to care about, and so I felt myself caring less about them overall.

You wonder at first what the main plot point of this novel is going to be. Surely it can’t just be following two magicians, a werewolf and a demon across America in a convertible? Nope! It’s not! But Simon, Bunce and Baz unpacking their feelings around having overcome the enemy from Carry On could have had more air time. If child soldiers are a theme that Rowell wanted to address, and PTSD, I wanted more of it. Less ‘fluff’ somehow. There’s being lighthearted, and then there’s just blatantly brushing off problems.

I found myself underwhelmed by this novel. I don’t know whether it’s because I hadn’t read the first book (oops) or that there was something inherently lacking in it. I don’t really understand why Simon is so confused about his relationship with Baz all of a sudden. I do want to go back and read the first book to see what I missed, and maybe identify what I really needed to know to enjoy this novel to its fullest.

Personally, I’d keep the wings. There are some other issues that are left unaddressed, such as Baz’s inevitable non-aging compared to his friends and how he’ll deal with that in the future. And Bunce’s overwhelming nature of, well, being Bunce. The novel ends on a cliffhanger, but I’m just not that excited for the third. 3 stars from me.

Pan Macmillan | 24th September 2019 | AU$17.99 | paperback

Review: Saundra Mitchell – The Prom

The Prom
Saundra Mitchell

Emma Nolan wants to go to Prom like every other girl, and dance. The only problem is that in small town Indiana there’s no chance she’ll be able to take her girlfriend the way she dreams of. Alyssa isn’t ready to get out of the closet, and her mom certainly doesn’t want to hear even a hint of her dating a girl. Alyssa’s in charge of organising the prom, so everything will be fine, right?

I found myself disappointed in the level of depth in this novel. Ok, the prom is cancelled because the protagonist wants to take a same-sex partner. Then it’s not cancelled, because Broadway stars come to save the day (they are of course pushing their own agenda). Maybe it’s because I’ve seen this concept basically done before by Julie Anne Peters It’s our Prom (so deal with it).

Emma gives up far too easily, and also forgives too easily! Emma living with her grandmother because her parents kicked her out is just written off as normal and hardly upsetting at all – which I doubt. And then the bad guys magically just reform from being told off. Likely? No.

It’s based on a ‘Hit Broadway Musical’. Why does it have to be a musical before it’s a novel? Why can’t they just write a decent book? Maybe it works better with singing and dancing, and having that playing in my head at the same time might have bumped up the reading experience for me.

I’m really happy to see big publishing houses like Penguin getting into queer fiction, I’m just sad that there isn’t an original novel here. 3 stars from me for an underwhelming read.

Penguin Random House | 17th September 2019 | AU$16.99 | paperback

Review: Claire Merle – The Glimpse

The Glimpse
Claire Merle

A simple test can tell you whether you’re going to develop one of the BIG3 – Schizophrenia, Depression, or Anxiety. Ariana’s DNA test labelled her as a Pure – designed to marry a Pure boy and have Pure offspring. However it turns out that her DNA result was faked, and now she’s relying on Jasper to keep her safe in the Community. When he disappears, Ana has to find him before it’s too late for her as well.

I grabbed this from the library this school holidays and it was a light, quick read that was strangely compelling. I say strangely, because the plotting was really quite thin, and half the time Ana didn’t act in a sensible manner at all. Her being able to hold her breath under the water for a long period of time was somehow an important plot point that was used more than once.

I was drawn to this novel because I’m keen on both genetics and mental health. A future where we have identified some of the genes responsible for people developing mental illnesses is really likely, and is probably sooner than most people realise. And I fully expect that it could cause a divide between ‘crazy’ people and ‘normal’ people. But the fact that they just expect having a gene to cause a mental illness? That’s a total fraud – there’s lots of other factors that are important such as epigenetics, Barr bodies and environmental triggers. Depression and Anxiety are huge, but I wouldn’t consider Schizophrenia that common (although it is one of the most debilitating mental illnesses out there).

I didn’t get why Ana was so special. She’s way too excited about !boys! and not enough about, I don’t know, actually saving other people? She’s so shallow and irritating, and her thought processes totally don’t make sense. What put me off as well was a four year old being so suicidal that they would jump in a river. I guess that should come with a spoiler alert. And then the fact that someone claims to see the future? That took it from barely plausible to hopeless.

I didn’t understand why the Mental Clinics even existed. If people go into them, and don’t ever come out, why don’t they just kill those inside? Harsh of me, but honestly. If it’s all about the money, why bother even testing anything out on them, especially if really poor records are kept? Everyone knows science doesn’t work like that!

Ultimately it’s just another dystopian novel where people have been relatively arbitrarily sorted into the City and the Community to create an elite. If you’re looking for a weaker version of: The Wind Singer, Uglies, or Disruption, this is the right novel for you. I finished it, but I became less and less involved in it as I went along. 3 stars from me.

Review: William Sutcliffe – The Gifted, the Talented and Me

The Gifted, the Talented and Me
William Sutcliffe

Fifteen-year-old Sam is average. Apologetically average. Which is fine until he moves to London and finds himself attending the North London Academy for the Gifted and Talented. Football is banned, and creating poetry and beat-boxing in class is highly recommended. Will Sam ever find his feet, or is he doomed to wander the school grounds alone and average?

I picked up this novel, read the first chapter, and then put it down again. Last night I wanted something light to read so I picked it up again. I find it hard to come up with things to say about it, because it wasn’t anything special. I think that’s its allure though because not everyone can draw brilliantly or be a musical genius. Sam brings to life the average teenage guy (including his dick) and his humour.

I’d never really thought about or even considered the term ‘Queerbaiting’ until recently. Basically it seems to mean that there is a character who comes out as gay, or that seems gay, and then suddenly they turn out to be incredibly straight. For me, that’s what ruined Starworld, but I didn’t find it impacting me very much for this novel.

Something I did find upsetting was Sam’s mother’s blog. She uses her own name on it, and then just blanks out her children’s names with just the first initial. Imagine if the school bully had gotten their hands on that sort of information? It’s not ok for her to be writing that – and after Sam catches her out she should have given it up. I’m not going to make excuses for her behavior, even as I laughed about the Japanese stool.

It’s frankly an average book about an average guy. There’s nothing amazing in this novel that made me want to keep reading it desperately – but maybe that’s going to appeal to some readers. So many YA novels have ‘special’ protagonists with mental health issues, family issues, queer issues, etc etc. So it’ll be nice for normal people to have a humorous novel about them! 3 stars from me (since I can hit all three of those issue boxes!).

Bloomsbury | 17th June 2019 | AU$16.99 | paperback

Review: Catherine Bruton – No Ballet Shoes in Syria

No Ballet Shoes in Syria
Catherine Bruton

Aya, and Mumma and Moosie are waiting for dad to appear to continue on with their lives. But he’s lost, and without him the family is adrift in an alien world. Aya is the one looking after Mumma and Moosie and helping them claim asylum – but is there time for her own ballet dreams as well?

I loved Moosie! Aya’s interactions with him really brought her to life for me. Her friendship with Dotty made me feel a bit ambivalent, because Dotty made me feel angry in a way – how inconsiderate she is, and how nice Aya is in comparison. But I’m sure Aya wasn’t nice all the time either – what 11 year old can do that all the time?

I admit that I didn’t like the title. There were, in fact, ballet shoes in Syria. That’s how Aya learned to dance after all! And she managed to find ballet teachers in most of her stopping places on the way to Europe too. I liked how although she had natural talent, we saw her working really hard as well.

I did particularly like the full circle of Aya and her new ballet teacher’s lives. I guess I can’t say more without giving one of the major tear-jerking plot points away. It’s scary to draw parallels between fleeing the Nazi invasions and fleeing war torn middle eastern countries.

It must be so difficult being an asylum seeker. At least in Britain they’re allowed out into the community – in Australia we lock them up behind barbed wire and turn their leaking boats away. It is amazing the way humans can treat other humans so poorly. We should be asking refugees what makes them so resilient and resourceful.

This middle grade novel fits a niche that I think will resonate well with grade 5 and 6 readers. If you’re looking for a slightly more teenage version of this novel, I could suggest When Michael met Mina or even You Must Be Layla (again, quite middle grade). These are not strictly refugee novels, but have similar issues of being different for reasons you can’t change. 3 stars from me, and 4 stars for its intended audience.

Nosy Crow | 5th August 2019 | AU$14.99 | paperback

Review: Caroline Bond – The Forgotten Sister

The Forgotten Sister
Caroline Bond

Cassie hasn’t thought about the fact that she was adopted. She’s been happy with her adoptive family up until this point. But are they hiding something from her? And if they are hiding something, is it for her own good?

You know, you’d think that fiction characters, particularly those that have adopted children, would learn to be more open about things. Every time I get a side conversation being held between parents I automatically think that something is going to go wrong – and unfortunately that’s normally the main plot point of the novel, just as it is here.

I found the inserts from Cassie’s dad quite distracting, and I didn’t feel like they added anything to the story. It could have equally been told from Grace’s (the mother) perspective and not lost anything in my opinion. I did like Ryan’s perspective, and Erin’s though. Overall, I could have just had the novel told to me from Cassie, Grace and Leah’s perspectives if that meant that their characters and motivations were a little more fleshed out.

I found Leah a bit… intense? And thus I found the ending quite unbelievable. I could have done without it, actually. What is with novels wanting to add a little post-script to a perfectly good novel? I didn’t find it heartbreaking or tear jerking, perhaps because I could never think of Leah anything other than a bit crazy. Going through the Foster Care system is enough to drive anyone mad! In fact, another novel I read recently was about that – Stone Girl.

This novel left me feeling a bit ambivalent, which I guess means it’s a 3 star. Not terrible, but not remarkable either.

Allen & Unwin | 3rd June 2019 | AU$29.99 | paperback

Review: Brendan Reichs – Nemesis

Brendan Reichs

Every two years Min is murdered on her birthday – but she finds herself alive again soon after, with no evidence of death left. An asteroid is approaching earth though, and weird things keep happening that might wipe out human kind. It’s good thing she has Tack by her side – and maybe the stranger Noah as well?

This novel was very, very slow and I considered giving up on it about half way through. Min and Noah are like two magnets that kept changing polarities. Oh, and then when the perspectives started changing I started feeling very irritated. Just stick with a side guys! Noah, please get over yourself, I get that you might have anxiety, but I don’t think you’re really convincing me with your character consistency.

Ok, something I really struggled with was the ending of this novel. Noah’s personality basically completely changes – and I had no idea why. Min stays her own awesome self as far as I can tell. I also really don’t get how what they think is happening could happen. I really can’t say more without giving away the twist.

This novel reminded me a little of The Maze Runner – but I think people actually die in that one! I have the second novel in this series waiting for me on my bookshelf at home, but I’m not sure I’m going to wait that long to read it (since there is an eBook copy available from my local library). I’ll give this one a healthy 3 stars, bordering on 4. I’m just not convinced about the ending.

Review: S E Grove – The Waning Age

The Waning Age
SE Grove

Natalia has lost her empathetic little brother after a wayward comment at her workplace insults the wrong person. She’s also got a huge bounty on her head after she embarrasses a bunch of Fish. Fish are people who don’t have feelings, and also don’t follow society’s rational norms – they’re killers. Natalia is pretty sure she doesn’t have feelings left either – but she’s determined to get her brother back.

The premise of this novel is interesting. When children get to the age of 10 or so, they lose their ability to feel things. So then at high school they are taught society’s rules and norms for how to behave. Somehow people’s brains have switched off the pathways to being empathetic for others. It’s a cool idea! I’m not sure how biologically possible it is at this point though.

I’m not sure how I felt about the execution of this novel. Calvino’s essay responses add a bit of variety, but ultimately it is Natalia’s journal that carries the plot. The journal entries left me feeling like there was a lot more to be said. Now, if that was a deliberate idea on the author’s behalf, because of course Natalia doesn’t ‘feel’ things anymore, that’s ok. But I needed something more to connect me with the characters.

None of the characters I cared about died, and nothing bad really seemed to happen to them. Bad things were threatened, and people did die, but they weren’t really important. I was too sure the whole time that Natalia would win. And that ending with where Cal ends up? Isn’t that just too convenient? All those coincidences just seem to line up…

Natalia reminded me of Maggie in Disruption (I always have to look up the name of the novel, I can never remember it!). Despite everything going against her, and only the rich being able to afford the good things in life, Natalia sticks it out and kicks butt, just like Maggie! I’m going to give this 3 stars, and suggest instead that you go and read Disruption instead for a kick-ass heroine and a more convincing plot.

Review: Catherine Jinks – Shepherd

Catherine Jinks

It’s a hard life in New South Wales as a convict, but Tom Clay has his sheep and his dogs. There’s a big problem though – Dan Carver is going to kill him when he comes back. The arrival of a third shepherd, Rowdy Cavanagh should make Tom more relaxed, but Rowdy doesn’t know when to shut up. A fraught chase ensures across the wild Australian landscape.

What this novel brings home for me is the sheer amount of knowledge that white Australians have lost by effectively wiping out the native peoples. Tom is/was a poacher back in England and thus he understands a lot about animals and plants. In the bush he doesn’t understand anything though and he feels like everything is against him. Rowdy’s big mouth certainly doesn’t help him concentrate!

The cover suggests a murder mystery to me, with the pitchfork spearing the title. But what I got was nothing like that. Instead I felt like I was walking the bush with Tom and fearing for my own life. Unfortunately, I’m just not very excited by colonial Australian history. I studied the literature of the time and wasn’t that keen on it. I don’t really understand why I didn’t care for this novel, but I didn’t. It’s not something I’d necessarily read if I had a choice, which is why it came on vacation with me to force me to read it.

The writing style is smooth and the environment explicitly realised. Technically this novel is fantastic. Yet the ending felt cold to me and I could have put it down at any point. I didn’t connect with Tom enough and the deaths of other characters didn’t interest me. I finished this novel in the space of a couple of hours. 3 stars from me.

Text Publishing  | 2nd July 2019 | AU$29.99 | paperback