Although I really enjoy short stories, I don’t usually seek out anthologies of them. Sometimes I find them at libraries and grab them and sometimes IAlthough I really enjoy short stories, I don’t usually seek out anthologies of them. Sometimes I find them at libraries and grab them and sometimes I buy them because of a connection to friends of mine, but they’re not usually the first thing I reach for. This anthology, however, might be the one that makes me look at short story anthologies differently.
Years Best YA Speculative Fiction began with an excellent introduction to the landscape through 2013 and – just to make my wallet groan – also included references to a number of YA speculative novels published through the year. Then it was on to the short stories and I suddenly ‘got’ the idea of a Years Best – these were magnificent.
There’s too many stories to go through individually, but there were a number which have just stuck with me, that I’ve returned to in my head since I’ve read them, just hoping for a little more taste of the world’s they offered. By Bone-Light by Juliet Marillier was probably the most long lasting of all of them – it felt haunting, yet slightly frantic and I really felt that I was there with the protagonist. There would be so many things to examine and savour with a class of students. The Carpet by Nnedi Okorafor gave me chills – I really shouldn’t read stories like that before bed. I Gave You My Love by the Light of the Moon by Sarah Rees Brennan felt so very complete – it was such a strong world in such a short amount of time.
As an Ancient History graduate, I always love the way Tansy Rayner Roberts mixes the familiar stories and legends of the ancient world with different worlds – as she does here in The Minotaur Girls. An Echo in the Shell by Beth Cato, was achingly sad, while opening up so many opportunities for other stories, so many questions about others in that world. Random Play All and the League of Awesome by Shane Halbach is another reminder that I really like stories with superheroes, even if I get overwhelmed by the established superhero worlds. What We Ourselves Are Not by Leah Cypess raised so so many questions for me, that I felt like I was having a philosophical argument with myself while and after reading it.
Persimmon, Teeth and Boys by Steve Berman was happy and sad and another one which raised questions for me. Finally there was We Have Always Lived on Mars by Cecil Castellucci which actually made me gasp aloud at the ending – I had to go back and read it again to make sure I’d read what I thought I’d read.
This is truly a fabulous exploration of YA Speculative Fiction and a wonderful look at the landscape of 2013. We can see ideas being explored and questions being asked, but we also see a background of being a young adult which is terribly familiar. It’s a book which would be fabulous in a school setting – as a book to borrow from the library (I would have adored it as a teenager) or a book to explore in the classroom. It’s also a book which is incredibly accessible to an adult audience – proving that stories about teenagers are as important as stories about older people.
(Disclaimer – I am friends with one of the editors. However, I bought this book myself and all opinions are mine.)
Most people know of the Jersey Shore as a holiday destination, but for Lucy it’s her home. In the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, she’s dealing with seMost people know of the Jersey Shore as a holiday destination, but for Lucy it’s her home. In the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, she’s dealing with seeing her home and community torn apart, as well as dealing with the fallout from a hurried relationship with the boy who spends his summers in the house next to hers.
This was a really sweet YA romance which reminded me a lot of Sarah Dessen and Joan Bauer books. I love YA books when the characters are invested in something else than just the romance, when they have interests and passions which they follow and enjoy. Lucy is incredibly interested in marine wildlife and volunteers with wildlife rehabilitation. You can really tell through the book that this is something which is important to her – that’s she’s a multi-dimensional character.
The relationships between Lucy, her twin brother and her parents is a fantastic part of the book as well. They are all showing the impacts of the storm and the stresses they’ve been through in having their home damaged and in rebuilding. I felt those stresses, and the way the family dealt (or didn’t deal) with them felt very realistic.
I live in a part of world which sees its fair share of natural disasters, so it was fabulous to see a book which dealt with the aftermath of a massive event. I’d love to see more books like that in the Australian market, since our country deals with so many events each year.
The romance part of the book was sweet, but probably a little more formulaic in comparison with the rest of the book. There were the usual misunderstandings and longing looks which you find in most YA romances – they’re fun when you’re reading them, but they don’t stay with you the way the other elements of this book did.
All in all, a good fun read which I’m sure will be enjoyed by many.
Becca works in a small call centre, taking reservations for a group of restaurants. She’s completely over the work, so intrigued when she’s asked to sBecca works in a small call centre, taking reservations for a group of restaurants. She’s completely over the work, so intrigued when she’s asked to step into the role of the celebrity chef’s PA. It’s not long before she’s so caught up in meeting his every needs – and the needs of his wife – that her own life seems to be slipping away from her.
This book left me feeling decidedly ‘meh’. Think The Devil Wears Prada meets Almost Famous meets that self-published book about a girl with a rockstar father I once read, and you pretty much have the feel of the book. Demanding bosses has been done a lot, so it doesn’t feel particularly new or like it’s saying anything we haven’t already read before.
One of my main complaints about the book was that there was little flow from one scene or chapter to the next. I found myself checking several times to make sure I hadn’t missed pages or paragraphs, and it took a lot of work as a reader to make the connections from one point in time to the next. Sometimes little sentences of exposition were inserted to join one bit to another bit, which really came off like a child writing a longer piece of writing for the first time. It wasn’t quite ‘Then I woke up. It was all a dream’, but the effect wasn’t much better.
As well as the premise of the book feeling unoriginal, the characters weren’t really anything new. There was the nice guy, the guy with a secret, the lazy supervisor, the demanding wife – none of them did anything particularly surprising or revealing – they pretty much just trundled along on fairly stereotypical paths.
There were moments of really good writing within the books – chapters and scenes which were interesting and thoughtful. In some ways, I think that those bits – expanded on – would have made a better book than this one. It was always sad to leave those little side stories – and there were a few, so it was a bit cluttered at times – to go back to the main premise of the book.
This would probably be a good time out book – something to take on a plane or a lazy holiday. But I think there are probably other books which are better written and would serve the same purpose.
Alice and Billy are both kids living in Sydney during the building of the Harbour Bridge. Billy is from a working class family, managing to survive thAlice and Billy are both kids living in Sydney during the building of the Harbour Bridge. Billy is from a working class family, managing to survive through the depression through his father’s employment on the bridge. He’s painfully aware of the effects of the depression – with friends forced to move away – and the dangers of being a labourer on the bridge. Alice is from an upper middle class family with less worries about money or day to day survival.
Last year, I read a fabulous (adult) book set around the building of the bridge – The Blue Mile by Kim Kelly. I was really hoping for a similar kind of book – fabulous fiction in a historical setting – especially since it is part of the great My Australian Story series. Unfortunately, the book was light on the fiction side of thing. Mostly the diary entries of both Alice and Billy are a collection of facts and thoughts about the building of the bridge and the economic and political situation of the time. There’s barely any other story, though there’s a tiny bit about a friend of Billy’s whose family was forced to move to a camp.
The alternating story lines didn’t really work for me, either. Primarily the different perspectives are indicated in different fonts and there were a few times when I had to double check whose story I was reading. I think I would have preferred the story told just from Billy’s point of view – Alice came across as very privileged and not terribly interesting, while I think there were story lines around Billy which could have been extended more.
If you’re interested in the facts of the bridge, this would be a great book for you. It does do a great job of bringing facts that can sometimes be a bit dry into a really readable format. I wonder whether more history books for children would benefit from a diary like approach. However, if you’re expecting historical fiction with a heavy dose of fiction, I’d probably direct you to one of the other My Australian Story books.
Willem has been given special homework – to make two ‘real friends’. But it’s difficult when he has difficulty communicating with people his own age aWillem has been given special homework – to make two ‘real friends’. But it’s difficult when he has difficulty communicating with people his own age and most of the boys he knows are engaged in an ongoing gang war. Sasha is angry with herself for playing along when Willem is being bullied. And Finn is just angry, angry at the situation he’s in, angry that he can’t seem to find a way out. When they meet Archie and his several forms of magic – cars, community, music and an old Spitfire plane – things finally start to move in the right direction.
There were a lot of things that I really enjoyed when it came to the plot of this book. Spitfires are my favourite vintage aircraft (we got to see a pair fly when we visited an airshow in New Zealand in 2011 – I highly recommend it) so I loved seeing the Spitfire play such an important part to the story. I loved the recognition of the women who ferried planes during World War Two. I also really liked the setting – the cycle of rivalry and disadvantage felt really authentic.
I just wish the writing had lived up to the promise of the story. It just didn’t flow the way I wanted it to, and it distracted from the story telling at times. There were occasions where there was too much plot – a romance story from World War Two felt a little too much, and the story would have been just as strong without it.
I thought that Willem’s Asperger’s Syndrome was dealt with well, too. The story alternates between his narration and Sasha’s and it actually helps create a good picture of what’s happening in his head and what outsiders can see. It was interesting to see a story where the main character’s disability was important, but it shared importance with the other stories going on. There’s always room for more stories with characters with disabilities, and I think there’s scope for some contrast and compare talk between Willem and other books featuring characters with disabilities.
So, it wasn’t that long ago that I swore off books written by Australian comedians. However, this one was already in my ereader and I knew the premiseSo, it wasn’t that long ago that I swore off books written by Australian comedians. However, this one was already in my ereader and I knew the premise, so I was reasonable sure it would be a decent read when I got into it.
Is It Just Me is basically a collection of columns written by Swan and collated. The columns range from parenting, to expectations on women, to a bit of memoir-style writing and back to parenting again. There’s no set story line or real theme, just slices of life writing.
The book is warm and gently humorous. There’s nothing which will really have you rolling around the floor laughing, but there’s more than a few smiles in it. There’s a lovely sense of love through the book as well – the author clearly loves her family, and it shines through on the page.
I’m a fan of good column writing, especially the column which really sticks with you. For a long time, I bought the Saturday Courier Mail just so I could read Kathleen Noonan’s brilliant columns. She writes the kind of writing which lingers and stays with you. This book doesn’t contain those kind of columns. They’re sweet and occasionally thoughtful, but they don’t really stay with you when you’ve finished the book. It makes Is It Just Me? a good circuit breaker book – excellent if you’ve just finished a heavy or difficult book – but I personally can’t see it making any ‘best reads of the year’ lists – it just doesn’t stand out enough for that.
When Leon gets a mechanical heart – his third heart after his biological heart and a donor heart fail – he has no idea of what lies in store. When heWhen Leon gets a mechanical heart – his third heart after his biological heart and a donor heart fail – he has no idea of what lies in store. When he is recruited by a canny entrepreneur, he finds himself a living wonder, where freedom, attention and love are given and taken in the most unusual ways.
This was a really interesting book, looking at the ways technology might be used in the most extreme medical and cosmetic circumstances. Leon’s mechanical heart keeps him alive, but makes him an object of curiosity and in some ways, makes him exceedingly fragile. As he travels across the world, to join the exhibition and touring with it, he is confronted with the strange and wonderful as well as the most grotesque parts of life.
This isn’t a book where a lot of stuff happens for most of it. In making quiet, reserved Leon the main character, the choice is made to view the experience through quieter, calmer eyes than others. There’s a sense of silent monotony to most of the things Leon goes through – even moments which should be bigger are depicted in a quiet, even rhythm, much like the artificial heart Leon carries. It’s not until the end that the action ramps up, and there’s a feeling of dread and anticipation as you wait for it to come.
In some ways, I think it’s the outsiders – the families, the staff – who provide a lot of the interest. They serve as a mirror to the three wonders – a look back at what they were and what might have been. They also drive a lot of the action too – pushing the three Wonders away from monotony.
I don’t know if this would be a book for everyone. It’s rather quiet and reflective and you almost have to let yourself go a little to be taken along for the ride. If you are in the mood for that kind of book, though, this is a wonderful one to pick up and enjoy.
Everyone in the class has a new, special backpack for the first day of school. Except one. She has a terrible suitcase. How can she fit in with the reEveryone in the class has a new, special backpack for the first day of school. Except one. She has a terrible suitcase. How can she fit in with the rest of the class, when she has something so very different?
I really enjoyed this picture book about imagination and fitting in to a group. We’re thrown right into the conflict in the book, without a lot of background information, so the reader is quickly thrust onto the side of our main character. We know she has a terrible suitcase and it’s the opposite of what she wanted. And we know that her mother, her friend and her brother aren’t very sympathetic to her plight. We’re completely and utterly on her side as she heads off to school.
Once we get to school, we see her placing herself on the outside of things, until an understanding teacher, a large box and a healthy dose of imagination come to her rescue. Inside the pretend rocket, she’s able to bring people in and her terrible suitcase becomes whatever she wants it to be.
While this is a story of imagination, it also reminds us that the things we think are odd or different about ourselves don’t always matter to other people. Our main character gets mad because her suitcase is different from the backpacks of the other students, but they never tease her about it and they’re quick to bring the suitcase into their pretend game. A lot of her anger comes from her own anxieties and the reality is no where near as bad as she thinks it will be.
I love the look at the early childhood setting and the willingness of the teacher to let the students go with their imaginations. I read a criticism that the teacher was too lenient in letting the students get noisy – which surprised me, because every prep classroom I’ve walked into has been noisy around imaginative play time. Plus, I think our narrator is a little unreliable – while they’re off on their big adventure, it’s very possible they were much quieter on the outside than in their imaginations.
There’s less story-telling in Freya Blackwood’s illustrations than some of her other books, partly because there’s a lot more text here.I adore the transformation from box to rocket, though, especially the way shape and colour change the scene and alter the world of the book from ‘terrible’ to ‘exciting’. I also love the way she uses stripes and spots so much in her work to create a real depth.
This would be the perfect book in kindergarten and prep classrooms, a great way to discuss imagination and fitting in and how we feel about starting in new places. I can see some really in-depth conversations coming from a book like this as well as a huge amount of learning. It would also be great for younger children who like to see what ‘big kids’ are doing and as story prompts for older children remembering what it was like when they were younger.
Charli is thrilled to be attending a real-life riding camp where she’ll learn everything she needs to know about riding horses. But when she allows heCharli is thrilled to be attending a real-life riding camp where she’ll learn everything she needs to know about riding horses. But when she allows her fears about bats and the Hendra virus to get the better of her, things don’t quite go as planned.
I really enjoyed Samantha Wheeler’s first book, Smooch and Rose when I read it last year, so I was really looking forward to reading this one. Sadly, I don’t think it was as good as Smooch and Rose. Where Smooch and Rose felt multi-layered and had a real heart to it (I actually cried when I read it), Spud and Charli felt a little too one-noted, and didn’t reach me in quite the same way.
There’s a couple of reasons this might be the case – to start with, I’m not as invested in horses as I am in koalas – I’m just not a big horse person, while I live in an area where there’s recently been mass clearing of koala habitat. As an adult, I also had a pretty good idea of what the adults had done/were doing, so I didn’t have the same sense of dread that a younger reader might have. A younger reader who is interested in horses, might be able to move around those issues.
My main issue though, was the use of the ‘child over-reacts and goes too far because adults don’t give them information’ trope. It’s not the over-reacting that bugs me, so much as the ‘going too far’ – in this case, it felt like Charli was written into a position which she really couldn’t come out of. And it led to a conclusion which left me dissatisfied as a reader.
There’s information on the Hendra virus and bats and horses at the end of the book which is well worth reading – I like the little snippets which serve to build on knowledge and understanding of the reader or which act as a launching pad into further reading.
I really want to read more from Samantha Wheeler, but I really hope her next book has as much heart as Smooch and Rose. Spud and Charli is a nice little book which would appeal to younger readers, but I think the author has more powerful books to write.