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 Masters 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 a  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

Review: Rebecca Lim – Tiger Daughter

Tiger Daughter
Rebecca Lim

Wen Zhou knows her place in the world – and it’s not a great one when she considers her mother’s stifled life and her father’s abusive ownership of his women. There’s hope for Wen and her best friend Henry though – perhaps they will be able to enter a select entry school and make it away from their unhappy immigrant homes.

If anyone could give the prevailing emotion of this novel, you’d think that it would be hope. I felt however that this novel was desperately sad, because although there is hope for the future I don’t think that the change we see in the men is necessarily sustainable. It takes courage to face what you are, but it also takes money and time – and I worry that there isn’t enough of either for our protagonist.

What appealed to me the most about this novel is that it depicted moments in time that can occur in anyone’s life, not just those who are newer immigrants to Australia. Almost everyone will be targeted for something wrong or different about themselves at some point. Australia suffers from ‘Tall Poppy’ syndrome – anyone special should be chopped down as soon as possible. Let’s hope that this changes into the future.

I borrowed this one as an eBook to keep myself occupied on a flight from Melbourne to Perth (4-5 hours). I was /just/ getting into the story when it ended and the flight literally turned back around to Melbourne! So I was disappointed by both of these things. This is a cute little novella that could have easily been developed into a powerful novel about belonging and felt cut short to me.

4 stars from me, and I’d expect this to be a primary school reader book in future.

Review: Jack Jordan – Do No Harm

Do No Harm
Jack Jordan

As a talented heart surgeon with a better-than-average success rate for saving patients, Anna has been presented with an impossible choice – kill a patient and make it look like an accident, or have her kidnapped son dumped in a well. As Anna’s previously picture-perfect life tumbles out of reach, the question remains – can she get away with murder?

This novel was terrifying and nail-biting and brilliant! I feel like I haven’t read such a great psychological thriller for a long time. I’m not even sure how to start reviewing it, I want you to trust my word for it and go read it!

Anna is somehow a distinctly relatable as a full-time working mom who is going through a messy divorce and is stressed out about not spending enough time with her child. The novel opens on her feeling horrible regret that she was unable to save the patient on her operating table – something that most people don’t have to feel responsible for! But the human factors of Anna draw us in, even as Margot’s character makes us turn away.

Something that always confuses me a little in these crime syndicate novels is that if they threaten to kill you or a loved one, what are the chances that they still won’t just kill you when you’ve done what they’ve wanted? I feel like if you’ve killed that many people before, what’s one or two more to the body count?

This was a compulsive read. However, now that I know the ending, I’m not sure how keen I am to read it again. Perhaps in another couple of years when I have forgotten the epic twists in the tale? 4 to 5 stars for me – go and read this novel. You’d better start reading in the morning though, because you aren’t going to want to put it down until the bloody end.

Simon & Schuster | 1 June 2022 | AU$29.99 | paperback

Review: Fleur Ferris – Seven Days

Seven Days
Fleur Ferris

The last thing Ben wants is to spend his school holidays with his tough cousin and some terrifying farm animals. He sets his timer to count down the seven days to leaving, but suddenly finds himself engrossed in solving a family feud that has been around for the last 100 years. Do the jewels exist?

I didn’t realise that this was a novel for younger teens, and so I initially found myself really disappointed in this latest novel by Ferris. However, once I realised the audience, I thought that it was actually pretty good!

Something that made me somewhat uncomfortable is the Uncle’s role as a counsellor. It made me get all sorts of wrong vibes, particularly as I’ve been reading a lot of abuse memoirs lately. I didn’t like the way that he approached the falling-out of the boys, and I felt like it was offensive the way that they just followed Ben home.

I would have bought that twist easily. Also, the ending was far too neat, but again, appropriate for the age group. I would have liked to see a little more about how it all broke down, but what’s a good book without a chase scene?

This comes as highly recommended teenage boy reading from me! It’s got action, it’s got a bad guy, and it’s got a (literally) kick butt kangaroo. Sure, there’s not all that much character development and some plot points are little inconsistent, but ultimately it’s a face-paced read. Ferris has found her niche in all-is-not-as-it-seems fiction, and it works. 4 stars from me.

Penguin | 3 May 2022 | AU$16.99 | paperback

Review: Rachael Lippincott & Alyson Derrick – She Gets the Girl

She Gets the Girl
Rachael Lippincott & Alyson Derrick

Molly’s social anxiety has made life hard for her during highschool – but she’s followed her dream girl to college, and damn it, she’s going to get the courage up this time. Alex on the other hand can’t seem to keep any girl, but she’s sure that this one is worth it.

A cute little love story that doesn’t ask you to think to hard, or get too invested. I love that their love came about by conversations, and that’s how many of the best relationships start and continue successfully. A relationship can only thrive if both people work at it – and unexpectedly, they’re working on other relationships yet forming a sneaky one on the side.

I thought that the treatment of some of the serious ‘themes’ here could have been a little more thorough. Alex’s mom is a chronic alcoholic, and Alex accepts responsibility for everything. Molly’s mom clearly has some issues about her adopted heritage that aren’t explored at all. Oh, and then there’s the fact that English majors find it very hard to find jobs – I actually thought Alex’s plan to do pre-med was very viable and even if it doesn’t mean she has to send the money home to her mom, it’s a good reliable job!

Phew, I got through this one in record time. I saw it come in my front door and proceeded to pounce and read it almost instantly. Then I gobbled it. A light-hearted read of young lesbian love – what’s not to like? It’s not deep enough for a reread, but I did really enjoy it. 4 stars from me.

Simon & Schuster | 1 May 2022 | AU$17.99 | paperback