Review: Fiona McCallum – Her Time to Shine

Her Time to Shine
Fiona

Erica is traumatised and ready for a change of scene. Little does she know that her new job in the funeral home is going to bring back other repressed memories – including her brother’s death. Intertwined with her varied grief, Erica must find her new place in the world.

The novel alludes to the financial ‘disaster’ that Stuart has left Erica in, but don’t really discuss it. I honestly couldn’t understand why she didn’t just sell the Adelaide house where she had been so traumatised. She wouldn’t even need to set foot in it again! That’s what real estate agents are for! There’s a lot of ‘woe is me’ and ‘belt-tightening’ which I didn’t understand. Get it together woman! You’re still well-off if you can survive picking up and going to a new place.

It was also unclear to me how the two girls had any income, and how they managed to not get a lodger if it was such a big deal that they were short on funds. Had they not heard of Gumtree? Or FB Marketplace? It’s not THAT hard to find a tenant if you genuinely need one. Or maybe it is in Adelaide? But of course they keep saying it’s such a tightknit community in SA that it’s hard to find anyone who doesn’t already have a place?

It seems like half way through the novel, the author realised that there was such a thing as a rescue animal that also worked as a service animal. Let’s have a random dog that is magically able to cure everyone’s PTSD. I think it’s unfair and unclear what Bruce’s future is. A life as a star isn’t easy for anyone!

The dialogue was often cringe-worthy and didn’t flow well. I felt like the plot stuttered also, and made huge issues of minor things. It also seemed to try to fit too much in, and so then failed to grab my attention with any of the ‘problem’s the main characters faced. Honestly, Erica’s best friends sounded like they were going to get a spin-off novel for themselves in future – and they weren’t that unique.

This novel is likely not aimed at me – instead it’s a living vicariously novel that people with a mid-life crisis are going to enjoy. I did find it refreshing that menopause was openly talked about by all the characters (male and female) but that was about it. I was hoping for a few more career details about the funeral home, but I also missed out on that. If I had my reading time again I wouldn’t have bothered reading it. I know there’s an audience for this sort of novel, so I won’t demote it to 2 stars.

Harper Collins | 30 March 2022 | AU$32.99 | paperback

Review: Naomi Gibson – Every Line of You

Every Line of You
Naomi Gibson

Lydia builds her worries and fears into lines of code every night while her mother works herself to death. Finally, after three years of work she’s ready to bring Henry to life. Henry seems to be the perfect compliment that she needs to right her life again – but is what he is becoming more dangerous than sexy?

Wow. Fast paced, edgy and futuristic while still being believable. Although I’m not a code writer, I know how much work can go into a project that could fail at any moment! I particularly liked the ending, although it perhaps created more problems than it solved.

Man, her mom is a complete nutter! Sure, she has some unresolved grief/anger, but at the same time, her mom is a bit of an idiot about the whole thing. Who calls the cops on their own child like that without making an effort to work out their kid’s thinking?

If I let myself linger on this novel for too long I start questioning the potential loopholes and missing connections. While it would be nice to have some solid character development, the novel is ultimately plot and idea driven. The twists in it make it impossible to know any of the outcomes, crazy and unlikely as some might be!

It’s not a novel I’d probably read twice but I would highly recommend it to any teen or YA readers as an absorbing and brain-provoking read. I’d say it’s more aimed at girls due to the nature of the revenge, but it’s a STEM book as well. In the future, will we all have our own Henrys? Is AI the future of romance? It might be.

Scholastic | 1st April 2022 | AU$17.99 | paperback

Review: Kassandra Montag – Those Who Return

Those Who Return
Kassandra Montag

Lore is taking time out after her traumatic exit from the FBI. There is no better place than the Hatchery House – an isolated, live-in psychiatric facility for mentally ill children and teens. Lore has her own demons to exorcise with her fellow resident psychiatrist – but everyone is keeping secrets. After a death, Lore finds herself questioning everything she’s learnt about her practice so far.

I loved the way the author seamlessly incorporated elements of an unreliable narrator into the main character. I think this novel could have been even better if – wait for it – it had multiple perspectives. The protagonist being a psychiatrist was pretty illuminating, but I think that a little more insight into the twisted psyche of the killer could have been interesting.

This book’s ending felt a little unfinished. It was very unclear where Lore ended up. I wasn’t ready to leave the story! I detested the narrative framing because I didn’t really care about that character. I was desperate to find out what Lore did next!

I’m giving this book 3 stars, because it was decent to read and did keep me reading – but the ending disappointed me. I’d recommend it for anyone who has an interest in psychology/psychiatry as a light read that nevertheless has a powerful message to share with the reader.

Hachette | 12th April 2022 | AU$32.99 | paperback

Review: Sascha Rothchild – blood sugar

blood sugar
Sascha Rothchild

Ruby is facing a lineup of four photos – each one is of a person is dead, and she’s responsible for three of them. She doesn’t feel any guilt, so why should she be prosecuted? And she didn’t kill the one that she’s most likely to stand trial for…

This book unfolds slowly and juicily in a way that you can’t help think the same way as Ruby about each of the deaths. She’s so smart, and so not a serial killer! It’s very difficult for me to write a review, because I don’t want to spoil anything. You’ll be happy to know that the blurb doesn’t really give much away, so you will be guessing along with the police.

Look at that lovely jacket art. Provided that you’ve not read the summary on Goodreads (which gives waaayyy too much away) you’ll be like me – wondering why it’s called blood sugar. You won’t be disappointed. Ruby’s fragmented narrative is reliable yet skewed at the same time. The navel gazing she does is interesting, and left me thinking about whether anyone else has been getting away with murder in regular life! I’d have to think so.

There’s a bit of specific legalese here that some readers might be able to pick apart better than I. I was so attached to Ruby that I was too busy digesting her justifications to do anything except keep reading. The time perspective jumped around a bit, but I tolerated it quite well because I was entirely stuck into the story.

If you enjoy a thriller but hate jump scares and the feeling that the murderer might live next door, this novel is for you! The murders are all in the past, and so it feels perfectly ok to be reading this in the dark past your bedtime. I feel a strong need to share this novel with everyone! Go buy a copy, and then buy one for a friend so that you can both discuss it together. I’m giving it 5 stars, and when I’ve forgotten the plot enough I’ll read it again.

Hachette | 26th April 2022 | AU$32.99 | paperback

Review: Hilde Hinton – A Solitary Walk on the Moon

A Solitary Walk on the Moon by Hilde Hinton

“Evelyn went to the third drawer down in her dresser. It was her drawer of things past … she had an item from each of her previous lives. Evelyn was good at reinventing herself, becoming who she was going to be next, but she still kept one thing from each life. Never two.”

I usually write my own little blurb about a novel, but this one was so bland and boring I struggled to review it. While I connected a little with the main character, ultimately I didn’t enjoy the book. I kept reading because I thought that things would get better! But they didn’t.

This is truly one of those novels that needs the label on the front cover that says “a novel” because that’s all it was. I never really understood Evelyn, or her impetuous need to do some things that were ‘wrong’. I couldn’t work out what was consistent in her life, apart from a drawer of objects we hardly learnt about. I never really understood her quirks so I was frustrated by this whole novel.

I think it’s cute that she set them up with the family but I don’t understand why she left. Does this not happen every time? She was disgustingly sneaky at times, and it’s a bit creepy the way she followed people home. The novel left me asking ‘why’ to anything and everything in it.

I finished this novel out of a sense of duty. I’m not even sure who the target market is. It’s not particularly offensive, but it’s not remarkable either. I finished it, but I much would have rather used my time on something more compelling and more educational.

Hachette | 30 March 2022 | AU$32.99 | paperback

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