Review: Zoe Sugg & Amy McCulloch – One For Sorrow

One for Sorrow
Magpie Society #1
Zoe Sugg and Amy McCulloch

Audrey is fleeing something and Ivy is trying to move on with her life after a death. Audrey is confused by the rules and other stuff and Ivy has no time for her. There seems to be a mystery – but does anyone know the truth?

This reads as a novel with two authors – Zoe wrote the chapters from one character perspective and Amy wrote the chapters from the second character perspective. I’m not sure that this really works. Somehow Ivy has it stuck in her head that Audrey is a complete prat, but at the same time Audrey seems to unreasonably hate Ivy? Even more so, the staff seem to either be cute, or completely unreasonable. There’s no consistent characterisation or actions.

I was personally unmoved by Audrey’s final big reveal. It made 100% sense that she would be creeped out by drownings, but I didn’t really get it. There’s frequent mentions of the school therapist getting plenty of work, but we never actually see any of them attending a counselling session – and some of these girls really need help. I felt like therapy was belittled when it could have actually been a useful tool.

I found it disgusting that Teddy just presumed things about both Ivy and Audrey. Getting a creepy teacher to leave school is one thing, but being a creep as a teenager can lead/suggest bad behaviour in adulthood. Just like in Foul is Fair, being rich seems to excuse you for a lot. People need to be able to report problems and feel like they are being heard and that there is action.

I was wary of this novel from the beginning because I knew it was part of a series. However, in the end although some have identified it as a cliff-hanger, I was pretty bored by that point. There’s no resolution.

As an Australian, I figured I knew what a magpie was. Imagine to my surprise that what we call a magpie is not a magpie to the rest of the world! Pretty typical of Australia, really. Anyway, these magpies are closely related to crows, and they’ve always had some superstition around them, which the authors take advantage of as a springboard for a secret society.

Another day, another boarding school drama. Are people this lucky just going to boarding school? Sounds like hell to me, particularly if you don’t happen to get along with your room-mate. I get going to a boarding school if your local school is truly horrible or your parents don’t have time for you. Surely the majority of readers can’t be boarding school students… It reminds me of my childhood where boarding school sounded cool because I didn’t go to school – Enid Blyton’s “The Naughtiest Girl in the School” anyone?

The more I write this review, the less impressed I am in this novel. There could have been so much more! And I’m still not sure if ‘magic’ is involved or not. Let’s go with 3 stars, and I MIGHT read the next (or at least a summary of it).

Penguin Random House | 29th October 2020 | AU$24.99 | paperback

Review: Flynn Meaney – Bad Habits

Bad Habits
Flynee Meaney

Alex (she/her) doesn’t want to be at a Catholic boarding school. She wants nothing of gender traditions, boyfriends and study. In the spirit of getting kicked out, she decides to put on “The Vagina Monologues” to really shock the school into expulsion!

Alex is a badass young woman who speaks her mind and isn’t afraid to teach sexual education and action it. That being said, as the point-of-view is only hers, it was difficult to work out how much was her internal attitude and how much was her outer persona. At times, it seemed as if it was all a front – inside she’s just as scared about growing up as other kids.

There’s some lighthearted lol moments, yet this novel manages to get some important messages out. Sexual health? Tick. (ir)Responsible parenthood? Tick (and how I wish Australia had something like Planned Parenthood). Tampons? Yep, it has those too. Alex is a vehicle for change within her school and also somehow ignorant of the types of feminism that are equally valid. It’s a far better example of feminism than Juliet Takes a Breath, but it is still missing the trans* element that needs to be added to the feminist ‘agenda’.

What fell flat for me was a lack of actual action! Things seemed to be happening basically in a vacuum, with study and classes taking a back seat. That’s fine and all, but it seemed to me like all they did was plan extra-curricular activities. The play is supposed to be the highlight of the novel, but it never really happens. I also didn’t buy into the ‘best friends forever’ theme.

I’ve just realised that this is the third book in a row that had the setting of a boarding school. Now, maybe it’s just me, but boarding school always seemed to just be for rich people, and magicians! This novel doesn’t break the mold either. Still, it was a decent enough read that although I was somewhat embarrassed to read it (bright pink and yellow cover, anyone?) I did polish it off in a single sitting. For that, I’m going to give it 4 stars, and recommend it to teenage girls who need a strong female protagonist that isn’t afraid to say ‘vagina’.

Penguin Random House | 16th February 2021| AU$16.99 | paperback

Review: Amy Tintera – Reboot Duology

Reboot and Rebel (Reboot Duology)
Amy Tintera

Wren 178 is the oldest Reboot in the system. She died once, and it took 178 minutes for her body to reboot and become superior to a human one – no emotions, no problems. Wren’s favourite part of the job is training new reboots to kill ‘bad’ humans effortlessly. She always gets her first pick of trainees, and she always picks the ones that took a long time to reboot – only the fittest and hardest can survive. In a fit of confusion, Wren chooses Callum 22 to train, and then finds that she isn’t quite the emotionless monster she thinks she is.

I felt some confusion on why the virus was only in Texas. I didn’t get a sense of anything in the rest of the global landscape. It would have been better, I think, if this had just been set in a new world. I spent a fair amount of time wondering what the other states/cities of the USA were doing about the virus. Is there scope for a sequel where Wren takes on other states that treat reboots like property?

I had some unanswered questions. Why wasn’t HARC looking into why adults that caught KDV went crazy? I feel like since some of the drugs they were testing on the under 60’s (Reboots that revived under 60 minutes) caused craziness rather than obedience, and the adult link could be useful.

This is a successful perversion of the fact that in some countries, war has created ‘child soldiers’. The ‘civilised’ countries can’t believe that someone would do that to an innocent child – but Tintera takes that concept and makes it worse. You only need to be 10 to train to be a Reboot soldier.

There’s a whole lotta kissin’ in these novels. Sure, two of the characters eventually have sex, and sex seems to be a sort of substitute for love/feelings earlier in the series – but it’s not satisfying. It’s not even that obvious, so you could even give this to a teenager who isn’t quite comfortable with the idea of sex yet.

I have to say that I was very disappointed in the ending of this. Riley was dealt with far too calmly, and the escape from HARC unlikely. I guess that it seems quite straight forward that the threat could be contained. This fits the feeling of the Ruina series (reviews here) where the first book was a fantastic 5 stars, but the later ones left me cold with only a 3 star rating. So it’s a 4 star average for this one – fun to read, but not a reread.

Review: Brigid Kemmerer – More Than We Can Tell

More Than We Can Tell
Brigid Kemmerer

Rev is tortured by his father, both in his past and present. He’s confused by his own strength and doesn’t know how to interact with anyone other than Declan and his adoptive parents. Emma is more comfortable online than in real life, and dreams of becoming a game designer. Her parents don’t understand, and they don’t understand why it’s important to her.

This is a second novel that is set in the world of Letters to the Lost. The characters overlap, but it’s not essential to review Letters to the Lost first or anything. We learn more here about Rev Fletcher, Declan’s friend. What was a tortured shadow friend now becomes a tortured soul that we get to see into.

I cried! Oh, all the feels. Rev’s story is heartbreaking and yet typical for many abused children in foster-homes. Really, Rev is lucky because he’s able to be adopted by a family who cares about it.

Do they always have to fall in love? Can’t they just not for a change? What’s wrong with making an amazing friend? Teenage love is great and all, but speaking as a voice with experience, it doesn’t always end up that this is forever love. When they rely on another person to keep them stable, it doesn’t bode well for the future.

While this got the review of my wife as ‘yet another YA novel with one of those covers’, I enjoyed it. I have to agree on the cover being a bit bland and in line with all of the other YA novels that depend on their title to draw the reader in. I have a couple more of this type of novel on my shelf, and I haven’t felt motivated to read them. Instead, I’m finding myself drawn towards non-fiction – maybe that’s because it’s been a hell of a year and I want something solid to read.

I requested this novel from Bloomsbury over a year ago, but never received a copy. Having enjoyed Kemmerer’s other novels though, I bought it for myself as a Christmas present last year – I don’t regret it at all. I can see myself reading it again, so it’s 5 stars from me.

Bloomsbury | paperback

Review: Will McIntosh – Burning Midnight (N)

Young adult novel with a unique take on small super-powers so to speak. One day indestructible marble-like spheres appeared the world over. When used in paired colours they would improve the person using, or burning, them, make them slightly better than they were before. Resistance to the common cold, become taller, better looking, be faster, stronger, increased ambidexterity, and higher IQ as examples. A total of 43 colours, each with a unique ability, and differing rarity based on availability. David โ€œSullyโ€ Sullivan, a teenager who started the second wave of spheres prior to the boo.

Sully is a sphere dealer, in addition to typical teenager, to make extra money to help his mother pay rent. He meets Hunter, a girl who knows sphere hunting more than anything else. They team up to find and sell spheres. Kicking off a discovery of where the spheres came from and why the spheres ended scattered across earth. The story overall has a solid hook that grabs you in the first few pages and doesnโ€™t let go until you finish the book. Itโ€™s a smooth, easy, and satisfying read as an adult. The twist at the end of where the spheres came from was nicely handled. Possible explanations are mentioned through narrative, though none quite hits the mark in terms of reality.

Through Sully, we get a clear picture of what colour spheres provide scattered through the book with each mention. I was a bit frustrated that there was no complete list at the end of the book for easy reference. But the main colours and abilities were easy enough to follow. Iโ€™d definitely be curious why certain colours were mentioned and not others. Also why the two new types of sphere discovered in the book had the colours they had. That is largely idle curiosity and not really a requirement.

Overall itโ€™s an great read as a young adult novel, it hits the all the notes it needs to really give a satisfying read. But the twist at the end means some of the mystery is lost for a re-read. That doesnโ€™t stop it from being a very enjoyable way to pass an afternoon.

Review: Jason Segal & Kirsten Miller – Otherworld

OtherWorld
Jason Segal and Kirsten Miller

Simon loves Kat. Regardless of everything else in life, that’s a fact. Sent away to boarding school, Simon can’t stop thinking about her – he falsely admits to cybercrime in order to get home. But when he gets there, Kat ignores him. Otherworld looks like a great place to find her in, but things really aren’t as they seem.

The opening scene of this novel took me off guard, because I didn’t really want to read about a self-absorbed rich kid who had a giant nose. I couldn’t have cared less about whether he was 6 foot and sunbathing naked on the lawn. I definitely couldn’t have cared less about the fact that his parents didn’t like him, and that his dad took his driving iron to his expensive, fancy gear.

Is this as good as Ready Player One? Mm, I’m undecided. Simon mostly just irritates me. Sometimes he’s so dumb… how would you expect not to wet yourself if you’ve been gaming for 2 days straight? How can that possibly be healthy? I’d love to play in a game as immersive as the others, although it’s really creepy if you can’t make it back out…

I’m not sure how I felt about the ending to this novel. It certainly seemed as if they had set it up for a second novel, which irritated me. Also, GoodReads tells me that this might be a knockoff of another Otherland? Regardless, I am going to read the next novel, because I’d like to know how people who have been plugged into the system can be rescued.

I originally received OtherEarth to review an embarrassingly long time ago. It looked great, but I didn’t read it because it was the second in the series. I’m making a concerted effort to work my way through books languishing on my shelves, so I decided to take the initiative and find OtherWorld online. I found it on Scribd and spent a very enjoyable evening reading it. 4 stars from me.

Review: Kimberly Brubaker Bradley – Fighting Words

Fighting Words
Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Why does Suki scream in her sleep? That’s the question Della wants answered. Suki has always protected Della since their mother went to prison and her boyfriend took them in. The girls find themselves in foster care, but it’s still not right. Della is determined that now she’ll support Suki – even if Suki doesn’t want her.

Let’s start off by stating that this is not an easy read. This is a terrifying read. It is not comfortable or comforting. You’re going to want to put trigger warnings on it for suicide, bullying and child sexual abuse. This is an #ownvoices novel from this author, and the authenticity of the writing is heartbreaking in parts. It lead to this being a compulsive read for me.

I was slightly confused by these characters, and their interaction with others. I think the girls were people of colour? And that they were able to be recognised by others in their community as needing help. It’s painfully clear that the foster care system isn’t fair to people of colour and that children’s knowledge of the system can be a rude awakening to fairness.

This novel highlights the sad truth that the foster care system is often understaffed in terms of specialist help for children and teenagers that have been abused. The people that foster in the foster care system can also be lacking in terms of compassion fatigue’ (it’s an official term). Working with traumatised young people can be difficult and unrewarding.

I unfortunately read an eBook copy of this, and I can almost statistically support that I like novels less when I have to read them on my laptop. With this in mind then (and the fact that I read it quite a bit ago now) I’m giving this novel 4 stars.

Text Publishing | 1st September 2020 | AU$19.99 | paperback

Review: Kalynn Bayron – Cinderella is Dead

Cinderella is Dead
Kalynn Bayron

Sophia has been preparing for her debut for her whole life. Or at least, her parents have been trying to prepare her. Every girl may go to the ball three times and be chosen by a man – or her life will be forfeit. Sophia can see through the facade though, and she doesn’t want to be chosen by a man. She wants to be with Erin.

I liked the new twist on the Cinderella fairytale, but some elements left me feeling disappointed and short changed. I was happy that I had a lesbian protagonist. I was happy that she didn’t instantly fall for her new female friend… but that she lusted over her. Who doesn’t want something that is forbidden? I feel like that love was really just lust, and that’s far more preferable to insta-love.

I would like to know where Sophia got her blackness from. The kingdom seems tiny and racially white, so where did she come from? I get that she doesn’t fit in, and I get that that resonates with many people of colour at the moment. My problem is that the world that Bayron has built in this novel is too small to have more than one race of people. The ‘Kingdom’ itself just seems to consist of one large town?

I didn’t understand the ending with the Fairy Godmother. What did she get out of the status quo? Living forever doesn’t seem like a fabulous thing to me, particularly if you’re isolated. Also, the ending made it seem like if you can just topple the Man at the Top, everything will be breezy. It’s not that easy though. You can’t just make a hole in the power structure at the top, and expect everyone to come to the new system. I wanted to see more – how will this new way of living go? What other countries might they learn about?

Ultimately the ending let me down and I kind of regretted spending my time reading it. A light-hearted and unfulfilling novel. I can only hope that this author’s worldbuilding skills improve for her future novels – and if she’s still writing queer fiction, I’ll be reading it!

Bloomsbury | 1st September 2020 | AU$15.99 | paperback

Review: LC Rosen – Camp

Camp
LC Rosen

Randy used to be a steriotypical gay teenager. He’s fallen in love though with a straight-seeming guy who seems to date (and hurt) a different person each summer. Randy wants to be noticed and be the one who gets to keep the guy. But will changing himself into a buff and masculine gay teen mean that he misses out on all the things about camp that he used to find fun?

This book hurt me, because it had so many steriotypical ‘gay male’ behaviours in it. The main character is a normally flamboyant gay male who wears nail polish, sings and dances hilariously and isn’t sporty. Normally I hate steriotypes, but they are usually known for a reason. The fact that Randy’s head space shows his personality regardless of his outside presentation is important. Many gay people act straight to ‘pass’ as normal, and it’s nice to have a protagonist who can show what that’s like, and how hard it is.

I could have cried at some points in the novel. Randy/Del had so many feelings, and he shared all of them with me! Maybe I would have liked to have something more from Hudson’s side of the story, but it was good to have some brief perspectives from older queer individuals and their shared life experiences.

It would be so cool if there were gay/queer retreats like this in Australia. Or maybe there are but I missed the window to attend one. Anyway, it’s good to know that there are options for gay teens in the USA, because it seems like their environment is a lot less tolerant of queer individuals compared to Australia.

This book has very leading text on the cover – “Putting the ‘out’ in the great outdoors”, “Top or bottom?” and “It’s time to bunk up…” What was cool for me was that the first copy I had of this had rainbow colours behind the Penguin publishing penguin (instead of the regular orange). Now I’m wondering if there are other books on my shelves that have it.

A worthy addition to young adult queer fiction. I very much liked the first novel from this author, Jack of Hearts (and other parts) and I was excited to read this book. When this novel walked in through the door I got started reading it almost immediately. Unfortunately, I didn’t review it right away… I was prompted to write this review when I received a second copy! 4 stars from me, and I’ll definitely try to pick up the next novel from this author. I’d also be keen to see some more young adult lesbian fiction by #ownvoices. Also, a book such as this one should be made compulsory reading in the Australian curriculum – enough Tim Winton, guys, let’s see some gay fiction.

Penguin Random House | 2nd July 2020 | AU$16.99 | paperback

Review: Phil Stamper – The Gravity of Us

The Gravity of Us
Phil Stamper

Cal’s going to make his FlashFame feed support his career as a journalist, do an internship at BuzzFeed and get a free ride to college with a full scholarship. When his dad is selected to become an astronaut of the Orpheus Twenty Cal’s plans are derailed – going to Texas isn’t in his ideal future! But with a cute boy in the picture, maybe something about this summer might not be a waste afterall.

The cute cover should give this away as a gay fiction. The recommendation statement on the back from Becky Albertalli says this book is a ‘story I didn’t I know I needed’. And she’s right! I didn’t know that I could be excited about a somewhat futuristic space voyage – but it turns out that there really is a current program to have humans on Mars by 2032. Thus I can confidently say that this is NOT science fiction.

The single paragraph devoted to his final high school year seems a bit perfunctory. I’m not complaining, because there are plenty of teenage fiction novels out there that cover high school and being gay well. At the same time though, I felt like that could have added a bit more depth for the protagonist, who seems to exist in his own little bubble most of the time.

I struggled with the sense of time passing. Perhaps instead of boring chapter numbers, a handy chapter date would have been more useful. This lack of time made their romance feel instant, and their feelings insincere. What I did appreciate was that Leon’s depression wasn’t cured in an instant by falling in love (lust?) and neither was Cal’s mom’s anxiety completely treated by therapy.

There seems to be a growing interest for novels about space and mathematics. I’m loving it! From avoiding meteoroids (Learning to Swear in America), to general astrophysics (The Square Root of Summerย andย Stargazing for Beginners), I’m excited for what will happen next. 4 stars for this one from me.

Bloomsbury | 17th March 2020 | AU$15.99 | paperback