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

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

Review: Becky Albertalli & Adam Silvera – What if it’s Us Duology

What if it’s Us Duology
Becky Albertalli & Adam Silvera

What if it’s Us?

Ben and Arthur meet by accident as Ben tries to post a box of mementoes back to his ex-boyfriend and Arthur tries to grab himself a moment alone in New York. Arthur’s never dated a boy before, he’s not even sure he’s had a crush on one quite as badly as on Ben. In a world where summer is short, will the paths of these boys cross again when the Universe interferes?

One of the things I enjoyed most about this book was the ending. It could have made or ruined the novel, particularly as I knew there was a sequel. It turned out to be perfect. I unfortunately made the mistake of reading the second before reviewing the first. Oops? But I was just so excited to keep reading about Ben and Arthur! I needed to still be with them.

Here’s to Us

Ben has mostly moved on with his life without Arthur. He’s sort-of dating a hot new guy, he’s making do with his college classes and job. Arthur has a great new boyfriend who’s sweet, caring and… isn’t Ben. A series of Universe Events means that they will collide, but will their worlds align again?

This novel is filled with hope, and real relationships where it seems crazy that things could line up. I honestly could have been happy with any of the relationships that formed and broke apart. Despite being a feel-good novel, it does still briefly touch on racism and socioeconomic bias. Not everyone is bright enough to get a scholarship for school, and not everyone wants to go to college (or finish college).

Thanks Simon and Schuster for these review copies. They look fantastic on my new shelves, and I loved reading both of them. This’ll be a reread when I’m feeling a bit down – a goodhearted and satisfying read.

Simon & Schuster | January 2022 | AU$17.99 | paperback

Review: Eoin Colfer – The Wish List

The Wish List
Eoin Colfer

Meg Finn has a single wish – to show up her step-father Franco and get on with life without her Marm. Unfortunately for Meg, she now owes Belch a favour and it could end up with her dead. But is there something worse than just being dead? Definitely if you’ve been saddled with meeting an old-man’s wish list.

This was a sneaky reread just after moving house – the book ended up at the top of a box and so it called to me to read it. Oops? But then I discovered that I hadn’t reviewed it, so I hadn’t really gotten away with anything.

Ok, so this book isn’t theologically accurate, and I’d even call it theologically challenging. It’s kinda cute that the Devil’s second in command goes by the nickname ‘Bub’. This has put a lot of readers off apparently, but if you aren’t thinking of heaven and hell in the way you were perhaps taught in Bible school, then you’re going to enjoy the ride in this book. Everything seems so simple… until it isn’t.

Eoin Colfer is probably best known for his series with the boy genius Artemis Fowl, which has since been turned into a movie. Don’t go into this novel thinking that it will be that deep or have intellectual jokes. This is an early teenage book, perhaps middle grade fiction.

Weirdly, I occasionally get Garth Nix and Eoin Colfer confused. I think it’s because they were both the early fantasy that I got into as a teenager, and that they haven’t limited themselves to a single universe or concept. I’d sort of even forgotten that this novel existed on my shelf, hidden as it was with the other novels. I’m still giving it 5 stars, even if I’m no longer in the target age group.

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