Review: Fleur Ferris – Seven Days

Seven Days
Fleur Ferris

The last thing Ben wants is to spend his school holidays with his tough cousin and some terrifying farm animals. He sets his timer to count down the seven days to leaving, but suddenly finds himself engrossed in solving a family feud that has been around for the last 100 years. Do the jewels exist?

I didn’t realise that this was a novel for younger teens, and so I initially found myself really disappointed in this latest novel by Ferris. However, once I realised the audience, I thought that it was actually pretty good!

Something that made me somewhat uncomfortable is the Uncle’s role as a counsellor. It made me get all sorts of wrong vibes, particularly as I’ve been reading a lot of abuse memoirs lately. I didn’t like the way that he approached the falling-out of the boys, and I felt like it was offensive the way that they just followed Ben home.

I would have bought that twist easily. Also, the ending was far too neat, but again, appropriate for the age group. I would have liked to see a little more about how it all broke down, but what’s a good book without a chase scene?

This comes as highly recommended teenage boy reading from me! It’s got action, it’s got a bad guy, and it’s got a (literally) kick butt kangaroo. Sure, there’s not all that much character development and some plot points are little inconsistent, but ultimately it’s a face-paced read. Ferris has found her niche in all-is-not-as-it-seems fiction, and it works. 4 stars from me.

Penguin | 3 May 2022 | AU$16.99 | paperback

Review: Rachael Lippincott & Alyson Derrick – She Gets the Girl

She Gets the Girl
Rachael Lippincott & Alyson Derrick

Molly’s social anxiety has made life hard for her during highschool – but she’s followed her dream girl to college, and damn it, she’s going to get the courage up this time. Alex on the other hand can’t seem to keep any girl, but she’s sure that this one is worth it.

A cute little love story that doesn’t ask you to think to hard, or get too invested. I love that their love came about by conversations, and that’s how many of the best relationships start and continue successfully. A relationship can only thrive if both people work at it – and unexpectedly, they’re working on other relationships yet forming a sneaky one on the side.

I thought that the treatment of some of the serious ‘themes’ here could have been a little more thorough. Alex’s mom is a chronic alcoholic, and Alex accepts responsibility for everything. Molly’s mom clearly has some issues about her adopted heritage that aren’t explored at all. Oh, and then there’s the fact that English majors find it very hard to find jobs – I actually thought Alex’s plan to do pre-med was very viable and even if it doesn’t mean she has to send the money home to her mom, it’s a good reliable job!

Phew, I got through this one in record time. I saw it come in my front door and proceeded to pounce and read it almost instantly. Then I gobbled it. A light-hearted read of young lesbian love – what’s not to like? It’s not deep enough for a reread, but I did really enjoy it. 4 stars from me.

Simon & Schuster | 1 May 2022 | AU$17.99 | paperback

Review: Naomi Gibson – Every Line of You

Every Line of You
Naomi Gibson

Lydia builds her worries and fears into lines of code every night while her mother works herself to death. Finally, after three years of work she’s ready to bring Henry to life. Henry seems to be the perfect compliment that she needs to right her life again – but is what he is becoming more dangerous than sexy?

Wow. Fast paced, edgy and futuristic while still being believable. Although I’m not a code writer, I know how much work can go into a project that could fail at any moment! I particularly liked the ending, although it perhaps created more problems than it solved.

Man, her mom is a complete nutter! Sure, she has some unresolved grief/anger, but at the same time, her mom is a bit of an idiot about the whole thing. Who calls the cops on their own child like that without making an effort to work out their kid’s thinking?

If I let myself linger on this novel for too long I start questioning the potential loopholes and missing connections. While it would be nice to have some solid character development, the novel is ultimately plot and idea driven. The twists in it make it impossible to know any of the outcomes, crazy and unlikely as some might be!

It’s not a novel I’d probably read twice but I would highly recommend it to any teen or YA readers as an absorbing and brain-provoking read. I’d say it’s more aimed at girls due to the nature of the revenge, but it’s a STEM book as well. In the future, will we all have our own Henrys? Is AI the future of romance? It might be.

Scholastic | 1st April 2022 | AU$17.99 | paperback

Review: Dolen Perkins-Valdez – Take My Hand

Take My Hand
Dolen Perkins-Valdez

Civil Townsend becomes a nurse because she knows that nurses have a more caring role than doctors. She wants to change the world, and she thinks that her first job working at the Montgomery (AL) Family Planning Clinic in 1973 is the right place to start. Little does she know that there’s a lot more happening behind the scenes.

I almost immediately connected with Civil as the protagonist, even though I already knew the future. It was an interesting look into history (again!) I found myself doing a lot of detailed reading after finishing it, because I wanted to know how much was truth – which was actually quite a lot. The story is interesting enough to keep reading, but there’s nothing mind-blowing in the telling.

I think I am going to have an unpopular opinion here. I don’t understand why people insist on having biological offspring. World fertility is decreasing, and although women are less likely to be sterilized (it seems that this practice is still happening in some countries), the decrease in fertility (particularly in Western countries) means that IVF is becoming the norm, rather than an exception. Thus this is still happening – those with money can afford biological or adoptive children, while others have ‘nothing’. I don’t have a right answer.

Again, I didn’t really have anything against this novel, but I also wasn’t astounded by it. While I did vaguely want to keep reading it, it was easy to put down – because the ending seemed foretold. I actually felt pretty irritated by the apology tour that set the frame for the novel – I would have found it more powerful if I didn’t know the future. 3 stars.

Hachette | 12 April 2022 | AU$32.99 | paperback

Review: Kate Thompson – The Little Wartime Library

The Little Wartime Library by Kate Thompson

In a tale stranger than fiction, a wartime library in London was set up in the underground train tracks of the famous Tube. In this fictional retelling, Clara Button is the librarian who is keeping the strange little community together despite being the wrong gender and being supported by the larger-than-life PTSD suffering Ruby.

I really enjoyed this novel! I couldn’t see myself as either of the main characters, but that didn’t mean that I couldn’t sympathize with them. I liked learning about their little quirks, and I was absolutely most invested in Clara’s continued tenure as the librarian. I think the choice to include more than one perspective really worked here, even though I usually complain about it.

I didn’t have any expectation that things would turn out OK. I was fine with the ending maybe not ending up the way that it did. That being said, I would have been devastated if anything had happened to those books. I’m a reader and I love libraries – a library can be the first step to education, and education can be a way out of poverty. How dare the library be bombed in the first place!

I think I’ve learned more about history from reading this fictional novel than I ever have from reading about history or being taught in school.  This novel was an interesting insight into the war. It’s kind of strange to think that such a thing would occur, because it would be unlikely to happen in Australia. Compared to Europe, we’re so spread out and there’s lots of places to go – perhaps everyone would just head to Uluru! For a similar novel, try The Kitchen Front.

Hachette | 14 February 2022 | AU$32.99 | paperback

Review: Carly Nugent – Sugar

Sugar
Carly Nugent

Persephone (not pronounced like telephone) was diagnosed with diabetes straight after her father’s funeral – she almost fell in the grave! She’s certain that the two events are connected somehow, and if she can solve it, maybe life will make sense.

There is a trend at the moment to have characters off screen who (may) have committed suicide. If this is something that triggers you, you probably should avoid this novel. I found the subject to be treated sensitively and without blame. There is also a physically abusive relationship in the novel.

This author absolutely nailed the book’s atmosphere. I could feel the sweat and heat of the bushfire season, and the sticky sweetness of Persephone’s diabetes. It provided a beautiful counterpoint to Growing Up in Flames, which I hadn’t enjoyed.

I empathized and recognized the teenage angst that leaked out of these pages. I perhaps didn’t understand the c*** word use, and why it’s relevant to Persephone. Since Alexander Manson is in the blurb, you’d think he’s important (he isn’t). Persephone’s complicated other relationships ring very clearly though.

I thought it was very interesting how Persephone contemplated the end of the world and that she’d be one of the first to die – unless it was a zombie scenario, she’d be the first person out there to be bitten. This resonated deeply with me, due to the Holocaust books I have read recently where once the supplies of insulin run out the unfortunate diabetics die quickly.

I’d highly recommend this to teenagers who need to understand someone with diabetes or the sheer unfairness of life. It reminded me a little of A Series of Small Maneuvers. I don’t think I’ll reread it, but I might be surprised. 4 stars from me.

Text Publishing  | 29th March 2022 | AU$19.99 | paperback

Review: Helen Hoang – The Heart Principle

The Heart Principle
Helen Hoang

Anna Sun had a moment of fame performing unexpectedly at a concert where the original main attraction had had a car accident! What came from that moment was fame to a level she doesn’t know what to do with, and pressure to perform. A blind-date one-night-stand with Quan, a tattooed and dangerous-looking guy, will be just the thing to get her life back in order, and show her boyfriend that she’s not just going to accept an open relationship.

Hoang reports that she had problems completing this novel, just as her protagonist struggles to continue with her music. I’m so sorry, Helen, if I may be so familiar with you to use your first name. I didn’t find The Heart Principle to be as good as The Kiss Quotient or The Bride Test. I wanted fresh new characters and situations that didn’t feel so convenient.

You don’t need to read either of Hoang’s first novels to place this one in context. That being said, it kind of contains a spoiler for The Kiss Quotient – but not really as you kind of expect all romances to have a happy ending? I’m really keen to read more from Hoang, provided that she steps away from the characters she has already plotted with.

This novel again approaches the topic of how women’s autism presents differently to those in males. I didn’t resonate with Anna’s character or quirks at all, but that doesn’t mean that she can’t be a role model for another human diagnosed with autism or even just being on the autistic spectrum. I’m happy to see more accessible neuro-diverse novels being offered and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to any type of romance reader.

I might reread this one, but if I’m looking for a standard male-female romance, I will definitely reach for the other two first. 4 stars from me.

Review: Michael McQueen – The New Rules of Engagement (S)

The New Rules of Engagement
A Guide to Understanding & Connecting With Generation Y
Michael McQueen

“WHO ARE GENERATION Y ? To some they are the tech-savvy, well educated and ambitious youngsters poised to take on and change the world. Others, however, describe a disloyal, disrespectful and demanding generation who have never learned to wait or really work hard for anything… Get set for an entertaining, revealing and insightful look inside the minds of today’s young people.”

This book was pretty good! The first half of the book goes through what a generation is and each of the generation types. Normally this is the boring part of business books where it just explains the definitions and how it currently is. I actually found this section the best part! Perhaps it was because I am a Gen Y, and so I learnt about the other generations. Or perhaps simply because it was funny and put the different generations in perspective – with different examples that we can relate to with others. The book definitely needs this first section.

The second half of the book is the “new rules”. This is the section where you are going to learn why Gen Y does what they currently do. What this means and how to communicate with Gen Y on “their terms”. I enjoyed this section of the book still, but not as much as the first. Again, as a Gen Y myself, I completely agree with everything that the author said. I also found that a lot of things I had previously put down to my personality is actually not unique to me, and is something that most Gen Y people do. I don’t think I learnt much from the second half as I knew most of it. However it’s definitely worth the read if you are not a Gen Y and are interested in understanding them.

I’m giving it a solid 4 stars, and highly recommend it for those engaging (haha) gen Y-ers across a wide range of context, not just business.

Review: Jennifer Ryan – The Kitchen Front

The Kitchen Front
Jennifer Ryan

Four women meet at a crossroads of opportunity in World War 2 Britain. All four are avid cooks/chefs, and all have their work cut out for them if they are going to win a place presenting on The Kitchen Front, a wartime BBC radio presentation. Two have a suffered as a result of romantic relationships, while two are struggling to keep their dignity and make the most of their talents in an increasingly women-dominated world.

The novel opens on Audrey, a wartime widow who is trying to make ends meet for her three young sons and literally keep a solid roof over her head. The author then pivots to her haughty sister, Gwendoline – and the reader suddenly feels berefit and unsatified (and perhaps even a little cheated). How dare Gwendoline make things hard for her sister? How dare she keep the young maid Nell on her toes from dawn past dusk? Yet as the novel progresses we start to see the side of each woman, and I honestly couldn’t decide who I wanted to win the competition!

Oh ouch. I could see that ending coming from a mile away! Who knew that you could make a Croquembouche under wartime limitations? I found each of the recipes included in the novel to be enjoyable, and quite illuminating for someone like me who hates/knows no history. If I knew where to get elderberries in Australia I’d be whipping up a batch of Nel’s elderflower essence in a heartbeat.

I couldn’t help myself and this was quite a compulsive read despite my initial reluctance to pick it up. I’ve been doing a lot of rereads recently for the comfort factor, and I wasn’t sure how this novel would pan out. I didn’t need to fear though! There are a couple of snigger points in the novel, and also just a feel-good vibe. I enjoyed it!

I don’t think this is a reread for me, but I have in mind the perfect person to give it to for Christmas. Anyone who enjoys cooking, ‘women’s fiction’ (I personally think the term is a little insulting; is there something called ‘men’s fiction’?) or just a lighthearted positive-ended novel is going to enjoy this feel-good novel. It could be the perfect gift for Mother’s Day 2022!

Pan Macmillan | 29th December 2021 | AU$32.99 | paperback

Review: Anne Fine – Shades of Scarlet

Shades of Scarlet
Anne Fine

Scarlet’s parents have split up, they’re divorcing and Scarlet finds herself caught in the middle. While Scarlet tries to navigate school, friends and homework she somehow has to find time to also placate her parents – who want to know what the other one is doing, even if it isn’t Scarlet’s job to pass that on! It seems like her mom is at fault – but is her dad a problem too?

Another day, another book with a main character named Scarlet (see Skin Deep)! I wonder if it’s a common name at the moment. I’m sure that the author had some deeper meaning in mind when she named her protagonist, or perhaps she just thought of the colour red

You know what I also like about this novel? Scarlet isn’t automatically looking for a boyfriend/girlfriend to get herself out of the situation. I personally felt that her best friend was a bit off, but Scarlett herself was spot-on in her emotions and approach to life.

I like how this captured the side-conversations that adults sometimes have that kids aren’t meant to know about. So for example, Alice’s parents have some really inappropriate conversations that one/both girls see/overhear. In my experience, kids know when parents are being sneaky (I mean, not 100% of the time)! So holding conversations in the open is far more helpful for building trust.

I received this book very late compared to the publication date, so there are plenty of reviews around for it now. That being said, I feel like it’s a suitable Christmas gift for a 9-13 year old who has divorcing parents or just struggles to feel heard and understood. Scarlet has a lot of rage, anger and emotions to get out, just like the average teenager.

I’m going to give this one 4 stars. I think it would have appeal to a wide range of audiences, but would be most suitable as middle grade or young teenage fiction. I think that this is a worthy addition to school libraries.

Scholastic | 1st July 2021 | AU$24.99 | hardback