Review: Alison Evans – Euphoria Kids

Euphoria Kids
Alison Evans

Iris has never had friends before, other than the faeries that live in their backyard. Babs has trouble staying visible thanks to the witch who cursed her. The boy hasn’t found a real name yet. Can magic and friendship keep them safe?

I’m not really sure how old these kids are. Teenagers? I thought that I read somewhere that they are in junior high, but they certainly seem to have a lot of freedom in school for that. I’m a great believer in the power of education, and they don’t seem to spend much time at school! The only class they seem to do is art, and while I think it’s really important for expression, it’s not the only way to express yourself.

The perspective swaps between Babs and Iris were made doubly confusing once the two humans became three humans, and the pronoun ‘they’ was used for both Iris and the three of them. I had trouble remembering which one was Iris (neutral gender plant sprout with witch potential) and which was Babs (trans-girl fire spirit that disappears with witch mother?). ‘The boy’ doesn’t even get a name until a powerful witch helps him find it! And what is up with his dad? I couldn’t decide if the dad was accepting or not, because the boy doesn’t always wear his binder (take with a grain of salt and always do your research before getting a binder).

Having three gender queer teens in a single year level, let alone school, is very rare. That alone would have been enough for the novel to process. Then make one of them a plant spirit that talks to faeries with two mothers (one of which took time off work to look after her while she was a plant/seed baby?), and the other a cursed fire spirit. Just for good measure, toss in a cafe owner/worker who is also trans and a trans-boy without a name.

What does it mean that Babs is made of fire? Can someone be more specific for me please? So much about this novel seemed unfinished, and I don’t think it was just because I had an ARC copy. I think too many themes and too much was crammed in.

I didn’t like the way Babs’ depression was treated. Ok, so they went to the special understanding GP, but then they just talked about it, and she was magically cured almost immediately? Talk about setting unrealistic expectations. Oh yes, also that the boy is able to just go to the GP to get a script to stop his periods. In my experience, it’s never that easy.

I wanted to love this novel, for the fact that it is a #ownvoices novel. But I couldn’t. I at least finished it but it was a struggle. It wont be coming home with me from vacation and I’m not giving it to any gender queer people I know.

Echo Publishing | 1st March 2020 | AU$19.99 | paperback

Review: Paige Toon – Five Years From Now

Five Years From Now
Paige Toon

Nell wants to sleep on the bottom bunk when she visits her dad – there’s no way she’s giving up ‘her spot’ for Vian. But Vian’s mum is really nice too – and Vian and Nell have the beginning of a great friendship, or maybe more than just friends. But is there actually a spark? And what does it mean that they are as good as brother and sister?

No, I don’t care about your relationship, Nell and Van. Yes, I think you’re pathetic. Move on already. It might be a ground breaking romance but that doesn’t mean that without it you’re worthless. It could be ‘one true love’ or it could just be you poking a sore because you’re too afraid to move on. Oh, and not to mention that the cheeky Piskies just seemed to be a complete setup.

I hated the perspective in this novel. The novel starts out with Nell telling her son Luke a story, but then somehow at the end jumps into the future. It’s not clear where Nell’s memories begin and end. This novel reminded me of City of Girls, where the main character just seems to float around in her own mind and already knows the outcome and takes foreshadowing shots into the dark to confuse the reader. Except that at least in City of Girls the main character had a spine. I’m not sure Van does.

What I enjoyed about this novel was that it showed the hardships on divorced parents, not just their children. No, just because you’re having a baby doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to get married (or offer to get married). What about an abortion? It didn’t seem to cross any of their minds. Sometimes there isn’t a one right path – and that’s ok too.

I started and finished this novel reluctantly – my phone battery was dying and I couldn’t be bothered getting a different book from my suitcase to read. 2 stars from me. Don’t bother with it.

Penguin Random House | 30th April 2018 | AU$29.99 | paperback

Review: Yassmin Abdel-Magied – You Must Be Layla

You Must Be Layla
Yassmin Abdel-Magied

Layla is ready to attend a new school, and being a hijabi is only a minor concern. She’s ready to fit in with the rest of the group, but with her sense of humour can she ever hope to stay at school past her first suspension?

I went from being really excited about this novel to being really disappointed in it rapidly. The writing style irked me. I read the first two chapters desperately hoping that the writing style was just an introduction. I didn’t find Layla a believable character. At times it seemed like the novel was just intended to explain some parts of Muslim culture, such as that women don’t need to pray at the mosque when it’s ‘that time of the month’. This detail was included in a way that just didn’t feel natural.

What also irked me about this novel was the use of numbers in Arabic words . The first one I found I thought that it was a typo! And then they kept happening, so I flipped to the back of the novel in the hopes it would explain what it meant. I thought they could be footnotes but instead it indicated a sound that couldn’t be written in English. Fine then! But why not at least attempt to use the appropriate alphabet to communicate the concept? English-speaking readers wouldn’t then be confused by numbers that meant nothing.

The ending was just too neat. I find it very difficult to believe that an adult with such deep-seated dislike of Muslim (and any outsiders) is won over in less than a day. I’m sure this novel is suitable for someone, just not me. I much preferred When Michael Met Mina, and there are other novels out there that approach the problems of being a person of colour in a world of white privilege. 2 stars.

Penguin Random House | 5th March 2019 | AU$16.99 | paperback

Review: Ally Carter – Not if I Save You First

Not if I Save You First
Ally Carter

After Maddie’s father saves the first lady from being shot, he takes Maddie with him to make a new home in Alaska. Maddie finds herself torn away from her best friend Logan – the President’s son – and grows angrier with him over time as she sends him hundreds of letters and never gets a response. Six years later, Logan is sent to live with them in Alaska, both as a punishment for his behaviour, and to keep him safe. When he then gets kidnapped by the same people who tried to kill his mother years ago, Maddie must save his life, even if that means getting captured herself.

This book was full of plot holes, poor decisions, and just wasn’t exciting. The main character, Maddie, seemed to be either perfect or immortal. After falling off a 15-meter cliff, she’s able to trek through the Alaskan wilderness, make her way across a dangerous bridge, and run away from a man shooting at her. 15 meters might not seem like a lot, but it’s not uncommon for people to die from a fall that high. She later gets shot in the shoulder, and is still able to cause an explosion, survive the explosion, and throw a knife into a man’s back. Nothing felt like it had any meaning, and by the end the book felt boring and stale, because I knew that Maddie’s ability to shrug off fatal injuries would likely mean that nothing would happen to anyone else. The only progression that occurred throughout the book was the discussion between Maddie and Logan about the letters, and even that was resolved in a few pages.

There were some parts of the book that I enjoyed. I loved Maddie’s personality, with her mix of tough and girly, and her ability to annoy her captors. The letters at the beginning of each chapter were also a nice touch, helping to show more of Maddie’s personality, and how the lack of response made her feel.

This book wasn’t terrible, but it’s definitely not something I’d read again. I constantly found myself jolting out of the book and back into reality from a variety of just… strange occurrences, ranging from weird sentence structure, to poor decisions on the characters part, to people doing things that should’ve been impossible. I’m giving this book 2 stars as it wasn’t an effort to get through, but it also wasn’t very enjoyable.

 

Review: Michael Gerard Bauer – The Things That Will Not Stand

The Things That Will Not Stand
Michael Gerard Bauer

Sebastian and Tolly are going to Open Day to find out what they might like to do with their futures. Tolly knows what he wants to do, but Sebastian is more uncertain – he’ll just have fun with what he can. He like Rom-Com movies and hopes that he will meet the girl of his dreams. However, the girl he meets is more like his worst nightmare.

Slow, this novel was very slow. Perhaps that’s because similarly to They Both Die at the End the action is across a single day. I wanted to like this novel but I need more than a day’s worth of character development to keep me satisfied. The ‘action’ was hardly action at all.

Nothing happens – they just wonder around the uni campus and talk sweet nothings at each other. In the case of Frida her inconsistencies frustrated both me and Seb. I hope that most teenage boys’ minds do not operate like Seb’s because he is an idiot! Because of this (or despite of it?) this book is a likely candidate for a year 7 English book.

I think the title of this novel was stupid. The things that will not stand could be huge! But ultimately they don’t play a strong role in the crux of the novel. I thought I was familiar with this novel’s author – he is also the author of The Pain, My Mother, Sir Tiffy, Cyber Boy & Me. It turns out I didn’t like that novel either!

I picked up and put down this book a bunch of times so that when I got to the big reveal at the end I had forgotten why it was surprising or particularly important.  What I did like is that in the end Sebastian’s good nature won over his dopey idiot attitude. 2 stars from me.

Scholastic | 1st October 2018 | AU$18.99 | paperback

Review: Richard Yaxley – The Happiness Quest

The Happiness Quest
Richard Yaxley

Tillie is sad. Tilly doesn’t know why she’s sad. Tilly’s mum takes her to the doctor, who suggests exercise and healthy food. Tilly’s mum takes her to laughter group. Tilly’s best girl friend doesn’t understand her, but her friend Snake does. How will Tilly get happier?

I literally slogged through this novel. I feared reading it from the beginning, because I read Joyous and Moonbeam by this author and didn’t really enjoy it. Imagine my surprise… that I didn’t enjoy this novel either. It takes until the middle of this novel that Tilly starts getting closer to thinking about The Happiness Quest.

That ending. I think it’s cool and all that researching what makes other people happy could help you, but at the same time – clinical depression doesn’t tend to lift like that in my experience. The treatment Tilly received from both her doctor and her mother was pretty typical. I’d hate to think of someone reading this novel and blaming themselves or putting down medication as a treatment. Sometimes it is just the chemicals in your brain!

I think there are important things to be gained out of reading this novel, and it made me want to make notes about its teachings. But at the same time it was such a struggle for me to read it because the style was terrible. I’m sure it suits some people, but just not me. If this novel makes one young person with depression speak up or tell someone the way they feel, then the novel has served its purpose. 2 stars from me.

Scholastic | 1st August 2018 | AU$18.99 | paperback

Review: Laura Purcell – The Corset

The Corset
Laura Purcell

Ruth is in prison for murder and is awaiting hanging. Dorothea is a well bred woman with a fascination for phrenology (skull physiology that predicts character traits). When Dorothea sets out to map Ruth’s skull she is forced to decide whether she believes in Ruth’s truthfulness or her own ‘scientific’ mind.

The detailed gore at the beginning of the novel was cringe worthy and my feeling was that it was unnecessary. The torture might have been intended to make things feel Gothic and gloomy, but instead I just felt revulsion. I also couldn’t work out why I should care about David and Thomas. What were the men’s purposes in this novel?

It’s such a pity. The cover of this book was such that I expected a peacock to feature. Instead this felt a little like symbolism gone wild. The corset! The corset! And in the end, is it even what she thought it was? The reader and Dotty seem to move towards believing in magic, but the ending makes you questions that – and not in a good way.

About halfway through this novel I thought to myself that the ending would make or break the novel. I didn’t know what would constitute a good ending, but I knew it needed one. The ending I received however was disappointing and unsatisfying and made no sense to me. Will she recover? Was Ruth actually hanged?

Other reviewers are saying this is historical fiction, and I’m saying it might be. But there are plenty of other sources of historical fiction that are better focused and with better endings. 2 stars from me because I finished it, but I wish I hadn’t done so because it left a bad taste in my mouth.

Bloomsbury | 1st November 2018 | AU$29.99 | paperback

Review: Giovanna & Tom Fletcher – Eve of Man

Eve of Man
Giovanna & Tom Fletcher

Fifty years ago, baby girls stopped being born – making women an endangered species. Eve is a biological anomaly who was born during the drought. At age 16, it’s time for her to start reproducing. Her holo-friend Holly is there to keep her company, just as she has for their lives – but the boy behind it is starting to fall for Eve. As the EPO’s lies fall apart, will Eve and Bram ever be able to be together?

Eve is a naive girl who you want to like as a protagonist. But without more from her it is impossible to do so. I get that it is difficult to get inside her head – that’s why the EPO has Holly after all. But that’s why there are split perspective chapters! I much preferred Bram as the alternative protagonist. Good work Bram on having an actual personality, but you couldn’t carry the novel by yourself when there were other fatal flaws.

It felt like a hard slog to get into the characters, and I didn’t find the premise of the novel particularly promising. It is almost impossible to restart a population from a single individual – even if they are bred every year. Just ask any conservationist of endangered animals! Yet Eve is expected to repopulate an Earth that isn’t even worth saving.

I did finish this novel, but again, just like Zero Repeat Forever, I wish I hadn’t wasted my time. I was a chapter out from the end when my partner pointed out that this was the first novel in a trilogy. I immediately stopped reading in disgust – honestly I would have been happy if the ‘happy ending’ was both of them dying!

I did finish this, so I have to give it 2 stars, but honestly don’t waste your time. I’m not sure who this would appeal to because the science behind it is so unreasonable that I can’t recommend it. Try The Ego Cluster and Sapient instead.

Penguin Random House | 28th May 2018 | AU$22.99 | paperback

Review: Brian Conaghan – The Weight of a Thousand Feathers

The Weight of a Thousand Feathers
Brain Conaghan

Bobby’s life is boring enough on the outside. Inside his house though he has a sick mother who is getting sicker every day, and a little brother who just can’t fit into society or life. When his mother asks him the ultimate question, Bobby feels that he must make a decision.

Bobby’s devotion to his mother is admirable, is is his devotion to his rather difficult little brother. However, a child should never be put into this position. I can’t believe that the professional carer for his mother is such a numskull. Or actually I can. Health professionals that aren’t nurses aren’t always as well trained as they could be.

The circle that Bobby starts going to is a good idea. But if such a problem has been acknowledged, shouldn’t someone be doing more about it? As with any teenage novel, there’s instalove that didn’t go anything for me either.

I’m giving this 1 or 2 stars. I didn’t finish this novel, but whether this was because I had other things to read or it was truly irredeemably terrible, your guess is as good as mine. There are plenty of other good Young Adult novels dealing with this topic in a more believable way.

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

Review: G.S. Prendergast – Zero Repeat Forever

Zero Repeat Forever
GS Prendergast

Eighth is part of an invasion of Earth – dart them, leave them where they fall. Raven is one of those to be darted but she refuses to give in. Little by little Eighth gets caught up in the human world, while Raven is beginning to realize more about the Nahx than she wants to.

I really wish I hadn’t wasted my time on this novel. I started reading it once and then put it down. I was feeling like a fantasy novel so I picked it up again right from the beginning. More fool me. The action is surprisingly slow, and the main character Raven isn’t inherently likable. I liked Eighth, but his mind was so fragmented that I could barely follow along what it meant to be a Nahx.

I appreciate that people behave strangely if they are suffering from PTSD, but Raven is just over the top. Her relationship with her friends isn’t even really a friendship. She seems to antagonise everyone around her, and honestly I wouldn’t have minded if she dropped dead in the middle of the novel – it might have added some actual danger.

That ending. I saw it coming about mid-way through the novel. In fact, if Tucker hadn’t been buried, I would have thought that he would return too! There is no happy ending to be had for humans, but even if there was one, would I have wanted it? This train wreck of a novel didn’t have any redeeming features for me.

I am sick of dystopian science fiction. I have read so many recently, and I seem to get as many hits as I do duds. Think NK3, Killer T and the Rending and the Nest for some recent examples sci-fi. Now that the duology has been published, I can recommend The Rains wholeheartedly for an apocalyptic alien showdown.

I finished this novel because I held out hope that it would improve, so I have to give it 2 stars to meet my own standards. But honestly, don’t waste your time like I did.

Simon & Schuster | 25th October 2017 | AU$17.99 | paperback