Reviews: Unfinished Novels #4

I have a series of novels that I have never finished reading and in some cases, couldn’t face reading at all. In the interests of freeing up space on my bookshelves, and letting other people have a chance to read them, I have released these novels into the wild – either by giving them to people who might enjoy them, or releasing them to the community at large.

Once Upon a Crime
Robin Stevens

Um, where did this novel come from? This is set in the 1900s and is the tales of some child detectives (age 15?). I did attempt to read it, but I just couldn’t work out who the novel was for. There wasn’t enough information given that I would be able to work out the motive / killer by myself, and I didn’t enjoy the exchanges between the rival detectives. I’m going to pass this on to my 12 year old reader and see if she enjoys it. Maybe it’s a Famous Five type novel that will be ‘cool’ to the younger reading set.

Penguin Random House | 3 August 2021 | AU$14.99 | paperback

The Golden Tower
Belinda Murrell

I think I actually requested this one, to my shame. I thought that it could be a really great middle grade fiction! However when I started to read it I found the text to be information dense and uninteresting. The characters showed absolutely no depth which was very disappointing – I know it’s for younger readers, but have a little more respect for what they might enjoy reading? Again, I passed this on the the 12 year old a couple of months ago, but she hasn’t read it. Why read something that is an unknown when you can devour something by Tamora Pierce in the same age group?

Penguin Random House | 2 March 2021 | AU$16.99 | paperback

Review: Rainbow Rowell – Carry On

Carry On
Rainbow Rowell

Simon Snow is destined to be the hero, even though he catches himself on fire pretty often and is useless at language (key for the type of magic involved). He’s going to fight off the Humdrum this year once and for all, but he’s missing his room-mate too badly to really care.

This book is filled with references to the past. It’s jumps straight into Simon’s last year at Watford School of Magicks (a boarding school of course), and the background of battling the Humdrum is just tossed in there. I couldn’t work out why I was reading it – there seemed to be no real plot at all. Thus it’s a DNF for me – I gave up and went and read something else.

Can you believe I bought this with my own money? I tolerated my way through Wayward Son because I received it as a review copy, and I had enjoyed Fangirl. I also enjoyed Eleanor and Park. This novel was such a disappointment though that I don’t think I can bring myself to read Rainbow Rowell’s work again.

I remain unfortunately convinced that fan-fic is poorer fic. Please stop essentially taking over someone else’s characters for your own desires. I can’t decide what exactly feels wrong about it to me, but it’s not right! Perhaps I view paper/published fiction as something holy, even though I’ve enjoyed online novels before. Maybe it’s that a rewrite of someone else’s work implies to me that the original wasn’t good enough. I’ll happily read a sequel if the original author has no intentions of going into that space, but even with that I feel like I’m making a compromise. Years and years ago I read Tales of MU, which seems to have somehow died on the wayside – ‘Carry On’ reminds me of it, if it had less queer characters and less sex.

Anyway, I didn’t finish this novel and I’m not sure I would recommend it for anyone. It’s a bit of queer-baiting, a bit of pathetic and a bit of self-pity. If you’re dying for a boarding school mystery there are plenty out there better than this one. 1 star.

Review: Sarah Liu – The World We See (S)

The World We See
Leadership Lessons From Australia’s Iconic Change Makers
Sarah Liu

“The World We See is not just a compilation of leadership insights from 30 iconic Australian leaders, but a collective declaration that we will create a world where gender parity is not a dream, but a reality. In this book, female and male leaders share their life lessons and vision for a better tomorrow where every single one of us, regardless of gender, can rise up to get us one step closer to the world we envision.”

Suzi picked this book up from the library, so the following review is hers. I was after a book that wasn’t theory based for a change, and had more real life examples and stories to learn from. he title misled me, sadly. “Leadership lessons from Australia’s iconic change makers” – from this, I really expected actual lessons, stories and examples. However, what I received was 2-3 pages from each leader of wishy washy, meant to be inspiring and motivating, crap. This was the type of motivating crap that says “lighten up” or “the measure of success must be yours” or “failure isn’t falling down, it’s remaining where you’ve fallen”. This was paired with a quote on a coloured background page in between each leader’s lesson. If I wanted motivational sentences, I’d read ‘The Secret’!

To top it off, the whole book is also about gender inequality, and is aimed to be motivating to women in the workforce. I don’t have a problem with this being mentioned, but it felt like every leader had to say something empowering to women in their 3 page lesson, which was a waste and not necessary. This also included males saying they are open to women in the workforce – I bloody well hope so! I personally don’t feel that women need anymore empowering or motivating than men, and if they do they aren’t going to get it from this book. Everyone is equal, end of discussion. Gender diversity doesn’t need to be made into a big deal. Maybe it’s just my industry, but I work with more women than men, including women in high level roles, so I don’t see it as an issue.

Overall, what I got out of this book was nothing. It was a waste of my time. I felt that the leaders included could have used their few pages better to tell an actual story with a leadership lesson in it. Not fluff with coloured backgrounded quoted pages that can be found on the internet. I didn’t finish reading it. It might be non-fiction and I don’t have to rate it, but it’s hardly worth a single star.

Review: Hannah Capin – Foul is Fair

Foul is Fair
Hannah Capin

Elle and her coven rule their high school in a mean girls’ sort of manner. All of that changes after Elle is gang raped at a party and she vows to get revenge. Her rich parents pay for her to change schools, and she hatches a plan with her friends Mads, Jenny, and Summer to kill them all. And she’s going to use the Goldenest boy of all to do it.

This book left me with an incredibly bad mouth feel. I felt violated and unsatisfied, and frankly a bit offended! This is a vague retelling of Macbeth, but Macbeth was time-appropriate, and Shakespeare! Death and madness are no longer ‘normal’ (and therapy will help with avoiding both of those things).

What irritated me about this novel was that Elle is clearly emotionally damaged, and emotionally unstable. But her parents don’t bother to get her help, and let her run along with her nasty plans. Elle keeps revisiting the rape in her mind, and is suffering from PTSD. If you’re someone who is sensitive or triggered by this kind of content, definitely don’t even read the blurb of it.

So the moral of the story? If you’re rich, basically you can get away with anything you bloody well want to. Your best friend has a lawyer dad after all – he’ll get you out of any consequences. I’m not really a fan of the death penalty in general, so why would I be keen on Elle plotting (and succeeding) at killing the entire Golden sports team? I’d have been much more impressed if she had found a way to torture them and inflict the same fate!

Feminism without filter? Unapologetic feminism? Why does feminism have to be so brutal to be effective? Feminism is “the advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes”. That’s not what I see here. There’s no equality of the sexes, and there’s not really any women’s rights. There’s just one petty teenage girl killing off her abusers.

I was trapped under my sleeping wife on an aeroplane with no access to other books – so I finished reading it. But lest that make you think it’s worth reading, I’m giving it 1 star even though I didn’t give up. Oh, and did I mention the horrifically pink and yellow cover with a dripping blood red lipstick? Shudder.

Penguin Random House | 21st January 2020 | AU$16.99 | paperback

Review: NDF novels #2

These are some short reviews of novels that I started and couldn’t finish. I’ll probably pass them onto a friend or attempt to sell them to a local bookstore. Sing out if you want them!

Meaghan Wilson Anastasios – The Honourable Thief / The Emerald Tablet

I started The Honourable Thief, and then abandoned it because it was so slow to get started and I couldn’t respect the aging male protagonist. I went in expecting Indiana Jones style action and tension, and got painstaking, painful details of Benedict’s surroundings (and honestly I wasn’t that interested in them).

Fast forward a year, and I found myself on an aeroplane trapped with only The Emerald Tablet to read (I’d completely forgotten about even reading the first novel). Sadly, I found that it had many of the same problems as the first. I hated Benedict Hitchens and his bumbling self-assuredness, and I detested Eris, his love interest. One of the earliest scenes is Eris pleasuring herself while she thinks about Benedict, and the whole thing made me twitch awkwardly on my seat. There was no need to go there!

Pan Macmillan | 31st July 2018 | $29.99 | paperback
Pan Macmillan | 25th June 2019 | $29.99 | paperback

Peter James – Absolute Proof

I put off reading this novel for a long time because the blurb about proving God’s exisitance and reporting it in the news didn’t sound appealing to me. Then I realised that I had enjoyed Peter James’ novel Love You Dead. So I thought I would try out Absolute Proof. Unfortunately it was just as bad as I expected. It had too many characters, too many conflicting and confusing storylines and an unconvincing protagonist (who I assume was the journalist).

Pan Macmillan 25th September 2018 | AU$29.99 | paperback

Corey Ann Haydu – OCD Love Story

I picked this up for a lighthearted holiday read, but sadly found myself irritated at the protagonist’s stupid thoughts. Obsessed by two or three guys at once? It felt like the author was making light of what is actually a very serious obsession. Bea even already has a restraining order against her! And her best friend is useless. No. Don’t touch this one. Maybe the bright pink cover should have given it away for me…

Review: Bill Bennett – Palace of Fires

Palace of Fires
Bill Bennett

Lily and her mom have been on the run since Lily’s dad was killed in a hit-and-run four years ago. Lily has enjoyed living on the farm, and gentle gardening with her mom. But then a regular trip to the Farmer’s Market ends with tragedy – Lily’s mom is missing, and Lily thinks a scary biker is at fault.

I was initially sent the second book in this trilogy to review (Unholy) back in 2018. I hadn’t read the first book, so I put it on my shelf to be read when I could get it from the library. Then this month Penguin generously sent me all three books to read! Sadly, I couldn’t get past the first one.

The most promising part of this novel was the prologue! Lily’s ancestor is trying to keep her family alive, but the potato fields are blighted so she signs her name in blood with Satan. Then the book segues awkwardly into an elite hunter witch and her two familiars that feed on toe-nipples (no, you didn’t read that incorrectly!).

Details that should have simply been implied are spelled out and then spelled out again. The book jumps between perspectives of the witches, the hunter, the hag, Lily, Lily’s love interest etc etc. to the point that you don’t actually know which character you should care about. Of course we should care the most about Lily, but honestly I found her irritating and all too predictable. She really works hard to make herself different from everyone else, and she doesn’t even bother trying to do social niceties when they might benefit her.

I haven’t read a book that I detested as much as this one for quite a while! I mean, I hated I Always Find You, but I at least finished it. Bill Bennett’s Unholy wasn’t even tolerable for 100 pages. 1 star. I’d give 0 stars if I could.

Penguin Random House | 3rd September 2019 | AU$19.99 | paperback

Review: John Ajvide Lindqvist – I Always Find You

I Always Find You
John Ajvide Lindqvist

John moves into a basement apartment to prepare to enter a competition of magicians and get away from his mother. Instead he finds himself adrift and poor in a city that doesn’t care about him, with people who are indifferent to everything. Except maybe whatever is hiding in the laundry room.

Who always finds John? Is it the guy calling him and asking for Sigge? What does that even mean? Does Sigge mean a particular word in Swedish? Is it actually important that John is a magician? Or would like to be one? Does anything matter? I think the answer is no.

Honestly, I’m not sure why I finished this novel .Was I torturing myself in some way? Hoping for a redemptive ending? It went from strange to weird, to even more strange. Maybe it’s all my fault for reading a second book in a trilogy out of context? But is it actually relevant since it’s Lindqvist pretending to be the protagonist in his novel?

Is this a horror story? I mean, I felt terrible for the child with the broken legs, but I wasn’t horrified by it. And the thing in the bathtub? That wasn’t horror. That was just a thing in the bathtub! I didn’t mind that things might come out of the Subway – because they never did. It seemed like the horror was just an excuse to let people be mean and nasty to each other.

I know that since I finished this I shouldn’t technically give it 1 star. But since I don’t know why I finished it, I’m not going to worry about it! Perhaps it would appeal to readers who love Lindqvist’s other novels? But for me, I know that I’m not going to touch anything by this author ever again if I can help it.

Text Publishing | 2nd July 2018 | AU$32.99 | paperback

Review: Gena Showalter – Firstlife

Firstlife
Gena Showalter

Prynne Asylum is the home of underage children that won’t do what their parents want them to do – whether it’s getting married or Choosing the right Second Life provider. Tenley’s been tortured for longer than she thought was possible, but she’s determined not to Choose Myriad or Troika. The two realms are determined to get her on their sides though – and she might die anyway.

How dumb can one girl be? It’s clearly obvious which side she’s going to pick. Oh boo hoo, your boy toy isn’t from the same place. Oh no! You might war with your parents for forever! Get over it! Choose based on what you see, not what people tell you. She’s all about being strong and kicking people in the balls (literally and figuratively) and then she’s just bowled over by good old Killian because he smells good.

Let’s not forget the inclusion of a weird psychic, and a suddenly discovered clause that that means that Ten isn’t her parents’ meal ticket any more. Oh, and the fact that Ten can recover from basically any injury (and so can the other humans) within the space of what seems to be hours. She ends up dying at least twice, and then she’s brought back. So really, who cares? I couldn’t get attached.

Ten’s pretty obsessed with numbers, but honestly I think it’s a load of bunkem. Any number can be special if you would like it to be! I’m personally quite fond of the number 13 because everyone says it’s unlucky. But I could equally choose 11, because it’s the first double digit prime number, or 2 because it’s the only even prime number. Tenley’s form of swearing is to say ‘zero’ to herself!

I waded my way through quite a lot of this novel before I gave up and read the synopsis on GoodReads for it, and the following two novels. 1 star – I didn’t finish it, don’t bother.

Review: NDF novels #1

These are some short reviews of novels that I started and couldn’t finish. I’ll probably pass them onto a friend or attempt to sell them to a local bookstore. Sing out if you want them!

Maggie Stiefvater – The Raven King

I read and reviewed the first three novels (The Raven Boys, The Dream Thieves, Lily Blue, Lily Blue) in this series when The Raven King arrived in my mailbox. But then I was feeling so ‘meh’ about the whole series that I abandoned it. I reattempted The Raven King, but I found myself with the same complaints as the first time – too many side avenues, irritating and unreliable characters and a confusing plot line.

Scholastic | 1st September 2017 | AU$19.99 | hardback

Un-su Kim – The Plotters

I just couldn’t get into this one. It reminded me a little of The Name of Death, in that it talked about a specific assassin, but it lacked the hook and suspense. I don’t even remember who the assassin was now, or what his name was. I know that his Plotter was in charge of a library though! The ‘story’ meandered and I couldn’t find anything redeeming about it.

Text Publishing | 30th July 2018 | AU$29.99 | paperback

Review: Emily McGlashan – The Gazebo

The Gazebo
Emily McGlashan

Lola lives with her depressed older brother and her alcoholic mother. Lola takes care of her mother and brother, and wants to prevent her older brother Seb from killing himself. At school a fire has put all the kids out into gazebos, and the time that follows could shape Lola’s life forever.

This was a torturous book to read. For a very slim book that could have taken an hour or so to zoom through, it took me literally months to get to the end. The writing style left me wondering why there were so many words used to describe simple situations. Too many things are spelled out and the passive voice of Lola is irritating and wishy-washy. The book seems as if it has come out of the author’s head in one piece, and then hasn’t been checked for its ability to connect with a reader.

The blurb tells me that Lola will tackle the hardest decision she’s ever made, but no, no she doesn’t. Her decisions mainly seem to include forgiving people for being downright rude and racist. Her decisions regarding Seb aren’t even decisions. That ending was horrible. I’m happy to have a ‘sad’ ending, rather than a ‘happily ever after ending’, but at least make it reasonable. Do you really want people to go out there and kill themselves? Because this novel makes it seem like a viable option.

There’s triggering references to self harm, and also depictions of suicide, so take care of yourself. I don’t recommend this novel anyway. A good novel about mental illness (such as ‘A Way Out’ or ‘Fierce Fragile Hearts‘) will make you feel the way the character does if you’ve ever felt alone and give you a #itgetsbetter feeling. The Gazebo on the other hand didn’t make a connection with me at all.

I feel terrible for hating this novel because the author seems like a really nice person! I think with more practice and a steady editor Emily McGlashan could be a name to look out for in YA mental health literature. Until then, I’d leave The Gazebo as unreadable – don’t risk reading it.