Review: Becky Albertalli & Adam Silvera – What if it’s Us Duology

What if it’s Us Duology
Becky Albertalli & Adam Silvera

What if it’s Us?

Ben and Arthur meet by accident as Ben tries to post a box of mementoes back to his ex-boyfriend and Arthur tries to grab himself a moment alone in New York. Arthur’s never dated a boy before, he’s not even sure he’s had a crush on one quite as badly as on Ben. In a world where summer is short, will the paths of these boys cross again when the Universe interferes?

One of the things I enjoyed most about this book was the ending. It could have made or ruined the novel, particularly as I knew there was a sequel. It turned out to be perfect. I unfortunately made the mistake of reading the second before reviewing the first. Oops? But I was just so excited to keep reading about Ben and Arthur! I needed to still be with them.

Here’s to Us

Ben has mostly moved on with his life without Arthur. He’s sort-of dating a hot new guy, he’s making do with his college classes and job. Arthur has a great new boyfriend who’s sweet, caring and… isn’t Ben. A series of Universe Events means that they will collide, but will their worlds align again?

This novel is filled with hope, and real relationships where it seems crazy that things could line up. I honestly could have been happy with any of the relationships that formed and broke apart. Despite being a feel-good novel, it does still briefly touch on racism and socioeconomic bias. Not everyone is bright enough to get a scholarship for school, and not everyone wants to go to college (or finish college).

Thanks Simon and Schuster for these review copies. They look fantastic on my new shelves, and I loved reading both of them. This’ll be a reread when I’m feeling a bit down – a goodhearted and satisfying read.

Simon & Schuster | January 2022 | AU$17.99 | paperback

Review: Catherine Ryan Howard – 56 Days

56 Days
Catherine Ryan Howard

Ciara and Oliver bump together in a seemingly-innocuous moment of time – both waiting to buy their lunch. Ciara seems shy, and is surprised that Oliver would pay her any attention. Oliver is worried about getting her attention, but it’s not clear why. When lockdown against COVID-19 occurs, Oliver invites Ciara to move in with him. 56 days later, there’s a body in Oliver’s apartment.

This was gripping! For a while, I wasn’t even sure which character was the one who had ended up dead. I was even vaguely hoping that it was a total stranger dead in there, but then I noticed the blurb, and that ruined it for me. So trust me, just pick up the book and read it, don’t read the blurb. I stayed up late and got told off – but I just needed to know what happened next!

This novel keeps twisting, but not in a way that is at all predictable. You think that you know everything about all three of the perspectives, but it turns out that 2/3 of them are only telling the reader a partial truth. I had forgotten how much I can enjoy an unreliable narrator when it’s a three-perspective novel (even though normally multiple perspectives isn’t my thing).

I’m absolutely raving about this novel. Go out and buy it. You’d think that a novel set in our current pandemic would be depressing or gloomy, but instead we see people making the most of the opportunities they have – even if it might be to get away with murder. I’ll be interested to see crime patterns in the real world in years to come too!

I can’t wait to unleash this book on others in my life. I’m going to make sure they don’t read anything about it first, and go in blind. Then I’m going to pick their brain at each step to see if they can work out the TRUTH. It won’t be quite as good as a reread for me, but I think it’s still worth it. 5 stars from me.

Allen & Unwin | 5th January 2022 | AU$29.99 | paperback

Review: Juliet Marillier – A Song of Flight

A Song of Flight
Juliet Marillier

The Prince has gone missing, and the best candidates for the team to find him are Liobhan and Dau – but as they are romantically entangled they cannot both go on the search journey. Thus begins a novel of conflicted beliefs, truths and perspectives that culminates in the solution to the Crow Folk problem that emerged in A Dance with Fate.

I was disappointed in this novel. There were too many characters, and not enough depth for each one. I wanted to know more about Helga’s story. I wanted to know less about Galen and more about the “original three” characters of Brocc, Liobhan and Dau. Things seemed to take forever, and then I just wasn’t satisfied with the ending.

I didn’t need the Prince’s storyline. Brocc could have done it equally well. Also, why did Brocc suddenly decide to throw caution to the wind? I understand his love for Niamh clouds a lot of his judgement but is he truely so clueless as to his own powers? He seriously has no other options, and can’t walk in the Otherworld?

Liobhan, despite really being my favourate character in this trilogy, didn’t really show up. I didn’t see a completion of her character development. I definitely saw a deepening of the love she had for and of Dau, but that was mainly covered in The Harp of Kings. I also didn’t see much of a display of her warrior skills, which was something I enjoyed in earlier novels in the trilogy as it wasn’t an aspect of the first set of novels.

I will of course go back and reread these – they are Juliet Marillier afterall – but I believe that the Blackthorn and Grimm trilogy is superior to the Warrior Bard novels. 5 stars, but I was so sad about the ending πŸ™ Oh! And I was generously sent two copies of this by Pan Macmillan, but neither arrived, so I bought it for myself as an early Christmas present.

Review: Eoin Colfer – The Wish List

The Wish List
Eoin Colfer

Meg Finn has a single wish – to show up her step-father Franco and get on with life without her Marm. Unfortunately for Meg, she now owes Belch a favour and it could end up with her dead. But is there something worse than just being dead? Definitely if you’ve been saddled with meeting an old-man’s wish list.

This was a sneaky reread just after moving house – the book ended up at the top of a box and so it called to me to read it. Oops? But then I discovered that I hadn’t reviewed it, so I hadn’t really gotten away with anything.

Ok, so this book isn’t theologically accurate, and I’d even call it theologically challenging. It’s kinda cute that the Devil’s second in command goes by the nickname ‘Bub’. This has put a lot of readers off apparently, but if you aren’t thinking of heaven and hell in the way you were perhaps taught in Bible school, then you’re going to enjoy the ride in this book. Everything seems so simple… until it isn’t.

Eoin Colfer is probably best known for his series with the boy genius Artemis Fowl, which has since been turned into a movie. Don’t go into this novel thinking that it will be that deep or have intellectual jokes. This is an early teenage book, perhaps middle grade fiction.

Weirdly, I occasionally get Garth Nix and Eoin Colfer confused. I think it’s because they were both the early fantasy that I got into as a teenager, and that they haven’t limited themselves to a single universe or concept. I’d sort of even forgotten that this novel existed on my shelf, hidden as it was with the other novels. I’m still giving it 5 stars, even if I’m no longer in the target age group.

Juliet Marillier – The Bridei Chronicles – The Well of Shades (N)

The Well of Shades

Juliet Marillier

In this final novel of the Bridei Chronicles, Faolan must return home to put to rest the demons of his past. In doing so fulfilling his promise to Ana. It turns out that his return also brings him to Elle in a fortuitous meeting for them both.

There is a lot to unpack in this book. It marks an outstanding end to the trilogy and a come full circle for Faolan as a person growing past his pain and letting himself be human again after the events of the second book resulted in him having to face his past again. There is also Tuala learning more of her past, Bridei struggling with his choices and in keeping his kingdom together following his past success, and Briochan learning to own up to his pride and past mistakes as Bridei’s foster father.

Once again we have a romance that threads through the main narrative and the bulk of the book is told from the two halves of that growing relationship. All the while Faolon is still doing his job for King Bridei, but its clear that as he is completing this task he is growing and healing so much as a person. Enough that he wouldn’t not be able to continue in his role of spy and assassin with these new people in his life.

Elle is the new character for this book and she brings a completely different perspective to King Bridei’s court as a complete outsider. But her place as someone important to Faolan does smooth a lot of the way for her. It’s also clear that alot of Bridei’s court have no idea how much has changed for Faolan. But it’s a credit to Bridei that even as busy as everything is, he still listens when Faolan really wants to talk – reaffirming something he said to Faolan in the first book about needing a man, and friend, he can trust at his side.

There does seem to be some loose ends with the incursion of the christian faith in the very pagan Fortriu. But overall it was an excellent read and conclusion to the series. It made my heart happy that Faolan was able to find a happy ending with Elle. Once again 5-stars.

 

Juliet Marillier – The Bridei Chronicles 2 – Blade of Fortriu (N)

The Blade of Fortriu

Juliet Marillier

Ana of the Light Isles is to be sent to make a strategic alliance for King Bridei with the Caitt in the North. Little does she know not everything is as it seems in Lord Alpin’s domain and the one person she will have to rely on is someone she cannot stand. Bridei’s right-hand man, Faolan.

Again there is a very clear romance throughout this book. However this time we have a love triangle set up between Ana, Faolan, and Drustan. Though it’s clear relatively early that the partnership will be Ana and Drustan. Again the threads of romance are wonderfully woven between the characters with enough time spent on each that we have an excellent understanding of the characters motivations and the growth that occur. Even with the new character on the scene in Drustan. Honestly, even with how wonderful Ana and Drustan are together, my heart ached for Faolan. His character growth was the best of all – even though it is clear he has more growing to do later.

Early on when Ana was being courted by Alpin it was a bit nerve wracking. But the more that the story progressed the clearer it was that he wasn’t ending up with him, snake that he was. An immense relief really.

The other part I liked about the romance, because that really was a focus of this story, was how even though Faolan had Feelings for Ana there was always a clear line of respect Faolan had both for Ana and Drustan. A respect that was reciprocated. The way Ana and Drustan loved each other didn’t preclude other ties. Even though it wasn’t the bond that Faolan wanted, he saw and respect the bond they shared in return. the complexity of those interactions towards the end of the books were marvelous and enthralling. It’s not a wonder I went on a binge of reading this author when this is the level of interaction the characters have throughout her books. Another 5-stars.

 

Review: Juliet Marillier – The Bridei Chronicles 1 – The Dark Mirror (N)

The Dark Mirror
Juliet Marillier
Bridei is being raised for great things, but he doesn’t know enough about them yet. When he rescues the foundling Tuala, he doesn’t know how this will change the course of his destiny. There is a very strong and clear romance to this book. Some of the moments you don’t see coming, and others you do, but all of them blend into each other in a gripping tale.
There is just enough information from the various perspectives to allow insight into the important characters. Enough for you to see how their actions reflect their motivations. Granted there are some you know far better than others Bridei and Tuala for instance get plenty of insight into how they feel and why the actions they take make sense.
I went into this knowing that its a trilogy so when I got to the end and it didn’t feel like an ending I wasn’t too surprised. Thankfully I had the next two books to dive right into. The ending pace feels urgent – not too surprising given the events that are unfolding. That urgency communicates to the reader effortlessly. During that last section of the book I could not put it down at all. I just needed to know!
I also loved all the small details into Pictish history. Granted this is historical fiction not fact but it was clear that Marillier do her due diligence. It left me with a desire to dive into the history to learn more. The only reason I didn’t is because I had the next two books to read! 5-stars from me

Review: Juliet Marillier – Blackthorn & Grim series (Dreamer’s Pool, Tower of Thorns, Den of Wolves) (N)

Blackthorn & Grim series (Dreamer’s Pool, Tower of Thorns, Den of Wolves)

Juliet Marillier

Dreamer’s Pool

If you were given a second chance at life from an executioner, even if it meant putting aside the one thing you were surviving for and abiding by rules that go against the grain of who you are for seven years, would you take it? This is the choice given to Blackthorn. She chooses life, bitter and regretful with the only thought of getting through those seven years to come right back to the same place to fight for justice. In return for her freedom from an unjust imprisonment by her enemy, Blackthorn has promised the Fae noble Conmael to use her healers gifts for good, answer all calls for help she hears, and seek no vengence. It honestly seems a little random that this comes at the beginning and its clear that Blackthorn will struggle to adhere to the restrictions set.

Once she gets to a place where she will be safe from re-imprisonment and sets up shop so to speak with her cell-mate Grim who was the first to ask her help without words no less. She is presented with a puzzle in the form of the Prince Oran’s betrothed, Flidais, who has recently arrived and appears to be so completely different from the maiden the Oran courted.

Overall the book was an excellent read to me. I liked how there was a deep platonic support between Blackthorn and Grim. That while it was clear she was frustrated she was bound to help him from her promise, his presence gave her someone who understood that hellscape of a prison they both escaped. Together they unravel the mystery of Flidais and the connection to the Dreamer’s Pool. Throughout the book there are enough hints that you can figure out the mystery right along with Blackthorn and Grim and the PoV switches between them both allowing a good insight into how their thoughts work.

Tower of Thorns

The second entry in the Blackthorn & Grim series. Both Blackthorn and Grim have settled into their life at Winterfells and have the support and goodwill of Prince Oran and his wife Flidais.

Now its an outside mystery that comes calling and ends up taking Blackthorn and Grim along for the ride. A noblewoman from the west comes looking for help and while Blackthorn is reluctant, the appearance of a friend from her past sways her decision to help. Again this book has hints of a standard fairytale. You can see how the threads are progressing as the story develops but as ever there is a slight twist away from the expected that just makes for a satisfying ending all around.

This book gives us more details into both Blackthorn and Grim’s past before they ended up in that prison together. Those details are a heart-rending as you would expect for two people who basically deemed themselves irredeemable. Together they seem to slowly get through their pain together. But there were some instances where I just which someone would give one or the other a shake to wake them up to what they were doing. It’s so clear throughout that Blackthorn and Grim rely and support each other in equal partnership. There isn’t romance in the traditional expected way but that level of support just shows how deeply important they have become to each other that they really would be a little lost without the other there.

Den of Wolves

The final book of the Blackthorn and Grim series. Again they are drawn into solving a mystery but unlike the previous mystery this time they are left having to solve the different part of the mystery separately. It makes for additional strain on their relationship but in the end the distance makes it so very clear that they what they share together is more precious then they ever would have thought.

This time we have a young woman caught up in a mystery of her birth and a man who has been returned from the fae realm. Again it’s up to Blackthorn and Grim to solve the mystery. But this time they are having to do it separately. The most frustrating part of this as the reader is because we get both viewpoints we know the information that would be so useful for them to share if they could just a get a moment to indeed share it. It made for a much more thrilling read than I would expect. And it demonstrated that both Blackthorn and Grim are very clever in that they can get most of the way through a mystery on their own. But there were key details that they each needed from each other for the whole story to become clear.

Overall it was an excellent read and I loved the development between Blackthorn and Grim in how they supported each other and so clearly wanted each other. This was seen in the little moments rather than the big events. In how they left unintended messages for each other when they kept just missing the time they needed together. Those moments and their reflections on those moments were poignant. Because it happened alongside this mystery rather than separate from it. Often this is missed in fiction is that the big events are the focus and the small detail that build a relationship and let it grow aren’t shown at all. Not so here, the small details a woven in wonderfully.

 

This series was my second exposure to Juliet Mariller and they were all so very satisfying. I loved Tamora Pierce as a teenager and Marillier hits the same notes that I loved then as an adult. It was a complete pleasure to read the Blackthorn and Grim series. The slow development of their friendship and partnership was just enjoyable between their adventures and problem solving. More than that the solid depiction that just being there together helped them made me happy. Solid 5-stars and I will no doubt come back to these books in the future when I’m craving a read that plunges me into another world so thoroughly.

Review: Tobias Madden – Anything But Fine

Anything But Fine
Tobias Madden

Lucas’ life is wrapped up in ballet. Ballet is his whole life – he practices and practices and lets his schoolwork slide. Terrifyingly he slips and suffers a potentially career ending injury that also causes him to suffer the teenage fear of changing schools and losing his scholarship.

I’m not sure how I felt about Lucas’ relationship with his OT (occupational therapist). I also wasn’t 100% sure why he wasn’t seeing a physiotherapist? And honestly, it sounded like he would have also benefitted from seeing a psychologist. As many Australians would know though, mental health isn’t a ‘done thing’ and finding appointments is hard. Lucas’ dad is lovely and supportive though.

Starting at a new school is hard for anyone, but try being gay and on crutches in a small rural school. I think this novel is quite a realistic view of high school and homophobic people. Also, Lucas’ new friend is Muslim, and we also see some horrible Islamophobia. Oh! And don’t forget parental expectations for medical school. There’s a lot packed into this novel, and you won’t be disappointed.

The teenage love story is cute, but also filled with respectful relationships and understanding parents. There’s a few ‘racy’ scenes here, but nothing too blushworthy to a teenage male (from what I know about being a hormonal teenager, anyway). You’ll find it slightly less, um, provocative than Jack of Hearts (and other parts) for example.

This is a worthy addition to teenage queer fiction. It hits all the right notes about consent and waiting until you are ready, while also sensitively exploring the problems of high-school and jock culture. I’m giving this 5 stars, and giving it a pride of place on my shelf. I look forward to seeing more from this author.

Penguin Random House | 31st August 2021| AU$19.99 | paperback

Review: Brandon Sanderson – The Final Empire (K)

The Final Empire
Brandon Sanderson

This is an extraordinary book. I already had high expectations, as it was a Sanderson, but this truly reminded me of just how immersive and wonderful books truly can be.

This book – at least in the first half – has very few major plot elements; the book is focused mostly on introducing the characters and the world. This is something that would usually cause me to put down a book quite early on, as I often get bored when not much seems to happen. However, this was absolutely not the case in this book. The characters and their interactions were so interesting that I quickly found myself immersed.

This book was able to Riot my emotions in an extremely powerful way – there were many times when I had to put the book down, just to pace and think about what was happening. Although it may seem like a criticism that I was capable of putting the book down, it is far from it. The events in the book pulled at my emotions so much that I simply needed to take a break to calm down and think about them.

I have nothing negative to say about this book. The characters were amazing, their arcs felt realistic, and the world immersive. I’m already making plans to start the second book.