Review: Kalynn Bayron – This Poison Heart

This Poison Heart
Kalynn Bayron

Briseis has a gift that is held in check by Brooklyn lack of green spaces. Her ability is to cause plants to thrive – even the deadly poisonous ones. After a rough year at school (trying not to cause the plants in her teacher’s windows to grow vigorously), Briseis is hoping to spend the summer helping her moms run their flower shop. Instead, she finds that she has inherited a rambling estate and garden from her birth mother.

I was a little hesitant to read this novel, because I had enjoyed Cinderella is Dead right until the disappointing ending! Once I picked it up though, I was hooked. Bri’s character was fleshed out and her feelings obvious. I didn’t mind the so-called ‘slow burn’, I liked getting to know Bri’s family, circumstances and normal behaviors before she was tossed into a new world of plants, poisons and family secrets. Add in some Greek mythology and there was a tale I wanted to keep reading.

Other reviewers have complained that the author doesn’t use words such as lesbian to refer to Bri’s moms. I actually appreciated that! It’s not like every straight couple in other novels are said to be straight! Equally, it’s not stated that Bri and her moms are people of colour – it’s up to the reader to pay attention to the little nuances in physical appearance and habits to realize this (although this is probably given away by the beautiful, luscious cover art).

Let’s talk about the ending in general terms at least. Did I like it? No, no I did not. I honestly felt as if the publishers had told the author “Hey, we think this will be a big hit, make sure you prepare to write a sequel.” So then Bayron was required to leave it open! In the end, I didn’t like the way the antagonists showed up as there were too many holes in the reasoning.

Ultimately my take on this novel is to go buy it! But without knowing when the sequel will come out (or whether this is a duology/trilogy etc.) try to go into it realising that you’ll have to be patient to see the next installment. I’m not patient! So it’s four stars from me (to be updated if the second book is as fantastic as the first).

Bloomsbury | 29th June 2021 | AU$16.99 | paperback

Review: Elisabetta Dami – Thea & Geronimo Stilton Mouse novels (A)

The Magic in the Mirror | Superstore Surprise
Thea & Geronimo Stilton

While I previously reviewed these children’s novels, I asked our resident avid 11-year old reader to give them a twirl and give me a review! Here’s her opinions on both of these novels.

The Magic in the Mirror

It was a spellbinding story with lots of action and fun. The ending was happy, and very satisfying. All the things that I wanted to happen did happen. It would have been a bit better if there had been more pictures, because I really wanted to see the mirror. I didn’t like that it’s always a prince and princess getting married – I’d prefer if they didn’t get married, because then how will they rule each kingdom equally? Each should go back to their own country and rule it. This was the favourite one out of all the others I have read (approximately 4 books). I would definitely read it again, maybe in a month or so.

Superstore Surprise

This book was not as good as the Magic in the Mirror or any other book in the series. It was the most disappointing book because I really thought it could have been longer than that, and I didn’t think that they would solve the mystery so quickly – this mystery wasn’t mysterious enough for me. It was a bit boring and the end was not satisfying.

The ending wasn’t satisfying, because it ended up that they just bought curtains and the evil person was now acting like a good person. This could be improved by making the answer to the mystery saboteur more complicated. I was able to guess it as soon as the first car drew up.

Review: Maria V Snyder – Navigating the Stars (K)

Navigating the stars
Maria V. Snyder

Lyra is sick of leaving behind all her friends. She’s too young to make her own decisions, but every time her parents move to a new planet to continue their research, she says goodbye forever. The terracotta warriors – the subject of her parents’ research – litter nearby planets, but nobody has any clue why they’re there, or how they were made. When the entire population of a warrior planet is wiped out, Lyra realises she has much bigger issues.

Wow. This book was absolutely beautiful. The author clearly put a lot of time into planning the book and making sure that everything linked nicely. Events early in the book became important later on, and it felt like every word I read had a purpose for being there. Initially, I wasn’t too excited about the beginning of the book being based around Lyra saying goodbye to her friends, but it ended up being a great introduction to Lyra, and the characters involved were important to the story, so it was well worth the initial delay in the action.

The relationships and characters in the book were amazing. Even neglecting the fantasy/sci-fi elements of the story, it was wonderful, and more than interesting. I felt invested not only in the characters, but in their relationships, and at times I felt heartbroken along with them. I felt like the characters were my friends, and at the end of the book I was sad to say goodbye.

The book wasn’t afraid of commitment, which made everything so much more exciting and adrenaline-packed. Right from the beginning, it was clear that the author would not shy away from saying goodbye to characters permanently, so when people were in danger, I was legitimately scared for them. I went through so much emotional turmoil reading this book, as I experienced the characters’ ups and downs along with them. It was an amazing book, and I’m already itching to get my hands on the sequel.

Review: Nat Amoore – The Right Way to Rock

The Right Way to Rock
Nat Amoore

Mac knows he loves music, and his favourite genre is musical theatre. He’s pretty darn good at guitar, but his real passion is writing lyrics. When he gets the news Watterson Primary is going to shut down the creative Arts, he’s determined to do something to save them. Can he pull off a musical to save them? Or will his mom’s rock dreams get in the way?

I loved how each chapter of the book started off with a musical interlude so to speak, of different popular tunes with new Ethan-relevant lyrics added. There were only a couple of missing points where I didn’t get the musical reference.

I found myself lol-ing at this book pretty frequently! This author has a fantastic turn of phrase that will make this novel appreciated by all ages. The tics of Tourette syndrome were super annoying, and I was so grateful that I wasn’t reading this aloud. I have to give points to the author for presenting a neurodiverse cast though. Did you know that despite typical portrayals in media, only 10% of people with Tourette have swearwords as their tics (coprolalia)? It makes sense to me, honestly because if it’s something that presents in childhood, there’s no guarentee that the child actually knows swear words!

I didn’t understand how Mrs. Moshie fit into the story line. I was somewhat confused as to how she could be considered a suitable caregiver for the two kids. I found myself still wondering about the next steps after the conclusion of this novel. That means that this book must have had pretty fantastic world building!

I picked this up not really realising what age group it was for, and not knowing that it’s the third book set in Watterson. This didn’t really matter to me, even though I guess, !spoilers! for the other two books. I’d give this to any pre-teen boy or girl to read as a lighthearted way to understand that being different is totally ok. 4 stars from me.

Penguin Random House | 1st June 2021 | AU$24.99 | paperback

Review: Philip Reeve – Mortal Engines (K)

Mortal Engines
Philip Reeve

Tom has lived all his life in London – not the city as we know it, but a giant monstrosity on wheels, which captures smaller settlements for spare parts and enslaves those aboard. Everything changes, however, when a young girl with a prominent scar is captured and his life changes forever. The pair fall off London and must make their way back on foot.

This was quite a nice light read, the story was interesting but simple to follow, and I had no trouble understanding what everyone was doing. This was particularly impressive to me, as there are times where the story is split between 3 different POVs, and I usually find that I struggle to keep everything in my head when this occurs.

The characters were all interesting and 3-dimensional characters. Even the villains had something more to offer than simply being evil for evil’s sake, or just wanting power. My favourite part of this book was absolutely the secondary characters, as they all had interesting traits to make them unique and help them stand out. That said, this emphasis on making every character stand out did somewhat decrease the realism, as some of the character traits didn’t quite make sense in context, and did not seem like they would be feasible in real life

While the characters themselves were interesting, the character progression in the book felt a little forced. The main example of this is with the main characters Tom and Hester. In the beginning of the book, Tom consistently thinks of Hester in insulting terms – often describing her as ‘ugly’ due to the scar on her face. It felt forced and a little rushed when he went from this to finding that he ‘would miss her lop-sided smiles’. I feel it would have been better if it had taken him longer to come to this conclusion, or if he’d had conflict with himself about his feelings towards her clashing with his opinions on her looks.

One other issue I found was Hester seemed to be too worldly. While the main character of a story is typically more interesting than the average person, and Hester’s backstory explained why she may have met lots of people, it felt unrealistic, as she had a personal connection with almost all of the villains in the book. Some of these connections definitely benefited the story, but there were others that did not contribute much, and I wish hadn’t been included.

I’m giving this story a 4/5, as the idea and storyline were amazing, and far outshone the issues I had with the writing. I feel this book would be best for a younger audience but could be enjoyed by anyone.

Review – Amy Beashel – The Sky is Mine

The Sky is Mine
Amy Beashel

Izzy may have drunk too much at that one party, but she shouldn’t keep getting mocked about it, and certainly not pressured into sex. But Izzy isn’t sure who she is, and where her own self-worth is. Her step-dad Daniel puts a lot of pressure on her by mocking her mother and touching her in the wrong way. Can Izzy be strong enough to stand up for herself and by herself? Does she have to go it alone to survive?

I struggled to get into this book because I was too afraid of what might happen. Having just read Fighting Words, I felt like I couldn’t deal with another child sexual abuse novel. Then, I picked it up again because I thought it deserved another chance. Then, the mobile internet went down, and next thing I knew I was stuck into reading it.

I liked that it was never really defined how ‘fat’ Izzy was, and whether it was within her own mind, Daniel’s mind or someone else’s mind. Equally, I think that either her best friend or her best friend’s girlfriend was a woman of colour? But I’m not 100% sure who was who. I think that this makes this novel easier to see yourself in it and helps the reader connect with the main character.

This is a powerful and yet sobering read. There is a huge push at the moment in Australia for people experiencing domestic violence to be confident enough to stand up against it, and ask for help. What this novel introduces is providing some more personal insight into what it might be like for a family experiencing this negative behavior. It’s easy to say that you’d do things differently if you were in that situation – but leaving is certainly not as easy as it might seem to an outsider.

This is a well-spent $10 worth of novel. I’m not sure that I could bear reading it again though. What brings its rating down to a 3.5 is that it is so very, very British in its pronunciation and word-usage. I don’t have a problem with swear words, but I do have a problem with ‘innit?’ No. I really hope no one actually speaks like that – it’s just like most Australians don’t greet others with ‘How’s it going, mate?’ Anyway, language like that served to interrupt my reading.

Allen & Unwin | 6th February 2020 | AU$7.99 | paperback

Review: David Yoon – Super Fake Love Song

Super Fake Love Song
David Yoon

Uh oh, Sunny Dae is in trouble. So far in life he’s owned being weird and a nerd – but his parents are insisting on him looking after the new girl in town. The quick motion of going into his brother’s bedroom instead of his own means that Sunny is now the front man of a rock band! Will Sunny be able to hold Cirrus’ attention? Or will his nerdery shine through and scare her off…

This was strangely compulsive reading! The whole time I was reading I was hanging out for the moment of ‘truth’ for Sunny. And then it happened! Yes! And it was excellent! Things exploded just like I thought they might. The blurb really gave away 3/4 of the book to an extent, so I remind you again to not read the blurb if you want a complete surprise.

I wasn’t so sure about the ‘happy ending’. But maybe teenagers in love are more forgiving, particularly if their friends are their best-est-est friends ever. Can I imagine doing that to my high school friends? Hmm, I’m not sure I would have given up being a nerd for a girl. Like Sunny, I’m absolutely a ‘things in my room should be neat and where I left them last’ sort of person (well, if you’re talking about my book collection or LEGO).

What I would have liked to see more of was the fact that Gray is possibly clinically depressed and that this wasn’t being acknowledged by the Dae parents. Also, it seemed a bit trite that Gunner had a ‘hidden’ personality. I would have really wanted to hear more about the cool playwear stuff the three buddies made! But then, I think cosplay is totally cool and not necessarily nerdy at all.

I regret leaving this so late to review. It was a fantastic book, and would make an excellent gift to a teenager. Again, just like Frankly in Love, this is a very American-centric novel. I think it definitely reflects American society where ‘white’ people seem to be more common than other nationalities. However, it’s certainly not the case in the high schools in my area! Regardless, I think any nerds or would-be rock stars would enjoy this novel. 4 stars from me.

Penguin Random House | 17th November 2020 | AU$17.99 | paperback

Review: Alicia Jasinska – The Dark Tide

The Dark Tide
Alicia Jasinska

Lina just KNOWS that it will be her brother Finley who is chosen as the sacrifice this year. Finley is equally insistent on going to the revelries to find a potion to fix Lina’s broken ankle. Next thing Lina knows, she’s asking her heartthrob Thomas to find a way to save Finley – but instead finds herself falling for Queen Eva.

Thomas – the hero we love to hate? Does that make him the anti-hero? Because it certainly seems like he’s a waste of space. What did Lina ever see in him! Lina on the other hand is surprisingly poorly aware of herself and the effect she has on others. Her obsession with dancing means that I expected her to heal her ankle, but instead she gets great joy from terrorising Finley over it.

I guess it’s a teenage novel because there are some graphic descriptions of basically torture and some pretty vivid death. Honestly though, the level of the story is younger tweenagers, and I was left wholly unsatisfied with it. Surely there are better young reader fantasy novels with gay characters?

I found myself disappointed in this novel. Yes, it had queer characters, but the story overall wasn’t that great. I felt no sense of satisfaction at the ending, and the fantasy/storyline wasn’t convincing. I loved the idea of witches using parts of themselves to do magic, but I hated that none of them actually disappeared!

3 stars from me, and seriously put this book down further on your to-read list, it’s almost not worth your time.

Penguin Random House | 2 June 2020 | AU$19.99 | paperback

Review: Emery Lord – The Map from Here to There

The Map from Here to There
Emery Lord

Paige’s final year of high school is going to be perfect. She’s got the best friends ever, a cute-as boyfriend and a dream college plan. Too bad that things don’t stay perfect forever, no matter how much you would like them to.

I, for some reason, didn’t realise that this was the second book in the series. I thought that The Start of Me and You was perfect just as it was. It’s been 4 years since I read it, and so this book just pinged vague reminders that mostly just irritated me.

Paige, you suck. Max, you suck. Just suck it up! Things change. And if you have anxiety, that’s probably not going to change either. So really, Paige regresses from the start, and it’s just painful to watch the train wreck happening. I couldn’t feel attracted to her college dreams or her parents marriage/divorce/marriage problem. I also couldn’t have cared less about her clueless friends. Oh, and tossing in Tessa being gay was just off-topic and not what the first book set it up for.

I didn’t actually receive this book from the publisher, I went and bought it myself because I’ve loved most of what Emery Lord has written (see: When We Collided and the names they gave us). This one was a bit of a flop. 3 stars from me.

Bloomsbury | 5 March 2020 | AU$14.99 | paperback

Review: Catherine Steadman – Mr Nobody

Mr Nobody
Catherine Steadman

Dr Emma Lewis is a specialist in memory loss and brain damage. Perhaps it comes from her own past, a man who did something terrible and a memory Emma couldn’t forget. Mr Nobody has no memories of his own, but he knows things about Emma that he shouldn’t know.

There is a beautiful slow pacing in the first half of the novel which potentially could be considered glacially slow if you prefer a novel with a bit more action. I wasn’t in a hurry because I’d only brought one book! I enjoyed the perspectives, although I felt like there was perhaps too much insight into each of their minds. I also didn’t really ‘need’ all of the characters. For example, the nurse wasn’t that necessary.

The ending to this one was a bit of a twist, but not quite as twisty as I thought? I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop. Honestly, after all the build up I thought something exciting might happen in the final pages. I was wrong, and it made me sad. It seemed like Emma had given up (something nebulous that I’m not going to say because it’ll spoil the book).

Thanks to COVID-19 I’m more than a year behind on reviewing this novel. With all the bad stuff that was/is happening in the world I couldn’t face a thriller. This is worthy of three stars – 4 from the beginning and 2 for the ending! If you want a gripping crime go check out Before Her Eyes.

Simon & Schuster | 1 February 2020 | AU$29.99 | paperback