Review: Brigid Kemmerer – Defy the Night

Defy the Night
Brigid Kemmerer

Tessa Cade makes adrenaline-filled supply runs to dying individuals in the Wilds. The Kingdom is threatened by a fever that noone knows the cause of, and only moonflowers can cure it. The rich, of course, have more moonflower elixir than they need. The poor are dying, and the King and his cruel brother don’t care.

I found the illnesses that weren’t the fever particularly interesting. It seems like the moonflowers were good for the fever – but that was it! So Tessa’s experience as an apothecary was useful in more than one regard. I find it so hard to believe that people are still buying solutions that are useless – but I guess some people need to buy hope (COVID19 quacks anyone?)

The ‘sectors’ in this novel unfortunately just remind me of The Hunger Games. It seems super weird to me that a city would be set out as sectors, let alone a whole kingdom. Anyone else feel that way? I never really got a clear picture in my head about how it worked, or how large they were. The Royal sector was probably small, because Tessa and Wes could cover it in a night? Or was I misinterpreting how time works there

No! Stop! Before you read the blurb, or have a glance at the next novel, don’t do it! You’ll ruin some of the fabulous suspense that’s in this novel. If I was the King, I’m not sure I’d have bought Tessa or Corrick’s stories. I think he’s right to not trust anyone!

I read this as an ebook on my phone (not my preferred format) because I had received the second book for review. I wasn’t feeling up for a long series read, and I’ve previously been disappointed (and didn’t even finish/review) the second book by Kemmerer of the A Curse so Dark and Lonely series. Imagine my disgust when I realised this is yet another trilogy! 4 stars only then, not 5, because I don’t trust the author to finish their story satisfactorily.

Review: Kevin Christopher Snipes – Milo and Marcos at the End of the World

Milo and Marcos at the End of the World
Kevin Christopher Snipes

Milos and Van have been besties forever. It doesn’t matter to Milos that she’s sworn off organised religion, and it doesn’t matter to Van that Milos is a bit of a religious pariah. When Marcos walks back into their lives, Van is excited and Milos feels betrayed. How dare this boy who made him feel the wrong things be back? As they get closer and closer, the world begins to end – coincidences pile up, and leave Milos asking – does God hate gays?

What was good about this novel was the internal anguish of Milo trying to reconcile his homosexuality and his religious beliefs. It’s impressive how much internalised homophobia Milo had even after a single summer of feeling feelings for the wrong gender. Milo is very distressed, but also an idiot.

I felt so hard for Marcos! And personally, I never would have forgiven Milos for being a dirtbag. Milos continually proves that he is unreliable and a bit of an ass, yet Marcos is trying to make something of his life. Nup. Wasn’t sold on the ending because of this either.

I listened to this book as an audiobook borrowed from my library. The reader was pretty good, and my conure who is fond of male voices came and tried to sit on my phone the whole time I was listening. However, I was surprised by how long this novel was. I think that some of it (particularly the ‘Milo is a good Presbyterian boy’ repeated line) could have been skipped.

Uh, was anyone else a bit thrown by the ending? It all just seems too neat. Also, ‘making love’ – really? In a teenage novel? I know a little about the logistics of this, and it’s not really as simple as all that. If you’re looking for a book that unpacks a bit of the intersection between homosexuality and religion, this could be for you. If you’re looking for a more realistic gay romance, try Anything but Fine or Jack of Hearts. 3-4 stars from me.

Review: David Towsey – Equinox

Equinox
David Towsey

Christophor is a witch-hunter at the end of his career. He’d like a nice quiet ending with no excitement. It’s not to be though, as he is sent out on the hunt again after a child has their eyes replaced with teeth. Alexander is just along for the ride, but he eventually gets pulled into helping Christophor with the hunt.

The concept of this novel was so cool! I loved the premise that each human body had two completely separate people in it. You go through the day as one person, and then your night-sister takes over while your mind sleeps. Thus your two halves never meet, and can live almost completely separate lives. It leads to crazy things – you might have an affair with one person, but then after you sleep your day-sister wakes up with someone else’s husband there!

Naturally, because Christophor is the night-brother we have the first perspective from, I felt way more invested in ‘him’ rather than Alexander (day-brother). I then thought that Alexander was a bit of a twit! Which is perhaps what the author wanted me to think. It was interesting to see the two perspectives, even if I didn’t really understand why Alexander put up with his night-brother.

I’d had a friend review it before me reading it, and they said the book was average. Why? The ending was poor. Very poor. It felt rushed and uninteresting. There wasn’t much in the way of an explanation for the magic system in the novel, and so the ending felt forced and too extravagant. Thus, I’m only giving this 2 stars even though I finished it.

Bloomsbury | 2 August 2022 | AU$29.99 | paperback

Review: Tobias Madden – Take a Bow, Noah Mitchell

Take a Bow, Noah Mitchell
Tobias Madden

Noah is in love with his best friend… who he doesn’t even know the name of, and has only ‘met’ online. Well, if we’re being honest, it’s Noah’s only friend. Noah’s mum is desperate to have him participate in a musical theatre so it could be an in…

I unfortunately found this novel quite cringeworthy, and I struggled to keep reading it. I knew from the beginning that things weren’t going to go well for Noah! Was I ever so stupid in highschool?

I was so worried about what Noah’s big secret was to why he has no friends at school, but in the end I felt a bit letdown. I also felt tricked by Eli’s mom and her job – it didn’t seem to actually be all that relevant to the narrative in the end. Oh, and what about Alex just reporting back to Noah’s mother? That was a bit weird too.

It’s been a year or so since Anything but Fine, but unfortunately I didn’t feel like the author’s style has progressed much (or maybe the topic is too same-y). I look forward to seeing more #ownvoices work from this author, but I hope that he will continue to broaden his writing out of his own experiences and into new areas (not ballet or theatre that I feel are stereotypically gay).

I feel terrible writing such a negative review. I’m sure this novel will be reassuring to some gay teens, and maybe reinforce that parents aren’t always what they seem. For me though, I was disappointed and I’m only giving 3 stars. I’d recommend Camp or Jack of Hearts over this novel, or of course the debut by this author – Anything but Fine.

Penguin | 30 August 2022 | AU$19.99 | paperback

Review: Kate Emery – The Not So Chosen One

The Not So Chosen One
Kate Emery

Lucy’s keeping her cool – she’s got homework, friends and needs to be at home on time. She just won’t think about the fact that she’s pregnant. To top it off, she’s suddenly been offered entry into the prestigious Drake’s College – but she doesn’t seem to have any magical abilities?

This book was fantastic… right until the last 10 pages or so. How can this book not have a sequel? Then I thought back along the book and went.. uh, enough plot holes, anyone? I received an ARC of this novel, but the ending made me so disappointed I couldn’t bring myself to review it. Maybe it was improved further before going to publication?

I liked Lucy, even if she was really quite an idiot at times. Seriously girl, get yo’sef together! She definitely could have done a better job at paying attention and putting clues together. Maybe she has baby brain? I could have done with a bit more in terms of context and some of the plot twists just seemed to be twists for the hell of it rather than actual useful storyline. That said, I was really realy invested in the ending!

I’m giving it 2 stars, although I considered giving it only 1 star. The ending is so terrible that you shouldn’t let yourself read this book unless a second is published. And I’d want that sequel to be published, not just ‘in writing’ before committing. I’m still sad about the ending…

Text Publishing | 5 July 2022 | AU$19.99 | paperback

Review: Alice Boyle – Dancing Barefoot

Alice Boyle
Dancing Barefoot

Patch has crushed on Evie for forever! Unrequitedly, of course. Patch knows she’s the least likely person for Evie to get involved with – but that doesn’t mean she can’t ogle Evie when she gets the chance. There’s only the tiny hurdle of not having even admitted to herself that she’s gay, her terrible hair and trans best friend. Can Patch make it past the things working against her?

This novel was phenomenal, and I don’t use that term lightly. I’ve just finished reading it and I’m still having happy thoughts and feeling a warm cuddliness towards the characters. I loved Patch, I loved Evie and I loved Edwin. I even loved Abigail just a slight bit too – even if when her motivation came out it didn’t actually make sense with the time chronology of the novel. I read an ARC, so maybe that’s been ironed out by the time this review goes live.

I’m not 100% in love with the title, but the cover makes up for it I think. It nicely reflects that even if you’re in love for the first time, it can’t just be about two people. Patch knows she has great things in life, but that doesn’t mean that she isn’t nervous. Most of the action time in this book really is action time without too much ‘this is highschool and it sucks’.

What I particularly liked was the treatment of Edwin being trans. Some other authors make a huge deal out of it and their main character often struggles to remember the right pronouns for their best friend. Here, Edwin is already one of the guys. It’s a fact. I also like how Patch still feels awkward to come out to anyone, even if it’s probably that Edwin won’t care.

Is it too niche for Patch to be gay, with a single dad, a trans best friend, a scholarship kid at a swanky private college and amazing at art? Have I read too many novels where the lesbian main character is special in some way? Ok, maybe. But this novel makes it into my top of the list for lesbian teenage romances.

In the same way that I loved Jack of Hearts (and other parts) and Camp for their ‘real’ dramas, this novel creates a genuine Melbourne feel and an Australian-ness that isn’t overdone and beachy. I want to spread my love of this novel as far as possible! I want it to be on recommended reading or as a highschool English text.

I feel so distracted and unable to stop thinking about this novel. I don’t feel ready to leave Patch’s home turf – maybe I’ll just have to read a non-fiction book next instead. 5 stars from me.

Text Publishing | 30 August 2022 | AU$24.99 | paperback

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: 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: 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: 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