Review: KH Canobi – Mindcull

KH Canobi

Eila is short-listed in a Virtual Reality competition to become the Face of Pearl. All she needs to do is go to a luxurious English getaway and enjoy sessions in fully immersive VR SkinSuit technology. After being kidnapped and forced to spy for the law, Eila has to decide who are the right people to trust, and who to save.

I really liked the concept and entry to this novel – VR being used to camouflage the ugly and dead real world, and yet Eila still being pulled back by the simple method of someone chasing her! However even though this novel was fast-paced, or perhaps because of it, there were too many loose ends for me to feel properly satisfied.

I was strangely disappointed in this novel. Eila should come across as a plucky heroine, but instead she seems to be bowled over by Hugo’s charm and seems quite whiny.  Everyone was just a little too understanding and ‘cool’ about absolutely everything. I think the author attempted too many twists, and thus there were too many just ‘coincidences’. We never get to the bottom of why Elia’s parents don’t seem to exist anymore. Or whether the therapy for Discordants works or not. I’d say it was being left open for a sequel to answer these questions, but I can’t see anywhere else for the admittedly shallow plot to go.

If you’re thinking of Ford Street as a forward-thinking and innovative thinking publishing house, you’d be right. That’s one of the reasons I was not surprised to see that they had taken on this novel. They’re also the most recent publishers of Alyzon Whitestarr by the wonderful Isobelle Carmody. However this novel’s a miss – I’m giving it 3 stars and directing you to go read Ready Player One instead.

Ford Street | 1st June 2019 | AU$19.95 | paperback

Review: Hayley Barker – Show Stopper

Show Stopper
Hayley Barker

Ben lives a Pure life guarded by security and filled with food and comfort. He never wants for anything – except to be allowed to see the Circus. Hoshiko is the tightrope walker of the circus – a Dreg not worthy of food and just waiting to be killed. When Ben saves Hoshiko from death they find themselves walking the tightrope together – can they both make it out from the deadly circus alive?

The blurb on this one is actually inaccurate. The Dregs living in poverty do not get the opportunity to sell their children – their children are just ripped away from them if they are ‘selected’. What I would have liked to see more of was the slums and how bad they actually are. Or, just Pure life and what it looks like normally. To me, this is just another dystopian future society with problems, there isn’t anything particularly neat about it. I found it hard to believe in the insta-love between Ben and Hoshiko. I also find it difficult to believe in the things that the 6 year old Greta can accomplish by herself. I get that she is really grownup from her terrible circumstances, but realistically she wouldn’t be able to grasp all of those concepts.

This is the age old theme of us vs them. We get the perspectives of both the Cat and Ben, the Dreg and the Pure. This will remind some readers of Red Queen or Tarnished City and similar novels. What this novel brings to the table is just simple horribleness without magic as an excuse. The author says that she was inspired by the opinions of the English against immigrants, and I have to say it’s one of the few issues that makes me really upset. Asylum seekers didn’t risk their lives on a rickety boat because life back home was good!

I warmed up to the characters and settled in, and I was mainly satisfied by the ending. I am not going to avidly hunt down the next novel in this duology though because I just didn’t feel strongly enough about anything. I’d rather reread Disruption. I put off reading Show Stopper for more than a !year! because it looked ok, but not fascinating. The blurb didn’t grab me. I’m giving this novel 3 stars.

Scholastic | 1st October 2017 | AU$16.99 | paperback

Review: Scott Westerfeld, Margo Lanagan & Deborah Biancotti – Nexus

Scott Westerfeld, Margo Lanagan & Deborah Biancotti

The Zeroes have gone from Heroes to terrorists. With their Glorious Leader Nate locked up for shooting Swarm, the remaining four are a bit lost in what to do next. Instead of being hunted by Swarm, the police hunt them. But there are larger forces at work here – and greater powers than theirs.

A quick reminder: The premise that babies born in the year 2000 are humanity’s glitch is interesting and gets more of an explanation in this novel. However, not all babies suffer from the glitch, and not all suffer in the same way. I love the way Crash reacts to meeting more Crashes! However, apparently if these guys are the ‘zeroes’ there are also going to be the ‘ones’. Where do they come from? It’s pretty unclear.

This is my least favourite of the trilogy. Everything except the last couple of chapters is action packed and well written, and just as enjoyable as the first two novels. Where this book falls down is its unbelievable ending. Literally unbelievable – if everyone could project their powers it would be a disaster! Not to mention that what happens with Ethan makes no sense either.

Man, Nate is a horrible person! He just can’t help himself from being a Glorious Leader and screwing other people over! I’m so glad he’ll never be a politician (because he ‘shot’ Swarm). What I can’t understand is why the police hold him for it, when the evidence would point to him never having held the gun. Why not just let it fade from everyone’s minds?

I’m giving this novel 4 stars even though I’ve actually reread it. The ending is just such a disappointment that I can’t give it 5 stars. Fans of this novel will love the Reckoners series by Brandon Sanderson or Whisper.

Allen & Unwin | 25th October 2017 | AU$19.99 | paperback

Review: Bren MacDibble – The Dog Runner

The Dog Runner
Bren MacDibble

Ella and Emery have a long way to go to get to Christmas’s place. Armed with their five big doggos and a dry-land dogsled they must head away through rough terrain to reach the relative safety and food of Emery’s mum’s place – but will their other parents ever catch up?

This is another wonderful, thought provoking novel from Bren MacDibble. Her first novel, How to Bee, examined how a world without bees would survive. This novel takes this a step further, envisioning a future where grasses and grains have been lost to a deadly fungus. This novel is probably another candidate for a upper primary school reader novel and thought-provoker.

The story slips out in nibbles, teasing the reader along even as Ella and Emery make it further and further away from the city. I was occasionally irritated by the way Ella ‘spoke’, but the action kept me reading. The way this is written, Ella could be a boy or a girl, and I think that makes it easier for any reader to empathize and truly consider her circumstances. This is a really possible future for Australia and the world – we are so reliant on grains for basic food and feeding livestock. Have we learnt nothing from the Irish Great Famine?

If this novel does nothing else, hopefully you enjoy the fast paced travel and fraught hideaways of Ella and Emery. They are brave kids, and I think the novel is really realistic in the way Ella reacts to the world falling apart around her. If Ella had been ok with eating dead humans all of a sudden, I would have been really concerned!

I’m giving this 4 stars, and I am looking forward to when I have a younger reader in this age bracket to read and review it with me.

Allen & Unwin | 4th February 2019 | AU$16.99 | paperback

Review: Lynette Noni – Whisper

Lynette Noni

Jane Doe is stubborn. She committed herself to a psychiatric ward so that she wouldn’t harm anyone else, but in the end she found herself trapped in an underground facility with a daily psychologist appointment, martial arts training and a torture session with a brain chemist. Suddenly befriended by one of the staff, will Jane finally crack? And if she does, what lies in store for her?

I liked Jane precisely because she was a blank slate with little personality. I think believing you’ve killed someone important to you would definitely stunt your growth, as would not speaking for more than 2 years. I watched her grow and Speak and I was excited for her!

What about the premise? That a drug given to women for fertility can have supernatural effects on their progeny… Yes, I could see it happening. There is so much we still don’t know about the brain. And it won’t be the first time a drug given to pregnant ladies has a bad/strange outcome for offspring (Thalidomide, anyone?) I would have loved to hear more about the science behind the scenes (literally and figuratively), but this novel is ultimately about Jane and her fears.

I do have to say that a lot of smirking took place. And I couldn’t possibly condone some of the behaviour. According to other reviewers there’s a love triangle happening here. I’m sorry, I didn’t see it. Mostly I just saw Jane being terrified and stressed out. Yes, she may have noted at some point that she cared about the other characters, but I didn’t see a love story. I guess now I fear that the second novel will suffer from a gooey protagonist. Let’s hope not.

This novel came in the front door and I immediately got stuck into it. I didn’t put it down until I was finished and I ignored all else in favour of it. It was entrancing and sublime and I need to read it again – as soon as the second novel is out. Arg! I can’t wait, considering that I read this before the official publication date! … and I have now waited a year to reread and review it, and I was just as captivated with it the second time around. 5 stars. Please Lynette Noni, write us the second one! If you are looking for other similar novels in the mean time, try Burning.

Pantera Press | 1st May 2018 | AU $19.99 | paperback

Review: Amy Lilwall – The Biggerers

The Biggerers
Amy Lilwall

Jinx and Bonbon live with their She-one who feeds them flakes from a bowl. They have an active social life Outside where Chips and Blankie visit them. These four people just happen to be only a foot or so high – and they aren’t supposed to be human. Being human could get them kidnapped.

Now, this was a decidedly odd novel. I forced myself to read it because I believed that it could get better or have something really powerful to offer me. Cloning to produce little humans as pets? It could be really fascinating because it’s a possibility.

If memory suppressants work on Littlerers, why not just use them on the old people who don’t want to be lonely without their dead partners? Why clone and produce little humans? I don’t get why people would want a pet human. What’s wrong with a dog? The pet humans aren’t even as intelligent as a dog – they aren’t supposed to communicate after all. And of course, they aren’t supposed to be marketed as toys for children, even though I felt like they could have just been dolls for the way that their owners tended to treat them. What the author did manage really well was the characterisation and character growth of Jinx and Bonbon. They really were little people!

I didn’t understand, but did understand at the same time, the behavior of Susan and Hamish. They both spend a lot of time introspecting about their feelings, and blaming each other for the relationship. And of course there is Hamish’s relationship with Emma. Was their relationship supposed to represent the typical disconnected people that will exist in an age where digital technologies are all that are on offer?

The ending left me feeling very confused. Was the storyline with Watts and Drew in the past? What were those last two chapters really about? This novel had excellent potential as a plot but the language left me cold and uninterested. Maybe pick it up at the bookstore and read the first couple of pages or so to see if you can tolerate the language. If you can, maybe buy this novel to read. But be prepared for a wishy-washy ending. 2 stars from me.

Bloomsbury | 1st August 2018 | AU$29.99 | hardback

Review: Marie Lu – Legend

Marie Lu

June is a prodigy who scored perfectly on her Test and is on a fast-track to military greatness. Day spectacularly failed his test and took to the streets to eek out a living and help his family as he can. Their paths cross when June’s brother Metias is murdered and Day is the prime suspect.

This was a clean teenage fiction with a tight-timed plot line and some chaste kisses. It was refreshing to read something that didn’t really want me to think too hard. I easily swapped between the perspectives of June and Day. Day watching over things actually reminded me strangely of Aladdin! Things often moved very quickly and so the characterisation sometimes suffered. The interactions between June and Day still seemed genuine though.

Ok, so I have to say it. The world-building sucks. I never got a concrete grasp on what parts of the world were ‘Republic’ and which were the ‘Colonies’. The pendant’s secret sort of filled in where the world was, but not really. But I wonder whether this was deliberate on the author’s part, because Day and June don’t actually know very much about what is going on in the world outside either. Perhaps the next book will illuminate things further.

I’m thinking a direct comparison to Divergent here in terms of the Dystopian world that is built. It’s not hugely different from the world we live in now, just with some subtle changes. I picked up this novel from a Goodwill store while I was still on my USA adventure. I liked the look of it enough that it followed me home, but I only just got around to reading it. Now, unfortunately, I need to get my hands on the next novel, especially as other reviewers on Goodreads have said that this series improves.  4 stars from me.

Review: Veronica Roth – Allegiant

Veronica Roth

Tris has shattered her Faction-based society, yet still finds herself under the thumb of a despotic ruler. When she is a given a chance to explore the world outside the fence, she takes it and runs, hoping that whatever is out there will calm her rage and allow her to forgive herself her wrongs. Tris has only just begun to realise what is happening when it is almost too late to right those wrongs…

The revelations of Insurgent come back to bite Tris in this novel. It seems like there is only one way to solve things when you are Tris – and that’s by irritating and hating the other people around you as much as possible. Tris is such a frustrating protagonist! Her self-destructive urges often just get everyone else into trouble, but she never learns.

I feel like this novel is in the same era as The Hunger Games. The heroine is spunky and rough, and always determined to ignore love as much as possible. The outside rules don’t mean anything in comparison to their own problems and rules. By trying to do what they think is best, they make a huge mess of things!

For the first time, we see both Tris’ and Tobias’ points of view. This novel left me feeling ambivalent. The first novel was worth rereading, but this one doesn’t hold the same appeal. Tris’ character development seems to have stalled and the great reveal has already happened. I didn’t feel anything much as more of the characters were killed off – and I still felt that if Tris was killed the novel wouldn’t have lost anything…

This is the third and final novel in the Divergent series that started with Divergent and Insurgent. I would strongly suggest that you DO NOT read this novel or the blurb without having first red the first two novels. Otherwise you will have significantly ruined the storyline as it builds. 4 stars from me. If you’ve read the first two, you’d better read this one for your peace of mind.

Review: Veronica Roth – Insurgent

Veronica Roth

Tris has broken free from Dauntless and come into her own as a Divergent. She has her trusty Tobias by her side – but is there anyone else she can trust? Even as she protects others with her selflessness, Tris doesn’t know what to do next.

Tris seems to lack a survival instinct, as well as an ability to actually communicate with people! So much drama could have been avoided by ‘using her words’. The same goes for the rest of the characters – talking is a good thing, people! This frustrated me at times because it meant that the perspective was very limited from Tris and I thought there was so much more about this world that I could have enjoyed if I had been given a chance.

This is a plot driven novel, you won’t really find much character development here. Also, there is very little information for the reader to come to their own conclusions about traitors or not. I also didn’t feel very attached to the characters that died, and I think I wouldn’t have blinked too much if Tris herself was killed.

The ending of this novel is a real surprise, but given other novels I have read, not that surprising after all. Every author seems to want to jump into dystopian fiction (with all honesty, Roth was one of the first, given that Divergent was made into a movie released in 2014). The Red Queen by Isobelle Carmody comes to mind or 2094 for other similar novels if you want a more fantasy or adult slanted novel to read.

This was an engaging novel, but in my opinion it just didn’t have the same pizzaz as the first novel, Divergent. I remember finishing that novel and saying to myself – I have to get Insurgent right now! The feeling is not the same here, but as I have Allegiant sitting next to me, I’ll probably read it next. Stay tuned for my opinion on the whole trilogy.

Review: Shankari Chandran – The Barrier

The Barrier
Shankari Chandran

Spy-come-virologist Noah Williams is on the hunt for a rogue scientist who wants to eliminate humanity by allowing Ebola to reemerge from its vaccinated hiding place. But as Noah comes to understand this once-proud scientist he wonders whether he’s chasing the right ghost – or whether the issue is closer to home.

Noah’s perspective is interspersed with his mentor’s and a potential love interest. This gives the reader a bit of variety, and also makes them feel Noah’s growing sense of horror as he realises what he and others have done in the name of safety. I wanted to be horrified when Noah tortured people, but I just wasn’t. I felt as numb as he did.

I loved how the author poked holes in the anti-vaccinators who don’t want their children to be immune to Ebola. The parallels with people these days who don’t vaccinate their kids against mumps or polio are clear. There are always going to be those people who want the right to kill their own children – but it shouldn’t be at the expense of others. *Deep breaths Rose, deep breaths.* I have little time for people who are so ignorant as to let deadly diseases come back because they don’t trust safe vaccinations or ‘believe’ in them.

I found it very interesting that the author chose religion as the cause of the world’s near-ending. Ebola just happened to be helpful in destroying the world and allowing religion to be removed. No mention of Australia in this one! I wonder if we survived the outbreak because people simply forgot about our existence again…

I agree with the author that viral/biological warfare will be the next World War and that it probably is only a matter of time before something goes wrong. This theme is one that is being extensively explored at the moment by novels including NK3 and Killer T. Others see the potential of science to heal such as Sapient and The Ego Cluster. Nevertheless, it’s inevitable, and unavoidable that eventually something like this will happen.

I’m highly recommending this novel for scientists and non-scientists alike. The level of biochemical detail isn’t too daunting, and hopefully some people will take away a positive message from it. 4 stars.

Pan Macmillan | 30th May 2018 | AU$29.99 | paperback