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.

Review: Rebecca Serle – The Dinner List

The Dinner List
Rebecca Serle

Sabrina has invited one person to her 30th birthday dinner, yet when she arrives there are five people at the table.Β One is her best friend and another her college professor, but also three dead people. Over wine and conversation, Sabrina is invited to reflect on her life so far, and what she wants to do next.

I hated this novel. I finished it, but I completely skimmed the last half of it because I was impatient with the slow action and boring protagonist. Passing between the present dinner and past memories could have added some momentum, but instead just served to push me out of the narrative, and wonder why the dinner table format had been used if the novel was going to contain flashbacks anyway.

I get that this could have been a sort of thought experiment, but honestly why was Audrey Hepburn there? I could understand her ex being there, and her dead father, but ugh, the rest could have been the waiter talking for all I cared, interjecting with random suggestions of how to think about ideas.

How is that ending useful? I didn’t experience any closure, or any sense of why the ending was logical. I’ve tagged this novel under ‘romance’ because that’s what GoodReads advised me, but I don’t think it’s a romance. It’s a tragedy of a novel that had potential but failed to perform. 1 star from me.

Allen & Unwin | 29th August 2018 | AU$29.99 | paperback

Review: Stephen Giles – the boy at the keyhole

the boy at the keyhole
Stephen Giles

Samuel’s mother left in the middle of the night leaving him with only Ruth for company. Soon, Samuel is paranoid that Ruth has killed his mother, and he finds himself searching everywhere in the house for truth. His uncle and his best friend can’t help him – what is true and what isn’t?

I started diligently reading this novel, and then got bored with the incredibly slow progression. I did want to know what happened though, so I basically just skim read to the ending. I’m fortunate that I didn’t waste my time on this novel because the ending was disappointing anyway.

The author sets us up to hate Ruth simply because it is told from Samuel’s perspective. Ruth is portrayed as overbearing and a perfectionist, and very controlling. It’s hard to tell whether she really is these things, and whether she has killed Sam’s mother. That’s where the psychological thriller part should have come in, but I honestly didn’t care about his mother.

I honestly thought that this would be a novel similar to The Girl in the Red Coat, where Samuel was locked in his room all the time and could only peer out through the keyhole, and not be allowed to go to school. I also didn’t finish that novel, so perhaps it’s not a surprise I didn’t read this one thoroughly. 1 star. Try babydoll for a truly horrifying kidnap/isolation narrative.

Penguin Random House | 17th September 2018 | AU$29.99 | hardback

Review: Lucy Christopher – Storm-Wake

Lucy Christopher

Moss has always lived on the flower island with Pa and fish-boy Cal. Pa controls the storms, and Moss growing older, but he can’t control Cal. With the storms getting worse, and Pa’s Blackness creeping in, will Moss ever be able to see her Birthday Surprise?

What am I supposed to feel about this whole concept? I read that this is based loosely around ‘The Tempest’, which now makes the chapter/section headings make sense. Reading it just as a novel without this novel makes the reader confused as to why things are Act 1, Scene I etc. Why has the author chosen to do this? I honestly have no idea why the author did ANYTHING in this novel.

The characters are devoid of any introspective thoughts or higher level planning, mainly aided by the lack of language. The novel meandered through deep drug hazes in flowery (haha) language that drove me crazy with its childish repetition and semi-made-up language that runs into itself. This kind of writing reminded me of MunMun.Β  To top things off, there is no conclusion to this novel. What is real, and what isn’t? What are the chances of people actually being able to swim that far?

It’s not fantasy, but it’s not clear fiction either. It’s a made-up world that I regret spending a couple of hours in my life in. Just like Neverland, I forced myself to finish reading this novel in the hopes of a redemption that didn’t come. 1 star.

Scholastic | 1st July 2018 | AU$16.99 | paperback

Review: Lexi Freiman – Inappropriation

Lexi Freiman

Ziggy is going to have a great time at her new prestigious private girls’ school. With a feminist mother, a mild-mannered father and a holocaust-surviving grandma, you’d think Ziggy was full of personality. But she is just looking for her niche and a way to fit in.

I got a couple of chapters in, but I couldn’t work out the purpose of the novel. What was I gaining from wading through the psyche of Ziggy? If I wanted to read something written in a thick literary and nuanced style, I would have picked up an adult fiction novel. I had nothing else to read where I was, but I still put it down.

The cover promises me “You’ll laugh out loud and squirm and wince”… Well, I certainly squirmed and winced at the terrible ‘literary style’ of writing and irritating protagonist. Then it tells me “You sure won’t put it down”. Well, I did, and I felt such revulsion when I discovered it back on my reading shelf that I had to review it immediately to get it OUT.

I’ve tagged this under teenage, because the protagonist is teenager, but honestly I can’t think of a teenager who would be interested in reading it. The 19 year old who is currently perusing my bookshelves put it down in disgust as well, just from the blurb!

Don’t waste your money or your time. Resist its brilliant red cover and run for the hills. Choose anything else to read rather than this. 1 star.

Allen & Unwin | 1st August 2018 | AU$29.99 | paperback

Review: Elizabeth Kerner – Song in the Silence

Song in the Silence
Elizabeth Kerner

Lanen Kaelar has longed to explore the world since she was a small girl because she was abandoned by her travelling mother. When her father dies, she is determined to go to the Dragon Isles where no ship has returned from in the last 20 years. Not to be daunted, she goes anyway.

Apparently (according to the blurb) she has been exposed to the most horrible family life ever growing up. I was expecting her to be beaten every night and have to sleep on the hearth rug. Instead she just seemed not to fit in. Um, ok, getting married is definitely not everyone’s cup of tea and your father not loving you much is painful, but you have a loving farm hand to help you out! When she sets out on her trip, it’s not like she’s being held back.

There is a lot of talking and not much action. Sure, they take out a too-friendly stableman which prompts a long story assisted by plenty of ale. But no action! No forward motion! Sigh. Nothing enough here to keep my attention.

This was a too-fluffy novel with an unconvincing story-line. For something that I was promised to have dragons in, the first third of the novel had no dragons. No plot progression much either. So I abandoned this novel in the interest of reading something else with a bit more pizzaz. I could afford to be picky, there was a whole bookshelf there for the reading!

Review: Steve Sem-Sandberg – The Chosen Ones

The Chosen Ones
Steve Sem-Sandberg

The Nazi-run “Spiegelgrund clinic was apparently well-intentioned: both a reform school for lost, wayward boys and girls, and a clinic for chronically ill or malformed children.” Instead, this novel exposes the truth of what happened behind those walls – children tortured and left to cry before being allowed to get sick and medicated to death.

I picked up this novel several times. I really wanted to love it, I thought that the content was fascinating when I read the blurb. However, the execution completely floored me.Β  rare sporadic speech was interspersed throughout text with little to no paragraphing.

One of the things that seriously confused me was the constant transitions between different forms of names. I could cope with the Viennese names, but I couldn’t cope with the crazy swapping between nicknames, last names and first names. Or no name at all, and just a description of their physical or mental state at the time (which was unreliable anyway).

This novel had so much potential because I was very interested in the subject matter. I wanted to love it, which is why I let it percolate on its shelf for 2 years and why it survived two novel cleanouts. I’m now going to release it on Book Crossing, even my mom wasn’t attracted to reading it.

This novel had the positive potential of Max but instead ended up in my could-not-complete pile with I am Sasha. 1 star from me. I couldn’t finish it. Occasionally I can tolerate this kind of abstract writing but I just couldn’t.

Allen & Unwin | May 2016 | AU$32.99 | paperback

Review: Sarah Schmidt – See What I Have Done

See What I Have Done
Sarah Schmidt

A true mystery novel, Lizzie Borden took an ax and brutally murdered her father and step-mother. But is it true? This is what this fiction novel explores from the other people’s perspectives at the time.

The dust jacket is written as if a 32-year-old woman living at home is abnormal, but truly it isn’t especially for those days. She isn’t married. I also think her sister was a complete idiot. Ok, your mother has trusted you to look after your sister, but at some point you must get your own life. From what I learnt about the sisters in this novel, Lizzie should have been institutionalized.

I never connected with any of the characters, I got confused between all the time jumps and the ending was completely unsatisfactory. I get that its based on a true story, and so there is no resolution – but that’s what fiction is all about! Resolving storylines and helping the reader to understand what is going on. Instead I met a bunch of characters that I didn’t care about, including Lizzie’s parents, and thus I couldn’t care less that they had died, or had hope for someone to be punished for the crime.

I HATED this novel. I persevered to the end, but it wasn’t worth my time. It’s not worth your time either. I finished it, yes, but that is because I was hoping for deliverance at the end by the creepy guy in the shadows. So since I finished it, I should give it 2 stars, but I’m not. 1 star.

Hachette Australia | 1st April 2017 | AU$32.99 | paperback

Review: Abbi Glines – As She Fades

Abbi Glines
As She Fades

Vale and her boyfriend Crawford are in a horrific accident the night of their high school graduation. Crawford is in a coma and Vale needs to make a decision to move on or not. When she goes to college she discovers that life can be very different.

Let me start out by saying first that this novel was terrible. Really terrible. The first half is lovely: the (seeming) main character developed well and I enjoyed the writing style. Unfortunately half way through the whole picture changed and I was left not wanting to finish the novel. I honestly no longer cared about anything that happened to Vale because her life was so boring and her real self so pathetic. Not to mention that Slate suddenly turned into a pile of goo.

What’s with the title? I don’t see anyone fading except the uncle, and even he makes it for most of the time! His totally inappropriate banter tries valiantly to save the novel but it can’t make up for the rest of the characters.

1 star from me. Don’t waste your time, because there are so many other good things out there. I stopped reading and was sad I had devoted time to the first half of the novel – if I had known what would transpire I would have skipped it.

Pan Macmillan | 2nd January 2018 | AU $14.99 | paperback

Review: Lisa Jackson – After She’s Gone

After She’s Gone
Lisa Jackson

Cassie’s sister Allie has gone missing so Cassie checks herself out of the psychiatry ward to find her. Cassie is still suffering from nightmares and flashbacks, and doesn’t even know how to look after herself. If there was ever a girl in need of a Hero, it’s Cassie, Allie and their famous mother. Can they find Allie in time? Does Allie even want to be found?

Oh dear. This novel sat on my shelf for about 2 years before I picked it up. I just wasn’t feeling another strange disappearance or mystery after try not to breathe and Painkiller. That’s the problem with copy-cat authors that produce all the novels that are compared to Girl on the Train or The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I get that they must sell well, and thus it’s not really the authors’ faults they have to write that stuff as no doubt publishers pushing for it.

Um Hollywood glamour (or rather just hints at it being important but it’s really not) does not make a novel! Especially for someone who doesn’t really follow or understand Hollywood the way a homegrown North American might. I found myself completely and utterly confused most of the time (ringing any bells like Ankaran Immersion?). The protagonist was an unreliable narrator, which would have been fine if everything else in the plot hadn’t been jumbled up. And then the other characters were also confusing as hell with a healthy does of insanity themselves. There was no redemption for anyone. Anyone heard of counselling?

I ended up reading about 1/6 of the novel before I started skipping forwards to try to get to a meaty good bit! But alas, I found myself just skipping all the way to the end where, because I hadn’t actually connected properly to any of the characters, I was utterly indifferent to who the baddie was and was kind of hoping that they all died!

1 star from me. Don’t bother attempting it.

Hachette Australia | 1st February 2016 | AU$29.99 | paperback