Review: John Scalzi – The Collapsing Empire

The Collapsing Empire
John Scalzi

Kiva thinks that the worst of her problems is potentially infected Haverfruit… not the collapse of inter-space travel as they know it. While the characters struggle to understand the devastating consequences this will have on their personal lives, the potential to wreak havoc on the universe is limitless.

This is a low key science fiction novel that is easy to read, with not too much jargon or assumed knowledge. I found myself slipping effortlessly into the pages and refusing to come out again. The parts of physics and basic explanations of the Flow made my eyes glaze over a little, but I didn’t need to completely skip those sections to keep my interest!

This is definitely an adult’s novel. There are graphic sex scenes and unflinching comments from the characters who have failed to get a sex life happening. It’s actually quite refreshing as there is nothing romantic going on in these couplings, it’s sex just because it’s desired! Which I can imagine is quite freeing for people in this universe, as well as an open mind to practically everything.

The characters are nicely fleshed out, and I enjoyed getting to know each of them. I was devastated to discover that this was ‘Book One’. I’m ready to know more about them, and I can’t wait to read the next novel. I can’t think how they can fix things the way they are now, but I look forward to finding out.

I’m giving this 5 stars as the first adult sci-fi novel I have enjoyed in some time. If you love sci-fi, I’m not sure this will be for you because it’s too light!

Pan Macmillan | 1st April 2017 | AU$19.99 | Paperback

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Review: Brigid Kemmerer – Letters to the Lost

Letters to the Lost
Brigid Kemmerer

It’s been months since Juliet’s mother was killed in a hit and run. Juliet visits her grave, weeps and writes letters, wondering how she will ever move on with her life. Declan has been doing public service at that same cemetery for months, and when he discovers one of her letters and writes back, a friendship begins that neither of them would have predicted – and opening up to a perfect stranger is sometimes the only way to talk about guilt.

My hands are legitimately still shaking as I sit down to write this review. The final chapters are so compelling that it was impossible to put down, and I was left crying despite, or perhaps because, of the ending. This is a powerful novel that pulls you in gently, then rips your heart out for caring.

Other reviewers have mentioned that they didn’t click with Declan, and couldn’t love a character who was potentially violent and rough. But really? Most people think they want a ‘bad boy’ hero, but don’t think about why things might be the way they are. For me, Declan wasn’t a cliche placeholder, but a breathing character that I recognised and felt real pain with.

If anything, Juliet was the weaker character for me. I do like the way she eventually gets insight into the way teachers see ‘bad’ kids, but she was a little bit too… clingy? Grief changes people in different ways though, and that’s quite a lot of what this novel was about.

What I want more of? I need more of Rev. I want to get inside his skin too. His behaviour towards the end of the novel makes me want to love him more, because I also got reverberations of feelings with him.

The only other recent novel I can think of at the moment that would be similar to this one is Haunt Me, where the author starts to delve into guilt and depression and getting a healthy dose of therapy to deal with problems, rather than just starting a love story! But I gave that one only 3 stars, because the characters couldn’t do it for me. Juliet and Declan on the other hand, I could keep reading them all day!

I’ve previously reviewed Thicker Than Water by Kemmerer, and I gave it 4 stars. But this novel? Letters to the Lost gets 5 stars from me, and I unequivocally can’t wait to read more from this author. Fantastic work.

Bloomsbury| April 2017 | AU $16.99 | Paperback

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Review: Laurie Frankel – This Is How It Always Is

This Is How It Always Is
Laurie Frankel

Penn couldn’t keep away from Rosie when she was interning as a doctor and he was writing his ‘damn novel’. When they inevitably get married, they know that they want a couple of kids – and end up with 4 boys before having a final run of getting a biological girl. Instead, they get Claude, who for his fifth birthday wants to ‘be a girl’. This novel is an exploration of what happens in a family, and a community, when a secret this big is kept for years.

This is from the perspective of the adults for the most part, but the omniscient narrator reveals all that you could hope for. It’s not ‘just another transgender novel’. Some of the lines from it are so memorable and touching that you will be tempted to cry. It’s ok – I cried, I’m not going to hold it against you.

I’ve left this too long before writing a review to give you a proper run-down of what I loved about it. Just reading other people’s reviews on GoodReads of this novel makes me want to read it again.

The author is a parent of a transgender child, but this is not her story. This is a fictionalised account which I think could reflect many families’ experiences when it comes to living with (and to an extent, explaining) a child with gender dysphoria. All I can say is that more novels like this help de-mystify gender dysphoria to the general population and perhaps will help reduce the horrifically high rate of transgender suicides.

I’ll give this the full five stars – I couldn’t stop reading it and talking about it to my partner. This is for adults, and fits a niche that George and Luna (both decent teenage/YA novels in their own rights) just don’t fill. I loved it, not because it was a niche novel, but because it was bloody well written.

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

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Review: Sally Hepworth – the mother’s promise

the mother’s promise
Sally Hepworth

Alice refuses to accept that she is dying. She’s come through other health scares before, because she doesn’t have a choice. She’s the only person in 15 year old Zoe’s life that Zoe can trust to any extent. As things progress, both Alice and Zoe must learn to let go – and so must Kate and Sonja.

This novel hit me. The writing is powerful and it makes the reader slip effortlessly inside each of the women’s minds. Each has a unique view of the world, and their place in it – it seems like they are running their lives, but really there are external, unknown factors making an impact. The reader will be invested irrevocably in the story.

I’ve tagged this as Women’s Fiction, but really that’s quite unfair. This novel is edgy and painful to read, and not soppy at all. It will make you hurt in the end, even if you are ambivalent about some of the characters.

I was on the edge of my seat towards the end. I couldn’t put it down and I stayed up far too late to see the ending. The ending was inevitable, and yet at the same time it had a twist that the reader might have seen coming. Oooh, spine-shiveringly good.

I think that I may need to revise my ratings system of 5 stars if I am going to reread it. I’m giving this novel 5 stars because it made me cry, and it made me feel everything that the women were going through.

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

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Review: Emily Reynolds – A Beginner’s Guide to Losing Your Mind

A Beginner’s Guide to Losing Your Mind
Emily Reynolds

Emily Reynolds struggled with depression from teenagerhood, ending in a period of psychosis that finally had her correctly diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder type I. This novel is her insights on how to cope, how to get help and how to speak to others about having a mental illness.

Emily has written a brilliant guide for those who might be affected by mental illness, either as a patient or as a concerned friend. Her articulation of the problems she faced in getting a diagnosis and getting well are ones that many with non-physical illnesses will recognise.

You’re going to need to be a bit insensitive to lots of swearing, the text is liberally scattered with them. But for me, this rang true as the mind of someone with mental health things going on. Sometimes just saying ‘f*** it’ is all you can do! And being sick is something that you can swear about.

At times, Emily’s conversational tone seems a little much for the ordinary reader, but there are real gems of wisdom in there. I particularly liked her section on relationships and how NOT to tell someone you have health problems! Emily says that every person is supposed to have a novel in them, but honestly I feel like Emily has already written mine!

Towards the end of the novel I started feeling quite weighed down by her discussions of suicide and self-harm. Although lighthearted, it’s not exactly easy reading. In addition, her frank discussions on the impact her uncontrolled illness had on her family were potentially unsettling. In fact, it came as quite a relief that a significant chunk was helpful resources and acknowledgements.

Buy this for a loved one, buy it for yourself. I am certain that the style of this novel will not be for anyone, but it is worth trying it out. Despite giving this 5 stars, I’m not sure it is going to remain on my shelf – I want it to get out there and be available for other people who are less experienced than I in this field.

Hachette Australia | 28th 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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Review: Sara Barnard – A Quiet Kind of Thunder

A Quiet Kind of Thunder
Sara Barnard

Steffi doesn’t talk and Rhys can’t hear. Thrown together because Steffi has a passing grasp of sign language, their friendship is something that might widen Steffi’s world – or perhaps make her life harder…

Ah, the depiction of first love is fantastic here. They are both equally awkward, and yet Barnard doesn’t make it contrite and irritating. Instead she seems to let it grow organically out of friendship. There is a matter of fact discussion and depiction of sex, and its not overly squeamish, yet still gets to the heart of the matter.

I knew I needed to read this novel, and then I found myself reading it in one setting because I enjoyed it so much. Something about the pacing, the characters, the individuality of telling a novel through including seamlessly incorporated texts, handsigns and emails – brilliant.

Social anxiety is something that is getting better coverage in all areas of fiction. This is not the first novel I have read that includes a protagonist who is a selective mutist. So Much To Tell You might be the first teenage novel that approached the topic, while The Things I Didn’t Say  is a more YA novel that approaches the question of love as well.

I’ve going to give this lovely novel 4 stars. I liked Beautiful Broken Things, and I’m really looking forward to more from this author.

As is understandable, Sara Barnard is a busy lady! I’ve got two interview questions that she was kind enough to answer for me though 🙂

Sex is something you’ve explored quite frankly in A Quiet Kind of Thunder? Why is that?

I try to approach everything I write about honestly, and I don’t think sex should be any different. I’m not interested in sugarcoating or romanticizing anything. With sex, I think young people are given enough of that as it is, and that’s confusing enough already. It’s not all soft sheets, pastel colours and fireworks! And I think teens deserve to see that reflected in their fiction.

Could you give us a hint into anything about your next novel?

It’s all under wraps at the moment, but I will tell you that friendship plays a major role again.

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Review: Andrew Mayne – The Name of the Devil (Jessica Blackwood #2)

The Name of the Devil
Andrew Maine

Jessica Blackwood grew up in a house full of magicians – the real-world kind who can hide in plain sight using nothing but mirrors. Turning her back on it after a near death experience, Jessica now uses her talents off the books in her work as an FBI cop. When a Church seems to explore on its own accord, Jessica can find things with her instincts that noone else can.

If you haven’t read Angel Killer you will feel quite confused about what is happening, and what experiences Jessica already has. Go back and read it right now! I’ll be waiting right here for you, or possible be rereading it over your shoulder.

I loved the first novel in this series, and immediately contacted the publisher to see when the next would be out. Sadly, this was one of those novels that was published later in Australia than in the US, so I decided to wait. Instead, my partner bought me a copy for Christmas and I immediately started reading it then and there under the tree!

This novel is nifty because while it uses the ‘traditional’ magicians’ tricks to explain the unexplainable, some science also comes into it. Jessica’s unflinching strength of will could have been annoying, but instead it was consistent with the person I knew she was.

This reminds me of the Kendra novels, where the protagonist is also excellent at working out things from tiny cues that no-one else would ever pick up. As I said there, I like being given enough details that I could conceivably work it out for myself – even if I don’t know anything about crime solving.

5 stars from me. An engaging plot line, conceivable threats and an endearing and realistic main character whose no-nonsense approach to almost everything will excite you.

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Review: Emily Barr – The One Memory of Flora Banks

The One Memory of Flora Banks
Emily Barr

Flora has anterograde amnesia. The only things she can remember are the things that happened before she was 10, and had to have a tumour removed from her brain. Then she kisses a boy, and she can remember the kiss. She goes off her medication and goes out to explore life.

Flora, you’re a little naive, and I can understand why your parents want to protect you. Ok, so you are a lot naive. What is to say bad things haven’t happened? I’m not sure you would have remembered, and so as an unreliable narrator, we would never hear about it.

I almost cried in the last couple of chapters of this novel. My heart hurt! How could I not have seen this coming? Barr grabs your heart, tickles it gently, then next minute, boom!

I found myself so engrossed in the story that I couldn’t put it down. I wandered around the house reading it, feeling like I was the one with memory loss. What was it I was supposed to be doing again?

As a debut YA novel from Barr (she has written a number of adult novels already), this novel is screaming for you to read it, and for Barr to write more. For something that was tagged ‘just another typical YA’ by my (albeit non-reading) partner, this novel will grab you.

It’s rare a novel will draw me to tears and for that, I’m giving this one 5 stars. Perhaps I won’t reread it, but it was beautiful storytelling that I want you to go out and buy immediately. Or borrow a copy from the library – but try not to leave tears on the pages.

Penguin Random House | 3rd January 2017 | AU$19.99 | Paperback

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Review: Simon Holland – A Miscellany of Magical Beasts

A Miscellany of Magical Beasts
Simon Holland

Discover the spellbinding stories of sixteen favorite mythical creatures from around the world. Dragons and griffins through to mermaids and giants, this lovingly illustrated novel will be for you.

With gorgeous illustrations and catchy little bits of story about mythical creatures, this large format children’s book is going to suit a range of fantasy enthusiasts. Perhaps you aren’t ready to read a big book of mythology? Perhaps you just want to have a taster of it? This is the book for you.

Of course, my favourite part was bound to be about dragons, and there wasn’t enough detail here for me. But for a beginner, it’s a nice introduction.

This has got to be the perfect gift for the younger someone who wants to know more about mythology past JK Rowling’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. I’ll be giving it to a 7 year old beginning reader who is simply going to love it.

Bloomsbury | 20th November 2016 | AU $29.99 | Paperback

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