Reviews: Unfinished Novels #5

I have a series of novels that I have never finished reading and in some cases, couldn’t face reading at all. In the interests of freeing up space on my bookshelves, and letting other people have a chance to read them, I have released these novels into the wild – either by giving them to people who might enjoy them, or attempting to sell them on eBay.

The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner

I was so theoretically excited for this novel! I saw in when in a physical bookstore and I found both the cover and the context interesting. When I was looking for an audiobook, I saw it! So I downloaded it and was ready to settle in for some engrossing reading. Unfortunately it wasn’t to be. The reader sounded in pain, and the perspective of the “aspiring historian Caroline Parcewell” sounded self-absorbed and boring. I tried to listen to it on two separate occasions but I just couldn’t bare it. Maybe it would have been better if I had read it myself? Anyway, there are a lot more great novels out there waiting for me, so I’ll be passing on this one.

Believe – Sam Frost

Ugh, is there such a thing as too much positivity? I’m all about thinking in a positive way about negative environments and people, but at the same time, I’m not sure I need that much of it poured into a book. I picked this up and found myself rolling my eyes at the over-the-top nature of the book from the very first page. I also read out some snippets mockingly. Rather than continuing to read, I just returned it to the shelf and haven’t had any desire to pick it back up again. Give me a medical memoir any day.

Hachette | 30 March 2022 | AU$32.99 | paperback

Angel Mage – Garth Nix

I can hardly believe that I’m putting a Nix book in a DNF post. However, this book is really average. I picked it as a talking book for the whole family because I know Sanderson isn’t to everyone’s taste (takes too long to get into, too many characters etc). It was just so boring! Only one of the four young people is of interest, and she sounds so dopey I couldn’t enjoy it. I didn’t even hang around long enough to learn about the ending. I was vaguely interested in how Lilith was going to get the guy, but in the end I didn’t care enough to finish listening.

Review: Shirley Marr – All Four Quarters of the Moon

All Four Quarters of the Moon
Shirley Marr

Peijing is not that sure about moving to Australia, but she knows that as long as her family is together it’ll be ok. She’s the dependable (and responsible) big sister for Biju and she’s determined to keep things steady. There’s a couple of problems though – Ma Ma is no longer dressing well, Ah Ma (grandmother) is forgetful and Ba Ba doesn’t know what to do when not working.

Interspersed with storytelling from Biju, the narrative moves smoothly through the first year of Peojing’s time in Australia. The prose is lyrical, and you can only hope that it’s an easy and enjoyable read for younger readers. It certainly was for me! I enjoyed it as something light and refreshing inbetween all the non-fiction I’ve been enjoying at the moment.

The novel reminded me of Tiger Daughter – but with a more satisfying ending! Also, although some themes are similar, to me, All Four Quarters of the Moon was more detailed and accessible. The transistion of moving to Australia, not fitting in well with the culture, and finding it difficult to let go of old traditions is compelling and meaningful. However, you can’t think that that’s it for the novel – it also touches on alcohol abuse and bullying.

I actually received an ARC for this novel, but somehow it slipped past my radar. I’d recommend it as suitable for any primary school-aged young person or as a read-aloud for parents. It’s not just about cultural differences, it’s also about friendships and family relationships. 4 stars from me.

Penguin Tina Gumnior | 5th July 2022 | AU$16.99 | paperback

Review: Kate Emery – The Not So Chosen One

The Not So Chosen One
Kate Emery

Lucy’s keeping her cool – she’s got homework, friends and needs to be at home on time. She just won’t think about the fact that she’s pregnant. To top it off, she’s suddenly been offered entry into the prestigious Drake’s College – but she doesn’t seem to have any magical abilities?

This book was fantastic… right until the last 10 pages or so. How can this book not have a sequel? Then I thought back along the book and went.. uh, enough plot holes, anyone? I received an ARC of this novel, but the ending made me so disappointed I couldn’t bring myself to review it. Maybe it was improved further before going to publication?

I liked Lucy, even if she was really quite an idiot at times. Seriously girl, get yo’sef together! She definitely could have done a better job at paying attention and putting clues together. Maybe she has baby brain? I could have done with a bit more in terms of context and some of the plot twists just seemed to be twists for the hell of it rather than actual useful storyline. That said, I was really realy invested in the ending!

I’m giving it 2 stars, although I considered giving it only 1 star. The ending is so terrible that you shouldn’t let yourself read this book unless a second is published. And I’d want that sequel to be published, not just ‘in writing’ before committing. I’m still sad about the ending…

Text Publishing | 5 July 2022 | AU$19.99 | paperback

Review: Alice Boyle – Dancing Barefoot

Alice Boyle
Dancing Barefoot

Patch has crushed on Evie for forever! Unrequitedly, of course. Patch knows she’s the least likely person for Evie to get involved with – but that doesn’t mean she can’t ogle Evie when she gets the chance. There’s only the tiny hurdle of not having even admitted to herself that she’s gay, her terrible hair and trans best friend. Can Patch make it past the things working against her?

This novel was phenomenal, and I don’t use that term lightly. I’ve just finished reading it and I’m still having happy thoughts and feeling a warm cuddliness towards the characters. I loved Patch, I loved Evie and I loved Edwin. I even loved Abigail just a slight bit too – even if when her motivation came out it didn’t actually make sense with the time chronology of the novel. I read an ARC, so maybe that’s been ironed out by the time this review goes live.

I’m not 100% in love with the title, but the cover makes up for it I think. It nicely reflects that even if you’re in love for the first time, it can’t just be about two people. Patch knows she has great things in life, but that doesn’t mean that she isn’t nervous. Most of the action time in this book really is action time without too much ‘this is highschool and it sucks’.

What I particularly liked was the treatment of Edwin being trans. Some other authors make a huge deal out of it and their main character often struggles to remember the right pronouns for their best friend. Here, Edwin is already one of the guys. It’s a fact. I also like how Patch still feels awkward to come out to anyone, even if it’s probably that Edwin won’t care.

Is it too niche for Patch to be gay, with a single dad, a trans best friend, a scholarship kid at a swanky private college and amazing at art? Have I read too many novels where the lesbian main character is special in some way? Ok, maybe. But this novel makes it into my top of the list for lesbian teenage romances.

In the same way that I loved Jack of Hearts (and other parts) and Camp for their ‘real’ dramas, this novel creates a genuine Melbourne feel and an Australian-ness that isn’t overdone and beachy. I want to spread my love of this novel as far as possible! I want it to be on recommended reading or as a highschool English text.

I feel so distracted and unable to stop thinking about this novel. I don’t feel ready to leave Patch’s home turf – maybe I’ll just have to read a non-fiction book next instead. 5 stars from me.

Text Publishing | 30 August 2022 | AU$24.99 | paperback

Review: Megan Whalen Turner – The Thief

The Thief
Megan Turner

Gen has been rotting in a cell for what feels like forever. Caught for boasting about his thieving prowess, the only way he will escape is to be transferred – or perhaps there will be an impossible mission to undertake. Slung along with the magus’ apprentices and a body guard, Gen is sure he will go hungry on the way to the treasure (if it even exists).

I knew Gen was up to something, I knew it! This is definitely a novel about the journey, and not about character development. I don’t know why I was quite so invested in Gen – maybe because I just knew there had to be some reason behind everything that seemed to be reasonable at face value?

I wanted something physically small to take with me to read, and also wanted something light that didn’t require much brain power to enjoy. This book fit it perfectly, and I really enjoyed it. I actually think that I’m going to read it again in future, although the twists won’t be quite the same.

Imagine my horror at getting to the end, and then discovering there was a next book! Then, backflipping, because it appears this book is old (in book years at least – 1996!), and so all the other books already exist for me to read! I’m very excited to go and find the others, and very grateful that this book made its way to me so that I could discover a new author.

This is light, innocuous reading that’s suitable for perhaps ages 10+ depending on the maturity of the reader. There’s some violence, but it’s not gratuitous or particularly vivid (although Gen’s aches and pains following it are nicely described!). 4 stars from me.

Hachette | 1st March 2022 | AU$19.99 | paperback

Review: Mercedes Lackey – The Silver Bullets of Annie Oakley

The Silver Bullets of Annie Oakley
Mercedes Lackey

Annie’s got an eye to shoot and a brilliant husband who doesn’t care that his wife out shoots him! In her past she’s haunted by a hungry childhood in which she encountered a He-wolf who tried to take her magic for himself. After realising that magic is real, Annie has to make a decision – to train as a magician or go back to her regular life.

It’s obvious that Lackey has been paying attention to the media in terms of trying to get more obvious acknowledgement of poverty into the spotlight. There are hundreds of people who go hungry every day, including those who starve to death. I really like it when my favourite authors try to bring visibility to these issues.

However, this was a disappointing novel. It unfortunately followed the format of many of the most recent Elemental MastersΒ by Lackey in that a lot of time was spent on the minutiae of life as a travelling circus performer and very little on the magic side of things. The handful of encounters with ‘baddies’ were unsatisfying and average. I also think I picked up a handful of plot holes.

Three stars from me. I’m unimpressed by this latest offering and I won’t be purchasing it for my shelf. Lackey, please go back to writing your original ideas rather than trying to take existing historical figures and trying to write magic into them.

Review: Mercedes Lackey – Beyond

Beyond
Mercedes Lackey

Duke Valdemar has always loved his land and his people. Forever watching out for the Emperor and his spies, Valdemar plans for the future – an escape to the West where the Empire does not yet reach. When he is summoned to the capital, it is up to him to deflect the Emperor’s interest from his home dutchy, and trust that the Plan can take place without him.

I liked Duke Valdemar and I didn’t have any objections to the second perspective of his sister-in-law. The opening pages make it seem as if Delia will have a big role to play, but as yet, she hasn’t achieved anything major during the novel. The Duke on the other hand has his nose poked in everywhere, and is devious to boot! His compassion and humility could read as trite, but his approach to life is always consistent.

This is the first Lackey novel I have read for a while. After reading the Collegium Chronicles, The Herald Spy and Family Spies (so bad, I didn’t even review it) I felt burnt out and disappointed. Lackey seemed to be pumping out weaker novels that didn’t follow her original pattern of duology/trilogy and were poorly edited, written and unnecessarily wordy. Thankfully, Beyond breaks that pattern in being a well-written first novel. I hope it is a trilogy and not a pentology.

The second book in the series is due to be published this year, and I await it with bated breath and the hope that it is equally as good as this one. We will see. 4 stars for this novel.

Review: Kathy Reichs – Temperance Brennan Series (books 1-8)

Temperance Brennan Series (books 1-8)
Kathy Reichs

“Dr. Temperance “Tempe” Brennan is a forensic anthropologist, who investigates human remains at crime scenes where the flesh is too degraded for a coroner to obtain evidence (victims of arson, mutilation, advanced decomposition, etc.). She is a native of the Carolinas and one of only fifty board-certified forensic anthropologists in North America.”

Let’s hear it for a middle-aged, moderately attractive, highly skilled scientist. One of the best parts about these novels is that Tempe is highly flawed and quite relatable. I love the science that is inherent in everything she does, and I have a morbid interest in death in all its forms!

Let it be said that the only reason I decided to read these is because I enjoyed the TV series “Bones”. The reason I stopped watching Bones is very much like the reason I stopped reading these – they became repetitive. I mean sure, it’s a different victim and a different death measure, but overall the theme is the same. Temperance always catches the bad guy, and her sidekicks are always telling her she knows nothing.

These did make good retelling stories when asked to fill a silence in the car! My only problem was that I wasn’t sure how much of it was likely or true. For example, there is a case where the victim has been removed from Mt Everest in an icey form! There is a ‘Death Zone’ which is just colourful from all the jackets of people who have frozen to death there… Likely? Maybe (yes it is, and you can check out this link for more!).

I’ll give these 3-4 stars – once I started each novel, I had a compulsive need to keep reading it, but I wouldn’t go and reread them now that I know who the bad guy is!

Review: Jennifer Niven – All the Bright Places

All the Bright PLaces
Jennifer Niven

Finch doesn’t have aΒ  problem, he just doesn’t want to go back into the ‘asleep’. Violet isn’t sure how to move past the death of her sister. They meet on the edge of the belltower, and talk each other off the ledge. Finch is desperately treading water, and attempting not to get expelled. As the two teenagers collide, will either of them survive?

This novel forced me to read it. I couldn’t put it down and it thoroughly distracted me from real life. I saw it while idlily looking for an audiobook to listen to on my phone. I HATE reading on my phone, but somehow I got sucked in. Then I had all of the feelings that kept me reading it.

This novel could be considered trigger warning-ed for mental illness, teenage drinking, eating disorders etc. However, I’ve read that trigger warnings aren’t actually useful, so never mind…

I didn’t want the novel to end the way it did. And yet, it sort of had to end like that. I thought that the storyline ended what seemed an inevitable downstream slide so it wasn’t unexpected. But I guess most humans hope for a positive outcome, even if realistically it’s not going to happen.

Ok, let’s talk about the problems of this novel. Other reviewers have commented about the behaviour of the adults of this novel being poor – they did nothing to aid the grief or depression of the main characters. This, for me, was actually very close to home. I emoted very strongly with Finch who maintained that there was nothing wrong with him, and kept reassuring people he was fine. I know what it feels like to be outwardly ok, but inside actually really wanting someone to care. So for Finch’s parents to be indifferent was normal. Not ideal, but that’s where this book succeeds at reflecting what high school actually looks like.

Equally, the approach by Violet to Finch’s mental illness, and her experiences at parties were quite shallow, but again, most real life instances are going to have this. A disclosure of suicidal thoughts and an indifference to them is pretty common!

It’s not a perfect YA novel, because we don’t see very much representation from people of colour, women’s worth (as anything other than a sex provider) or queer folk. However, I would argue that again, this is something that is common at least in Australian schools – the population is extremely Anglo-Saxon and we didn’t even had a token person of colour! What I’m trying to say is, this book really only tackles two issues – mental illness/suicide and grief/loss. If you’re looking for more than that, look elsewhere.

Review: Jodi McAlister – Here for the Right Reasons

Here for the Right Reasons
Jodi McAlister

Cece James has worked hard to get out of her foster care system background. It’s so hard though, when you work from day to day and don’t have any financial or family support. She has her two closest friends, but no ‘man’ to look after her either. When she drunkenly applies to a dating show, she’s horrified and then relieved, to be accepted – she needs the cash to survive the Pandemic.

This is another novel I sort of gulped down on a plane trip. I polished it off between Melbourne and Perth, so I know it was around a 2-3 hour read for me. Something nice and light, fluffy and not too much hard brain work required! Let’s just say that I could see the ending coming by a mile off, but still kept reading and still was a little surprised by the end!

Something that didn’t make that much sense to me was the way that they were locked in the Convent. If she didn’t know if she was being paid, how was her rent outside the set being paid for? Did it just auto-deduct? Or was it paused because this was the first lockdown and renters were getting extensions on their payments? Anyway…

Perhaps you know someone who loves The Bachelor or Married at First Sight. If you enjoy those, you’re going to definitely enjoy this one! It had reminiscent vibes for me as Love Plus One and now I want to go and reread that novel too! Maybe I’m feeling jetlagged, but I’m giving this 4 stars.

 

Simon & Schuster | 1st July 2022 | AU$19.99 | paperback