I was pretty pumped about the premise of this book. Ever since I went to Sovereign Hill in Ballarat (as a girl) I have been fascinated with the bush-rI was pretty pumped about the premise of this book. Ever since I went to Sovereign Hill in Ballarat (as a girl) I have been fascinated with the bush-ranger/gold panning era and haunted by the story of the Eureka Stockade.
Plus, who doesn't love an Irish narrator?
The Valley of Blood and Gold is a book you easily sink into . It begins with an authentic flavour that matches the era and the narrators heritage. Like the Australian landscape in the 1800's, the book has a dusty, raw, brave and tough vibe to it.
Our narrator, Fintan, is an Irish teen, orphaned and living with an enigmatic and unaffectionate widowed Aunt and his two little cousins. His uncle (aunt's brother) is around a bit, jovial and caring ~ yet no one will talk to Fintan about what happened to his parents or who they were ~ the plot-line about the mystery surrounding his deceased parents deepens and builds throughout the book, creating mystery and leading into the climax.
As for Fintan ~ he's right on the cusp of no longer being a child and not quite an adult.
There's a sense of adventure and wonderment buzzing in the book despite how hard life was for immigrants during that era.
So... as for the vibe of this book? It very much reminded me of some of Jackie French's work. Historic and authentic and a great mix of English and Irish settlers who have the unmistakable beginnings of an Aussie spirit. The setting and era really make the work stand out as a fantastic backdrop for one boys story.
As for the plot? The actual Eureka Stockade battle is only a small slice of the climax (I actually would have liked more detail with the battle ~ it did inspire me to google and refresh my memory about it all). The story itself is one of forbidden friendship, family secrets, bush-rangers and life and survival in early Australian times.
Bonus stuff: I LOVED lots of the characters names which felt authentic and, well, full of character: Kilkenny Pat (Fintan's uncle), Lawson King (a bush-ranger), Niamh Donovan, Mumyareum (aboriginal lady) There's bush-rangers. And murders. And a hanging of a beloved character ~ which is sad and startling. There's a cool plot-line about building a bridge and a sense of beginning something new in a wild and exciting land. I loved the Epilogue. I think it worked brilliantly to bring a greater depth to the story ~ being able to revisit the characters years on and see what the future held for them. Recommended: The Valley of Blood and Gold is a fine addition to the Aussie YA scene ~ with it's vivid depiction of Australian life in the 1800's. The characters are true 'characters', lively and raw, they keep the pages turning. With it's quiet sense of humour and a steady pacing, it's a historical book that can capture your mind and transport you to a fascinating time and place. I really enjoyed it and think it will have great appeal to Aussie teens, and boys especially ~ with it's relatable male narrator....more
When We Were Two is a tender and engrossing Aussie YA novel. At just under 200 pages, the pages seem to slip by, yet the journey that takes place in sWhen We Were Two is a tender and engrossing Aussie YA novel. At just under 200 pages, the pages seem to slip by, yet the journey that takes place in so few words manages to get completely under your skin. It is story of two brothers, running away, heading towards the unknown.
I loved how I wasn't sure where the story would take me. How I was placed alongside Dan and Eddie, as if I was journeying along with them. I loved the people they met (so varied. I surprisingly found myself so swiftly attached to minor characters who popped up in the story. Such as Ah Ling, who was delightful. They time with him was hilarious, poignant and heart-breaking ~ as was true of many of the encounters).
Newton has description and setting down to an art form. At no time did I feel bogged down with the setting (they journey from Central West New South Wales east to coastal Port Macquarie ~ which was lovely for me as I have done that same trip ~ albeit not on foot ;) ~ many times.) neither did the historical time period alienate me (opposite, it was charming and resounded strongly). Newton has a gift with creating
I would not have assumed this novel would be my thing (topically) but this incredible story of hope, resilience and brotherhood was mesmerising. I stayed up too late two nights in a row devouring this. It was heartbreaking in parts, and then ever-so-unexpectedly-endearingly funny moments later. The dialogue was so Australian and perfect in tone, mateship and love conveyed in between the lines superbly.
I have to say, I have not come across such a lovable, endearing character such as Eddie in such a long time. He made me smile and ache and his optimism and courage stirred something inside of me. I loved him, and the relationship between him and his brother felt all too real. I think sibling relationships in fiction are some of the most powerful relationships we can explore in terms of unconditional love despite all our flaws.
In conclusion: this broke my heart (a real tear-jerker). It was perfectly tender and gorgeously funny. It also, weirdly, gave me a real sense of pride for the characters, the era and the general Aussieness of it. This book is a real triumph, and it's story is ageless, certain to charm and affect Aussie readers (young and old) for years to come. Oh, I loved this story so. ...more
The imagination and scope of Under the Never Sky is immense. Rossi’s debut is no small undertaking. It involves incredible world-building, weaving togThe imagination and scope of Under the Never Sky is immense. Rossi’s debut is no small undertaking. It involves incredible world-building, weaving together two worlds (one super-tech-y and sci-fi, the other like an ancient/primitive civilisation but even within that there were hierarchies (blood lords), traditions, and sci-fi/paranormal elements (whew!). Add to this, the alternating of two POVs, and you have a vast, complex and unique YA novel.
Under the Never Sky is often bandied about as a YA dystopian. It is not a dystopian, IMO. It is futuristic with sci-fi elements, most surely post-apocalyptic (but an apocalypse is never referred to in detail). Despite all the techno gadgetry, it read, to me, a little like a fantasy: two unlikely companions teamed up to help each other fulfill their personal missions. There’s a lot of travel and exploration and dangers along the way. They meet different characters, all crafted with their unique, lively personalities, and stay in different places: in caves, in fortified cities, trees, and in places with earthly relics of a time long past, etc.
The world-building is nicely done in snatches, lots of specific lingo to grab a hold of. I felt the more interesting parts of the world Rossi has created were often sidelined by the plot always moving forward. (I would get intrigued by a concept/idea/revelation and then BAM, next scene, moving right along...)
The prose is more descriptive than lyrical. Action sequences abound, and are well articulated yet I felt no emotion/adrenalin on behalf of the characters when they were fighting for their lives.
On one hand, I am quite in awe of the fabulous premise and diverse world Rossi created. On the other, I mostly don’t care. I think this is just a case of this book is just not my thing. The only things I can critique are all pertinent to my personal reading taste. For whatever reason, I was not grabbed by this book, yet I loyally trudged my way through it, admiring it in places, yet never bonding to it.
Before I close, I have to comment on the (romantic)relationship between Perry and Aria: it didn’t work for me. For the first half of the novel, they have an antagonistic/indifferent vibe, yet even in that there was no tension, no anticipation, no undercurrent of sexytimes to come. They were just...there. Then, like the flip of a switch, at the magical 50% mark, she noticed his smile, he couldn’t stop waxing poetic about her violet smell and BAM = love. I felt like there was no groundwork for their attraction and friendship, despite not really beginning it until halfway through the book. Baffled.
My two star rating is purely indicative of my personal enjoyment (I always rate based on how I feel about a book, not so much on the objective merit of the book). I’ll happily endorse the book as a creative and original YA read to those people who are intrigued by the premise....more
Cinder is the first book in the Lunar Chronicles quartet (the quartet will star Cinderella, Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel and Snow White).
I have read a fCinder is the first book in the Lunar Chronicles quartet (the quartet will star Cinderella, Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel and Snow White).
I have read a few fairytale retellings, but none so bold and dynamic as this futuristic retelling of Cinderella. There were so many elements to love:
humans and cyborgs and androids haviging out in a techno-gadget-y future (Cinder is a cyborg) a plague (I am a sucker for plague/virus stories) intergalactic political intrigue (with an evil queen living on the moon ~ and the mysterious death of an heir...) sci-fi elements and a dash of magic mashed-up creatively with the classic fairytale
There’s also a constant weaving in of (tragic) back story, shrouded in secrets. The story is mostly told from out heroine's perspective, but there are chapters from Prince Kai’s point of view (widening the scope of the narrative.)
Plot-wise ~ there’s a lot going on. The plot is constantly steaming ahead. As with most retellings, the characters have a defined role to play (as in: the role of the evil stepmother, the shallow sister, the arch nemesis, the charming prince). I loved watching out for plot elements that matched the classic Cinderella story and enjoyed the twists Meyer gives them (ie, instead of Cinder losing her shoe at the ball ~ she loses her (cyborg) foot. In some places, characters are little more than their role, but in others, Meyer succeeds in going further than the stereotypes and layering her characters, so you feel their unique hopes, dreams, aches, love and loss. I loved the relationship between Cinder and her (nice) step-sister, Peony, and Iko (Cinder’s android bestie). Prince Kai had his moments too, he was charming, sure, but it is not an overly romantic kind of book.
I am truly curious to see what sci-fi fans think of Cinder. I found it easy to imagine the futuristic world, even though I mostly have no idea about all the techno gadget stuff.
Perhaps the one thing that detracted from the experience for me, was there was just so much going on . All the plot threads pulled together in the end, but I wish I could’ve had more time with the characters and less of the constant action/political intrigue/plot twists* but that complaint is coming from a contemporary YA lover who loves getting under character’s skins.
overall Cinder is more of a wild ride than a lingering read. The thing that most impressed me about this story is it’s scope. It’s dynamic, imaginative and creative. It would play out brilliantly on the big screen. It would have sucked me in big time when I was a teenager.
*regarding the plot twists: I saw them all coming ~ but not in an unsatisfactory way, some had the kind of foreshadowing that heightened anticipation. Other twists were screamingly obvious to me even as the characters remained completely oblivious....more
Audition is Stasia Ward Kehoe's highly anticipated YA verse novel debut.
At sixteen years, Sara leaves her friends and family, moves away on a scholarAudition is Stasia Ward Kehoe's highly anticipated YA verse novel debut.
At sixteen years, Sara leaves her friends and family, moves away on a scholarship to a prestigious dance school. Sara feels lost amongst her peers, who too often are pitched against one another competitively to form true friendship. Dancing is a constant discipline in which dancers strive for perfection with their routines and in their bodies. It is not an easy burden to bear, and you can feel the shackles and tension in the pages.
To add to those swirling feelings of homesickness, Sara fast leaves her innocence behind. Remington is a dance instructor, gorgeous, older (in his early twenties, against her sixteen years) and Sara fast becomes entangled in the addictive pull of his attention.
I feel him trace my body With his eyes Panic Numbs my fingertips Desire Makes my face burn.
Sara becomes Rem’s muse. It is not a happy, giddy love story. There are sparks, swift, all-consuming romancing, followed by a dark underside where Rem’s previously charming enigmatic vibe is swallowed up into something much more foreboding.
Audition is swirling and ambiguous and dark in parts. There were not many moments of comic relief, lightness or joy shining through. Alongside Sara, I felt plunged in a world full of pressure, doubt and the lonely struggle of an artist. The glimpse into the world of dance was insightful: often harsh, intense and yet with moments of beauty. My gosh, I felt weary just reading about it all (The physical effort and extreme commitment).
Sara’s extremely driven, yet as the story unfolds, it shifts to become more of an internal struggle. Sara frustrated me in parts, seemingly unsure, unquestioning and yet in the end I felt proud of her ~ scraping out from under the pressure to find who she really is and what she really wants, and the story is ultimately triumphant.
True to most verse novels, the prose is gorgeous in parts and extremely quotable. I think verse was a great medium to tell Sara’s story. It is most effective in that relaying of emotions and completely getting under Sara’s skin:
It seems I am living Believing Doing Almost everything In halves.
On the flipside, the sparse wording did give me a sense of weightlessness while reading. I felt burdened by the emotions of it all, yet not at all grounded in the plot, if that makes sense? It’s such an internal exploration, barely any dialogue, and I missed the sense of feeling like I was in the story alongside Sara, I was very much in her head, but not in the story. Argh, it’s hard to describe. The setting seemed vague, some of the characters interchangeable, the story more emotive than tangible.
I am a fan of the verse novel and have read many. Stylistically, this one drove me a bit crazy. Rather than just capitalising at the beginning of every sentence (like every other verse novel I have read), Ward Kehoe capitalised at the beginning of every line. Which meant she was capitalising random words mid-sentence. It drove me crazy and really broke that smooth rhythm and flow. It was quite jarring, even unnerving, LOL (with each capital, I kind of gave pause, as if the sentences were broken with full stops ~ after I while, I tried to tune out to those random capitals).
I think I have disgusted him With my childishness Even though I am more afraid Of being lonely Than of losing anything Rem could take from me.
I can see the talent in Ward Kehoe's debut, cleverly crafted and gorgeously written, yet I wish I had connected with the story more. (I felt mostly numb most of the time, even while appreciating parts of it). It just wasn't the story for me. 2.5 stars ...more
‘Until There Was You’ is Kristan Higgins latest offering and it’s different yet again in tone, but still has some trademark tropes (of both the genre‘Until There Was You’ is Kristan Higgins latest offering and it’s different yet again in tone, but still has some trademark tropes (of both the genre and her previous books I’ve read).
I love the premise, it may be cliche, but it is deliciously addictive in its anticipation. Posey’s high school crush, bad boy Liam “tall, brooding and criminally good-looking” returns to his home town, widowed with a teenage daughter in tow. Posey and Liam have some history between them, more-so from Posey’s POV who crushed on him hard and felt burned (whereas Liam is oblivious to some of the scars he caused).
This is Higgins first book where the POV swivels between both the heroine and the hero. And I do think she works the device really well, highlighting misunderstandings, creating tension and building foreshadowing nicely. Plus it was nice to be in Liam’s head, her male POV was pure fun :)
Liam’s suave: exuding confidence and success, ladies everywhere keen to jump the guy (LOL) but he battles demons of his own... He’s hot enough to rival any fictional hot bad boy, but secretly tender under it all (aww ;))
Posey is independent, klutzy, intelligent and comfortably quirky yet secretly aching for acceptance and love. Small in stature (and we are continually reminded of her equally small bosoms ;)) and quietly feisty. She is surrounded by a larger than life (adoptive) family who run a German restaurant.
I love how Higgins molds the relationship between her leads. She gets the tension (sexual and otherwise) cracking. She banters brilliantly with dialogue. She creates an equally compelling back story ~ side note: a few chapters are set back in high school days and a fateful prom night, a touch of YA crossover, eh? I LOVED the back story. The sex scenes are tasteful (it’s more about the tension beforehand than a tedious play-by-play. Very fade to black, thank you) adding to the character interplay. It’s all good fun.
It’s written like a romantic comedy and you could easily see the whole thing being played out on the big screen. Many awkward moments ensue between the leads, requisite misunderstandings, short-lived happiness followed by personal demons interrupting but all with a smiley HEA (and smoking hot male lead). I felt Higgins shifted focus with this books to trying to give her characters more emotoinal depth, making it more character driven (thank plot-driven), a touch womens’ fictions mixed in with her usual rom-com style.
I did find some of the side characters and side plots tedious. I wanted to read about Liam and Posey, watch their sparks fly and see them quietly romance each other. Sometimes the story felt bogged down with external plot-lines. The family’s restaurant was fun, but many of the scenes dragged. Posey’s friends were good for a laugh, but didn’t feel overly integral to the main story arc. I was tempted to skim some side-plots to get back to the good stuff ;)
I am not sure it is my fave Higgins so far? But I know I will be interested in reading more of her work when I am in that guilty-pleasure, pure good-fun, smiley times mood. I recommend this to fans of Susan Elizabeth Phillips :)...more
Gorgeously written and completely authentic (it comes as no surprise to me that Hubbard is a travel writer and backpacker herself) Wanderlove is a booGorgeously written and completely authentic (it comes as no surprise to me that Hubbard is a travel writer and backpacker herself) Wanderlove is a book that took me by surprise.
I have to confess, I got off to a rocky start with Wanderlove. From the beginning, I liked the prose (loved the cadence of certain lines). Hubbard writes fantastically, she gets right in under Bria’s skin, perhaps painfully so: Bria felt so inferior, so uncertain, at the beginning and the feeling was so perfectly conveyed that I felt awkward. It made me uneasy, watching her lie to impress, stumbling her way along. Enter Rowan, he had his instant charms, sure, but he irked me as well: that kind of suave confidence that comes from knowing you’re hot, being young and invincible and over-all knowing everything. It also did not sit well with me when Hubbard portrayed middle-aged (often overweight) tourists as inferior, ridiculous and people to be sneered down upon (from the backpackers perspective). Then again, perhaps this is how teens/young adults view regular tourists? It did not endear the backpacking culture to me.
Despite my initial reservations, there was a certain authenticity about the writing that drew me in and I decided to make it to 50% and see if it grew on me. MY GOSH ~ I am so glad I did not abandon this book. In fact, the second half so enthralled me that I ended up staying up past midnight to finish it off and I read the last page with a happy sigh ~ I really, really liked it.
Here’s what I loved (in the end):
The way Hubbard evoked all five senses, casting a kind of spell over the reader so I felt as if I were travelling (it gave me itchy feet)
The way Hubbard showed (expert) restraint in crafting the romantic subplot. It was the perfect amount of sexual tension, ambiguity and genuine connection between Bria and Rowan.
The crafting of the plot: it snuck up on me, all the little threads and foreshadowing which gave it a constant momentum. Even as I could see where many of the character arcs were headed, I was alongside them, hanging out to get there.
The illustrations. GUYS, they are gorgeous, evocative and stunning. It added so much to the experience, I looked forward to each picture. I can still conjure up the pictures even now, in my minds eye. LOVE.
Overall: okay, I know the beginning of my review sounded harsh, but don’t let it put you off reading this book. It is a stand-out of the year and I am so glad Kirsten Hubbard is writing for teens as I feel they will connect so well to her characters. I am really hanging out to see what she writes next. What a talented author, hey :)
First half of the book: it was okay (2.5 stars) Second half of the book: oh, I loved it (4.5 stars) Overall, well, I ended up loving it, so it gets 4 stars from me :)