Review: Margot McGovern – Neverland

Neverland
Margot McGovern

Kit has almost killed herself in her efforts to get home to Neverland, the place of her childhood storytelling. She’s forced herself to forget the night her parents died in the hopes of maintaining her childhood fantasies. Her psychiatrist uncle is determined to help her heal, but is Kit too stubborn for her own good?

I actually never fell for the protagonist of this novel. I thought she was a selfish b**** that never thought for anyone but herself. In fact, I felt like she undermined their healing, and that was just cruel. I also didn’t in the least appreciate the interspersion of the ‘fairytales’ throughout an ok real action novel.

Burying the past is never a good idea. I loved the symbolism of Kit taking her love interest to the centre of the island and likened it to a bookaholic handing their favourite novel to a potential partner and getting them to read it. However, this also made her easier to manipulate, and in the end I hated her.

I didn’t agree with the premise of Neverland – who ever thought of putting a psychiatric hospital for teenagers on a freaking island? I could imagine that the isolation and fresh environment could be healthy, but I also know that it probably wasn’t all that positive that people COULD JUST LEAP OFF A CLIFF!

I barely finished this novel. I was hoping for redemption at the end, so I did finish skimming to the end. But I wouldn’t recommend this novel at all. It was overall quite mood-dampening and had no satisfying ending that redeemed it in my mind. 1 star. Don’t waste your time or your heartstrings on this novel.

Penguin Random House | 2nd April 2018 | AU$19.99 | paperback

Review: Laura Dockrill – Big Bones

Big Bones
Laura Dockrill

Bluebelle is fat, and not afraid or ashamed to admit it. She loves food in every way, and she’s determined to not go back to school, instead applying for an apprenticeship at Planet Coffee. To negotiate with her mom, Bluebelle finds herself forced into doing a food diary.

This was an average novel with a meandering storyline that had me losing interest about half way through (and thus pausing to write this review). BB was a lovable, cuddly protagonist and it was certainly comforting to read a fat-positive novel for once. However, she IS unhealthily fat and I’m not sure I can give completely positive feedback to a novel that initially promotes it.

It was unclear to me how much of the text was food diary, and how much was actually narrative. Some of the things BB wrote in her food diary were a lot more suited to a general diary, not a food one! That ‘boyfriend’ of hers was so slow and BB’s reactions so cliche that I figured it couldn’t possibly be written in a food diary – but lo and behold it was!

Confession: I skimmed to finish reading this novel. I don’t want to condemn it to 2 stars despite that,  because I’ve just come back from vacation and I literally have a stack TBR of higher than a meter and other things just look more exciting. BB’s redemption and joining a gym, precipitated by the big family upset were ok, but not compelling.

I’d recommend reading Holding Up the Universe or Pretty Girls Don’t Eat before diving into this novel. Their protagonists have more depth, and overall the love stories, while taking a backseat, are more intriguing and believable. I’ll give it 3 stars because it could have finished strongly – but I wasn’t going to hang around to find out when there were better things on offer.

 Allen & Unwin | 23rd May 2018 | AU$19.99 | paperback

Review: Brendan Lawley – Bonesland

Bonesland
Brendan Lawley

Bonesy’s life is centered towards one thing – getting to the City and out of his completely backwater town. There’s just a couple of things that need to be set straight first… Such as his parents living in the same house again, not being bullied at school and getting laid by a girl.

I hated the objectification of women in this novel, and the completely inappropriate language all of the boys used. The lovely Muslim girl goes to a party and gets hit on and followed home by people she’s turned down. I’m perfectly fine with her smoking pot, but where are her friends to help her out when she gets in trouble? The amount of drink and drugs going around was crazy. I’d love to know where this town is, and I wonder whether its real occupants actually behave in this deplorable way. Actually, this novel reminds me of Dream-something or other that was about another isolated idiot. I grew up isolated and so did my fiancee – and neither of us had these problems (she’s a first in family to College too).

I don’t get why his nick-name was Bonesy. I hardly remember why Bonesy was remarkable. Was he average? Probably. He gets picked on because he has a ‘thing’ about germs and he is terrible with girls. The bullying is pretty extreme, but he doesn’t say anything or do anything about it. Even his friends aren’t great at supporting him. This novel attempted to show us some character growth, but it felt forced and uncomfortable.

For a kid taking valium, he wasn’t doing that well on it. He ‘thinks’ he ‘might’ have OCD, and I’d agree with that, but I’d also say he had Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD). Also, he is in serious denial that I would not expect of a 15-16 year old regarding his parent’s separation. His main aim seems to be get off the medication because his father wants him to and for his parents to magically become a family again.

Does his father work? How the hell do they afford anything? I’m sick of novels where the kid is poor, but there’s no solid explanation for why they have anything at all. Where’s your drive to succeed? I get that you want to go to the Big Beautiful City, but you’ve got to actually TRY get there. You can’t just hope something will magically happen in the next 2 years.

I finished it, but shouldn’t have bothered. 2 stars from me.

Text Publishing | 1st May 2018 | AU$19.99 | paperback

Review: Sarah Lotz – The White Road

The White Road
Sarah Lotz

Simon does a terrifying crawl through a bared off cave where three people died beforehand. He wants to get footage of their bones, and wants to prove himself a decent climber after the fall that shattered his shoulder and ankle. His video footage goes viral, and he needs to top it. What better than Everest’s dead?

I couldn’t get behind this novel. I attempted to read it twice and at least got in about a quarter of the way before giving up this time. While the opening chapter puts you a bit on the edge of your seat, you know that he survives it because he writes the rest of the novel! It goes downhilll from there as Simon’s narration becomes increasingly erratic and we are introduced to more and more characters. I got sick of the frequent, gratuitous swearing that did nothing to endear me to Simon.

Additionally, I thought that for all his ‘brave’ climbing, Simon was a complete push-over. He was also irresponsible – you’re going to get stuck for sure, and you don’t care about the cost of the rescue party? I get that his family doesn’t care for him much, and that he feels like he doesn’t have an aim in life. That doesn’t mean that you should let your best-friend push you into climbing a mountain while he sits back home and counts dollars.

I stopped reading this novel and decided to release it into the wild. I (hopefully) have better things to read that I have brought with me, and I don’t want to waste my reading time on something that is not going to effectively distract me through very long hours of driving. I’m not really sure where I am going to source books when I have gotten through the ones in my luggage, but I will make do. The Australia Post guy back home said that he couldn’t deliver any more mail because the box was full! Oops, sorry bookies…

2 stars from me. Maybe the right audience who always wanted to read a fictional novel about the challenges of caving and Mount Everest, but I’d rather read a memoir of an Everest climber who has a decent story.

Hachette Australia | 16th May 2017 | AU$29.99 | paperback

Review: Emily Barr – The Truth and Lies of Ella Black

The Truth and Lies of Ella Black
Emily Barr

Ella has just been ripped out of school and taken to her dream destination, Rio. Unfortunately, her parents won’t let her out of their sight and she knows there’s a big secret they are keeping from her. She’s keeping her own secrets, like how she just put a hammer through a fledgling’s head…

It had the potential to be a thriller, but thanks to The One Memory of Flora Banks, I was primed the whole time for something interesting to be going on with Ella’s brain. And it turned out that there really wasn’t anything that exciting. That romance? Pathetic. Oh, star-crossed lovers etc etc. I’ll tell you all my secrets, and you will return them. Yeah sorry, but one sorrow does not cancel out another, and it doesn’t seem like Ella even took anything on board.

I polished this novel off very quickly, but in the end I didn’t really feel very satisfied by it. Does Ella actually understand herself better? Is she still a selfish, horrible person? It’s not Bella that is at fault, it’s Ella through and through that is entitled and a cry-baby.

On that note, I found the take-over of Ella by Bella completely unrealistic and repetitive. Is she that bloody naive? I thought maybe she had some strange version of multiple-personality disorder. But no no, it’s just simple repression. Ella talking to herself just comes across as strange, particularly her thoughts of suicide vs her preservation instinct.

The more I write this review, the less I like the novel. I’ll give it 3 stars because I didn’t struggle to finish reading it. Not highly recommended.

Penguin Random House | 2nd January 2018 | AU $17.99 | paperback

Review: Angela Slatter – Corpselight

Corpselight
Angela Slatter

Verity has unexpected drownings in daylight and her not-dead mother to contend with, oh, and she’s just had a baby. But never mind, she’s just got to keep pressing forwards. With family coming out of the woodwork faster than she can keep track, can Verity protect her immediate family and keep her Normal partner happy?

I’d like to know, even with Wanda’s magic, why Verity is up and about after such a traumatic birth pretty much 2 days later. Any baby that comes out in the space of an hour is going to rip some serious damage. Or maybe the time passed faster than I thought, which it might have because I had no sense of timing throughout the whole novel.

I don’t really understand Verity’s role. Why does she feel this compulsion to help out the Weyrd? Maybe that is something that is covered in the first novel, but she continually keeps ‘fixing things’ for them, despite them abandoning her, which is a major theme of this novel. Also, does she get paid for this role? I have trouble understanding how she normally functions. I resisted reading this novel because I knew it was a sequel, but I honestly think that that is the least of its problems.

It’s a struggle to finish this novel, and I’m still not sure I will. The pacing is incredibly slow, and the storyline very predictable. Everything always overlaps in these novels, and so once one ‘puzzle’ is solved, the rest fall in line for the reader, if not Verity. I have other attractive things to read instead, and it’s a serious backlog because I just discovered a stash of novels I had wondered where they got to, but couldn’t find them.

Honestly, all the f-words? They don’t do anything for me. Verity uses them so often that their potential impact is negligible. Using more sparingly, they might actually convey a sense of urgency. There’s some nice lines that could have been worth laughing about, such as Verity’s daughter not liking decanted breast milk! Yet they are delivered so flatly that my reaction was more meh, nice try.

I’m giving this 2 stars. Surely it appeals to some audiences, but it just doesn’t appeal to me. Summing up: it was too slow, too laced with pointless cuss-words (and I’m not a puritan!) and too predictable. I’d recommend as a light read, although not fantasy based, Turbo Twenty-Three.

Hachette Australia | 11th July 2017 | AU $32.99 | paperback

Review: Garry Disher – Under the Cold Bright Lights

Under the Cold Bright Lights
Garry Disher

Alan Auhl has come out of retirement to look into cold cases. He’s got himself a flock of needy cases at home, and is bound to run into some more at work. With a soft heart but an inability to express himself, will Auhl be able to see justice done?

Ugh, I spent this novel reading it in a sort of daze of disbelief. To start with, I didn’t really connect with the main character, and the style of writing just didn’t take me into the novel. And then, funnily enough, the protagonist talks about reading a book with no discernable plot-line. This one was just the same!

It’s nice to have a home-grown novel, for once I actually know the distances between the places that are mentioned. By the end of the novel though, I started running out of room in my head for place names and everything.

I find it hard to believe that a psychological expert could still make such statements about child sexual abuse being ‘made up’ by the child. Children rarely make things up as serious as that – unless they have been subjected to it, they probably don’t know even what it means to be sexually abused. That’s why it’s important to teach children the real names of genitals and so forth.

Is this the sort of novel that needs a sequel? I’m not really sure. All I can tell is that Alan honestly doesn’t seem to have much to live for, or much of a drive for life, and so he doesn’t care about how the ‘right’ outcome occurs. I’m giving this 2 begrudging stars. I felt like I had to finish it because I requested it, but honestly I shouldn’t have wasted my time.

Text Publishing | 30th October 2017 | AU $29.99 | paperback

Review: William Sutcliffe – We See Everything

We See Everything
William Sutcliffe

London has been cut off from the world, and is under constant surveillance from drones that are waiting to strike out the terrorists within. The ordinary people living there can’t work out why they are living in squalor, while the ruling class still has access to luxuries like cigarettes. Set to observe another teenager, a drone pilot gradually gets too close to his target.

The novel opens with a boy picking berries to sell. l made an instant connection with him – that I gradually lost as the novel progressed. The other protagonist, the drone pilot, I absolutely understood, but again, I didn’t care about him either. This novel overall felt flat to me, just like the 2D characters.

The ending of this novel was supremely unsatisfactory. I guess what it may have been trying to say is that life moves on, regardless of what occurred in the past. I wasn’t expecting a happy ending at all, but I was expecting something… more? Everything seemed dull, and the explanations still fell flat. The war-torn landscape didn’t resonate with me.

From the Acknowledgements, it seems like this novel is a fictionalised account of the Gaza Blockade/War(s). I would have preferred that it was actually set in Gaza – I didn’t find the idea of a tiny bit of London being shut off from the rest of the world very convincing. London is considered a hub, and Gaza certainly is/was not.

It’s a good attempt at exposing the uselessness of war, but I don’t think it goes far enough in making direct comparisons. I like the fact that it is more up-to-date than the majority of war novels that focus on the Jewish Holocaust, but I went into it expecting future fiction, and instead got a weird hybrid that didn’t tick any of my enjoyment boxes. 2 stars from me.

Bloomsbury | 1st December 2017 | AU $16.99 | paperback

Review: Nick Lake – Whisper to Me

Whisper to Me
Nick Lake

Cass hears a voice. Just one, but that one tells her to hurt herself and not talk to other people, otherwise it will cause her dad to die. This causes her to hurt a boy she likes, so she writes him an incredibly long letter (email) in the form of this novel.

Sigh. I knew this novel wasn’t much chop from the very beginning. But a friend had said it was the best she had read while borrowing from my (limited) library. So I thought, ok, I’ll try it. It was the first couple of pages that put me off, honestly I’m not much of a list person, particularly in fiction novels. It better be useful, like in the start of me and you, but no, this one continued throughout the novel and it wasn’t useful.

There was no conclusion to that ending, and honestly, I was sick of it. I finished it, but that was it. Just a long email of apologising. Also, spoiler alert, no conclusion to the bad guys either. I’m not unwilling to read something else by this author, the writing style was engaging and I liked Cass’ characterisation well enough. But there was no resolution, and honestly the storyline was rambling (I know, I know, it’s the writing style of a teenager apologizing… over and over again).

I’m not even sure I can accept it for the mental illness content. Suggesting that ‘talk therapy’ can overcome hearing voices (even just the one voice Cass hears) is dangerous. As Cass finds out, when she stops taking her medication abruptly her self-preservation instincts go out the window. Honestly, I wouldn’t have been all that upset if she had died. Actually, that might have added some of the excitement I didn’t feel about Paris. Too much foreshadowing for so little actual action.

I do not recommend this novel. I wish I hadn’t wasted my time on it. I’d love to just give it 1 star, but I did at least finish it. So 2 stars it will have to be. I held out for hope of an ending, and nope, nothing there to redeem it.

Bloomsbury | 3rd May 2016 | paperback

Review: Irfan Master – Out of Heart

Out of Heart
Irfan Master

Adam is the darkness, joined only to the rest of the world by a thread, bound within his own drawings and head, barely speaking. His sister doesn’t speak, and neither does his mother or grandfather. After his grandfather dies and donates his heart to William, William becomes a fixture in Adam’s house and life.

This novel felt disjointed and fast. Somehow, 7 months passed and I didn’t notice. There’s hardly enough pages in there for any details. Trying to fit in an abuse/transplant/love/damage storyline was too much, and instead I was left feeling cheated about the whole lot.

I felt disconnected from Adam, and couldn’t even get excited about the fact that he grew a spine somewhere between his childhood (where it wasn’t his fault and it was safer not to have one) and now. Simply, even the violent scenes left me cold, because the prose wasn’t compelling, and I felt distant the whole time. So did Adam, but it’s hard for me to care to keep reading….

The word plays that Adam uses could have been used even more effectively, or perhaps some more images that he drew. Anything! I actually really loved the idea of what he drew on the trains, but it wasn’t clear at all what the point was – if you can only see it from 24 floors in the air! That being said, yet another tortured artist student novel right here.

Does Farah not go to school? What’s wrong with doing dot-to-dots? How long has it been? School seems to feature so little in anything, despite readers listening through a set of school parent-teacher meetings. What are the two jobs Adam’s mom works? How does Adam get to work on time? Where do they live?

Something I hate, and maybe it’s just because I perhaps need glasses, is when thoughts or memories in a novel are included in a special type of script that isn’t just printed text. It almost guarentees I will dislike the novel,

Nothing remarkable to see here. There wasn’t enough substance, it took me about 1 hour to read it, and I didn’t feel like I had gained anything after it because I hadn’t become attached to the characters. I’m giving it 2 stars – I’m not feeling that kindly about it because I have many other novels to read that are (hopefully) way more exciting. I think I need to be more wary of Hot Key books (such as Fly on the Wall), no matter how intriguing they sound.

Allen & Unwin | 28th June 2017 | AU$16.99 | paperback