Review: Lyndall Clipstone – Lakesedge

Lyndall Clipstone

Violetta holds a lot of secrets, ones that might be important for her survival. Violetta doesn’t care much about herself though – she only cares for her brother and protecting him from his dark shadows. She is limited though – the Lord of Lake’s Edge gets what he wants – and he wants her brother. Violetta tags along to see if she too can fight the Corruption.

Oh no! He’s feeding the Lake Monster! Oh no, he is the Monster. Oh well, we all know that the main characters in books like these will fall in love. In fact, we can predict pretty much the whole storyline despite them pretending that everything is a huge secret.

Isn’t the cover gorgeous? Ultimately it’s not the forest that is even relevant, or the lake. The interior of the house and the garden get the most attention, but maybe Violetta’s mind is the main attraction? I had such high hopes when I requested it, but it was hopeless. I felt like I’d wasted my time reading in.

Look, I’ve categorized it as teen fiction, only because there are some racy scenes there. My hunch is that the Lord of Under is going to be nursing a baby in 9 months time! Unfortunately the storyline is too simple and there isn’t enough character growth to truly belong to the teenage category – I think it could even be an advanced middle grade fiction except for the sexual elements. There’s also a hint of LGTBIQA* relationships, but these aren’t convincing or deep.

I got to the end of this novel, and I discovered that it’s only the first in a series! Honestly, it felt like half a book. There was a whole lot of telling rather than showing going on, and the ending wasn’t complete. I tried retelling this as a oral story at bedtime, and my audience was very unimpressed with the ending. I personally felt that I hated the characters enough that I would have been perfectly happy (even overjoyed!) that one or more of them died. 3 begrudging stars from me.

Pan Macmillan | 31 August 2021| AU$24.99 | paperback

Review: Cass R. Sunstein & Reid Hastie – Wiser

Getting Beyond Groupthink to Make Groups Smarter
Cass R. Sunstein & Reid Hastie

“Since the beginning of human history, people have made decisions in groups—first in families and villages, and now as part of companies, governments, school boards, religious organizations, or any one of countless other groups. And having more than one person to help decide is good because the group benefits from the collective knowledge of all of its members, and this results in better decisions. Right?”

This book was not for me. Although it’s in the “management” section of the library’s non-fiction, it’s all about theory and there is nothing practical or examples of what to do next. Not only is it theory, but it also doesn’t show “the right answer” at the conclusion of the theories. It basically says this can happen, and this can happen and this can also happen. It has no point or message that the book is conveying.

The message of the book is that group decisions are hard due to a number of reasons. These include: an individual’s bias, and how humans tend to agree with others – this causes a cascade of errors. Although the book is structured in chapters of “how groups fail” and then “how groups succeed”, the chapters didn’t really mean anything. The authorities continued to use examples of how groups fail in the succeeding section. Honestly I still don’t know the “solution” to this problem, and how to succeed.

The authors mentioned the same examples more than once, including writing that they would refer to it again in a later chapter. I don’t know why it couldn’t just be fully explained then and there? By the end of the Introduction I had already been convinced that groups fail in their logical thinking all the time, and I was ready for the solutions. I then fell asleep, lost interest and put the book down several times. The only semi-redeeming factors were the few story examples in the tournaments section and the fact that the authors used references for their work.

I did finish this book, but it’s only getting 2 stars. Don’t bother – there are better things out there. Anything is better than this.

Review: Agustina Bazterrica – Tender is the Flesh

Tender is the Flesh
Agustina Bazterrica

The flesh of animals has become poisonous to humans. Unbelievably, the only source of protein left is ‘special meat’. Otherwise known as meat from ‘heads’, there are specially bred humans that are used only for meat and hides. Marco’s job is to check and maintain their quality. And yet, gifted with a beautiful head, Marco isn’t sure if humans are still valid meat.

This is a rich novel that is intended to be confronting and powerful, but is instead I found it off putting. It seemed like a train wreck from the start, and yet I kept hoping for a satisfactory conclusion. Instead what I read made me feel irritated and grossed out. Also there were parts (such as Marco’s ?affair? with the butcher) that I didn’t understand the importance of. This is literature, not light reading. It demands attention and thinking that I just didn’t have the space to give.

Some of the imagery in this novel was very disturbing. For me, it was reading how the pregnant humans had their limbs removed so that they couldn’t kill their own fetuses. See, now, doesn’t that say to a ‘head’ farmer that you shouldn’t do that? To my knowledge, no animal currently harvested for meat does this.

Maybe I missed the point of this novel? Should it have humanised the (non-human) meat industry for me? Unfortunately growing up as a beef cattle farmer’s daughter, I’m pretty pragmatic about meat, and where it comes from. I knew all those beef burgers and lamb chops by name before they were meat, and it never bothered me.

I didn’t realise that this was originally translated from Spanish (the author is Argentinian). That’s not something to hold against it – I’m honestly pretty sure that I wouldn’t have enjoyed it regardless of the language. It’s supposed to be a critique on meat eating, but I interpreted it as an actual hypothetical situation. It turned me off reading in a way similar to the way that The Biggerers did (again, maybe I missed the point?).

A high flaunting novel that missed the mark for me. I finished reading it, but was left disgusted and dismayed. I think the answer from me is ‘yes’ I would do cannibalism if you told me that I had to, in order to survive. But I wouldn’t accept human meat that’s been bred for the purpose.

Faber Factory Plus Ffp | 31st March 2020 | AU$27.99 | paperback

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