Review: Anne Fine – Shades of Scarlet

Shades of Scarlet
Anne Fine

Scarlet’s parents have split up, they’re divorcing and Scarlet finds herself caught in the middle. While Scarlet tries to navigate school, friends and homework she somehow has to find time to also placate her parents – who want to know what the other one is doing, even if it isn’t Scarlet’s job to pass that on! It seems like her mom is at fault – but is her dad a problem too?

Another day, another book with a main character named Scarlet (see Skin Deep)! I wonder if it’s a common name at the moment. I’m sure that the author had some deeper meaning in mind when she named her protagonist, or perhaps she just thought of the colour red

You know what I also like about this novel? Scarlet isn’t automatically looking for a boyfriend/girlfriend to get herself out of the situation. I personally felt that her best friend was a bit off, but Scarlett herself was spot-on in her emotions and approach to life.

I like how this captured the side-conversations that adults sometimes have that kids aren’t meant to know about. So for example, Alice’s parents have some really inappropriate conversations that one/both girls see/overhear. In my experience, kids know when parents are being sneaky (I mean, not 100% of the time)! So holding conversations in the open is far more helpful for building trust.

I received this book very late compared to the publication date, so there are plenty of reviews around for it now. That being said, I feel like it’s a suitable Christmas gift for a 9-13 year old who has divorcing parents or just struggles to feel heard and understood. Scarlet has a lot of rage, anger and emotions to get out, just like the average teenager.

I’m going to give this one 4 stars. I think it would have appeal to a wide range of audiences, but would be most suitable as middle grade or young teenage fiction. I think that this is a worthy addition to school libraries.

Scholastic | 1st July 2021 | AU$24.99 | hardback

Review: Lyndall Clipstone – Lakesedge

Lakesedge
Lyndall Clipstone

Violetta holds a lot of secrets, ones that might be important for her survival. Violetta doesn’t care much about herself though – she only cares for her brother and protecting him from his dark shadows. She is limited though – the Lord of Lake’s Edge gets what he wants – and he wants her brother. Violetta tags along to see if she too can fight the Corruption.

Oh no! He’s feeding the Lake Monster! Oh no, he is the Monster. Oh well, we all know that the main characters in books like these will fall in love. In fact, we can predict pretty much the whole storyline despite them pretending that everything is a huge secret.

Isn’t the cover gorgeous? Ultimately it’s not the forest that is even relevant, or the lake. The interior of the house and the garden get the most attention, but maybe Violetta’s mind is the main attraction? I had such high hopes when I requested it, but it was hopeless. I felt like I’d wasted my time reading in.

Look, I’ve categorized it as teen fiction, only because there are some racy scenes there. My hunch is that the Lord of Under is going to be nursing a baby in 9 months time! Unfortunately the storyline is too simple and there isn’t enough character growth to truly belong to the teenage category – I think it could even be an advanced middle grade fiction except for the sexual elements. There’s also a hint of LGTBIQA* relationships, but these aren’t convincing or deep.

I got to the end of this novel, and I discovered that it’s only the first in a series! Honestly, it felt like half a book. There was a whole lot of telling rather than showing going on, and the ending wasn’t complete. I tried retelling this as a oral story at bedtime, and my audience was very unimpressed with the ending. I personally felt that I hated the characters enough that I would have been perfectly happy (even overjoyed!) that one or more of them died. 3 begrudging stars from me.

Pan Macmillan | 31 August 2021| AU$24.99 | paperback

Review: Sosuke Natsukawa – The Cat Who Saved Books

The Cat Who Saved Books
Sosuke Natsukawa

The death of Rintaro Natsuki’s grandfather only strengthens Rintaro’s determination to stay at home, in the bookshop that holds fond memories for him. Yet, the bookshops are perhaps a dying trade – and Rintaro doesn’t feel strongly enough about anything to protect it from his loving aunt. But perhaps the cat can save the bookshop, and him too.

Some of the ideas in this novel were just too foreign to work with my understanding of the world. There’s no such thing as a ‘class rep’ and there is no chance that a teenager would be left in charge of a bookshop. Also, students generally aren’t allow to miss that much school without serious consequences in Australia.

I think that unfortunately this book loses a lot of its charm in the translation. Maybe I’m just not its target audience? I think that the audience it would suit are teenagers who are slightly more immersed in Japanese culture or literature, who are of the bookish inclination.

I loved the idea of a cat that cares about books, and I found the three labyrinths quite engaging. Hopefully other readers also find these ideas thought provoking. My favourite was perhaps the man trying to cut books down to a single word to compress the meaning of them. This is so true, and you see it in abridged audio books! Why would you cut out the best bits?

I think it’s somewhat unfair of me to assign this book a star rating as it just wasn’t aimed at me. Maybe I’ll give a 3 stars, but I’d consider 4 stars for the right audience. It’s a thin volume that can be knocked over in a short reading period (it took me around 2 hours). It’s probably great to borrow from a library or buy online to give as a gift, but I wouldn’t necessarily advocate for you to rush out to buy your own copy.

Pan Macmillan | 14th September 2021 | AU$19.99 | paperback

Review: Tobias Madden – Anything But Fine

Anything But Fine
Tobias Madden

Lucas’ life is wrapped up in ballet. Ballet is his whole life – he practices and practices and lets his schoolwork slide. Terrifyingly he slips and suffers a potentially career ending injury that also causes him to suffer the teenage fear of changing schools and losing his scholarship.

I’m not sure how I felt about Lucas’ relationship with his OT (occupational therapist). I also wasn’t 100% sure why he wasn’t seeing a physiotherapist? And honestly, it sounded like he would have also benefitted from seeing a psychologist. As many Australians would know though, mental health isn’t a ‘done thing’ and finding appointments is hard. Lucas’ dad is lovely and supportive though.

Starting at a new school is hard for anyone, but try being gay and on crutches in a small rural school. I think this novel is quite a realistic view of high school and homophobic people. Also, Lucas’ new friend is Muslim, and we also see some horrible Islamophobia. Oh! And don’t forget parental expectations for medical school. There’s a lot packed into this novel, and you won’t be disappointed.

The teenage love story is cute, but also filled with respectful relationships and understanding parents. There’s a few ‘racy’ scenes here, but nothing too blushworthy to a teenage male (from what I know about being a hormonal teenager, anyway). You’ll find it slightly less, um, provocative than Jack of Hearts (and other parts) for example.

This is a worthy addition to teenage queer fiction. It hits all the right notes about consent and waiting until you are ready, while also sensitively exploring the problems of high-school and jock culture. I’m giving this 5 stars, and giving it a pride of place on my shelf. I look forward to seeing more from this author.

Penguin Random House | 31st August 2021| AU$19.99 | paperback

Review: Hayley Lawrence – Skin Deep

Skin Deep
Hayley Lawrence

Scarlett went from being a beautiful, graceful dancer to a scarred outcast in the space of an afternoon. She’s desperate to get away from people’s expectations – and her dad is willing to take her up into the mountains to get away. But there she finds she can’t be alone – and maybe she doesn’t want to be.

I confess that I found this novel somewhat unrealistic and underwhelming. I didn’t find it thought-provoking because I didn’t think that the overall treatment of Scarlett’s scars was reasonable. I wanted to be fair to this novel, so I went to do a little digging on what research the author did before/during writing it. I couldn’t find much.

Yes, girls are definitely treated differently in terms of ‘pretty’, ‘cute’, ‘beautiful’ and ‘ugly’, but it’s also true of guys to an extent. There are definitely the ugly guys who also get picked on by the ‘jock’ types. This book makes it seem like only women have the problem! And that only shallow women only think about looks, which is also untrue.

It seemed like a low technique to have the secondary character Eamon just accept Scarlett – because it seemed as if his sister was the pure reason that he felt that way. The abrupt turn-around of Scarlett’s friends also seemed shallow and unlikely. Finally, I didn’t care for the romance that sprung up – how convenient that Scarlett and Eamon might spend some more time together! I also had a Bridge to Terabithia moment which honestly could have made the novel more poignant for me.

If you have an overactive imagination like mine, please note that there should be a trigger warning for skin peeling. I can’t get a particular phrase out of my mind! However, the majority of references to her scars are that they are ugly and really that way because of the muscle loss.

I’m giving this 3 stars – hopefully it’s thought-provoking for younger readers, but if you really want to get inside someone’s mind who has been badly scarred, Brent Runyon’s Burn Journals remains the gold standard in my mind (I appear to have not reviewed that novel in particular, but I have reviewed his Surface Tension).

Scholastic | 1st July 2021 | AU$15.99 | paperback

Review: Natasha Ngan – Girls of Paper and Fire

Girls of Paper and Fire
Natasha Ngan

Lei has been blissfully unaware of the wider society – apart from a raid that took her mother 7 years ago. When she is selected to become one of the king’s eight concubines she doesn’t feel it’s an honour and dreads serving a king brutal enough to order the complete destruction of villages. Lei doesn’t know how she will survive – but when she finds herself falling in love, she realises that there is more to life than serving and hating.

In a beautifully realized fantasy setting, it’s a love story, and yet at the same time other things are going on. To start with Lei isn’t that keen on being chosen – but decides to make the most of things to protect her family. I loved her fiery spirit, even if the early pages of the book were all a bit boring as they focused on the concubines getting to know one another.

I found the ending a little disappointing. Honestly, it would have been better if that particular character had died, because I could see where a power gap could still occur. For example, the mysterious shamans. What was their reasoning for keeping the balance of power stable? What did they get out of it?

Many reviewers have said this should come with a trigger warning for rape and abuse. I think it’s fair to say it did come with a bit of notice about that, as the beginning pages of the novel (at least in my copy) were links to rape and abuse hotlines for people who were in such terrible situations.

I picked this up at the library because I was pretty sure I’d seen other bloggers raving over it! I saw that there were the first two books on the shelf and promptly googled it to check how many books it was going to be. Unfortunately for me, it’s a trilogy and the third book isn’t published yet! I’ll give it four stars, and worry about reading the third when it comes out (probably again borrowed from the library).

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