Review: Angelo Surmelis – the dangerous art of blending in

the dangerous art of blending in
Angelo Surmelis

Evan has been trying to fit into society and his family his whole life. But with violence at home, and the knowledge that he kissed a boy in summer at Bible camp, Evan is probably never going to manage it. As his life goes from barely tolerable to horrific, Evan has to decide how he is going to shape his life from here.

I didn’t understand the obsession with money, except as a way of having more control over Evan. Evan’s father seemed like a sensible enough man, even if he was trapped by what the Greek community told him was normal.

Oh Gods. This novel ripped me apart. While reading it, I felt like my heart was going to break, and when I finished it, I felt like I needed a cuddle from my own partner to remind me that not all of the world is filled with idiots.

This novel powerfully tackles domestic abuse (from a female perpetrator, no less) and coming out as gay in a community that doesn’t understand it. It brought back memories of my own high school years, and the experiences I have heard from many other Queer people. I loved the authenticity of this novel, which came from it being written based on the experiences of the author. That a person had to go through that as a child, well, it brings me to tears.

How much actually happens in this novel? I spent a lot of the novel anticipating what Evan’s mother was going to do to him next, and not as much paying attention to the action. That anticipation and climax is what lets me give this novel 5 stars.

Penguin Random House | 12th February 2018 | AU$19.99 | paperback

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Review: Shivaun Plozza – Tin Heart

Tin Heart
Shivaun Plozza

Marlowe has been lucky enough to get the new heart she needed, but blending in with a campaigning vegan mother and a costume wearing little brother is almost impossible. Not to mention having a little crush and ongoing feud with the boy next door… it’s a pity he’s a butcher! Who is she now that she has someone else’s heart?

Plozza’s debut novel, Frankie, was excellent, so I was looking forward to another novel from her. I was not disappointed by this one! Marlowe isn’t what you expect out of a YA/teenage protagonist, and that refreshed what could have otherwise been ‘just another teenage romance’. Marlowe is struggling with real issues, just like Frankie, and Plozza’s dialogue and scene setting lights the way for an engrossing story.

I always wonder if authors feel like writing a parallel/sequel hybrid novel of the supporting characters. I’m sure that there could have been a lot more explored following this novel with Zan/Kari as a protagonist. Then again, I think I’d just like to see more unlikely protagonists. I’d be interested to see this author’s take on a same-sex relationship.

Another novel I recently read,also concerns a heart transplant person (funnily enough). In Out of Heart, the heart recipient comes and sits in the lounge room of the donor family. The heart is known by science to carry memories and inclinations with it, and it of course holds a lot of sentimental value for organ donors.

Anything that promotes organ donation is a positive for me. Funnily enough, my partner’s boss at work needed a lung transplant, and his gift of life happened during an unexpected rain storm too. There were two false alarms (the lungs died in transport) before he finally got his lungs. A warning to all – be careful driving during unexpected weather, else you may give up your life by accident, although you might save other people by doing so.

Get your hands on this novel for yourself or your YA reader. 5 stars from me, it’s going straight to my re-read list. Now, if only I had time…

Penguin Random House | March 2018 | paperback

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Review: Gregg Hurwitz – Last Chance

Last Chance
Gregg Hurwitz

Chance Rain has made it through the last gasp of their plan to kill the Queen and free their home town. Too bad that the aliens can simply replace her with another. With the impregnated kids ready to hatch the next generation of invaders, Chance might be able to stop it – but it will cost him his life.

I received this, and then I literally gobbled it up for 3-4 hours. I knew that it would be good, having loved The Rains so much. I love the amount of thought that has gone into this novel. The stages of the invasion, the stages of the invaders themselves. The action happened so fast sometimes that I couldn’t breathe.

Alex, you two-timing teenager. I know there is an actual phenomenon of there being more marriage proposals after major catastrophes, due to emotions running high. But at the same time, Alex, didn’t anyone teach you about the rules of dating? You don’t shag two people at the same time, let alone two brothers.  

I hate to think of what happens next though. A population filled with kids no older than 18? All over the world? I mean, a lot have died off, but even the smart ones haven’t necessarily survived. Not to mention – how are all the countries to be saved, when originally the spread was via lots of meteors landing? So many skills would be lost.

I actually had this discussion with a Professor last night. Despite what the media says, many countries are now having negative population growth. This, combined with an aging population that needs more care, means that despite robots potentially taking over the world there will be plenty of jobs left. Humans have creativity, which might be our savior.

Go get your hands on this novel. I think I would even reread it, that’s how attached I got to the characters. 5 stars.

Penguin Random House | 2nd January 2018 | AU$19.99 | paperback

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Review: Nowhere Near You – Leah Thomas

Nowhere Near You
Leah Thomas

Ollie is out to see the world. Clad in his rock wool beanie to stop himself shorting out every electronic in sight, he’s going to document the stories of every weirdling out there Moritz is getting out to see the world too – and having people accept him, eyeless face and all.

So many lies! So many betrayals! So many twists! So much still unsaid! This novel was filled with excited Ollie chatter, and it filled me with his infectious glee as well. And of course, Moritz’s mainly calming influence. Two boys who grow up (at least a little bit), by facing the world. And just because they are different doesn’t mean that they don’t face the usual teenage problems like falling in love or learning how to deal with school

Oh why didn’t Ollie get to say goodbye? It was already too late after all. Except that ‘Stashe was still trying to hide the truth. Seriously dude, leave it already! The truth always outs, or something like that. That message forum was brilliant. I can’t wait to see what comes out of it. The internet is a wonderful thing.

Why did I wait so long to review this fabulous novel? Well, the problem was that it was the sequel to Because You’ll Never Meet Me, and I didn’t have access to a copy! I had started reading this one, but felt completely confused so I returned it. I got a local library membership recently and actually used it to read the eBook.

I want a sequel. Surely there is something for Ollie! It’s so unfair, but when is life? At least he should be able to keep himself occupied a little better… I’m giving this 5 stars, I was so taken by it. I have a friend I am going to lend it to asap as well.

Bloomsbury | 1st March 2017 | AU$15.99 | paperback

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Review: Vic James – Tarnished City

Tarnished City
Vic James

Luke is now a different kind of prisoner – actually imprisoned on an island to await torture and very eventual death. His sister Abi is determined to free him – but who will she end up having to side with to get there? The Jardines are determined to have power, but how many of them are actually interested in it?

This is the same lovely mix of magic and slavery that I enjoyed in the first novel of this series, Gilded Cage. I waited impatiently for this novel, and I was not disappointed. What is it about these novels that draws me in?

I find the method of torture practiced on Luke to be interesting, and it’s great that Vic James has spent a lot of time developing a selection of different story lines. This is one of the few novels in which I actually enjoy the multiple perspectives because each character has a very distinctive ‘voice’.

When I returned to my main bookshelf to install this novel in its rightful place, I wanted to revisit the first novel immediately! But it has now been some time since I read this novel, and of course still more novels vie for my attention. In my opinion, the first novel might have been more exciting for action and daring, but this novel is filled with intrigue.

I’m giving this novel 5 stars for its gripping and sometimes unexpected plot, and also giving an appreciative mention to the interesting philosophical questions that it raises.

Pan Macmillan | 12th September 2017 | AU$19.99 | paperback

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The 18 Best Reads of 2017

Best Reads of 2017

I thought about the new year coming, and that I had best give you a quick overview of what my highlights were! I also found it interesting to discover that some of my favourite authors, such as Juliet Marillier, were not on the list. Maybe I can hope for more novels from them in 2018…

January: Emily Barr – The One Memory of Flora Banks and Sara Barnard – A Quiet Kind of Thunder. Both of these novels are worthy YA novels that tackle interesting neurological disorders.

FebruaryVic James – Gilded Cage and Emily Reynolds – A Beginner’s Guide to Losing Your Mind. A nice fantasy/futuristic novel and another neurological offering (but this time a personal story).

MarchSally Hepworth – the mother’s promise and Laurie Frankel – This Is How It Always Is. These two novels took us out of YA territory and into more Adult fiction. The former novel looked at a hypothetical problem, while the latter looked at real life gender non-conformity.

AprilBrigid Kemmerer – Letters to the LostJohn Scalzi – The Collapsing Empire and Amy Tintera – Avenged. Three hits here, another YA, the only Sci-Fi of the year and a Fantasy. Avenged was the second novel from Ruined in 2016.

May: I spent some time overseas in May, and thus, no 5-star reviews here either.

JuneEmery Lord – The Names They Gave Us. Just one novel this month, a fabulous YA novel from an author I am coming to adore. Another of her novels starred in November. When We Collided is her novel from 2016.

JulyKathleen Duey – Sacred Scars. I had reviewed Skin Hunger, and read this one at the same time, but I took a long time to get around to reviewing it. Actually, this is not even a new novel to my shelf or new in any sense of the word. Many years later we are still waiting on the third and final novel in this series…

August: No novels reviewed here, due to my PhD completion. I’m Dr. Herbert now!

SeptemberMegan Jacobson – the build-up season. This YA novel was a worthy successor to her first novel, yellow. Once again, Jacobson attempted to address some holes in YA fiction with interesting family relationships.

OctoberAllison Rushby – The Fifth Room. Here we have a bit of science, and another hypothetical. How far would you go to do the experiments you wanted to do?

NovemberAJ Conway – The SuccessorKrystal Sutherland – A Semi-Definitive List of Worst Nightmares and Emery Lord – the start of me and you. Conway’s other novels My Nova (2012) and Skyquakers (2016) are more Sci-Fi, while this novel is a straight fiction. Krystal Sutherland follows in the great YA standard she set in Our Chemical Hearts. And finally we see a third brilliant novel from Emery Lord (which honestly I didn’t expect, as when there is more than one novel per year by an author, I start to worry about quality).

DecemberKatie Kennedy – Learning to Swear in America and Garth Nix – A Confusion of Princes. Finally we see one of my old favourite authors here, Garth Nix. Technically this novel probably isn’t a 5 stars for me any more, but it was still awesome for its age-bracket. Learning to Swear in America brought a little science back into YA to round out the year!

Keep in mind that I did not get around to reviewing some of these novels until well after their release dates. That means that for those where you can expect a sequel, well, those are almost released! This includes ‘Gilded Cage’, expect a review of the second novel, Tarnished City on the 9th of January 2018. There are also some novels left that I have read but not reviewed, and these will now roll over to 2018.

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Review: Garth Nix – A Confusion of Princes

A Confusion of Princes
Garth Nix

Khemri is Prince. But unfortunately, there are 999 other candidates for Emperor – and the rest are not as new to their roles as he is. With less than 2 years to prepare before the Emperor resigns, Khemri is asked to go on seemingly innocuous missions to prove his worth.

This is a usual good-quality Garth Nix novel that didn’t disappoint me. The main character Khemri certainly develops as a character, and it is interesting to see his progression/regression from Prince to person. Basically Khemri is ripped away from everything that is familiar, and then thrust into a world that not only does he have faulty information about, but also is out to kill him. The ending really came as a surprise to me. Wow!

I confess, I rescued this novel from a garbage bin. My copy was donated to the op-shop where I volunteer, and it was a rather badly beaten up ex-library copy, not even good enough to pass on for a book sale. Never fear though, it will now have a long and healthy life on my shelf.

You could consider this sci-fi, but it is very light sci-fi, perfect for a teenager to get into the genre for the first time. I confess that I am probably too old for this novel now, which is why I have starred this as both 4 and 5 stars. But if I need a light read, and Garth Nix is calling my name, this one might be it (or Eoin Colfer’s The Supernaturalists).

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Review: Katie Kennedy – Learning to Swear in America

Learning to Swear in America
Katie Kennedy

Yuri’s Doctoral work should win him a Nobel prize – it’s not like everyone can use physics to analyse antimatter to divert a meteor from destroying Earth. There’s only one small problem – he has to leave his native Russia and come to the USA, and he doesn’t speak the language. A local teenager he meets by chance might show him why the lives he can save are actually worth saving.

I love how Yuri analyzes scientifically everything that goes on in his head. It reminds me of how I read everything that passes by me too. Yuri’s English isn’t that great, but he certainly can speak a language beyond what is offered. I love Yuri’s stubborn nature, and how he sticks to his goals. And how brilliant he is! How one boy can have so much knowledge, and yet know so little, astounds me.

NB: You won’t actually really be learning how to swear in America(n). The swear words here are very mild, and still perfectly suited to teenagers that are sensitive to swearing in novels.

There’s lots more young adult novels coming out now about the importance of science, particularly astrophysics, including The Square Root of Summer and Stargazing for BeginnersMost people think of Newton’s apple when they think about physics – but there is so much more to it! Physics is the beginning of time-travel, and once we have explored the current natural world (think biology and chemistry), it’s important to examine more of things outside of earth.

I swear to you that I previously reviewed this novel, but apparently it has been eaten by something. So, I just had to reread a little bit of it to make sure it was as good as I had previously thought it to be. I realised then that I had gobbled it up on the first sitting, and didn’t remember all of the fabulous punch-lines as well as I could. 5-stars from me. Don’t let its plain cover fool you – it hides an entrancing storyline inside.

Bloomsbury | 1st August 2017 | AU $12.99 | paperback

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Review: Emery Lord – the start of me and you

the start of me and you
Emery Lord

Paige only dated her first boyfriend for two months before he drowned. Her life is filled with pitying looks from sympathetic strangers – which she doesn’t feel like she deserves. When she decides that this year is the year to get her life going forwards again, she makes a list of increasingly unlikely things to do.

This novel was engaging, powerful and awesome! I’m not sure that it was quite on the same level as When We Collided or The Names They gave Us though. I wasn’t expecting to see another novel from Emery Lord so soon, and I worry about the push by someone to churn out too many novels.

It seems like teenagers constantly forget that other people have feelings! Was I ever like that? Everyone makes mistakes, especially when they don’t know what first love looks like. The heart leads everyone so falsely! Not to mention the dangers of keeping a journal.

I enjoyed reading about Paige, but I did wish that there was a little more substance to her. It’s hard to explain, but she didn’t feel as real to me as some other characters. I also would have benefitted from a bit more about the motivations of the other characters, but it’s hard to see that in a first-person narrative.

Past me, you’re a terrible person. All I can remember after having left this review too late is that it left me wanting to cry in parts, and to celebrate in others. That’s ok! I’ll just pick it up and flick through it…. several hours later. Oops? I reread it. I guess that gives it 5 stars… but I’d recommend reading her other two novels first if you have limited reading time.

Bloomsbury | 1st November 2017 | AU $14.99 | paperback

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Review: Krystal Sutherland – A Semi-Definitive List of Worst Nightmares

A Semi-Definitive List of Worst Nightmares
Krystal Sutherland

Esther Solar is cursed by Death. So is the rest of their family – eventually their phobias will kill them. So far, Esther has avoided learning what her phobia is, but she’s got a very long list of what might become a full blown phobia. An unexpected relationship blooms when she decides to face each phobia one by one – and maybe it’s not Death that’s causing all the problems.

I loved this novel so much. I loved Our Chemical Hearts by this author, and couldn’t wait to receive and read this one. I wasn’t expecting it to come so quickly after I requested it. I was in the final stages of submitting my PhD, and I still made time to read it. Ahhh. So worth it.

Facing your fears can be really difficult, and facing them with a mental illness in tow is even harder. Jonah and Esther’s relationship allows them to both make progress, even with the hang-ups they still hold from Primary School! I loved Esther as a character, and I liked the way the other characters weren’t defined by their illnesses – because they were defined as their curses instead.

I’m not sure it is fair to let the problem of love to be a phobia. I think that blurb lies to me! And also, it set me up for expecting the whole thing to be a bloody romance, when the novel was much more than that. Not to mention the pastel pink tinting of the cover. Trust me, just ignore the cover and dive straight into the novel.

Wow, this novel fits so much in. Anxiety, addiction, selective mutism (eg. A Quiet Kind of Thunder and The Things I Didn’t Say), abuse, the whole shebang! Love, love, love. I admit, even though I had a half-written review here waiting for me to finish, I did do a little rereading… So 5 stars from me.

Penguin Random House | 28th August 2017 | AU $19.99 | paperback

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