Review: Danielle Rollins – Breaking

Breaking
Danielle Rollins

Charlotte’s been at Boarding school for a long time, but she never seems to fit in. She’s surrounded by pretty people, pretty people who also happen to be super smart. Charlotte’s boring compared to her two awesome best friends – but they’ve committed suicide, and she hasn’t. Can Charlotte gain a bit of a spine and find out the answers?

Oh man, oh man. I thought I had made notes on this novel and how AWESOME it was. But apparently not, and now I’m faced with a blank text editing box. Not very inspiring. I liked Charlotte and her ‘humanity’, despite her calling herself boring. Nothing’s boring about someone who is soooo totally average! There’s always that sneaky thing she only hints about…  Just reading it was lovely and gripping, and the ending did not disappoint.

Others reviewers have mentioned that the flippant references to suicide put them off giving this novel full stars. Personally, I knew the whole time that there was something else going on, and that there was no way that Charlotte’s best friends had done that. Also, there are some tropes of the same kind – you know, character thinks that she is the most boring person ever, all of the girls only want ONE fabulous guy, everyone is jealous of everyone else – but honestly?

I’m liking the themes at the moment towards products and potions that can make people instantly beautiful. Think Charisma and another book I read a while ago that I can’t currently remember the name of. Makeup has been such a big part of most women’s lives and conforming to the norms. But what happens when everyone is pretty? That’s what I’d like to see played out next.

For this novel, I didn’t realise until somewhere near the end that it could be considered a prequel to Burning. But there is no need to read this one first, or indeed both of them (although I don’t know why you wouldn’t want to read them both!). I read Burning about a year ago now on vacation! I read Breaking just before I went. I guess now I’m going to be expecting to have a Rollins’ masterpiece before every vacation!

Bloomsbury | 1 September 2017 | AU$15.99 | 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: Emery Lord – The Names They Gave Us

The Names They Gave Us
Emery Lord

Lucy is used to going to Christian Camp every summer with her Pastor father and enjoys being part of the family. Her life seems pretty perfect, right up until the moment her mother’s cancer comes back and her boyfriend decides to ‘take a break from her’. As one of her mother’s last wishes, Lucy finds herself as a counselor at a camp for troubled teens instead where she’s going to discover a family history she never knew existed and find out more about herself than she ever could have imagined.

The ending! Oh the ending. It should have been more bittersweet, but it wasn’t. Actually, it was just a tad cloying? And I would have appreciated a little more closure. I can say that the rest of the novel was not leading up to that at all. I think this is a problem I had with Lord’s first book too… Perhaps I should have anticipated it more, but I am warned for next time now (and there had better be a next time)!

I really like Lucy’s character, although I could have had a few more juicy details in general. I initially didn’t get along with her, but warmed up to it. Maybe I could have had a bit more of Jones too. Insta-love drives me bananas sometimes, but due to the other themes of the novel I was buying it in this case. Lucy needed some comfort, and Jones could provide it.

I initially started reading the novel, and then dreaded continuing, because sadly my experience with strongly Christian folks is negative. Or perhaps I just don’t have enough of it, and read too much about how the Salvation Army, which I used to look up to, refuses to provide help to Queer people. Anyway, off topic. Don’t go into this novel with preconceptions, they’re probably going to be incorrect.

I really enjoyed this novel in the end and had a lot of trouble putting it down. It’s not surprising really, since I loved Lord’s first novel, When We Collided. I think WWC remains my favourite, but this novel is well worth a read too. I’m going with 4 stars, but it is a possible re-reader.

Bloomsbury | 1st June 2017 | AU $17.99 | Paperback

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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: Bren MacDibble – How to Bee

How to Bee
Bren MacDibble

The bees have been killed and now only the bravest children pollinate the fruit trees by hand. It’s hard work, and only a select few are chosen. Peony’s mother thinks that the way forward is in the city, Peony knows that her place is with the other Bees.

In a future fiction, it’s possible this is going to become common place. Bees are dying out, and despite things such as the somewhat ill informed flower planting schemes by ?cereal? companies, unless we pick up our game with killing bees with pesticides and so forth. A world without fruit would be pretty miserable.

I liked the ending a lot. I liked the whole novel, but truely, the ending was fantastic. I loved how Peony stuck to her beliefs and her family. That girl knows what is important! It’s something that more people in the world could afford to learn…

I’m not going to suggest that this is a YA novel. There’s just not enough depth for that, and it’s not a reread so that’s why it’s not getting 5 stars from me. But it carries a very important message, it improves the current knowledge of young people. I could see it as an early highschool novel, and I’d love it a lot more than some other ‘Australian classics’ they stick teenagers with.

Allen & Unwin | 26th April 2017 | AU$16.99 | 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: Jeanne Ryan – Charisma

Charisma
Jeanne Ryan

Aislyn is cripplingly shy, barely able to function in school social settings and completely inept at parties. Her little brother Sammie has cystic fibrosis and is hoping for a genetic cure. Instead, Aislyn is offered a split second change to change her shyness into audacity – but the consequences could be deadly.

There are lots of crazy gene enhancements that can take place, and will take place in the future. What this novel sets out is the capability of gene technology to change fundamental aspects of human personality, Gattica style, but after the human subject is already grown. Crisper-Cas makes this all possible, in real time! This novel could be happening right now…

This novel made me think of former.ly in terms of unknown suspense, and Sapient and The Ego Cluster for gene engineering. Oh! And there’s the regulars, where becoming beautiful is just some drops away. In fact, I would think of this novel as a slightly simpler teenage/YA version of The Ego Cluster.

As I’ve been saying lately, any YA/teenage novels about science are great (The Square Root of Summer) and this one is a really good example because it also deals with the ethical implications of some areas of science. I loved this novel and happily tore it apart in a couple of hours (neglecting everything else, and holding it in one hand while I ate).

Honestly, apart from the side effects, I didn’t see anything wrong with Charisma. So perhaps that is the explanation for the ending. The bigger question it is asking is whether it is ‘right’ to treat something that ‘could be’ overcome by therapy. Aislyn tells us she has tried everything, and nothing has worked. Isn’t this just another form of medication?

I’m giving this 4 stars. I’m not going to re-read it, it don’t have the same qualities as Sapient and The Ego Cluster, but it is a much more accessible read for teens without too much heavy science.

Simon & Schuster | 1st April 2017 | AU $19.99 | Paperback

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Review: Garth Nix – FROGKISSER!

FROGKISSER!
Garth Nix

Princess Anya always gets the responsibility of cleaning up after her sister’s messes. Unfortunately, she’s also trying to avoid her step-step father killing her off and taking the throne. When her step-step father makes yet another one of her sister’s wooers a frog, it’s up to Anya to save the day.

Who wouldn’t love a plucky heroine who really just wants to sit in her library and study sorcery? Oh wait, maybe that’s just me. No! I don’t think so. Nix has once again created a strong female character with a set of unique character flaws. She’s young enough to be appealing to young readers, but there are some in-jokes in the novel that teenagers would enjoy too.

I’m going to be handing over my copy of this novel to a 16 year old keen Garth Nix reader to see what he thinks. Is this novel particularly new and exciting? Is it adding something exciting to the genre of fairytales? Maybe is all I can say. It is certainly better than some of the other offerings out there, and if you like Garth Nix, you will probably still love this novel.

What you can’t see from the cover image is the glorious fluorescent yellow page edges. Check out my instagram to see them. It almost makes me want to put the book back-to-front on my bookshelf so that it can stand out!

I can see where this novel could easily become a series – there is reference to an overall set of Rules after all. But this novel was perfect in itself. This novel is far better than the other recent Nix novel, Newt’s Emerald, but not as good as Clariel or Goldenhand. I’m giving it 4 stars, although I would consider reading it again should a sequel appear.

Allen & Unwin | 22 February 2017 | AU $19.99 | Paperback

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Review: JP Delaney – The Girl Before

The Girl Before
JP Delaney

First there was Emma, who died a lonely death at the bottom of the stairs. Then there is Jane, trying to recover from the death of her baby and the loss of her high paying job in a house that seems too good to be true. Is it the house that killed Emma? Or is it Edward? Jane needs to find out, but the truth might kill her.

The parallels between the women that Edward can see to exploit are really nicely pulled out by the author so that they are on the edge of the reader’s consciousness as well. And then as the two storylines collide, it’s that not even those things are as they seem.

This novel warns you that Jane will be the next one to die, but it lets itself gradually unfold who the killer might be. Mid-way through the book when I sat down to write myself some notes about it, I couldn’t decide if I wanted her to die or not. I could see how the perfection would work either way!

Now that, that was a killer ending. Perfect. It wasn’t what I expected, but I was satisfied nevertheless. You think you know the characters, and then BAM they turn on you, and themselves. In hindsight, Jane and I both should have noticed these things.

On a more personal note, I think I’d actually love living in a house like that one. So long as I can have books somewhere (ok, so they’d need to be hidden away neatly), I’d like it. The neatness would appeal to me. Someone who saw my house right now wouldn’t agree with me, but truely, I do like things to be neat.

I couldn’t put the novel down, and devoured it in just under 3 hours. The set up as perfect, and the last third of the book even more riveting than the rest. It’s creepy and scary, but I think you’d still be ok to sleep after reading it after dark.

Hachette Australia | 1st February 2017| AU $32.99 | Paperback

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Review: Vic James – Gilded Cage

Gilded Cage
Vic James

In Britain, there are the Equals and the slaves. All regular humans must spend 10 years slaving for the Equals, who play their own political games and couldn’t care less about the lives that are outside their own.

There’s nothing gilded about that cage. Nope. This novel follows a family who accidentally get split apart, with the teenager son going to a hard work-camp and the rest of the family going to a comparatively easy Estate job. I got very attached to Luke but couldn’t care less about Abi. Simple, idiotic girl.

I actually quite liked Silyen and despised the other brothers. Ok, so he’s a tad brilliant, and a large patch of rude and arrogant, but there’s something going on inside his mind that is not obvious to everyone else. He hides things, but he’s obvious about it and not sneaky like the rest of the Skilled/Equals.

I finished reading this novel breathlessly. I was hoping so hard for a standalone novel that wasn’t going to leave me hanging unhappily until the sequel came. This one had the potential, but in the end it seems to be part of a series. So, I’d advise buying a copy, but not reading it yet – you’ll just be setting yourself up for a cliffhanger ending that will torment you!

I’m giving it 5 stars, and hoping that when the next novel comes out I have time to reread this one first to refresh my memory for all the twisty turns in it.

Pan Macmillan | 1st February 2017 | AU $16.99 | Paperback

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