Review: David Yoon – Frankly in Love

Frankly in Love
David Yoon

Frank Li needs to get date a nice Korean girl, bond with his father and get into The Harvard. What he doesn’t foresee is falling for a white girl and missing out on his father’s life. When Frank and Joy cook up the plan to fake date one another to be with the people they love, will more get broken than their hearts?

What I really liked about this novel was that it didn’t end at the predictable point of boy-loves-girl-loves-boy. The plot keeps going, and Frank finds himself still continuing on and considering issues he hadn’t thought about. To me it felt like quite a long novel, although I didn’t have a chance to sit down and read it in a single sitting.

Did the romance feel real to me? Sort of I suppose. I didn’t really get a proper picture of Brit and Joy, besides that Frank liked them. I liked how it wasn’t really insta-love as they had at least noticed one another before. I would have liked to see a little more characterisation of people other than Frank – but what can you do when it’s a first person narrative? Well, you can employ funny jokes and casual swearing in a way that makes you feel like you’re inside a teenage boy’s mind.

Apparently fake dating is a common trope? I’ve not seen it in my recent reading, so I can’t comment on it. For me, I found it very believable that Frank and Joy would set things up like this! Yes, I suppose the next step was inevitable but really? Couldn’t there be any other option? I’m also not sure I liked the ending with Q. I don’t think it was necessary, and it didn’t really make sense with the rest of the novel.

I can’t really say much about whether this is a typical depiction of American-Korean life and expectations. At my high school, everyone was European-Australian, and at university the number of people of Asian decent outnumbered ‘Australians’. Some reviewers have complained that this novel shows old-fashioned views of immigrants that speak poor English, but have high hopes for their children. However the people I personally know from similar backgrounds actually have similar expectations placed on them.

David Yoon is the husband of Nicola Yoon – Everything, Everything and The Sun is Also a Star. If you like fiction that has racial impact I’d recommend this novel, or the others. Just remember that it is written to a very American (USA) point of view. 4 stars from me.

Penguin Random House | 12th September 2019 | AU$12.99 | paperback

Review: Sonia Henry – Going Under

Going Under
Sonia Henry

Kitty has survived medical school and is looking forward to being a junior doctor learning the ways of surgery. But instead of a supportive learning environment, she finds herself bullied by her superiors and fantasizing about a life outside the medical profession. Kitty will survive the year – but will she survive with her personality intact?

From the first chapter this novel grabbed me and I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Kitty was a playful protagonist who allowed me to feel empathy, pity and horror all at once. I knew that surely she would be ok, but I felt like I was fighting it out in the trenches with her. I felt like I was the one being bullied, and the one being in a hospital.

I’m not sure this is really a sexy novel. Yes, there are some fantasies that Kitty plays out in her head, but at the same time most of the novel is about her work life and her life with her friends. The Australian culture is to lean towards a good beer or several glasses of wine as a way to cope with life and Kitty and her friends certainty lean into that. Having read novels about lawyers behaving badly as regarding drug use, I can’t say I was surprised by it in this novel either. Doctors are humans too!

It’s horrifying to think of all those doctors out there being bullied and feeling so uncertain of themselves that they commit or attempt suicide. I teach medical students, and pre-medical students, and I know how stressed they are just at the university stage. Being in charge of someone’s life is a huge responsibility, and I don’t think that there is enough support. I feel worried about the students that have become my friends.

I am hoping from more from this author ASAP. I’d prefer if they weren’t another Kitty story, but I’ll take what I can get. I haven’t enjoyed a medical novel so much since Cherry Ames (my mom collects nursing fiction novels). If you’d like to read more by this author, she also penned an anonymous post about the truths of this novel. Fiction, or Non-Fiction? 4 stars from me.

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

Review: Lauren James – The Starlight Watchmaker

The Starlight Watchmaker
Lauren James

Hugo is good at his job as a watchmaker to the elite students of the Academy. He’s quiet and undemanding, and just trying to keep his job. When Dorian busts into his workshop to demand his watch repaired, Hugo’s little world will be overturned by a potential terrorist plot.

This cute, delicate little novella is a very quick read for an adult. In fact, it’s so short that I struggled to form an opinion on it at all. Hugo is endearing, far more so than the last ‘poor android’ novel I attempted. Dorian is demanding and clueless, but not in a vindictive manner. I only wish I got to hear more from the baby planet!

It turns some ideas on its head – what if a library needed watering instead of staying dry? What if planets started out as babies that had to go to school before they grew up? I loved the author’s imagination and how it came to light in front of my eyes.

The plot is a very simple one, and there’s no sense of underlying menace – it’s not scary at all. It says that this is aimed at middle-grade to junior YA but I’d put it in the under 10 bracket. I’m pretty sure the 10 year old reader in my family would turn up her nose at such a simple story! I think it would be suitable for a child still learning to read confidently, where the adult and child take turns reading.

Allen & Unwin | 5th August 2019 | AU$14.99 | paperback

Review: Taryn Bashford – The Astrid Notes

The Astrid Notes
Taryn Bashford

Astrid secretly longs to be a popular song writer – but she’s an operatic soprano. Jacob is grieving for his friends and his band – but his parents won’t continue to bankroll his music career unless he starts singing again. Together, can Astrid and Jacob make compromises for their families and themselves? Or will they lose everything?

Ugh! I didn’t want them to be in love! What I wouldn’t give right now for a YA friendship novel. It sets up unrealistic expectations for young adults – they’re somehow supposed to have a love that makes them defy their parents and overcome their stage fright. It’s ok to be single, and it’s ok to just have friends.

Although this novel could be considered a sequel to The Harper Effect’, Harper doesn’t really play a role in it. She cameos maybe once? So there’s no need to have read Bashford’s other novel. But I feel like I’d consider borrowing it from the library to see if the same strong feelings raised in me by The Astrid Effect worked via sports stars too.

Once upon a time I thought that I wanted to go to music school – which in Melbourne would be the Victorian College of the Arts. I quickly realised that I wasn’t inherently talented enough to go! So here, where both Astrid and Jacob are good enough to go to music specialist schools I felt some envy of their talent. But also I felt deeply sad about the circumstances that brought them together. Their feelings of depression and suicidality (it should be a word!) brought me to tears.

I’ll give this four stars for the feels it gave me, but the story didn’t seem to be anything particularly new. I preferred another music-themed YA novel I read a couple of years ago. I’ll update the post if I remember it’s name! I can picture the cover, but not the title.

Pan Macmillan | 10th July 2019 | AU$16.99 | paperback

Review: Suzy Zail – I Am Change

I Am Change
Suzy Zail

Lilian’s life has been mapped out for her by her mother. Attend school until she gets her first period, and then drop out to marry and raise babies. But Lilian wants more. She’s smart, why shouldn’t she go to school like the boys? Why would she want to marry? She wants more in her life, even though she is poor.

I am warning you now, this novel is not a comfortable or comforting read. I found myself thinking about it while I should have been working, and worrying about Lilian. I even dreamed about it, that’s how powerful this novel was. I wanted Lilian to succeed, even though I knew that it was very unlikely that she would.

I remember that when I requested this novel I was hesitant because I didn’t know if a city born author could do justice to a village born girl’s story. But Suzy Zail has written a powerful, painful novel from the input of 30 girls who have been through many, if not all, of the horrors depicted in the novel.

I recently went to an author talk by Isobelle Carmody (swoon!) where she talked about how it’s impossible to really define an age bracket for novels because everyone is at a different reading level. I’d say this is an adult novel, just as much as it is a young adult novel. It depends whether the reader is able to cope with the trigger warnings for rape, female genital mutilation and domestic violence.

I found it confronting and difficult to read. I recommend that you buy a copy and contemplate how lucky so many women are – and how many girls aren’t lucky enough to become women, because it is pure luck that they survive being given less food than the boys, having their genitals removed and birthing babies constantly year after year.

Walker Books | 1st August 2019 | AU$19.99 | paperback

Review: Brendan Reichs – Genesis

Genesis
Brendan Reichs

Noah knows what the stakes are now – and he’s determined to survive at any cost. He’ll flatten team-mates and set others alight to win. In contrast, Min knows that there has to be something more to life than killing. She wants to form a community and work out the long term goals. Why can’t they leave the area? And why does killing people not make them stay dead?

I hated Noah and Min’s relationship. Honestly, I was disgusted by Noah most of the time, and I couldn’t believe that Min would fall for him. What about Tack? He would give her anything! And I’d take that any day in a killing scenario like what these guys find themselves in.

There’s a couple of twists and turns here that I definitely didn’t see coming. It is ESSENTIAL that you read Nemesis first, because otherwise you will be completely confused. How could Sarah do that? Why would they keep the psychopaths in the population?

I found it interesting that the gay couples still felt the need to justify their relationships. Maybe it’s because they won’t be able to provide offspring to somehow keep the human race alive? That’s the thing that got to me. Even if there are 64 humans left, it’s really unlikely that that is enough genetic diversity to really restart a population. And were the ones and zeros really needed? Or could those clone bodies survive on their own? I wanted to know more about the science.

I actually read an eBook copy of this as I was on vacation and had just finished Nemesis – and I needed to read Genesis right away! I have a hard copy version though which I did like originally until I realized it was the second in a series. What devastated me again after finishing it is that there is a third book. I’ll give this one 4 stars, but I probably won’t reread it before reading Chrysalis.

Pan Macmillan | 24th April 2018 | AU$16.99 | paperback

Review: Susin Nielsen – No Fixed Address

No Fixed Address
Susin Nielsen

Felix and his mom Astrid live in a van. It’s a pretty cool van at the beginning, but as months go past, Felix gets more and more uncomfortable. He doesn’t get to shower every day, and school seems like the only place he’s warm and safe. Felix has a chance to go on a TV trivia show though and win the answer to their problems.

I didn’t feel convinced that Felix was 13. I felt that maybe he was a bit younger? I feel like by 13 I was a bit more put together, but maybe that’s because I’m a girl and we develop slightly faster than boys. I loved his relationships with his friends! And I liked how the novel was a mix of past and present tense – initially I felt a bit hesitant of it, but in the end it made sense.

I liked how it was just a slippery slope from a month’s holiday in a van through to spending a couple of months in it. It wasn’t ‘bam’ they’re homeless. I also liked how Felix described his mother’s depression slumps. To me, I don’t think her medication was doing a great job though.

This asks the reader to consider hard questions – what makes a good parent? Is foster care the right solution to problematic homes? Is stealing ever ok? Also it wants the reader to think about what they might feel like in that situation. Also, there were a couple of times where Felix made a statement to the police, yet it wasn’t followed up on.

This was entertaining (and sad) at the same time. I was particularly fond of Felix’s classifications of different types of lie. It was a very comfortable and undemanding holiday read.that I’d absolutely recommend for middle grade readers. 4 stars for its target age group.

Review: Nicola Yoon – The Sun is also a Star

The Sun is also a Star
Nicola Yoon

Natasha will be deported before the day is out – but she’s willing to try anything to stay in America. Daniel happens to save her from being hit by a car, but he has his own life changing interview to attend. This novel is a story of how unexpected coincidences and fate can come together in just a single day.

Normally I would be irritated by a novel trying to cram too much importance into a single day. I thought to myself at the beginning of this one that I didn’t have much tolerance for the interspersed chapters from Natasha and Daniel, as well as the other randoms they happen to run into! But it grew on me, and in the end I was satisfied. I kept wanting to know the next coincidence to happen.

While I saw the ending coming, it was also very satisfying in a way that ‘Five years from now’ was not. It’s ok for people to drift apart! Even the epilogue was ok – I would have been ok with it not happening either. This book ended in a way that *Startalk* left me wanting. What’s wrong with an ending that isn’t roses for everyone?

I also read Everything, Everything a while back, and enjoyed it so when I saw this one I thought it could be a good distraction. I borrowed it through my local library’s eBook BorrowBox. Normally I hate reading on my phone, but in this case, it was convenient. I also saw a copy of it in a local (Greek) bookstore! I’m giving it 4 stars – I’m a little sad that I don’t own it, but I’m not going to rush out to buy it any time soon. Maybe if I saw it in a garage sale or similar.

Review: Brigid Kemmerer – call it what you want

call it what you want
Brigid Kemmerer

Maegan was a straight A student until the pressure of her perfect family got to her. She’s not their good girl anymore. But netither is her sister – pregnant and home from college unexpectedly. Paired with Rob who would rather fly under the radar until he graduates, can the two get over their prickly and worn edges to succeed?

Rob is a lovely tortured character determined to be miserable. If only he wasn’t quite so, charming? about it? I’m not quite sure what went wrong, but his character just didn’t sing true for me. Maegan on the other hand I could understand, but ultimately it ended up being more about her sister. And the romance between Rob and Maegan was sort of off I guess. They go from kissing to having her shirt off almost instantly as far as I can tell. No, I’m not ok with that, even in a YA novel. It seems like their family circumstances caused them to skip forward in time and not in a good way.

The ending of this was disappointing. It skipped forwards in time in such a way that I didn’t really believe in what happened. Also, the librarian? Really? Because no-one saw that coming… I wanted to shake Rob and Maegan half the time. And the rest of the time I wondered what on earth they were thinking.

I know that Kemmerer can produce novels that are far more intriguing and powerful than this one, so I found myself underwhelmed. How many normal teenage readers are going to be able to empathize with a multi-million dollar embezzling father?  Rob’s character is tortured and lonely and I entirely wanted him to succeed. What I did like was the way he couldn’t reconcile his own feelings about his father not being an asshole, with his father, well, being an asshole. Things just are never as simple as they seem.

The origami cover image leaves me pretty cold as well – neither of the two main characters are into it, and the pastel pink is just average. I connected more with Toffee (also published by Bloomsbury), and that was written in verse! Kemmerer, I’m not impressed. Please write the sequel to A Curse So Dark and Lonely ASAP instead.

Bloomsbury | 1st July 2019 | AU$16.99 | paperback

Review: Audrey Coulthurst & Paula Garner – Starworld

Starworld
Audrey Coulthurst & Paula Garner

Sam’s a withdrawn artist with one best and only friend in the world. Somehow Zoe, a popular cute girl, enters into Sam’s universe through one of Sam’s paintings. Sam and Zoe aren’t sure they’ll be friends, but together they can escape into another world outside their complicated families.

The *star talk* of Zoe and Sam’s fantasy world together didn’t actually set me on fire (pun intended). I was more interested in their complicated emotions and cute ways of showing they cared. For example, Sam’s mom packs her a lunch in foods that are colour coded and divisible by four (which I personally find a very odd manifestation of OCD – but who am I to judge?). Then they share and make crazy flavour combinations.

Look, I’m not sure whether this novel was trying to take too much on or not, but there was certainly a whole range of things going on (so many that I wondered that it had to be set up like that – as in, I’d never expect a situation like this in real life). There’s Sam, with her Aspergers and OCD mom, and then there’s Zoe who is adopted with a severely intellectually disabled brother. Too many themes in one novel? Oh, and then add some true artistic skill and a queer angle just for good measure.

That being said, I liked this novel. Mainly because it had me ugly crying at one point, and it was JUST SO SAD. Sam, my heart broke with yours. Not as relate-able as perhaps Our Chemical Hearts or the dangerous art of blending in, but still good. If I had one teensy complaint, it would be that the ending left me feeling cold and empty. That’s what keeps me from giving this five stars, despite the emotional wreck that it left me in.

Walker Books | 1st July 2019 | AU$24.99 | paperback