Review: Dolen Perkins-Valdez – Take My Hand

Take My Hand
Dolen Perkins-Valdez

Civil Townsend becomes a nurse because she knows that nurses have a more caring role than doctors. She wants to change the world, and she thinks that her first job working at the Montgomery (AL) Family Planning Clinic in 1973 is the right place to start. Little does she know that there’s a lot more happening behind the scenes.

I almost immediately connected with Civil as the protagonist, even though I already knew the future. It was an interesting look into history (again!) I found myself doing a lot of detailed reading after finishing it, because I wanted to know how much was truth – which was actually quite a lot. The story is interesting enough to keep reading, but there’s nothing mind-blowing in the telling.

I think I am going to have an unpopular opinion here. I don’t understand why people insist on having biological offspring. World fertility is decreasing, and although women are less likely to be sterilized (it seems that this practice is still happening in some countries), the decrease in fertility (particularly in Western countries) means that IVF is becoming the norm, rather than an exception. Thus this is still happening – those with money can afford biological or adoptive children, while others have ‘nothing’. I don’t have a right answer.

Again, I didn’t really have anything against this novel, but I also wasn’t astounded by it. While I did vaguely want to keep reading it, it was easy to put down – because the ending seemed foretold. I actually felt pretty irritated by the apology tour that set the frame for the novel – I would have found it more powerful if I didn’t know the future. 3 stars.

Hachette | 12 April 2022 | AU$32.99 | paperback

Review: Kate Thompson – The Little Wartime Library

The Little Wartime Library by Kate Thompson

In a tale stranger than fiction, a wartime library in London was set up in the underground train tracks of the famous Tube. In this fictional retelling, Clara Button is the librarian who is keeping the strange little community together despite being the wrong gender and being supported by the larger-than-life PTSD suffering Ruby.

I really enjoyed this novel! I couldn’t see myself as either of the main characters, but that didn’t mean that I couldn’t sympathize with them. I liked learning about their little quirks, and I was absolutely most invested in Clara’s continued tenure as the librarian. I think the choice to include more than one perspective really worked here, even though I usually complain about it.

I didn’t have any expectation that things would turn out OK. I was fine with the ending maybe not ending up the way that it did. That being said, I would have been devastated if anything had happened to those books. I’m a reader and I love libraries – a library can be the first step to education, and education can be a way out of poverty. How dare the library be bombed in the first place!

I think I’ve learned more about history from reading this fictional novel than I ever have from reading about history or being taught in school.  This novel was an interesting insight into the war. It’s kind of strange to think that such a thing would occur, because it would be unlikely to happen in Australia. Compared to Europe, we’re so spread out and there’s lots of places to go – perhaps everyone would just head to Uluru! For a similar novel, try The Kitchen Front.

Hachette | 14 February 2022 | AU$32.99 | paperback

Review: Carly Nugent – Sugar

Sugar
Carly Nugent

Persephone (not pronounced like telephone) was diagnosed with diabetes straight after her father’s funeral – she almost fell in the grave! She’s certain that the two events are connected somehow, and if she can solve it, maybe life will make sense.

There is a trend at the moment to have characters off screen who (may) have committed suicide. If this is something that triggers you, you probably should avoid this novel. I found the subject to be treated sensitively and without blame. There is also a physically abusive relationship in the novel.

This author absolutely nailed the book’s atmosphere. I could feel the sweat and heat of the bushfire season, and the sticky sweetness of Persephone’s diabetes. It provided a beautiful counterpoint to Growing Up in Flames, which I hadn’t enjoyed.

I empathized and recognized the teenage angst that leaked out of these pages. I perhaps didn’t understand the c*** word use, and why it’s relevant to Persephone. Since Alexander Manson is in the blurb, you’d think he’s important (he isn’t). Persephone’s complicated other relationships ring very clearly though.

I thought it was very interesting how Persephone contemplated the end of the world and that she’d be one of the first to die – unless it was a zombie scenario, she’d be the first person out there to be bitten. This resonated deeply with me, due to the Holocaust books I have read recently where once the supplies of insulin run out the unfortunate diabetics die quickly.

I’d highly recommend this to teenagers who need to understand someone with diabetes or the sheer unfairness of life. It reminded me a little of A Series of Small Maneuvers. I don’t think I’ll reread it, but I might be surprised. 4 stars from me.

Text Publishing  | 29th March 2022 | AU$19.99 | paperback

Review: Daisy Buchanan – Careering

Careering
Daisy Buchanan

Harri has dreamed of taking the helm of Panache and has hustled hard to get there. The problem is that she’s been passed over, and now is expected to run a new magazine that seems likely to fail. Imogen has finally moved from unpaid intern to writer thanks to her sexually explicit blog. But can the two women make it work? Or are things careering off the rails…

I like the play-on-words in the title, very smick!  Unfortunately, that was where my enjoyment ended. I don’t understand this novel. It’s going to appeal to a super specific audience, one that feels like the fashion industry is where they should be. Specifically, the magazine/printed word fashion scene. If you enjoyed The Devil Wears Prada or Ugly Betty, it’s a fair bet (haha) you’ll enjoy this novel more than me.

The blurb made it seem like we were going to get equal knowledge about both women, and be able to draw parallels. Unfortunately, the only one I picked up (besides that they both had to work really hard for their jobs) as that they had sex with Sam Strong.

The text at times seems quite ‘dirty’ and sex-ridden. I didn’t actually see where it added anything to the plot. I felt like Imogen (apart from the walrus confrontation) was benefitting somewhat equally with the ‘relationship’ with Sam. Come on! She got food more regularly! But is it abuse? I’m not sure.

I really don’t consider this book is doing justice to “stage a rebellion the only way they know how”. I didn’t really see any rebellion – they just seem to keep going where they are. Also, even if they do exit the rest of the fashion rat race, do they know how many startups are doomed, and how few get through the first two years?

This gets two stars since I finished it, but it left me feeling wrung-out and not very satisfied by the characters or the plot. If you like fashion, give it a go. If you don’t, maybe give it a miss.

Hachette | 8th March 2022| AU$32.99 | paperback

Review: Erik J Brown – All That’s Left in the World

All That’s Left in the World
Erik J Brown

The superflu has wiped out 99% of the population. Pockets of people remain, some clustered, and some on their own. Jamie’s cabin-in-the-woods is well appointed and isolated, and Jamie is alone to contemplate life. When Andrew stumbles into the cabin, Jamie suddenly has to look after someone else – and maybe begin to care for someone he never thought would matter.

This novel was breathtaking. I couldn’t bare to put it down – I needed to read right to the very (bitter) end. Several hours later, and I’m still thinking about Jamie and Andrew and the future. I sank deeply into the universe and felt the dirty sneakers on their feet as my own. I couldn’t decide which character I liked more, which is quite rare for me with a dual narrator (usually I like the first one introduced the best).

I loved the slow-burn romance and the gritty reality of a world in pieces. I loved the fact that this was exactly how I imagined the next COVID-19-like outbreak to go in some countries. It doesn’t seem like society has learnt anything, and people are still demanding ‘rights’ across the world. I also appreciated how many issues the author managed to fit in, without seeming to over-dramatize the novel.

I’m desperate for another novel from this author. I am certain that he will reach the ranks of Adam Silvera and the like. I can’t wait to see the future of this debut author (and I hope the future comes soon).

If you liked What if it’s Us or Anything but Fine, this novel is for you. Even if you didn’t know you wanted a queer post-apocalyptic novel, you now need this one. Buy it for yourself, for the queer person in your life, or for anyone who enjoys post-apocalyptic fiction. I promise you won’t be disappointed. 5 stars from me.

Hachette | 8 March 2022| AU$17.99 | paperback

Review: Astrid Scholte – League of Liars

League of Liars
Astrid Scholte

Cayder Broduck’s goal is to punish illegal users of magic. Anyone using extradimensional magic (edem) for their own self-interest should be stuck in Vardean for life. Cayder is determined to ruin as many lives as he can in retribution for his mother’s death. Unfortunately, the three criminals he’s supposed to defend seem to be more important and more interconnected than he knows what to do  with…

Another reviewer has put this really well – ‘all the characters are morons’! Oh! It’s so true! They could all go die, I couldn’t have cared less about the outcome.

League of Liars was a confusing novel because – of course – everyone is lying. However, the rate at which the lies are exposed is quite slow. Thus due to this slow pacing I could easily put this book down in the middle of reading it.

I wasn’t that invested in any of the characters – it’s not like any of them are actually actively dying. They just happened to get stuck in this prison together! Even what seems like a betrayal is pathetic and transparent. Perhaps it would have worked for me better if I hadn’t had all the different perspectives and I did only see things through the eyes of what I would consider the main character (Cayder).

Ok, now, the ending. It wasn’t really an ending. There’s got to be a second book for this because the ending, although it might clear up the current set of lies, doesn’t actually meet and complete most of the storyline criteria. I found it really quite disappointing and I’d only give it three stars. I was just so disappointed in the ending and novel in general. Even if there ends up being a sequel, I wouldn’t recommend it. Don’t waste your time.

Allen & Unwin | 1 March 2022 | AU$19.99 | paperback

Review: Zach Jones – Growing Up in Flames

Growing Up in Flames
Zach Jones

After Kenna’s mother Ava dies, Kenna must live in the tiny town that Ava grew up in. Kenna struggles with guilt and PTSD from the bushfire that took her mother’s life. Noah lives with the trauma of his childhood and the call of flames. When the two collide, their paths cross for better or for worse.

Growing Up in Flames is theoretically a great young adult novel about the impact of potential bushfires on teenagers growing up in remote and regional areas of Australia. Unfortunately, although the main characters seemed to fear fire, it seemed to be used as a plot point that didn’t actually have a reasonable or even legally appropriate ending.

I found the jumps forwards and backwards in time quite confusing and I was frankly quite disgusted at the behaviour of some of the characters. I felt like there were quite a lot of legal guidelines crossed – particularly the psychologist that is theoretically treating the two main characters who just happened to become friends. And also that the psychologist gives tacit approval for Noah dosing his mother.

I’m sure that things were very different back then (1970s?) but the fact that Kenna’s mom and boyfriend basically blame someone/anyone else for their problems is reprehensible. Not to mention that they then let someone else end up in a wheelchair and show no signs of remorse.

I knocked this over in about 2 hours sitting outside in the sun with a good drink in hand but I don’t think there’s any way to actually enjoy this novel. I’m going to give it three stars but again I don’t really know who it’s aimed at. You could give it to teenagers but only really if you want them to set things on fire – so it’s probably not a great idea for summer reading.

Text Publishing | 1 March 2022 | AU$ | paperback

Review: Jo Browning Wroe – A Terrible Kindness

A Terrible Kindness
Jo Browning Wroe

William Lavery comes from a long history of embalmers and is proud of the work he does. Little does he know that the first professional job he does will bring his history, his present, and his future crashing together. While William tries to make sense of his life, the others who care about him are thrown aside and expected to cope.

A Terrible Kindness was a bit of an odd book in the way that it jumped forwards and backwards through time. What I was expecting was a book that had a bit more about the intricacies of embalming and looking after body after it has died. From the back cover, I thought that I was going to learn about different techniques that could be particularly used in an example where the bodies were quite degraded. Also, a direct discussion of about how traumatic it can be to embalm a child.

Unfortunately, this book seemed to be more about mental turmoil of the main character and how his background as a choirboy impacted his life choice to become an embalmer. I found myself very frustrated at times at the undercurrents of, not sexual tension, but hints of homosexuality that affected his wife and his friendships. It was weird to me that this was a thing that needed to be discussed. The music could have been a marvelous distraction and addition, but instead it seemed largely gratuitous and offensive.

In the end I wasn’t really sure what I got out of reading the book. I wouldn’t read it again because I already know what happens in “the big reveal” of what went wrong. What happened when he was a teenager isn’t as exciting as you think it will be, and the ending left me unsatisfied. I wasn’t sure if it was a good idea to end it like that! How did William just walk away!? I don’t understand how any man could think that it’s a good idea to walk away from your life and make your wife try to choose someone else. If his life was soo terrible, why was suicide not an option? It was an option for others in similarly dire straights, why not William?

I finished the novel out of a sense of duty. I wouldn’t have bothered finishing it if I knew the ending. 3 stars from me. I’m not sure who to recommend this novel to.

Allen & Unwin | 1 February 2022 | AU$29.99 | paperback

Review: Vanessa Len – Only a Monster

Only a Monster
Vanessa Len

Joan loves summers with her Gran and mom’s family, and this year she has a great job too – working in a tourist attraction with the attractive Nick. When Joan loses part of a day, she becomes aware of the family secret – she’s a time-traveler and monster to boot. But are monsters the bad guys in this story? Joan is going to have to work out what she wants most in the world.

Part of the struggle in this novel is that I wasn’t sure whose side I was on. Ok, it’s terrible that humans are losing part of their lives to monsters when they time travel. But also, how cool is that?? It could only be more awesome if they could take a regular human with them.

I like the way that the author addresses the paradoxes of time travel. It’s normal for people to go back to change the past, and it’s interesting to see how different monsters cope with the inability to change their past. Just like Joan, I feel certain that there must be a way around things!

Other reviewers have suggested that there is a love triangle enemies/friends sort of romance going on. I’d say that that cheapens the storyline for me. It’s not about the boys that Joan is interested in, it’s about the love she has for her family – both monster and other.

Let me give it to you straight – this is the first book in a series. Before you go and give up hope, I can tell you that the ending of this novel is entirely satisfactory, and didn’t leave me hanging at all. I am really looking forward to getting to reread it in preparation of the next novel in the planned trilogy. 5 stars from me.

Allen & Unwin | 1 February 2022 | AU$22.99 | paperback

Review: Becky Albertalli & Adam Silvera – What if it’s Us Duology

What if it’s Us Duology
Becky Albertalli & Adam Silvera

What if it’s Us?

Ben and Arthur meet by accident as Ben tries to post a box of mementoes back to his ex-boyfriend and Arthur tries to grab himself a moment alone in New York. Arthur’s never dated a boy before, he’s not even sure he’s had a crush on one quite as badly as on Ben. In a world where summer is short, will the paths of these boys cross again when the Universe interferes?

One of the things I enjoyed most about this book was the ending. It could have made or ruined the novel, particularly as I knew there was a sequel. It turned out to be perfect. I unfortunately made the mistake of reading the second before reviewing the first. Oops? But I was just so excited to keep reading about Ben and Arthur! I needed to still be with them.

Here’s to Us

Ben has mostly moved on with his life without Arthur. He’s sort-of dating a hot new guy, he’s making do with his college classes and job. Arthur has a great new boyfriend who’s sweet, caring and… isn’t Ben. A series of Universe Events means that they will collide, but will their worlds align again?

This novel is filled with hope, and real relationships where it seems crazy that things could line up. I honestly could have been happy with any of the relationships that formed and broke apart. Despite being a feel-good novel, it does still briefly touch on racism and socioeconomic bias. Not everyone is bright enough to get a scholarship for school, and not everyone wants to go to college (or finish college).

Thanks Simon and Schuster for these review copies. They look fantastic on my new shelves, and I loved reading both of them. This’ll be a reread when I’m feeling a bit down – a goodhearted and satisfying read.

Simon & Schuster | January 2022 | AU$17.99 | paperback