This was a fascinating book to read for someone who previously knew next-to-nothing about the life of transsexual Thais, nor about the differences in...moreThis was a fascinating book to read for someone who previously knew next-to-nothing about the life of transsexual Thais, nor about the differences in the way that Thai society (as opposed to Australian/British society) regards transgender men and women.
At first, I struggled a little with the author's writing style. It's open and engaging, but the English grammar isn't perfect and I feel like a stronger editing process could have been helpful. That said, after a few chapters I grew used to the author's unique style; it feels like a lot of the quirks of language that are suggestive of English as a second language actually add to the otherworldliness of many of the tales.
The stories themselves range from enlightening to humorous to just plain terrifying - there is a particular sex account that made me think ouch just reading it! While some of the situations are extreme, the characters are all portrayed with warmth and sympathy.
Indeed, I think it's the warmth and accessibility of this book that is its greatest asset. It's an easy read and an informative one and when I finished reading it, I felt a little like I'd learned a little about another culture through having a long, gossipy discussion with a friend. (less)
I was thrilled to win a review copy of Dress Rehearsal as part of First Reads, so thank you to Ms Thurner and Fremantle Press.
I would definitely clas...moreI was thrilled to win a review copy of Dress Rehearsal as part of First Reads, so thank you to Ms Thurner and Fremantle Press.
I would definitely class this novel as Literary YA Fiction, because there is a clear focus on good writing as well as storytelling. I read a lot of lighter, less-polished YA books, and get a lot of enjoyment from them, but it's always a refreshing change to find something aimed at a younger audience that gives teens credit for being able to understand and enjoy writing that doesn't spell things out to them or influence them with current slang and fashion labels.
Thurner has a strong, individual style that is consistent throughout the novel. Her heroine, Lara Pearlman, is unmistakably flawed, but it's her sense of self-centralism and ability to mess things up that make her the kind of protagonist that Thurner's audience can identify with.
A lot happens in Dress Rehearsal - including the bank robbery and abduction spoken of in the blurb - but Thurner's style doesn't allow for the events to seem melodramatic. They just happen, and the characters deal with them in their own, flawed ways, and the audience is given glimpses of motivations, but left to work out the details by reading between the lines. More, still, can be garnered through parallels to be found between the characters' lives and the school production that has brought them all together.
Dress Rehearsal is an enjoyable read and an impressive first novel. Recommended for upper secondary readers. (less)
The blurb of From High Heels to Handcuffs concentrates on the author's decision to leave a career in marketing in order to enter the police service, b...moreThe blurb of From High Heels to Handcuffs concentrates on the author's decision to leave a career in marketing in order to enter the police service, but the book itself covers a much wider sphere. It's an autobiographical work covering much of Goltz's adult life, with her time at the police academy constituting perhaps a third of the book.
The big appeal of this book is the author's voice. Chatty and personable, the text reads a lot like you're sitting down with her and hearing her stories over coffee. It's this that makes her revelations about her failed marriage personal (rather than accusative) and allows the reader to remain interested in her life, even when it's one extremely far removed from the reader's own life.
Goltz is someone who has led a very interesting life (although perhaps lives would be the more appropriate word!) and that makes for an interesting memoir. I would have loved to have read more about her time at the police academy, but understand that it was only one part of the personal journey the book recounts.
The one thing that detracted a little from the over all quality of the book were the occasional grammatical errors that could be found throughout the pages.
Thank you to the author and the First Reads program for allowing me the chance to read this interesting memoir!(less)
It's hard to believe that today marks the tenth anniversary of September 11th. The horrors of the tragedy still seem so fresh in people's minds. The world has changed greatly due to the events of that day, with the repercussions stretching far beyond New York's city limits. For those who were there, however, those who experienced the scenes of terror and destruction at first hand, the changes and consequences were much more personal in nature.
Artie Van Why was one such witness and That Day In September is an honest, powerful work relating his experiences on that fatal date. The book opens with the personal path that led him to New York, allowing the reader to learn a little about the man behind the account. Then, the tragedy itself is described. Van Why manages to sketch the horror of the events he witnessed without the scenes he depicts ever feeling gratuitous. As an author, he is very respectful of those who died, of those who lost loved ones and of the many people who reached out to offer help and comfort to those who needed it.
That Day In September also deals with the aftermath of the tragedy – both in a personal sense and in a broader one. It speaks of the way the citizens of New York supported each other through the subsequent days and weeks and of Van Why's own struggle to come to terms with the event. Throughout, however, there is an emphasis on the good that can be found in humanity, something that cannot be underestimated in a book dealing with such a collection of evil and incomprehensible deeds.
The language of That Day In September is not particularly elegant, and the grammar in the book could have been more refined. However, while this often detracts from my enjoyment of a book, in this case I found that the opposite was true. Van Why's writing style gives a real immediacy to his account. It somehow feels more raw, more emotional, to read about the events of that day in language that is not made impersonal through too much attention to form and style. I was on the brink of tears for much of the time it took me to read this – a sign that any flaws in the writing do little to diminish the power of the piece.
That Day In September was not an easy book to read, but I am very glad I did so nonetheless. As an Australian, I have only been affected by September 11th in a peripheral fashion, and it was good to be able to read a personal and first-hand account of the events I witnessed on television. Horrific events of this scale can all too easily become about numbers rather than individuals. But Van Why's story is just one of so many – and I thank him for sharing it.(less)
I Loved You First is an easy, enjoyable read with a positive underlying message. Its stand-out feature is the strong character voice of Alex, which remains consistent and appealing throughout the book. The first person narrative quickly draws the reader into Alex's world and encourages them to empathise with her situation.
Alex herself is a likeable character. While, at times, her choices were frustrating, I never resented her for making them. She is flawed, certainly, but this is the story of her growth from an invisible sidekick into an independent young woman, and change rarely occurs without a few mistakes to be learnt from. At times, I wanted to reach into the book and shake Alex out of her unflappable loyalty to Seth, especially when he was being particularly belligerent and she was being particularly submissive. Such a response shows both my fondness of Alex as a character and my total absorption in the book!
In contrast, Seth is a difficult character to like. I understand why he acts the way he does, but it doesn't make his behaviour any easier to stomach. I found that I mostly felt sorry for him – not so much due to the attitudes of others as due to his own attitude towards himself. Indeed, Alex, despite harbouring her fantasies of being the one woman who can overcome Seth's sexuality, is far more accepting of his identity than he is. There is a self-destructive aspect to Seth's behaviour that is almost as difficult to witness as a reader it is for his best friend.
The minor characters in I Loved You First are well-drawn, with Trinity being a fun and likeable late addition to the ensemble and Bruce offering the right amount of villainy to the plot. Dink is multi-faceted and provides an important alternative to the black-and-white portrayal of Bruce. I changed my opinion of him several times throughout the book, as various aspects of his character were revealed.
For me, the best part about I Loved You First is the personal growth that Alex experiences as the novel progresses. While much of the action of the book is centred around Seth, the heart of the book is Alex's struggle for emotional independence. Always a realistic character, she evolves into a truly strong young woman.
Jacobs's style is chatty and unforced. The writing could have been a little tighter in places but this is well-masked by the casual nature of her protagonist's voice. I also found the overwhelming homophobia shown by many of the book's characters out of keeping with my own experiences with university educated young adults, but am aware that my nationality and the educational circles I've moved in may be a key factor here.
While I Loved You First focusses on university-aged characters, the subject matter and content are appropriate for all young adult readers. It is a light read dealing with heavy subjects – homophobia and the emotional (and physical) damage it causes – and is a very solid young adult debut by Jacobs. (less)
In writing Glow, Amy Kathleen Ryan has achieved something that few writers manage: she has put forward a novel that offers readers both enthralling action and an intelligent commentary on human nature and behaviour. Just as it is extremely difficult to put Glow down, it is also difficult to come away from reading this novel without thinking deeply about the events within its pages and the beliefs, motivations and manipulations that inspire them. Readers looking for something fluffy and mindless should look elsewhere; here they will find the darker side of humanity, in all its many guises.
One of the most commendable aspects of Glow is Ryan's respect for her audience. She does not shy away from topics such as sexual assault, parental violence and loss, but rather paints a futuristic world that reflects the failings of our own, simultaneously adding to the authenticity of her universe and characters and acknowledging the ability of young readers to cope with darker literary content. Indeed, it is this frankness that helps give Glow the "crossover appeal" that is so greatly coveted in the YA publishing world. I would have no hesitation recommending it to adult readers; while the novel's protagonists may be teenagers, its themes and ideas are ageless.
Glow focusses on two main characters, Waverly and Kieran, with the novel switching between their (third person limited) perspectives. Waverly is a fantastic character. She is strong in all the right ways, without ever feeling too capable to the point of being unrealistic. When she is rash, her behaviour is motivated by her feelings for the people around her, and she does not cope easily with the darker side of fighting back. Her interactions with other female characters are cooperative, and she has worth in her own right, not just in relation to the novel's male characters. There should be more YA protagonists like Ryan's Waverly.
In contrast, I found Kieran more difficult to like and certainly more difficult to identify with. It is a testimony to Ryan's ability that his sections of the text could be different enough from Waverly's sections that they were able to leave me with a feeling of uneasiness, as opposed to my easy appreciation of Waverly. Kieran's self-assuredness and conviction felt somehow dangerous. And yet Seth, whose actions should have made me despise him, seemed more likeable - and perhaps even safer. He is violent and dishonest, but somehow Ryan manages to convey that there is more to him than that. I loved the fact that I didn't know how to feel where Glow's main male characters were concerned.
The most obvious example of Ryan's talent for tearing reader assumptions into pieces can be seen through her exploration of the attitudes and actions of the religious and secular leaders aboard the two ships. There is no easy, black-and-white delineation of good and bad here. Glow is a study in greys. That is what makes it such a great book. My only real criticism is that this uncertainty extends to the novel's conclusion. As the first book in a series, it lacks a solid ending, encouraging the reader to return for more – but perhaps leaving them a little unsatisfied in the interim.
I hope that Glow will receive the recognition and popularity it deserves. In a market that deals so often in reworks of the latest fad, it stands apart as a book with true depth. I can't wait to read the sequel. (less)
The plot of Shatter Me will be greatly appreciated by lovers of dystopian and paranormal fiction for young readers. We learn about Mafi's universe slowly, due in part to Juliette's isolation at the book's beginning. As she becomes aware of the changes that have taken place since her incarceration, so too does the reader, meaning that the full extent of the Reestablishment's actions is not clear until the latter half of the book.
As a protagonist, Juliette is a complicated mix of power and vulnerability. She is physically strong, but emotionally weak, relying upon Adam to provide her with the feeling of security she desires. I think this vulnerability will endear her to many readers. Although her abilities set her aside from Mafi's audience, her fears and insecurities make her nonetheless easy to identify with. It is easy, too, to sympathise with a character who has been so deprived of love and affirmation throughout her life.
It is Adam, however, who is sure to prove the favourite of most readers. He is carefully calculated to make a good proportion of younger readers fall immediately in love with him, from the descriptions of his buff appearance to the deeper aspects of his personality. For those who are greater fans than I of fated romances, Adam should be a much-appreciated leading man!
Personally, however, I was far more intrigued by the character of Warner, leader of the local contingent of the Reestablishment. I'm not sure I was meant to like him and very sure that I shouldn't, but I have always been a sucker for a bad guy and Warner is so delightfully multi-faceted that I can almost justify his sections of Shatter Me proving to be my highlights. It takes skill to construct an antagonist who is more than just a caricature of evil and, for me, Warner was the character who I wanted to learn more about and wanted Juliette to "learn more about" as well.
Shatter Me has an interesting plot and strong characters, but the stand-out feature of Tahereh Mafi's debut novel is her prose. This book is not written like your standard young adult offering. The language here doesn't just tell a story. It becomes like another character, such is the strength of its presence. It pleases me that a book so devoted to the love of words and writing is being published and heavily promoted in a literary era that often values paint-by-numbers offerings over truly eloquent works.
To be fair, Mafi's style didn't always work for me. There were points where I found the prose a little too purple or out of keeping with the action it described. I think this is largely a consequence of a conflict between style and content. Poetic metaphor sits much more comfortably with Juliette's internal monologue whilst confined to a cell than it does in the middle of gunfire. And I think there can be too much metaphor in a book of this length. There is a danger of phrases becoming repetitive or even just feeling repetitive if metaphor is overused.
That said, I will gladly take a novel that perhaps tries to be a little too clever occasionally over one that doesn't try at all. There is a great deal of talent behind Mafi's prose and I feel like she is only a little more writing experience away from being a truly incredible author. When she learns to harness her abilities she, like Juliette, will be capable of great things. (less)
I wasn't sure whether I would like All These Things I've Done. The Australian cover is gorgeous, but I have never been a fan of fiction centred around the Mafia, whether in film or book form. It doesn't hold the allure for me that it does for so many others. However, the focus of this novel is not upon the criminal activities of Anya's extended family but, rather, upon her relationships with her immediate family members and budding romance with Win. Indeed, the normalcy of a good proportion of All These Things I've Done means that it is a book that should be enjoyed by lovers of contemporary YA fiction, despite its futuristic setting and crime-based plot.
For a book that focusses on a Mafiya family, All These Things I've Done is surprisingly low-key. While it easily retains the reader's interest, Gabrielle Zevin accomplishes this not through constant action or page-turning suspense but, rather, through cleverly rendered characters who you can't help but want to read more about.
Personally, I found Anya the easy stand-out. She is strong and independent and extremely aware of her responsibilities, but is not without her weaknesses as well. Zevin has created a character who truly reads like a sixteen-year-old who has been the protector of her siblings for several years, which is no small feat. Anya combines duty and mature insight with a tendency towards rash behaviour that exposes her youth at times. Above all, however, she is likeable and easy to identify with, despite her unusual upbringing.
All that said, it is Win who will likely prove the favourite of many readers. Kind, devoted and good-looking, he is just the type of romantic interest to gain a large following. For those who are not smitten by Win, Anya's childhood crush, Yuji Ono, provides an intriguing alternative. I, for one, hope that we'll see a lot more of him in the rest of the series!
I wasn't entirely sure about Anya's best friend, Scarlet, however. It's hard to give my reasoning without spoilers, but her later alliance with someone who wronged Anya dreadfully towards the beginning of the book seemed unconvincing to me. Certainly, it wasn't an action of the loyal friend she is painted as – and I'm not sure it sends a good message to Zevin's readers. It will be interesting to see what comes of this plot point in later books.
Although it is the first book in the Birthright series, All These Things I've Done is surprisingly self-contained. While a few threads are left untied, in order to entice readers to continue with the series, those who do not read on will not feel robbed of a satisfactory (if not entirely happy) conclusion to the novel.
There is no reason not to continue reading, however. All These Things I've Done is a solid new offering from Gabrielle Zevin that is sure to appeal to a broad range of readers. (less)
I nabbed a review copy of Drink, Slay, Love from Simon & Schuster's Galley Grab because the premise sounded ridiculously entertaining, especially as a counter to the hundreds of deadly serious paranormal romances that are flooding the teen market at the moment. I wasn't disappointed. The key descriptor for this novel is "fun". Sarah Beth Durst seems to have written it with her tongue firmly planted in her cheek.
That said, there is plenty to find here for even the most dedicated of paranormal aficionados. While Durst has fun with the usual clichés, it never feels like she's mocking the Twilights of the world. What's more, there's still a potential love-interest to champion and plenty of vampires to get your teeth into. (Pun completely intentional. I do apologise.)
Pearl is a fantastic protagonist. Even once she's been afflicted with a conscience, she's still delightfully strong and arrogant and in-control. What's more, she's presented as being just as capable (if not more so) than her male counterparts.
The other female characters are also well-drawn. I wasn't sure about Bethany at first, but her character is fleshed out more fully as the book goes on, and I appreciated the depths that weren't, at first, apparent. I also enjoyed the school's Mean Girls, who turn out to be far more layered than expected, and the fairly minor character of Sana, who is more interested in whether Pearl can beat her at track than whether she has fangs or not.
While Pearl's boyfriend, Jadrien, grated a little on me, I enjoyed Evan as the boy who makes Pearl consider whether humans can be tasty in a whole other way. Those who love bad boys will undoubtedly prefer Jadrien, but I appreciated Evan's respectful manner and his unfailing belief in Pearl.
While there is an overarching plot surrounding the Fealty Ceremony in Drink, Slay, Love, I think the sections I enjoyed the most were those that were less concerned with moving the action along and more focussed on describing Pearl's experiences with attending a human high school for the first time.
All in all, Drink, Slay, Love is an extremely entertaining novel that's sure to gain a big following – and deservedly so.
Mirror Shards: Extending the Edges of Augmented Reality is a science fiction anthology comprising thirteen short stories by new and established authors. Augmented reality, for those readers who are looking a little confused right now, deals with the idea of using technology to expand upon (augment!) the real world. Think GPS, but implanted into your eyes. The authors of the collected stories, however, have envisioned the implementation of augmented reality in a broad spectrum of ways, ensuring that readers will not grow bored as they make their way through the anthology.
"El Mirador" – Alex J. Kane A tale of a tech-filled bounty hunter on the trail of a murderer. The second person narrative in this piece unfortunately made it difficult for me to get into it.
"Music of the Spheres" – Ken Liu An engaging and thought-provoking exploration of the creation of disability through technology that is not available to everyone.
"These Delicate Creatures" – Melissa Yuan-Innes The use of tech-enhanced theatre as political dissent is the focus of a clever tale of family and priorities.
"Bellow the Bollocks Line" – T D Edge A short, but well-imagined, tale of a society in technological overload.
"The Sun is Real" – George Page III One of my two favourites from the anthology, this piece looks at the use of augmented reality in a prison situation.
"A Book By Its Cover" – Colleen Anderson One of the two definitely-not-for-young-readers stories in the compilation, this is a creepy tale of immersive entertainment and a woman who wants to be a part of it.
"Of Bone and Steel and Other Soft Materials" – Annie Bellet An artificially-sighted woman takes on a boy's kidnappers. A much better story than the title led me to expect!
"Witness Protection" – Louise Herring-Jones In a futuristic version of the police-based crime story, a new spy device falls into the wrong hands.
"Stage Presence, Baby" – E.M. Schadegg A singer alters her stage presence through technology in alien-occupied Earth.
"Gift Horses" – Karen Able In this story, North America is controlled by OverSight, an augmented reality technology manufacturer. Unfortunately, I was left wanting more, as the story seemed to end just as it started getting interesting!
"The Cageless Zoo" – Thomas G. Carpenter My other favourite, this piece is reminiscent of Jurassic Park. A family attends a futuristic zoo where predators are held through augmented reality instead of cages. Of course, something goes wrong.
"More Real Than Flesh" – Grayson Bray Morris The other not-for-minors story in the compilation, this piece looks at sex slavery in the future.
"The Watcher" – George Walker This engrossing piece tells of a DisneySub caught in border skirmishes between India and Pakistan. I felt that this story could easily be used as the basis of a much longer work.
With Mirror Shards, Carpenter has managed to put together a satisfying collection of science fiction writing that comprises a pleasing range of topics, ideas and literary styles. A professional and interesting anthology, it should be enjoyed by both regular readers of speculative fiction and those who like to dabble from time to time. (less)
The Solstice Conspiracy is a fantasy novel for young readers that breathes new life into the old idea of fairies living at the bottom of the garden. Although it draws a lot from the tradition, it is firmly placed in the present, meaning that readers will be better able to identify with the challenges faced by the protagonist, Beth, and her brother, Chris. Beth, in particular, finds it difficult to make friends at her new school, and also struggles with a family who still views her as a child, despite her feeling as though she is becoming quite grown up.
Beth herself is a very likeable protagonist. Caught between life stages, she occasionally experiences frustration, but never comes across as being whiny or petulant. She is generally kind and empathetic, but will stand up for herself when necessary, meaning that she never becomes annoyingly 'good'. Chris, as seen through his sisters eyes, can occasionally be a little less sympathetic, but he experiences growth as the book progresses and his character is elevated through the changes in his and Beth's relationship.
The fairies, imps and other magical beings within the novel will be familiar to readers of Enid Blyton and other masters of the genre. Of the individual characters, Maeve is the most memorable, and her personal story provides a strong dramatic counter to the good deeds being carried out by the children.
While The Solstice Conspiracy is a fun story that should prove engaging to young readers, I would have liked to see the situations that Rawn introduces being expanded upon a little more, to truly carve a niche within the genre. Several times, the reader is presented with the possibility of danger, only for it to prove easily overcome. In particular, I felt that the climax of the book moved a little too swiftly – so much so that I became confused due to the suddenness of certain events. Of course, brevity is the key when it comes to junior fiction, so there is an understandable struggle to balance content and length.
The Solstice Conspiracy was introduced to me as a novel for young adults, but I would personally recommend it for a younger audience. The plot and issues faced, along with the age of the protagonist, will possibly lack appeal for teenage readers – especially those who like their fantasy in the form of paranormal romance! As a junior fiction offering, however, I think it hits its mark perfectly, and primary school-aged children should find a lot to like in Rawn's novel.
With The Nightmare Within, Glen Krish shows the world what good indie publishing is all about, offering a tightly written horror novel that holds its own against the works of big name authors such as King, Koontz and Herbert. Fast-paced from beginning to end, it skilfully juggles the stories of multiple characters whose lives eventually intertwine, and provides genuine moments of violence, repulsion and sadness. It is the sign of a well-characterised horror book when the reader is dismayed by the death of a member of the ensemble cast, and I experienced such an emotion twice while buried in The Nightmare Within's e-pages.
While the novel is written using the perspectives of many characters, those that dominate the book are Maury, Kevin and, to a lesser extent, Gage. The latter is a highly sympathetic character. Devoted to his comatose daughter, it would be difficult not to hope that he will receive the substitute that he desires. The other two, however, are particularly well-drawn and developed.
When he chose to focus on a young boy as one of his major characters, Krish took the risk that he might alienate readers by either rendering Kevin as being unrealistically mature for his age or too young to be interesting. Instead, however, he capably shows the movement of Kevin from a naïve innocent to a battle-hardened survivor due to the trauma he experiences. Kevin's motivations are appropriate and his actions in keeping with those of a boy of his age, but the forced coming-of-age that is engendered by the novel's events enables him to remain of interest to Krish's adult audience.
Maury, on the other hand, is something of an antihero. While sympathetic, he is not likeable. The reader is quickly introduced to his bad deeds, and he is presented as a man who has difficulty with many human interactions. I didn't much care for Maury as a person, but very much enjoyed him as a character. Life is rarely about the extremes of good and bad, or innocent and guilty, and it's always good when novels follow suit.
The Nightmare Within is a strong addition to the horror genre, with a good mix of character development, action and destruction. In a way, it's a pity that it is currently only available as an e-book. It would fit very nicely into my horror bookshelf – perhaps somewhere near the earlier writings of Dean Koontz.
Warning: There are brief references to animal cruelty in the beginning of the book. (less)
Between The Land And The Sea is the perfect book for YA readers who enjoy paranormal fiction but are getting a little sick of vampires, shifters, demons and angels. There have been a few books published recently that focus on mermaids, but the market is nowhere near the kind of saturation-point that has been reached in hot-vampire circles. Mermaids have always appealed to me because they combine the Disney innocence of The Little Mermaid with the power and fear of the ancient Sirens, and Derrolyn Anderson has done a great job of combining both of those popular images in this first instalment of the Marina's Tales series.
Although Between The Land And The Sea involves a lot of scene-setting and character-introducing and is, by no means, all action from start to finish, Anderson's pacing is such that the reader is nonetheless tugged from one chapter to the next. Just as Marina is enticed towards the sea, so the reader is drawn into the book through a combination of likeable characters and the mystery of Marina's experiences. Anderson is a master of the slow reveal, feeding information to her audience at just the right pace to hold the reader's interest.
Marina is a likeable protagonist, even if she is probably a little too perfect for most readers to be able to identify with. I think that her travel-heavy upbringing was an inspired character choice on the part of the author, because it gives her the self-awareness and adaptability necessary to swiftly incorporate each new revelation about the mermaids and her connection to them into her world view.
Ethan is just as likeable as the sexy surfer who Marina falls for at first sight. Although his looks make him the most popular boy in school, his appeal is not a shallow one, as he is depicted as being hard-working, ambitious, down-to-earth and caring as well. By the end of the book, a few of my questions about Ethan remained unanswered, but I am sure we will learn more about him later in the series.
I also enjoyed Cruz and, in particular, the fact that Anderson allows him to be a talented fashion designer without feeling the need to make him stereotypically camp – or even to make an issue of his sexuality (one way or the other) at all. Indeed, I think that gender is dealt with very well in Between The Land And The Sea, whether in terms of Cruz's interest in fashion and manner of dressing or the representation of the mermaids as both protectors and physically powerful beings.
My only real issue with the novel was the fact that a lot of the main characters were a little too-good-to-be-true, meaning that I found it difficult to identify with any of them. Marina is beautiful, smart, talented and spoilt rotten by her honorary aunt. Cruz is an exceptionally talented designer, while Megan's abilities lie in the field of music. Even Ethan is fantastically good looking and a talented surfer. (And as for Marina's father and the prize he wins in the latter half of the book...) In some ways, the mermaids feel more realistic than the humans! But I know these things come down to personal taste and, while I might prefer my characters to be a little more ordinary, I know there are a lot of readers out there who enjoy the fantasy of characters who go beyond the lives that most of us will live.
Between The Land And The Sea is an enjoyable and entertaining novel with an exciting plot and a strong sense of location that leaves the reader feeling as though they'll need to brush sand off their clothes once they're done. I shall definitely be checking out more of Derrolyn Anderson's work.
4.5 Stars - rounded up, rather than down, for a change ;) (less)
Although Over My Head is really a sequel to Marie Lamba's What I Meant (Random House), it reads perfectly as a stand alone novel – which is good, given that I've not read the original! It's an entertaining contemporary YA offering, which has a generally light tone but nonetheless manages to deal with some very big issues in a particularly sensitive manner.
Sang is the daughter of an Indian-American (Sikh) father and an American (lapsed Catholic) mother, and this heritage informs much of the novel's plot and the issues that Sang encounters within the book's pages. Sang herself is represented as being very much American, despite her strong ties to the Indian side of her family, and much of the novel's action centres around the conflict between Sang's American sensibilities and her father's traditional Sikh values. Lamba does an excellent job, however, of ensuring that the father remains a sympathetic character, even when he is most at odds with Sang.
In fact, all of the members of Sang's family are well-drawn and pleasantly three-dimensional. The embarrassingly nicknamed Doodles felt a little young for her age, but that could well be a result of her over-protective upbringing. Hari is, at turns, caring and frustrating, much like a big brother should be, and their mother felt particularly well-developed to me. The reader is given several poignant glimpses into her own, personal story as someone who has married into a different culture.
Raina, Sang's cousin, who is visiting from India, is very likeable, although she sometimes feels more like a foil to Sang than her own person. It is her story that felt the most unfinished at the end of the novel and I would have liked to see more of her adjustment to teenage life in America and any conflict that may have existed between the world Sang was drawing her into and the values that had been instilled in her by her parents. Another sequel, perhaps!
Of the three boys who influence Sang's summer, Cameron is the most thoroughly-developed. I'm still not entirely sure what to think about him, though. As the love-interest of a fairly naïve sixteen-year-old, he makes perfect sense, but there's something about him that rubbed twice-as-old me up the wrong way from the very beginning. In contrast, I really liked Dalton and wished that we'd had the chance to see a little more of him in Over My Head. While he (understandably) becomes frustrated with Sang at times, he is kind, loyal and dependable and is a great friend to her whenever she needs it – and regardless of whether she deserves it. Team Dalton all the way.
Finally, Sang herself is wonderfully realistic. She's passionate and impulsive and sometimes thoughtless, but she has a good heart, which is always obvious, and a strong love for her family. She doesn't always get things right, but the reader is left feeling that she will learn from her mistakes and grow into someone admirable in the end.
Over My Head is a strong contemporary offering, with an interesting, multi-layered plot and a likeable cast of characters. Marie Lamba deals with cultural conflicts with warmth and sympathy, while accurately representing young love, with all its accompanying mistakes and embarrassments. A solid read. (less)
Something Witchy This Way Comes is a great escapist read. Veronica Blade has an easy style that swiftly carries the reader from start to finish and lovers of romance will greatly appreciate the will-they-won't-they tension between her two main characters.
The novel is written using alternating first-person perspectives, meaning that readers are able to see into the minds (and motivations) of both Tessa and Hayden. The up-side of this is the fact that both characters end up being well fleshed out and three-dimensional. The down-side is that sometimes I ended up wanting to knock their heads together in the hope that they'd finally realise the information that I was already party to!
I enjoyed the fact that, although Tessa is the good girl of the story, she is never presented as being a goody-goody. She makes mistakes, like most teenagers do, and she is happy to have fun and let loose every now and again. Ultimately, though, she is responsible and thoughtful and – most importantly – has the self-awareness and strength necessary to put her own needs before those of the boy she likes.
In contrast, Hayden is represented as being the consummate bad boy, and lovers of his archetype should find plenty to smile about here, from his not-so-happy background right through to his begrudging attraction to Tessa. I have a feeling that Hayden is going to end up with a lot of fans, and if you're the type of person who tends to fall for the bad boys with hearts of gold, you should probably brace yourself for a new literary crush before picking up Something Witchy This Way Comes!
Together, the two main characters have great chemistry and, indeed, it is their budding romance that forms the centrepiece to this novel, not the paranormal aspect of the plot. I was a little disappointed by this, as I very much enjoyed each new revelation about the witches' world and loved the tension of Tessa's situation, but I know that there will be many other readers who will be pleased that the paranormal action doesn't steal too much page-time away from the romance. I very much felt that Something Witchy This Way Comes is a romance lover's romance. Often, a love plot will feel like it has only been added to a book to capture a larger audience. Here, however, there is a kind of gleeful focus on every moment of sexual tension between Hayden and Tessa.
(There is quite a lot of discussion about sex in this novel, as well as scenes involving underage drinking, so I would suggest it for an older teenage audience.)
Something Witchy This Way Comes was a light and enjoyable read, which ably held my attention from start to finish. While I personally found myself wishing for a little more action and a little less romance, other readers will undoubtedly think the opposite. A promising debut from Veronica Blade. (less)
I was drawn to Breaking Fellini because it's a book about music in a sea of books about mythological creatures. But music can contain just as much magic as fantasy and M.E. Purfield has done a great job of writing a novel that fits with the music it describes.
Breaking Fellini is set in the late 1970s and depicts a New York that is struggling with a climate of unemployment and the fear surrounding the Son of Sam shootings. Amidst the poverty, however, the music scene is thriving. Disco and rock are ruling the mainstream, while the No Wave movement is beginning to turn all of the rules of blues-based music on their heads.
It is this New York that Joni moves to, and which greatly influences the feel of the novel. Purfield does not succumb to overly wordy descriptions, but there is, nonetheless, a strong sense of place and time that pervades every aspect of the story.
Breaking Fellini is a book about music, but it is also a coming-of-age story. Joni's growth as a musician echoes her growth as a girl moving into adulthood and her independence in one aspect of her life is reflected in the other. Her relationship with her father is complex and often awkward. In many senses, she is the adult, and this only becomes more evident as the book progresses.
Indeed, at times I wondered whether Joni felt a little too mature for sixteen. I wasn't a teenager in the 70s (or even born by the year in which the book is set), so it's possible that things were different then, but I can't imagine a sixteen-year-old musician being taken so seriously these days! On a similar note, I think that Breaking Fellini might actually resonate more with an adult audience than the Young Adult market, because the music scene it describes may prove more attractive to those who remember it. Certainly, there is definite crossover appeal here.
One thing I particularly enjoyed was the fact that Purfield has created a lesbian protagonist whose sexuality is secondary to her love of music. There is no romance here and no coming out process. Joni is simply a musician, daughter and friend who happens to be a lesbian as well.
Due to drug content and other adult themes, I would recommend Breaking Fellini to an older teen (and adult) audience. Strongly atmospheric – and yet firmly plot-driven – it is a clever examination of the growth of a musician and a musical movement. (less)
There has been a lot of talk recently about people being sick of love triangles in YA fiction. I'm not one of those people. The love triangle has been a staple of romance since long before it started involving vampires and werewolves, as Reinhardt herself shows with her reference to Sense and Sensibility at the end of Double Clutch. The love triangle is perpetuated in literature because it works as romantic conflict – and there should be no need for it ever to be boring if an author treats the cliché with expertise (and provides two fanciable alternatives for the protagonist to choose between)!
In Double Clutch, Liz Reinhardt does just that. In Jake and Saxon she has created two potential love interests who will charm readers just as much as they charm Brenna. Better still, there are enough similarities between the two boys that it feels feasible that Brenna should be attracted to both of them, even if Jake is generally portrayed as the bad boy gone good, while Saxon is still hanging on to his share of the bad. There's an edge to Jake that is evident underneath his politeness and chivalry, and a soft centre hidden beneath Saxon's insinuations and cigarettes.
Brenna is a likeable and interesting protagonist, even if she is a little too perfect for my liking, as is the norm when it comes to YA romance. Her beauty, creative talent and athletic prowess are important, however, to establishing the believability of the strong (and lasting) attraction that both Jake and Saxon feel towards her. For me, the best thing about Brenna is her relationship with her parents. I love it when parents in YA fiction are represented as being present and caring, even if that sometimes means the protagonist doesn't get her own way.
Despite the fact that Brenna is not yet sixteen, there is a fair amount of sexual content in Double Clutch, and I wouldn't recommend it for younger readers. The sex scenes (although other readers will not consider them to be such, given different opinions on what counts as sex) are more frank and detailed than one would usually find in a YA novel. Although they are unusually well-written – and I personally feel that sex scenes generally aren't - they will undoubtedly be a little too steamy for some younger readers.
Double Clutch is a fun read, because it feels a little bit like treating yourself to a family block of chocolate and a DVD when you've homework that you could be doing instead. It's easy to get caught up in the feeling of living in Brenna's head and world and having two boys falling over each other to gain your her favour. The boys themselves are more eloquent and more willing to talk about their feelings than any teenage boy I've ever known, but therein lies the appeal of romance!
The Moon Coin is a fantasy novel for junior to young adult readers. It boasts a richly envisioned and detailed universe and a strong plot that perfectly complements the novel's genre and setting. Although Richard Due's Moon Realm debut is long for the middle grade market, the fast moving action found in the latter three quarters of the novel should ensure that younger readers remain engaged despite its length.
In fact, one of the things I particularly enjoyed about The Moon Coin was the way that Due does not talk down to his young readers. The book employs a rich vocabulary, giving its audience opportunities to learn new words in context. Despite this, the language is not pitched too high to be age-appropriate.
Due to the vastness of the universe depicted in The Moon Coin, it is not surprising that the reader is introduced to a good number of characters within the pages of the novel. As a protagonist, Lily is certainly easy to identify with, as an outsider thrust into a fantastic realm. My difficulty lay in the fact that she seemed a little too ordinary, once shown against the more-interesting inhabitants of the Moon Realm, and I tended to be more interested by their stories than her own. I imagine, however, that she (and Jasper) will become more rounded as the series unfolds.
There is certainly no shortage of intriguing characters in the novel, from Ebb himself through to the mysterious Ember. I personally loved the Rinn; they fit right into one of my favourite fictional archetypes. In particular, I greatly enjoyed the noble Nimlinn and the dedicated Roan, and hope that they will both feature more in later Moon Ream books. For those who aren't quite as interested in giant cats, the moon of Dain provides such intriguing characters as master swordsman Dubb and the cursed Tavin.
It would not be right to review The Moon Coin without at least a brief mention of Carolyn Arcabascio's lovely illustrations. As well as illustrating the cover of the novel, she has provided images at the beginning of every chapter. They are rather wasted on my Kindle but, luckily, I was able to view them on my computer as well, and they add a great deal to Due's work. I particularly appreciated having a visual reference for the appearance of the Rinn. (That's one on the cover, for those who aren't in the know.)
While I enjoyed The Moon Coin once Lily was in the Moon Realm and I had grown accustomed to the universe, I did struggle a little to get into the novel at first. The chapters leading to the discovery of Ebb's pendant felt a little drawn out to me, and I had a little difficulty understanding all of the unusual creations within Ebb's house. It is once the setting changes, however, that Due's true abilities as a storyteller become evident, and the intricately described universe of the Moon Realm is the highlight of the book.
Young fantasy lovers should greatly enjoy The Moon Coin - and adult fans of the genre might be well-served by picking it up as well. The next book in the series, The Dragondain, is due out in 2012.(less)
Hot Ticket is an extremely fun novel for younger readers. It's been a while since I've read a book that has felt so perfectly pitched towards an audience. I would have lapped this up in upper primeary school – and loved every moment of it as an adult as well.
One of the things that makes Hot Ticket work so well is its great cast of characters. In Juliet, Tracy Marchini has created an entertaining, and yet realistic, protagonist. She is clumsy, overly-spontaneous and often thoughtless, but it is such faults that make her so easy to identify with. She's also creative, tenacious and quick to attempt to right any wrongs she may become aware of, and I think it would be difficult for any reader not to like her. She has an incredible energy that's very well portrayed.
The supporting characters are similarly well drawn. Lucy is the perfect foil to Juliet's bold nature, providing a little calm where needed. She is definitely given a personality of her own, however and, although she isn't as large on the page as her best friend is, she's very likeable nonetheless. Crammit is great as the former victim of Juliet's loud mouth turned friend (and possibly more). Any hint of romance is perfectly played out for the young audience of the book, which I definitely appreciated. I'm not a fan of junior fiction that shows kids acting like teenagers or adults when it comes to romance.
The best thing about Hot Ticket, however, is the plot. It's a mystery concerned with exactly the kinds of things that its audience cares about. It explores ideas of popularity and exclusion, of peer influence and self-esteem, and does it in a way that can't help but hold the reader's attention. There is no obvious moralising here, but there are good messages to be gleaned amongst the humour of the situations that Juliet gets herself into. Young readers will love Hot Ticket because they'll care about its storyline and will be able to fit it into their own world. They'll be able to understand Juliet's frustration and anxiety because they'll have experienced similar situations themselves.
The only negative for me was the fact that there were a few grammatical errors and typos within the text. The book wasn't full of them, by any means, but there were enough for it to be noticeable.
Despite this, I would have no hesitation in recommending Hot Ticket to young readers. It's wonderfully age-appropriate and just so much fun. (less)
Practice Cake is a light-hearted contemporary YA novel with an underlying message about growing up and discovering your worth as a woman. For some reason, I'm an absolute sucker for novels that focus on workplace settings, so I loved the idea of a book set in a bakery, even if it did make me hunger for baked goods far too much while I was reading it! Angelo's bakery is not just set-dressing, either. By the end of the novel, the reader really learns to care about the bakery and its survival.
As a protagonist, Maddie is extremely realistic. She really does feel like a young woman caught on the cusp of school and the real world. She's still trying to work out who she is and where she wants to go in life, and is easily distracted by boys in the meantime. The fact that she's still trying to work things out means that sometimes Maddie's decisions can be extremely frustrating for the reader to witness. There are a few points during the novel where I wished I had the ability to poke my head into the action and send Maddie on a different direction. It's Maddie's mistakes that make her so human, though, and they're only so frustrating because I remember making a few similar ones myself at that age!
Most of Maddie's mistakes have something to do with the boys in her life. I have to admit, I didn't really like Drew much even from the very beginning of the novel. He is super flirty and good looking, so I understood Maddie falling for him so quickly, but that flirtatious nature rubbed me up the wrong way a little. It seemed particularly frivolous in comparison to Angelo's quiet and hard-working nature. Likewise, I didn't understand what Maddie saw in her boyfriend, Parker. He seemed completely wrong for her, and didn't value her enough at all. Indeed, a good deal of Practice Cake involves Maddie putting up with boys not giving her the value and respect she deserves and I particularly enjoyed the way that Dalya Moon highlights this through Maddie's own frustration at her sister's romantic choices. It's only once Maddie grows stronger in herself that she falls into a relationship worthy of her time.
Some of the more minor characters in Practice Cake are the most memorable. Jaslene is completely over the top and yet somehow very realistic and I enjoyed the contrast between her obvious vulnerability and outward actor's ego. (Bonus marks to Moon for the matter-of-fact mentions of Jaslene's mothers.) Likewise, Roxanne is a great character who I enjoyed in all of her guises. She's not immediately likeable, but she's good people underneath.
One thing I wished, while reading Practice Cake, was that the novel had spent a little more time on Maddie's family situation. We only meet her mother at the very end of the book and it turned out that I'd made quite a few incorrect assumptions about Maddie's reasons for living with her sister. I loved that Moon created a background that supported the sisters' romantic choices and would have liked to learn a little more about it. Then again, I guess that would be a novel in itself.
Practice Cake is an enjoyable novel with a carefully constructed universe and plot. It should strike plenty of chords with young adult readers. (less)
Hushed is a tense novel that will have its readers hooked from the opening pages right through to its conclusion. It presents themes of love and loyalty and explores the aftermath of trauma and the choice to follow a particular path. While its content and focus are definitely gritty, Hushed doesn't feel unduly dark. Indeed, I came away from the book feeling almost uplifted; for every depressing or sordid occurrence, there is a helping of love or hope.
The thing that really makes Hushed is the artful depiction of its protagonist, Archer. Multiple times within the novel, Archer is referred to as a "monster", but somehow he is also extremely sympathetic and, amazingly, highly likeable. If someone were to tell me about a book with a loveable murderer, I would scoff, but that is exactly what Kelley York has produced. The reader can't help but hope that, in spite of his crimes, things will work out well for Archer.
In contrast, Vivian is very difficult to like. Although we are given reasons for her behaviour, we are also shown that there were other paths that she could have followed. There is just something about her character that made me wary from the start. Archer's devotion to her is perfectly plausible, however. She is cleverly described as just the sort of person who possesses that kind of hold over people.
Evan is sugar where Vivian is poison. He is perfectly understanding, perfectly devoted... and fairly perfect all round, for that matter. He offers the kind of unconditional care that Archer needs to start to break free of Vivian's hold over him. The difficulty I had with him as a character, however, was the fact that he mostly is shown as being a positive force in Archer's life. We don't learn as much about Evan himself as I would have liked – just glimpses of the way he fits into Archer's world.
The romance here is very nicely done, with little focus on the genders of the people involved. While there is definitely a place in YA literature for tales of coming out and the establishment of sexual identity, I think they tend to dominate the market more than they should. It was refreshing to read a book where the romance plays out much as it would with a heterosexual couple, but without ignoring the social implications of a same sex romance.
As mentioned, some of the content in Hushed is quite dark, and I would recommend it to readers from the late teens upwards. While the main characters are in their first year of university, I think that the plot and execution of the novel will endear it to adult readers as well. An engrossing and though-provoking read.(less)
The Caldecott Chronicles is a fun novella that combines two of my favourite things: the Victorian era and zombies. They actually fit together surprisingly well, due in part to the fantastic voice of R.G Bullet's protagonist, Radclyffe. As well as being full of wonderfully dry humour, Radclyffe's letters are written in a style that feels surprisingly authentic, given the subject matter of the book.
Radclyffe is portrayed very much as the lord of the manor, although his character grows and becomes less snobbish as the book progresses. Always very aware of his position in society, he is also taken to brief reminiscence about his military past. The epistolary style of the novella cleverly allows for Radclyffe to award the reader a glimpse of personal and family history without an overwhelming backstory.
The development of Saffy's character is limited a little by The Caldecott Chronicles's strong focus on Radclyffe's perspective, but the reader is nonethless shown a spirited and interesting girl who seems to thrive in the unusual conditions into which she is thrust. In age, nature and class, she is the perfect foil for Radclyffe and adds a good deal of life to what might otherwise be a narrative-heavy book.
The undead themselves are wonderfully described. Squeamish readers may shudder a little at Radclyffe's accounts of shattered bones and splattering bodies, but I personally enjoyed the particularly gruesome detailing of the decay the creatures have undergone. What can I say – I grew up on horror!
Although this is the first of several 'excerpts' from Radclyffe's letters, the story is left at an appropriate point and doesn't leave the reader feeling disgruntled. They will want to read on, but this is due to the clever voice and fun universe, not to a frustrating cliff-hanger.
Overall, The Caldecott Chronicles is a quick read and an enjoyable one. Recommended for lovers of zombies in unexpected places.(less)
Notes to Self is a moving and yet enjoyable novel about a teenager's slow recovery from the traumatic incident that completely changed her life. While the content of the book is emotive and sometimes confronting, as Robin deals with the intellectual and social consequences of her injury, it is never cloying nor melodramatic. Robin is not represented as a victim to pity, or the archetypical Brave Invalid, but rather as a very normal teenager who is just trying to learn about who she is. In this way, Notes to Self is as much a coming-of-age story as it is the tale of Robin's slow recovery.
Robin's voice is cleverly crafted by Avery Sawyer. Her confusion upon regaining consciousness and the intellectual struggles of the ensuing weeks are very well portrayed. I'm not an expert on acquired brain injuries, so can't attest to the accuracy of Robin's experiences, but they certainly felt very real and it seemed like a lot of research had informed Notes to Self's plot and characters.
It would be very easy for Emily to remain little more than a name, given the circumstances described in the novel, but Sawyer does an excellent job of fleshing out her character. At first, it is a little hard to understand what Robin sees in a best friend who encourages her to do unsafe things but, through flash backs, the reader is introduced to Emily's supportive side, and thus becomes a lot more invested in her waking from her coma.
In contrast, Reno is likeable from the moment he enters the text. A little bit nerdy and a whole lot caring and thoughtful, he is one of my favourite types of Potential Love Interest – the best friend, seen in a new light. He is the perfect steadying influence for Robin, while she's in the process of dealing with everything that has happened, and I can see him being a firm favourite with Sawyer's readers.
Notes to Self is a strong novel about a topic that is rarely focussed upon in the world of YA fiction – disability, injury and illness – and it explores this topic in a thoughtful and sensitive manner without ever feeling too much like an 'issues' piece. Robin is a likeable and sympathetic character whose personal journey will appeal to many, and Sawyer has produced a tight and engaging novel that was a pleasure to read.(less)
Marie Lamba has proven herself to be a very proficient author of realistic young adult fiction, with her first novel, What I Meant... being published...moreMarie Lamba has proven herself to be a very proficient author of realistic young adult fiction, with her first novel, What I Meant... being published by Random House in 2007 and its sequel, Over My Head being much enjoyed by me when I reviewed it for my blog last year. I was intrigued, therefore, to discover that her next offering would be a paranormal offerings. There are no vampires or werewolves here, however. Instead, Drawn explores a connection across the centuries with a romantic interest who appears in Michelle's life like a ghost from the distant past.
Michelle is a likeable protagonist, whom readers should find it very easy to identify with. Her isolation in her new home makes her immediately sympathetic and her determination to ensure Christopher's safety is admirable. More importantly, she doesn't fall into that all-too-common paranormal trap of losing herself in order to be with her love interest. She is willing to make sacrifices for Christopher, but will not stand for too many of his dated ideas about women.
Indeed, the best thing about Christopher, in my opinion, was the fact that he isn't just a modern character in historical dress. He does not react to Michelle like someone from her own era and nor is his behaviour modern – especially when it comes to modesty! Lamba prevents him from ever seeming boorish, however, even at his most unrefined, which makes Michelle's feelings for him believable – and will probably ensure he earns a lot of reader fans as well.
For me, however, the most fascinating character was William, son of the town's most influential man. His depiction had so many different facets to it and his nature was so complex that I couldn't help but be intrigued by him. He's never entirely likeable – but that's rather the point! In contrast, I wished that we had seen a little more of Constance. I found her character very interesting and a good foil to William and I would have liked to see how things worked out for her.
With a little help from Back To The Future, Drawn looks at the troubles associated with time travel to the past, in terms of changing the present, but also deals with the difficulties of a a romance where the two lovers' worlds and lives are not just separated by states or oceans, but rather by time itself. While I thought that the novel's ending was possibly a little too perfect (or perhaps that should just be enormously lucky!), I enjoyed the way that Lamba presented Michelle's struggle to balance family ties and romantic love and thought her conclusions were very appropriate.
A clever and enjoyable paranormal romance with a love affair that fans of the genre are sure to swoon over.
When Allen & Unwin announced the release of The Tunnels of Tarcoola, I knew I needed to read it, because it sounded just like a modern,...more(4.5 Stars)
When Allen & Unwin announced the release of The Tunnels of Tarcoola, I knew I needed to read it, because it sounded just like a modern, Australian version of all of the Enid Blyton adventure and mystery stories I adored as a kid and still gain a great amount of pleasure from as an adult. Luckily, once I got my hands on a copy, I wasn't disappointed at all. Jennifer Walsh has done a great job of taking a tried and true format for children's mystery fiction and updating it to make it her own.
One of the great things about The Tunnels of Tarcoola is the way that it has such a strong sense of place. Set in Sydney, it has a very Australian feel with a solid historical foundation. Much of the mystery in the novel concerns events that happened during the Second World War, and Walsh does an admirable job of explaining the basics of the war to young readers without it feeling too didactic at the expense of plot or action. I was particularly impressed by the appropriately age-targeted Holocaust discussion.
While the mystery that the friends stumble upon has its roots in the past, the novel remains relevant to modern readers due to to its engaging characters. It takes a little while for the reader to get to learn about the cast's individual quirks, but the characters are well distinguished both in terms of personality and their interactions with each other. There's a very small amount of romance here, but it's at an age appropriate level and doesn't detract at all from the main focusses of the novel.
I did feel a little uneasy about the use of the term 'slutty' at one point, particularly as it was used to describe a group of twelve-year-old girls. It's misogynistic at the best of times and, given its meaning, I don't think the word has a place in a middle-grade novel. Likewise, the recurring theme of the police being dismissed as an option because they wouldn't do anything about crimes against children struck me as being a dangerous opinion to be put forward in a book for young people – especially when it is a parent figure expressing that point of view. That said, I understand why this stance was taken in terms of plot advancement.
All in all, however, The Tunnels of Tarcoola was an extremely enjoyable read, with a great mystery and characters that are easy to become invested in – from Kitty, David, Andrea and Martin right through to the elderly Clarissa Woolf. There's plenty of action and exploration, too, which ensures that it really is a worthy addition to the children's mystery genre.
I would have no hesitation in recommending The Tunnels of Tarcoola to middle grade readers – or, indeed, to people of all ages who love the Famous Five books and other Enid Blyton series.
If Nicola Moriarty's surname sounds a little familiar, that's because her sisters Liane and Jaclyn are also authors. With Free-Falling, Nicola makes h...moreIf Nicola Moriarty's surname sounds a little familiar, that's because her sisters Liane and Jaclyn are also authors. With Free-Falling, Nicola makes her own writing debut – and it is one that shows that talent sometimes really does just run in a family!
Free-Falling is a novel about loss, first and foremost. However, it's also about moving on from great loss, and about the convoluted, complicated journey that may entail. Due to its focus, this novel can be very hard to read at times. The first two chapters are particularly harrowing, as the joint protagonists experience the first short period of time after Andy's death. For anyone who has experienced deep loss, there will be an uncomfortable level of identification with Belinda's and Evelyn's emotions – and lack thereof.
It's an interesting technique to show grief from two perspectives that really only interesect at the book's opening and close. For Belinda, there is the loss of an expected future along with the loss of her fiancé. For Evelyn, there is the realisation of lost opportunities and the gradual understanding of the changes wrought in her after the years-earlier loss of her husband, Andy's father.
The rest of Free-Falling's cast slowly gathers as the book progresses. While Andy's identical twin, James, remains a little undefined due to his being seen through Belinda's and Evelyn's eyes, Bazza definitely emerges as a likeable and sympathetic character. If anything, he's a little bit too good to be true!
The greatest strength of Free-Falling, however, is how real it feels. Perhaps things tie in a little too neatly at times, and it is true that there is a level of near-melodrama to a couple of the events and developments, but the characters are very realistic, as are the emotions that they experience. I particularly enjoyed the fact that Belinda and Andy's relationship is portrayed as being flawed. The glimpses that flashbacks afford of him explain Belinda's love for him, while not making their love out to be something unique and perfect – and therefore unbelievable.
Free-Falling is a very solid debut and one that should establish Moriarty as a rising Australian author. Although focussed upon two women, it should resonate with anyone who has experienced loss and the conclusion allows for enough hope that the reader is not overwhelmed by the sometimes-depressing content. I look forward to seeing what Nicola Moriarty produces next.
Mateship with Birds is a lyrical, calm novel set in rural Australia. There is a strong contrast between the beauty of Carrie Tiffany's writing style a...moreMateship with Birds is a lyrical, calm novel set in rural Australia. There is a strong contrast between the beauty of Carrie Tiffany's writing style and much of the content of the book. The elegance of her prose, along with the regular insertion of blank verse, serves to emphasise the harshness of life in the country and the mortality of beasts. Here, humans are unmistakably shown to be animals themselves. The mating and family life of the kookaburras that Harry watches mirrors the slow courtship between him and Betty, and between Betty's son Michael and his girlfriend Dora. Likewise, the deaths of the men that Betty looks after at the local nursing home are spoken of in the same perfunctory manner as the deaths of the birds that Little Hazel's class looks after at school. It is a comparison that should possibly feel confronting. Instead, it is simple and natural – in keeping with the flow of words and time over the book's pages.
An interesting stylistic choice with Mateship with Birds was made with the decision to include multiple sections of blank verse. These sections focus on the life of a family of kookaburras, rather than that of the forming family of Harry and the Reynoldses. Other sections of the novel are devoted to Harry's reminiscences about his early experiences with sex and sexuality, in the form of letters he writes to Michael – his clumsy (and sometimes inaccurate) attempts at educating the boy about the mechanics of sex and the curiosities of the female body.
There is a distance to Tiffany's style that results in a similar distance between the reader and her characters. While I was sympathetic to Harry, Betty and her children, I felt a lot like I was observing them from afar, much as Harry observes his birds. This degree of removal, however, does not adversely affect the more unpleasant events and descriptions within the text, which retain the power to produce feelings of sadness or disgust. The four most difficult scenes all centre upon the one peripheral character – Mues – leading me to tense at the mere mention of him by very early in the book.
I think, in some ways, I am too sensitive a reader for books like Mateship with Birds. There is a bleakness here that I struggled with, and the constant tide of animal death is something that never sits well with me. The novel also contains an incident involving sexual abuse (via exposure) of a child, along with animal abuse (including bestiality). For these reasons, I would hesitate to recommend this work widely. It's a book for readers to consider on a personal basis. The language is lovely, but the content may prove too gritty for many people.
Mateship with Birds is artfully written and a very strong work of Australian literary writing. While its content was not always in line with my reading preferences, Tiffany's use of language was a delight to experience.
(Warning: contains scenes that readers may find upsetting, as detailed above)
It's hard to believe that April the 15th will be the hundredth anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. Sue Lawson has marked the event with the rel...moreIt's hard to believe that April the 15th will be the hundredth anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. Sue Lawson has marked the event with the release of her latest novel for young readers, Forget me not. It's a book that should appeal both to those who are familiar with the Titanic's story and those with little knowledge of the tragedy. In it, Lawson tells the tale of one family's experiences on board the ship, from the beginning of their journey to the events of the sinking and its immediate aftermath.
Forget me not focusses on Thomas and Eve, brother and sister, with chapters alternating between their perspectives. While Eve's chapters are written in first person, Thomas's are in third, which is an unusual technique that didn't entirely work for me as a reader. I can guess at Lawson's reasoning behind this stylistic choice – and did guess at it from the beginning of the novel, which rather muted the ending for me – but the change tended to bring me out of the text a little and I probably would have found the reading experience a little smoother if both perspectives had been related in the third person.
Apart from this small matter of personal taste, I thought that Eve and Thomas were well chosen as the co-protagonists of Forget me not. They allow readers to view life on board the Titanic from the perspectives of both male and female passengers – a fact that becomes particularly important once the boat begins to sink and it is the women and children who receive priority access to the lifeboats. Thomas is on the verge of adulthood and his frustration with not being treated as the man he wishes to be is well portrayed. Similarly, Lawson does a good job of presenting the conflict between Eve's wishes for herself and her mother's opinions of what constitutes proper behaviour for a girl or woman in the 1910s.
I particularly enjoyed Hugh as a secondary character. Like Thomas, he's on the line between childhood and adulthood and, as such, he can be a little changeable when it comes to his interactions with Thomas and Eve. He's always kind and reliable where needed, though, which should make him a favourite with a lot of readers. Thomas and Eve's father is also an extremely likeable character – possibly even my own favourite. In contrast, it is a lot more difficult to appreciate their mother, even if the reader later learns to be sympathetic as to why she is the way she is.
Forget me not is a little slow-moving for the first half of the book, but this rapidly changes once the Titanic hits the fatal iceberg. Lawson has a talent for making her action both exciting and emotive, which is an excellent skill to have when dealing with real life disaster in a fictional frame. I think it would be extremely difficult for a reader to set down the novel once it reaches the point of the Titanic's impact with the iceberg, so engrossing is the narrative in the latter part of the text.
Forget me not is a solid historical novel for younger readers, which should help to spark an interest in the real life events that it is based upon. It should particularly appeal to readers at an upper primary or lower secondary level, but the story of the Titanic is so timeless that older readers should find a lot to appreciate as well.
I've been keen to read Erebos since first hearing about it at the Publishers' Showcase at the State Library late last year, so I was thrilled to get m...moreI've been keen to read Erebos since first hearing about it at the Publishers' Showcase at the State Library late last year, so I was thrilled to get my hands on an advance copy. I had rather high expectations for the novel, given that a young adult thriller centred around a computer game seemed right up my alley. Luckily, my expectations were met and possibly even exceeded.
There are a lot of things that make me feel like playing video games, but reading isn't usually one of them. Until now. With Erebos, Ursula Poznanski has created a real page-turner of a thriller where, along with the strong urge to continue reading, there is also a temptation to put down the novel in order to play a game yourself. The gameplay inside the novel is so well described, however, that it feels a lot like watching a friend play, which takes care of the cravings while the reader devours the book!
On the most basic level, Erebos is a book about a computer game. In fact, a good amount of the text is devoted to describing Nick's in-game journey as Sarius. These sections are written in the present tense, as opposed to the rest of the book, which employs the past tense. In addition, they are told from the perspective of Sarius, rather than Nick, which further distances them from the rest of the text, allowing the reader to become immersed in the game itself.
As a protagonist, Nick grows on the reader as the book progresses. At first, he seems a little whiny and rather foolish, and he, like many of the novel's characters, is negatively affected by the game's addictive quality. He is not without growth, however, and by the end of the book he has becoming a likeable character, due in part to the influence of Emily and Victor, as well as his own experiences with the game.
Initially, I found Emily a little flat as a character, but she is fleshed out more as Nick has further contact with her, and she ends up being one of the strongest characters in Erebos. In contrast, I struggled a little with the characterisation of Brynne. We are told that she is not likeable, but never really shown it, so Nick's constant negativity towards her and callous dismissal of her obvious feelings for him can feel very uncomfortable at times.
Really, though, the key supporting character in Erebos is the game itself. Poznanski has created a game that reads very much like the roleplaying games that will be familiar to so many readers and has then infused it with a deeply sinister element that gives the novel its edge. The escalating real life tasks asked of the game's players are cleverly constructed and the portrayal of addiction is very well done. I think Poznanski did an excellent job of explaining why a group of teenagers could find themselves so deeply embroiled in circumstances they never would have considered before playing the game.
I personally loved Erebos. It is a well-paced thriller and an interesting exploration of human nature. It is also a book about gaming, and it was the combination of these two elements that made me enjoy it so much. I do wonder whether it would hold so great an appeal to readers who are not familiar with (or who are unimpressed by) the world of video games. I can imagine that the in-game sequences, at the very least, may be a lot less enjoyable.
Beyond this limitation, however, I think that Erebos should have a very wide appeal. Although it is marketed as a young adult novel and most of the characters are teens, I think that it would be equally suited to adult readers. It is an exciting and clever novel, that well deserves the amazing sales that it has achieved in Europe.
I was really interested in getting my hands on Storm after reading some of the early reviews that have been posted. A lot of people have be...more(4.5 stars)
I was really interested in getting my hands on Storm after reading some of the early reviews that have been posted. A lot of people have been saying that it's a paranormal novel for teens that doesn't feel exactly the same as the rest, and that had me intrigued. I usually enjoy paranormal aspects in fiction a lot; what I don't like is the current fad for books that feel so very similar once you get past the shallow differences like character names and location.
Luckily, the reviewers were right. Storm does feel different. Largely, it's because the romance here is always secondary to the action. But it's also because of the interesting premise and the great characters than Brigid Kemmerer has created. The Merrick brothers have the potential to be huge, and rightfully so, because they're the highlight of the book.
Putting the paranormal element (ha!) aside, I was actually reminded a little of S.E. Hinton's The Outsiders when reading this book. There's the same feeling of kinship and desperation with the boys and, of course, the family situation is also similar. I think most readers will come out of reading Storm with a favourite brother – and possibly a second favourite as well. (For me? Nick, with Michael in second place.) I loved how their interactions felt real. They fight like family and love like family, and that's such a hard thing to capture. They're not always likeable, but they're never dull or one-dimensional.
It's hard for me to describe my feelings about the novel's protagonist, Becca, without giving away a lot of the plot. I liked that she's caring, and that she's strong in a quiet sort of way that forms a nice contrast to the strength of Hunter and the Merrick boys. I particularly liked that the book opens with her saving the male character, rather than it being the other way around. I think her fears and insecurities and her self-blame are all understandable and realistic, although I would have liked the victim blaming to be rebutted a little more strongly in the book.
Kemmerer's clever concept of the elemental powers and affinities is also very well developed. Readers will come away from Storm with a sheepish urge to try to manipulate the elements themselves, because there is something so close to believable in the way it is explained. The pacing of the novel joins with this great premise and makes it extremely difficult to put down. It's engaging and often exciting and a very enjoyable read.
One key aspect of Storm disappointed me, however, and it is one sense in which it is not so different from the glut of paranormal romances in the teen market. I am noticing a disturbing growing trend for authors to introduce rape and attempted rape as plot points intended only to allow a male character to rescue a female protagonist. In Storm, the attempted rape scene is particularly harrowing, and could prove very triggering to a lot of readers. It's a lazy and disconcerting plotting practice and I believe that most authors are better than it, so I wish they would prove that fact by showing that a boy is kind or devoted in another way. Overall, I'm ambivalent about the presentation of female sexuality in this novel, so I hope that the rest of the trilogy turns that ambivalence to a more positive feeling.
Despite this, I really did enjoy Storm a lot. I love the Merrick brothers and the premise and the way that the plot kept me guessing from start to finish. I'm glad that there isn't a whole year to wait until the next book, because I want to read more about this universe a lot sooner than that!
Warning: Includes an attempted rape, as discussed above.