Review: Amanda Woody – They Hate Each Other

They Hate Each Other
Amanda Woody

Jonah and Dylan have nothing in common. Nothing. Never. It’s why their friends are so determined that they will end up together – enemies to lovers. When they end up accidentally sleeping in the same bed, they decide to fake it until their friends get over it. But will Jonah and Dylan discover that they have more in common than they thought?

Is this too neat? I mean, it’s gonna be a teenage romance, so OF COURSE they will end up together. The author digs a little more deeply though into each of the boy’s home lives, and deals with some difficult topics including sexual harrassment, abuse, trauma and body image. It could be triggering for some people – don’t believe what TikTok tells you about the book, go and actually read the publisher’s website to be sure that it’s a book for you.

Reminicent of Lose You to Find Me, this book is a worthy additional to #ownvoices Queer novels. I’d put this near the top of my recommendation pile for someone with a young gay in their lives. It’s not always a comforting or comfortable read, but it is pretty good fun in parts. I couldn’t decide if I was on Team Dylan or Team Jonah – I love a great baked good, so I guess Dylan wins. Both are well-rounded characters that have been given unique quirks and flaws rather than being one-dimensional standins for “best practice gay boys”.

I ate this book up in a single afternoon, so it must have been good! On a couple of occasions I almost found myself crying for the characters. 5 stars from me, with a thought that after the storyline fades nicely in my head, I will want to reread it. Only time will tell.

Hachette | 9 May 2023 | AU$22.99 | paperback

Review: Rebecca Yarros – Fourth Wing

Fourth Wing
Rebecca Yarros

Violet has been training to become a scribe like her father, rather than a dragon rider like her older sister, decreased brother and cold mother. At the last moment, Violet must pass the parapet and become a rider – where not all the riders will be chosen by dragons… and not all would-be riders will survive.

Character development? Not really. Amazing world-building? Yup, maybe! Fun storyline where you can’t decide whether you want the protagonist to live or die? 100%! Although I had no real prediction as to how it was going to go down, the ending was highly satisfying.

I’m not sure they are grumpy enough dragons (or that there’s enough dragon time)! I mean, when we get to the final parade in front of them, I felt like they could have incinerated a couple more of the cadets. If they aren’t going to choose them all, why not put the others out of their misery?

Winner! Another main character with a physical disability that doesn’t let it get in the way of what she wants to do (see also: A Curse so Dark and Lonely). Damn, girl! I guessed the ending just a couple of pages out from the end of the book and was 100% paranoid that the book was going to end before I confirmed it.

If you’re sensitive to, well, erotica, this might not be the book for you. Violet definitely spends a fair bit of time thinking about sex, and then it gets worse as you progress through the book! The first half is relatively safe though

For once it’s not a group of 15-16 year olds fighting it out, it’s actual adults. I really appreciated that aspect and it made the violence seem slightly less out of place? I think that the way young children are killed off in something like The Hunger Games very dystopian. It’s an uncomfortable thought to know that although that’s a fantasty world, in the real world children are dying right now anyway.

I couldn’t stop reading it and after some time has passed and the second book is published, I will be all there for a reread.

Hachette | 9 May 2023 | AU$32.99 | paperback

Review: Non Pratt – Every Little Piece of my Heart

Every Little Piece of my Heart
Non Pratt

Sophie has been abandoned by her bestie, Freya. Sophie’s trying to deal with her chronic illness, having no friends at school and just generally feeling abandoned. When she receives a parcel with her name on it, she can’t wait to open it. But the parcel isn’t even for her, she needs to pass it on to someone she barely knows…

It’s nice to have a character with a chronic illness that makes it difficult for her to be a main character! It’s very unfair and biased that many heroes are strong or even just plain healthy when the reality is that many people live with unseen conditions. Spoons! So in a way that almost made this book redeemable, but not quite.

This book also suffered from multiple perspectives. I say suffered because I didn’t feel like it was done particularly well. Despite flipping through the four view points, each doesn’t add anything particularly new in my opinion. Ok ok, we see four different people but I don’t think that there’s enough depth that each seemed unique. Maybe it passes for teen fiction, but not YA fiction.

Average. So, so average. And the ending was terrible – was it left open for a sequel where there’s a big happy reunion? I mean, I finished it, but only because I was hopeful that the end would answer some big questions I had. It didn’t. If you love books with open endings, you’ll love this one. I’m giving it 3 stars, which is extremely generous of me.

Review: Tess Sharpe – Six Times We Almost Kissed (And One Time We Did)

Six Times We Almost Kissed (And One Time We Did)
Tess Sharpe

Tate and Penny’s moms are best friends. When Penny is in an accident, Tate’s mom looks after Penny’s mom. When Tate’s mom is sick, Penny’s mom looks after her. But who looks after Penny? Tate does, but what is the feeling between them? (it’s love, of course!)

Is the title long enough? The timeline in this and the in-brackets asides made this novel not really work for me. I had trouble keeping track of whose perspective I was reading, and so I didn’t really follow who didn’t like who or not? This, combined with essentially flashbacks, made it very tricky for me to follow. Ultimately it didn’t really matter though, because it’s pretty obvious how this novel is going to end. It wouldn’t be YA if it didn’t have a happy ending!

I knocked this easy novel over in a couple of hours. I was feeling uninspired to read and I wanted something simple. There’s nothing particularly wrong with this novel, but there is nothing outstanding either. It briefly covers dealing with trauma (or rather, not dealing with it) and the implications of a long-term illness. However, it lacks details and backstory that would have helped me connect better to the characters. I sympathised with both girls, but I was never really sure why the kiss hadn’t happened the first six times?

If it’s on your library shelf, sure, read it. But I wouldn’t rush out to buy it. You know what the ending will be from the blurb, and there wasn’t enough depth for me to want to reread this. I think it had potential, but failed at producing vibrantly different characters. I am going to seek out another novel from this author because I think something from a single perspective might be perfect. 3 stars from me.

Hachette | 14 February 2023 | AU$19.99 | paperback

Review: Brigid Kemmerer – Defend the Dawn

Defend the Dawn
Brigid Kemmerer

“The kingdom of Kandala narrowly avoided catastrophe, but the embers of revolution still simmer. While King Harristan seeks a new way to lead, Tessa and Prince Corrick attempt to foster unity between rebels and royals. But the consuls who control the Moonflower will not back down, and Corrick realizes he must find a new source for the lifesaving Elixir.”

I knew heading into this novel that it wouldn’t finish properly because this author has a bad habit of writing trilogies where the second book is a bit weak (A Curse so Dark and Lonely). I was willing to tolerate it, and I had even read the first book as an ebook (which is definitely not my preferred way of consuming written content). Alas, I was seriously disappointed in both the story and the ending.

Sometimes it seems like there is a female heroine just for the sake of having a โ€˜strong female leadโ€™. Itโ€™s refreshing at least that Tessa isnโ€™t magically able to fight like a banshee and she relies on her people skills to get ahead.

There are so many points when I had to suspend my disbelief. You’re telling me that just having someone on board is enough? Seriously, didn’t you guys do your homework? How did Tessa NOT see that coming? Wouldn’t you ask more questions?

As with another novel I read recently, the bad guys could more readily kill off the main populace – I don’t understand what they get out of those people living. If they complain so much about the ‘common people’ then surely it would be ok to let more of them die. I guess you need a few people to lord over, but I doubt you really need a whole city!

It’s now been a while since I’ve read this novel, and I’m not sure I can continue to read things by this author. I’ve been disappointed too many times in a row! Now to just remind myself to check the author before I request any nifty-looking fantasy YA novels. 3 stars from me.

Bloomsbury | 20 September 2022 | AU$16.99 | paperback

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: Jennifer Niven – All the Bright Places

All the Bright PLaces
Jennifer Niven

Finch doesn’t have aย  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: Zach Jones – Growing Up in Flames

Growing Up in Flames
Zach Jones

After Kennaโ€™s mother Ava dies, Kenna must live in the tiny town that Ava grew up in. Kenna struggles with guilt and PTSD from the bushfire that took her mother’s life. Noah lives with the trauma of his childhood and the call of flames. When the two collide, their paths cross for better or for worse.

Growing Up in Flames is theoretically a great young adult novel about the impact of potential bushfires on teenagers growing up in remote and regional areas of Australia. Unfortunately, although the main characters seemed to fear fire, it seemed to be used as a plot point that didn’t actually have a reasonable or even legally appropriate ending.

I found the jumps forwards and backwards in time quite confusing and I was frankly quite disgusted at the behaviour of some of the characters. I felt like there were quite a lot of legal guidelines crossed – particularly the psychologist that is theoretically treating the two main characters who just happened to become friends. And also that the psychologist gives tacit approval for Noah dosing his mother.

I’m sure that things were very different back then (1970s?) but the fact that Kenna’s mom and boyfriend basically blame someone/anyone else for their problems is reprehensible. Not to mention that they then let someone else end up in a wheelchair and show no signs of remorse.

I knocked this over in about 2 hours sitting outside in the sun with a good drink in hand but I don’t think there’s any way to actually enjoy this novel. I’m going to give it three stars but again I don’t really know who it’s aimed at. You could give it to teenagers but only really if you want them to set things on fire – so it’s probably not a great idea for summer reading.

Text Publishing | 1 March 2022 | AU$ | paperback